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The Victorian Apprentice

From 'The Dictionary of Daily Wants' - 1858-1859

APPRENTICE signifies a person who is bound by indenture to serve a master for a certain term, and receives in return for his services instruction in his master's profession, art, or occupation. Apprentices and .masters are equally bound to perform their portion of the contract towards each other; and if the master neglect to teach the apprentice his business, or the apprentice refuse to obey his master's instructions, both are liable to be summoned before a magistrate to answer the complaint against them. A master cannot legally compel his apprentice to work an unreasonable length of time. There is no specific duration marked out by law, but doubtless the habitual employment of an apprentice for more than twelve hours daily (exclusive of meal times) would be deemed unreasonable. Compelling an apprentice to work on Sunday is clearly illegal. On these points, howover, justices have not the power to interfere where the premium paid exceeds 25. When an assignment is made of a trader's effects, the apprentice may form part of the assignment and he is bound to serve him to whom he is transferred in all respects the same as his original master. Bankruptcy, however, is a discharge of the indenture. In cases of dissolution of partnership, the apprentice is bound to serve the remaining members of the firm, just as though the partnership remained intact. When the master dies the apprenticeship is at an end, for the contract is held to be a personal one between master and servant. But, by the custom of London, if a master die, the apprentice is bound to continue his services to the widow, provided she carry on the same trade. Indentures may be cancelled by mutual consent; the safest and most economical mode in such a case is simply to cut off the names and seals of the parties in the indenture, and endorse thereon a memorandum, signed by all parties, to the effect that they give their consent to the cancelling of the same. If there be any covenant for maintenance in the indentures, the executor of the deceased master is bound to make provision for the same so far as the assets will allow. A master may administer reasonable corporal chastisement to his apprentice, but he cannot discharge him. If any apprentice, whose premium does not exceed 19, runs away from his master, he may be compelled to serve beyond his term for the time which he absented himself, or make suitable satisfaction, or be imprisoned for three months, If he enters another person's service, his master is entitled to his earnings, and he may bring an action against the persons who enticed him away. An apprentice cannot be compelled to serve in the Militia, nor if impressed in the Royal Navy. Apprenticeship indentures need not of necessity be legally prepared, but may be drawn up on printed forms designed for that purpose, and sold at the various law stationers.

APPRENTICING. As this step has the most important influence upon success in life, it ought to be exercised by parents and guardians with the most scrupulous care and discretion. In apprenticing a youth it is not alone sufficient that he should learn a trade from which good earnings may afterwards be derived, but that the trade selected should be in accordance with his taste, and also conformable to his mental and physical capacity. It may be said that a boy does not know his own mind, and that it is consequently idle to consult him upon a subject when his seniors are better qualified to judge. But in the majority of cases a boy will be found to give unmistakeable indications of the branch of mechanical employment upon which his mind is most bent and for which his hands will be consequently most fit. And if this evidence of a distinctive perception is disregarded, and the boy is apprenticed to a trade of a totally opposite nature to that for which be has a predilection, the incessant struggle between natural desire and constrained duty will frequently entail failure and disappointment, and irrevocably blight the youth s prospects in life. Equally necessary is it that the mental and bodily faculties should be considered before apprenticeship. It is, for instance, manifestly unjust both to master and apprentice to place a youth of notoriously dull parts in a situation where a constant demand will be made upon him for mental labour which he is unable to supply. And it is also a species of cruelty to select for a youth of a weak and delicate constitution such a trade as is only adapted for the robust and hardy. Obvious as tnese deductions may appear, yet it is certain that they are continually being disregarded, and youths without number are apprenticed to trades for which they have neither the inclination, aptitude, or strength, simply because some relation or friend happens to be of a particular trade which seems to offer an excellent opportunity for advancement.

The moral character of the future master, together with his commercial reputation, should be strictly inquired into; for there are some employers whose only anxiety is to secure the premium, and when that is received to allow the apprentice to pursue his own undirected course as best he may. The wisest plan, therefore, when the particular trade is determined on is to place the youth with a person who has been, established for some years, and whose, deputation and ability can be testified to by former apprentices.

The premiums for apprenticeship are governed by no stated tariff but as a general rule they are proportioned to the wages which the trade affords. For instance, instruction in an art by which three pounds a week may be earned is as a matter of course worth more than that from which only five and thirty shillings a week can be gained. The amount of the premium, therefore, is a secondary consideration to the advantages which its outlay secures. In apprenticing, another consideration is to be attended to, which is, that the trade chosen shall not be one which materially fluctuates, or that depends upon the caprices of fashion. That handicraft is the most reliable, which produces articles that are and must be as a matter of necessity always in request. Amongst these may be enumerated bootmaker, hatter, tailor, carpenter, engineer, plumber and painter, sadler, turner, watchmaker, &c.

The usual term of apprenticeship is seven years, namely, from fourteen to twenty-one years of age, but that period of probation is not always necessary, and, generally speaking, it is optional to determine npon a shorter term.



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