PortCities London

The welfare of seamen

Introduction
 
Jack Jolly steering down Wapping in Ballast trim.
View full size imageJack Jolly steering down Wapping in Ballast trim. © NMM

For many seamen, a stay in port was like a holiday after long months at sea. With plenty of cash in their pockets, they always had plenty of friends.

However, this freedom came at a price. Seamen were often cheated, robbed or even murdered. As one observer noted, 'Jack' was 'fair game to everybody'. Foreign seamen were particularly at risk.

The British and Foreign Sailors' Society Institute.
View full size imageThe British and Foreign Sailors' Society Institute. © NMM
Partly to protect seamen from crime and exploitation, and partly to protect them from the moral dangers of drink and debauchery, philanthropists and churches set up facilities for seamen in the port.

At first, this was often more about preaching than practical help, with emphasis on sermons and distributing bibles and religious tracts. In time, churches and secular institutes came to play a vital role in making life more secure and comfortable for visiting seamen.

This is the story of several of these initiatives in the port of London.

 





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