One often hears references to rampant buggery among sailors in the glory days of the Royal Navy. Sometimes, it’s said, young boys called “peg boys” were on board solely for the purpose of providing pleasure to the officers. What’s the straight dope on this?
— Wm. Bligh, Chicago
Not an easy question to … well, I guess we can’t say “get to the bottom of,” can we? “Get a handle on” also has unfortunate implications. So let’s just start. Was buggery, if not rampant, at least fairly common in the Royal Navy in its prime? (We’ll define this as the 18th century through WWI.) People certainly thought so at the time. Were ships’ boys sometimes used for sexual purposes by their elders? We have sworn testimony that they were. Did some British warships routinely put — let’s be blunt — underage male prostitutes on the manifest? Don’t be ridiculous.