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Shipping companies

Shipping companies were crucial to the lives of mariners. They controlled wages and condition, contributed to the scanty services available through marine charities, and shaped the character of port cities. 

Shipping on the Thames, John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868) Manchester Art Gallery.

P&O

Shipping companies were crucial to the lives of mariners. One of the major shipping companies of this era, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), was founded in 1837 and came to be, as Freda Harcourt has argued, a flagship of imperialism, with origins in Ireland. Initially starting as mail contractor, it developed lines across major imperial routes. 

Royal Mail Steamship Company

Alongside the P&O and other shipping companies, the Royal Mail Steamship Company, the Dutch and English East India Companies and the British and Indian Navies shaped shipping lines, and the wages and experiences of mariners across the long nineteenth century. The ongoing development of shipbuilding and steam technology across this period was crucial for the expansion of major British ports, as well as major port cities across the world such as Calcutta, Singapore, Hong Kong. By the early twentieth century, British shipping was dominating the world’s seas. In 1918, the British Mercantile Marine was the largest and most efficient merchant navies in the world.  Over 40% of the world’s commercial tonnage was controlled by the British government or British companies. These successes led to the ongoing expansion of British ports and continued to shape the lives of the mariners within them. Exploring the institutions such as missions and sailor societies that catered for the large body of mariners in British ports offers further insight into their economic, social and religious lives in this period. 

Resources

Further reading / sources: 

Freda Harcourt, Flagships of Imperialism: The P&O Company and the Politics of Empire from Its Origins To 1867 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006) 

Aaron Jaffer, Lascars and Indian Ocean Seafaring, 1780-1860: Shipboard Life, Unrest and Mutiny (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015) 

Bruno Marnot, ‘Ports as Tools of European Expansion’, Encyclopédie d'histoire numérique de l'Europe [online], published on 22/06/20. Permalink: https://ehne.fr/en/node/12437 

Sarah Palmer, 'British Shipping from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present', in Lewis R. Fischer, and Even Lange (eds), International Merchant Shipping in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: The Comparative Dimension (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008) 

Citation for this article

Sumita Mukherjee, 'Shipping companies' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914, https://mar.ine.rs/what/shipping-companies/
Retrieved 22 February 2024

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A profile of G.C. Smith, known as ‘Boatswain’ Smith, the most celebrated of all pioneer marine missionaries.

1782 - 1863

Marine missions and charities in relation to Bristol's floating harbour 

1800 - 1899
Rev. John Ashley (1801-1886)

Pioneer marine missionary and founding figure for the Bristol Channel Mission and Missions to Seafarers.

1801 - 1886

William Henry Giles Kingson, who published as W.H.G. Kingston, was a successful writer of novels and adventure stories for boys promoting Christian hardiness. He was the main motivating force behind the creation of the first national church mission to seamen, the Anglican Missions to Seamen, now the Mission to Seafarers. 

1814 - 1880

The Merchant Seamen's Bible Society was founded in 1818 to supply British merchant ships with copies of scripture.

1818 - 1832
Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. PAH8470.  (CC BY-NC-ND)

The Port of London Society (PLS) was founded in London following a meeting held at the City of London Tavern on Thursday 5 February 1818, ‘to consider the best means for affording religious instruction to British Seamen while in the port of London’.

1818

Joseph Salter was one of the most prolific missionaries and writers to address ‘Asiatics’ in nineteenth-century Britain.

1822 - 1899

The London Sailors’ Home was the first short-stay, purpose-built home for sailors, and it set the model for scores of others that followed in British and colonial port cities.

1828
Episcopal Floating Church, London.  

The Episcopal Floating Chapel Society was the first attempt by the Church of England to provide a maritime church in the Port of London. 

1829 - 1846
Hull seaman and orphan asylum

Working seamen lived dangerous and peripatetic lives which left families and dependants unprotected. Orphanages were created to provide opportunities for those left behind.

1836

The Sailors' Home was established in 1837 to protect British seamen from crimping and local drinks that the colonial authorities considered pernicious for European constitution, and to 'civilise' them so that they would not destablise the ideology of white racial superiority that underpinned British colonialism.

1837
Maharajah Duleep Bassi dressed for a State function, c. 1875, oil painting by Capt. Goldingham of London.

Duleep Singh was the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire. He lived in England for most of his life and provided financial support for the Stranger's Home for Asiatics, Africans and Soutsea Islanders. 

1838 - 1893

The Wesleyan Seamen's Mission opened in 1843. It was succeeded by the grand Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in 1902.

1843

The Seamen’s Christian Friend Society (1848) had its origins in the ‘Thames Revival’ which emerged among common seamen around the Port of London on the final years of the Napoleonic wars.

1848

The Liverpool Sailors' Home operated in Canning Place from December 1850. This establishment provided board and food, and carried out additional responsibilities such as medical assistance, religious instruction, and moral, intellectual and professional improvement opportunities.

1850

The foundation stone for The Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders was laid by Prince Albert on 31 May 1856.

1856
The Mission to Seafarers logo

Mission to Seafarers was established in 1856 as a national Society, incorporating the Bristol Channel Mission and the Thames Church Mission. The Society provided chaplains to serve vessels and seamen afloat and ashore.  

1856

A guide to all the sailors' homes in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland based on a parliamentary return in 1860.

1860

The prevalence of drunken seamen had far-reaching social consequences in nineteenth-century Liverpool. The annual reports of the Sailors Home state many seamen signed the temperance pledge but the figure never crossed 20 percent.

1864

St Andrew's Waterside Church Mission was a high church mission at Gravesend catering not just for seamen but fishermen and emigrants.

1864 - 1939

The Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institute was established in August 1869 in a temporary accommodation in Duke Street. Supported by leading shipowners and philanthropists it provided protection and education for the mercantile marine’s orphaned children.

 

1869

In 1900, a mission room for lascars was established at Morpeth Docks, liverpool. It was known as 'The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen'.

1900

In 1903, a new Japanese Seamen's Home was opened by the Bishop of Osaka at 31 Elizabeth Street, North Woolwich, near the Royal Albert Docks.

1903 - 1920

A Lascar Institute in Birkenhead is mentioned in the annual general meeting minutes of the Mersey Mission to Seamen, held at the Liverpool Record Office. This appears to be a continuation of The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen. The minutes first mention the Institute from 1910 and continue up into the 1920s, when a new building was constructed.

1910 - 1923
Finished garments for sailors. Source: Ladies Work for Sailors.

Women have contributed in many significant ways to the work of missions to seafarers. Marine industries were and are isolating and dangerous, and the risks were endured by families at home as well as those at sea. Women and children were associated with marine missions initially as subjects of charity, but by the 20th century they were playing a more assertive role.

1913