Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter XLVII

[back to menu for this book]


Thursday, April 11, 1850

 In several preceding Letters I have given ample particulars concerning the number, condition, pay, and provisions of the Merchant Seamen Afloat. I have described the state of the men in the different classes of vessels - both sail and steam-impelled - belonging to the foreign and coasting trades appertaining to the port of London. It now remains for me, in order to complete the picture, to set forth treatment and habits of the Merchant Seamen Ashore.
In the present Letter I purpose giving an account of the better class of "Homes," or boarding-houses, provided for the reception of the sailor on his arrival in the port of London. After which I shall proceed to deal with the crimps, or the worse class of boarding-masters, and to lay bare the manifold iniquities practised in the metropolis upon the thoughtless and unsuspecting seaman.
    First of all, however, let me endeavour to give the reader a picture of the port of London itself.
    In the hope of obtaining a bird's-eye view of the port, I went up to the Golden Gallery that is immediately below the ball of St. Paul's. It was noon, and an exquisitely bright and clear spring day; but the view was smudgy and smeared with smoke. And yet the haze which hung like a curtain of shadow before and over everything, increased rather than diminished the giant sublimity of the city that lay stretched out beneath. It was utterly unlike London as seen every day below, in all its bricken and hard-featured reality; it was rather the phantasm - the spectral illusion, as it were, of the great metropolis - such as one might see it in a dream, with here and there stately churches and palatial hospitals, shimmering like white marble, their windows glittering in the sunshine like plates of burnished gold - while the rest of the scene was all hazy and indefinite. Even the outlines of the neighbouring streets, steeples, and towers were blurred in misty indistinctness. Clumps of buildings and snatches of parks loomed through the clouds like dim islands rising out of the sea of smoke. It was impossible to tell where the sky ended and the city began; and as you peered into the thick haze you could, after a time, make out the dusky figures of tall factory chimneys plumed with black smoke; while spires and turrets seemed to hang midway between you and the earth, as if poised in the thick grey air. In the distance the faint hills, with the sun shining upon them, appeared like some far-off shore, or a mirage seen in the sky - indeed, the whole scene was more like the view of some imaginary and romantic Cloudland, than that of the most matter-of-fact and prosaic city in the world. As you peeped down into the thoroughfares you could see streams of busy little men, like ants, continually hurrying along in opposite directions; while, what with carts, cabs, and omnibuses, the earth seemed all alive with tiny creeping things, as when one looks into the grass on a summer's day. As you listened you caught the roar of the restless human tide of enterprise and competition at work below; and as you turned to contemplate the river at your back, you saw the sunlight shining upon the grey water beneath you like a sheet of golden tissue, while far away in the distance it sparkled again as the stream went twisting through the monster town. Beyond London-bridge nothing was visible; a thick veil of haze and fog hung before the shipping, so that not one solitary mast was to be seen marking the far-famed port of London. And yet one would hardly have had it otherwise! To behold the metropolis without its smoke - with its thousand steeples standing out against the clear blue sky, sharp and definite in their outlines - is to see London as it is not - without its native element. But as the vast city lay there beneath me, half hid in mist and with only glimpses of its greatness visible, it had a much more sublime and ideal effect from the very inability to grasp the whole of its literal reality.
    From St. Paul's I made my way to the Custom-house, where, by the courtesy of the authorities, I was allowed to view the port of London from the roof of the "Long Room." A noble sight it was! The river before me bristled with a thousand masts, and the city behind me with a thousand steeples. On the opposite side of the shore, chimneys as tall and straight as the masts in front of them, poured forth their clouds of black smoke, while over the tops of the warehouses might be seen the trail of white steam from the railway engine cutting through the roofs. The sun shone bright upon the river, and as its broken beams played upon the surface, it fluttered and sparkled like a swarm of fire-flies. Down "the silent highway" barges tide- borne floated sideways, with their long thin idle oars projecting from their sides, like fins. Others went along with their windlass clicking, as they raised the mast and sail that they had lowered to pass under the bridge. Then would come a raft of timber, towed by a small boat, and the boatman leaning far back in it as he laboured at the sculls; and presently a rapid river steamer, stuck all over with passengers, would flit past, and you would catch a whiff of music from on board as it hurried by. The large square blocks of warehouses on the opposite shore were almost hidden in their shadow, which came slanting down far out into the river, covering as with a dark veil the stoops, schooners, and bilanders lying in the dusk beside them. Further down the river stood a clump of Irish vessels, with the light peeping through the tangled rigging, and their masts thick together as their native pine trees, some with their sails hanging loose and flaccid, and others with them looped in rude festoons to the yards. Beside them lay barges filled with barrels of beer and sacks of flour; and a few yards beyond was a huge foreign steamer, with its short, thick, black funnel, and blue paddle-boxes. Then came hoys laden with straw and coasting goods, so deep in the water that, as the steamers dashed by, you could see the white spray beat against the tarpaulings that covered their heaped-up cargoes. Next to these, black- looking colliers, and Russian brigs from Memel and Petersburg, lay in a dense mass together. Behind them stood the old "suffrance wharfs" with their peaked roofs, and unwieldly cranes; while far at the back might be seen one solitary tree. Further down by the river side was a huge old-fashioned brewery, with its jet of white steam shooting through the roof; and in the haze of the extreme distance the steeple of St. Mary's, Rotherhithe, loomed, grey, dim, and spectral-like. Then, as you turned again to look at the bridge, you caught glimpses of barges in the light seen through the arches below, and the tops of carts, omnibuses, and high loaded waggons moving to and fro above. Looking down towards the wharfs next the bridge, you could see the cranes projecting from "Nicholson's," with bales of goods hanging from them and dangling in the air. Alongside here lay a schooner and a brig, both from Spain, and laden with fruit, and, as you cast your eye below, you beheld men with cases of oranges on their backs, bending beneath their load as they passed from the ship across the dumb lighter to the wharf. In front of the schooner were lug-boats and empty lighters, standing high above the water, as they waited to be laden. Next to this was Billingsgate, with the white bellies of the fish just visible in the market beneath, and streams of men passing backwards and forwards to the riverside. Immediately beneath me was the gravelled walk of the Custom-house Quay, where children strolled with their nursemaids, and hatless and yellow-legged blue-coat boys, and youths fresh from school, had come either to look at the shipping, or to skip and play among the barges. Here boats went by with men standing up in the stern and working a scull behind, like a fish's tail. Some yards off, were Dutch eel boats, of polished oak, with round bluff bows and unwieldy green-tipped rudders. Then came a tier of huge steamers with gilt sterns and mahogany wheels, and their bright brass binnacles glittering in the sun; at the foremost head of one, the blue-peter was flying as a summons to the hands ashore to come on board previously to starting, while the clouds of smoke that poured from the thick red funnel told that the fires were ready lighted. Behind these lay the Old Persius - the receiving ship of the Navy - with her top-masts down, her tall black sides towering high out of the water, and her white ventilators handing above the hatchways. After her came other clumps of foreign vessels, coasters, and colliers - schooners, brigs, and stoops - with their yards aslant, and their sails looped up. Beside the wharf in front of these lay lug-boats and sloops, filled with square cases of wine, while bales of hemp, barrels of porter, and crates of hardware, swung from the cranes, and were lowered into the boats or lifted out of the sloops and "foreign brigs" below. Further on you could just make out the Tower-wharf, with its gravelled walk and the red-coated and high-capped sentry pacing to and fro. Beyond this again you saw the huge, massive warehouses of St. Katherine's Docks, with their big signet letters on their sides, their many prison-like windows, and their cranes to every floor. At the back stood the square old Tower, with its four turrets, and its grey, buttressed walls peering over the waterside. As I stood looking down upon the river the hundred clocks of the churches around me - with the golden figures on their black dials twinkling in the sunshine - chimed the hour of two in a hundred different tones, while, solemnly above all, boomed forth the monster belt of St. Paul's, filling the air for minutes afterwards with a deep, melodious moan; and scarcely had it died away before there rose from the river the sharp tinkle of "four bells from the multitude of ships and steamers below. Indeed, there was an exquisite charm in the different sounds that smote the ear from the busy port of London. Now you would head the tinkling of the distant purl-man's bell, as in his boat he flitted in and out among the several tiers of colliers. Then would come the rattle of some chain suddenly let go; after this, the chorus of many seamen heaving at the ropes; while, high above all, would be heard the hoarse voice of some one from the shore, bawling through his hands to his mate board the craft in the river. Anon, you would catch the clicking of the capstan palls, as they hove some neighbouring anchor, and, mingled with all this, would be heard the rumbling of the waggons and carts in the streets behind, and the patning and quick pulsation of the steamers on the river in front of you. Look or listen which way you would, the many sights and sounds that fitted the eye and ear told each its different tale of busy trade and boundless capital. In the many bright-coloured flags that fluttered over the port, you read how all corners of the earth had been ransacked, each for its peculiar produce. The massive warehouses at the water-side looked like the storehouses of the wealth of the world, while, in the tall mast-like chimneys, with their black flags of smoke steaming from them, you saw how alt around were at work, fashioning the far-fetched produce into new fabrics. As you beheld the white cloud of the railway engine scudding above the roofs opposite, and heard the clatter of the carts and waggons behind, and looked down the endless vista of masts that crowded each side of the river, you could not help feeling how every power known to man was used to bring and diffuse the riches of every part of the world over this little island.
    The officers upon whom principally devolves the care of regulating the shipping, and alt matters connected with it, in the Port of London, are the harbour-masters. Of these there are four. The first has a salary of £500 a year; the second, £400; the third £350; and the fourth, £300. It appears that in 1836 the harbour service cost the corporation of London £6,363; and I find it incidentally mentioned by Sir John Hall, in the evidence he gave me before a select parliamentary committee, appointed to inquire into the state of the Port of London, in the same year, that the corporation derived annually £50,000 from their tolls upon coals, corn, fish, seeds, vegetables, fruits, roots, and indeed all measurable goods conveyed, water-borne, on the Thames to be sold in the London markets. The habour dues consist of a halfpenny or three farthings per ton on every vessel trading coastwise between the port of London and any part of the United Kingdom, as welt as on every vessel entering inwards or clearing outwards from or to a foreign port. Three farthings per ton is the charge on every vessel from or to France (between Ushant and Spain), Portugal, Spain (within the Mediterranean), the Azores, Madeira, and Canary Isles, alt ports in the Mediterranean, North and South America, the West Indies, Africa, East India, China, or any other place to the south of 25 degrees of north latitude. For all other destinations the "due is a halfpenny per ton. For the sake of greater perspicuity, however, I subjoin the following table of receipts and expenditure in connection with the harbour service of the port of London.
    The corporation of London are the conservators of the river Thames, and the Lord Mayor is the chief magistrate of the Thames as well as of the city of London. The corporation, under the charter of Henry VI., claims the right to the banks and soil of the Thames - subject, however, to the power of the corporation of the Trinity House to dredge for ballast below bridge. The Lord Mayor, however, according to the opinion of some of the witnesses before the parliamentary committee, is the servant, rather than the director, of the harbour-master; and the reason assigned is, that the harbour-master is a practical man acquainted with the management of the Thames, which the Lord Mayor is not. To assist in the proper conservancy and regulation of the Thames a "navigation committee is annually appointed, consisting of 46 members - 16 aldermen and 30 common councilmen; the common councilmen not being selected because they are considered the fittest men, as having some knowledge of the duties undertaken, but merely according to a system of rotation, by right of seniority in office. The appointment is for four years, and a commoner on the committee cannot be re-appointed to the performance of the same functions so long as a junior member of his ward has not been upon the committee; so that it very rarely happens that a four years' experience can be made available for the behoof of new and inexperienced committeemen. One-fourth of the committee goes out every year, the like number of new members being appointed. When the select parliamentary committee was sitting, the chairman of the navigation committee was "an importer and dealer in spruce."


Years Harbour Dues Other Receipts Total Years Salaries to Harbour Masters and other Officers Expenses for Moorings, &c. Wages, &c., for Harbour Services Other Expenses for Harbour Service Law Expenses Stationery, &c. Total
1836 £11,751 5s 0d - £11,751 5 0 1836 £2,399 16 6 £1,569 17s 6d £1,705 6s 11d £410 3s 10d £278 4s 5d £6,363 9s 2d
1837 11,349 8 0 £797 7s 4d 12,146 15 4 1837 2,399 16 6 2,625 13 7 1,595 14 9 458 1 4 582 4 0 7,661 10 2
1838 10,732 8 8 391 6 0 11,123 14 8 1838 2,452 6 6 3,830 11 5 1,847 8 7 924 1 6 161 3 0 9,215 11 0
1839 12,000 1 4 492 1 7 12,492 1 11 1839 2,601 1 6 5,181 0 8 4,142 9 4 1,000 13 4 456 16 6 13,382 1 4
1840 12,362 7 4 511 17 8 12,874 5 0 1840 2,755 19 2 2,453 18 2 2,387 17 9 723 12 3£ 215 17 10 8,542 5 2£
1841 12,402 19 5 570 12 8 12,973 12 1 1841 2,847 16 6 2,385 1 2£ 2,919 1 0 345 15 6 376 3 10 8,873 18 0£
1842 12,465 7 3 716 17 8 13,182 4 11 1842 2,832 10 6 2,170 17 6 2,476 11 9 412 9 2 248 0 1 8,141 9 0
1843 12,196 5 6 1,188 15 10 13,385 1 4 1843 2,883 16 6 2,225 3 5 2,674 5 10 409 8 6 118 3 8 8,310 17 11
1844 12,208 12 5 999 6 2 13,207 18 7 1844 2,916 16 2 3,227 9 5 3,902 6 10 377 1 10 200 3 2 10,623 17 5

The chairman in the previous year was, according to the evidence of Mr. E. Tickner, "a very strong-minded and practically clever" retail baker; and his predecessor was an upholsterer. "Almost every application, Mr. Tickner has stated, "is treated ad referendum, and referred to the sub-committee, which is appointed also by rotation, every month. The committee meets once a week, and determines on applications for jetties, driving of piles, and other matters connected with the use to which individuals or companies wish to apply the banks of the river." The "fines," or quit-rents for permission to cut through the banks of the Thames, or to erect buildings or works, drive piles, &c., amounted, in 1836, to £1,216; in 1844 to £1,657. The duties of the harbour-masters are "to superintend and direct the entering, mooring, unmooring, moving, and removing, of all vessels in the port of London, and "to have the sole and active control of the executive part of the harbour service." Also to inspect the state of the mooring chains, &c., to take soundings, and to report to the navigation committee any alterations that may have taken place in the navigation of the port of London. "I have also," says Capt. J. Fisher, the principal harbour-master, "to attend all orders from the Right Hon. the Lord Mayor, the Hon. the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, and to appear, at Guildhall or elsewhere, upon the Worshipful Thames Navigation and Port of London Committee, when duly summoned."
    In the Acts of Parliament regulating the Port of London, more especially as regards the functions of the harbour-master and the management and disposal of colliers, the port is represented as extending from London- bridge to Bugsby's-hole, below Blackwall. But the 1st and 2nd Vict., c. 101 (dated November 14, 1838) - an Act consequent upon the parliamentary inquiry in 1836 - extends, or recognises, the power of the harbour-master (in the by-laws for regulating vessels laden with coals in the Port of London, established by authority of the Act cited) to below Gravesend. The extent of the harbour-master's jurisdiction down the river is popularly known as from London-creek to Yanklet-creek - a point indicated, in day-light, by a flag hoisted near a place known as the "Stone," and at night by two lights, the upper one green and the lower red, "Vessels laden or in part laden," - says Mr. Rowland, the principal harbour-master, in a very useful little book on the subject, - "with coals for the London market, are required to send their boat on shore at Gravesend to Wates' landing-place, situated at the extreme end of Gravesend eastward, and proceed to the 'collier-office,' at the back of Wates' Hotel, and deliver their 'certificates of cargo' and 'Custom-house papers,' which are forwarded to the factors each day at eight in the morning and four in the afternoon. By this arrangement the papers are delivered with despatch and certainty, and the expense of forwarding them by a person from the ship is avoided. The harbour-master at Gravesend assigns to each collier the section to be occupied until the vessel's rotation for proceeding to the pool for the purpose of discharging her coal. These collier sections are: - No. 1. From Black wall Point to the Ferry-house on the south side of the river. No. 2. Galleons, on the south side of the river. No. 3. Galleons, on the north side of the river. No. 4. Half-way Reach, on the south side of the river. No. 5. Long Reach, from below Dartford Creek to Lamb Wharf, on the south side of the river. No. 6. From the causeway at Greenhithe to the lower Chalk Wharf in St. Clements, on the south side of the river. (This section is only used when not required for the use of her Majesty's ships.) No. 7. From below the Beacon, or Broadness Point to the upper side of Northfleet Creek, on the south side of the river. When these sections are full, colliers are detained eastwards of the Medway canal entrance, below Gravesend. Colliers ordered to or transferred from the lower sections of the river to Nos. 1,2, and 3, have their orders for the pools delivered to them from the Harbour Master's-office, at Greenwich, in rotation, and by a list furnished each market day from the Coal Meters'-office. In the pools, as I have before stated, the colliers are disposed in tiers; the maximum number which may be thus disposed is as follows: -

Lower pool ......... 147 Vessels
Hanover-hole  ......... 14
Church-hole Tier  ......... 14
Moorings above Church-hole  ......... 27
Tower tiers (for traders)  .........  15
Tiers between London-bridge and Cherry-garden (colliers for trans-shipment and traders)  ......... 10
Wapping Dock, King James's, and New Crane  ......... 8
[total] 235
When the pools are full, and vessels require despatch, colliers are accommodated at Llmehouse-hole Tier  .........  8
[total] 243

    When a collier is leaky or damaged, the harbour-master at once assigns her a berth for the discharge of the cargo or to lay up for repairs, as the exigencies of the case may require. If also a collier be bound to a dock or wharf, on the usual report at Gravesend she is ordered to proceed there straight-way, without further delay, by the regulations of the port.
    All the coasters and steamers are bound for some wharf, dock, or regular station in the river, and with these the harbour-master has nothing to do, beyond seeing that they observe the rules for the navigation of the river, and are properly moored in their places, if - as in the case of the Guernsey, Jersey, some Dutch, and other vessels - their regular moorings are in the flyer.
    The chief regulations to be enforced by the harbour-master as to the navigation of the Thames are, that there shall be a clear water passage in the middle of the river 300 feet across; that the ferries and inshore passages shall be kept clear; that the dock entrances and public landing places be kept clear, no vessel being allowed to anchor or moor within 200 yards of the entrances to the East India, West India, or London Docks, within 150 yards of the West India South Dock, within 100 yards of the St. Katherine's, Commercial, East Country, and Grand Surrey Canal Docks, or within seventy-five yards of the piers in the river and the entrance to the Regent's Canal. The by-law enacting that there shall be a clear water passage of 300 feet is one which is not, and it appears cannot, be enforced. One difficulty, independently of the crowded state of the river, is this; Should a collier, for instance, be so moored in its tier as to obstruct the navigation, the harbour- master must by law give the master of the collier twelve hours notice, when he is required to remove the obstruction, and for those twelve hours - comprising, perhaps, the whole term required for the most important navigation of the Thames - the collier can be kept in its berth unmolested.
    The subjoined table will give the reader a comprehensive view of the river and shipping from London-bridge to Limehouse-reach on the north, and the Surrey-canal on the south side of the river Thames: -


North Side
Tiers and Ferries
Number of Ships Navigable Channels Waterway at low water across, as per feet Waterway across at low water Navigable Channel Number of Ships South Side
Tiers and Ferries
- - - - 11 6 Battle Bridge

Custom House Upper Stairs

- - 630 - - - Battle Bridge Stairs
Eel Chain 6 10 - - 13 5 Pickle Herring Upper Tier
Yarmouth Chain 6 10 - - 12 5 Ditto Middle do.
Steamboat Tier 4 11 - - 12 5 Ditto Lower do.
Custom House Lower Stairs - - - - - - Pickle Herring Stairs
Dublin Chain 6 15 - - 14 - Merritt's (private) Swing Tier.
Tower Stairs - - 593 - 12 7 Limekiln Chair
Steamboat Tier 3 12 - - 13 7 Lighter Road Small Coasters
King's Moorings The Persius and - - - - 11 7 Ditto ditto
King's Stairs, Tower Episcopal ship - - - - - -
Tower Upper Tier 6 15 - - - -
Tower Middle Tier 5 13 - - - -
Tower Lower Tier 5 12 - - - -
Iron Gate Tier 6 12 - - - -
Iron Gate Stairs - - 700 - - - Horselydown Old Stairs
Steamboat Upper Tiers 4 13 - - 13 8 Garland's Chain
Steamboat Lower Tiers 4 12 - - 15 7 Old Rose Tier.
St. Katherine's Dock Entrance - - - - 12 7 Horselydown Upper Tier
Alderman's Upper Tier 6 13 - - - -
Alderman's Stairs - - 690 - - - George's Stairs
Alderman's Middle Tier 7 14 - - 13 6 Horselydown Middle Tier.
Alderman's Lower Tier 7 15 - - - - Horselydown New Stairs.

Hermitage Stairs

7 12 - - 13 7 Horselydown Lower Tier.
Hermitage Stairs - - 645 - - - Mill Stairs.
Hermitage, Middle 7 14 - - 14 6 Mill Stairs Tier.
Hermitage, Lower 7 14 - - 15 6 Bishop's Chain.
Union Tier, Upper 7 15 - - 14 2 East Lane, Upper, SM Vessels.
Union Stairs - - 655 - - - East Lane Stairs.
Union, Lower 6 16 - - 16 2 East Lane, Lower.
Wapping Entrance. London Docks - - 677 - 20 2 Fountain Dock.
Wapping Old Stairs - - - - - - Fountain Stairs.
Shadwell Entrance, London Docks - - - - 19 6 Cherry Garden, Upper Tier.
Bell Wharf, Upper Tier 20 15 - - 18 6 Ditto Middle.
Bell Wharf Stairs - - 845 631 - - Cherry Garden Stairs.
Bell Wharf Lower Tier 20 13 - - 18 6 Cherry Garden, Lower Tier.
Stone Stairs - - 730 - 17 7 Rotherhithe, Upper Tier.
Stone Stairs Tier 18 17 - 597 - - Rotherhithe Stairs.
Ratcliff Cross, Upper 16 15 - - 15 7 Rotherhithe, Lower Tier.
Ratcliff Cross Stairs - - 680 595 - - King Stairs.
Ratcliff Cross, Lower 14 15 - - 15 7 King Stairs Tier.
Regent's Canal - - 656 - 16 8 Princess Stairs Tier.
Dawson Dock - - 590 607 - - Princess Stairs.
Duke Shore Causeway - - 566 - - - Elephant Stairs.
Limehouse Hole Stairs - - 688 - 15 7 Trinity Tier.
Limehouse Hole Tier 7 15 695 - 14 8 Church Hole.
West India Dock Entrance - - 740 670 - - Church Stairs.
Canal Upper Tier 8 15 - - 16 18 Hanover Hole Tier.
City Canal - 854 770 - - Hanover Hole Stairs.
Tier below the Canal 9 14 - - 17 18 Mill Hole Upper Tier.
Second Tier ditto 10 14 800 - 16 18 Ditto Lower Tier.
- - - - - - Surrey Canal

Among the institutions of late years affecting the condition of seamen, one of the most prominent is the establishment of the Sailor's Home - or, as it is familiarly called by the seamen, "the Home" - in Well-street, near the London Docks. The building is erected on the site of the Brunswick Theatre, the iron roof of which fell in a very short time after its completion, in February, 1828. The destruction of the theatre excited public attention as to the best use that might be made of the site. Many friends of the seamen exerted themselves energetically (the late Captain Elliott, whose bust is now an ornament of the Sailors' Home, being one of the most indefatigable) to establish "a depot for unemployed seamen;" and in August, 1828, a sufficient sum was raised to purchase the lease of the ground of the theatre. On the 1st of May, 1835, the present building was externally completed, and opened for the reception of 100 seamen. It is now capable of accommodating upwards of 300.
    At the time the Home was founded, the sailor was the prey of the "crimp" (as the fraudulent and extortionate boarding-master was generally called), of the slop-seller, and of a host of harpies, who enriched themselves on the systematized ruin and degradation of the thoughtless and improvident mariner. The intent of the Home was to prevent or check these abominable practices, and to give to the sailors a healthful boarding and lodging house, with other advantages to which I shall allude.
    On entering the Home from Well-street, you step into a well-lighted and very spacious hall, supported by plain iron pillars. Seated on the oaken forms beside the fires at each end of the hall are some twenty or thirty seamen, newly "rigged out, some in their sleek and glossy blue clothes and clean straw hats, and others in bright red or dark blue flannel shirts - all smoking and chatting together. Some stand apart in small groups, conversing upon matters of business; while others, in couples, pace half across the hall, backwards and forwards, as if still upon the deck. A few yards from the door is seen, perhaps, the last newcomer, fresh from a long voyage, with his hammock rolled up like a mummy, and his ample sea-chest lying beside him on the whitened stones. On one side of the hail hang framed lists of "Ships to Sail," "Cancelled Mariners' Register Tickets," "Qualifications for Masters and Mates," cards of "Navigation Taught," placards of tailors "Recommended by the Sailors' Home" - on the opposite side the windows look into the skittle ground, where some half- dozen seamen are busy at the game. As I entered the hall, a sailor was swearing and gesticulating as only drunken men in a passion do, with his friends gathered round about him, and endeavouring to pacify him. The secretary, who accompanied me, placed his hand on the man's shoulder, and said kindly to him, "My good fellow, when I saw you this morning you were all I could wish you to be. Now do quiet yourself, there's a good man, and, above all, don't drink anymore, I beg of you." The man answered the secretary respectfully enough, but retired towards the fire muttering that he would have his revenge if he got six months for it.
    The dining-hall, or saloon, in which the men take their meals, is over the entrance-hall, and is of the same ample dimensions. Down the middle were ranged several long tables, two of which, at the time of my visit, were ready covered with white table-cloths, and set out with some fifty cups and saucers. At each end of the tables stood large piles of thick bread and butter, and in the centre plates of fresh-looking watercresses. Along one side of the saloon stood tables of a similar kind, covered with green baize, and strewn with books and periodicals in brown paper covers, chiefly of a religious, and partly of a nautical character. Here some sit at reading, others writing. Against the wall above each of these tables is a small book-shelf, one of which contains a copy of the Scriptures in almost every known language. "Not long since," I was told by the secretary, "a New Zealander might be seen sitting by the fire there, reading the New Testament in his native tongue."
    Above the saloon is the museum, containing models of ships, Malay proas, Madras catamarans, maps, charts, and foreign curiosities. Next to this is the school-room, with slates, scribbled over with sums and problems, and the tables littered with lunar observations, "epitomes," and mariners' Assistants. Here an evening school is conducted, at which instruction in navigation is afforded gratuitously to as many as will avail themselves of the opportunity. Lectures on navigation, or on other matters connected with the seaman's calling, are also given.
    The dormitories; some of which are at each end of the entrance-hall, and some at the two extremities of the saloon, consist of a series of handsome oak cabins, with a passage down the middle. Of these there are in each dormitory two tiers on either side, placed one above the other. The topmost tier, round which there runs a continuous balcony, is reached by a small ladder, in the centre of the dormitory, and similar to that by which the captain of a steam-boat mounts the platform between the paddle-boxes. The doors, and what may be called the windows, are made after the fashion of Venetian blinds, so that by the mere pull of a string light or air may be excluded or admitted, at the pleasure of the occupant. The ventilation is admirable. You feel, as you walk along the passages, by the soft and regular current of air, that the place is as well ventilated as science can effect it. Each inmate has a cabin to himself; it is furnished by the institution with a wooden, or, in those of a later erection, an iron bedstead, and in the berth is stowed the seaman's chest. In the apprentice ward cards exhorting the Inmates to prayers, beginning "My dear young friends, and signed with the chaplain's name, are nailed against the walls. On the windows at the end of the other dormitories lie tracts in brown paper covers, with some sailors names inscribed on them outside; and all over the institution hang small cards, in all languages, beseeching the men to put their trust in God. The institution contains eight dormitories, making up altogether 300 beds. These dormitories are called by different names, and have many of them been built by different parties since the opening of the institution. The mercantile interest in the city of London supplied the means for two dormitories, when increasing applicants showed the need of increased accommodation. Another was erected by means of contributions from Edinburgh - less through the liberality of merchants or shipowners, I was informed, than that of benevolent persons unconnected with the trade; and the last dormitory was erected at the cost of the late Queen Dowager, who expended upon it £420 5s. 9d. This dormitory is styled "The Royal Adelaide;" the others are called "The City of London," "The City of Edinburgh," or are distinguished by names familiar to seamen, such as, "Madras," and "Canton." One is occupied by the "lads" - another by the "apprentices." The cleanliness which distinguishes the cabins in a man-of- war marks all those of the Sailors' Home, but with that the resemblance to a man-of-war ceases. In the Home I observed no man-of-war, or even merchantman, sort of discipline - there was no "aye, aye, sir," no "salute" to a superior. The officers of the institution, including Captain G. Pierce, R.N., the secretary, and indeed manager (for whose ready courtesy, in placing at my disposal every source of information, I am bound to express my obligations), are addressed by the sailors familiarly as friends.
    The Sailors' Home is not only used as a pay-office where several shipowners now pay off their crews, but it also fulfils the functions of a savings bank to the seamen. The pay-office is that used by the clerks of the institution, and stands on one side of the passage leading to the entrance- hall, while the bank for the deposit of the men's pay is on the other. On entering the pay-office I found a young gentleman seated at a small table with a canvass bag full of sovereigns by his elbow, and a wooden bowl in front of him awaiting the coming of the sailors for their wages; while in the bank, on the opposite side of the passage, I found two seamen. One - a good-humoured and even merry-looking, but very deaf man - had resorted to the establishment on his return after eight voyages, and declared he knew no better place; while the other, who was there for the second time, expressed a similar opinion. The last-mentioned seaman deposited 14 sovereigns with the cashier, saying that he would keep 10s. to spend; but finding that he had more change left, he said, "Well, it's Saturday night, so I'll just keep all the silver for my pocket."
    Every inmate is urged to make the institution his banker; the money so deposited is placed in the savings' bank, but is paid over at once to a seaman (with the savings' bank rate of interest) on the depositor's demand at the Home; and so he is saved any trouble, delay, or hindrance, through any mere informality, that might pester him at the savings bank, and make him unwilling to use it a second time. I cannot better show the effects of this branch of the arrangements of the Sailor's Home than by an extract from last year's report.

    "The directors have the pleasing satisfaction of being enabled to state, that out of 25,960l. of the sailor's private money which has passed through the cashier's hands during the last year, 5,485l. has been forwarded by the officers of the institution, in order to reach the men in safety when they arrived at their homes, or else to their relatives and friends in different parts of the country, to help them in the hour of need. In the savings bank 2,540l. is now invested, belonging to 235 depositors; and a pleasing instance of the pecuniary benefit arising to the men may here be mentioned. One of our oldest boarders, on first entering the institution, was induced to place a portion of his wages, received after a long Indian voyage, in the savings bank. This he has increased on every subsequent visit, until the amount reached 185l., after which no further investment could be made; 200l. was therefore purchased for him in the 3£ per Cents., and he has still something left in the savings bank. To his credit it may be stated that the sailor never came to the institution without sending some assistance to his sisters in Ireland."

    The day-book of the institution, which was shown to me, exhibits the deposit of the seaman's wages in sums varying from £5 to £20; this is afterwards drawn out by the men for daily expenses, in sums generally of 5s. The depositor can pay or receive his money at any time on any day, Sunday excepted, between 9 and 5. A deposit, however, will not be refused after five - and very properly not; for in the evening the seaman with money in his pocket is most beset with temptations. For boarding, lodging, and a fair allowance of washing, each man pays 2s. a day, or 14s. a week; the lads pay 12s. a week for the same fare, and the apprentices 10s. 6d., washing for both included. Four meals a day are provided. For breakfast there is bread and butter and coffee, with fish by way of a relish, and always water-cresses, or some vegetable, as an anti-scorbutic. For dinner good roast or boiled joints are provided, and as much as any one chooses to eat. With tea, bread and butter and green vegetables are given; and for supper, meat, bread, and vegetables again. The doors are closed invariably at eleven at night. Prayers are read by the chaplain every week-day, morning and evening, which all are invited to join in; and on Sundays, the inmates attend public worship in the Seamen's Church, close by. A printed card, which the Rev. C. B. Gribble, the chaplain, causes to be placed in the hands of the apprentices, thus concludes: - "I entreat you, my dear young friends, to use the means for improvement which are now within your touch. Do not laugh at them; do not neglect them. By using them rightly you will be useful, honoured, and blessed; and in godliness, temperance, and purity, you will find peace, happiness, and honour. - Your faithful friend and pastor, C. B. GRIBBLE."
    The number of men who have been, for longer or shorter periods, inmates of the Home, since its commencement, are - In 1836, 528; in 1837, 1,002; in 1838, 1,263; in 1839, 1,329; in 1840, 2,183; in 1841, 2,822; in 1842, 3,833; in 1843, 3,846; in 1844, 3,370; in 1845, 3,917; in 1846, 3,766; in 1847, 4,567; in 1848, 4,932; and in 1849, 4,633 - making a total of 41,992 sailors received into the house since May, 1835, up to the 30th April, 1849; of whom 11,191, or nearly one-fourth, have been men who have resorted to the institution more than once.
    The following is the account of the receipts and expenditure from April 30, 1848, 1849:- 


To balance at last audit £671 5 1
Annual subscriptions £425 13 6
Donations: Her Majesty Queen Adelaide £420 5 9
Special appeal 432 0 0
Usual donations 274 0 0 -- [total] 1,126 5 9
Advance notes 29 13 8 
Collection at public meeting 9 14 1
Sale of old stores and seamen's effects 13 13 5
Sailors' board money 5,052 4 3
Dividends on stock 78 16 3
Legacies 324 9 6
Teignmouth Association 3 10 0
Durham ditto 11 5 0
Totness ditto 3 5 0
Norwich ditto 5 12 0
Newcastle ditto 9 15 0
Sheffield ditto 6 0 0 
Guernsey ditto 12 0 8 
Torquay ditto 18 0 0
Bath ditto 30 11 6
Edinburgh ditto 2 15 0
Derby ditto 1 10 0
Cheltenham ditto 15 8 6
York ditto 23 15 6
Clifton ditto (2 years) 9 0 0 
Plymouth ditto 8 15 0
[Total] £7,892 18 8


By advertising £6 2 6
Cleaning, sand, scouring blankets, rugs, &c 59 6 2
Completion of building 615 8 7
Coals 80 13 6
Collector's poundage 21 6 7
Expenses incurred boarding ships 25 12 1
Furniture and bedding 215 15 8
Gas 72 5 6
Hire of rooms for public meeting 7 2 6
Insurance 29 5 0
Losses upon advances to seamen 16 1 6
Linen 32 15 6
Lectures. library, museum, and school expenses 57 4 0
Printing 46 12 6
Petty expenses 12 16 5
Provisions 8,404 6 7
Postages 21 5 10
Porterage and parcels 1 1 5
Quarterly salaries to secretary, chaplain, accountant, cashier, and examiner of accounts 590 0 0 
    Repairs of building, painting, &c 121 2 11
Rent of back-yard and offices 71 15 0
Rates and taxes 66 2 7
Stationery 45 12 10
Soap, candles, and oilman's account 31 14 8
Scripture Reader  22 0 4
Travelling expenses 0 9 10
Washing sailor's clothes 185 8 6
Washing house-linen 69 19 8
Weekly wages to suprintendent, schoolmaster, two agents, messenger, storekeeper, cook, doorkeeper, night watchman, steward, cook's and steward's mate, porter, and six waiters 581 3 9
Purchase of 850l. Reduced Three-and-a-Quarter per Cent. Annuities 738 16 3
Balance at Messrs. Williams, Deacon, and Co.'s 643 10 6
[Total] £7,892 10 6

By the above it will be seen that £5,000 and odd were paid by the seamen for board at the Sailors' Home, and early £2,000 contributed towards the support of the institution by charitable persons, either in the shape of "donations," "subscriptions," "legacies," or "collections" in 1849. By these and other means, £7,892 was obtained in the course of last year. Of this nearly £3,500 was paid for provisions, £150 went for lighting and firing, £350 for washing clothes, linen, and cleaning, £250 for furniture, bedding and linen, £800 for completing buildings and doing repairs; while the salaries of the officers in connection with the institution, amounted to upwards of - £1,200!! That an institution like the Sailors' Home, of which the lease of the ground and cost of the building were originally paid for by voluntary subscriptions, and which has consequently only £70 to pay for "rent of back yard and offices, and about the same amount for rates and taxes every year; that such an institution with upwards of 4,500 boarders in the course of the year, paying each 14s. a week, should not be selfsupporting - but require still to be maintained by charity to the extent of nearly £2,000 per annum - appears at first sight almost inexplicable. But when we find that, what with secretary, chaplain, scripture reader, accountant, cashier, examiner of accounts, superintendent, schoolmaster, two agents, messenger, storekeeper, cook, doorkeeper, night watchman, steward's cooks and steward's mates, porter, and six waiters - the salaries amount to upwards of £1,200 per annum, it is easy to understand that an Establishment so conducted must always be obliged to resort to alms in order to "make both ends in any way "meet." The Sailors' Home is most assuredly an excellent institution, and one that doubtless, even at present, is attended with manifold benefits to the seaman; but it requires many alterations before it can be said to carry out fully the intention of its benevolent founders. Of these I shall speak more particularly in my next letter.
    A middle-aged man, of very sedate appearance, and residing in the Home, gave me the following statement:
    "This is my fourth visit to the Sailors' Home in the course of nine years. I consider it an excellent institution for seamen. We have good strong grub, but we don't look for so many hares and things as at some boarding- masters'. At breakfast, at eight o'clock, we have always corned beef, salt fish, bread and butter, and coffee. For dinner, at one to-day, we had bouilli soup, roast and corned beef, meat-pie, and vegetables, with a pint of beer a man. That's the usual style of our dinners here. We have hot dinners on Sundays. For tea, at six, bread and butter and tea, with water-cresses. For supper, at nine, bread and cheese, with a pint of table ale. At half-past ten another pint of table ale is served out to each man, and then we can smoke till eleven, and go to bed. We can smoke as we please all day in the hall. They close the doors at eleven, and never open them on any account. We have prayers regularly every morning and evening. I generally attend, but we are not compelled; Roman Catholics go to their own places. The savings-bank at the Home is a very good place, for it makes a man more careful. I received £33, and put in in the bank. I draw it out as I want it, by 5s. and 10s. I've known rogues of boarding-masters who would have made me drunk, and have left me without money next morning. I knew a man who found himself the next day after a voyage, without a penny, and the boarding-master, when he told him he was robbed, said he was 'slewed' the night before, and came home without a penny. He was a shipmate of mine, and I saw him home to his boarding-house, and I'm sure he had the money about him then. He and I believed the boarding-master had robbed him when dead- drunk - that's five years ago. He made no stir about it; he had no evidence. The boarding-master kept him a few days without any charge, and then he got a ship. If a man's sober and steady, he can keep himself happier and cleaner here than in a boarding-house. Here we have all cabins to ourselves; in many boarding-houses, but not those of the best sort, we sleep two in a bed. Our friends can come and see us here, but not any female friends; though a man's mother or sister may sit down and talk half an hour to them - not by themselves privately, but in the hall, or up-stairs in the dining- room. I think the steadiest-going seamen will always speak well of the Sailors' Home - I've found it so. If we have no money to stay longer, we must go, and can be admitted, if we are destitute, into the asylum below; but that's reckoned bad; it lowers a good man. I should be very badly off before I went there - very hard-up indeed. I could stay here a week or ten days after my money was out; but if I leave then - and leave I must - without getting a ship, I must leave my chest of clothes until I can get money to take them out. I don't know how long they keep the chest for any man leaving in debt. No grog is allowed in the Home, and men are better without it. We all agree very well here. After staying out all night, a man can go back next morning as usual."
    I shall complete the present description of the better kind of Homes for Seamen with an account of a seamen's boarding-house (of the best class), for such it was described to me on excellent authority. The house was of the description known as a "gentleman's house;" it stood at the top of a street, not a thoroughfare, and behind it was a spacious garden, with out-houses where the more cumbersome luggage of the lodgers was stowed, and a very clean piggery. The garden walls were well covered with vines, and there were broad gravel walks, on which the seamen sauntered and smoked their pipes. At the end of the garden was an arbour, in which a sailor's old sea chest did duty as the seat. In an open recess built out from the kitchen window, the top of which was on a level with the ground of the garden, hung six hares, four ducks, a joint of beef, a shoulder of mutton, and a ham - tolerable specimens of the seamen's fare. I was told that the boarding-master was enabled to afford what may be accounted sumptuous dinners - considering that l4s. per week, the same amount as is paid at the "Home," is the charge for board, lodging, and a fair proportion of washing - by going himself to the same markets, and making his purchases on the same terms, as a wholesale dealer in game or poultry. On my visit some lodgers had just arrived from sea, and were refreshing themselves at a well-furnished tea- table. Four meals a day are supplied to the boarders, meat being given at three of them, whilst the supply of green vegetables, such as watercresses, is abundant at breakfast and tea. The inmates are single men, or those whose wives, home, or friends, are in other ports. The grand staple of the furniture of the house] speak of was shells. They were in every room, as if the owner of the house were studying the conchology of the East. They had been presented to him as little tokens of respect or remembrance by his guests. Some nautilus shells were specimens of exquisite beauty, while other shells were remarkable for their size, or for the delicacy, richness and iridescence of their colours. Mixed with the shells were marses of coral in different forms. In one of the best rooms, where the lodgers could resort to write their letters, or where they could see any visitors, the grate was filled with a large mass of coral and shells, and curiosities of all kinds covered the mantelpiece and side-tables. With these, too, were mixed the teeth of the whale, on some of which were carved, or scratched, drawings relative to a seaman's life. The house I am describing could accommodate thirty boarders, for whose use eight sleeping apartments were provided, a separate bed being allotted to each man.
    In addition to the above I visited several other boarding-houses - all of the better class - being directed by a competent person. I did so that I might satisfy myself that the first house I saw was not an exception to the rule; nor was it. The other houses more or less presented the same characteristics; shells, and other sea curiosities, were the chief ornaments, with live parrots and cockatoos, some of them noisy enough. In two houses I saw pleasant- looking old women (housekeepers), who were described to me as great favourites with the seamen. Some of the houses were beautifully clean, none could be called dirty; but, in point of ventilation, none could be compared to the Sailors' Home.
    I will now give the statement of the Boarding-house Master himself, merely observing that I was referred to him by gentlemen of the greatest experience, as a fair sample of the better class, and as a person upon whose word every reliance might be placed:
    "I have had seven years' experience in keeping a boarding-house for sailors. I charge 14s. a week for board and lodging, supplying four meals a day, with meat or poultry at three meals. When the hare season is in I cook upon an average 20 hares a week, my boarders being in number about 30. Sometimes they tire of hares. When on shore, seamen are, however, generally fondest of hares, or rabbits, or poultry, and such things as they seldom get at sea, but I always provide roast and boiled joints as well. I find also to each man a pint of beer at his dinner and supper. The following, as my books here show you, is a statement of the numbers who have been in my house for three-and-a-quarter years past:

The number of men from January 1, 1847, up to December 31, 1847 .......... 402
January 1, 1848, up to December 31, 1848 ..................487
January 1, 1849, up to December 31, 1849 ................. 594
January 1, 1850, up to April 1,1850 ................ 109

    "I have most men at home in May, June, and July:
Last May at one time ............... 47 men 
June ditto ...................................52 men
July ditto ....................................39 men

    "I may be said, in some sense, to act as banker to my lodgers, so far as this: When any boarder comes from sea he will place his money in my hands for safe keeping, and will draw it out in small sums as he requires it. I keep it in a book this way." (He showed me the book, which was kept with perfect system and regularity, some of the boarders testifying to the accuracy of the accounts.) "I never advance a man a farthing when he's drunk - not one farthing. Every morning I call over to each man a statement of his account, and if the boarder be not able to read and write, I call upon his shipmates to look at the book, and explain and satisfy him that it is right. The book always lies on a table for anybody's inspection. I mostly see my old customers, voyage after voyage, and they often bring their shipmates with them. My lodgers are of the better sort, and are well-conducted men, all things considered; by that I mean, that if a small tradesman or mechanic were suddenly to find himself in possession of £10 or £20, or more pounds, after having known many hardships, he would be more likely to commit greater excesses and offences than a sailor does. The sailor is, as a rule, a manly fellow, and I never knew any one of my lodgers strike a woman, unless aggravated by women of the town when drinking. These things, however, come very little under my observation, unless when sent for to help any of my lodgers out of a scrape; for in my house nor disorder or bad language is allowed. Men who do not behave themselves must go. The board at houses like mine I consider to be better than at any other place, as we consult the men's tastes more than they can do at places caned on strictly by rule. The charge is the same as at the Home. I would very gladly undertake to carry on the Sailors' Home, and pay servants' wages and rent into the bargain (which they do not, the building having been raised by subscription), and every other expense, and make a handsome thing of it too, without any charitable donations or subscriptions, or anything of that kind. As to the destitute men, who are now sent from the Home to the Seamen's Asylum, I should deal with them as I do with the men in my house who get through their money before they leave. I keep them until they can get a ship. I have lost very little indeed (and that chiefly by death) by men neglecting to pay me on their return from a voyage for what I let them have on credit. I have had post-office orders for such payments from all parts of the kingdom. If a man has left in my debt, and his first voyage afterwards is a bad one, I wait till the next, and almost always get paid. When men come to my house straight from the ship I advance them 5s. a piece, or if it's a steady man or an old customer 10s. They pay me when the ship is paid off. As to advance notes, I cash them for my regular customers without any charge. To those who are not regular customers I charge 5 per cent, but if the advance note is in payment of what they owe me I charge them no per centage, and may advance them something beyond the payment of the note. If the men be not all in my house at eleven - and sometimes they are not if they have gone to Astley's, for instance, or any place of amusement - I keep open till two in the morning; but I will open my doors at any time rather than subject any lodger to lose his clothes, as he most likely will if he be locked out all night. I have known men who have been out all night skinned' as it is called; that is, they have lost everything, shirt and all. Perhaps a woman of the town will come or send to me - every day may be it happens - and will bring a pawnbroker's ticket for a seaman's clothes pledged by her, the man having been drunk sometimes. The woman demands so much money for the duplicate of the clothes; if the duplicate be for 10s. she will ask 3s. or 4s. more than the 10s. If I threaten to take her before a magistrate, as perhaps the clothes have been pledged unknown to the man, she may give up the ticket, but not if it be only for 5s., as a magistrate then won't interfere. I have known the men - plenty of them - lose their clothes in the middle of the day. The Home closing at eleven has subjected many men to lose their clothes to my knowledge. I have known men locked out of the Sailors' Home come to their shipmates at my house for a night's shelter. If they have no money left, they may either walk the streets all night, or try and get a lodging with a friend, or go home with some girl who is tolerably certain to rob them of their clothes, and this while they have plenty of money in the Home. As to clothes, my lodgers employ any tailor they please, and I pay any strange tailor's bill if instructed so to do. Seamen will very well bear talking to when I tell them what fools they are to throw away their money as they often do, without any reasonable enjoyment for it. I have known great bearded men cry like children when I have reasoned with them as to their extravagance and tomfooleries; but they can't bear any threat of exposure, or anything like compulsion.
    Of Mr Green's Home I shall speak in my next letter.



Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850