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

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Thursday, May 2, 1850

I return to the condition and treatment of the Merchant Seamen ashore. In my last Letters upon this subject I gave an account of the Sailors' Home, in Well-street - "Green's Home," in the East India-road - and the lodging-houses of the more respectable boarding-masters. In my present Letter I shall treat of the worst class of boarding-masters, known by the name of "Crimps."
Concerning the practices of these persons I had the following account from one well acquainted with the subject: -
    "The men who keep the worst class of lodging-houses for sailors are often lumpers - men who are employed by the stevedores to stow the cargo of a ship. They are not fully employed, and, having idle time, look out for lodgers. Those who supply them with lodgers are often runners or touters, but some tout for themselves. The keepers of these low houses are generally of the lower order of the Irish. They hang about the docks, infesting the bridges as ships come in, and getting hold of men who have come home from a voyage. If these men haven't houses of their own to take seamen to, they take them to the lower lodging houses for seamen, kept by others. For taking men to these lodging-houses they will receive from 5s. to 20s. - as much as 30s. I have known given - but the price varies according to the voyage, for on this depends the amount the sailor has to receive, and this the crimps always endeavour to find out. They are generally dressed in the garb of a rigger - that is, a canvas jumper (a sort of spencer slipped on over the head), canvas trowsers - both so dirty that you can't tell what was their colour when new - and a sou'-wester. That sort of dress doesn't attract the notice of the officers. The lumper, or whoever keeps the low lodging-house, asks for the cook, and inquires if he has any fat to dispose of. This they do as a pretence, as it's against the act of Parliament for them to go aboard; so they get into the galley, and inquire as to the sums the seamen have to receive, and pump as to the 'green uns' (men who have not been in London before). They look out for stupid fellows - though some of the old ones are worse than the young ones. These crimps often take a drop of rum or gin in a bottle in their pockets, and treat lack, who thinks them good fellows, and will go with them. They offer to carry the men's clothes, or to do anything to recommend themselves, or will lend a hand on deck to pull or haul, or help the ship's service as she comes into the dock. This sort of going on further removes the suspicion of the captain or his officers. Suppose they offer to act as a sailor's porter, and to carry his clothes anywhere, the sailor may say, 'But I've no place to go to.' Then the crimp - or whatever he is called - says, 'I'll take you to a good boarding-house,' and he takes him to some boarding-master who will pay him - if the crimp has no house of his own. The crimps' lodging-houses are chiefly in courts and alleys in the lower part of Shadwell, Wapping, St. George's, and East Smithfield. The courts are unpaved; they have been better cleansed lately, but they are very bad still; and a sensible seaman might be frightened at the look of them; but they don't want sensible seamen there, and so don't look out for them. The beds are bad. Men, women, and children pig together. I have known smart- looking young fellows go there, but they are generally frequented by men who haven't much money. Such boarding-masters soon get rid of their lodgers. They say: - 'By dad, they'll eat their heads off; we must quit them in a jiffy.' Most of the men lodging in these houses come from St. John's, New Brunswick - some are from Nova Scotia, and some from Newfoundland; but they are from North America mainly. The sailors have the character of being soft, and think themselves cunning. They are often fine-looking fellows. They charge these men 14s. a week for their board and lodging, and give them very frequently red herrings or a bit of coarse beef for their dinner, or a bit of salt fish - not much fresh meat - but only what they can get cheap. Once a man went home drunk to one of these places - I've heard it from a person who couldn't be deceived - and when the man recovered from his drink he felt hungry and asked for his supper. The boarding-master, however, had greased his lips when asleep, and on hearing the seaman on waking ask for his supper, said, 'Well, by J- , havn't you supped already? Ain't your lips greased with the fat of the good meat you tucked in, and isn't the bone alongside of you!' The bones had been put there accordingly. This I know for a fact. Tricks of that kind are not uncommon when men have been drinking, and the men are encouraged to drunkenness and all kinds of debauchery. Another class of the lowest boarding-masters keep women in the house who live with the seamen, or they more generally have a house next door, where the women live, with a communication to the lodging-house. These houses are far more decent than the others as to cleanliness. A girl pays for a furnished room on the ground floor from 6s. to 9s. a week; upstairs from 4s. to 7s. for front rooms. For the ground floor back room from 4s. to 5s.; for the upstairs back room from 3s. 4s. In these places a sailor's money is gone before he knows well where he is. If the lady be in arrear £2 or £3 for rent, he has to pay it, and to meet every expense for himself and his 'wife,' as she is called, besides a new cap for the mistress of the house, and some clothing for the children, and other expenses into the bargain, if the seaman be at all flush of money. As soon as his money and clothes are gone (he very seldom saves his clothes), he must go; and then he must resort to his shipmates at the more respectable boarding-masters'. I never heard of men being hocussed in those places. The girls are not of that class. These sort of houses are not so numerous as they have been. Some are carried on by a man and his wife; others by girls on their own account; and some of these girls keep lodging-houses for seamen as well, but they are getting very cautious about it, and I know but four or five of such places. There are more, no doubt. If a man have a good deal of money when he goes there, the people in the house never lose sight of him. If he wants to go to any place of amusement, Jack and his mistress go, or somebody's got to go with him, and he's stuck to until he hasn't a farthing left. I know some women who keep beer-shops - along with lodgings for sailors - which are of the character I have described. The women keeping these beer-shops act as the men's wives; and indeed some have been married in church three or four times. The sailors often marry such people for the spree of the thing.
    Three young men, employed as "porters for seamen" (so they described themselves), gave me the following statement concerning the tricks practiced by ships' porters generally, in which they all concurred: -
    "It would be much better if such as we were licensed; we look after porter's work, carrying sailors' luggage ashore. Last ship we were aboard some coal-whippers were there, and were sarcy, and were turned out, and we were turned out as well. We go aboard to carry the sailors' goods ashore; but some porters - for there's two classes of us - go aboard for thieving, or to take men away. We work two or three together that we may save the goods from thieves by keeping watch. Perhaps if a ship comes into dock there'll be more porters go on board than there are seamen; twenty-five we've seen on board one ship, but not more than six were regular porters. There are regular porters at each dock - perhaps nearer forty than fifty in all. Four times that number dolt for jobs. People that work about the dock, work as ships' porters. Dock labourers often leave their work to go on board a ship. If they hadn't done so this afternoon, we should have had a dinner tomorrow (Sunday). The coal-whippers look out as well as the dock labourers. When we get goods ashore singly. If nobody watched, somebody would sling the chest on his back and walk off with it. Besides, there's often so many things, that we can hardly keep watch enough. I saw a man the other day on board a ship pull off a pair of old boots, and slip on a new pair, that was put on deck to be carried ashore. Such practices are common with jackets. The seamen look to us to be honest with them in bringing their things on shore."
    One man, who said that he had been 25 years at the trade, off and on, gave me the following account: -
    "From the West India Dock to Shadwell or Ratciff-highway, a porter will receive 2s. or 2s 6d. - 2s. from the West India Docks will satisfy us, and 2s. 6d. from the East. The worst class of porters will do it at is., making up the difference by cribbing. Besides, they'll run away with the seaman, it they can, and sell him. They sell him to anybody - to any bad boarding-master. The price of the man depends upon what money he may have. One man was sold the other day by the porters; there was a good power of them, and they took him - he was a black man - to one of his countrymen, but he wouldn't buy him, but Mr. bought him at 6s. 6d. If we take a man to a decent boarding-house, we get is. or so for our trouble. A bad boarding-master will regulate his price to the porters according to what clothes the seaman may want, for one thing. We've heard of £1 being given for a 'Chinaman.' A two years' voyage man will fetch £1 at ---,or ----,or ---, or any crimp's. If we took a man to a respectable house, we might get 1s. for beer; so, to be paid, we must take men to lower lodging-houses, who will pay us. The way to stop this sort of thing is to license men like us. Men who are employed by the low boarding-masters will knock you down if you interfere with them. They treat the men if they get them ashore, and carry gin and rum aboard with them. Ashore they run off with the chests and things in a truck, and the sailor may follow. They go where the boarding-masters pay best, and the boarding-masters that keep half-brothels, or find women for the men, can afford to give higher prices for seamen than the respectable houses. We know a boarding-master who has, we believe, fourteen brothels. He may buy his sailors at £1 a piece, but he employs his own men. He has five cabs; we saw one at the West India Dock to-day, taking two men's things away, and hindering regular porters of a job. It's hard to say how many porters or runners he has, but we know two of his constant hands. His men are allowed in the dock, for they dress respectable, with gold chains as thick as your finger, and rings on their fingers; so these runners get in when we can't. The brothels for sailors are chiefly in East Smithfield. A man who went to a low boarding-master's with near £40 in his pocket - he was a ship's carpenter who had been away some eight or nine months - wasn't a fortnight before he was cleaned out - regularly 'skinned' of his clothes and all - and we found him in the streets without a shilling. He is a quiet, nice fellow, too. The boarding-master pretended to read the list of payments and money that the man had before he left, and the carpenter said, 'Yes, that's it,' and he was turned out directly. He was drunk all the time, and they give shillings or four-penny bits, and said they were sovereigns. He didn't care as long as he had gin. He used to take a farthing for a shilling to spend at a public-house. One boarding-master furnishes rooms for prostitutes, and recommends them to the seamen who lodge with him. The low boarding-masters usually buy the sailors' clothes for them, getting them second-hand often, and charging them as new, or else putting down for them - as much as the Sailors' Home tailors, who have to pay lots of money to their runners, and so you know must put on a little extra. The Sailors' Home tailors have many runners, who do us harm by getting jobs from us. There are two classes of boarding-masters - good and bad; the good treat their lodgers as well as the others use them badly. One boarding- master kept a man six months once, after his money was out. Scores of times we've heard seamen say, when the runners have asked them to go to the Sailors' Home, 'Go there, to be sent to the straw-house when our money's done? No! No! A boarding-master will keep us when it is done,' By licensing the porters and boarding-masters good must be done, for then half that carry on those trades would never get a license. None of the bad class of porters like to hear of a license. The worst sort of boarding-masters are Irish, and foreigners more than others. There are not too many Jews. There may not be more than twelve regular boarding-houses of the worst class. More than fifty take occasional boarders - two or three; but they are generally the very worst of all. The charge is 2s. a day with all of them."
    A well-spoken and good-looking sailor told the following story of the proceedings as regards himself in a low boarding-house: -
    "I came to London last Wednesday," he said, "and was on my way to Mr. B s, a respectable boarding-master, whom I have known for eleven years. He had changed his residence in the five years that I had been away in India, China, New Zealand, Sydney, and other places. (The man, I ascertained, bore a good character.) Well, I was going along the Highway, with a little drop of drink in my head, sailor-like, you know, sir - half seas over, that's about the size of it -excited quite on getting ashore, and thinking how I would surprise them at home (that's what I always call Mr. B-'s), when I met with a young woman, and she asked me if I was looking out for anybody? I told her I wanted Mr. B , and she said, 'You had best come to my house; he's gone away.' I answered, 'Well, I don't mind; short reckonings make long friends.' If I hadn't been tipsy I shouldn't have been carried off by such a craft. She took me to a house - I remember it was up a dark passage - there's plenty of ins and outs in the streets about here - and we had something more to drink. Next morning I found myself 'skinned' - that's about the size of it; and about 50s. was the value of the 'skin' I lost. A pair of old canvas trousers was left for my own good cloth ones, but all the rest of my clothes were gone. and the young woman was gone too. I never got served out so before, but I was catched on the hip this time. About Bluecoat-fields - that's the name of the place where I was taken to - is called 'Skinner's Bay,' because men are mostly served there as I was. When I awoke in the morning I thought at first I was at Mr. B s, but I soon found the difference. Instead of a comfortable bedroom, I was in a small, poor, dirty room, with a few halfpenny pictures over the mantel, and two or three broken cups or saucers in the room. The young woman told me overnight that I might as well stay at her house as at Mr. B-'s, for that I should only be charged l4s. all the same. In the morning I met with an old woman, when I looked out for the master of the house or somebody, and I soon found her a country-woman of mine. She would give me no information, but wanted me to board there at 14s. a week, saying I might save money by it; and meaning, I suppose, that the people there would supply women or drink regularly, or any foolery a sailor was after, and all for the fourteen shillings. But I said - feeling I was a fool in the morning, though I thought myself a smart man overnight - 'No, no, none of that; I'll be off.' So I walked away in my canvass trowsers and blue shirt, like a collier going nor'ard, bucket on one side and broom on the other. I got to my old boarding-master's, and then got clothes and help. If I'd stayed, as I'd money coming, I might have lost another skin. It's no use prosecuting the people. I shan't be any poorer a twelvemonth's hence."
    I was told by an experienced person that seamen are not robbed in this manner so frequently as they used to be - or so frequently, perhaps, as people generally imagine. It is commoner to pawn the man's clothes than to steal them. The police warn a seaman if they see him led to a boarding-house that is known to be half a brothel, and so will the better sort of sailors' porters. Often, however, seamen will not state where they have been "skinned,'' having a greater feeling of shame in the matter now than they once had.
    Concerning the practice known as kidnapping, among the worst class of boarding-masters, I had the subjoined statement from a person intimately acquainted with the subject: -
    "The desertion of foreign seamen in this port is very great, particularly among the Prussian and Russian ships. The system is this. On the arrival of a Prussian or Russian vessel it is closely watched by certain lodging-house keepers, about half-a-dozen in number, who entice the foreign seamen to leave their vessels, the lodging-house keepers pretending that they will get them berths in English ships with better wages. Two of these lodging-house keepers are foreigners, and they can all express themselves so as to be understood by a Prussian or Russian. One of these men can make himself understood in four or five languages. They assist the foreign seamen to smuggle their clothes out of the ship, generally at night; or, as the principal place for this traffic is at the Commercial Dock, the clothes are sometimes taken out piecemeal, in the daytime, hid in some adjacent by-place - perhaps under a hedge - and then carried away at night, or early in the morning, to the lodging-house. One of those houses had a place fitted up in the back-yard for the reception of the seamen to be concealed, and the place was so contrived by sliding pannels as to present the appearance of a dead wall, or of some building unconnected with the lodging-house. Here, and in similar places, the kidnapped people were detained until the sailing of their vessel - that is, if no reward had been offered for their apprehension by the master. By the laws of many foreign countries the master of a merchant ship is under a heavy bond to return the seamen to their native country. If the reward be offered, the man is restored to the ship, and the money paid as the reward is deducted by the captain from his wages. Should no reward be offered, the lodging-house keepers, knowing from what ship they have stolen the sailors, wait upon the master, telling him that they have heard his men are missing (much after the fashion of the street dog-stealers). Ultimately, perhaps, the captain will agree to pay something to have his men sent back to the ship. This is only done when the seamen kidnapped are penniless, and the lodging-house keeper thinks it better to try to get £5 from the foreign captain than wait for a £2 advance note from a British ship. When the lodging-house keeper has bargained in this way with a foreign captain, he returns home and informs the poor fellows whom he has deluded that he has got them a British ship, with good wages, good living, and all the rest of it. The seamen are then taken to some convenient riverstairs, where the assistance of the Thames police inspector has been secured; he at once places the men in his boat and conveys them as prisoners to their own ship. Sometimes the men have been rowed right into the river without knowing they were in custody. When the men are returned to their own ship the crimp receives an order on the broker for the reward, or the amount agreed to be paid. In order to convince myself of these facts I called at a broker's office, and saw in the books an entry of £31 odd having been paid to a crimp, who had returned some foreign seamen to their ship; one of these men (there were six in all, £5 a piece being the money paid) was seen in the crimp's house, but no one had any power to interefere and compel the man to return to his duty. One of these lodging-house keepers was lately summoned at the Thames Police Court, at the instance of the Swedish Consul, charged with kidnapping a foreign seaman. The man was enticed away from his ship (a Swedish vessel) by a lodging-house keeper, and placed on board an English ship. He received an advance note for about £4, and the whole of this was taken possession of by the crimp. At Gravesend the Swede's own vessel dropped down at the time the British ship that he was on board of was at anchor there. The man swam, during the night, from the British ship to his own. He appeared as a witness at the police-court for the prosecution, and detailed these circumstances with the aid of an interpreter. After much discussion between the solicitors employed, the case was dismissed, the magistrate having no jurisdiction - the Merchant Seamen's Act applying only to 'subjects of her Majesty,' and the Merchant Seamen's Protection Act to the 'seamen of this kingdom.'"
    I have already given the opinion of an intelligent and experienced officer on the necessity of improved sanity regulations on board ship. I now give three narratives, bearing closely on that important subject. At the time the statements were taken (ten days ago), R--- and C---, the two seamen, were confined to the Dreadnought Hospital ship, both having been carried there from the ----, on Sunday, the 7th April. R--- was able to move about with the assistance of a stick, but C--- was still confined to his bed, being unable to bend his legs, or raise himself in his bed. R--- stated: -
    "I joined the-as seaman, at Bombay, on the 15th of October, 1849, and sailed from that place about the 22d of that month for London; no spirits were allowed. I have been in temperance ships before, and no cases of scurvy have arisen. The lime-juice was served out generally daily, and was always taken by the crew. Sheep and pigs were taken on board at Bombay; one sheep died, and one was killed to save its life. The one that died was cooked for the pigs, the one that was killed was made into a sea-pie; some of the crew eat it. I tasted the dough, but could not eat the meat. The pigs were all kept for the captain's table. About the 27th of November we had some bad weather, and the long-boat, containing the pigs, sheep, and poultry, was filled with water. From that time they were removed into the forecastle, in which we slept; the stench from them was very bad - particularly from the pigs and the dead ducks. They all remained there till they were required to be killed. The captain did not have the same water as we had, which was very bad; but after all the cuddy water was gone, himself and mates were obliged to turn to ours. One man died with the venereal and scurvy; he only worked a month and ten days after he joined. An apprentice boy was the next who was taken ill. He first caught cold. He was kept up in the cross- trees all day naked in the wet and cold by the captain, who said he was too long over his work when aloft. The scurvy afterwards came on. The apprentice boy died first, then the man, and three others shortly after. They all complained of hunger. The salt meat was stopped, and no substitute was given to us. Two pigs were then left, one of which we brought to England; so there was enough and to spare. The sugar was stopped when any of us were taken ill, because, as the captain said, it was getting short; but those who could work had their proper allowance, for the captain always said we were shamming sick, and he would starve us out. He refused to give us anything but what we signed articles for. The vessel was built of iron. We felt the cold very much; out of the sixteen bunks (sleeping places) eight only were fit for use; the water ran into the others; they were never cleaned out from the time we left Bombay, neither were they touched there. Not even a drop of vinegar was given to us, to sprinkle the bunks with, when the men died. We clubbed together, and out of our allowance we used to get a little for that purpose. In the forecastle it was very close; there were no ventilators. Before the pigs were put into the place amidships, there was a door on the starboard side that we could open, but it was afterwards fastened up, the door on the larboard side was never opened. The hawser-holes run in amidships, so we did not even get the air that would have come through them. On arrival in  the channel we had but three of the foremast hands who could do duty, and I think the master ought to have sent on shore and obtained other hands, at Scilly or Falmouth; he did take in six fresh hands in the Downs, about three hours before the steam-tug took us, but then none of the crew could stand on their feet.
    C--- , another of the sick men, corroborated the foregoing statement, adding, that if the pig brought to England had been killed, the fresh meat might have saved two or three men's lives. The men's gums were so sore that they could not eat the hard biscuits given to them, and they went on starving.
    B---, an apprentice, was in a worse state than the seaman C---; but being younger, and a stout-made lad, the sickness had not taken that serious hold upon him which it would have done upon a less robust constitution. He was at home at his father's in Deptford. The father complained that when his son came home he was covered with thousands of lice, and did not look as if he had been washed since he left home. The lad stated: - "I was bound an apprentice to Captain ----, and this was my first voyage. I went out and home in the vessel. Many of the crew were discharged at Bombay, after going before a magistrate. I do not know upon what grounds, but there was much grumbling all the voyage out. When we were in Bombay harbour, the rain-water was caught in sails and buckets out into the casks; some of the water was the washing of the poop. At this time the boys and mates were painting the ship, and during the voyage, when the water was served out, it was quite yellow. When filling the water casks, I had to walk the poop one night for two hours naked, because I fell asleep while on duty. I was kept at work all day, and had to stop up of a night to catch rain-water, to save paying for water from the shore. When we left Bombay we had 5 pigs, 8 sheep, 28 ducks, and 28 fowls, all of which were stowed in the long-boat." The boy here mentioned the removal of the pigs, &c., into the forecastle. "They stunk very bad," he continued; "the pigs slept upon the top of the meat casks; the meat was all kept there. One sheep died, which was given to us for a Christmas dinner, but we could not eat it. Another was to say killed, but if it had not been it would have died, and was made into a mess. Some would not eat it. I did. That was all the fresh food I had all the passage home, until we arrived in the Downs; yet we brought one pig home, the largest of the lot. When we passed the Cape of Good Hope we were within sight of land, but when we were off St. Helena we were so close to it that we could easily see all the objects on shore. The water was as smooth as the river Thames, and though one man and an apprentice were both very bad, and unable to do duty, no attempt was made to obtain assistance from the shore. Between St. Helena and England five persons died. I cannot give dates. (Another party stated that all the deaths occurred since the 19th of March). "Sundays or week days were all alike to us. A few prayers were read by the master when a man was buried. As soon as a man was taken ill the salt provisions were no longer served out, and nothing extra was given. We all complained of hunger and thirst. The master would ask one or so occasionally how they were. He did not visit the sick daily. The mate gave us the medicine. The forecastle was not cleaned from the previous voyage, for the mud is at the bulkheads now, which got there when she upset in the river going out of St. Katherine's into dry dock. This you may see. When we left Bombay the crew consisted of master, two mates, carpenter, cook, ten foremast hands, and four boys; in all nineteen hands. When we arrived off Falmouth only seven, including the master and mates, were able to do duty, yet we did not take in any fresh hands until we arrived in the Downs, and then only about three hours before the steamer came alongside, at which time none of the foremast hands could stand. We arrived in the West India Docks on Sunday morning, the 7th of April, before daylight. I was confined to my bed. I could not move. I remained there all Sunday. I never saw the captain; I was told that he had been on board and had gone on shore again. No victuals was brought to me. The Custom-house officer kindly gave me two pieces of bread and some fresh beef. On Monday I got no food from the ship. One of the Custom-house officers who works on shore in a small house, came on board and gave me some pudding and other provisions. I did not see the master that day, and in the evening I was removed from the ship to the dock gates in a truck, and from thence to my father's house in a cart. This is my first voyage to sea, and I do not want to go again. The master would not give me any of my wages to buy soap to wash with. I have only had a small piece (and this I took with me) all the voyage. There was no regular day for washing clothes, and no time was allowed for that purpose. We towed them overboard to cleanse them."
    I now give the opinion of a gentleman who has for a long time observed and studied the condition of seamen, and who has the best possible opportunities for observation:
    "I have known the seamen in the port of London," he said, "for twenty years, and am satisfied that there is a great improvement in their character since I first knew them. They are less drunken, I am sure of that - much less. Many of them have now a pride in keeping a good character, and twenty years ago they thought nothing about keeping a character at all; in fact, a character was hardly ever asked for. They swear less than when I first knew them, and there are far fewer blackguards among them. They are better educated too. Very few of them but what can read and write, and some of them to my knowledge write very good and entertaining letters from foreign ports. They don't fling their money about as they used to do - that's principally confined now-a-days to the stage-seamen. I have often known and heard of seamen who were inclined to fling their money about them foolishly, checked by their shipmates, and even their money or watches taken from them by their friends, to be restored to them when sober. A seaman, when doubtful of his power to withstand temptation, will oft enough leave his money or watch in the hands of some trusty person. There is not near so much marrying of many wives as there used to be. At one time a seaman would marry wives in different ports, and in London here would make a grand hackney-coach concern of it. Now seamen's marriages are as private as any landsman's. They may, perhaps, be still the same men as regards spending money on the women of the town - if the women may be called so, as they importune none but sailors. I am of opinion that, for the further improvement of seamen generally, the improvement of their officers on board merchant ships is most decidedly necessary. The common ignorance of masters and mates causes the loss of many a ship, and the drowning of many a fine fellow. Seamen will readily enough find out their officer's ignorance, and they will say one among another, 'He doesn't know where he's going; we must tell him.' Nothing causes greater dissatisfaction - nothing, as a natural consequence, tends more to introduce bad discipline - and so nothing can very well be worse. A drunken master is about as bad as an ignorant one. He will blackguard his men in the lowest terms - I am sorry to say there are many of that sort - and his men will blackguard back again, and will say, 'He's drunk, and doesn't know what he's talking about - who cares?' So, again, the want of discipline is bad and full of danger. I knew a captain who lost his life in the Bay of Honduras through drunkenness; indeed, he was never sober. He would go ashore in a small Spanish schooner, and though the mate and his seamen told him that she could never pass the bar - the sea runs very heavy there - the Spaniard was foolish and the captain was drunk, and they ventured, and the schooner was capsized, and they were all drowned. I think that the institution of a shipping-office for the engagement and payment of the seamen (as proposed by the bill now before the House) will work well. It will work well, in my opinion, for Rood seamen, in this way: A captain will have the shipping of his own men, and good men will be preferred. That will be of advantage another way. When good seamen are sought after, more men will aim at the character of good seamen. Men, too, are generally better satisfied at being shipped by the captain than by a shipping-master. I think that when men are shipped from Sailors' Homes, a Government officer, acting quite independently of the establishment, should be present to see that the shipping is strictly according to the regulations, so that all men may be treated alike, and under one impartial system. It is of great importance, that all the seamen should be convinced of this. I hear now so many complaints of the treatment of the men at the Home, as regards turning them out when penniless and such like, that I think men would feel an unpleasantness if they thought the Sailors' Home, or any similar institution, had any exclusive privilege with the shipping of men, such as I think the proposed Act contemplates. I think a shipping-office would also be advantageous to the shipowner, as the captain would get good men, and the navigation of the ship would be better; as it is, a captain gets often enough a lot of worthless men foisted on to him. The superintendent of a shipping-office, too, might be very useful as an umpire between captain and men. In nine cases out of ten a dispute between master and men, when the owners are fairly disposed, might be decided by a party on whose disinterestedness both could depend - and so delays, and law expenses, and bad feeling caused thereby would be avoided. Of the necessity of allowing a deceased seaman's representatives to become possessed of what might be due to him at the time of his death there can be no doubt whatever." (My informant then expressed a similar opinion, as to advance notes, to what was stated at the meeting of the boarding-house masters.) "I consider," he continued, "the 53d clause of the proposed bill will act as badly for the seaman as for his boarding-master. The man, through its working, may be turned into the street, and the boarding-master may be cheated enormously." (The opinion given at the meeting of the boarding-masters was again confirmed by my present informant.) "It is now a great grievance that sailors may be kept ashore for an indefinite term - even longer than three weeks I have known it - after the signing of the articles, and for all that time they receive no wages, and must run into debt nine cases out of ten - unless, indeed, they prefer starving, and can stand it a bit. Why, I have known men turned out of the Sailors' Home, after they had actually signed articles and were waiting for their ship, because their money wouldn't spin out to let them wait long enough. I find it now proposed to limit such waiting unpaid, to four days, which I consider a just and necessary change. As to characters and discharges, I have known men - and I have known it done five or six times in a day - one man lives by it - write characters for seamen, and discharges as well. I have known a character or a discharge written in a public-house for a pint of beer, or even for a penny. The seamen ask one another, 'Do you want a character or a discharge? I know a man will do it.' Hundreds of such documents have been so made to my knowledge. The man 'doing' the discharges, &c., knows all the ships' and captains' names - indeed I know a broken-down captain who now carries on the 'discharge' and 'character' trade. A shipping-office will very properly ruin these characters men's trade. An ensurement of more room in the men's berths on board ship will be a great good, as it must tend to health and decency, and bad accommodation makes even the decenter sort of men desert. The berths ought certainly to be kept dry by the better caulking of the deck. Many a forecastle now is like a shower bath, or a cold bath in winter, or some sort of bath just when it's not wanted. This bad accommodation causes sleeplessness, and the want of needful rest makes men dissatisfied and surly, and is a great incentive to their running away. I have given some attention lately to the Merchant Seamen's Fund. I have often heard sailors say, 'Why are we to pay 1s. a month to the Merchant Seamen's Fund; we never get any good from it, and now we hear that we may be called upon to pay 1s. 6d. a month instead of 1s.'  I have said to them, 'So you will have to pay 1s. 6d.; and all the better for you, as by that payment you will be entitled to an extra pension in old age or infirmity - and a very good arrangement too.' As the Merchant Seamen's Fund is now conducted, it seems to me very bad. In some ports the pensioners receive 7s. or 8s. a month, in others only 1s. 6d. or 2s., a month - recollect that's as low as 4?d. a week, or something better than a halfpenny a day. In many cases the money due by law to the Merchant Seamen's Fund never reaches the men, especially in the coasting trade. A coaster sends in one muster-roll, as to the number of his men and of his voyages, to the Custom-house, and another to the Merchant Seamen's Fund, which is quite different from that furnished to the Custom-house. It shows fewer men and fewer voyages; so that the Fund may be bilked, and the shipowner pocket the difference. An experienced gentleman, on whose information I can rely, told me that these coasters paid only two-thirds of what was legally due from them. As to allotment or half-pay notes, they are often now made the means of robbing the seamen. An allotment note is quite different from an advance note. The allotment note is made payable at the owner's, or his agent's, commencing generally two months after date. It is intended to insure an allowance to a sailor's wife, mother, or any relative during a voyage, and the wrong done is often this - When the ship gets to sea and an application is made for payment of the note, the answer may be 'We can pay no money' (or 'no more money' as the case may be) 'for there's been a disturbance on board the ship, and there'll be no wages due to the man.' Very likely there has been no disturbance at all; but this is a trick shifty owners resort to - an attempt to save their money. If a man returns, say from a two years' voyage, some owners will pay his wages, deducting allotment note payments, as if discharged by them, though they may not have paid a penny. Besides, the stoppage on any plea drives, or may drive, a man's wife to the parish or worse. While a seaman is away, his wife, or any holder of the allotment note, has no remedy. If the man returns he may have a remedy, if he knows it, or is told of it, but just conceive what mischief may have been done in the meantime."

  1840 1841 1842 1843 1844 1845 1846 1847 1848 1849 Total for 10 years Average per year for 10 years


1 3 4 1 1 1     1   12 1.2

Shooting at, stabbing, administering poison, &c.

12   6   3   3     3 27 2.7

Cutting and wounding with intent, &c

5 12 4 1 10 2 8 8 7 7 64 6.4


1 2 1 1 1   1       7 .7


    1 1 3     1   4 10 1.0

Sodomy, assaults with intent to commit, &c.

    1   1     1   1 4 .4

Sodomy, extorting money under threats, &c.

  2 2             1 5 .5


          1   4 1   6 .6

Rape, assaults with intent to commit, &c

1 1 1 1   2 1   1   8 .8


        2         1 3 .3


    2     2   1 1 1 7 .7

Assaults, common

22 106 92 79 171 167 121 157 125 215 1255 125.5

Assaults, on police

19 21 17 30 63 78 66 45 51 89 479 47.9
Attempting to rescue from custody 3 2 4 16 6 2 2 5 5 5 50 5.0
Obstructing police constables on duty 4 6 3 4 3 5 2 4 3 2 35 3.6
Total of offences against the person 68 155 138 134 264 260 204 226 195 329 1973 197.3
Burglary 1   1 3 3 2 3 4 5 2 24 2.4
Breaking into dwelling-house and stealing 1     6 2 2 2   7   20 2.0
Breaking into shops, warehouses, counting houses, &c   1       2         3 .3
Robbery     1 1 4   1 2 4   13 1.3
Assaults with intent to rob   1   1             2 .2

Total of offences against property, committed with violence

2 2 2 11 9 6 6 6 16 2 62 6.2

Larceny in a dwelling-house to the value of 5l.

  1   3 10 2 3 2 3 5 29 2.9

Larceny in a dwelling-house

    7 1 4 8 6 3 5 3 37 3.7

Larceny from the person

4   6 1 10 15 8 13 17 23 97 9.7

Larceny by servants

    1       8 1 4 13 27 2.7

Larceny from letters containing bank-notes

    1               1 .1

Larceny simple

63 33 84 53 144 151 136 205 195 179 1243 124.3
Misdemeanour with intent to steal 26 14 9 5 19 12 35 23 12 9 164 16.4
Embezzlement         1     1   2 4 .4
Receiving stolen goods           1   3 4 7 15 1.5
Frauds 3 5 17 6 17 13 30 22 20 15 148 14.8
Conspiracy with intent to defraud         1 5   1 1   8 .8
Dog-stealing               1     1 .1
Illegally pawning         1 1 1   4 5 12 1.2
Unlawful possession of goods 31 19 8 3 35 21 60 44 79 72 372 37.2
Total of offences against property, committed without violence 127 72 133 72 242 229 287 319 344 333 2158 215.8


    1     1         2 .2

Trespasses, malicious

  1       2         3 .3

Wilful damage

32 36 52 48 98 63 51 53 40 67 540 54.0

Total of malicious offences against property..

32 37 53 48 98 66 51 53 41 67 545 54.5
Forging and uttering forged instruments 1 1 1   2 2 3 3 6   19 1.9
Coin (counterfeit), putting off, uttering, &c... 5 3 1 2 7 4 8 8 20 14 72 7.2

Total of forgery and offences against the currency

6 4 2 2 9 6 11 11 26 14 91 9.1

Being at large under sentence of transportation

  1                 1 .1

Apprentices, runaway

53 35 54 45 46 41 27 21 25 41 388 38.8

Attempting to commit suicide

  1     6 3 3 1 1 7 22 2.2

Cruelty to animals

        1     2 3 2 8 .8

Deserting their families

    1   4   2 1     8 .8


        9   1 9 16 24 52 5.2

Disorderly characters

372 205 220 194 120 37 41 54 69 161 1473 147.3

Drunk and disorderly ditto

        194 294 378 194 119 398 1577 157.7


856 746 639 584 444 550 618 538 310 443 5728 572.8

Furious driving

        1           1 .1


        1       3 3 7 .7

Hawking without license

      1 1 1         3 .3

Illicit distillation

              1     1 .1

Indecently exposing the person

1 1     4 4   2 2 3 17 1.7


        1   6 11 6 5 29 2.9

Offences under Hackney Carriage Act

          1         1 .1

Offence under Metropolitan Police Act, sewers, &c.

3       1     1     5 .5


          2         2 .2

Reputed thieves

  2 1 2 4 3 3 6 11 12 44 4.4


89 76 92 78 112 145 244 282 229 230 1577 157.7

Suspicious characters

23 11 8 3 22 25 23 26 57 67 265 26.5

Unlawful assemblages

1                   1 .1


48 71 89 64 110 116 130 89 195 133 1045 104.5


    14   2 16 5 1   4 42 4.2

Offences under Registered Seamen's Act

            4 1 1   6 .6

Ditto, Railway Act

                  2 2 .2

Sending threatening letter

      1             1 .1

Juvenile Offenders Act

                2   2 2

Total of other offences not included in the above classes

1446 1149 1118 972 1076 1238 1485 1240 1049 1535 12308 1230.8

    I shall conclude my present letter with the annexed table [above] of the crimes committed by sailors during the last ten years. This table has been made out from the metropolitan police returns, and shows the number of sailors taken into custody for different offences in the years below cited. The last column but one gives the total number of offences committed from 1839 to 1848; and the last column of all shows the yearly average of the different kinds of offences committed by seamen in the Port of London. How many of the crimes indicated below are the result of the iniquities practised upon sailors by crimps, &c., I leave others to decide.
    The general summary of the above table is as follows:

  Total Offences for sailors in 10 years Average per year for 10 year for sailors Numbers of sailors to one offender Numbers of population to one offender
Offences against the person 1973 197.3 1 in 38 1 in 226
Offences against property, committed with violence 62 6.2 1 in 1276 1 in 7328
Offences against property, committed without violence 2158 215.8 1 in 35 1 in 140
Malicious offences against property 545 54.5 1 in 141 1 in 720
Forgery and offences against the currency 91 9.1 1 in 850 1 in 2090
Other of fences not included in the above classes 12308 1230.8 1 in 6 1 in 52
Total 17137 1713.7 1 in4 1 in 30


The crimes for which the sailors belonging to the Port of London are particularly distinguished, are given below.

OFFENCES Numbers of sailors to one offender Number of population to one offender
Drunk and disorderly 1 in 10 1 in 122
Assaults 1 in 44 1 in 250
Smuggling 1 in 48 1 in 7580
Disorderly characters 1 in 52 1 in 261
Simple larceny 1 in 61 1 in 324
Vagrancy 1 in 73 1 in 412
Wilful damage 1 in 141 1 in 729
Runaway apprentices 1 in 196 1 in 1552
Unlawful possession of goods 1 in 206 1 in 835
Suspicious characters 1 in 294 1 in 610
Misdemeanours with intent to steal 1 in 478 1 in 1254
Fraud 1 in 510 1 in 5411
Uttering counterfeit coin 1 in 1093 1 in 2204
Murder 1 in 7657 1 in 94576

Hence it appears that drunkenness and disorderly conduct are vices to which sailors are peculiarly addicted. The next offence for which they are more particularly distinguished is that of assault; then comes smuggling; if the number of smugglers amongst the sailors be compared with the amount in the population, we shall find that they exceed the average in this case to a far greater extent than in any other. This is easily accounted for by the nature of their occupation affording to them a facility for the commission of it.
    As regards simple larceny, it will be seen that the number of sailors taken into custody for this offence, is one in every 61. This is considerably above the average, which is no more than one in 324 of the whole metropolitan population. In the more flagrant crime of murder they rank almost as high, the average number of murderers among the sailors being one in 7,657; whereas the average for the whole population of London is only one in 94,576.

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