|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS
The Plimsoll Line
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|In the second half of the nineteenth century, an astonishing campaign
to save the lives of countless seafarers stirred a nation. Hundreds of
British sailors were drowning every year as overladen and unseaworthy ships
set sail, their doomed crews sacrificed while mercenary shipowners profited
from the insurance. Samuel Plimsoll, encouraged by his wife Eliza, blew
the whistle on these scandalous practices. This tale of the decade
of agitation that was known as the Plimsoll Sensation takes us from storm-ravaged
seas to the heart of the British establishment, from courtroom conflicts
to outrageous breaches of protocol in the House of Commons.
Thwarted by fellow MPs, Plimsoll caught the public imagination and became, for a while, 'the most popular man in Britain'. Crowds thronged to cheer him. Music-hall songs praised him. Novels, plays and poems were written in support of the cause. Under Plimsoll's banner working men and women stood side by side with enlightened aristocrats and industrialists, and their clamour almost toppled a prime minister. Tireless campaigning took its toll on Plimsoll. His health suffered, his sanity was questioned, libel cases accumulated against him, and ruinous legal fees forced him to sell his home. But he persevered and in 1876 his legacy was secured: the hull of every cargo ship was marked with the level of maximum submergence - the Plimsoll line.
|OUR SEAMEN, An Appeal
SAMUEL PLIMSOLL’S APPEAL FOR THE SAFETY OF MERCHANT SEAMEN IN THE 19TH CENTURY.
Homewell. No date, c.1980. Kenneth Mason. Facsimile reprint of 1873 original. VI, (2), 90 pages plus 70 pages of facsimile of documents, photos, sketches & drawings. Hard cover, dustjacket. Dimensions 28.6 x 22 cm.
The appeal which changed the course of maritime history. The introduction of the Plimsoll line in an attempt to put an end to overloading, poor stowage, over insurance, etc. of ships leading to unnecessary disasters and huge loss of life. Plimsoll was a coal merchant and a humanitarian. He recognised the plight of the merchant sailors who were lost at sea due to unscrupulous shipowners who insured unseaworthy ships and sent them to sea overloaded. He became a poilitician and used his position to fight hard, which he had to do to oppose the welathy and influencial shipowners.
Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) was known as ‘the Sailors’ Friend’ owing to his concern and energetic endeavours to put a halt to the practice of greedy shipowners loading their vessels to almost the waterline and sending these ‘coffin ships’ to sea in order to maximise profits with scant regard for the safety of seamen. The introduction of the ‘Plimsoll line’, adopted by merchant ships the world over, eventually made seafaring that much safer. There were, however, other bad practices as outlined in Plimsoll’s list of causes given below. Plimsoll had acted as Honorary Secretary for the Great Exhibition in 1851 and two years later established himself as a coal merchant in London. Between 1868 and 1880 he was Derby’s radical M.P. and did much to expedite the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act in 1876. In 1875, two years after the publication of this book, Plimsoll created a scene in the House of Commons by a violent protest against the obstruction of the ship-owning members. This book had a great influence on events and brought home to the public one of the main causes for the great annual loss of life around the British coasts and elsewhere, clearly demonstrating how much of this loss was preventable. Following a Preliminary and some observations of underwriters, sailors, shipowners and the duty of the nation, Plimsoll describes the nine main reasons for maritime disasters: under-manning, bad stowage, deck-loading, deficient engine-power, over-insurance, defective construction, improper lengthening, overloading, and want of repair. The author then looks at the remedy and probable results before turning his attention to the six objections: Expense. Army of Surveyors. Sanction of private institutions. Destroy responsibility. Dangerous precedent. And Opposition. He concludes his work with a note on the Mutual Insurance Societies and describes what course to take and finally with his Appeal. The original 1873 book is very well illustrated with numerous plates including heliotype facsimiles, photographs, maps, drawings, etc., covering sailing ships and early steamers with the most beautiful plates (as Plimsoll describes them) stitched in at the end of the book.
Original edition: Published by Virtue & Co., Limited, London: 1873. Hardcover, vi (2) 89pp; numerous b/w illus. and photographs. Dimensions 4to - over 9¾" - 12" tall. Copies of the original book are available at varing costs above $100; thge price reflects the condition of the book and the various original, and later, bindings.
Ilustration of dustjacket on left shows the c1980 reproduction.
The Great Campaign to Save Lives at Sea.
Little, Brown Book Group, London; 2006.
Hardcover, dustjacket, 395 pages, index, notes, bibliography. About a dozen mono prints.
I think Samuel Plimsoll was one of the finest of men of all time. He was not a great politician, not a great academic, not a great inventor, but simply a coal merchant who did well by his business and put his money and his mouth into righting a wrong. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands of seamen were lost at sea due to overloading of ships by ignorant and unscrupulous ship owners. Plimsoll was appalled at this and wanted it stopped. But how do you change the minds of the wealthy politicians who are also shipowners and merchants. It was a hard task. I've read several books on the man, but not this one. However, the blurb suggests that the author, ‘a distinguished journalist and broadcaster, combines meticulous research with deft storytelling in this extraordinary tale of a tenacious philanthropist and his crusade for reform'. I look forward to reading it. [ps]
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