Find your ancestors in Royal Military Asylum apprentice ledgers 1803-1840 / Royal Military Asylum (Chelsea) admissions 1803-1901

What can these records tell me?

  • First name(s)
  • Last name
  • Age
  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Address
  • Religion
  • Father’s first name(s)
  • Mother’s first name(s)
  • Year
  • Admission date
  • Rank
  • Regiment
  • Trade
  • Apprenticed to
  • Master’s profession
  • Apprenticeship end date
  • Apprentice notes
  • Discharge date
  • Notes

Royal Military Asylum

The Royal Military Asylum (RMA) was founded in 1801 by Royal Warrant and opened its doors to students in 1803, with 52 female students and 78 male students. Until 1909, it was located in Chelsea, London. Similar to the function of the Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS), the RMA aimed to educate orphans of British servicemen in the regular army who were killed in the Napoleonic Wars. Furthermore, the school was based on the model of RHMS. Its first influx of orphans came from an orphanage in the Isle of Wight, which had been operated by Major General George E. B. Hewett. In 1892, the RMA became the Duke of York’s Royal Military School and transitioned to an all-boys school.

Monitorial teaching was employed at the RMA. This system involved a teacher giving a lesson to a small group of monitors who would, in turn, teach the material to their fellow students. This explains the distinction between “student” and “monitor” in the records.

Peter Goble transcribed these records and estimates that there are 2.5 million descendants of the RMA children in today’s population.


Upon reaching the age of 14, students, both male and female, were meant to leave the institution. Boys who chose not to enlist and female students who had turned 14 presented a unique challenge to the RMA, as they lacked a means with which to provide for themselves. The indentured apprenticeship program was a solution to this problem.

Indentured apprenticeships were governed by an act of parliament, which stated in part that the length of an apprenticeship would be seven years. Captain J. Lugard administered the apprenticeship program for the RMA. He would assign apprenticeships to those students who were not enlisting or being discharged on other grounds.

For the female students, the majority were enrolled in housewifery apprenticeships and sent to homes in Chelsea. Some were specifically apprenticed as servants and likewise sent to private homes. Not all apprenticeship appointments were local, several were sent as far off as Barbados and India.

There were more than 300 trades that called for indentured apprentices. This offered a vast array of occupations, some now obscure, such as calico glazer and mantua maker. Between 1805 and 1826, the majority of the boys who entered the program were assigned as boot and shoe maker apprentices.

Inducements were offered to both apprentices and employers to encourage them to complete the apprenticeships. Employers that took on re-apprenticed students (those who had been returned to the RMA by a past employer for some reason, such as bad behavior) were offered ten guineas, which equated to room and board for a year. Apprentices that finished their service and could produce a certificate to that effect were offered five guineas.

The officers of the RMA could also take on apprentices. Colonel Williamson took on four musicians, among them the world-famous clarinetist, Henry Lazarus, who you can find in these records.

Not all apprenticeships were made equal. Among the worst placements were those in the cotton industry. Apprentices faced long hours, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food supplies, and work that was physically demanding and damaging.