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ment, in regard to the eddy caused by the flood, is the true cause of vessels being stranded on the south side of Dennis Point. If a vessel keeps in the line of the tide, either flood or ebb, she will avoid both points of land. This was proved by the fact of an abandoned vessel passing the Start and Dennis Point, a few years ago, and went ashore somewhere in Shetland.
J. K. [We shall return to this subject in another number.-Ed.]
British MERCHANT SHIPS.
SIR.—The character of the Merchant Service of this country, with a view to the improvement of the officers belonging to it, has full often formed the subject of remark in your Journal. Since the commencement of it in the early part of 1832, from time to time, as facts came forward, exemplifying the state of our mercantile marine, they have been held up with the hopes that, at least publicity would render them of less frequent occurrence and thereby lead to a cure. I might point out many passages of this nature of which the journal of a ship-master, concluded in your last volume, affords some remarkable instances.
At length, it would appear, that the subject awakens the attention of Government. Assertions, which have been advanced by the merchant cap. tains themselves, have led to an inquiry among British Consuls abroad, and their answers are such as to corroborate fearfully all that has been advanced against them; and that a review of their general behaviour, in comparison with the officers of foreign merchant ships contrasts greatly to their disadvantage. I much fear that the root of this evil must be attributed to a want of good legislation, for while other European States have improved their several mercantile navies, by enacting strigent laws to regulate the conduct of their officers, and ensuring efficiency for their stations, nothing of the kind has been done for ourselves. It is true, that a recent attempt has been made to introduce compulsory examination: but this failed and was abandoned, and left in its stead a voluntary one. The names of those who have undergone this voluntary examination, have from time to time been given in your pages. So far, a beginning has been made, but how short is this of what requires to be done. The art of navigation, or of merely conducting a ship from one place to another, and even that of seamanship, to a certain extent, may be soon acquired; but how far short are such acquirements of those regular habits of temperance, and morality, necessary for the establishment and preservation of discipline in a ship. It has been observed that the masters of vessels, under 300 tons are in no manner superior to their men, who are as good seamen, and in many instances, as good navigators! Instances, indeed, have been pointed out in your pages, where their station has been degraded by habits of intemperance. In some degree to account for this, it has been observed, that they receive less pay by a third than masters of foreign vessels of the same class. This goes far, it is true to account for such a state of things, but I may ask, is it creditable to the character of this country, as the first maritime nation in the world, that it should be allowed to exist? and it does not in those ships belonging to the India and China trade, the commanders of which are gentlemen, in no way inferior to those of any merchant service in the world, But these do not belong to that class of ship owners, who care not how rotten they send their ships to sea, or how ignorant their commanders are of their duties, because they insure their vessels and may gain by their loss! How different are their commanders, from those who are daily improving the charts for their brother seamen; who are communicating their observations to your journal, few numbers of which have appeared without some useful contribution of the kind gathered in the different parts of the world which they have visited. The reports which have been col. lected by Government, shew the general incompetency of the former class of masters, to which I have alluded, those of vessels under 300 tons especially. But while shipowners are allowed to place whom they like in the command of their vessels, it is much to be feared that the general complaint of incompetency will remain. You have preserved a register of wrecks of British merchant shipping, shewing that a vessel is lost every day, but I believe, that Lloyd's Lists furnish as much as one-and-a-half. In former numbers of your journal, the various causes of such loss have been shown, among the greatest of which stands the incompetency of masters. Who has not heard of a brig, bound to North America, after three months voyage, putting into an Irish port, which was supposed to be New York! Such a proceeding, extraordinary as it may appear, would be expected from such a commander, as he who was represented by a recent correspondent of your's, to have made a voyage from Liverpool to Jamaica; to say nothing of the man who nearly lost his ship in the Sound, on his voyage from St. Petersburgh to Hull. I shall, however, now refer to the reports of our consuls, and first with Mr. Wingard, Consul at Riga:
“I have no hesitation in affirming broadly, that the merchant seaman's sér. vice, as it is now constituted, and especially that part of it visiting the Baltic, is a complete disgrace to the British nation.
“ It is a well-known fact that foreign seamen conduct themselves in a more orderly manner than British seamen in a foreign port. During the shipping season in Riga, the police prisons are crowded with our seamen, confined on charge of drunkenness, violence, or insubordination."
The Consul at Dantzic, Mr. Plaw, says“ There can be no question but that vast improvement in the condition and character of the shipping of this country, has of late years been progressing; at present it stands upon as respectable a footing as that of any civilized commercial marine, and I regret to say, far beyond that of Britain-with reference of course, to that portion usually trading to these shores, consisting chiefly of colliers and coasters in general; I must add, a large share of which disgrace the flag they bear. The improvement in Prussian shipping is doubtless chiefly to be attributed to the government navigation school here, of which branches are established, all under one director, at the other seaports.
“ I am of opinion that essential improvement cannot possibly be attained, unless it commences by requiring the commanders of such vessels to be men with a moderate education, at least in accordance with what may now-a-days be expected from their rank, and this would probably improve their moral conduct; they will then value the character and behaviour of those they have under their command, and the latter then respect the man placed above them. At present it not unfrequently occurs that captain and crew equally disgrace themselves, I have more than once represented this state of things to British shipowners. when I heard, as reply, 0, we don't want scholars, but practical seamen-that satisfies us.' As long as such notions prevail, little good can be expected.
“ The march of intellect is truly slow among our boasted jolly tars! Only picture, just at this very time I have here, first, an illiterate master, whose mate can neither read nor write; not one on board, save the master, is able to do either; so that if by accident or other cause, the captain is disabled, the ship, and probably a valuable cargo, is exposed to such a crew!"
Mr. Crowe, the Consul-General at Christiania, says
“ Although it can scarcely be said that the character of the British shipping has positively declined, the fact cannot be controverted, that while a sensible, and in many respects striking improvement has been visible in the growth, and a development of the commercial marine of other countries, that has created rivalry which our shipowners are too proue to attribute to relaxations in our navigation laws, rather than to the natural causes irrespective of these enactments, the British commercial marine has, since the peace, remained comparatively stationary.
“ Too great a reliance on the protection our navigation laws afford to the shipowner, which, by the security it creates, checks alike a feeling of the necessity to contend with the foreigner, as the adoption of those salutary improvements and systems which have worked so well in the commercial marines of other countries, and to which deference must be paid, if we are in future to compete with any degree of success with them.
“ The time is arrived when the shipowner must no longer look for permanent relief to the delusive protection of navigation laws, but to improvement at home. I am convinced that under a natural, free, and liberal system, a reliance upon his own innate powers, a removal of commercial restrictions, which will press upon him, and the moral and intellectual improvement of our mariners, particularly our ship-masters, for with their improvement that of the seamen will follow, not only will our ships regain, but successfully maintain, the proud preeminence they have of late years been using.
“ One of the arguments frequently urged against the repeal of the navigation laws is, that foreign vessels can be constructed much cheaper than British; that the wages of foreign seamen are much lower, the feeding inferior and less expensive; consequently that they can afford to take lower freights. This may be true as regards a certain class of vessels built for certain trades, but it is positively not so with vessels likely to come in competition with British shipping.
" The vessels that are built cheaper are lumber vessels, intended for certain trades and short voyages, generally constructed with unscasoned materials, carelessly put together, and no expense incurred beyond what is absolutely necessary. These vessels are unfit for long voyages, or to compete with British, which are made for durability, and last one-third longer than foreign vessels.”
The report from Nantes, says“ It is perfectly true, as Mr. Murray has observed, that the education, as well as character and capability, of the masters of vessels in the English merchant service is, in general, inferior to those of several foreign countries, and when compared with those of France, particularly so; and so it will continue, as long as our laws permit the officers of her Majesty's Customs to indorse, as masters, on the registers of vessels, any person who may be appointed thereto by the owners, however incapable they may be for the situation.
“ Three such instances have come under my view; one a vessel belonging to Bantry Bay, the master of which was gardener to the owner, and was totally ignorant of seamanship. He, with two lads, who also worked on the owner's estate, and an old seaman, who knew a little of navigation, formed the crew. She capsized in the Bay of Biscay. The second was the master of a large brig belong. ing to London, who was so deaf that he was insensible of the loudest report close to his ears. The crew could only communicate with him by signs, however great the emergency; unless there was time to do so and it was light, by writing on a slate, or with chalk on a board. The third was a vessel lately at this port belonging to Colchester, the master of which had not learned to write his name, and, therefore, was perfectly ignorant of navigation, as also the contents of any documents the mate signed for him respecting his vessel or her cargo.”
The Consul at Alicante, Mr. Barrie, says“ This port is chiefly frequented by British vessels of from 80 to 160 tons burthen, and it may be safely computed, that at least one-third of the shipmasters are men of intemperate habits, proceeding, apparently, in most instances from the want of original education, which leads them to have few scruples in the selection of associates on shore. The masters of foreign vessels, of the same size, are usually men of greater general information, and more sober habits; and the subordination on board is greater than in our merchant vessels."
The next is from Trieste: « Previous to entering the Mediterranean. whilst taking an observation of the sun, the master desired me to put down my quadrant, as he did not want any narigators, and could do without the sun. I replied, that I would put it down if the first mate said he did not want my assistance.”
Here is another from Malaga: “ About two years since, a small British schooner, navigated with a crew of five individuals, having sailed from Gibraltar with a cargo bound for this port, with a favourable wind, actually passed the port, unknowingly, on the morning following, and made further way to the eastward, until the breeze died away to a calm. Entirely ignorant of the position of his vessel, the master sent the mate and two of his seamen, in the boat, to make some inquiries of a fishing craft which appeared in the distance, the vessel in the mean time remaining with only the master and another hand on board. Shortly after the boat had left the schooner's side, the wind rapidly freshened, and the consequence was, that the vessel drove ashore on a reef of rocks, to the eastward of Motril, and soon became a total wreck; and the boat's crew narrowly escaped a watery grave, having, with the utmost difficulty reached the village of Nerja, on the afternoon of the next day, where they were received and succoured by the authorities.”
The Consul at Constantinople reports that“ During the last year sixteen ships have been ashore on one bank alone opposite to Therapia, in the Bosphorus, according to the registers of the Consulate; others are known to have been ashore, although they have not been reported.
The bank is called the English Bank, from the circumstance of English vessels being generally those that go upon it.
“ The cause may sometimes be traced to ignorance, or want of attention, but not unfrequently to neglect arising from drunkenness. It is not an uncommon occurrence for captains to be intoxicated when making the narrow straits of the Bosphorus.
« British men-of-war are sometimes stationed not far from this shoal off Therapia; and I have heard officers, who have asssisted in getting thein off, frequently express their surprise at the total indifference shown by masters on these occasions, to the interests either of the owners of the vessel or cargo."
From Mr. Moor, Consul at Amona, we have the following:“I have been twenty-one years in continual contact with the merchant ser
vice in the Mediterranean and Adriatic, and I feel persuaded, that unless a moral tone be given to the masters, both the general trade of Britain will decay and the qualities of the British sailor deteriorate; for, at present, the distinctive attributes of the masters are inebriety, tyranny, and too frequent incompetency, which, in my humble judgment, can only be averted by adopting the general system of foreign countries, which makes it obligatory on shipmasters to undergo an examination as to their nautical skill, and to possess a certificate of character.”
And Mr. Gallway, the Consul at Naples, says“I am bound to declare, and I do so with regret, that the class of persons that command British merchant vessels resorting to this port, generally speaking, are far behindhand in every necessary mental attainment, when compared with ship. masters of this country who command vessels trading to foreign porls. Several British shipmasters can scarcely write, and their spelling is not better: and they are frequently deficient in personal deportment, and many of them but little superior in their demeanour to the seamen they command. On the other hand, the native shipmasters, who command vessels trading to foreign countries, are necessarily well-educated men, and possess a fair knowledge of navigation, as they undergo strict examination, before a competent Board, both as mate in the first place, and preparatory to their taking command of a vessel afterwards."
We have much the same kind of information from Carthagena; Mr. Towns, who says
" It is painful for an Englishman, in comparing any class of his countrymen with the same class in any foreign nation, to be obliged to confess their inferiority în, perhaps, the most important point. This, however, is the case in a comparison of the masters and officers of our merchant service, to those occupying the same position in the Spanish commercial marine; that there are exceptions it is true, and I am happy to say that I have met with several masters of English vessels fully qualified to discharge, with benefit to their employers and with credit to the character of the marine of their country, the important interests committed to their charge; but the generality of them are so totally ignorant of all knowledge requisite for the transaction of their business ashore in foreign ports, that I have no hesitation in saying, were it not for the presence and assistance of her Majesty's Consuls, the majority of them would be wholly at the mercy of a low class of corredors and brokers, who would defraud them of the greater portion of their freights.'
Let us now emerge from the Mediterranean, and see what we find from the Atlantic. The first we have is from the Consul at the Cape Verd Islands: he says
“ I think that the character of British shipping, as far as the officers connected with it are concerned, do not claim that high respect which the officers belonging to foreign ships maintain. Of course there are exceptions; but you do not observe in the latter that recklessness of conduct and gross intemperance which, I regret to say, you see too often with the former. I have not the least doubt but that drink is the chief cause of the numerous shipwrecks of British vessels. I have closely watched the conduct of the officers of vessels that have been shipwrecked in these islands, and the result of my observation has been, that at least four out of six were addicted to spirituous liquors.
“ I am fully satisfied, that if a system of regular education was adopted, obliging all persons to pursue it before they could be appointed officers in the Commercial Marine, that a change highly satisfactory to the interests concerned would very soon follow. The owner, the insurance office, the underwriter, and, in fact, the crews of vessels, would all find out the great benefit that had been secured to them by such a change; and the character of the officers would then be raised to that state, worthy of the supremacy which Great Britain ought to hold in commercial enterprise." NO. 6,-VOL.XVII.