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Sea crews

24 June 2008 by stepheng

Black and white photo of six women in white aprons and hats posing on the deck of a ship

Stewardesses on the White Star Line’s ‘Teutonic’. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

Seafarers from all over the world were a familiar sight on the streets of Liverpool and I always enjoyed watching the different personalities and characters. Some would head for local markets while others would congregate around the dock road area. It was the advent of container ships which concentrated activity at the Freeport and changed this way of life for mariners for ever.

Porters who handled luggage from the liners at the Prince’s Stage wore uniforms. The mix was further enhanced when a Royal Navy warship docked and the crew were ‘on the town’ in their bellbottom trousers and broad collars.

The worldwide success of British steamships in Victorian times greatly boosted seafaring jobs in the UK. It also provided most seafarers with greater continuity of work because steamships, unlike sailing vessels, could undertake reliable, scheduled services between ports.

This led to greater job security and company loyalty among mariners. Despite this, by the 1890s ship owners were finding it increasingly difficult – because of the low wages and poor conditions afloat – to staff their ships with good-quality British ratings. They therefore began to employ growing numbers of foreign seafarers on their ocean-going ships. From 1890, the Brocklebank shipping company hired lascars from Singapore and Malaya as deck, engine room and saloon crews. Chinese crews were a feature of the Blue Funnel Line.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum there are displays about the working lives of seafarers. A lascar crew is pictured on the Brocklebank ship Pindari in 1891.

Kroo deckhands from Freetown, Sierra Leone, are pictured on the Palm Line’s Kamasi Palm in 1954. Krooboys, as they were called, were employed to handle cargo between coastal ports in West Africa. A Chinese certificate of merit was awarded to Chinese crew members by Blue Funnel during the Second World War.

The spectacular growth in the number and size of passenger steamers in the late 19th century created thousands of new seafaring jobs. These ranged from engine room staff to stewards, stewardesses and other hotel-style staff providing services for passengers.

Photographs on display include this one showing stewardesses in starched aprons and caps pictured on White Star Line’s Teutonic in 1889.

Three women who worked as a hairdresser, shop assistant and stenographer are seen on the Empress of France in 1956.

A fascinating model depicts the No 3 boiler room on the Aquitania of 1913. A total of 304 firemen, trimmers and greasers worked in the four boiler rooms on this luxury liner.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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