Meetings at the Temperance Hall, Prince's Square

The Teetotaler 1841, under the heading 'Town News', includes this report on the plight of coal-whippers (those who unloaded coal from ships - it was then carried ahead by coal-backers, i.e. on their backs):

On Tuesday evening, July 13th instant, a Lecture was delivered at the Temperance Hall, Prince's-square, Ratcliffe Highway, to a very numerous audience, by Mr. George Applegate, a coal-whipper, who had convened the meeting for the purpose of directing public opinion to the present nefarious system of of coal-whippers, through the medium of publicans, who exact a monstrous percentage upon the hard earnings of this laborious class of men.

Mr. J.R. Macarthur of Trafalgar Square, Stepney, having been unanimously called to the chair, The Lecturer, in a most eloquent address, described the miserable condition to which the coal-whippers of the port of London were reduced; and all his statements were proved by a reference to the evidence before the 'coal, corn and finance committee' of City of London in 1839. The coal-whippers in and about Wapping (said the lecturer) amounted to 2,000 men, and with their wives and children numbered about 5,000 souls. About 70 or 80 of the publicans of Wapping were what is termed 'coal-whipping publicans', who having obtained the discharging of the collier vessels, employed only such men as would who spend the greater portion of their earnings in beer and spirits. The quality of the beer sold to these men was infamous, and the price charged extortionate; one man, who placarded his beer at twopence per pot to the public, charged the coal-whippers sixpence per pot for the same. In some instances they have been compelled to pay tenpence per pot for the beer. which has frequently been thrown overboard, being unfit to drink. Other extortions, too numerous to mention here, were practised upon them, to which they were compelled to submit, or they could obtain no employment. No man who wished to support his wife and family in comfort could find employment as a coal-whipper. The average age of the coal-whipper under the present system of oppression scarcely ever exceeded 40 or 45 years. The only mode by which the coal-whippers could be effectually assisted would be the establishment of a coal-whippers' office, under the authority of an act parliament, from which all persons requiring coal-whippers in the port of London should be supplied; that the money for the labour should be paid into the office, and that the coal-whippers should receive their wages weekly from the office. The 'coal, corn, and finance committee', in their report, recommended the establishment of such an office, as the only effectual remedy for the grievous exactions under which the coal-whippers have suffered, and of which they so justly complain. And the committee also said, And it appears to your committee that after making a reasonable deduction from the wages now paid to coal-whippers in the Port of London, for the expense of a public office, and also to form a fund for allowances to the men in sickness and for superannuations, in cases of accident and age, the coal-whippers would receive an adequate sum for their daily labour, be entirely relieved from the impositions of which they now complain, and by the encouragement which such an office would offer to good conduct tend materially to improve and benefit the moral condition of the whole class.

It would be impossible to follow Mr Applegate through his description of the appalling scenes of misery arising from the above scale of things; but we are happy to hear that it is the intention of his friends to publish the substance of this lecture in the shape of a pamphlet for extensive circulation. In conclusion the lecturer said,—To obtain the establishment of such an office as is recommended in the report of the 'coal, corn, and finance committee', is our object. We ask not for an increase of wages; we ask not for a diminution of the hours of labour; we ask not the rich to forego one article of luxury or indulgence; but we ask (and it is a blot upon the fame of Britain that we should be compelled to ask it) the privilege of supporting our wives and families, the privilege of nourishing our sick, out of the produce of the sweat of our brows, instead of consigning them to the Union Workhouse! We ask the liberty of doing what we can for our wives aud families with our own hard earnings. The lecturer, having concluded, was greeted with three enthusiastic rounds of applause.

Resolutions were then carried unanimously, expressive of the sympathy of the meeting with these victims of oppression; and thirteen gentlemen having given in their names, a committee was formed to protect the interests of the coal-whippers of the port of London. Petitions to Parliament and to the Court of Common Council of the City are in preparation; and s subscription being opened, it was announced that Mr. James Gibbons,  9, Oxford-street, Stepney, and Mr. J.R. Macarthur, 19, Trafalgar-square, Stepney, would receive subscriptions and donations in aid of the objects of the committee.

A vote of thanks was then given to the chairman to the committee of the Prince's-square Temperance Hall for their kindness in allowing the lecturer the use of the building, and the meeting then broke up in the greatest order.

The outcome was Gladstone's 1843 Coal Whippers' Act [also known as the Coal Vendors' Act] which created a central office of employment, in line with the recommendations and the desire of the coal whippers themselves. Its implementation was initially resisted by vested interests, but the new system appeared to work well, until the lapse of the Act in 1856 threatened a reversion to the status quo ante, supposedly in the interests of free trade. The following, from J. Ewing Ritchie Here and There in London (W. Tweedie 1859), shows that to some extent this indeed occurred.

The Commercial Road, abutting on the Docks and Whitechapel, is the residence of the London coal whippers—a race of men singularly unfortunate—the complete slaves of the publicans of that quarter, and deserving universal sympathy. I have been down in their wretched homes; I have seen father, mother, children all sleeping, eating, living in one small apartment, ill-ventilated, inconvenient, and unhealthy; and I believe no class of labourers in this great metropolis, where so many thousands are ill-paid and hard-worked, and are reduced almost to the condition of brutes, suffer more than the coal-whippers you meet in that busy street of traffic and toil—the Commercial Road.

The coal-whippers are men employed to whip the coals out of the colliers into the barges, which latter bring them up for the supply of the inhabitants of London. Theirs is a precarious and laborious life, and therefore they have special claims upon the consideration of the public. Mr. Deering tells us “it may possibly serve to bespeak interest in the subject if it be known that it is one which affects for weal or for woe no fewer than 10,000 persons, there being nearly 2,000 coal-whippers, together with their wives and families”. From the opening of the coal-whippers’ office in 1843 to the close of 1850, the quantity of coals delivered through it was 16,864,613¼ tons, and the amount of wages paid to the men during that time was £589,180 11s. 5¾d. At times these men have to wait long without employment, sometimes a ship only breaks bulk, and a small quantity of coal is taken out, sometimes the whole cargo is worked right out. Thus the men’s remuneration varies. In some cases a coal-whipper earns but 8s. 9d. a week, and in none more than 16s. Let us now speak of the work. As we have already intimated, that is very hard. It is carried on by gangs of nine, four work in the hold of the ship and fill the basket, four work on the ways, and whip the coal—that is, raise the basket to the top—and one, the basket man, turns it into the meter’s box. The four on the whip have very hard work, and after twelve or fourteen tons have been raised go down into the hold, where they are choked with coal dust, but have not quite so difficult a task. Men who are employed in this labour describe it as most laborious and irksome. Nor from their description can we well conceive it to be otherwise.

Under the old system these men got all their work through the public-house. That was a fearful system. We have heard coal-whippers speak of it as “slavery, tyranny, and degradation”; and well they might. “The only coves who got the work”, as one man told us, “were the Lushingtons”. If a man did not spend his money at the public-house he got no employment; and actually we heard in one case of a landlady who turned off a gang in the middle of their work because they would not spend so much money in her public-house as she thought desirable. One publican who had several of these gangs under his thumb, by various exactions, we were positively assured, made as much as £35 per week by them. The publicans, says Mr. Deering, the able and intelligent secretary to the commissioners, compelled every man to pay on an average to the amount of eight shillings, and in some instances ten shillings, per week for liquor on shore and on board, whether drunk by him or not. The plan was to compel the coal-whippers to visit their houses previous to obtaining employment, and on the night before obtaining a ship to commence the score, and at six o’clock in the morning, before going to work, to drink a pot of beer, or spirits to an equal amount of value; then to take on board for each gang nine pots of beer, to be repeated on delivering every forty-nine tons during the day; after which they were compelled to pay nine or ten shillings per man for each ship for gear. The evil effects of such a system it is unnecessary to point out. After a week’s hard work, a man had nothing to take home. The coal-whippers became a drunken and degraded class, the family were starved, the boys early learned to thieve, and the girls were too often thrown upon the streets. No wonder the men rebelled against this cruel tyranny. For long they bore it, but at length they plucked up courage, and demanded deliverance.

Generation after generation had struggled for their rights, and numerous Acts were passed to redress their grievances; but no sooner was an Act passed than ways and means were found to evade it. Then four brave men, Robert Newell, Henry Barthorpe, George Applegate, and Daniel Brown, created amongst their oppressed fellow-labourers an excitement which never subsided till the Corporation of London took their case in hand. Lieutenant Arnold, with a view to benefit them, established an office, but the publicans combined against him and drove him out of the field. The London Corporation appointed a committee to examine into the whole matter. Government was besieged, but Mr. Labouchere told the coal-whippers that they could not interfere, “as it would be too great an interference with the rights of labour”. The coal-whippers, however, were not to be daunted, and after years of unremitting toil, in which their claims had become increasingly appreciated, Mr. Gladstone prevailed upon the House of Commons to pass the Act which on the 22nd of August, 1843, received the royal assent. The Act simply provided that an office should be established where the coal-whippers should assemble, and that owners and captains of vessels discharging their cargoes by hired men and by the process of whipping should make to them the first offer to discharge their cargoes. It in no way interfered with or attempted to fix the price of the labour. This was left as a matter of contract between employers and employed. As there were conflicting interests to be consulted, the bill provided that the proposed office should be placed under the management of nine commissioners, four of whom should be appointed by the Board of Trade, and four by the Corporation of the City of London, the chairman to be the chairman for the time being of the Shipowners’ Society of London. To show how the Act has worked, we make the following extract from an appeal to the House of Commons by the Committee of the Registered Coal-whippers in the Port of London, published in May of the present year, and which bears the names of John Farrow, John Doyle, William Brown, Michael Barry, John Cronin. They say:—

The object contemplated by the Legislature in the establishment of the office was to secure to the men the full amount of their earnings immediately after their labour was completed, with the exception of one farthing in the shilling, which is required to be left in the office to defray necessary expenses. At first the office was fiercely opposed by interested parties, because it broke up a system of vile, degrading, and unjust extortion, by which these men derived their profits; but this opposition soon subsided, the price of labour became equalised by an understanding between the employers and the employed, the former being at liberty to offer any price they were willing to give, and the latter to accept or refuse as they thought proper; and the only compulsory clause in the Act, in favour of the coal-whippers, is that, an office being established at which they assemble for the purpose of being hired, the shipowners shall first make an offer to the coal-whippers registered at the office, and if refused by them at the price offered, a discharge is given, empowering the captains to obtain any other labourers elsewhere, at not a greater price than that offered to the registered men. The good effects resulting from the establishment of the office are—relief to the men from extortion and a demoralising system, ruinous alike to both body and soul—a fair turn of work in rotation—immediate payment of their wages in money—and an opportunity of disposing of their labour (if any is to be had elsewhere) in the interim of their clearing one ship and obtaining another. The advantage to the trade has been the regularity and certainty with which they obtain their coals from on board ship, instead of the injurious delay which occurred before the office was established, while the men (goaded by oppression) and the captains were contending about the price of the labour; and the advantage to the shipowner has been—the prevention of delay in the delivery of his cargoes—by always finding a sufficient number of men in attendance at the office, for the delivery of the ships—steadiness in the price of labour, and avoidance of detention through ‘strikes’ for higher wages, and on the whole, a lower price for labour than prevailed before the office was established. In some years, nearly £100,000 has passed through the office for wages earned, but of late that amount has been greatly reduced in consequence of the introduction of machinery in docks and other places; the decrease in importation coastwise; the employment of ‘bonâ fide’ servants by some gas companies, and by a few coal merchants; and by frequent evasions of the Act through the interference of persons who have nothing whatever to do with the payment of wages, and who derive pecuniary advantage to themselves by so doing. The retention of the word ‘purchaser’ in the Act gives them power to do this.

In August, 1856, the Act which did so much good expired. Parliament refused to continue it on the express promise of parties connected with the coal trade, that a model office should be created, which should be conducted in such a manner that the publicans should not be able to renew the hideous evil of the old system. This contract with Parliament has been broken, and at this moment the coal-whippers are suffering from a return to the fearful slavery and tyranny of old times. Already one-third of the trade is again in the hands of the publicans. The first thing the model office did was immediately to throw 252 coal-whippers out of employment. Of course these men were necessitated to go to the publicans. Another complaint against the model office is, that in two cases the men were paid 2d. a ton, and in another case 3d. a ton, less than the price paid to the office. Another grievance is, instead of the persons connected with the coal trade going to the model office, the bonâ fide offices created by the Act, and by means of which it was abused, still exist, and we were informed one of the largest merchants has still his office with a gang of eighty-one men. Of course the publicans are delighted. They have the whole trade in their own hands again; but this must not be. The righteous feeling of the country must be interposed between the publican and his victims—a body of hard-working men are not to be forced into drunkenness and poverty and crime merely that a few publicans may increase their ill-gotten gains. Reason, morality, religion, all protest against such a damnable doctrine. Almost immediately after the Act had ceased, the Rev. Mr. Sangar, the rector of Shadwell, presided over a meeting of coal-whippers “because the coal-whipped office was established in his parish, and because the Coal-whippers’ Act had put down drunkenness, prevented the exactions of middlemen, induced morality, and benefited a large number of industrious men”. Meetings for a similar purpose are held almost every month. On similar grounds we have taken up the case of the coal-whippers—and for the same reasons we ask the aid of the charitable, and religious, and humane. Especially do we ask the temperance societies of the metropolis to interfere in this matter. Many of the coal-whippers are total abstainers. Now that Mr. Gladstone’s Act is obsolete, they have some of them been forced back into the public-house. We must save them ere they be lost for ever. The coal-whippers are in earnest in this matter. They want very little. Simply a renewal of Mr. Gladstone’s Act, with the proviso that there shall be only one office. It was the absence of that proviso that enabled interested parties to evade the provisions of the Act to a certain extent. Surely this is no great boon for Parliament to grant.

This 1881 article, 'The Curiosities of Drunkenness', shows that the problems remained.


The Tablet (28 October 1843, p14) includes this article 'from our own Reporter', with an elaborate (and significant) series of toasts and highly-stylised address:
The Temperance festival, which took place on Monday evening last, the 23rd inst., at the Temperance Hall, Princes-square, St. George's in the East (and which was very numerously and most respectably attended), in compliment to the rev. and respected pastors of Virginia-street Chapel, and to commemorate the anniversary of the return of the Rev. R. Horrabin, from Moorfields; and the auspicious arrival on the same day of his beloved [confrère], the Rev. John Moore. Thomas Keily, Esq., was unanimously called to the chair, and acknowledged the honour conferred upon him in most select and elegant terms.
The following are a list of toasts, which were prefaced in an eloquent and appropriate manner, and received with the greatest enthusiasm:
1st. The Queen.
2d. Prince of Wales.
3d. The Princess Royal and young Princess.
 4th. Prince Albert.
5th. Duchess of Kent and the rest of the Royal Family resident in England.
6th. The Venerated Guests—Rev. Messrs. Horrabin, Foley, and Moore. The Rev. Mr. Horrabin returned thanks in a most feeling and pathetic manner, evidently proceeding from the sincerity and gratitude he felt. Rev. J. Moore also returned thanks in his accustomed eloquent and impassioned language, and concluded a long address, full of point and matter, amidst great applause.
7th. His Holiness Pope Gregory the XVI:  the Rev. Mr. Horrabin returned thanks.
8th. The Apostle of Temperance—the Very Rev.Theobald Mathew: the Rev. J. Moore returned thanks, and spoke at some length, during which he was frequently most enthusiastically cheered.
[9th: omitted from report]
10th. Daniel O'Connell—the Liberator of his country, the unflinching advocate of popular rights, and liberty of conscience all over the world: the Rev. Mr. Foley returned thanks, enumerated the many virtues of the Liberator, and concluding with the expression of his great esteem, added to the gratitude that was due from every Irishman for the many services O'Connell had rendered to his country. During the delivery of this speech the rev. gentleman was frequently interrupted by the most deafening cheers.
After which the Rev. Mr. Moore came forward, and in the most complimentary manner spoke of the respectability of the chairman, and the claims he had on the gratitude of the members of the Temperance society, and the parishioners generally, for the anxiety, zeal, and exertion he had evinced since his arrival among them to promote everything that could tend to their advantage. He begged leave, therefore, to move the thanks of the meeting to their worthy chairman, Mr. Keily, for the very efficient, talented, and gentlemanly manner in which he had discharged the duties of the chair. The chairman, after having acknowledged the honour, in the most handsome manner, read the fallowing address:—
REV. AND VERY DEAR SIRS—We, the members of the Total Abstinence Society of the Eastern and Western Division of this locality conjointly avail ourselves of this our first opportunity, as members of that numerous and increasing body, to tender you our most cordial thanks or having honoured us this evening by your presence, infusing that enjoyment around which your presence alone could give, and only regret the invitation was not more worthy of your acceptance.
With that ardent and sincere attachment ever the distinguishing characteristic of Irishmen for their pastor and their creed, we beg to assure you that you will never find us indifferent to your call, as far as our means will permit, in everything that has for its object the honour and glory of God, the good of religion, and the support of our clergy., in which we shall always be proud of co-operating with the rest of the parishioners not members of this body (respecting, as we do, their opinions), and promoting to the utmost of our power those our recorded sentiments.

We take this opportunity, rev. and dear Sirs, to express to you, and each o fyou, our very high esteem and veneration we feel for the very great assiduity, zeal, and untiring exertions you have ever unremittingly displayed in the discharge of your sacred and laborious ministry, promoting the spiritual and temporal interest of those confided to your care. We have had opportunies of witnessing the course of your very arduous mission, and feel we have just cause to be thankful to an all-wise Providence for the especial mark of his Divine regard in placing you amongst us.

To you, Rev. and very dear Father Moore, president of this society, we beg to offer our most sincere acknowledgments for your powerful example and unceasing exertions in promoting the spread of Total Abstinence, unwearied zeal in cultivating that unanimity which so happily subsists between the members, and especially for the regard and esteem you have invariably expressed, the kind and filial affection you have ever manifested when speaking of your senior fellow-chaplains, claims from us a particular mark of our attachment. Neither can we forget the great change that has taken place in the condition of the rising generation, hundreds of whom have been rescued from the depths of ignorance and moral destitution through the instrumentality of your devoted exertions, in which holy work you are still benevolently engaged, and which, with the assistance of Providence, you will soon see crowned with the same success that has already blessed your indefatigable labours. You may calculate on our undivided support; so, rev, and dear Sir, proceed in the glorious work you have begun; and as you have cheerfully, devoted yourself, heart and soul, to the noble avocation of rescuing those little ones from the vices and contagion of this Babylonic city, you will and must succeed,.

In conclusion, rev. and dear Sirs, we beg each of you to accept from us this record of our unfeigned attachment and affection—not the mere outpours of common-place adulation, or affected regard; and to assure you, rev, and dear Sirs, these our expressions proceed from the purest source, and are engraven in imperishable sincerity on the fleshy tablet of our hearts. We beg of omnipotent Providence to bestow upon you the abundance of His graces, to enable you to proceed in the arduous duties of your sacred ministry; and that he will not permit either of you to be separated from each other, or from us, until you behold the seed you have sown cultured and watered with the refreshing dews of the Divine Word, and fructify a thousandfold to repay your fostering anxiety with an abundant harvest of virtue and morality.
T. KEILY, Chairman / J. CLIFFORD, Secretary

This account by John Hannay, from Charles Dickens' Household Words (vol III p36ff) describes - in somewhat facetious but broadly sympathetic terms - a meeting at the Temperance Hall in March 1851 to receive a communication from the Board of Trade in response to a memorial urging changes in the recent Mercantile Marine Act. The author goes on to discuss the provisions of the Act in some detail, supporting the moves towards greater regulation of the Merchant Navy (the time had come for the meshes of the law to draw around that noble animal ... the nautical leviathan), claiming that this would be to the long-term advantage of seamen (Doubtless, a coat and trousers would be an intolerable restraint to a Tahitian at first, but by-and-by he would value these articles as he progressed in civilisation) but recognising that some of the seamen's concerns were legitimate. Dickens himself has been described as a reluctant champion of marine labour (Lilllian Nayder Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Victorian Authorship (Cornell UP 2002) - with the suggestion that he took a 'strategic' view with an eye to his relationship with his publishers - though her case seems overstated.

One of the most amusing characteristics of all classes of us in England, is the natural ability we have for an agitation. You would think that we were born ready for it, and that it was but one step from the cradle to 'the chair'. The other day there was an injustice done to the 'engine-drivers'. Straightway there was a public meeting of them. Judging from the casual glimpse you get at an engine-driver as the long expected train skims alongside the platform of the road-side station, you carry away an impression of him as a stern weather-beaten man, with a red-face and fierce eyes, with a fur cap tied over his ears, and a furnace glaring at his rear; presently, he makes his iron slave give a wild, sad shriek, that resounds over the landscape, and forthwith, his nose is cutting the air like a Parthian arrow. But go and see this unearthly man conducting his 'agitation', and you find him a decorous chairman, sitting behind pens, ink, papers, and tape, moving a resolution, and speaking, for the first time in his life, more fluently than most county members after long practice. He is English, and he is agitating.

But a sailor agitating! That is surely an anomalous spectacle. A man who is scarcely used to any sort of chair whatever, taking the chair. That certainly seems preposterous! I confess I was in alarm for my favourite tribe when I saw, the other day, that they were commencing a 'vigorous agitation'. It seemed, somehow, so un-natural. The shade of Benbow began to haunt me; I was uneasy and perturbed. The event was contrary to all our habitual and traditionary notions, and I kept wondering what,
In name of great Oceanus;
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tethys' grave majestic pace,
would become of us, if even our very sailors were obliged to come out as agitators. It seems so odd that nobody can get their handful of apples in this country, without raising a gale of wind that shakes the whole orchard.

I had observed, when I was visiting the 'Sailor's Home', a general uneasiness in the nautical eye. The independent roll was a little straightened by suspicion. The devil-may-care look of the tar was changed to a devil-does-care expression. There was an air of grim uneasiness about him. I remarked it in all my peregrinations; its shadow was on Wapping; it traversed Ratcliife Highway. Nay, when my zeal took me to visit one or two of their more joyous haunts, the spectre was seated in the 'parlour'. His unseen but clearly felt presence was seated among the pipes. Jack was moody. He wandered up and down with hands in pockets, eyes bent downwards, whistling in a low and gloomy manner. In the 'Marlingspike'—the head-quarters of the movement, as I learned—one or two deputies were talking to each other. Anon, a sailor dropped in, and asked briefly, "Any noose?" "Not a word." The door moved a moment and he was gone. One man was smoking a pipe with an air of dark deliberation, then looking up and fixing his eyes on a comrade, and dropping them again. It seemed that that night there was to be a great meeting of sailors, when the delegates were to deliver an answer which the Board of Trade was to send them to their recent memorial.

The reader must be informed, before he accompanies me to the meeting, that it was to complain of the recent Act—13 and 14 Victoria, cap. 93—known as the Mercantile Marine Act. I shall have more to say on that Act, when I speak of our maritime legislation, presently; for the present, it suffices that the seamen had presented a memorial against it; had been very well received by Mr. Labouchere; and were expecting an answer before that evening. Hence the restlessness which distinguished my friends in the 'Marlingspike', and which disturbed all the ordinary chat of the day - "how the 'Mary Hann' was going to Callao, and they was offering two pun six: how short sailors was in the Port o' London, and what a blessed lot of foreign seamen there was knocking about." All which was quite as lively, and certainly more instructive, than much more pretentious chat to be heard in other quarters.

At last, the hour arrived, and the meeting was to come off. I adjourned from the 'Marlingspike', and turned down Ratcliffe Highway to the scene. It was now dark. The lamps in the Highway—which is in appearance a kind of open sewer—were lit; and gas-pipes, in small shops, crowded together, shed upon those ragged bits of meat—lumps of greasy candles—and ghastly, corpse-like cod-fish, laid out in morgues—which are the usual characteristics of neighbourhoods at once poor and populous. I soon turned through some dark streets, and ultimately arrived at Temperance Hall, Prince's Square. Here, I saw the company gathering and many sailors of the coal and coasting trades beginning to fill the Hall. Some wore blue frocks, and seemed fresh from work with clear, blue eyes shining through their dusty and blackened faces. One sailor would stand staring at the platform, in a long gaze of thirsty curiosity: another—whose bran-new hat, as shiny as an orange, indicated that he had just been paid off, and was setting up, pro tem., as a respectable civilian—kept his hands in his pockets, and looked about him, observingly—just as he would look to windward when the sun was setting, and wind rising, and it seemed wise to settle whether a reef shouldn't be taken in the topsails for the night. The Hall itself had once been a Chapel; and, what was very curious, as you glanced round the walls, your eye caught a glimpse of the top of a tablet, with the words— SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF—here the remainder of the pious record was hidden by a huge piece of canvas, stretching half across the wall, displaying, in large black letters, the supplicating watchword of the movement, "USE US LIKE MEN!"

The platform was a raised wooden table, with a couple of candles on it; and presently the two sailor delegates made their appearance. One of them was a fine-looking dark man, with marked features; the other, who seemed, what is vulgarly called, the 'gun' of the evening, was a wiry little sailor, with a round, open, florid face—who came forward as bold as a lion. He had just that sort of manner which made him stand up 'like a man', to use the familiar expression. Withal, too, an observer discerned [tant soit peu] of the chairman, blending like a dash with the tar. There was a certain official flavour already perceptible in him. He was the man who had boarded the Board of Trade, and had sailed into the regions of red tape, as Blake did into Carthagena.

There was a little awkwardness in the platform arrangements just at first, enough to justify my surprise at hearing of a nautical agitation. The chairman (our florid friend) muttered, "Here, give us the paper; look sharp. Some of you fellows'll second the resolution." He then came forward with a slight roll, and took a little cold water in the orthodox style, and began with a 'Brother Seamen' out of hand. He started, by reading their memorial, (which appeared in the "Times" of March 6), scrambling through the big words rather than over them, like a heavy fellow at a high fence; and then began to harangue the crowd, himself.

It was certainly a capital speech, full of excellent sense and awful pronunciation. He had previously cut short the reading of the Memorial, by saying, "And there's lots more of it—too long to read all just now"; and spoke with exactly the same off-hand independence all through. It was a lively, vigorous harangue—a great deal better than you usually hear at elections—and you readily forgave "minute scrunity" and other little slips. "The Board o' Trade had never so much as sent them half a line of answer", he said, "it was a downright insult. They might as well have sent a line, if it was only to say, 'We have nothing to communicate just now, and postpone it for the present.' " I was amused at Jack's dictation of an official letter; it showed how quickly he had caught the official tone. Some discursiveness was then indulged in.

He 'cleared' the subject in a style that can only be properly described by nautical metaphors; 'running free' for a time, innarrative; then 'hauling his wind', and beginning to argue; anon, 'tacking', and turning off in a different direction. One of the great points of complaint was the power which he said the new act gave the captains. The captains are to carry an 'official log' to sea, now, in which they report on the seamen's conduct. The seamen think this is not fair; and our orator spoke bitterly of the character of many of the skippers of the day.

" Why", said he, "not long ago, on the Coast of Afriker, a cap'n was going to throw one o' the crew that was dying, overboard, before he was dead. So the man says, 'You aint a-going to bury me alive, are you?' 'Oh', says the captain, 'You needn't be so jolly particular to a few minutes.'" This was received with howling and laughter. If the anecdote be not true, it is certainly like truth; it beats (if fiction) Marryatt and the naval novelists, hollow.

Another very characteristic part of his speech, was that in which he spoke of how the men ought to act in case of a strike in London. He was telling them that if they were natives of the north country, they must get back there without shipping on board any vessel. "How did I travel?—the best way I could. Why, I've walked before now, one hundred and seventy miles on a chaw of baccy! I went into one house and asked for a glass of water; and they told me they did not encourage beggars, and I never asked anybody again." There is a natural manly pathos about this. I hope the worthy who did 'not encourage beggars' will see this account; if he has blood enough to muster a blush with, the occasion offers an excellent opportunity of investment.

These were the most striking points; whenever he spoke of a personal matter, he was excellent. One of his metaphors was remarkable enough. Talking of the quietness of the sailors hitherto, he said, "Yes, we've been still enough; but still water's deep; and if you sound far enough, you'll find the devil at the bottom!" All these touches were received with tremendous applause, and a sort of encouraging halloo from the crowd. I noticed, meanwhile, one veteran who looked like a skipper who did not join in this, but with a countenance 'more in sorrow than in anger', looked musingly on.

Now, however, apropos of the skipper; it is time that I should give my readers some account of the causes of this extraordinary agitation, and its real bearings.

All our legislation as regards seamen of the last few years, may be said to have had this object and upshot; viz., the organising of the whole body, and bringing it under Government control. It is clear that an increased facility in manning the Navy has been kept in view throughout. Hence have been established the registry, shipping offices, shipping masters, local marine boards, and finally, such clauses in the mercantile Marine Act as 6, and 16, and 32, bearing respectively these significant titles—'New duties and powers generally'. 'Certain functions of Admiralty may be transferred to Board of Trade' And ' Transfer to Board of Trade of control over Registrar'  [See the Acts of Parliament on these subjects, in "The Shipmaster's Guide" By the Registrar-General,  a book of great utility]—show clearly enough that the Board of Trade bids fair to be an Admiralty of itself, by and by.

The great and important measure, which is the foundation of all the new maritime legislation, is the above-mentioned 'Registry'. For a long time we, whose seamen are the best in the world, knew least about them; we were without statistics and accurate information on the subject. On a general average, we have usually two hundred thousand mercantile mariners, spread over the world, at work. But till a comparatively late period, they may be said to have been in the condition of wandering tribes with regard to us. They migrated, like other birds of passage, uncounted and unknown, many of them changing their names as they changed their ships—Ishmaelites of the sea! When a war broke out, instantly a press-gang began to 'poach' for them. The first shot sent them all running like rabbits into their holes.

In the years 1833 and 1834, this state of things began to receive decided attention. Sir James Graham, who was then 'First Lord', brought in two bills. The first encouraged 'voluntary enlistment into the Royal Navy, by limiting the time of service, and augmenting the bounties'; the other 'consolidated the laws relating to Merchant Seamen', and contained a 'comprehensive scheme for registering'. This scheme was 'a precursory measure of registration', it not being considered advisable at that time to carry out fully all that had been suggested towards facilitating the manning of the navy in case of war.

Of these two bills of Sir James Graham's introduction, the last (7 and 8 Victoria, cap. 112), commonly called the Merchant Seamen's Act, was very important. With regard to our present topic—the 'Registry'—it established the Register and Record Office, and appointed the Registrar of Seamen: it enacted that every person intending to serve on board a ship (except as master or physician, surgeon or apothecary) should provide himself with a register-ticket—being compelled to answer certain questions, giving ample information about himself, before he was entitled to receive it. This was an excellent, business-like basis to build on. The Act further compelled masters to bring indentures and apprentices to the office for these tickets. It made 'altering the register-ticket' a misdemeanor; made a negligent loss of ticket a fine, and false answer on the subject, a misdemeanor. It compelled every master to send in a list of his crew to the Comptroller of Customs, with the numbers of their tickets. It fined masters for neglect, and duly fortified the law with a chevaux-de-frise of penalties.

The reader now begins to see the important nature of this measure. The seaman presents himself at the Registrar's Office, nearly opposite the Custom-house, or at any Custom-house in the outports. Out comes a parchment, with its blue-ink printing, the lion and unicorn calmly presiding at top. Down goes 'John Starbowline',—'born at—, in the county of—.' Capacity, 'so and so'. Eyes?— 'blue, grey, squinting, or like the fish-pools of Heshbon', as the case may be! 'Height', 'complexion', are duly noted.—'Marks on person' likewise go inexorably down. The refined reader marvels at this item, perhaps; but our tars tattoo themselves most fancifully. It is a real old Saxon custom. Harold (vide Sir E. B. Lytton's novel) adopted it. So, 'John Starbowline's' decorations—'anchor', 'flags', 'initials', 'portraits'—according to the amount of poetic fancy and Indian ink visible on his form—go down likewise. Masters are fined for taking him without this document (which he gets gratis, in the first instance); a due counterpart, or duplicate, is preserved at the Registrar's Office; a list of tickets 'cancelled' by death, desertion—or tickets 'not in possession of the persona to whom they were issued'—is strictly preserved and exhibited in every Custom-house and shipping office. The number of the ticket is required, also, to be set forth in every 'return' made by a master;  consequently, the register-books at the Office contain the 'number', description, name, and voyages of each seaman. The Registrar-General is, besides all this, empowered by the Act to make every master of a British vessel produce his log-book, muster-roll, &c. &c., under a penalty of twenty pounds. Such is a brief summary of this organisation, the important effects of which must be felt through our whole future naval and mercantile history.

Let us see what this 'Merchant Seamen's Act' further did. It determined that no seaman should be taken to sea without a written agreement being drawn up between master and seaman; and duly read over to the seaman; and signed by both; and, that this agreement must, on arrival home, be delivered to the collector, or comptroller, of customs. Also, it enacted, that seamen having refused to join, or proceed in the ship, or absenting themselves after agreement, may be apprehended by a justice of the peace, or his warrant, and committed to gaol, or sent on board. It inflicted forfeiture of wages, to a rated amount, for absence, and refusal to perform duty, and desertion, and, likewise inflicted a penalty for harbouring deserters.—It obliged masters to give men an allowance for short provisions; and to give them on their discharge their register-tickets, and a certificate of service—under a penalty of five pounds. It established a summary mode of recovering wages under twenty pounds by order of a justice of the peace; and ordered the maintenance on board of a due supply of medicines and lime juice. It compelled masters of ships in the home and fishing trade to return lists of their crew, half-yearly. It largely provided for the entry and registration of parish and other apprentices—providing for the hearing and summary disposal of their complaints. It further enacted that the ships' agreement, indentures, and register-tickets, should be deposited on arrival at foreign ports with the consul, and at colonies with the officers of customs. It gave consuls and officers of customs considerable powers of inquiry, and of surveying provisions, and signifying necessary changes in them to the master—subjecting him for neglect to the penalties of a misdemeanor.

Here, then, was an important body of law, subjecting a merchant ship to control at home and abroad, from its leaving the docks, to its final discharge of cargo and crew. The half-yearly lists from the home trade clearly give Government an opportunity of readily knowing our nautical resources in case of what is expressively called a 'contingency'; the authority of the consuls, too, we observe to be largely increased. In short, the meshes of law now began to draw gradually, but very surely, round the nautical leviathan. I am inclined to believe that the process was, for a long time, scarcely felt by that noble animal; but the Mercantile Marine Act has put him thoroughly up to it.

At the interval between these two important Acts, a very useful little one passed (8 and 9 Victoria, cap. 116), called the Seamen's Protection Act. This one summarily put the procuring of seamen for merchant ships into the hands of the Board of Trade. This was a deadly blow at the 'crimps', who formerly acted as agents between masters and seamen, and who derived enormous profit from cashing the seamen's advance notes of wages at exorbitant rates. By the consent of all authorities, these individuals are of a peculiar infamy of character in every way, and clearly belong to the 'offal of mankind'. Accordingly, this Act gave the Board of Trade the power of licensing proper persons to engage and hire seamen; forbade the employment of those otherwise engaged; and inflicted due penalties on all breaches of its provisions, It is impossible to read this Act without seeing the absolute necessity of direct interference with the condition of seamen for their protection. The 'crimps', it must be understood, had and have a direct interest in their folly and sin, and it was peremptorily necessary to deal absolutely in the matter.

At last, the Mercantile Marine Act received the Royal assent, and came into action on the 1st of January in the present year. This is a decided development; it professes the 'improving the condition of Masters, Mates, and Seamen, and maintaining discipline in the Merchant Service'. The Board of Trade is fairly appointed a Mercantile Admiralty, though, at present, it only boasts two naval members.

Touching the 'machinery' of this Act, I cannot do better than make an extract or two from the 'Shipmaster's Guide' of the Registrar General (pp. 15, 16):
By this act the superintendence of all matters relating to the British Mercantile Marine is transferred to the Board of Trade—
And the law is to be carried into force by means of Local Boards at sixteen of the principal Ports of the United Kingdom—
By Shipping Offices at all the Ports of the United Kingdom—
And by the General Register and Record Office of Seamen in London.
Two gentlemen of high professional reputation have been appointed Naval Members of the Board of Trade, to assist by their practical experience in the consideration of all matters connected with the Merchant Service.
The Local Boards are formed by the Mayor or Provost of the Sea Port,  a Stipendiary Magistrate, four Members nominated by the Board of Trade, and six Members elected by Voters; the qualification for each vote being two hundred and fifty registered tons, employed in Foreign-going Ships.
The duties will be to appoint Examiners, Shipping Masters, with Assistants and Clerks, and to superintend and regulate matters connected therewith in their respective ports.
But when Shipping Offices are established in the Sailors' Homes in London, they are to be under the direct control of the Board of Trade.
Shipping Masters will have the supervision of the engagement and discharge of crews; adjustment of disputes referred to them; to record character of seamen discharged in their offices, examination of log-books, transmission of all returns, &c., required under the act, supply of the necessary forms; and they are to give all the aid in their power for promoting the intentions of the act, and to facilitate the procuring of crews.

We also learn that, in addition to the present duty of the Registrar-General, he will transmit certificates of competency and service to all those who are entitled to receive them; and keep a general record of character. In the Register Office will be recorded every document relative to these matters.

With regard to the 'improving the condition of Masters and Mates', an important step is taken by the establishment of an examination of them (no longer a voluntary one) and the issue of certificates to them, in proportion to their competency. These documents are all duly 'registered', and 'penalties' are imposed according to the mode of procedure in the former act.

I now come to the special provisions which have been made the subject of the recent complaints—premising that, of course, this elaboration of rules must, in the first instance, be somewhat galling and restraining to masters, seamen and all; this is natural, but it is not to have weight as an objection in the face of national necessity and ultimate advantage. Doubtless, a coat and trousers would be an intolerable restraint to a Tahitian at first, but by-and-by he would value these articles as he progressed in civilisation. It is easy to see that, in process of time, masters and seamen would be better related to each other, as both were made subject to law. The great evils of the Merchant Service have hitherto proceeded from the uncertainty of their mutual relation. Government, by harnessing both, will make them run easier together. The reason that men-of-war go on well, though, occasionally, captains are tyrants, is, that the abstract reverence for the supreme power of the crown preserves order, irrespective of the individual.

Now, what are our tars making this hubbub about? Imprimis, they complain heavily of the 'Official Log'. The master is to carry a Log to sea, and there he enters 'offences', and reports on 'character'; so Jack is 'logged', as he calls it, and his skipper's opinion of him remains on record. Was not the organisation of this a little premature? For, observe, the Act, while aiming at improving both masters and men—[pari passu], as it were—gives the master this important power at once— before he himself is improved! Does not this law follow a little too closely on the heels of the sad revelations about our 'skippers' on the Navigation Laws inquiry? All naval officers who have visited merchant ships abroad say to help them when aground will agree that the class, as a class, is not too fit to have new discretionary powers. Here 'modification' might try its hand.

Then, Jack complains of the 'Shipping Masters''' authority; and I would like to point out to the Board of Trade (with deference to official wisdom!) the vagueness of these functionaries' powers. I have myself heard ingenuous confessions on the point. 'Agreements' (except in special cases) are made between master and crew, in presence of the Shipping Master. And, here we come upon one of the chief grievances of the agitators. The 'Copy of Agreement' (one of which is lying before me) contains a memorable corner—or legal 'Black Hole'—which has a long list of twenty-two 'offences', each marked with its 'fine'. Thus we have 'insolence, one day's pay';— 'not being clean shaved and washed on Sundays, one day's pay'; &c. It is easy to see that an eccentric captain would fine half a man's pay away very soon at this rate. These regulations, to be sure, are only said to be 'sanctioned', not 'compulsory'. But their present place in the 'Copy', 'sanctioned' by the omnipotent 'Board', surely makes them something very like compulsory. Accordingly, some masters will be found to stick out for them, and ill blood will arise. An immediate abolition of these, without delay, would be advisable. Meanwhile, the office of the Shipping Master is an important and useful one—if his duties be clear, and his actual powers clearly determined. I perceive the office itself absolutely necessitated by the system, and I attribute the opposition to his powers of arbitration to the machinations of 'amphibious lawyers', interested in nautical litigation, and the old state of things.
Hook-noses and cunning grey eyes, are unpleasant but significant phenomena, which I observed sprinkling, here and there, the honest simplicity of the Sailors' Meeting!

The distance of the 'Shipping Offices' from the East India Docks is another complaint worth attending to. I surmise, from a visit to one of these offices, the other day, that clause seventeen of the Act regarding ['new offices and servants to be appointed'] has been duly carried out by a solicitous Government! When I presented myself at the entrance to seek practical knowledge, a stout gentleman in plush asked me, with an easy air of sarcasm, "whether I expected the 'Shipping Master' to come down to me?" Modestly replying in the negative, I walked up-stairs to more important employés. Easy business, and a playful, not to say impertinent, mode of treating strangers, seemed to characterise the place; and I left Tower Hill, tolerably tired of flunkeys up-stairs and flunkeys down!

A charge is also made by the delegates against the shipping office at the 'Sailors' Home' for an undue preference in shipping their own boarders. I satisfied myself by personal inquiry that this charge was unfair. The further assertion in their Memorial, concerning the evils existent there, is quite unsupported. But the Memorial is to be dealt with cautiously; the handiwork of persons quite different from sailors is discernible in it.

I may mention here, as illustrative of former observations, that clause eighty-two provides 'a Naval Court for hearing complaints on the high seas'—to be constituted by a naval or consular officer, and composed of naval officers, masters of merchant ships, and British merchants. Such court may supersede a master, and its report goes home to the Board of Trade.

Such is a brief, and from our space necessarily very condensed, account of the tendency of our late maritime legislation. 'Modification' in various matters has been promised, and the ultimate 'consolidation' of these bills postponed for the present. Meanwhile, it is certain that a large body of solid, useful legislation, on a most important subject, has been added to our statute-books. There is vast latent good in it all, which time will develope [sic], and experience direct. It is to be hoped that our new Admiralty will have such a good look-out kept on it from this time, as to prevent its 'going the way'—apparently the doomed, corrupt way—of 'all (official) flesh'!

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