Speculating Gig Boats, ‘Shilling Sickers’ and Riggers: a Social History of Mersey Watermen

By Michael Stammers, published May 2012


Watermen in small boats performed a range of functions in ports and anchorages both large and small around the British Isles. They acted as tenders, berthed and moved ships, carried crews, passengers and luggage and helped in salvage work. There has been a great deal of research on port labour but this has concentrated on dockers and stevedores and ignores the diversity of other workers required to run a large port. This article evaluates the many different tasks (some illegal) performed by Mersey watermen from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century and the difficulties the authorities had in regulating these freelance operators who were an essential component of the port. Studies in other ports may well confirm this was a situation in common with Liverpool.

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Filed under: Other (Twentieth C) | Other (Nineteenth C) | Internal Waterways
Subjects include: Harbours & Dockyards

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