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Comparative statement showing the quantities of raw cotton imported to and exported from Great Britain and Ireland for eleven months of the years 1861 and 1862.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of despatch of December 24, 1861, in reference to the reduction of the expenditure for American seamen. A reply to the question, how to reduce the expenditures for the relief of destitute seamen, involves an inquiry into the present state of the laws with regard to the manning of ships and the employment of seamen, and the annunciation of some better system; for undoubtedly it is chiefly owing to the imperfections of the present system that so many seamen leave their vessels in foreign ports and become chargeable to the government, and there is no doubt very many shipwrecks are caused by inefficient manning and incompetent seamen.
To arrive at any proper basis of legislation on these subjects, a commission of inquiry is necessary, of which one member should be an intelligent retired sea captain, whose antecedents are well known and of the right kind.
One chief cause of existing evils is undoubtedly the scarcity of seamen, which is itself partly the result of the next chief cause, the system of shipping seamen and paying advances.
There does not exist a supply of seamen in the United States for half the ships, and the majority of those are not Americans.
If that be true, as no doubt it is, it is evident that the laws requiring the officers and two-thirds of the crew of a vessel to be American citizens must be practically obsolete, from the impossibility of complying with it.
That law should be repealed. Any difficulties in the way of its repeal from existing treaties might be readily arranged.
A great part of the trouble and discomfort on board of ships, and the consequent desertion and destitution of seamen, is attributable to the inferior quality of the crew and officers.
The officers are rarely much, if at all, superior to the men they are placed over either in character or ability; consequently they exercise but a feeble moral control, and are obliged to substitute for it a physical coercion, often amounting to a reign of terror, as might be expected under such circumstances. The quality of the masters, in like manner, suffers rapid deterioration from the inferior character of the class from which they are recruited. The masters of the present day are strikingly inferior to those of even five years since, in every quality which should distinguish the master of an American merchant vessel.
Some such system as now exists in England, Russia, and other maritime nations of Europe, for ascertaining the competency of masters and mates, seems imperatively called for. It has produced a very good result in the English service, and would no doubt in ours.
Under the present system seamen are shipped by unauthorized persons of low character, whose sole aim is to make the largest immediate profit out of the transaction. With that object, the advances to seamen are kept up, and but a small part falls to the seamen, the shipping-master and the boarding-house keeper generally managing to appropriate the greater part. The details of this system of kidnapping, cheating, drugging, and selling men, as previously practiced at New Orleans under the term shipping, and at the present time in a modified form at New York and other ports of the Union, are perfectly revolting, and leave room for little or no surprise that decent men shun the service.
It is well known that in two cases out of three, if not in nine cases out of ten, the names on the duplicate articles presented for clearance are altogether fictitious, and the crew are not shipped until afterwards. The whole thing is managed by the shipping-master, the master of the vessel rarely seeing the men until he goes on board to get the ship under way, and then he finds most of them helpless or stupid with drink or drugging. If he can muster strength sufficient to weigh the anchor, he starts with a steamer. When sail has to be made the men must be roused to duty, which frequently requires some strong persuasion. It is then found that a large proportion of the men shipped as able seamen are altogether incapable of doing seamen's duty. Of those who are, most have been brought on board drunk, and have been cheated out of their advance. They are, in consequence, sullen and discontented; many find themselves at sea for the first time, and probably of a crew of thirty or forty men not more than half a dozen are seamen. Some shipped voluntarily, tempted by the large advance, but by far the greater number have been what is called "Shanghied: that is, deceived by pretences of shipping as deck hands, assistant to the cook or steward, passenger cooks, and the like, or made drunk or drugged.
In these cases, of course, the advance, sometimes amounting to two months' wages, is appropriated by the shipping-master or boarding-house keeper, and it is easy to perceive that it thus becomes their interest to ship such persons, because good steady seamen cannot be so easily cheated.
One may imagine what must be the sort of life passed under such circum
stances. During the voyage all the seamen's work falls to the lot of the few capable. Among these are generally some who are called Blackballers, men of the most depraved character, capable of any sort of thieving or violence. These consider the incapable fair game, and plunder and abuse them accordingly. From which, and being driven to work they know nothing about, and being attended with some danger, they are afraid to do; the want of proper clothing for change and cleanliness, exposure and unaccustomed mode of living, reduce them to the most pitiable plight. It is not at all uncommon for men to arrive here shoeless and half clad, offensive beyond expression from accumulated filth. They are largely in arrears to the vessel for the advance paid to the shipping-master, so that they can obtain no further advance to buy clothes; and glad to escape a state of experienced and intolerable misery, they desert, and what wonder is it? The impunity with which petty crimes on shipboard are committed is also a fruitful source of discomfort and desertion.
This office is constantly appealed to in cases of theft and assault committed during the voyage. The sufferers generally can only be referred to the courts at home for redress, but as accused and witnesses can rarely be found there together, there is practically no redress.
The remedies for these evils seem to me to be a complete reconstruction of the laws with regard to ships and seamen, so as to bring it into something like harmony with existing facts and circumstances; and the making of treaties with foreign powers for carrying these laws into effect, for the arrest of deserters and more prompt punishment of officers on shipboard. A treaty of this kind is much needed between England and America.
It is of the utmost consequence that seamen's contracts should be voluntarily and legally made, and rigidly enforced. This could be best attained by requiring them to be made by some legally authorized shipping-master, who has no interest in deception, and would be responsible to the seamen and ship for his conduct. To this end, all shipping-masters should be licensed by the collector of the port, and be required to give bond with sufficient security for the faithful performance of their duties; and they alone should have the right to ship men, and no ship should be cleared without producing a certificate of the shipment of the crew by some licensed shipping-master.
To increase the number of American seamen, and to improve their character, ships should be obliged to carry a minimum number of boys. There should be training ships and navigation schools in every seaport.
There are in all our Atlantic cities a large number of vagabond boys and youths, many of whom are, under the present system, frequently shipped off as seamen. They are abused and plundered in the way before stated, and in turn they themselves become inured to like practices.
If they could receive each a year's training, they would make honest and
The plan has been tried in England, and I believe has been very successful. Some better provision for the discharge of seamen is needed, both in the interest of ships and seamen. At present there is practically no other way for a master and a seaman (who have become repugnant) to separate but by the desertion of the seaman.
There should be a power of discharge vested in consuls, and the seaman's wages should be held against any expense incurred for his maintenance.
At the same time, consuls should have power to exact payment of the three months' extra wages, if satisfied that the cause of the discharge improperly arose with the master or officers.
This, if honestly carried out, would greatly promote discipline, and be a great boon both to ships and seamen.
For the relief of sick seamen, some better provision is much needed. At present it is a doubtful point how far the master, having a medicine chest, &c.,
as required by law, is bound to provide other medical aid when the vessel is in port. When the vessel is in port, where proper advice and nursing can be had, and generally in a hospital, the seaman, reasonably enough, is not satisfied with the doctoring of the captain and the accommodation of a cheerless, dirty ship's forecastle.
The master, unless a sensible, humane man, will not incur the necessary expense. "I left because I was sick, and the captain wouldn't send me to the hospital," is very often the reason alleged for leaving their ships by applicants for relief.
It is greatly for the interest of the service that seamen, when sick, should have immediate and suitable aid when it can be had, and not be dependent on the humanity or good will of the master, and that the expense of their cure should fall on themselves, and not on the ship. There is no other employment in which the employed are entitled to be cured at the expense of the employer, and I see no valid reasons for making the marine service an exception. I am satisfied that the practical effect of the rule is not to benefit seamen, but the contrary, besides frequently transferring the expense to the government. When a seaman claims medical aid, and a consul is satisfied he requires it, it should be his duty to provide it. If the seaman recovers so as to be able to rejoin his vessel, the expense actually incurred in his cure, certified by the consul, should be a proper deduction from his wages. If his sickness continue so as to prevent his return to his duty on board the vessel, he should be discharged without extra wages.
The effect of three months' extra wages being paid in every case, on leaving seamen behind sick, is anything but salutary. It removes from the seaman a wholesome reponsibility with regard to himself; it produces great imposition, by an affectation of a great degree of sickness that does not exist; and, above all, it is the cause of men being often carried to sea when it is exceedingly desirable that, for their own sakes, they should be left on shore until well.
Supposing a complete and suitable reconstruction of the laws, and the making of the necessary treaties, there then would be no injustice in making owners of vessels liable to repay the expense of returning home all seamen shipped in the United States left in foreign countries, without the consent of the consul obtained by the master in writing. Such a liability would be a great check on the practice of inducing men to desert, would be a mutual equivalent for the extra wages, and tend greatly to reduce the expenditure.
An unwise economy on the part of some ship-owners and masters frequently induces them to underman their vessels. As a rule, ships are undermanned, and it is the cause of many shipwrecks, and much unnecessary suffering.
There should be a minimum fixed by law, and if that were done, the present plan of paying the passage of destitute seamen, by an uniform rate of $10, might be abolished, and instead a fixed rate per day be paid, but only for such men as are in excess of the legal complement of the vessel.
It not unfrequently happens now that the consul's men form part of the usual crew.
The adoption of these or similar measures would, I am certain, work a great improvement in the character of seamen and officers in a few years; and I do not know, nor can I indicate, any other way in which the expenditure for the relief of distressed seamen can properly be diminished.
MARCH 25, 1862.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the despatch from the department bearing date on the 28th of February last, in reference to the expense of supporting destitute seamen.
This subject had engaged much of my attention previous to your communication reaching me, and, so far as it can be done, the expense shall be reduced;
at least, no effort shall be spared on my part to accomplish this result. But, in my judgment, nothing so effectually will tend to diminish the expense for this service as a total and radical change of the laws relative to merchant seamen, and the adoption of some such system as that sketched out in my communication to the department, No. 30.
The three months' extra wages have been required to be paid in all cases authorized by law, since I have been in the office, and the same duly accounted for. I shall continue to exact it. In reference to the comparison between Liverpool and Havana, referred to in your communication, the department must not lose sight of the fact that this is the great port between Europe and America, if not between the western and eastern hemispheres, and has not only to take care of its own destitute seamen, but to provide for and take care of at least a part of the destitute seamen from almost every port in Europe, and sometimes even from ports in Africa and Asia. It is frequently less difficult to send men from distant consulates to Liverpool than direct to America, and sometimes this is the only way to reach America, and less expensive to the government, and best for the seamen. But the men thus sent to this office cannot with any justice be charged against it; they rightly belong and ought to be charged against the office whence they come. But in the accounts rendered they are all put in and help to swell the number as well as the amount of expenditure against this office. To give the department some idea of the extent to which this practice is carried, during last week alone there were no less than thirty destitute seamen sent by other consulates to this, to be returned to the United States. All of these men, or at least those who were within the statute, had to be fed, (and some of them clothed,) until ships could be provided for them. These men were from consulates extending from Scotland to Spain. There were some men sent (and this is quite frequently the case) who were deserters from their ships, and not entitled to relief; these, of course, were refused. The rest had to be taken care of and provided with board, and ship procured for their passage.
While upon this subject, I beg leave to call the attention of the department to the fact that this right of sending destitute seamen from one consulate to another is sometimes much abused. Men have been often sent to this office from ports where there are vessels bound to the United States, when they ought to have been sent directly home.
In many instances it is no doubt best to send them here, the facilities for getting them home being greater than at other ports; yet there is quite a disposition on the part of some consulates to make this office the medium to carry their destitute seamen.
Deficit for the month, from March of last year, 1,307,000 cwt. This shows, of course, that for all the efforts to obtain cotton elsewhere, England is absolutely dependent upon the American crop.