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Monday, March 11, 1850
Concerning the probable amount of capital employed
in the shipping of the British Empire, Mr. G. F. Young stated in his evidence
before the select committee on the Navigation-laws, in 1847, that the number of
ships then engaged in the trade of the empire was 32,499, having an aggregate
tonnage of 3,817,112 tons. The average value of the tonnage of the empire, he
said, might be fairly rated at £10, which would give the sum of £38, 171,120
for the collective value. In addition to this sum, he continued, there is
"the amount of capital embarked in the several trades connected with and
dependent on the building and equipment of ships (including shipbuilders,
shipwrights, shipping rope-makers, sailmakers, mast and block makers, and a
proportion of coopers, ship-joiners, ship-sawyers, ship-painters, riggers,
shipchandlers, ship-blacksmiths, ship-coppersmiths, ship-brassworkers, and ship
plumbers and glaziers). This amounts, in my judgment, to £16,083,927, which,
added to the value of the ships themselves, gives a total capital of £54,254,927.
The number of ships built in the course of the year is 1,525. The aggregate
burden of the new vessels is 228,764 tons, and the average cost of building
about £13 10s. per ton, which makes the gross outlay £3,088,314. I estimate
the amount annually expended, he adds, "in the repairs and outfits of
vessels employed, at £7,634,224, making the aggregate of annual expenditure for
building and repairing £10,722,538. The number of seamen employed in the
mercantile service he reckons at 229,276, and the amount of wages annually paid
to the officers and seamen navigating the British ships, at £5,731,900. The
expense of victualling this vast body he computes at £3,486,906, making an
aggregate for wages and victualling of £9,218,806. The number of workmen and
artisans employed in the various trades which are exclusively connected with the
construction and equipment of the British ships engaged in the commerce of this
country, and the proportion of those artisans and workmen who belong to trades
that are mixed up with the others, Mr. Young reckons at 79,617 individuals,
earning altogether £4,968,104 per annum. The amount of freight annually earned
by the commercial marine of this country he believes to be about £28,628,290.
Recapitulating then, the details of the above estimate, we have the following statement in round numbers:
|Value of 32,500 ships - of nearly 4,000,000 tons burden - engaged in the mercantile marine of the British Empire, at 10l. per ton:||£38,250,000|
|Amount of capital embarked in the several trades connected with and dependent on the building and equipment of ships:||16,000,000|
|Gross amount of capital embarked, directly and indirectly, in the navigation of this country:||£54,250,000|
|Amount annually expended in the building, repairing, and outfitting of new and old ships:||£10,500,000|
|Cost of wages and provisions for seamen employed in navigating these ships:||9,500,000|
|Wages paid to workmen employed in the various trades connected with ships:||5,000,000|
|Amount annually received for freight:||£28,500,000|
|Adding to the 25,000,000l. which is above given as the annual expense of outfits, wages, and victualling, 1,250,000l. for the cost of pilotage, lights, port charges, insurance, and depreciation, we have for the gross annual expenditure for the mercantile marine of the British Empire||26,250,000|
|Deducting the gross annual expenditure from the annual income for freight, this leaves for the net profit per annum||2,250,000|
Hence, according to Mr. Young, the gross capital employed
in the mercantile marine of this country is upwards of £54,000,000; the annual
expenditure, £26,000,000 and odd; the annual receipts, £28,000,000 and odd;
and the annual profit, £2,000,000 and odd.
In my last letter I pointed out that nearly one-fourth of the entire foreign commerce of the country is carried on at the port of London. We may assume, therefore, if Mr. Young's estimate is to be trusted, that the gross capital embarked in the mercantile marine belonging to London amounts to about £13,000,000; that the gross annual cost of outfitting, repairing, victualling, and navigating the vessels to and from this port comes to £6,000,000 per annum, and that the sum annually paid for freight hither and hence amounts to £7,000,000, thus leaving a profit of £1,000,000 per annum for the owners.
The principal trades among the merchant vessels sailing from the port of London are - 1. The East India and China trade. The vessels belonging to this trade are the finest of all the merchant vessels. They are mostly reckoned first-class vessels at Lloyd's. The burden of them is generally from 600 up to 1,000 tons. Some, however, range as low as 350 tons. A thousand-ton ship will usually rate 20 men before the mast, and her crew altogether run to 35 hands. In the Company's time the same ships took double the number of hands that they do now. The wages of able seamen in this trade are £2 per month. The larger class of vessels are discharged in the East India Docks, and the 400 tons are discharged either at the London Docks or St. Katharine's. In the East India and China trade the ships are better equipped, the stores being much superior. The consequence is there is less desertion from the East India service than any other. The wages in this trade are the lowest of any, and the men, perhaps, the best conducted. This is due to the length of the voyage, for sailors mostly prefer long to short voyages, because the ships are larger and the provisions better, so that there is more comfort in general. Hence the vessels making short voyages are obliged to pay higher wages. The East Indiamen sail at all times of the year, but most in the spring and summer months. On returning, they usually remain in dock about two months before sailing again. The usual cargo home is tea, silks, rice, sugar, coffee, and spices. 2. The Australian trade. The vessels belonging to this trade are not such fine vessels as the regular East Indiamen. They are not built as passenger ships, nor fitted up in the same elegant manner. They consist of two classes, viz., traders and emigrant ships. The traders are those that go only for cargo; these vary from 300 up to 600 tons burden; whereas the emigrant vessels run from 500 up to 800 tons. Some few are larger, but this is the usual run. The complement of men for the emigrant ships (as regulated by Government) is four men and a boy for every 100 tons. The number of men on board those that go for cargo is usually fifteen, including apprentices, mates, captain, and all. The rate of wages for the able seamen is £2. The Australian vessels are generally considered to be not so well provisioned as the larger ships. They sail mostly in the spring and summer. The cargo brought home is wool, copper ore, and cotton. The cargo out consists of cutlery, machinery, agricultural implements and Manchester goods. 3. The West India trade is carried on by vessels of from 300 to 500 tons burden. There are but few passengers taken from the port of London; such parties go mostly from Southampton in the mail packets. The crew usually consists of from nine to fifteen hands. The wages are £2 5s. for able seamen, and the usual time of sailing is about the spring of the year, so as to be in time for the sugar crops. They generally make two voyages, and occasionally three, in the year. The cargo out consists chiefly of coals in casks; these casks being afterwards used to bring home the sugar, which constitutes the chief portion of the home cargo. Molasses, rum, and coffee are also brought by the West India vessels. 4. The Honduras trade is solely for mahogany. The vessels generally run large, from 600 to 800 tons, and carry a crew of twenty-six hands (including apprentices). The rate of wages is £2 10s. for able seamen. The vessels sails about August or September, and occasionally in the spring of the year. They mostly go out in ballast. 5. The Baltic and North American trades are similar, both in the character and tonnage of their ships (if anything, the Baltic vessels are smaller). The time of sailing and rate of wages is the same in both trades, varying from £2 10s. to £2 15s., according to the time of the year. The higher wages are given in the spring, when men are scarce. The North American ships average from 400 to 1,000 tons burden (there are some as high as 1,100 tons), and the crews from eighteen to forty hands, "all told. The Baltic vessels are 300 to 500 tons, and carry from fourteen to twenty hands, apprentices and all. The time of sailing for both descriptions of vessels is the beginning of April, and they mostly start again, in the month of September, on another voyage. They go out in ballast, and bring home timber. The Baltic ships bring corn, tallow, flax, and hemp as well. 6. The South American traders are generally large ships, averaging from 500 to 800 tons, and carrying from twenty to thirty men, all told. The rate of wages is £2 a month. They sail at all times of the year, taking out cargoes of iron and general merchandise, and bringing home hides, skins, tallow, horns, hoofs, bones, and guano. 7. The Brazilian traders bring home sugar, coffee, spices, rice, &c. They usually average from 300 to 500 tons, and are worked by fifteen to twenty hands. The wages are £2 5s. a month. 8. The Hudson Bay traders are a very small class; four only are known as sailing from the port of London. These are from 350 to 500 ton ships, and carry from twenty to twenty-five hands. The Hudson's Bay Company generally man their ships better than others; the pay is from £2 10s. to £3 a month - the wages being high because the work is hard, and the men being mostly picked hands. They generally leave in the spring and autumn; the cargo out is mostly stores for the settlements; the cargo home is exclusively furs. 9. The United States vessels are many of them passenger- ships, especially those bound to New York. The general tonnage is from 500 to 800, and the crew averages from 20 to 30 hands, all told: they sail at all times of the year, but the spring and the summer are the busy seasons. Wages are £2 5s. a month. The cargo out consists of Manchester goods and wearing apparel; and that home of cotton, corn, sugars, rice, tobacco, flour, and provisions. 10. The Mediterranean trade is carried on by small vessels of from 300 to 500 tons burden, and worked by 15 or 20 hands. The rate of pay is £2 5s. a month. The cargo out is mostly coals and iron; and that home consists chiefly of corn, wine, fruits (green and dried), spices, and salad oil. 11. The Portuguese and Spanish trade is carried on in vessels of from 200 to 400 tons, worked by from nine to fifteen hands. They carry out passengers sometimes, and general merchandise. The rate of pay is £2 5s. a month. The cargoes home are wine and fruits. 12. The African trade is carried on in vessels of from 150 to 300 tons, with from seven to thirteen hands. They generally take out iron, and frequently passengers, to the Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Cape Coast Castle. The cargoes back are ivory, gold-dust, palm oil, and cocoa nuts. 13. The Cape of Good Hope and Algoa Bay ships are of another class, but about the same tonnage, and with the same hands as the vessels in the African trade. The wages are from £2 to £2 5s. They go out with merchandise and passengers, and return with wine from the Cape. 14. The Whale Fishery is now carried on in the South Seas and in Greenland. The vessels are from 400 to 600 tons, with 20 to 25 hands. The men have each £5 advanced to them, but they have no regular wages; they go "on the lay;" that is, they are paid according to the fish caught and the sum realised by the oil.
The hands for all the above vessels are supplied by the shipping-masters, who are licensed. The men call at the shipping-master's office, and are sent thence to the ship for the approval of the captain. If approved, the shipping- master tells them the day and hour of signing the ship's articles. The shipping-master, before the vessel sails, must make out the articles (agreement between master and crew), and return the names of all the crew, which list is deposited at the Seamen's Register-office. He also makes out the advance notes. There are sixteen licensed shipping-masters in London.
The process observed on a foreign vessel entering the Port of London is this: Off Gravesend she makes a signal - a light if after dusk - and as the Custom-house officers stationed there are always on the watch, she is immediately boarded. At Gravesend some of the dock companies have agents, who make arrangements for carrying the vessel into the docks. Lloyd's also have their agents at Gravesend to note the arrival of each vessel. The Custom-house likewise sends reports to Lloyd's. When the officer has boarded a foreign vessel she proceeds to her station in any dock, or if she is to be moored in the river, to any station assigned to her by the harbour- master, such assignment being also made off Gravesend. The harbour- master's business, however, relates almost entirely to coasting vessels, which are not taken possession of by a Custom-house officer. The payments which have to be made by foreign and coasting vessels are the light dues and the rivers dues, which are levied according to the tonnage of the vessel and the course she has pursued, and which brand into a variety of divisions and sub-divisions. The pilotage of the vessels up the Thames is a subject which can here only be cursorily alluded to. When the Custom-house officer boards a vessel at Gravesend, it is usual for the master to leave her, and proceed at once to London, to report the vessel at the Custom-house. This is styled "entering inwards," and on the following morning the arrival of the vessel, the number of her crew, and the nature and extent of her cargo, the names of the master and the agent, and the parties to whom goods may be assigned, are printed in the daily reports of the Customs, for the information of all interested in the matter.
I shall now proceed to give the reader a description of each of the different trades above described. I had the following narrative concerning the South American trade from a sedate and intelligent man, who had all his "papers" with him, his watch, and was well-dressed, and with every appearance of what is called a "substantial" man. Previous to the voyage from South America, he had served on board Australian emigrant ships, and fully confirmed what was told me by others, as to the practice of giving short weight on board many of those ships, and as to the conduct of some of the captains, surgeons, and officers towards the unprotected female emigrants. I have, however, been at considerable pains to inquire into the truth of the statement given in my last letter. This I have thought it just to do, in consequence of a communication, received from a shipowner, denying the whole narrative. The result of my inquiries is, that I find the boatswain's account borne outmost fully by persons of the highest respectability and the greatest experience. I hive made a point of seeing one of the mates whose duty it is to serve out the provisions, both to the emigrants and crew. I am assured that the meat is often one-third short weight, and that the men are sometimes excited to acts of insubordination on purpose that a part of their wages may be stopped:
"I have been a seaman eighteen years," he said, "and my last voyage was to Port Phillip and Callao. I served on board a barque of 642 tons on the voyage from Port Phillip. I reached that place in another ship, and there I shipped for Callao. We had twelve able seamen before the mast, two ordinary seamen, steward, cook, first and second mates, carpenter, boatswain, and master. By rights, I consider that we ought to have had two more able seamen, but for all that she was better manned than ships usually are. They do leave the port of London so short-handed, that many accidents, and great loss of life rise from it. You see, a seaman doesn't know how many hands are to be shipped until he comes to sign the articles, and it's too late to say anything again it then. So they oft enough ship cheap foreign fellows at any foreign port, and a good man has to bear everything. That sort of thing, I can tell you, and from my own knowledge, gets worse and worse. They'll often try to knock off a good man to save his wages, or, to spite him, put him to jobs that they think he'll refuse; and they put him to them just to make him refuse, and so save the owners' money, and get favour with them. We are so treated that we are all dissatisfied; we talk of it on board ship. Plenty say that if a war broke out they would not fight for such a country as this; far more say they would rather fight against this country in an American ship then against America in an English or any ship. I fought for the country at St. Jean d'Acre, under the Hon. Captain Waldegrave, and I would fight for it again, bad as it is, but there's ten to one the other way. I have had many a dispute about it on board ship, and have been many a time abused by the hour together by my shipmates for saying I was willing to fight for the country. In my last voyage from Port Phillip to Callao, and then to London, I had £3 10s. a month as able seaman. I consider that I ought to have had £4 for going round the Horn on a homeward voyage only. From London to Callao and back £3 a month would be fair. In my last voyage we had very good provisions, and a fair proportion of them. In my voyage out the provisions were very bad. We had, last voyage, neither false weight, nor any imposition of that sort, but I know that such things are common. They do so try to cheat the seamen that way, that it oft causes great disturbances. We had a good captain, but a strict man in regard of duty. He had worked his way from the 'hawse-pipes aft,' and knew every branch. He was a seaman, every inch of him. But I have met with many an officer not fit to be trusted with either life or property at sea. In my last ship there was really nothing for a reasonable man to complain of, except in the berths, which were both too small and too large, as some were meant for double berths. We shipped a sea off the Horn, and the forecastle was drenched, and we had to sleep on wet beds three or four nights. The captain offered to give us a sail, and let us sleep on the guano that we had on board. In the small berths we were scrouged up like pigs in a style - hardly room to move. We brought home a cargo of guano from the Chinqua Islands. We first got sufficient guano to ballast the ship, and for that we discharged our old ballast. The way the guano is put on board is this. The guano is in cliffs - we call it the 'mountain' - it runs to a certain depth, and it's all stone at the bottom. From the sea it looks like a rocky mountain; there's nothing green about it - it's the colour of stone there. They say it's the ordure of birds, but I have my doubts about that, as there could never be birds, I fancy, to make that quantity. Why, I have seen as much guano on the Chinqua Islands - they're about two degrees south of Callao, on the coast of Peru - as would take thousands of ships twenty years to bring away. There are great flocks of birds about the guano places now, chiefly small web-footed birds. Some burrow in the ground like a rabbit. Among the larger birds are pelicans, plenty of them. A flock of them has a curious appearance. I have seen hundreds of them together. There is plenty of penguins, too, and plenty of seals, but the British ships are not allowed to capture them. I believe the Peruvian Government prevents it. A Peruvian man-of-war, a schooner, lies there. The guano is put on board this way: We have two 'shoots.' A shoot is made of canvas, equally square on all sides. The diggers bring the guano a quarter of a mile, to the shore. A place is prepared on the side of the guano mountain, by the sea, railed off for security with what you would call a hurdle, but it's very strong bamboo cane. There the diggers empty their bags, through an open place into the shoot which is spread below, and held by ropes. The shoot is then lowered down from the guano mountain by the diggers, and the seamen who hold the ropes to regulate it must keep the lines a moving, to keep the guano from choking (going foul) in the shoots. We must regulate it by the pitch of the ship. The ship is moved alongside, and so the shoot is emptied down the hatchway at a favourable moment. There is a very strong smell about the guano mountain. It oft makes people's noses bleed. The diggers on shore and trimmers in the ship have to keep handkerchiefs round their noses, with oakum inside the handkerchiefs. It affects the eyes, too; no trimmer can work more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. The seamen are not employed in digging or trimming; they used to be in trimming in 1843. The diggers and trimmers are labourers who live on the guano mountain (it's an island), to do that work. I believe the trimmers have two dollars a day when at work. The diggers have so much a bag. I don't know how much, as we weren't allowed on the island, except with the captain's leave. They have built huts of sticks on the mountain; the diggers have covered them with flags - that's a sort of bulrush that grows on the coast; others are covered over with mats. There were a few women there, but no bad women. The diggers are chiefly foreigners, but there are a very few English and Scotch. Perhaps there's 100 of them in all. They don't look sickly. Nothing grows on the guano mountain; there is not even a sea-weed at the water's edge. Guano is an unpleasant cargo until you get used to it on board ship. At first the ship smelt a if she was laden with hartshorn. I have picked large lumps of salt, like smelling salts, out of the guano. I may add that a cargo of guano was being unladen at the West India Dock on one of my visits there. It was hoisted out of the hold in bags, and had altogether the smell of very strong and unsound cheese. The whole atmosphere of the ship was cheasy. Some of the guano, which had been spoiled by salt water, had the appearance of yellow mud or slime.
A seaman, who was recommended to me as a trusty and well-conducted man, gave me the following statement as to the African trade:
"I have been fifteen years a seaman, and my last voyage was to the Gold Coast, in Africa. I sailed in a brig of under 200 tons. We had five able seamen, first and second mates, cook, steward, captain, and an apprentice. I was second mate. The able seamen had £2 7s. 6d. a month, which I think not sufficient, and they had to find their own stores besides, though they were charged a fair price on board. Men are generally dissatisfied, and a great many say they would never fight for such a country as this, specially not against America, nor stick to the country at all if they could get away. lam a married man myself, and so I suppose I must fight for the country if a war broke out. It's a great hardship on a married man that his wife cannot be allowed a portion of his wages during her husband's absence; but there's hardly an owner in London will allow monthly notes for the wives, and some that do allow them don't pay them, or pay them irregularly. I know one young married woman who had nothing for eighteen months her husband was away at sea. What's to become of such women? Half of them left that way go on the town to keep them from starving. Ours was a ship of the best sort as regards its management and accommodation - no false weights and no hum-bug about fines or such like, to cheat the men and please the owners; but there's a great deal of it about. Messrs. are good men to have to do with, and the owners in the African trade are good men generally. It's your cheap owners mostly in other trades that pluck every feather out of a seaman if they can, and they always can somehow.
Provisions were good and plenty in my last ship; grog at the master's option. Very few ships now give it as an allowance. When we reached the Gold Coast we put ourselves in communication with a consignee. We took out a general cargo, and brought back ground-nuts, ivory, gold dust, and palm oil. The great thing is palm oil. The consignee trades with the natives, giving them cowries - they're shells that are the money there - cloth, beads, cotton, iron pots, and other things, in exchange for the cargo home. We very seldom went on shore on the west coast of Africa, on account of the surf. It's very few places where you can land with a boat. I have known that coast for five years, and I have been on shore. The place was green enough, but was very sickly. The natives come on board in their canoes; as they are all naked, they get through the surf in their canoes well enough, and if the canoe be capsized they swim ashore, for they are like fish in the water. They come to sell yams, or birds, or anything they have, and some of them are good hands, rather, at a bargain. No women come with them, and the seamen are not allowed to visit the women on shore. If a man be ashore a day or two he generally has the fever when he gets on board again. Masters go off the quickest, as they are most ashore. I don't think they drink. There were some fine strong fellows among the natives; some had a few words of English; all that knew any English could swear; they soon pick that up; it's like their A B C among sailors. I never was up any of the rivers. We generally leave the cargoes at different places along the west coast. There is no regular harbour on the Gold Coast, not, I believe, until you get down to the Bight of Benin. We may lie a week or ten days where we discharge most cargo, and then the men can't get ashore; plenty would if they could, but I think it's not worth the risk. We often had talk on board about African travellers, such as Mungo Park. Sailors are more intelligent than they used to be. It's a dull coast. It seems mountainous in some parts, and with valleys in other, but all looks dull and dead. Indeed, you can't see much of the coast, for you see it chiefly at the forts. The mortality there is great; the white people die the quickest. I heard a captain say that out of twenty-one clerks he had taken out there seventeen had died. It must be a very profitable trade to those on shore who can stand the climate, or they wouldn't stay there, leading such dull lives. Many seamen won't go there. We get no provisions from the shore but a pig a week (generally), or what they call a sheep, but it's neither one thing nor the other. It's not woolly, but hairy, like a goat - though it is a sheep. It weighs perhaps from 15 lb. to 25 lb. I once killed one that was 13 lb. The flavour is pretty good, but there is no fat about the ribs; between the ribs, indeed, there's just the skin, like a pig's bladder. We generally make a mess of a whole sheep, with the yams; what we call sea- pie. I now like yams as well as potatoes. I brought over one yam that weighed 18 lb. The great dissatisfaction of seamen generally, is the lowness of their wages. Look how the Americans are paid, and then look at this. In the African trade, and other trades, a man may be employed nine months out of the twelve, and if he average £2 2s. a month, which is a liberal reckoning, why he has £18 18s. a year, and perhaps a wife and family to keep. What's £18 18s.? I would never go to that African coast again, only I make a pound or two in birds. We buy parrots - grey parrots chiefly - of the natives, who come aboard in their canoes. We sometimes pay 6s. or 7s. in Africa for a fine bird. I have known 200 parrots on board; they made a precious noise; but half the birds die before they get to England. Some captains won't allow parrots. There's very little desertion on the African coast. Seamen won't land to desert and wait ashore there for another ship. It's more than their life is worth."
A very fine looking fellow, as red as a hot climate could make him, with bright eyes, black curly hair, and a good expression of countenance, next gave me the following information concerning the West India trade:
"I have been at sea," he said, "nearly eleven years, and my last voyage was to the West Indies - to Kingston, Jamaica. The vessel was a barque of 240 tons. We had a crew of fourteen, being five able seamen, two boys, cook, carpenter, steward, chief and second mates, and captain. The wages of the able seamen were £2 5s. a month. £2 5s. is now the general rate for a voyage to the West Indies, but I think it isn't sufficient; indeed I'm sure of it. I have had £2 10s. and £2 15s. for the West Indies from the Clyde. In the Scotch ports and in Liverpool it's never less than £2 10s. I reckon that London is the worst paid port in the country. I account for it, because there are so many men here, and some of them scamps enough to take anything; and then the foreigners that want to go back will go for anything. I have often sailed with foreign seamen, but never with a Jew seaman in my life. I see them only in the bum-boats in England. The steward had £2 10s., the cook the same, the carpenter £4, the chief mate £4, the second mate £2 15s., the ordinary seaman £1 15s. The boys were apprentices. The crew were all foreigners, or from British colonies, except myself, the ordinary seamen, the captain, and the boys. Two of the foreigners were very good seamen. They spoke very little English. We agreed very bad - not the foreigners and us - but the captain and us. When we left the Downs, we had very bad weather in the Channel, and two men were laid up sick, and sometimes three. The captain, because he couldn't get the ship worked to his liking, kept calling all hands a 'parcel of dd soldiers.' She worked very hard with too few hands, such as the complement we had, and dreadful hard when three were laid up. The captain swore terribly. He didn't read prayers - swearing captains do though oft enough - by way of a set-off they say. Nobody can respect prayers from such people. I do from good men. I am a Scotchman. My last captain was a good seaman, though not much of a navigator. He pretty well ran the ship ashore in coming into the English Channel off the Scilly Islands. He nearly ran ashore, too, on the French coast, and with a fair wind right up the Channel. From the ignorance I have seen in officers, I am certain it is wrong to let anybody command a ship without his being examined as to his fitness. Young fellows often get the command through favour; they're relations of the owner, or something of that kind, and so they are trusted with men's lives. Our second mate was appointed by the owners, and hardly knew how to knot a yarn. At Kingston the men could go ashore every night, but no women were allowed on board. We took out a general cargo, and brought back a cargo of logwood, fustic, and black ebony. Me and a darky stowed it all. The men that were slaves in Kingston are starving. Those that were working on board our ship had only 2s. a day, and for such work 3s. 6d. is paid in England. It is all stuff that they won't work. They'll work hard enough if anybody will employ them. I have seen 100 of them come down to our ship the last voyage, a few weeks back, and beg for a crust. Me and my mates gave them half our grub to get rid of them, and because we couldn't bear to see them starving. I have heard hundreds of them say, and many a hundred times - for I've been four voyages to the West Indies - that they were far better off when they were slaves, but I never heard them say they wished they were slaves again. There are thousands of blacks in Kingston seeking for work and can't get it. They work pretty hard when at work, but not like an European. No man in the world works harder than an European. There seems no trade in Jamaica now, and all the people is ruined. In my last ship our fare was very bad. We had pork and beef - the regular mahogany, you see - 1 ¼1b. of each, and ¾ lb. of bread each - for the bread was allowanced - but ¾lb. of bread is too little. We had also rice and flour, but not enough. Grog was at the captain's option. There was no splicing the mainbrace; a glass of grog now and then, when we reefed the topsails, and sometimes not then. I'm sure grog does a man good on board ship, especially in hard weather. To show what things sometimes go on in merchant ships, I will tell you this - a man daren't speak a word for his rights on board ship, or all the officers are down upon him. The pay gets worse, and the accommodation worse still. To show you what may go on in merchant ships, I'll tell you what I know. We were once, and lately too, off the Chinqua Islands, round the Horn, laying for a cargo of guano, just astern of a Bristol full-rigged ship. On a Saturday, as is a usual thing with merchant ships, we sent there for a Saturday night's bottle' to drink Sweethearts and Wives,' and the skipper said he'd be d-d if he'd give it. His own men persevered in asking him for the bottle, and he went below and came up with a brace of pistols. He fired at one man, and the ball grazed his forehead, and took a bit off his ear; that was the first pistol fired. He was not drunk. He then fired the other pistol, and shot a man dead through the breast. That man took no part at all. The man that was shot never spoke after. We heard the two shots on board our ship. There was a cry of 'mutiny,' from all the ships in the harbour - about a dozen - a cry of 'mutiny on board the Eleanor,' and the captains sent off their officers and crews, with arms, to make peace. Afterwards the captains went aboard and held a council of war, and two men who had threatened to take the Bristol captain's life for shooting their shipmate were chained to the mizen topsail sheets - I saw the men there myself. Our boat and another ship's boat next day took those two men to the Peruvian man-of-war schooner on the station, and what was done in the matter I never heard; but the Peruvian man-of-war and the Bristol ship came together to Callao when we were there, and there we left them. The best way, sir - aye, and the only way, too - to stop desertion, is better usage and better pay, and more to eat, and then never a man would grumble, and there'd be no bad language either - unless when allowable. You may register and register, and go nibbling on, but I tell you it's the only way. In my last ship I had no berth: there was no room in the forecastle to hang up hammocks except for four. The cook slept there every night; he couldn't be disturbed; and the rest took their turns, turn in and turn out, but I never turned in at all, because others had the turn before me. I slept all the time on a water-cask. In the West India trade I have worked 13, and 14, and 16 hours a day, though from six to six is the law of England, and there was no necessity for longer hours, only it was the captain's whim, that was all. A quick voyage was wanted, but good seamanship and good usage - and they often go together - are enough to do that without distressing the men, who are neither so well paid, or so well treated, or so well fed, as to care about the interests of the owner. What's the owner to me? He doesn't care for me, or very seldom; if he did, I'd care for him."
A ship carpenter, a fine-looking man, in plain clothes, well and even handsomely dressed, gave me the following account of the whale fishery in the South Seas:
"I have returned from a South Sea voyage in a whaler. It is the custom of whalers in the South Seas to go 'on the lay.' In Greenland the men go partly by wages and partly by the lay; but I never was in Greenland. The system known as the lay' is this: The seaman is entitled (as a general rule) to the 190th share of the money obtained by the sale of the oil. There are from 30 to 36 hands generally. The officers are paid according to rank. The boatsteerer (the same officer as the harpooner in the Greenland trade) has a 140th share; so has the cook; the chief mate a 40th; the carpenter (myself) a 90th; the steward a 130th; the captain a 12th. The process of catching the sperm whale is this: They go in schools (shoals), and I have seen as many as 40 in a school. Sometimes I have seen astray whale, and then it is generally a large one. Well, the man at the mast-head sings out, 'There she blows - a whale in sight!' If it's a school, they lower all the boats; if a stray whale, two boats are lowered. In each boat are three harpoons and two drags; the drag is to secure a whale until he can be got at, if the men are busy with another whale, and killed with the harpoon. The boat steerer, who rows first oar of the boat, drives his harpoon into a sperm whale. When struck, the whale will often seize a boat with his teeth, and upset it with his flax (tail). The sperm whale is much fiercer than the Greenland whale. No boat is lowered after sundown, because it is unsafe; the danger is great at all times. When one of a school is struck, the whole seem to know. A few spring out of the water at the moment a whale is struck. I have seen one four miles off spring out. A cow (she whale) will miss her calf (young whale) in an instant; the men drive at the calf, and so can generally make sure of the cow. A bull (he whale) generally does not show such affection, but a cow won't go far from her calf. At 'gendering' time the cow is struck first, if possible, to make sure of the bull. While the harpooning is going on, the whole school is in commotion; blood and white water is flung about along the waves, and the moment blood flows sharks appear, though one wasn't seen previously. If a man fall overboard the shark won't touch him as long as the shark has a chance to prey on the carcase of the whale. I have seen a man and a shark swim alongside one another. One of the crew must go overboard, when cutting-in the whale; that is, cutting the blubber off the carcase when the whale is brought alongside the ship. A boat steerer generally does it, and though there are thousands of sharks about, he's never injured. I have known the sharks devour the carcase of a calf as it hung all night hooked to the ship. The carcase must first be cut, or the shark can't get hold of it with his teeth; he must have one place to fix on first. A whale dies without noise, but 'flurries;' that's the death motion. In those vast solitudes in the Pacific the feeling is often overwhelming to any thinking man. I have been for four months without seeing even a sail. Nothing but the fish and the waters, and often very few of the fish. The common seamen are terribly oppressed by the long, long solitudes. The regulations on board the whalers are not what they ought to be. Of beef, ¾ lb. is allowed a day, and of pork the same, on alternate days; but they are generally of bad quality. A few casks of good provisions are put forward to the surveyor's inspection, and the bad is kept in the background. Out at sea the good is kept for the cabin. The peas, flour, and bread, sometimes kept for four years - about the term of a whaling voyage - are bad, because no care is taken to preserve them. Grog is at the captain's option; it is generally allowed when the men are 'trying out;' - that is, boiling the blubber for oil. The captain on leaving England has £300, £400, or £500 worth of slops on board ship for the use of the crew. Slops are clothing from the slop-shops - any rubbish he can pick up cheap in the Minories, or anywhere. These as a favour he serves out at about 150 per cent profit. At many of the islands we touch at in the Pacific, money is of little or no use; but if it were, it is not in a man's power to receive it, though he's been away for three years; it's against the articles. I have known £3 paid for a monkey jacket which a man could see through. I can buy a better in London for 12s. In the whaling voyage I am describing we went out for four years, and lost our captain at two years' end; he died of fever off Copang, a Dutch settlement, an island in Torres Straits. There was no person to take charge of the ship. The mate, as his duty, read the articles to the crew, and the crew were surprised to find that instead of the 160th, they were only entitled to the 180th lay. They were deceived. In most whalers the articles are not made out before the seaman is called upon to sign them. This caused dissatisfaction: one wouldn't do this, and another wouldn't do that, until finally we worked the ship, as agreed, to the first English port (Singapore), where the matter was submitted to the magistrates, and the crew offered to finish the voyage if they had a captain on whom they could depend. The mate was examined and found incompetent; and so the English consul appointed a man to bring the ship home. Previous to this we had obtained 50 tons of oil. The ship took in a cargo of gamber (dyes), and a little sugar, and came to England. I stuck to her all the time. In England I was told by the ship-owners - merchant princes, sir - that the shij~ had brought home little or no oil, and I was entitled to no money. I knew the contrary. I inquired, as if I were a stranger, of the wharfmger at the London Docks, where the ship was discharged, and he told me that she turned out fifty-one tons of oil worth £80 a ton; that's £4,080. I was entitled to £30, in addition to my advances. By the articles the men on the lay are not allowed to employ their own gauger, and are often cheated by the owners. In winter time the sperm oil runs very thick, and some casks are perhaps not full. I have seen at an owner's cooperage what they call the sperm,' the most valuable part, taken off the oil, to the extent of 150 gallons, out of a 300-gallon cask. That oil is put in the owner's tanks, and the men are deprived of it: deprived - why, they are robbed of it. Seamen never get their full allowances. The crews of English whalers are Spaniards - and coloured men, when they get them - ignorant fellows, easily imposed upon; and nearly all the American whalers are manned by Spaniards and coloured men. All the men were dissatisfied. They didn't care one jot for their country. Fight against America if a war broke out! Not they. Would I? No. They don't impose on sailors in America. Whalers are greatly defective in one thing. After two years at sea, a man, if it were only for his health, should have a few days, or a day or two at least on shore; but that's denied him. Indeed, I see men imposed upon so, that I wonder they don't jump overboard. If a man only speak, he is 'a d mutinous vagabond,' and a 'd worthless rascal;' put in irons directly perhaps; and when a port is reached, the captain takes a ham, or cheese, or something as a present to the authorities on shore - the consul, or anybody - and so the man's prejudiced before he's ashore at all. As to desertion, why it must increase, until seamen are less robbed and better cared for."
A short man, but evidently of very great strength, brawny and muscular, and with a very good frank expression of countenance, gave me the following account as to the treatment on board the American ships:
"I am a Scotchman born, but am now in the American service, and on board a transit (merchant) ship trading from New York; not a liner, which runs only to one place. I have been in the English service, and was brought up in it. I have served on board one of your English ships that was not fit to go to sea, when she started for Callao. Off the Horn she leaked 350 strokes at the pump an hour. We couldn't sleep in the forecastle for the wet. Some of my shipmates were half dead before we got to Callao. We were always in danger in her, and there's no back way out at sea. The captain and his usage of us was very bad, striking men at the wheel; he once gave her up and cried like a child. She was above 800 tons. The English Consul at Callao wouldn't interfere, and told us, when we complained to him of the state of the ship, that he would do nothing for us, and, for anything he cared, we might all die in the streets. The captain had to ship three crews between Callao, the Clinches - that's the guano mountain - and the port of London. The old crew, all but two or three, were left at Callao. Well, sir, when this ship was at last go to the West India Dock she was patched up, and was then thought good enough for an emigrant ship, and was sent out to Australia with emigrants. I have been, off and on, in the American service these last 5 years. It's a far better service than the English - better wages, better meat, and better ships. No half-pounds of meat short there; eat when you're hungry, and the best of grub. What goes into an English ship's cabin goes into an American ship's forecastle. The Americans are fast getting the pick of the English navy. I have now 15 dollars a month, or £3 2s. 6d. No trouble about bonded stores or such like. You take your tobacco with you from any American port, where it costs 3d. or 4d. a pound; and tea, and coffee, and sugar, and rum are found you. The very best tobacco is 20cents, that's 10d., in America; but that's for chewing. The six cents tobacco, or 3d. a pound, is as good as you pay 3d. an ounce for here; so there's a pound for an ounce, you see. There's a lot of the American tobacco smoked in England; plenty of it puffed away at 3d. a pound all round the Custom-house. For the same sort of service in an English merchant ship I might get £2, or £2 5s., and starving all the time, unless I chance on a good employer, but they are scarce. The sleeping berths are far better in the forecastles of the American than the English ships - more room, and better fitted up. Why, of course, the English seamen flock into the American service as fast as they can, petty officers and all. I see a lot of foreign seamen in London now. I suppose a "Dutchman" - that's what any foreign lubberly fellow is now called - is shipped for every English seaman driven out of your fine ports. These Dutchmen will put up with anything whatsomever - kicks and hits, and all. As for want of grub, they'll starve before they'll ask for it, and the English captains know that well, and so prefer those fellows; and the English seaman may go to America, or where he will, for what they care. In every respect, both about registry and everything else, the American service is better than the English. The English service is fast coming to be only fit for Dutchmen - that's about it, sir, you may depend. There's very little else but English seamen in the American ships. Our crew is nineteen, and only four are American born; fourteen are British subjects. If a war broke out - I could answer for myself and for hundreds besides - I wouldn't fight for England against America, but for America against England. I'll not fight for a country that starves and cheats you. I'll never fight for short weights and stinting in everything, not I. I left an English ship at Quebec, which is the greatest place in British America for sailors deserting. The living is so bad that men won't put up with it. They can easily hide in Quebec, and so go overland into the States. Nothing will check desertion in the English service but better wages, better treatment, and better food. The discipline is much the same on board the American as on board the English ships. An English seaman is very little thought of in his own country, but he's well thought of in America. He's a man there."
Avery stalwart, fine-looking fellow, dressed in a drab-coloured jacket, of a texture resembling fur, with long boots, under blue trowsers, turned high up the leg, gave me the following account of the same service. He had a florid look, a quantity of long brown hair, and large whiskers, with a free off-hand manner, and was, judging from his appearance, about 35:
"I'm an American born," he said - "a New York man, and now in the American service, but I have served under the English flag as well, and I have had good living under it and bad living; but bad living has it. In one of s ships there was the horridest living I ever knew. She was from Bombay to London. The very horridest living I have known for 37 years, as man and boy. I'm 47 now - at least my mother says so. I don't dislike the English flag, and wouldn't fight against it if I could help it. I'd go into the backwoods, or take a farm, or something of that kind, rather than fight my brothers. I'm a man of peace - an Elihu Burritt man. The American-born seamen, as far as I know, have all friendly feelings to this country. When English and American sailors get drinking together, they hardly ever quarrel. What have they to quarrel about? In an American port you can get a ship in two hours, or at worst in twenty-four, so your English seamen will always run away. Rum's cheap, you see, and New York landlords give them a glass of that aqua fortis; it's rum mixed up with snuff, and decoction stuff; I don't know the chemistry of it; and so they nail the man flat, get a customer, and get him on board an American packet, after they've drained him dry; charge what they like, and make a turn out of him. The landlord keeps a slate, and he's free with the pencil, aint he? A man's dry in the morning, and goes to the bar to liquor, and asks the landlord what's on the slate. 'You were drunk last night,' says the landlord, and had so many glasses; and so many dollars, money, I lent you.' The man was drunk, and can't tell what he had or what he spent. In America it's customary in a seaman's boarding-house to take a friend in to dinner with you, and his dinner's not charged to you. I was once invited by a friend to dine at a seaman's home here; but he didn't know the ways of the place. The waiter, I guess you call him, says, 'Who are you?' I told him who I came with, and he took the plate away - 'you can't dine here, or any fellow might come out of the streets and dine.' If it had been in America I'd have knocked him down. It's a land of freedom in America, certainly; but there's a deal of humbug about all that. I'm just as free here. I never was insulted in the streets of London in my life. The living is so good in American boarding-houses, and so different to what English seamen have on board ship, that it's one thing to tempt them to desert. In an American boarding-house for seamen, they will have for dinner, on different days, fish, beef, mutton, boiled ham, fowls (perhaps every day), and a dessert after dinner - always a pudding or a pie, with apples and other fruit. The rum being so cheap is another reason, and not a little one. Another reason to tempt to desertion is - but I don't reckon that it influences them so much as the better meat and drink - a tumbler of rum in a decanter at the bar in New York for three-half-pence, take what you like - a tumbler full if you will, though the landlord looks at you if you fill the tumbler - none of your wine-glasses there. Another reason is, their lower wages in England. In long voyages I believe it's the cruelty, along with the bad wages and bad accommodation, that makes English seamen desert. The discipline is the same in the two services. In America the people are kinder to a seaman, I reckon. Here they seem to keep a sort of distance like; I don't understand it. In a New York boarding-house a landlord will give you two or three or more dollars the first night, because he's sure of his money; and he'll keep you three or four weeks, for the shipping-master will pay him when the man signs articles, and it's deducted from the man's wages at the finish of the voyage. An English seaman can get from Quebec to the States for a couple of dollars. In America they can buy 'a protection' for 50 cents, or two English shillings. The landlords have plenty of protections to sell. By a protection ticket an English seaman can pass as an American in any British port in North America. I see plenty of English seamen hard up here. They come down to our ship and say they've got the key of the Street, and have no other place to go to, and some beg of you. Such a thing's never known in America. People don't enjoy themselves here, I think, as they do in America; they're distant, like, and haven't that feeling for a working-man that there is across the water."