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'The Unfortunate Boys'
Pages and Apprentices at Sea in the 1500s

Sourced from Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, Laurence Bergreen, 2003, pages 103-112

On December 20, 1519, on the never-sleeping swells of the Atlantic Ocean, Sicilian ship's master of the tiny Victoria, first vessel known to have circumnavigated the globe, was strangled on the orders of Ferdinand Magellan, for the crime of sodomizing a little boy, a page or cabin boy by the name of Antonio Ginoves. The boy would later drown, either thrown overboard or jumping due to the ridicule of the crew.

All pages were between 8 and 15 years of age.

Pages were of two types, the sons of families of some means—it being understood that if they were loyal and efficient they might find some favor in the cruel world—and had the duty of keeping time by the use of large hour glasses and calling out the hour, a function crucial to navigation and religious observances and which consigned them to a sleepless life.

The other pages were "unfortunate boys," orphans or other poor children kidnapped on the streets and waterfront and pressed into service, where they were treated exactly like a boy would be treated in a modern prison. These boys were tasked with scrubbing the decks, hauling waste buckets and other menial chores.

Just above the pages were apprentices, 17 to 20-year-old youths who had the most dangerous duties, such as reefing and unfurling sails in high winds. Apprentices, also known as grumetes, hauled on hawsers, the capstan and other devices that moved the heavy masts and cargo. They were the most likely to be punished, beaten and locked in stocks and had the unenviable task of shaving the legs and trimming the toenails of their masters.

Pages and apprentices were slaves, plain and brutal.

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Add Comment
LynnSeptember 8, 2017 6:47 PM UTC

Young surfers are called "grommets" or "groms" and subject to hazing and ridicule by elder surfers until they have proved themselves on the waves.