In the preceding chapter, my father contrasted the solitary bay of San Francisco in 1835, its one, or at most, two vessels and one board hut on shore, with the city of San Francisco in 1859 of nearly one hundred thousand inhabitants and a fleet of large clipper ships and sail of all kind in the harbor, which he saw on his arrival in the steamer Golden Gate bringing the “fortnightly” “mails and passengers from the Atlantic world.” The contrast from 1859 to 1911 is hardly less striking. San Francisco has now grown to over four hundred thousand inhabitants, has twelve daily trains bringing mails and passengers from across the continent and beyond, and steamers six to ten times the size of the Golden Gate. In visiting San Pedro in 1859 he speaks of the landing at the head of a creek where boats discharged and took off cargoes from a mole or wharf, and of how “a tug ran to take off passengers from the steamer to the wharf, for the trade of Los Angeles is sufficient to support such a vessel.” From this landing, a stage-coach went daily to Los Angeles, a town of about twenty thousand inhabitants. Now there is a fine harbor at which large steamers themselves can land at San Pedro and a four-track electric road leading to Los Angeles, now a city of three hundred thousand inhabitants. Trains on this road go at the rate of sixty miles an hour. The picturesqueness, the Aladdin lamp character of the change, would not perhaps be heightened, but certainly the contrast is greater, if the days of 1835 be compared with 1911 instead of 1859, while the startling growth from 1859 to the present makes one pause to ask what will be the progress and the changes in the next fifty-two years.
Of the fate of the vessels since my father wrote “Twenty-four Years After,” little has come to our knowledge. Of the brig Pilgrim, he says, “I read of her total loss at sea by fire off the coast of North Carolina.” On the records of the United States Custom House at Boston is this epitaph, “Brig Pilgrim, owner, R. Haley, surrender of transfer 30 June 1856, broken up at Key West.” Is it not romantic and appropriate that this vessel, so associated with the then Mexican–Spanish coast of California, should have left her bones on the coast of the once Spanish colony of Florida?
A schoolmate of mine dwelling at Yokohama tells us of the fate of the ship Lagoda. This is the vessel that Captain Thompson of the Pilgrim came aboard and “brought his brig with him” (page 137), and to which poor Foster fled (page 154), in fear of being flogged. The Lagoda was under three hundred and forty tons, built at Scituate, Mass., in 1826, of oak with “bluff bows and square stern.” Later she was sold to a New Bedford owner, converted into a bark and turned into a whaler. In 1890, she came to Yokohama much damaged, was officially surveyed and pronounced not worth repair, was sold at auction and bought as a coal hulk for the Canadian Pacific Company’s steamers at that port, and in 1899 was sold to the Japanese, burned and broken up at Kanagawa. The fate of these vessels, with that of the Alert burned at sea by the Alabama, illustrates how vessels, as Ernest Thompson Seton says of wild animals, seldom fail to have a hard, if not a tragic, ending.
It may be interesting to state that the Ayacucho (pronounced I-ah-coo-tsho) was named after the battle fought December 9, 1824, in Peru, South America, in which the Spaniards were defeated by the armies of Columbia and Peru, which battle ended the Spanish rule in America. What became of her after she was sold to the Chilian government as a vessel of war, we do not know.
The Loriotte, we learn, was built at Plymouth, Mass., in 1828, was ninety-two tons, originally a schooner and later changed into an hermaphrodite brig. Gorham H. Nye, her captain and part owner, was born in Nantucket, Mass.
As to persons, there is little to add about Captain Thompson. Captain Faucon gave it as his opinion that Thompson was not a good navigator and that Thompson knew his sailors knew it, and to this cause he attributed in some measure Thompson’s hard treatment of the men. His navigation of the Alert some twelve or fifteen hundred miles westward of the usual course around Cape Horn on the return passage was an instance. It was much criticised by his sailors and officers. It not only greatly lengthened the total distance but brought the vessel into currents that were more antarctic and more frequented with ice than those currents nearer the southwest coast of South America, usually taken advantage of on the trip west to east. In 1880, on my visit to the scenes of “Two Years Before the Mast,” I met a nephew of Captain Thompson at Santa Barbara. He was then the proprietor of the hotel at which I stayed. He invited me to walk with him Sunday afternoon. When we started out together I noticed he had a large, thick cane, while I had none. Could it be he was to wreak vengeance on the son of the man who had exposed his uncle? I was strong and athletic after a year as stroke of the Freshman crew and three years as stroke of the University crew at Harvard. I kept my weather eye open and took care to be a little behind rather than ahead of my companion. At last he began on my father’s story, “Two Years Before the Mast,” and his uncle. Now it is coming, thought I, but to my surprise and relief he detailed a family trouble in which the uncle had tried to get into his own possession land which belonged in part to his brothers and of which he, the captain, had been placed in charge, and my friend, for so I could then think of him, wound up with saying my father had done his uncle perfect justice. The year of Captain Thompson’s death was 1837.
The chief mate of the Pilgrim on her outward voyage, Mr. Andrew B. Amerzeen, was born at Epsom, N.H., June 7, 1806. After returning in the Alert in 1836, as described by my father, his mother prevailed on him to give up long voyages, owing to the fact that his father, a ship owner and master, had been lost at sea with his ship a year or two before. Mr. Amerzeen then made several short voyages to the West Indies and in the fall of 1838 his ship was dismasted in a storm somewhere below Cape Hatteras. He was ill with yellow fever and confined to his stateroom at the time. The ship was worked into one of the southern ports, Savannah I am told, and there Mr. Amerzeen died September 27, 1838, from this fever.
“Jim Hall,” the sailor who was made second mate of the Pilgrim in Foster’s place, after several years’ successful career as Captain and Manager of the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company on the west coast of South America with the title of Commodore, returned to this country, having saved a competence, and settled at East Braintree, Massachusetts. He called on me at my office some ten years after my father’s death. He was six feet tall, a handsome man of striking appearance, with blue eyes, nearly white hair, a ruddy countenance, and a very straight figure for one of nearly eighty years of age. He was born at Pittston, Maine, July 4, 1813. He is said to have commanded twenty-seven different vessels, steam and sail, and never to have had an accident, “never cost the underwriters a dollar.” He died April 22, 1904. His wife (Mary Ann Kimball of Hookset, N.H.) survived him.
Of George P. Marsh, the new hand shipped at San Pedro October 22, 1835, the Englishman with a strange career, we have heard in a letter from Mr. Samuel C. Clarke of Chicago, passenger with Captain Low on the ship Cabot when she took Marsh from the Pelew Islands. Mr. Clarke kept a journal at the time, which confirms in almost every detail the story as told by Marsh, with one or two very minor exceptions but one important difference. He told them when first rescued that he was “a native of Providence, Rhode Island” in America, while to his shipmates in California he always said he was a native of England and brought up on a smuggler. By a letter from his nephew, Edward W. Boyd, we learn that his real name was George Walker Marsh, that he was the eldest son of a retired English army officer and his wife, and was born in St. Malo, France, hence his knowledge of the French language. He went to sea against their will but communicated with them several times afterwards. After he left to join the Ayacucho in Chili, all trace of him was lost at Valparaiso.
Captain Edward Horatio Faucon, who took out the Alert and brought back the Pilgrim, continued, after my father’s last chapter, to live at Milton Hill where he still kept “the sea under his eye from the piazza of his house.” He was occasionally employed by Boston marine underwriters on salvage cases, going to many places, from St. Thomas, W.I., and the Bermudas, to Nova Scotia in the north. He was a constant reader, chiefly interested in history, political economy and sociology. He made visits, annually or oftener, on my mother until his death on May 22, 1894. We all remember his keen eye, erect figure, quiet reserve, and old-time courtesy of manner, and his personal interest in those who come and go in ships, and more particularly in those of the Alert, his favorite ship. He was born in Boston, November 21, 1806. His father, Nicolas Michael Faucon, was a Frenchman of Rouen, who fought in the Napoleonic wars with distinction as Captain of the Second Regiment of the Hussars, and came to this country, where he married Miss Catherine Waters at Trinity Church, Boston. He was instructor in French at Harvard, 1806–1816. Our Captain Faucon left a widow and daughter, and a promising son, Gorham Palfrey Faucon, a Harvard graduate, a well-trained civil engineer in the employ of large railroads, and, like his father, interested in literature and public problems. He died in 1897, in the early prime of life.
The third mate, James Byers Hatch, whom Captain Faucon in a letter to us called “one of the best of men,” continued to command large sailing vessels on deep sea voyages with some mishaps and narrow escapes. While in California on one of these voyages he found James Hall on board another ship at the same wharf, and in a letter to Captain Faucon written June, 1893, says, “I persuaded him to take the first officer’s berth, and what an officer he was!! Everything went on like clockwork. I do not think I ever found the least fault with him during the whole time he was with me.” Captain Hatch lost his only son, a lad of seven, on a voyage to Calcutta. “The boy,” said he, “fell from the top of the house on the poop deck and died in about a week.” His wife and married daughter both died in 1881. He himself settled in Springfield, Mass., his birthplace, and lost almost all he had saved in some unsuccessful business venture in that city, and lived a rather lonely and sad life. In the above letter he said, “I am now ready and anxious to leave this earth and take my chance in the next.” He died at Springfield soon after 1894.
Benjamin Godfrey Stimson, the young sailor about my father’s age, was born in Dedham, Mass., March 19, 1816. It came naturally to him to go to sea, for his great-uncle Benjamin Stimson commanded the colonial despatch vessel under Pepperell, in the siege of Louisburg. After settling in Detroit in 1837, he married a Canadian lady (Miss Ives), owned many lake vessels, including the H. P. Baldwin, the largest bark of her day on the great lakes, and was Controller of that city from 1868 to 1870, during which time the city hall was built by him at less than estimated cost. He died December 13, 1871, leaving a widow and two sons, Edward I. and Arthur K. Stimson. The agent Alfred Robinson died in 1895.
Jack Stewart I met in San Diego on my visit there in 1881, as I have stated in the Introduction. He was quite a character in the “old” town and made a good deal of his being one of the crew of the Alert. He died January 2, 1892, leaving children and grandchildren. Henry Mellus, who went out before the mast and left the Pilgrim to be agent’s clerk ashore, and whom my father met at Los Angeles in 1859, was made mayor of that city the very next year.
Last, but not least, from the point of view of friendship, was my father’s “dear Kanaka” (Hope), whose life my father saved (by getting ship’s medicines from the mate, after Captain Thompson had refused to give them), and for whom he had so much real affection. The last mention we have of Hope is found in my father’s journal under date of May 24, 1842.
“Horatio E. Hale called. Been away four years as Philologist to the Exploring Expedition. Was in San Francisco three months ago and saw the Alert there collecting hides. Also saw ‘Hope’ the Kanaka mentioned in my ‘Two Years.’ Hope desired his Aikane to me — Remembered me well. Hale said his face lighted up as soon as my name was mentioned to him.”
As to all the rest of the officers and crews, they have doubtless all handed in their last account and taken passage across the Unknown Sea to the other world.
Of the “fascinating” Doña Angustias dela Guerra, whose graceful dancing with Don Juan Bandini in Santa Barbara during the ceremonies attending the marriage of her sister, Doña Anita with Mr. Robinson, the Agent, in January, 1836, my father describes (pages 300–305), something more is to be said.
On my visit to Santa Barbara in 1880, I had the privilege of seeing her. I was much impressed with her graceful carriage, her face still handsome, though she was then sixty-five years of age, with her dignity, calm self-possession, and above all with her true gentility of manner and evidently high character and purpose, together with a delightful humor, which shone in her eyes. General Sherman, in a letter as late as 1888, says of her, she “was the finest woman it has been my good fortune to know,” and Bayard Taylor in El Dorado (Putnam’s edition of 1884, page 141) writes, “she is a woman whose nobility of character, native vigor and activity of intellect, and above all, whose instinctive refinement,” etc.
In 1847, when our officers took possession of California, she, a Mexican, of the first Mexican family of California, took care of the first United States officer who died in Monterey, Lieutenant Colville J. Minor, an enemy to her country, for which service she received a letter of thanks from the First Military Governor, dated August 21, 1848.
She died January 21, 1890, at the age of seventy-five. The name of her first husband was Don Manuel Jimeno and of her second Dr. Ord. Caroline Jimeno was the daughter “as beautiful as her mother” that Mr. Dana met in 1859, then a young lady of seventeen. Her daughter by the second marriage, Rebecca R. Ord, an “infant in arms” when my father saw her in 1859, married Lieutenant John H. H. Peshine of the United States Army, who in 1893 was made First Military Attaché to the Court of Madrid.
The dela Guerra family of California, I am told, is dying out in the male line and will soon leave no representative.
As to Richard Henry Dana, Jr.,1 the author of the book, the reader may wish to know something. He came back from his two years’ trip in 1836 “in a state of intellectual famine, to books and study and intercourse with educated men.” He had left his class at Harvard at the end of the sophomore year (1833), on account of the trouble with his eyes and sailed about a year later. When he returned, September, 1836, his class had graduated in the summer of 1835, but with a little study he passed the examinations for the then senior class, which he entered late in the autumn of 1836. On graduation in 1837 he not only stood first, but “had the highest marks that were given out in every branch of study.” He took the Bowdoin prize for English prose composition and the first Boylston prize in elocution. He then entered the Law School and became instructor in elocution under Professor Edward T. Channing, and during this period wrote the “Two Years Before the Mast.” In February, 1840, he went into the office of Charles G. Loring and in the following September opened his own office and began the active practice of law. He was born August 1, 1815, at Cambridge, Mass., with a line of ancestors reaching back to the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with several colonial governors in the maternal lines. His great grandfather, Richard Dana, was one of the early patriots, a “Son of Liberty,” who frequently presided at the meetings at Faneuil Hall at which Otis, Adams and others spoke. This man’s son, my father’s grandfather, Francis Dana, was several times member of the State Colonial Legislature and of the Continental Congress. He was one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation and married Elizabeth Ellery, the daughter of William Ellery, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Francis Dana had been sent abroad on a special mission to England in 1774 before the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, to sound English public opinion, for which he had unusual advantages. He returned in the late spring of 1776 advising independence, and soon after this the Declaration of Independence was signed. Francis Dana was also appointed on a special mission to Paris and Holland with John Adams, later was made Minister to Russia, and after the peace with Great Britain was made Chief Justice of Massachusetts. Mr. Dana’s own father, Richard Henry Dana, Senior, was a poet and literary critic and a founder of the “North American Review.” Young Richard was brought up in very moderate circumstances. His grandfather, who had accumulated a good deal of property, lost the larger part of it through unfortunate investments in canals by a relation, in which he had himself become more deeply involved than he supposed. I remember my father’s saying that his spending money for one whole term consisted of twenty-five cents, which he carried in his pocket in cases of emergencies. He walked to and from Boston to save omnibus fares, had no carpet on his college room and had no chore-man to black his boots and fetch his water and fuel. This, however, was the usual custom in his day with all but the rich collegian. The necessities of life did not then demand so high a rate of “living wage” as today.
He entered on this sea experience with his eyes open. He had the opportunity of going on a long voyage as a passenger, but he refused it, and resolutely took the harder way of accomplishing his purpose of toughening himself. A little incident of his boyhood gives a hint of his pluck. His schoolmaster, angry at what he chose to call “disobedience” on the excuse of a “pretended” illness, told the boy to put out his left hand. “Upon this hand,” wrote Dana years afterward, “he inflicted six blows with all his strength, and then six upon the right hand. I was in such a frenzy of indignation at his injustice and his insulting insinuation, that I could not have uttered a word for my life. I was too small and slender to resist, and could show my spirit only by fortitude. He called for my right hand again, and gave six more blows in the same manner, and then six more upon the left. My hands were swollen and in acute pain, but I did not flinch nor show a sign of suffering. He was determined to conquer, and gave six more blows upon each hand, with full force. Still there was no sign from me of pain or submission. I could have gone to the stake for what I considered my honor. The school was in an uproar of hissing and scraping and groaning, and the master turned his attention to the other boys and let me alone. He said not another word to me through the day. If he had I could not have answered, for my whole soul was in my throat and not a word could get out. . . . I went in the afternoon to the trustees of the school, stated my case, produced my evidence, and had an examination made. The next morning but four boys went to school, and the day following the career of Mr. W. ended.”
That Dana had a keen sense of injustice not merely when he himself was concerned, but whenever he was brought face to face with injustice, the reader of this book has discovered for himself, and that a high sense of honor and right was a controlling passion of his life will appear when one knows his career after he returned from his long voyage. It rendered his attitude toward his profession, that of a lawyer, very different from that of a man merely seeking a livelihood.
Beside his work for the sailors to which I refer later there was another class of peculiarly helpless sufferers to make even stronger demand upon his sense of justice. By his social relations and by his strong antipathy to violence of every kind, Dana would naturally have found his place amongst the men who in politics prefer orderly and regular and especially respectable associations. He came into active life when a small band of earnest men and women were agitating for the abolition of slavery. Some among them were also attacking the church, and proposing all sorts of changes in society. But Dana was a man of strong religious principles and feelings, and he had little faith in any violent change in the social order. His diaries and letters of the period show that he was annoyed by the temper of the Abolitionists. They were not his kind. Nevertheless he was not a man to steer between two parties. In a great moral crisis he was sure to take sides. He took sides now and came out as a member of the Free Soil party. He made a distinction, which was a clear one, between the Free Soil party and the uncompromising Abolitionists. But in the rising heat of political feeling, other people did not make a like distinction, and Dana, a young lawyer, married now, and with a family growing up about him, found himself put out into the cold by the well-to-do, the successful, and the respectable.
Dana had a keen scent for politics, and he looked with the strongest interest upon the great political movement which was stirring the country; but he did not espouse the cause of free soil because he expected to profit by it politically. On the contrary, he knew that he was shutting himself out from political preferment by such a course, and at the same time was imperilling his professional success. It was the act of a man who stood up for the cause of righteousness, without counting the cost. In like manner he now had the opportunity of illustrating afresh his attitude toward the law, for he held that law was for the accomplishment of justice, and that it was most glorious when its strong arm protected and defended the weak and downtrodden. By a natural course, therefore, he became a prominent counsel for those unfortunate negroes who, at this time, in Boston, were held as fugitive slaves. While the ingenuity of some was expended in putting the law on the side of the strong and the rich, Dana, who was convinced in his mind that the law of the state was honestly to be invoked in defence of the fugitive slave, gave himself heart and soul to the work of applying the law, and received no remuneration for his services in any fugitive slave case. Instead, he received at the close of one of the most important cases, a blow from a blackguard which narrowly missed maiming him for life. It is worth while to read what Dana wrote after rendering all the aid he could in the defence of Anthony Burns: “The labors of a lawyer are ordinarily devoted to questions of property between man and man. He is to be congratulated if, though but for once, in any signal cause he can devote them to the vindication of any of the great primal rights affecting the highest interests of man.” He was a member of the noted Free Soil Convention at Buffalo of 1848, and presided at the first meeting of the Republican party in Massachusetts.
It may be a source of wonder to some that Dana, who achieved a great literary success in the book which he wrote when a young man, did not pursue literature as an avocation, if not as a vocation. He published but one other book, a narrative of a trip to Cuba made in 1859, and he wrote a few magazine articles. The explanation must be found in the temperament and character of the man. His “Two Years Before the Mast” is a vivid representation of what he saw and experienced at a most impressionable age. He put his young life into it; he was not thinking of literature when he wrote it, and thus the book takes rank with those books which are bits of life rather than products of art. Afterward he was immersed in his law practice, and he was a prodigious worker. He saw with great clearness the points in the cases he took up, and he was untiring in his industry to cover the whole case. He did all the work himself; he did not lay the details on others, and avail himself of their diligence. His time, moreover, as we have shown, was very much at the disposal of those who could pay him little or nothing for his services, and he gave months of labor to the unremunerative defence of the fugitive slave. Moreover, his deep religious conviction and his high sense of legal honor often stood in the way of his profit. So it was that his life was one of hard work and little more than support of his family. There was scant time for any wandering into fields of literature.
Yet he left behind him some other writings which show well that the hand which penned the “Two Years” never lost its cunning. He made an interesting visit to Europe, and, later in life, in 1859–60, made a journey round the world. The record which he kept on these journeys has been drawn upon largely in the biography2 prepared by Charles Francis Adams, who was in his early days a student in Dana’s office, and there one finds page after page of delightfully animated description and narrative. He wrote for his own pleasure and for that of his family, and his writing was like brilliant talk, the outflow of a generous mind not easily saved for more common use. He published notes to Wheaton’s “International Law,” several of which are quoted in all new works on the subject to this day.
The journey which he took round the world was for the purpose of restoring his health, which had been greatly impaired. He came back in improved condition, and entered upon the excited period of the war, when he held the office of United States District Attorney. During this time he argued the famous prize causes before the United States Supreme Court, and his argument was the one that turned the Court, which was democratic in its politics, to take the unanimous view that the United States Government had a right to establish blockade and take prizes of foreign vessels that were breaking this blockade. Had it not been for this decision, so largely influenced, as the Court itself generously states, by Mr. Dana’s argument, the Civil War would have been greatly prolonged, with possibly another, or at least a doubtful issue. He afterward served in the Massachusetts legislature, and there made several noted speeches, among others his argument on the repeal of the usury laws, a bill for which was unexpectedly carried in that body as the result of this speech which has been reprinted for use before legislatures of other states.
He accepted a nomination to Congress, chiefly as a protest against the nomination of B. F. Butler, who was running on a paper money and repudiation platform against the principles of his own party, but Mr. Dana was defeated. In 1876 he was nominated by President Grant minister to England, but his nomination was not confirmed by the Senate, for his nomination had been made without consulting the Senatorial cabal and also he had bitter enemies, who carried on a warfare against him upon terms which he was too honorable to accept.
A selection of Mr. Dana’s speeches, the most interesting historically or those of most present value, have been published, together with a biographical sketch,3 supplementing the Life written by Charles Francis Adams.
Two years later, broken now in health, but with his mind vigorous, he resolved to give up the practice of law and devote himself to writing a work on international law. For this purpose, and as a measure of economy, he went to Europe, and for two years applied himself diligently to his plan for a book which he believed would give some fundamentally new views on international law. He had made many notes and had begun to write the first few chapters when he died, after a short illness, from pneumonia, in Rome, January 6, 1882. He was buried in the beautiful Protestant cemetery of that city.
His wife, who was Sarah Watson of Hartford, Conn., survived him, and he left five daughters and a son. There are now nine of his grandchildren living (four of them Dana grandsons), and also four great-grandchildren.
Finally, what did Mr. Dana accomplish for sailors? In the preface to the first edition (1840) he said, “If it shall . . . call more attention to the welfare of seamen, or give any information as to their real condition which may serve to raise them in the rank of beings, and to promote in any measure their religious and moral improvement, and diminish the hardships of their daily life, the end of its publication will be answered.” And after the flogging at San Pedro, there was his vow (page 1252), “that, if God should ever give me the means, I would do something to redress the grievances and relieve the sufferings of that class of beings with whom my lot had so long been cast.” For redressing individual grievances he took the part of the sailor in many a lawsuit where his remuneration was often next to nothing, and by which action he incurred the ill will of possible future rich and influential clients. In his journal December 14, 1847, he says, “I often have a good deal to contend with in the slurs or open opposition of masters and owners of vessels whose seamen I undertake to defend or look after,” though he adds there were honorable exceptions. These cases he fought hard and bravely, and into them he put his whole mind, heart and soul. He could not have done better in them if he had been paid the highest fees known to the Bar. He settled as many of these cases out of court as he could. He believed any reasonable settlement better for the sailor than a legal contest, though his own fees would be less. Beside taking the part of the individual seamen, he published the “Seamen’s Friend,” a book giving the full legal rights of sailors as well as their duties, a set of definitions of sea terms, which to this day is quoted in all the dictionaries, and much information for the use of beginners. He drew up a petition and prepared an accompanying leaflet addressed to Congress for “The More Speedy Trial of Seamen.” He wrote numerous articles for the press and delivered many addresses on behalf of seamen, or for institutions for their benefit such as “Father” Taylor’s Bethel and for a more cordial reception of sailors in the church. He wrote the introduction of Leech’s “A Voice from the Main Deck,” but above all it was the indirect influence of his “Two Years Before the Mast” which did the most to relieve their hardships.
While on a trip in Europe in 1875–76, I spent some weeks in London and visited Parliament frequently to study the proceedings and see and hear its leading men. By a strange coincidence at my very first visit, made at the invitation of the late Sir William Vernon Harcourt, after I had sent in my card and was ushered into the inner lobby, I saw a man, evidently a member, rushing out into this lobby, and, to quote from my journal written at the time, “in a wild state of excitement, throwing about his arms and shaking his fists, with short ejaculations such as ‘I’ll expose the villains, all of them,’ and I heard the words ‘Cheats!’ and I think ‘Liars!”’ This was a strange introduction to the then decorous British House of Commons, for this was before the active days of Parnell. I saw poor, blind Henry Fawcett4 and others trying to calm the man. The lobby was immediately cleared of strangers, so I saw no more just then, but I was later admitted into the House and learned that this man was the famous Plimsoll (1824–1898). He had become enraged because his Merchants’ Shipping Bill had just been thrown out by Disraeli, then Prime Minister, on this day of the so-called “Slaughter of the Innocents,” that is, the day when the Government abandoned all bills which they were not to carry out that session. Justin McCarthy, in his “History of Our Own Times” (Vol. IV, page 24, et seq.), gives a full account of this scene. Plimsoll’s Bill was a measure for the protection of seamen against the danger of being sent to sea in vessels unfit for the voyage. To understand the whole situation of the sailor in civilized countries, one must know that the only way allowed by law or custom for him to get employment is to sign articles sometimes without even knowing the name of the vessel, and almost always without an opportunity to examine or even see her. Once having signed these papers, sailors are by law compelled to keep their contracts and can be imprisoned and sent aboard if they try to escape. Every other person in every other kind of employment, since the abolition of slavery, signing similar papers has a right to refuse to carry out his agreement, with no other penalty than a suit for damages. He cannot be forced to carry out the contract in person. If this were not so, there would be a sort of contract peonage or slavery endorsed by the law. It is otherwise, however, with the sailors. The United States Supreme Court in the case of Robertson v. Baldwin (165 U.S. 275, 1896) decided, Judge Harlan dissenting, that notwithstanding the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution which, it was supposed, had prohibited involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime, sailors could be forced on board of vessels, and the facts that the vessel was unfit for living, the food bad, and the master brutal were no defences. The headnote of the case says, “The contract of a sailor has always been treated as an exceptional one involving to a certain extent the surrender of his personal liberty during the life of his contract.” Mr. Plimsoll was rightly convinced that unseaworthy vessels left port for the sake of insurance money on valued policies, that the lives of the seamen were thereby imperilled, and that the poor sailor had no redress before the law. The bill that had just been thrown out by Disraeli provided that if one-quarter of the seamen appealed on the ground of unseaworthiness a survey would be ordered, the vessel detained till the survey was made, and if she were unseaworthy or improperly provisioned the sailors would be relieved from their contract unless those defects were cured. It also had other minor provisions for the benefit of the sailors. In Parliament that night, it was thought that Plimsoll’s wild conduct had destroyed his reputation as a sane man and had ruined the chances of ever passing his bill, but outside of Parliament the effect was just the reverse. The public was aroused to a full understanding of the essential merits of his bill and the government was forced to put it on the calendar and carry it through that session in its substantial features, and the following year (1876) a more complete and perfected act covering the same points was passed.
In the United States, a most interesting character, Andrew Furuseth, a Norwegian, himself a sailor, and without much education but a man of wonderful force, has succeeded, largely by the aid of labor unions, in forcing through Congress bills by which no American seaman can any longer be forced against his will into this servitude nor any foreign seaman on domestic voyages. Another evil tending to degrade and enslave the sailor was the allowance made by law of three months’ advance wages on beginning a voyage. This apparently harmless and, to the credulous and inexperienced legislator, beneficial provision gave a chance to the sailors’ boarding-house keeper and runner, or “crimp,” as he or she is called, to “shanghai” seamen and put them aboard drunk or drugged, with little or no clothing but what they had on their backs and rob them of this advance money. The “crimps”’ share of this money in San Francisco alone has been calculated at one million dollars a year, or equal to eighty per cent of the seamen’s entire wages. Part of this had to be shared with corrupt police and politicians and some of it has been traced to sources “higher up.” So common was this practice that vessels sailing from San Francisco and New York had so few sober sailors aboard, that it was customary to take longshoremen to set sail, heave anchor and get the ship under way, and then send them back by tug. This is precisely what happened on the well-equipped and new ship on which I sailed from New York in 1879 for California, and the same situation is described by Captain Arthur H. Clark in his account of seamen in his “Clipper Ship Era.” These poor sailors, without proper clothing, had to draw on the ship’s “slop chest” for necessary oilskins, thick jackets, mittens and the like, and used up almost all the rest of their wages. The small balance was wasted or stolen, or both, at the port of arrival, and off they were shipped again by the “crimp” with no chance to save or improve their condition. After years of agitation by the friends of sailors the advance pay is now wholly abolished in the coastwise trade in America and the three months’ advance cut down to one in the foreign trade, immensely to the benefit of the sailor and the discouragement of the “crimp.” The argument that without this system of bondage and “crimpage” it would be impossible to secure crews is fully answered by the experience of Great Britain since the passage of the Plimsoll Acts and in the United States since the recent acts of Congress. On the contrary, these measures tend to secure a better class of sailors and compel improvement of the conditions under which they do their work. I was told when in England that Plimsoll, who himself was not a sailor, was influenced among other things by my father’s book “Two Years Before the Mast.”
1 He was Richard Henry Dana, Jr., when he wrote his book, and continued to be called so through life, for his father, a poet and littérateur, lived to the age of ninety-two, and died but three years before his son.
2 Richard Henry Dana, Jr. A Biography. By Charles Francis Adams. In two volumes. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin Company.
3 Speeches in Stirring Times and Letters to a Son. Richard H. Dana, Jr. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1910.
4 The political economist and M.P.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49