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Friday, April 19, 1850
In my last Letter I gave an account of some of the better
class of lodging- houses for seamen. I described the peculiar character of the
institution known as the Sailors' Home, in Well-street, London Docks, as well as
the establishments kept by the more respectable boarding-masters. In my present
communication I purpose completing my picture of the better class of seamen's
lodging-houses, with a short sketch of "GREEN'S HOME" in the East
This institution is somewhat similar in its arrangements and regulations to the Home in Well-street. It differs from that establishment, however, in being a private rather than a public institution, it having been built by Mr. Green, the ship-owner, solely for the accommodation of his own men, and being contributed to by him every year to a considerable amount with the same view. The Home in Well-street is maintained by subscriptions from charitable individuals to the extent of very nearly £2,000 per annum. "Green's Home," however, receives eleemosynary aid from no one but the benevolent founder himself; and I have been assured, that, though the institution is not self-supporting, by at least from three to five hundred pounds a year, still the gentleman whose name it bears does not hesitate to make up the deficiency out of his own pocket, rather than allow his men on their return to this country to fall a prey to the crimps that infest the neighbourhood of the Docks.
After the many scenes of overwhelming misery that it has been my lot to contemplate within the last few months, it is impossible to convey to the readers of these letters the sense of delight experienced on visiting an abode like the institution in the East India-road. For nearly six months I have witnessed the most heartless indifference on the part of employers to the welfare of those whom they employed - and heard the most bitter invectives poured forth by the workpeople against those for whom they worked. The misery, the heartlessness, and the bitterness which it had become my duty to witness and listen to, day after day, made my task a most melancholy one. It was, however, this very circumstance that gave a tenfold pleasure to my visit to Mr. Green's Home. The cleanliness and pleasantness of the place were so diametrically different from what I had lately been accustomed to - the men spoke so lovingly of their master - and the master betrayed everywhere such kindness and consideration for his men - that after half a year spent among sweaters, slopsellers, chamber-masters, lumpers, ballast-contractors, and a host of others who live and fatten on the physical and moral degradation of those whom they employ, the comfort, happiness, and air of sympathy that pervaded the whole building had indeed a most cheering effect. On a settle before the fire in the entrance-hall (which, though smaller, is something like the hall of the Home in Well-street) were ranged some dozen sailors smoking. All of these were old servants. Only one had been but a single year in Mr. Green's employ. Two had been eight years - two others six years - one had made nine voyages in Mr. Green's ships - another five - and another four. The others had been from two to three years in the service of Mr. Green. As I interrogated the men, one said, "I never was in any other employ out of England since I have been to sea. I was always treated kindly by Mr. Green, and am satisfied I never could meet with a better master. I always heard he had a good name, and am sure I can give him one."
On one side of the hall stood a large model of one of Mr. Green's "crack ships," the OWEN GLENDOWER. I was contemplating the symmetry of the hull, when an old sailor, with a freckled, weather-beaten face, and whiskers of the colour and texture of "coir" rope, came up to me. "Ah! that's a fine ship, sir," said he; "I was captain of the maintop in her one voyage. She's one of the finest vessels lever sailed in, and I've been nearly forty year at sea. Ain't she a pictur' now, sir?" The man then digressed from the ship to his master. "Ah, sir! his treatment to us will become proverbial by-and-by. He has fitted up this place for us, and we pay less here than we should have to do anywhere else. We have better treatment and better victuals too than we could get at any other place. I have been six years in his employ. I have served more than a dozen masters in my time, and never knew any one like Mr. Green for his regard for his men. Here we are; we have always got a home over our heads, and can get a ship when we like. If we don't like one we can stop for another. I never knew or heard of a man being turned out of here, like he is at the Home in Well-street, because he had outrun his money. If he has a good character on board his ship he is never turned out of this place, let his arrears be what they may. The superintendent takes care of our pay. We have got a library, and can get a book and sit down and read. We have most of the new publications, and the daily papers, and Chambers' Journal. We in general prefer Chambers' to any other - it's so amusing. I don't see anything that Mr. Green omits for our gratification. The victuals is of the best, and the pay only 12s. (The Sailors' Home charges 14s.) And we have ten pieces a week washed gratis."
After this I crossed to the otherwise of the hall, and stopped opposite a bill, which announced that "NO SMOKING OR LUCIFERS WERE ALLOWED UPSTAIRS."
"We're not allowed to smoke upstairs in the dormitories, you see, sir," said another sailor, who observed what I was reading. "No, no; that would never do. The rules are very good in this house, and very considerate for the men. Eleven o'clock is the hour for coming in, but we're let in after that - indeed at any hour. There's a watchman sitting up for us all night, rather than we should be locked out. But eleven is a good enough hour for any decent man to be in. I have turned in regular at nine o'clock every night since I have been home. At eleven the lights are put out. I can make myself more comfortable, reading here by a good fire, than knocking about the streets. It's really a home - not like the other place. If I was to be here three months, they'd never say - What, you are not looking for a ship! - any more than they would the first day I came into the place. We're just as well treated the last day as the first. We can get ships without going out of doors. If all owners treated their men as well as Mr. Green, the men would be as good as we are. If men are badly treated, why, in course, they're bad, for bad treatment makes bad men."
On the walls of the hall were bills, stating the "scale of victualling for ships in the employ of Messrs. Green, for a mess of five men, per week at sea." One of these bills, I was informed, was generally pasted or nailed to the mast of Mr. Green's vessels before the men were shipped. In another part of the hall hung a notice, that "the ship Seringapatam pays on Thursday next." Over the mantelpiece were cards and bills of ships to sail, while all around hung pictures of East India ships, such as "the Roxburgh Castle and Sir E. Paget, off Dover; "the Delafield, Simon Taylor, and Repulse" - all three built in the Blackwall yard, I was told. In the centre stood a new kind of French bagatelle board, played with marbles, at which a young apprentice was amusing himself, while two other "youngsters" were seated at a table strewn with books, and deep in a game of draughts. The following rules "respecting conduct" I copied from a bill headed "Sailors' Home," East India-road, opened on the 1st June, 1841 - Regulations:
"All swearing and improper language, so unbecoming the character of a man, and so dishonouring to God, must be entirely avoided in this place.
"Drunkenness, that disgraceful vice, which sinks a man to a level below the very beasts that perish, and which is so contrary to order and decency, the men must judge of themselves, cannot in any measure be permitted here.
"All quarrelling and abusive language one to another, must be guarded against; and a respectful manner towards those who superintend the institution will be expected of every man."
The Museum - which was likewise they pay-office - was stocked, or rather crammed, with an infinity of curiosities from the Indies, the South Sea, and China. There were flying foxes in glass cases, Bengalee shoes of Nabobs, snouts of saw-fish, penguins' skins, immense horns from the Cape, ostriches' eggs, stuffed kangagoos, Madras Mashlah boats, models of Bengalee policemen, Chinese idols, tiger skins, albatrosses, shells, bottles of centipedes and scorpions preserved in spirits, Chinese umbrellas, engraved teeth of the whale, wigs of South Sea chiefs made of the hair of their victims, flying-fish, Chinese compasses and tom-toms, Caffre war bugles, and a little world of knick-knackeries, each linked with a thousand curious associations, that carried the mind half over the globe as you walked round the room.
The dormitories at Green's Home are built after the model of those at Well-street. The number of men received into the institution for the last four years has been as follows:
1846 392 men
1847 383 "
1848 406 "
1849 487 "
The officers and servants of the institution consist of one superintendent and assistant, with five attendants, consisting of cook, waiters, and house servants. The amount paid in salaries I could not obtain at the institution, but I learnt from other quarters that it was scarcely a tithe of the £1,200 annually expended upon the officers and attendants of the Sailors' Home, and yet I could distinguish no difference in point of cleanliness, order, and conduct at the two places; so that no little credit appeared to be due to the superintendent who, with so small a staff of officials, could maintain so much comfort, tidiness, and regularity. Though the institution was not self-supporting, still I was informed that if it was filled in winter as it is in summer, even the 12s. per week paid by each sailor (the Home in Well-street charges 14s.) would be sufficient to defray all outgoings, such as rates, taxes, wages, lighting, firing, provisions, &c., with the exception of rent. The building originally cost £15,000, so that there is no rent to pay.
In connexion with the Home, Mr. Green has built a chapel for the accommodation of his men, and not many yards removed from it are the schools, at which he educates 1,500 children, and clothes a considerable portion of them - indeed all around the place there appears to be an atmosphere of benevolence and sound practical Christianity. Of Mr. Green's schools I shall have occasion to speak at a future period.
I must now pass from the better to the worst class of lodging-houses for seamen. But, first, I must speak of certain malpractices at the Sailors' Home in Well-street, which appear to me to detract greatly from the intended excellence of that institution. I am convinced that the managers of the Home are not cognisant of the conduct of certain parties in connection with that establishment, nor of the evil effect of some of the regulations concerning the men, and that the facts have but to be made public for what is really wrong in the management to be immediately rectified.
It will be remembered that in my last letter I drew attention to the fact that, though the Sailors' Home was doing the largest business of any boarding-house in London, still it required no less than £2,000 to be collected in charitable subscriptions and donations before it made both ends meet. The cause of this is evidently the immense amount annually expended in salaries and wages, which come to no less than £1,200 per annum - a sum that totally precludes all hope of the institution, under such a system, ever being self-supporting. This, indeed, is the main defect of the Home, for unless its expenditure can be kept within its legitimate income, it is evident that the establishment cannot last long.
The Sailors' Home, however, has many other defects. The foremost of these is the system of touting for custom, carried on by the runners of the tailors in connection with the establishment. Of this touting I had the following account from a man who spoke from personal knowledge:
"There are three tailors - or outfitters generally, for they supply shoes, hats, shirts, &c., as well as clothes - who reside in the neighbourhood of the Sailors' Home; and the conductors of the Home do not willingly allow any other tailors to enter the establishment, and would demur to paying a bill, out of a seaman's cash in their hands, to any other tailor. These three outfitters employ at least 11 regular runners or touters, at 30s. a week each, or £16 10s. altogether; besides that, some of the principals and their families tout also. I have seen as many as 14 runners on board an East Indiaman, all trying for the custom of the sailors. Sometimes we board the ship at Gravesend - sometimes lower than Gravesend, well down to the Nore - and sometimes at Blackwall. If we get aboard a Quebec or West Indiaman, or any two or three months' ship, we mustn't waste time there, as the crews of such ships have no great sum of money to receive, but we must hurry off to a Calcutta ship, if there be one. When on board, the runner inquires as to the money the men have to receive, generally asking the mates and apprentices such questions as, 'Has So-and-so been the whole voyage?' 'Will his pay be stopped, or any of it?' And, when the answer is satisfactory, the runner goes to work. When the ships reaches the dock we go on shore with a seaman that we have stuck to like wax, telling him that there's no place like the Sailors' Home. 'No robbery there,' we say; 'no! there men are taken care of, and the best of victuals.' We go touting as for the Home, but it's for our employers' interests. If the ship come up on a night's tide, too late for the Home, as is often the case, we get the men who are bound for the Home a night's lodging, paying the cost of it; or if they are inclined to go on the spree, than we plant them on some woman or other that we know, pay the expenses, and then look them up in the morning to convey them to the Home. On our way we generally have a glass with them. I can say that there are runners connected in this way with the Sailors' Home, who are drunk five days out of six. These runners for the Home are generally dissipated people, and drink hard. Our first object is to get a seaman to one of the Sailors' Home tailors. We are employed by the tailors and not by the Home, but the Home people know - they must know - how we are employed by the tailors to get men to the Home, for we are all introduced by our employers to the superintendent there. I have seen eight tailors' runners (all belonging to the three firms) plying in the Home at once, to the great annoyance of the men, whom I've heard say, 'D- you, I won't be bothered. I'll go where I like.' A runner's is a miserable life - we're looked upon as anything but respectable when we get aboard a ship; but aboard you must, as it's all in the way of business for employers. A seaman just landed of course wants a little money. He can't get any at the Home if he arrives after six in the evening, though he's charged for a day's boarding - so he gets all he wants of the tailors. This used to be charged as cash, and is still charged as cash, if advanced by the tailors after six at night; but if a man be regularly installed in the Home, and want a pound or two, or £3, to buy any useful thing at a good shop, he's asked by the cashier at the Home what he wants the money for. They won't advance money unless they are satisfied that the money's worth will be in the man's possession when he returns to the Home. But if a seaman wants a sovereign for any purpose of his own that he don't wish there to be any prying into, he goes to the tailor, and says, 'I want a pound for this, or for that;' and the tailor says, 'Well, I can't let you have money, you know it's against the rules, but I can, as you're so pressing, let you have what you want and charge it as a garment, and put it down with a per centage.' So said, so done. I have known a seaman, when the tailor or his man took in his bill to the cashier at the Home, say 'I've never had those trowers' - and I have been behind the man myself, and have whispered, 'the money, you know' (I can't say that the superintendent heard me), and the man answered, 'Oh, yes, I remember, now.' The tailor's bill was then paid; but it wouldn't be paid unless the sailor had money in the bank to meet a fortnight's board. The three tailors with their profits and extent of business can afford to run risks and give credit; knowing their position with the Home, they must do it; but they can charge accordingly. I once had 25s. a week, and 5 per cent commission, from an outfitter, for touting, and have under that agreement received from £2 10s. to £3 a week. My commission has been often 35s. to £35 custom, carried by me in one week from Sailors' Home men to the tailor who employed me. I have known £120 worth of clothes supplied in one week by one man to different men at the Home, nearly half being profit. Take £3 as an average price for a 'round suit' (cloth jacket, waistcoat, and trowsers) for this I reckon that 38s. at most would be the prime cost, but the outfitters try for cent per cent. I believe that they pay for making a jacket from 4s. to 4s. 6d.; trowsers (two shops pay more than others), 2s. 6d. to 3s.; waistcoat, 2s. The cloth is not to be complained of. Some round suits of the better sorts are charged £4. Sometimes one of these tailors has from sixty to seventy sailors to clothe in a week, but for three or four weeks he may have nothing, or next to nothing, to do. I should say that three out of four sailors wants suits when they land after a longish voyage. After a long voyage, a man in the Seamen's Home is allowed to draw £1 before he is paid his wages; after short voyages, he has a smaller sum, in proportion. If he has been a long voyage he is sure to want more than £1 before he gets paid off, as, perhaps, he has £25 or £30 to receive; and he runs to the tailor to get an extra advance and pays for it as I have told you, and that seems to me one reason why the Home is of more benefit to the tailor than the sailor. Many a seaman has been sucked uncommonly dry by persons connected with the Home. Some of the officers of the Home have watches to sell them, and then they may buy them back of their customer, if he happens to want money afterwards - as is a common case - at half-price. An officer too will sell clothes that he's bought cheap of some former lodger who was out of funds, to any new comer wanting them. A respectable boarding-master feels bound, for the sake of his character, to keep his lodger until he gets a ship; but that is not the case at the Home. There, after a man's money in the office or bank is run out, they sometimes give him a week's grace, but not until they are certain, from the waiter who has care of the dormitory where the man is lodged, that he has a chest and clothes sufficient to pay for a week's board. In case the man don't get shipped in the course of the week, his clothes are taken from his cabin and put into the store room, and then the poor fellow is refused a meal's victuals and turned into the street. The officials say it's the rule, and must be enforced. Then the man must get to any place he can, and when he gets a ship he of course must pay the person who was kind enough to take him in and supply him with board; after that he may not have enough to pay the Home out of his advance; he goes to sea, and is away perhaps eighteen months or two years, and when he returns and inquires at the Home what has become of his chest and clothes, he is informed they were sold. I'm told that's against the law, but the sailor don't know there is any redress. Such as case as I have described is of common occurrence at the Home: seventy or eighty forfeited chests and clothes are sold every second year. (According the the last year's account the sale of seamen's effects and old stores amounted to £13 13s.) "Then the officers of the establishment are not allowed, by the rules, to have any perquisites. But I will tell you how it's managed. When men come to the Home they are entered on the books, and then the waiter, who knows his business very well, has perhaps a nice watch to sell, which he 'bought cheap of a man before he went to sea.' This of course yields a good profit. It's the same with any other article; or the waiter may recommend a tailor, for which he gets a commission. Then comes the doorkeeper, and he gets plenty of pickings. The doorkeeper, of course, knows his customers, and would like to drink their healths; they'll ask him to have a glass with them; but the doorkeeper can't stir out, and would rather have the money; the sailors of course can't think of giving a respectable-looking man 2d. for a drop of beer, so they give him 6d. or ls., and as much as 2s. sometimes. The seamen, when they require money, get cheques from the superintendent on the cashier, but if the office is closed the doorkeeper lends money on them at very good interest. I have known when the clerks have been in the office they have been denied, just for this lending of money and getting of interest. I don't suppose that the committee knows anything about these things. The chief officers of the Home are licensed shipping agents. When the Home is quite full - say 300 in it - not more than half that number will sit down to dinner, as sailors won't be tied to hours ashore, when they've money of their own; and that must leave a good profit. If the lodgers come in after meal-times they can get something to eat in the kitchen, that is if they don't mind the steward's black looks. Men are so sucked, as I have told you from my own knowledge, by runners, and tailors, and the servants of the Home, that I'm satisfied £20 in a sailor's pocket will go further at a boarding-master's than at the Home. The tailors expect their runners to look sharp after the seamen that they've had as customers, and get them ships before all their money is done, or they may be troublesome to the tailors when they want money or such like. The tailors' runners will follow a ship from Blackwall to the London or St. Katherine Docks, coming up by the railway, though I'm told that going on board ship and touting that way is contrary to Act of Parliament. The tailors' runners do all the touting for the Home, which now has only one agent of its own for that purpose, but he's not seen at work more than one tide in a week perhaps. The Home professes to cash advance notes at 5 per cent. This is the way it's done: if a sailor wants his advance note cashing, an officer of the Home perhaps will say, 'Well, what do you want the money for?' and the man may answer, 'Why, for clothes, I want 30s.' then says the officer, 'Here, ,send for so-and-so, and let him supply 30s. worth of clothes.' The Home won't give money if it can be avoided, in such cases; and as the tailor sends in the clothes, why he, and not the Home, runs the risk if the man shirk his engagement."
As a proof of the money supplied by the tailors to the seamen at the Home, the three following accounts were given to me. It will be seen that £1 15s. is charged for cash lent in the first, £1 13s. 6d. in the second, and £4 17s. in the third:
RECOMMENDED BY THE DIRECTORS OF THE SAILORS' HOME
Ship - Mary Ballantyne Dec. 30, 1848
W- W- Bought of M. P- , tailor, &c., Well-street, London Docks, opposite the Sailors' Home
Pilot coat £2 0 0
Two flannels 0 8 0
Silk-hat 0 6 0
Fancy trowsers 1 2 0
Cash - 10s., 5s., 5s., 10s., 5s 1 15 0
[total] £5 11 0
Captains and mates supplied - Sea chests, beds, and bedding. Settled - M. P- and Co.
RECOMMENDED BY THE DIRECTORS OF THE SAILORS' HOME
Ship - Mary Ballantyne Dec.30, 1848
J- C- Bought of M. P-, tailor, &c., Well-street, London Docks, opposite the Sailors' Home
Fine suit £3 5 0
Cash-5s.,5s., 11s.6d.,5s.,5s.,2s 1 13 6
[total] £4 18 6
Captains and mates supplied - Sea chests, beds, and bedding. Settled - M. P-
RECOMMENDED BY THE DIRECTORS OF THE SAILORS' HOME
Ship - Mary Ballantyne Dec.30, 1848
J- D-: Bought of M. P-, tailor, &c., Well-street, London Docks, opposite the Sailors' Home
Fine suit £3 10 0
Two striped shirts 0 5 0
Cash - 5s., 7s. 6d., 45s., 7s. 6d., 12s. 6d., 5s., 1s., 10s., 3s. 6d 4 17 0
[total] £8 12 0
Captains and mates supplied - Sea chests, beds, and bedding.
I now give a statement made to me concerning a regulation of
"I came home in the ship Mary Imrie, of Liverpool, and came from Liverpool to the Sailors' Home in Wells-street. I stopt there and paid one week's board, and 6s. for my things coming up. They kept me three days over the week, and then turned me in the streets without a piece of food to put in my mouth, and kept my clothes for the amount of the three days' board, being 6s., and ls. for steward. They told me to go to the straw-house (the Asylum for Destitute Sailors). I said I understood that there was a shipping-master at the Home to get us ships. And said 'No, we have no ships, and you must go.' I was turned out on Saturday morning, and was obliged to sell my clothes off my back to buy some food with, until Monday. I fell in with one of my shipmates on Monday morning, the name of S- G-; and he spoke to ,and asked him if he would give his poor shipmate some food, as he was turned out of the Sailors' Home without a farthing, and he was a stranger in London. And sol got kept until I found a ship." This man had certificates to show that he was a well-conducted man.
A young man, but with eight years' experience at sea, gave me the following account:
"I was ordinary seaman on board the Liberty, of Seaham, a collier, bound for Hamburg, with eleven keels, and on last Wednesday, March 18, she was wrecked about fifty miles from Cuxhaven. There was a very strong gale and thick weather, and her anchor parted; she went ashore, and was not long before she was knocked to pieces; no lives were lost, but we didn't save a thread, nothing but what we had on. The Consul at Cuxhaven kept us three days, and then sent us to London in a steamer, which we reached on Good Friday morning. At Cuxhaven the Consul gave me these trowsers, and this shirt - all the clothes I have. At London I got my register ticket without trouble, and was advised to try the Sailors' Home as a place for shipwrecked men. I asked to be admitted as a shipwrecked man, and to be kept there until I could get a ship; but I was refused admission, and told that I might go to the asylum, a straw-yard, close by. I didn't like to go there, because a decent man feels degraded in such a place - all the good men I have talked to are of the same opinion. It's like going to a workhouse turning into the straw-yard, and we would as lief starve."
The subjoined statement was given tome, as to a regulation of the Sailors' Home in case of the sickness of a lodger:
"I was discharged from my last ship with a good character, as an able seaman, and went direct to the Sailors' Home. I had £9 pay when I went there. I was there six or seven weeks, and paid £2 in advance for my board and lodging. I met with an accident to my hand, about three days after I was on shore. I was told that the surgeon of the Sailors' Home would attend to me free, but I was charged 12s. by him for lancing my hand, for two bottles of medicine (which I never took), and for two pills. I stopped there about a week after this, when, having no money, Mr. - took me into the secretary's office, when they told me that I was getting into debt, and that while my hand was bad I had better go into the Straw-house (Asylum), as they could not get me a ship while my hand was bad. I refused to comply, and was obliged to leave, and was taken into the boarding-house of Mr. -"
Another seaman not then in the house, but who had been on a former occasion, gave me further information. He spoke in very high terms of the order, cleanliness, and comfort of the Sailors' Home.
"If," said he, "the Sailors' Home would stick up for a sailor's rights when there is a dispute about wages, or the likes of that, it would be the best place in England; for you see, a lot of gentlemen, such as manage there, if they would undertake it, could make up any dispute oft enough, without any bother at a police-office, and masters wouldn't be so ready to try it on to lower men's wages by fines, stoppages, and such likes, if they knew there was such a place as the Home to stand by a seaman when he had right on his side. As it is, the Home won't trouble itself that way, and men having wages in dispute, if it's ever so much, needn't go there; indeed they wouldn't be admitted. The Home's best for steady men, for it won't exactly interfere to get a man out of a scrape if he's robbed by women or the likes, though money may be got through people connected with the Home to get you out of a scrape. I should have gone to the Home oftener, but unless we has a tidy bit of money it don't answer, for there's no credit there when your money's run through, but on your clothes. At a boarding-master's, though, you can go on credit, and yet they make it answer. But then it's the regular rule at the Home, and so men know what's to come, and haven't a right to complain if they have to quit and look out for another place. That's a reason why men after short voyages, when they haven't much money to take, needn't go to the Home - that's my case. As I tell you, the Home's best for steady men, that can keep a-head with the bank there; and indeed them kind of steady men are middling safe anywhere, but safest at the Home, I think. If a man be ill at the Sailors' Home, he must pay for the doctor himself. There's a doctor's name in the list of officers, or whatever you may call them, connected with the Home, but a seaman lodging there must pay him for attendance. I believe any seaman can employ his own doctor if he pleases."
At a meeting of boarding-masters - sixteen being present, and all being described to me on good authority as among the better class - the following opinions were expressed:
The rules of the Home, they said, allowed no man to remain in it when his funds were exhausted, he was then, in fact, turned out - his clothes, in all probability, being detained at the Home for sums ranging from 6s. to 24s., as he might have been trusted, according to the value of his affects. If the man thus compelled to leave the Home were at all a decent man, he shrank from the Asylum, but would draw up to any old shipmate at a boarding master's, and ask for admission. The shipmates would expect him to be admitted; and the boarding-master, to keep up his character as a good man to a seaman, must take him in, penniless as he was; then he must keep him till a ship was got; advance money to get his clothes from the Home, perhaps, and run every risk of loss, while the Home avoided any risk whatever. The boarding-master, notwithstanding, would charge no more for board and lodging than the Home, though he had to pay rates, taxes, rent, servants' wages, and all, out of his profits. The Home had funds from subscriptions to pay the greater part of such expenses - while, as in the case of rent, it had scarcely any at all to pay, the building having been paid for by charitable donations. Every boarding-master present cited cases of the above kind from his own experience, some having incurred losses, and some still holding IOU's which might never be met. Some boarding-masters had kept men turned out of the Home for four and five weeks before a ship could be got; as, once taken in, the better class never turn a man out, unless for roguery or misconduct. The boarding-masters, I was assured, did not sell men's effects left in their custody for money due; one master had in his possession valuable clothes which he had kept for nine years, whereas the Home sold the men's effects periodically. Moreover, I was told that a seaman would sometimes land, and complain of injustice done to him by his captain in attempting to deduct so much from his wages under this or that pretence. The Home would not give admission to sailors so circumstanced unless they had a trifle of money with them, and when that was exhausted, they would have to leave the Home. In case of their not being admitted, or being turned out, the boarding-master, for the reasons stated before, must take the men in. Then, too, he must get a solicitor too conduct the man's case (if necessary, as it often is), and keep the man until a magistrate adjudicates. The boarding-master, indeed, must run every risk, while the Home avoided any risk at all, though it was popularly believed that the Sailors' Home was an institution to befriend seamen. This it could hardly be, it was urged, if it did nothing to help them to their rights. Some solicitors who take cases at the Thames Police-office go on the principle of "No cure, no pay,' but that's only in clear cases, or such as the solicitor believes to be clear. As a rule - it was stated as an established fact - the Home will not support any men who are waiting for an adjudication of their claims, and will not do anything adverse to shipowners. Shipowners are a main support of the Home, so the conductors of the Home will not interfere, whatever unfair attempt may be made to mulct a man in penalties, and so save the amount payable in wages to benefit the shipowner. I heard at this meeting, however, of one exception to this rule. There was a case before the magistrate as to the claims of some men after a voyage from Callao, and two of these men, who refused to take what was offered, as it was a very great reduction upon what was due to them, and preferred appealing too a court of justice, were in the Home, and would have been turned out, had not a solicitor, who was employed by the boarding-masters that the other part of the crew had gone to lodge with, represented to the Home authorities that the magistrate would be sure to decide in favour of the seamen. But for the representation of the boarding-master's solicitor the men must have been turned out.
The boarding-masters present made several statements, all fully corroborative of the narrative I have given, as to the procedures of the tailors or outfitters connected with the Home, and the runners employed by the tailors.
The following opinion was given unanimously as to the 53d clause of the proposed Mercantile Marine Bill, all the boarding-masters present representing the other provisions of the Bill as, in their opinion, likely to benefit the seamen. This 53d clause provides that so much of the General Merchant Seamen's Act and of the Seamen's Protection Act as relates to the detention of chests, tools, moneys, documents, or other property or effects of seamen by keepers of public-houses or lodging-houses, or other persons claiming money from them for board or lodging shall be repealed, and that no person shall detain any effects belonging to a seaman, so as to prevent or delay his going to sea, on any pretence whatever. Another provision of the clause, as at present understood, is this, that a boarding-master (or any one lodging a sailor), even if the sailor had money in the boarding-master's hands, could only deduct what was justly due for board and lodging, even if the man had clothes or other effects supplied to him through the agency of the boarding- master, and for which very clothes the boarding-master had made himself liable. This clause, all concurred in representing as a a premium for dishonesty, and as if for the offences of some - who kept brothels rather than boarding-houses, it was said - all respectable boarding-masters were to be exposed to such a reproach. It was represented also that such a clause would cause great distrust between seamen and those with whom they lodged, as rogueish fellows might scheme together how best to "do" a boarding-master. A boarding-master said: - "If a man came from sea, he might (under the proposed clause) deposit his clothes and effects with any one, and say, 'I shan't want them until pay-day;' the legal time of pay-day is seven days after the arrival in port; but men are sometimes paid sooner. He may have ordered through the boarding-master, or any other party, a suit of clothes (say £3 value), and they may have been supplied, and the bill delivered to the seamen, who locks them in his chest, on which they become the seaman's legal property, while the boarding-master has made himself responsible for the payment. The seaman may then absent himself from the party holding his chest and clothes until he is ready to go to sea. Then he can go and demand his property, the suit of clothes he never paid for included; and if the party holding his effects refuse to deliver them up, he will be summoned before a magistrate; and the magistrate will be compelled, by law, to fine the party holding the seaman's effects (though the fine may be reduced to 1 s.); and not only that, but the party so summoned must pay over again the £3, the value of the clothes, and the adjudged value of any other effects, to the seaman so summoning, and must give up the effects as well; this is actually a premium for dishonesty to any fellow who might go a short voyage - say to Hamburg - for the very purpose of this fraud. A memorial presented to the Board of Trade by the boarding-masters, and protesting against the above clause of the proposed bill, expresses on the part of those signing it, their "perfect readiness and willingness strictly to observe and submit to any rules or regulations which your honourable board (the Board of Trade) may be pleased hereafter to adopt for the future guidance of ourselves in our business connection with seamen on shore."
As to advance notes, the following opinion was unanimously expressed. That men could not possibly (as a general rule) go to sea without an advance of money; for necessaries of various descriptions were wanted, even by the steadiest men, who rarely provided for a voyage until the point of sailing. An honest man, too, will not like to go away in debt to parties who have befriended him. The present system of advance notes was represented as very bad. The difficulty of recovery from the agents of the vessels is so great (the agents upon whom the notes are given not being at all responsible for the payment), that the seaman holding such advance note, must consequently pay a very heavy discount, as much as 50 per cent. having been given, so that even the note held by a good seaman on a respectable party can hardly, in some instances, be cashed at all. Mr. Green, Mr. Wigram, Mr. Smith, Mr. Dunbar, and other owners, have advance notes made payable to themselves, and there is no difficulty in getting the amount; but petty, grinding owners, it was stated, generally give orders on agents. The outport owners, however, who may be very honourable men, are also compelled to do the same, on account of having no residence near the port. The clause in the proposed bill, however, protecting both owners and seamen - giving a remedy to a seaman against an agent in the county court - all agreed was equitable, and an improvement in every way on the present system.
It was also stated that at a public vestry meeting, well attended, of the parishioners of St. Paul, Shadwell, a resolution was agreed to (with only one dissentient), condemnatory of the 53d clause, and a deputation was appointed to wait upon the Board of Trade on the subject.
In my next letter I shall give an account of the "Crimps," or low boarding-masters.