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attention of Parliament in the ensuing Session. Independently of the great importance of the subject itself, the temper of the public will permit no half-hearted dealing with it. The withdrawal at the close of last Session of a Bill, which, after all, dealt only with the outside fringe of the question, raised a storm of feeling sufficient to shake a strong Government, and to compel Mr. Disraeli to bring in and carry at the eleventh hour a Bill, the imperfections and haste of which were admitted by the temporary character given to it. Fortunate, indeed, that it was so; for if anything in the nature of permanent legislation had been attempted under the excitement of the moment there is no knowing what mischief might not have been done. As it is, the Ministry have gained time for consideration, and there will now be no excuse if the subject is not thoroughly and satisfactorily dealt with.
In the meantime it may not be out of place to attempt to clear up some of the darkness which has gathered round the subject; to consider what, in point of fact, has been the past, and what is the present condition of our Merchant Shipping; and to discuss, by the help of experience and reason, rather than of sentiment, the remedies for existing evils, and their probable consequences.
Statements have been made in Parliament, and repeated elsewhere, to the effect that, until Mr. Plimsoll called attention to the subject, our merchant sailors had been neglected, and that with Free-trade came in a system of laisser faire with respect to British shipping and seamen. There cannot be a greater mistake. For the last thirty or forty years there has scarcely been a Session without legislation on the subject, and the number of Committees and of Commissions appointed to consider schemes for the improvement of our Mercantile Marine has been legion. Ministers of all parties-the late Lord Taunton, Lord Cardwell, Mr. Henley, Mr. Milner Gibson, the Duke of Richmond, Lord Carlingford, not to mention other names— have been all equally diligent on the matter; and it is a calumny on any recent Parliament or Government to accuse them of indifference to a matter so full of interest for every Englishman. It would be easy to fill an article with a list of the inquiries instituted, and the measures passed, during the present generation, which have had for their object the safety, welfare, and progress of the British ships and seamen; but we have space here for only a merest outline. In 1836, 1839, and again in 1843, Committees were appointed to consider the special subject of shipwrecks, and these Committees made a great number of recommendations. Almost all of those recommendations have
since been carried into effect, except, indeed, in the few cases in which they savoured of protection to native industry, and in which a wiser policy has, as we shall see below, been attended with triumphant results. Lighthouses have been multiplied and improved; sound signals have been established; harbours have been constructed, deepened, and made accessible; charts have been perfected; the classification of ships has been revised; tonnage measurement has been reformed; an excellent system of ship registry has been established; masters, mates, and engineers have been required to pass examinations; they can be cashiered if drunken or incompetent; offices are set up where seamen are engaged and discharged, where they receive their wages, and where their characters are recorded; savings-banks and money orders are provided for them; they have summary means of recovering wages; special provision is made concerning their food, medicine and lodging. Life-boats, and rocket apparatus for saving life from shipwreck, are established round the coasts; every wreck is made the subject of an investigation more or less stringent; shipwrecked property is protected from plunder; international rules have been made for preventing collision; an international code of general signals has been established, as well as an international system of signals of distress; and the old law of merchant shipping has been once codified, and again, after a lapse of twenty-five years, a second and still larger scheme of codification has been prepared and presented to Parliament. Above all, burdens and restrictions of all kinds, general and local, have been removed, so that ship and sailor are now absolutely free from all burdens, except such regulations and such taxes as are needed for their own welfare.
To extend this catalogue would be an easy matter did space permit. But it will be more profitable and more to the present purpose to endeavour to ascertain what have been the consequences of this legislation, and of other circumstances, during the last thirty years; in other words, to inquire whether during that time British ships and British seamen have deteriorated or improved.
This is no easy task. The difficulty of obtaining trustworthy facts is very great. The confident opinions which so many people are fond of expressing on the amelioration or deterioration of different classes of society or modes of life are for the most part founded on personal impressions, which are of all things the most fallacious. We often hear the 'good old times' spoken of, but we are seldom told when they existed. Unless we know what it is that we are to compare with the present, how are
we to make the comparison? Sometimes, however, approximate data are given to us. Thus, in Mr. Plimsoll's book (page 20) we find the early part of this century' spoken of as a time when 'every ship was the subject of the most anxious care on the part of owners, who neglected no known means of providing for her safety; when her return home was an occasion of great rejoicing, in which the whole family of the shipowner participated, and presents and indulgences signalised the happy time.' And again, we find statements concerning the superior moral character of seamen twenty or thirty years ago made by men so experienced, sagacious, and trustworthy, that it would be difficult to mistrust them, if there were not, unfortunately, counter-evidence of the most convincing kind to show that the complaints concerning the character of sailors were in those times at least as loud and as general as they are now.† Indeed, this sort of talk concerning the deterioration of service is not, it must be remembered, confined to the sea service. It is heard constantly with respect to all employments and occupations; it pervades society; it occasionally fills the press; and there is some comfort in finding that it is at any rate as old as Shakespeare:
'Oh, good old man, how well in thee appears
Statements and opinions of this kind must be taken for what they are worth, and they are worth very little without evidence of facts. Still the questions,-Are our merchant ships and sailors better or worse than they were? Are our ships safer or more unsafe? Are the seamen better or worse off? Are they better or worse conducted? Are things better or worse in these respects with other nations than with ourselves?-difficult as they may be to answer, are questions so interesting and important, that if there is a chance of throwing light upon them by any investigation of statistics or by other trustworthy evidence, it is well worth while to make the attempt.
Some such evidence there is, and we propose to consider it under the following heads:
1. The actual growth of our Mercantile Marine, more especially since the repeal of the Navigation Laws, including the
* See Mr. Lamport's Evidence to the Unseaworthy Ships Commission, 5609. † See Papers concerning British Commercial Marine, 1848, &c. &c.
ships, their employment and their personnel; and the nature of the ships and trade in which that growth has taken place.
2. A comparison of this growth with that of the Mercantile Marine of other countries.
3. A comparison of the estimation in which our ships are held in foreign ports at the present time with that in which they were held before the repeal of the Navigation Laws.
4. A comparison of the condition of our merchant officers thirty years since with their condition now.
5. A comparison of the condition of our merchant seamen thirty years since with their condition now.
6. A comparison of the loss of ships and of lives at former periods with that at the latest period of which we have records.
1. The actual increase of our Merchant Navy is a most remarkable fact. The Merchant Shipping of the British Empire amounted, in 1820, to 2,648,593 tons; in 1830, to 2,531,819 tons; in 1840, to 3,311,538 tons; in 1850, to 4,232,962 tons; in 1860, to 5,710,968 tons; in 1870, to 7,149,134 tons; and in 1874, to 7,533,492 tons.*
But these figures give a very imperfect notion of the increase in the quantity and quality of the work done. The quantity of that work is to be measured by the number and length of the voyages made and the quality by the nature of the freights carried. It is scarcely possible to get at these accurately, but some notion may be formed from the number of entrances and clearances. For the foreign trade of the United Kingdom we can give these figures. For the coasting trade we cannot, since a large proportion of coasting voyages do not appear in the Custom House books. Nor can we give full returns of the employment of British ships in the foreign trade of foreign countries. The entrances and clearances of British ships in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom for the years in question are as follows: viz., for the year 1820, 3,217,568 tons; for 1830, 4,282,189 tons; for 1840, 6,490,485 tons; for 1850, 9,442,544 tons; for 1860, 13,914,923 tons; for 1870, 25,072,180 tons; and for 1874, 30,089,683 tons.
If we could give complete returns for the coasting trade, and for the trade which is carried on between foreign ports by British ships, we should probably find that the increase in the aggregate employment of British shipping is much greater than is shown by the above figures. Our coasting trade is carried on almost exclusively by British ships. And the returns given by the
These and subsequent figures are taken from Official Returns, and generally, where no reference is given, from the Trade and Navigation Accounts. Tables with full details are given at the end of this number of the 'Review.'
Consuls in 1869, which are referred to below, show that in the trade of foreign ports both the positive and the comparative increase of British ships during the decade ending 1869 is very large.
It will be seen from the figures above given that whilst British tonnage has trebled since 1830, and has nearly doubled since 1850, the tonnage entries and clearances of British ships in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom in 1874 are more than seven times what they were in 1830, and more than three times what they were in 1850. The explanation is of course to be found in the increase of steam-vessels, which make many voyages where a sailing-vessel makes but one. Consequently if we turn to the increase in steam tonnage, we find it proportionately very much larger than the aggregate increase of steam and sailing tonnage together. The steam shipping belonging to the British Empire in the following years has been in 1820, 7243 tons; in 1830, 33,444 tons; in 1840, 95,807 tons; in 1850, 187,631 tons; in 1860, 500,144 tons; in 1870, 1,202,134 tons; and in 1874, 1,987,235 tons: and the entries and clearances of British steam-ships in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom have increased as follows: viz., in 1830, 116,985 tons; in 1840, 663,048 tons; in 1850, 1,802,955 tons; in 1860, 4,186,620 tons; in 1870, 13,341,058 tons; and in 1874, 19,408,527 tons.
The increase in the number of men employed has not been in the same proportion as the tonnage. No accurate returns exist for the earlier periods, nor is it possible to give any accurate figures at all for British ships employed elsewhere than in the trade of the United Kingdom. But for that trade and for recent years the numbers, exclusive of masters, are as follows: viz., in 1852, 159,563; in 1862, 173,863; and in 1872, 203,720.
The number of seamen thus employed, is of course no criterion of the number of seamen on the sea at one time, since steamers stay in port for a much shorter time than sailing-ships, and their crews are consequently much more constantly afloat. The number of persons carried in British ships has of course increased in a very much larger ratio.
It need scarcely be added that as steam-ships are the most expensive and quickest ships, so are they the ships which not only carry passengers, but also the most important and expensive cargoes, and which earn the highest freights. The increase of British tonnage in this class of ships means, therefore, much more than it would do if it were increase in sailing tonnage. And as regards the condition of the men employed in British ships, this increase of steam tonnage becomes a very important consideration, as we shall see further on.