Temptations on shore
After long months at sea, sailors looked forward to a stay in port. For many, it was like a holiday. After receiving their pay, they could enjoy their free time any way they chose.
|Jack Jolly steering down Wapping in Ballast trim. © NMM|
With plenty of cash in their pockets, they always had plenty of friends. Many sailors off duty set out to have a good time, usually involving alcohol and women.
The dosshouses, pubs and brothels of the port districts offered all sorts of services to the visiting seaman – but at a price.
|Jack got safe into Port with his Prize. © NMM|
At best, seamen could simply blow their hard-earned wages in a drunken binge, and the friends would disappear as quickly as the money. At worst, they could be cheated, robbed or even murdered.
Writing in the 1850s, Augustus Sala described the perils faced by seamen in the port:
'He no sooner lands than he becomes the prey of the infamous harpies who infest maritime London. He is robbed by outfitters... he is robbed by the tavern-keepers, the crimps, and the boarding-masters. He is robbed by his associates, robbed in business, robbed in amusement. 'Jack' is fair game to everybody.'
|Jack in a White Squall, Amongst Breakers - on the Lee Shore of St. Catherines. © NMM|
The situation was far worse for foreign seamen. Any seaman unable to speak English was even more vulnerable, while non-white sailors had to face blatant racism.