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I AND my shipmates have more things to
growl about than our bad lodging in the
forecastle. Ashore I'm not much given to
grumbling: Dorothy knows and can bear
witness (Dorothy does know and bears
witness) that I'm not a grampus. But I
bear my part afloat when we talk ship
matters over, and if owners and Members
of Parliament really want to know why
sailors run the English merchant service, the
forecastle is the place they ought to come to
for their information. Maybe we're wrong
in some of our notions, not being learned men;
and when I plot with Dorothy to get
somebody to print a little of the common
seaman's mind for us, I don't want my words
to be taken as a statement of what is wrong
about us: what I'm going to say only concerns
what we think wrong, when, in our
unlearned way, we talk the matter through
between ourselves.

There's an act, I believe, called the New
Navigation Act, to regulate the manning of
merchant ships; we get told about it sometimes,
but it don't answer its purpose. When
a ship is undermanned or manned with
half tailors and shoemakers, and most of them
skulkers, the seaman is worked harder, I can
tell you, than he ought to be. It is not very
long since the first and second officers of the
Indiaman Alfred were charged at the Thames
Police Office with deserting their ship at
Portsmouth. They ran the ship because they
found out, after sailing, that the crew was
made up of old men, boys, and lubbers who
had been picked up great bargains. They
took three hours to reef the ship's top-sails
off Hastings.

The American owners know the value of
an able sailor, and they pay the price for
him, and make him lie contented in his berth,
because it is a berth and not a dog-hole.
Whenever an American clipper runs over to
England with a freight from India or China,
she comes partly maimed with Malays,
Lascars, and South Sea Islanders. Such
seamen she discharges in London or Liverpool,
and fills their places up with English
ablebodied salts. Our men are so eager to
get aboard American vessels, that they pay
premiums of a pound and thirty shillings to the
men who get them berths. The coloured
men sent adrift from the American ships are,
many of them, hired at small pay by the
English owners, and the rest are thrown upon
the streets as vagrants or crossing-sweepers.

I don't know whether a bill has not been
passed lately by honourable gentlemen who
know more of the grievances talked of in the
cabin than of the grievances we grumble
over in the forecastle for the apprehension
of deserters. Reciprocal treaties, I think
they call them, were to be made with Russia,
Sweden, Peru and any other states that
would consent, for the giving up seamen like
so many thieves and blackguards if they
left their vessels. To be sure, under some
Act good for owners, there is a contract signed,
the effect of which is in most cases that we
may be dismissed at any port; but never may
dismiss ourselves within the term for which
we sell our bodies to the owner. Ships'
articles and shipping-masters seem to us to
be made always taut one way and loose another.
Articles often are set down .off-hand in this
way, for "A voyage from the port of (say)
Plymouth, to such place as the masters may
direct, for a period not exceeding two years."
We may be discharged at any time within
two years and always at any place. We
may be turned loose on the coast of Guinea;
but we must never go loose of our own will.
Emigrant ships are looked after, and must be
seaworthy; but merchant vessels may be sent
out, if the owner likes, without a bottom.
Sink or swim, we must go with the hull: we
are a part of it. It is not long ago that, at
Liverpool,the seamen of the Seringapatam,
knowing her to be unseaworthy, refused to
go out in her, and went to jail instead. The
ship sailed, and on the second day put back,
too leaky to go any further. But the seamen
had, meanwhile, been sent to jail, because,
though they were right, it wasn't their
opinion the law cared about. The law was
made for owners, not for such as them.
That's our notion on the subject.

It makes us laugh, as we eat chalky biscuit
in our dark hole of a forecastle, to hear about
all this pious horror of desertion, and about
sending ships of war to Australia and Quebec
to prevent it; as if it was ships of war that
the men wanted. The Americans pay seamen ten
pounds a month for the voyage to California;