Nineteenth-Century Reformatory and Industrial Training Ships

PhD spotlight | Julie Brumby, PhD History


Julie Brumby

Julie’s fascination with the nineteenth-century inspired her to return to education to complete a PhD, focusing on the lives of the young boys recruited to work on Industrial Training Ships.

PhD Title: Nineteenth-Century Reformatory and Industrial Training Ships

Supervisor: Dr Rachel Rich

Nineteenth-Century Reformatory and Industrial Training Ship

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to study for this particular programme

I am a mature student and completed my BA and MA through The Open University. I love learning and moved from studying English Literature for my BA to History for my MA. I am fascinated with the nineteenth-century; it was such a period of significant change and has so much of interest to study.

I came across the Training Ships by accident when I was looking for something else in archival material. There was a nineteenth-century training ship in my home town of Hull, but I had never heard about it. This lack of information made me want to research further and uncover the story of this ship.

After my MA I wanted to study further, but also wanted the opportunity to study at a university rather than by distance learning. I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted for a place through the North of England Consortium for Arts and Humanities (NECAH), with Leeds Beckett as my primary university.

Why did you choose Leeds Beckett?

I chose Leeds Beckett because I wanted to work with Professor Heather Shore, who has done extensive work in my area of research of nineteenth-century juvenile crime. I contacted her and she gave me advice that helped me apply for a funded PhD.

Also, I was familiar with Leeds Beckett as my eldest son completed his undergraduate Business degree here. He enjoyed his time at university (both academically and socially), completed a BA in Business, and now has a successful career, leading to him working in New Zealand and Singapore.

What is your research about and what makes you passionate about it?

I am researching nineteenth-century Reformatory and Industrial Training Ships. These were a brilliant Victorian idea to control juvenile delinquency. Not only was juvenile crime an issue, but England then was a maritime country and there was a shortage of sailors. There were three Reformatory ships in England, and these took boys who were convicted of a crime. The boys were educated on board and trained to be sailors, staying on board for up to five years. The Industrial Training Ships were aimed at boys on the brink of crime. They might have been orphans, or found begging, or had committed a minor crime.

I am passionate about finding out about these ships and making their history known. I am especially interested in the life of the boys on board. My study involves following a cohort of 300 boys committed to the ships. I wanted to know their background, where they came from, what jobs their parents did and why they were sent on board. Then I wanted to know what life was like for them on the ships and if they successfully went to sea afterwards, or if they returned to crime.

What have been the rewards and challenges of your time here? 

The biggest challenge has been trying to complete a PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic. While I often work from home, not being able to access libraries and archives to progress my studies has been difficult. Studying at this level is also challenging at times, it takes time to build confidence and find your own voice as a researcher.

There have been many rewards to researching at Leeds Beckett University. Foremost must be the people I have met. The network of other PhD students is invaluable, especially as research can be an isolating activity. There is usually the option of workspace at Leeds Beckett for PhD students, which is an excellent space to work with others. During the pandemic, there have been activities arranged online, such as Research Seminars, socials, writing sessions and the opportunity to share and discuss work with others. The guidance I have received through my supervisors at Leeds Beckett, Professor Heather Shore and Dr Rachel Rich has been invaluable; I could not have reached the level I am working at without them.