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The Real Jim Hawkins (Hardback)

Ships' Boys in the Georgian Navy

Seaforth: Wooden Walls Seaforth: General Seaforth

By Roland Pietsch
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781848320369
Published: 18th October 2010

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Generations of readers have enjoyed the adventures of Jim Hawkins, the young protagonist and narrator in Robert Louis Stevenson s Treasure Island, but little is known of the real Jim Hawkins and the thousands of poor boys who went to sea in the eighteenth century to man the ships of the Royal Navy. This groundbreaking new work is a study of the origins, life and culture of the boys of the Georgian navy, not of the upper-class children training to become officers, but of the orphaned, delinquent or just plain adventurous youths whose prospects on land were bleak and miserable. Many had no adult at all taking care of them; others were failed apprentices; many were troublesome youths for whom communities could not provide so that the Navy represented a form of floating workhouse . Some, with restless and roving minds, like Defoe s Robinson Crusoe, saw deep sea life as one of adventure, interspersed with raucous periods ashore drinking, singing and womanising. The author explains how they were recruited; describes the distinctive subculture of the young sailor the dress, hair, tattoos and language and their life and training as servants of captains and officers. More than 5,000 boys were recruited during the Seven Years War alone and without them the Royal Navy could not have fought its wars. This is a fascinating tribute to a forgotten band of sailors.

As featured in 'further reading' section part of researching your maritime ancestors article

Your Family History magazine, May 2017

While Jim Hawkins, the cabin boy in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, is fictional, young boys often served at sea as trainees, cabin boys, or servants well into the twentieth century. This work is the first ever study of these children during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when London's Marine Society sent literally thousands of boys to sea, primarily in the Royal Navy.

The Real Jim Hawkins is an essential read for anyone interested in the Age of Sail.

New York Military Affairs Symposium

This is an engaging and compelling work which suggests the lives of real ship's boys were scarcely less colourful and dramatic that that of the fictional Jim Hawkins.

Pietsch strikes a balanced tone throughout. His writing is first-rate and his analysis consistently thoughtful. Notes are copious as are the excellent illustrations drawn from period engravings and prints. The Real Jim Hawkins deserves prominent place on the shelf of any interested in naval history or the eighteenth century in general.

Nautical Research Journal

The real Jim Hawkins is an important study, based on solid research, and is a valuable contribution to the field of naval social history.

The Real Jim Hawkins is a readable and enjoyable book that sheds much-needed light on the boys, later the sailors, on whom the success of the Georgian navy depended.

Journal for Maritime Research

This mixed novel not only includes fictional pieces of work but also reality pieces of work. By including the mixed reality of the work it adds that extra depth to the story and creates a detailed story about the looked-over boys' in the Georgian navy by filling in the pieces that were missing due to the fact that he wasn't there at the time of the war. Roland Pietsch creates a detailed account of what it was like for boys in the Georgian Navy by sectioning the life of one of the boys into different aspects of his life on board of one of the ships in the Georgian Navy. This eye opening novel makes the reader realize what it was truly like for the boys who were not well known in history as the boys on the Georgian ships, because they were the real boys' on the ships. The boys' who weren't from rich backgrounds; most of the boys' didn't even have families. Roland Pietsch creates a tribute to these boys with this book by showing what over 5,000 of them had to go through during the seven years of war without even being acknowledged for it, even though without them the navy would not have fought because they would not have had much of a navy without them, because of that is why I enjoyed this book so much.

Jenna (Customer Review)

Pietsch takes fiction as his starting point, tracing the character of the ship's boy in 'Treasure Island' and other novels before examining what their lives might actually have been like.

Imaginatively, he examines their behaviour through the lens of youth culture, outlining their options on land, exploring what tempted or forced them to sea and suggesting parallels with the impulses of young people today, whether manifest in anti-social behaviour, naive romanticism or a thirst for adventure.

Based on Marine Society records and enhanced by copious illustrations, this book is extremely readable and offers us the closest glimpse yet of "the real Jim Hawkins".

BBC History Magazine

Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island is probably the most famous boy to go to sea. Less is known about his real life counterparts - the boys who joined the Georgian Navy. Many were orphaned, delinquent or just seeking adventure and saw a life at sea as an escape from a bleak and miserable existence on land. Roland Pietsch shows us the lives of boys who typically ended up as ships' servants.

Seafarer, Autumn 2010
 Roland Pietsch

About Roland Pietsch

Roland Pietsch was born and raised in Berlin but moved to the UK where he received a doctoral fellowship in history from Queen Mary College, London. He now teaches there, and also researches for history television documentaries.

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