Blood Red Roses: The Supply of Merchant Seamen in the Nineteenth Century

By Stephen Jones, published November 1972


This article’s title is derived from an ironic shanty which underlines the hard life of 19th century merchant sailors. Finding enough sailors was problematic throughout the century. Their number grew from around 100,000 in 1800 to over 200,000 in 1900. During its early decades merchant shipping competed with the Royal Navy for manpower and later the competition was between sail and steam. The deleterious activities of press gangs coloured the early decades and those of crimps the balance of the century. Merchant seamen were socially isolated and the growing demand came to be met by a variety of sources, including crimps. One of the pernicious activities of crimps was to provide accommodation for sailors between voyages. Charitable and religious intuitions began recognizing a need for decent boarding houses in the 1830s but their efforts alone were never sufficient. Other institutions including industrial schools and floating reformatories prepared youths from poor families or with troubled backgrounds for seagoing careers. Included are two tables showing numbers of vessels registered in the British Empire and their crews 1814-1882.

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C) | Other (location)
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea | Merchant Marines

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