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 AND THE COAL-WHIPPERS
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.
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.
|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:—
|THE BLUE-JACKET AGITATION
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;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.
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tethys' grave majestic pace,
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):
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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