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

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Thursday, March 14, 1850

    I continue the statements of the seamen belonging to the different trading vessels sailing from the Port of London.
    A tall, well-looking man, exceedingly bronzed, with an appearance of high health, and evidently possessed of great bodily strength, gave me the following account of an East Indian voyage, just completed:
    "I have been at sea twenty-two years, and am now 34. From that age to 40 a seaman is considered in his prime. I have been at sea all these twenty-two years, merely excepting the times the ship was in port. I never was cast away in my life, but having a good character (to prove this, he showed me different papers) I have been generally fortunate in getting good ships and good masters. Good masters can always command the very best men. I have always found it so, and so their ships are always safest. Tyrannical and ignorant masters have often enough to put up with such men as they can get. We naturally avoid such ships if we know the character of the masters." (By masters, he meant the captains of the vessels.) "My last voyage was to Aden, and from there to Colombo in Ceylon, and Cochin on the Malabar coast. The vessel was 400 tons, and carried a crew of seventeen - the master, mate, second mate, carpenter, steward, cook, seven able seamen, two ordinary seamen, and two apprentices. An able seaman is a man capable of doing every part of the duty required on board ship; an ordinary seaman can only do part of it. My wages, as an able seaman, were £2 a month; the ordinary seamen had, one 30s., and the other 25s.; the cook had £2 7s. 6d.; the steward £2 10s.; the second mate £3; the carpenter £4 10s.; and the chief mate £4 10s. The captain had, I believe, £12 a month, and two per cent on the cargo. We took out coal and government stores to Aden, leaving that place in ballast. At the other two ports we took in cocoa-nut oil, coir rope, and junk (short pieces), bees' wax, coffee, and cinnamon. My opinion is, that £2 a month is not a sufficient payment for an able seaman, considering the nature of his work, and that he must be sailmaker and everything on board a ship. Then look at the hardships we endure on board ship - I have been kept up forty-eight hours, all hands on deck, without a minute's rest, and with hardly time for meals. Certainly there was great danger then, but we had a good captain. Masters never show any allowance for a man having been up all night on account of the weather; he must do his work all the same. lam quite satisfied, from the talk I have had with seamen situated like myself, that it is our general opinion that the wages ought to be higher; but if we tried to get better there was always some one, and good seamen too, ready to jump into the place, and take even less, especially when times are bad. In my last ship the provisions were by no means good. The biscuit, flour, beef, and pork, were all the remains from the stores of her former voyage from Ceylon. The peas and barley only were fresh at starting on the voyage. The biscuit was full a weevils (a small black insect), and we had to bake it in the oven before we could eat it. It eat better then; the baking made it crisp instead of tough, as it came out of the barrels, and killed the weevils  - but we had to eat the dead bodies of the things that didn't crawl out. We made great complaints about it, but were told there was no help for it; we must eat through the bad to get to the good. There was no help unless we kicked up a row, and that wouldn't do at all. The pork and beef were both very bad, as rancid as could be. A piece of pork weighing 5lbs. used to lose about 2lbs. in boiling. We complained, and the master weighed it himself on deck; but he told us there was no help for it, he eat the same himself. We had three half pints of pretty good tea each, night and morning. Sugar was scarce, only lb. to each man a week. At each meal we have as much bread as we like to eat, unless the ship be on short provisions. Grog was given out at the captain's option, sometimes one glass a day, sometimes two, three, or four, according to the day's work, as well as a glass every Saturday night to drink 'Sweethearts and wives,' and another glass after dinner on Sundays. On Sundays - I ought to have told you - we had two fresh meals: on going out a pig was killed, for one, and the other was bouilli soup, from preserved beef in tins; and in coming back a pig was killed every Saturday, and, little or big, the crew had half of it on Sunday. No one can call me a drunken man, but I think grog encourages a man to do his work well - just what is fit to revive him when he flags. Too much is worse than none. In my last ship we had two forecastles, one above (the gallant forecastle), and one below (the lower). I was in the lower forecastle, which was pretty good and middling for room, though in some ships it's very bad. My berth was 6 feet by 3. I am 5 feet 10 in. in height. I have slept in a berth only two feet wide, so that I could hardly get into it, and, when in, couldn't slew round or anything. The gallant forecastle was very leaky, the water coming in continually in rainy weather, and wetting all the men's beds. The carpenter couldn't stop it, the ships was so slightly built, though she was only four years old. She was built at Leith. The master was a good officer, without being too severe; but the mate was a domineering, ignorant fellow; and, indeed, sir, these ignorant fellows are always the worst; he used to run tattling to the captain and make mischief fore and aft. We had two or three rows in her, and all through him. I consider there is a decided improvement in merchant ships of late. Lime juice and vinegar is a great improvement in southern-going ships. It is a very common fault in all the ships I know, to have no place to keep the bread in. It's kept in bags, and they are put anywhere - anywhere down below. No care at all is taken of it, and the damp gets to it and causes maggots and weevils. The last voyage, when we eat through the old bread, two cwts. of the new was found to be so mouldy that it have to be heaved overboard. The bags often come up so rotten with damp that they fall to pieces, and the bread falls out. I think if the bread were kept in barrels, as the beef and pork is, or in tins, it would be much better and healthier. I don't know how they manage the bread on board a man of war - I never was on board one; but they'll take care of it there you may depend. In the East India ports that I have visited lately, the native women are not allowed to come on board so freely as they were, but the men have more liberty to go on shore. I think there is not so much swearing and cursing on board ship as there used to be. If the officers swear, they always make men swear. We had prayers on board my last ship in fine weather, but I wouldn't go or stay - because it was a mockery. The captain began swearing the moment he'd done praying. I think masters should not be permitted to take out bread, or other stores, that had remained from former voyages, and were bad in consequence. They might be sold for pig-meat, and the biscuit is often fit for nothing else. My last captain was a good navigator, or we might have been lost, as the mate couldn't be depended upon for navigation. I think, too, that six pints of water a day, our present allowance, is too little - it ought to be a gallon. The water is generally good now, being all filtered, at the principal ports at any rate, before it is shipped. As to advance notes, I think they had better be done away with, and have the plan they have in the States (United States). There, when a seaman gets a ship he goes to a shipping-office and receives the advance money agreed upon from the master of the shipping-office, without any note whatsomever. The man you lodge with, to whom the advance-money is paid, is security for you to the shipping-office, in case you run away. He will then have to make it good. The master of the ship repays the shipping-office master. That's a simpler plan than ours."
    I shall now contrast the above statement with one that I had from a seaman in the employ of Mr. Green, the eminent shipowner. High as the man speaks in praise of his master, I am happy to have it in my power to state, that all I have heard fully bears out this most honourable eulogium. I shall, however, when treating of the sailor ashore, be in a better position to speak upon this subject. At present I can only record the statements made to me by others. The man said:
    "I have been to sea about four or five and thirty years, I expect. I was apprenticed in the West India trade, in 1814 or 1815. I remained in the West India trade for ten or twelve years. Then I went to Sydney for three or four years. After that I was sailing in small craft from St. Thomas's to different ports in South America and to different islands in the West Indies, till 1840. Since that time I have been sailing out of London to the East Indies in Mr. Green's employ. When I first joined Mr. Green, in 1840, his Home, for the sailors in his employ, was not open, but on my return from Calcutta it was. Before that time I had been in the habit of living in the Home in Well-street. This was opened about 1832 or 33, I can't recollect exactly which. I know I shipped out of it in 1840 to join Mr. Green's company. I had £2 a month on first joining Mr. Green's ship. In other ships I had £2 5s.; but I had heard that Mr. Green gave better employ and better usage, at £2 a month than others at £2 5s., and so I thought I'd be one of his men. I had heard of Mr. Green being one of the best masters out of the port of London, and I felt anxious to join him. I knew I should lose 5s. a month by so doing, but what I lost one way I was convinced I should gain in another, and I found such to be the fact. Of all owners I have ever shipped with I have found Mr. Green to be the best. Why, sir, in the first place, when a man comes back there is a place for him to go - a home, sir. I call it a real home, sir; and there is no other shipowner that I know of that cares so much for his men. I am a single man. I have been ten years in Mr. Green's service, and I can conscientiously state that a better master to his men I never knew." (I endeavoured to impress upon the man that, if he had anything private to communicate, his name could never transpire, nor would he be in any way injured, and he again assured me that Mr. Green was a gentleman who had invariably shown a disposition to benefit his men, and that the men had the same feeling towards their master as he had towards them; they would do all they could to serve him.) "My last voyage was made in the Northumberland, from London to Madras, and from Madras to Calcutta. She was about 800 tons. Mr. Green has one ship over 1,400 tons, and that is the largest he has in the East India trade. There are larger ships, and they run perhaps 50 tons more. In the 800-ton ship that I went out in last voyage we had 33 men and boys in the forecastle, and four officers abaft, and about eight middies. Besides these, there were carpenter, boatswain, sailmaker, ship's cook and baker, captain's cook, steward, and cuddy servants. We had about five or six passengers. It was in the winter time. Had it been in the summer we should have had double or treble that number on board. We took out soldiers as well, about 150. I should say we had six soldier officers on board. We had only about five or six soldiers' wives with us. We had full weight of provisions, always good, and plenty. We had sufficient of good water - well filtered and sweet. We had salt beef and plums and flour one day, and pork and peas the next - as much as we could eat. We had plenty of room on board Mr. Green's ship, and plenty of air. The midshipmen's berth had a port-hole and scuttle, and was a very large and airy cabin; so, indeed, were all the berths. We touched nowhere on our outward-bound voyage till we got to Madras. We had no tomfoolery at the line; no hailing of Neptune over night, and shaving of the greenhorns in the day time. No ships lie at Diamond Harbour now. We went up to Calcutta. We lay just below Fort William. Every Sunday and every night the men were allowed to go on shore, upon the condition that they came on board in the morning. I didn't know that any man deserted - it would be matter of dishonesty on a man's part to leave a master who treats his men so well as Mr. Green. A man loses more than he gains. No women were permitted to come on board - that is not allowed now; they used to do so, but we have improved much in these few years. When I came home I had Mr. Green's Home to go to. Had I belonged to any other owner I should have been uncared for. I came home ill - ill with the liver complaint and with ulcers in the stomach - and I was received into his sailors' home, as if I had been a person worthy of being looked after. Had I belonged to any other owner I should have been left a prey to the land-sharks of London. I think that if all owners were like Mr. Green there would be fewer men to leave the merchant service of this country. What the merchant seamen generally require is to be well treated, and then they would be sure to be good men. Mr. Green has a school for the children of sailors. It will hold more than 300 I have heard, and I know the sailors love him for his regard to their little ones, and so indeed does all Poplar. I have been in ships that are as badly found and the men as little cared for as those of Mr. Green's are well provisioned and the men truly regarded; and I can conscientiously say that if all owners were like Mr. Green, our merchant service would be the envy of the world. The masters lay the blame upon the men, but from what I have seen I can declare that it is not the men's fault, but the captains or the owners, as to how the men behave themselves. I never knew any act of insubordination to occur on board of Mr. Green's ship, and I attribute this solely to the good treatment of the men. What man can speak again a master like that? There is a good home and a good bed always to go to, and I only wish such masters were more general, and then the country would be safer I can tell you."
    The Baltic and North American trades are somewhat similar. I subjoin, however, an account of the condition and earnings of the seamen belonging to each:
    A man of very quiet, sedate demeanour, with the thoughtful look common to men who have often to watch and observe, gave me the following statement as to the treatment of seamen on board the ships belonging to the Baltic trade:
    "I have been at sea thirty-two years. I began when I was ten years old. My last voyage was to Memel, as mate. She was a brig of upwards of two hundred tons, with a crew of seven - captain, mate, cook, one able seaman, and three apprentices: one of the apprentices was nearly out of his time. My pay as mate was £4 10s.; the cook had £3 5s.; and the able seaman £3 2s. 6d. The payment in the Baltic timber trade is better, but the voyages are less frequent than in other trades. As to the fare, the articles we sign in the Baltic trade are to this effect: We are to be found a sufficiency of beef, pork, bread, rice, flour, and peas; and no waste. The articles express it. As a rule, I think - though there may be many exceptions - the provisions are abundant and good. There are often complaints, however, and besides there is this grievance - bonded stores, such as coffee, sugar, tea, and tobacco especially, are at the disposal of the captain, who acts as purser, and often as a very hard purser, too. A seaman is robbed on all sides. I believe that by law a seaman can demand a bill of fare from the captain; but to do so is to give offence, and lead the life of a dog on board. So, you see, a seaman (I tell you from experience) must buy all he wants of the captain. The captain generally charges a very high profit. The seamen know the captain breaks the law, but what can the poor fellows do? They daren't complain, and don't know how to set about it if they would. You see, if they make a public complaint against a captain, it's known, and the other captains - for they all stick together - won't then employ such a man. They consider a complaint a crime. I have paid as high as 1s. a pound for raw coffee, out of bond, and had to burn it myself. I have paid 4d. a pound for sugar, when the fair price was 3d. I have paid 2s. 3d. a pound for tobacco - it was good tobacco, certainly. Soap has to be found by the men. I never knew any of them go aboard without soap. The men, as far as I have seen, are generally well treated in the Baltic trade, but underpaid, and consequently generally dissatisfied, particularly when they think of how men are paid in the American ships. If a war broke out with the United States, in my firm opinion, the sailors on board the British merchant ship, wouldn't fight again America. What have they to fight for? An English seaman feels he hasn't his just rights: give him them and he'll fight like a bull dog for the island. That's my opinion of plenty that I know. It is this and such like things that make us care nothing for the country. Why should we? Now, what have we to care for? We are slaves on salt water, and the captain is a god. Britons never shall be slaves' is all stuff now - regular stuff, sir. I'm disgusted to hear it. Why, a Russian is happier in his slavery and his ignorance than is an Englishman with any feelings, if he's poor. Now, here's another grievance seamen have. It is very common for a master to leave London short-handed, and even to boast of it. I have heard of it, though they know they're breaking the law. But a man has no remedy. After a voyage, a word again a good man from a bad captain is ruin to him, for the man can't get another ship. Some institution like the coal-whippers' office, just by us here, would be a very good thing for us. As to the men now masters, I know very many utterly unfit to have charge of a vessel. They could never tell where they were. Men's lives as well as property are at stake. These ignorant fellows too are always the worst to the men. Any fellow is reckoned, by some petty owners, good enough to knock seamen about, and curse them until his tongue's tired. I think, as well as! can judge, that there's not so much vice among the sailors as there used to be, and marrying in this port and in that - that sort of carrying on is chiefly by boys, now. The timbers we took in at Memel in my last voyage were floated alongside on immense rafts; some of them came hundreds of miles down the rivers. There are vast forests there, and they'll last for centuries to come. The first I saw I thought was more like a black cloud than anything else. The timber (the rough timber) is cut in windmills built for the purpose, and the deals cut and squared in them. I have seen scores of windmills on the Russian coast and in the Gulf of Finland. Some of the windmills, I have seen keep twenty sawyers going - not men, but a frame of machinery called a sawyer, as it does the work of one. There they go, up and down - up and down. I have seldom been in merchant ships where there were prayers read by the captain. I have met with them, and with plenty of hypocrisy. Swearing after praying is common. Fines and forfeitures, as punishments on board ship, are no good: they can be so abused, you see, when a captain wants to spite a man. Confinement on board ship is a rest for an idle fellow that shirks work, and nothing else. It is impossible to reduce the number of deserters while you pay men so badly, and let them be so plucked."
    A man, who had been a seaman for eleven years, gave me the following account as to the Quebec trade:
"My last voyages were to Quebec and the River de Loup, in the port of Quebec. I last sailed in a barque of about 400 tons. We went out in ballast, and brought back deals. We had 17 in crew - 7 able seamen, 2 ordinaries (one fell overboard from the maintop-sailyard, and was drowned), cook, carpenter, steward, first and second mates, captain, and two apprentices. I had £2 10s. a month. It's not enough, as no sailors see more hardships than those that go to North America. It ought not to be less than £3. The provisions were good and plentiful, but the accommodation, in the forecastle, was very bad and very leaky. I had to heave my bed overboard when we returned, as it wasn't worth bringing on shore; it was rotten from the wet. I have heard many men say they would never fight for England; but I would fight for England - that is, if! saw occasion - to be sure I would. The seamen put the deals on board through the port-holes. They are brought down to the ship in lighters, which they call 'bateaux.' The deals are cut ready in mills up the country, but I never saw one. In the River de Loup they slide the deals down a shoot (a sort of spout), into the river; the shore is high. French Canadians - they're not very active - pick them out of the river, put them on their bateaux, and take them to a pier-head, where they pile them ready for the loading of the ship. The forests there look very black. Along the Gulf of St. Lawrence they have a cold, miserable look - the wind's always blowing, and you don't see a sign of life about the forest (we were close in shore too) except a few birds. The noise of the wind among the trees there is very outlandish. Desertions are very common in Quebec; the reason is, that men can hide there better than in smaller places, and so get away to the States, perhaps, and have far better pay, and far better food. But some seamen are never satisfied. Plenty go to British North America on purpose to desert. I never ran away from a ship in my life. But men are sure to desert until you give them better wages and better living; and a glass of grog comes very handy at sea. I like a glass of grog at sea now and then myself; but I don't care for liquor on shore. The captain drank very hard aboard, and was made from it. He was so mad that we ran back 700 miles, to bring the ship to England. Within twenty-four hours of Plymouth, he came to his senses, and persuaded us to take the ship back to North America. He was eleven days below, ill. When he did come on deck, he looked very fierce about the eyes. He drank hard in America, and was unshipped when we got to England. Men's lives weren't safe with him, but the mate was a good seaman. When we left England we were bound for Quebec, if it hadn't been for the captain's drunken management, in the gales of wind, we should have made Portugal in forty-eight hours. We kept standing away to the southward by his orders. It was a mercy we got home at all. Off Dungeness the captain was that made after liquor, that he gave £1 for a gallon of spirit to a pilot cutter. There was three and a half gallons of brandy on board when we left America. The captain drank it nearly all himself~ and there was no liquor on board for nine days before we got to Dungeness. The steward told me the captain would drink vitriol, to keep his spirits up, when there was no brandy left. I was sorry for the captain, for he wasn't a tyrant, with all his drinking."
    A north-country seaman gave me the following statement as to the Brazilian trade:
    "I have been nine years and a half at sea, and have returned from a voyage to Bahia and Brazil. We brought home a cargo of sugar. I sailed in a full-rigged ship of about 380 tons. Our crew was 23 in all - 12 able seamen, 4 apprentices, 3 mates, cook, steward, carpenter, and captain. She was the best-manned ship, and there was the best usage of any in my experience. I have been in ships that were so short of hands that our safety really depended on good luck and good weather. In the voyage to Bahia I had £2 5s. a month as able seaman. I consider that not a fair payment. Reasonably, it ought to be £3 or £2 15s. at the least; and then seamen like myself - I have heard it debated often - would not grumble nor leave the country. Desertion is owing only, in my opinion, to bad wages and bad usage. It's not that the seamen prefer the American service, to the English, but you see we prefer good wages to bad, and good food to bad, and who wouldn't? I have heard many seamen say they wouldn't like to fight again this country - but they would never fight for it, especially again America. I have heard men say they would like to fight again it for the Americans. I myself wouldn't fight for the country unless the condition of merchant seamen was improved; I have so many friends in the service that I wouldn't. Arguments as to sides in fighting, if a war broke out, are very common on board ship. I have heard scores, many scores, say they would leave the country the very first chance, they were so badly used. The provisions in my voyage to Brazil were very bad; the captain said so himself, and blamed the agent - honestly, I do believe, for the captain was a good man. He was a good seaman, but I have sailed with officers quite ignorant of navigation. One captain that I sailed with believed he was on the north-west coast of Ireland when he was off the Lizards, on the Cornish coast. The bread on the voyage I'm telling you of was good, but the beef and pork was very bad. Cheap American beef and pork is sent to Ireland, and repacked there as good Irish provisions. We had fair weight, but that was small advantage, as the meat was not fit to eat; it looked like a bit of mahogany rolled in coal dust when taken out of the coppers. In very few ships are more than fourteen ounces given to the pound. I was on shore at Bahia. It is not a very large town. If an English seaman be found there without a pass from the captain, he is put on board a Brazilian man-of-war, and made to serve there for two years. Men desert when they have a chance, they're thought so little of on board an English ship."
    To show the opinion of a chief mate as to the men in the merchant service, I give the account of a very intelligent man, whose last voyage was in the Mediterranean:
"I have been at sea for 30 years - from 15 to 45 years of age - and my last voyage was up the Mediterranean to Constantinople, and then up the Black Sea, and into the Sea of Azof to Kertch. She was a brig of 240 tons, with a crew of twelve - captain, chief mate (myself), eight able seamen, and two apprentices. Within my own knowledge I can vouch for a far better state of things now existing on board ship. Little, however, has been done for the better accommodation of the men. There is still shocking crowding in the forecastles; and the deck over the forecastle is often so leaky that in rainy weather the men may really sleep in the rain - go down wet, and come up wetter, oft enough. I have seen them - aye and often - come smoking like a steam apparatus, up from the forecastle. Talk of sanitary regulations, sir - have them afloat as well as ashore. The men are constantly suffering from cold, and frequently from ague, as I have seen. In respect to cleanliness, there is decidely a great improvement; and even that might be increased by making the men air their bedding when the weather permits, which they seldom do now. Perhaps the bed-clothes in the berths are not changed once in a whole voyage, or the bed aired. The want of something for the purposes of a water-closet is also a very great defect in our merchant ships at present. There is something of the kind. The head-rail is used for such purposes; but when it blows very hard and heavy, men cannot go to the head-rail - many men have been lost by going there in stormy weather. The officers have conveniences, and the men could easily have the same. In my last voyage the able seamen had £2 a month each. My opinion, as an officer, is that it ought not to be less than £2 5s. for any long voyage - men deserve it. The officers had the usual rate. We discharged our cargo, bale goods and manufactured iron, at Constantinople. The men were allowed to go ashore on Sundays. No women are admitted on board, on any pretence, in any of the Mediterranean ports. To have examinations of the officers in merchant ships, as to their nautical knowledge and their sobriety, and certificates after passing examinations, will, in my opinion, be a very great improvement. Many a bright vessel has been lost through the ignorance or drunkenness of her commander. When a master is ignorant, his crew soon find it out, and all take advantage of it; there is no good discipline; while in case of peril, the men have no confidence in their master, and the danger is greatly increased. In one of my voyages, through not having a chronometer on board chiefly, we made Scilly two days before we expected even to see land. If it had not been fine summer weather we must have gone bump on shore among the wreckers. Every vessel, as a regulation, ought to have a chronometer on board, and the master ought fully to understand its use. Fines on board ship would, in some respect, be proper. Confinement does no good; it's ridiculous, for one man in a fault is confined and idle, and another, in consequence, is overworked, for no fault of his. As to wages, I think that, in justice to the seaman, wages ought to commence from the time of signing the articles; as it is, a seaman has often to wait eight or ten days before his vessel sails, and, as his wages only reckon from the sailing of the vessel, he is compelled to be eight or ten days idle, and unless a very steady man, soon gets through all his means. Why not have the men on board? It would save their lodging, and save them all sorts of temptations, and it would be no loss to masters or owners, for they have to pay riggers and labourers as it is. A better way of keeping the log, so as to answer regularity and accuracy, is very desirable. I have seen a log where the mate put down the vessel as steering N., and the wind in the other column as N. by W., as if the vessel lay within a point of the wind, while she was not within 5! There can be no doubt that there ought to be some readier means of recovering wages due to seamen's representatives. I mean seamen who have died on the voyage. I think it would be better, as regards wages generally, that there should be an uniform rate of wages, as in the United States. It would be found a great improvement in this country. In some ports here £2 is given for the East Indies; in Liverpool it is £2 5s. Men would know what to expect with an uniform rate - indeed, they could reckon it with certainty. In the United States there is an uniform rate, the men being engaged at shipping offices. An able seaman has $15 a month for Europe, and $12 a month for the East Indies and China. No wonder so many Englishmen are in the American service - the pay is better, the provisions are better, and the accommodations are better. Now, a better and more uniform rate of wages in English ships would prevent many men deserting at New York, and other cities in the States, where they are tempted naturally by the better state of things among the Americans. Do what anybody will, sir, the only true way to check desertion is to pay the men better, and to accommodate them better. That goes to the root of the matter."
    A seaman gave me the following statement as to the Portuguese trade:
    "My last voyage was to Oporto and back. I went out in a brig of 180 tons. We had eight in crew - three able seamen (one being cook and seaman), one ordinary, two apprentices, captain, and mate. I think that she was at least one short-handed. In my experience ships generally go out short-handed, worse than my last voyage. I had £2 10s. a month as able seaman. I do not consider it sufficient; but wages are very low in London now. We were not allowanced in provisions; they were of as good quality as ever I had on board a ship, and I have been a seaman for sixteen years. I have very often known short weight and bad provisions given; far oftener short and bad, than good and full weight. The accommodation was good in my last ship. I think £2 15s. at the least should be the wages in the Portuguese trade. In short voyages a seaman is not so fully employed; indeed you may put him down as about four months in the year unemployed. We have to pay our shilling a month, too, apiece to the Seamen's Fund, which seems never to come back to us. I don't know where it goes to. My last captain was a good seaman; but I know many captains who are not by any means fit to be trusted with men's lives. I have known the command taken from a captain, he was so drunken. When seamen meet now-a-days, they talk over their grievances, and I have heard very many say they would never fight for such a country. I fought in China for this country, and think I might fight again, possibly - I can't tell. What makes men desert is bad usage, and bad provisions, and bad wages. Altogether the Royal Navy now, though an able seaman in it has only 34s. a month, is far better than the merchant service. Indeed the merchant service gets worse and worse. I'm afraid that wages will fall still lower, and then nobody can tell the consequences."
    I had a statement from a middle-aged and, as I was assured on the best authority, a very trusty man, concerning the Hudson's Bay Shjps. He stated as follows:
    "My last voyage was in the Hudson s Bay Company sservice. I have been 24 years at sea in various services. I have been out as boatswain mate, and able seaman. In the Hudson's Bay Company's service there is really nothing to complain of. I have been in that service for, say 20 years. Before that I was in the employ of good shipowners. When men complain, they generally have not been kindly treated, or have been underpaid. Underpaid men are never good men - never good seamen. My last voyage, as I have said, was in the Hudson Bay Company's service in the fur trade. In my last voyage I was boatswain, and I was formerly able seaman. Last time I went to Mouse River for furs. The halfbreeds - the descendants of an Englishman and an Indian woman - are the principal people that the company deals with. The men who bring the skins to the factories are Indians, and they have a strong sense of religion. They do nothing on a Sunday. I don't understand much about their religious feelings on a Sunday, but they're very clean and won't work then. They are copper-coloured, and with long hair hanging loose about the neck, all black. They had a good expression - that they had. If I met one of them I should feel confident he would conduct me safe wherever I wanted to go. Some of them were fine-looking fellows. The old men are pensioned (as you would say) by the Hudson's Bay Company. I don't know at how much. Money is nothing there; but these natives have provisions served out to them to keep them. They really love the company. I'm certain of it; they would go through fire and water for it; they would give their lives for it - certainly they would. When I first went to the Mouse River I felt no great sense of novelty, I can tell you. The country was flat - plains, you see - what may be called the bush. Our principal trade was in beaver skins. The beaver is shot as well as trapped; it is a very ingenious creature, and is trapped and shot as it builds its house in the marshes, or by the brook or river's side. There's not such a demand for beavers as there was, as far as I know; there's slop hats instead of beaver hats. Beaver is really good eating. The skins go to the company, and the flesh is eaten. It's very like beef, and fat beef too - tasty, uncommon. I have tasted it in the Indians' huts; it's generally roasted before a wood fire. Its flesh never comes to the factories to be served out to the people; the Indians take care of that. They carry quantities of wild geese and ducks to the factories. It's all barter. The barter is regulated by the price of beaver skins. Powder and shot was for a long time exchanged for beaver skins, and is indeed still; so is bread, flour, tobacco, tea, and sugar; the Indians there like tea four or five times a day. The Hudson's Bay Company's ships are well manned and the crews well treated. I know as much from my own experience, and can bring plenty of men to prove it, as well as myself; and if other shipowners acted as the company does, there wouldn't be that grumbling, and that reasonable grumbling, that there now is. Before I went to Hudson's Bay, I was in the Greenland whale fishery, and the ice I met with in that fishery wasn't to Compare with what I saw in Hudson's Straits (which leads into Hudson's Bay), and in Hudson's Bay itself. I have been fifty days in Hudson's Bay, and the ship has only made twelve miles one way or other in those fifty days, as she was bound up in the ice, and couldn't move for a fortnight together. In Hudson's Straits we saw - for they were counted - 35 icebergs in an evening, when we were outward bound; there are more counted homeward bound. The first I saw was above 200 feet high; the ship's mast head might be 100 feet. I have sometimes seen them topple over; the top parts are melted by the sun, and run down as they thaw in channels, and so the iceberg capsizes. The first I saw was like the Tower of London moving on the water, only the real Tower here was a fool to it in size. I have seen icebergs a tremendous size, and looking as if one church steeple was piled upon another. A high iceberg looks as if it carries clouds on its top; and in going along in a dark night it makes a clear atmosphere about it. A mile, or a mile and a half off, it shows itself like a white mountain of light. The great care is to avoid icebergs; for small pieces of ice we don't care if we run again them. I have known an iceberg 200 fathoms (1,200 feet) under the water, and the computation is that it is one-third above the water. In the sunlight you can seen an iceberg twenty miles off glittering, just the same as you see windows lighted up her by the sun. An able seaman's wages are £3 3s. a month in the Hudson's Bay service. I consider that fair pay. If the seamen in other trades were paid in the same proportion there would be no grumbling and no dissatisfaction."
    The above, with those before given, constitute the principal classes of sailing vessels trading with foreign countries from the Port of London. It now only remains for me to give an account of the condition of the seamen on board the steamers and the coasting vessels. For the present I shall conclude with an exposition of the number of steamers belonging to the British Empire, and also the rate of increase, year by year, since their first introduction:


Years Steam-vessels belonging to the British Empire Steam-vessels built and registered in the United Kingdom and the British Colonies
Vessels Tons Vessels Tons
1814 2 456 6 672
1815 10 1633 10 1394
1816 15 2612 9 1238
1817 19 3950 9 2054
1818 27 6441 9 2538
1819 32 6657 4 342
1820 45 7243 9 771
1821 69 10534 23 3266
1822 96 13125 28 2634
1823 111 14153 20 2521
1824 126 15739 17 2234
1825 168 20287 29 4192
1826 248 28958 76 9042
1827 275 32490 30 3784
1828 293 32032 31 2285
1829 304 32283 16 1751
1830 315 33444 19 2226
1831 347 37445 36 4436
1832 380 41669 38 4090
1833 415 45017 36 3945
1834 462 50735 39 5756
1835 538 60520 88 11281
1836 600 67969 69 9700
1837 668 78288 82 12147
1838 722 82716 87 9837
1839 770 86731 65 6522
1840 824 95807 78 10757
1841 856 104845 54 12391
1842 806 118930 67 14931
1843 928 118962 53 6739
1844 988 125675 73 6930
1845 1012 131202 78 11950
1846 1070 144784 88 17172
1847 1154 156557 115 17333
1848 1253 168078 128 16476

The following table will enable the reader to contrast our steam power with that of other countries:


Countries  Ports Number of Steam Vessels Their Aggregate Tonnage Aggregate power of Steam Engines

 St Petersburg, Riga, Odessa

65 - 6,982
Sweden Stockholm, Gottenburg, Carlscrona, and Ystad 61  15,203 3,275
Norway  Christiana  10 2,312 643
Denmark  Copenhagen, Elsinore  15 1,568 1,068
Prussia  Dantzig 2 95 56
Mecklenburg  Rostock 2 200 52
Hanse Towns  Lubec 4 2054 560
" Hamburg 8 1,986  860
" Bremen 7 1,100 342
Hanover Embden 1 25 25
Netherlands Amsterdam 7 1,460 616
" Rotterdam 31 12,200 3,750
Belgium Antwerp, Ostend &c. 3 3,464 1,030
France Calais, Havre, Granville, St. Malo, Cherbourg, Brest, Nantes, Charente, Bordeuax, Bayonne, Marseilles, Corsica 119 not given in every case 9,027
Spain Corunna, Cadiz, Barcelona 13 3,621 1,450
Portugal Lisbon, Oporto 10 2,167 815
Sardinia Genoa, Cagliari 12 4,240 1,265
Tuscany Leghorn 4 1,356 530
Two Sicilies Naples, Palermo 5 2,135 910
Austria Trieste and Venice 16 5,957 1,620
Turkey Constantinople 14 4,315 1,864
" Alexandria 8 not stated 644
Barbary States Tunis 1 90 18
United States of America Portland, New York, Lakes Champlain, &c., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans 261 not stated not stated
Texas Galveston 2 130 55
Mexico Vera Cruz 5 2,690 645
Venezuela Caracas 1 122 35
Chili Valparaiso 2 1,369 360
Brazil Rio Janeio, Bahia 30 not stated 1,833
Peru Lima 2 1,400 360

It is not unlikely that the returns from which the above abstract has been made may omit some vessels of this kind in their enumeration, but these omissions cannot be to any great extent; and it thus appears that the progress made by this country in the adoption of this new and great invention is fully equal to everything hitherto accomplished by all other countries in the aggregate.

    The steam-vessels belonging to the different ports of the United Kingdom are thus proportioned: It appears then from the above that more than one-fourth of the entire number, and one-third of the aggregate tonnage, of the steam-vessels belonging to the United Kingdom appertain to the Port of London.


London Liverpool Glasgow Dublin Other Ports Total
Tons Vessels Tons Vessels Tons Vessels Tons Vessels Tons Vessels Tons Vessels Tons
Not exceeding 100 119 7943 18 1468 10 735 3 220 379 21521 529 31887
From 100 to 250 70 11579 43 6342 46 7299 11 2267 102 16252 272 43739
From 250 to 400 54 15938 8 2683 9 2919 13 4106 52 16225 136 41871
From 400 to 600 25 12451 4 1961 3 1547 9 4475 30 15024 71 35458
From 600 to 1000 18 14054 2 1265 4 3279 11 7494 32 21483 67 47575
1000 and upwards 23 36913 1 1300 9 13592 - - 2 3036 35 54841
Total 309 98878 76 15019 81 29371 47 18562 597 93541 1110 255371

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