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2. So far as regards the positive increase of our Mercantile Marine; our next point is a comparison of the growth of the British Mercantile Marine with that of foreign countries.
Taking the same years, so far as they can be given, we find that whilst between 1850 and 1870 British tonnage nearly doubled; and whilst in that time British steam tonnage increased sixfold, the seagoing tonnage of the United States actually diminished; and that their steam tonnage, though quadrupled, is only a sixth of ours, or about what ours was in 1850. The French tonnage, which in 1850 was one-sixth of ours, was in 1870 rather less than one-sixth; whilst her steam tonnage, though of course it is many times greater than it was in 1850, was in 1870 only one-eighth of our own. Norway alone has increased her tonnage faster than we have, for it more than trebled between 1850 and 1860; but she has little steam tonnage.
Turning from the tonnage to the employment of ships, and analysing the returns of the foreign trade of the principal maritime countries, so as to show what proportion of it is carried on by ships of their own countries, and what proportion by foreigners, we find the following results :
The British tonnage employed in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom has increased from 65 per cent. of the whole of the tonnage employed in that trade in 1850, to 68 per cent. in 1870. United States tonnage, which had 60 per cent. of the tonnage employed in the foreign trade of the United States in 1850, has only 38 per cent. of it in 1870. French tonnage, which had 41 per cent. of the foreign trade of France in 1850, had only 31 per cent. in 1870. Dutch tonnage, which had 42 per cent. of the foreign trade of Holland in 1850, had only 28 per cent. in 1870. Prussian tonnage, which had 49 per cent. of the foreign trade of Prussia in 1850, had 46 per cent. in 1870. Swedish tonnage, which had 43 per cent. of the foreign trade of Sweden in 1850, had only 32 per cent. in 1870. Even in the case of Norway, whose marine has grown so rapidly, Norwegian tonnage, which had 75 per cent. of the foreign trade of Norway in 1850, had decreased to 70 per cent. in 1870. It was of course to be expected that when the foreign trades of the different countries were opened to foreign ships, the native ships of each country would do a smaller proportion of that trade, finding their compensation in the new trades between other countries thus opened to them. And so it has happened in the case of all maritime countries except Great Britain. But in her case, with a trade far exceeding that of any other country, and increasing more rapidly than that of most countries, her shipping has not only
continued to do the same proportion of her own trade as it did before the trade was opened to other nations, but has increased that proportion.
Nor is this all. The foreign trade of each foreign country has also increased very largely; and the native shipping of each foreign country, much as it may have actually increased, no longer does the same proportion of her own trade as it formerly did. The proportion which native shipping no longer does must be done by the ships of some other flag; and though we have no complete figures to show how much of the trade of each of these countries is done by the British and how much by other foreign flags, we have some evidence to show that the British flag has come in for the lion's share of it. In the returns made by Her Majesty's Consuls to a circular of the Board of Trade, dated 17th November, 1869, and presented to Parliament in 1872, are given returns of the number and tonnage of British and of foreign ships respectively entering and clearing at the several foreign ports between 1859 and 1869. From these returns we have extracted the results for the nineteen of the ports which show the largest aggregate amount of foreign trade; and the result is that whilst the aggregate of foreign tonnage employed in these ports has in the ten years increased by 39 per cent., the aggregate of British tonnage employed in these ports has increased by 143 per cent., the British tonnage in 1869 being nearly one
half of that of all other nations.
It will be seen from these figures that even in trades where national prejudices and habits might not be expected to favour our shipping, British ships have advanced on foreign ships in the proportion of 3 to 1, and British tonnage on foreign tonnage in a still larger proportion.
Take another illustration. The Suez Canal is a new highway of nations by which passengers and the most valuable classes of goods are carried between all the countries of Europe and the East. It was prophesied that this would injure us by diverting the entrepôt trade from England to the ports of Southern Europe. This may be the case; but if it is, our shipping, at any rate, has not been deprived of the trade with the East. In 1870, the first year after the opening of the canal, the British tonnage which passed through it amounted to 67 per cent. of the whole. In 1874, out of an aggregate of 1,649,188 tons which passed through the canal, 73 per cent. were British; and this proportion shows no signs of diminution in the increasing traffic of 1875.
* These ports are Alexandria, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Boston, Callao, Constantinople, Dantzic, Genoa, Hamburg, Lisbon, Marseilles, Monte Video, Nagasaki, New York, Riga, San Francisco, Smyrna, Stettin, Trieste.
Vol. 141.—No. 281.
The above returns relate to the foreign trade of the different countries, in which there is everywhere, or almost everywhere, free competition. As regards the coasting trade of the different countries, the case is different, since prohibitory laws still in some cases interfere with free development. Thus, in France, and in the well-known case of the United States, the so-called coasting trade is closed by law against foreign ships. In Great Britain it has, since 1854, been perfectly free to all ships; and the result is, that out of 58,565,821 tons entered and cleared coastwise at the Custom Houses in the United Kingdom in 1874, only 1,482,284 were foreign, and of this comparatively small amount by far the greater part were in ballast.
From the above figures it is abundantly evident not only that British merchant shipping has in the twenty years succeeding the repeal of the Navigation Laws enjoyed its due proportion of the increase in the trade of the world which has followed on Freetrade and the use of steam, but that large as has been the positive increase in the merchant shipping of other countries, British merchant shipping has obtained much more than its due proportion of the increased trade, and has distanced many of its once dreaded competitors. Having special advantages in the possession of coal and iron, and having the mechanical genius to turn these advantages to account, it has led the way, and has secured for itself not only the largest share of the carrying trade of the world, but the most valuable part of that trade.
Now, this fact alone is sufficient to show that British merchant ships do not, as a whole or in general, merit the strictures which have been recently passed upon them. It is not by a rash and speculative supply of a bad and untrustworthy article that men succeed in the severe competition of modern trade. Had British ships borne a bad character for seaworthiness, they would not be carrying the largest and most valuable part of the trade of the world. Shippers, even if insured, do not select ships, especially for their most precious freights, which are likely to leak or go to the bottom; and the rise of premiums of insurance would soon put a stop to such a selection, even if shippers were disposed to make it. To a certain extent, therefore, the above figures are not only an answer to any general charges against our merchant shipping, but should also make us cautious in meddling hastily or arbitrarily with an enterprise which has been so triumphantly successful.
3. Our next point is to draw a comparison between 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.
Previously to the repeal of the Navigation Laws, viz., in July 1843, a circular, signed by Mr. Murray, then Assistant UnderSecretary at the Foreign Office, was sent to Her Majesty's Consuls, asking them to supply him with information concerning the character and conduct of British shipmasters and seamen; and replies were elicited from the Consuls, which are given at length in the Parliamentary Papers relating to the Commercial Marine of Great Britain, presented in 1848. A subsequent circular was sent by Lord Palmerston in May 1847, seeking for further information relating to the Commercial Marine, the replies to which are also given in the same paper. In these replies, the Consuls do not confine themselves to the subject of shipmasters and crews, but state generally what was the comparative estimation in which British and foreign ships were held by foreign shippers.
The conclusions drawn by Mr. Murray from these Reports are given in his letter of the 1st of January, 1844, where he says (page 1), that the character of British shipping has declined, and that the character of foreign shipping has improved:' and are again given in his memorandum of the 22nd of November, 1847 (page 141), where he says:
that the condition of British shipping according to evidence from the ports of Foreign States may not unjustly be termed discreditable to this country;' that British ships are allowed to be sent to sea commanded and navigated in a manner which injures British interests, and reflects discredit upon British intelligence;' that 'in only three reports out of sixty-five is it stated that the condition of British shipping had improved rather than declined;' that the Commercial Marine of Great Britain is stated in the majority of the reports to have become lowered in the estimation of foreigners;' and that 'foreign ships are chartered in preference to British vessels.'
The leading form in which Mr. Murray's questions were put was, perhaps with justice, much criticised at the time; but, if space permitted, it would be easy to show by extracts from Reports that the general conclusions drawn by him were justified by the evidence; and in adopting the measures which are referred to above, successive Governments and Parliaments recognised and attempted to remedy the evils which Mr. Murray had thus pointed out.
The Navigation Laws were repealed in 1849; and in 1869, after an interval of twenty years, the Consuls were called upon by a letter from Mr. G. Lefevre, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, to answer the following question:*
* See Parl. Paper, C. 630, 1872.
Does your experience enable you to say whether merchants and shippers of goods in your district give preference to British or foreign ships?' The result of their answers is to show that the opinion now entertained in foreign ports concerning British shipping is very much more favourable than that which was entertained in 1844-47. Out of forty-six replies to Mr. Lefevre's circular, thirteen state that no preference is given to any nationality; five are hesitating, or draw distinctions between different classes of shipping; in seven only is it distinctly stated that foreign ships are preferred to British, whilst twenty-one state distinctly that British ships are preferred to foreign. In only one case is it stated or suggested that the British ship, in her hull, equipments, or outfit, is inferior to the foreign ship.
If these opinions stood alone, it might be said, as was said of the opinions expressed in 1848, that they were mere opinions; that they were manufactured to order, and so on; but backed as they are by the figures given above, and by the undoubted fact that in the most valuable kinds of trade British shipping has, in the ports of most foreign countries, beaten not only the foreigner who visits those ports, but the native shipping, which is at home and has its connections there, they prove conclusively that, in the opinon of those who are most interested, and who, therefore, have the best means of judging, British ships are in all essential qualities, on the whole, the best ships in the world.
4. Our fourth point is to draw a comparison between the condition of British merchant officers thirty years since and their condition now.
This question is partly answered by what has been already said, but it is desirable to go a little farther. The great evils pointed out in 1843-47 were deficiencies in their education, character, and behaviour.
Mr. Murray sums up the Reports on these points as follows:
'It is stated from various parts of the world that persons placed in command of British ships are so habitually addicted to drunkenness as to be unfitted for their position; and it will be seen that Her Majesty's Consuls allude specifically to the notorious incapacity and gross intemperance, and to the ignorance and brutality of British shipmasters, many of whom are totally void of education. In several reports it is stated that there are honourable exceptions to the unworthy class of masters, thus showing that among British masters frequenting foreign ports bad conduct and ignorance is the rule, and intelligence and ability the exception; that on the other hand, foreign masters are educated, sober, intelligent men, capable of commanding respect and of maintaining discipline on board their ships, and that foreign seamen are consequently more orderly.'