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" THE SEAS BUT JOIN THE NATIONS THEY DIVIDE."
J. D. POTTER, 31, POULTRY.
VOLUME XLV.- No. !.
SHIPOWNERS: THE FEW AND THE MANY.
HE Haytians have a proverb that “combination is stronger
than witchcraft.” A writer in an American contemporary observes thereon that “ only good motives and purposes will
combine. The selfish, which are the sinful and predatory motives, are all distrustful, and therefore incapable of acting in concert." Again, Lord Lytton observes in “ Kenelm Chillingly" that “it is a wonderful proof of the wisdom of Providence that whenever any large number of its creatures forms a community or class, a secret element of disunion enters into the hearts of the individuals forming the congregation, and prevents their co-operating heartily and effectually for their common interest." And Curran, when speaking on the subject of the absence of co-operation, observed that " if all the spiders in this commonwealth were to attack me in a body I should fall a victim to their combined nippers."
The above array of quotations is intended to draw the attention of our readers to various aspects of combination. Seeing, as we may now do, in this country many combinations of an exceedingly questionable character, we are unable to agree with our American contemporary that "only good motives and purposes will combine ;” but, on the other hand, indeed, we have daily evidence of the truth of Lord Lytton's words as to the power of “ secret elements of disunion " in many classes. For ourselves, we are disposed to agree with Curran as to the mighty power of combination when properly organised, and its purposes properly executed, without regard as to whether those purposes are good or bad.
There are sufficient proofs all over the world that unity is strength, no matter whether the units have good or bad objects in view. To insure success it seems to be only necessary to root out, if possible, from the combining association the secret elements of disunion referred to by Lord Lytton.
Perhaps the evil effects of secret elements of disunion can nowhere be found more fully developed than in the commercial class which is employed in the conveyance of passengers and goods. Our experience of these interests is large, and we have often found one member or one section that has had something very bad to say against other members and sections. The sections are numerous, and we may enumerate a few of them as follows :First, there are competing lines of ships in the same trade; then there are the long voyage interests careless of the coasting interests; again there are the steamship interests careless of or opposed to the sailing ship interests; the railway interests as opposed to the ships, and various other smaller interests opposed to each other.
The recent agitation about which shipowners have so bitterly complained would, we venture to say, have been combated and put down by force of reason and truth, if there had been anything like unanimity among carriers. Instead of unanimity we find that owners of coasting steamships are silent in regard to the proposed breaking up of many sailing coasting craft ; for does it not mean more carrying to be done by the coasting steamer ? The sooner the coasting sailing carrier can be ruined and run off the sea the better it will be for the interest owning coasting steamers. Again, the carrier by railway looks on placidly, and is, perhaps, rather pleased than otherwise, while the ship of the steam coast carrier is detained, hampered, or in any
other way dered unremunerative, for he knows that every ton of goods and every passenger driven from a coasting steamer means a ton of goods and a passenger gained to the railway. The carrier by rail and the steam coast carrier by sea are both well represented in the House of Commons, and they are able in a measure to speak for themselves against any proposed legislative interference which is likely to be prejudicial to their interests; but the little sailing coasting and short voyage carrier has no one to speak in his behalf, and he, poor honest little fellow, the "costermonger of the sea," as he has been aptly called, the backbone of our marine reserve force, is being first wept over by the humanitarian, then inspected and legislated for, and then “ moved on,” till his little vessel finds rest in the ship-breakers yard or under a foreign flag. “ Humanitarians ” will not allow him to expose himself to the rough competition of carrying goods on the sea coastwise and on short voyages ; and other carriers of goods coastwise, viz., the steam carriers by land and by sea, applaud the humanitarian. In doing so in this case they can satisfy two yearnings at once—they can indulge in a little comforting sentiment, and
at the same time do something towards increasing their own gains. To Dives the shipowner, probably nothing could be more gratifying than this, but it would be impossible if Lazarus the shipowner, were regarded by Dives in the light of a brother.
There are other instances we could mention of the evil effects of the absence of co-operation, but we wish now to refer to one or two special instances which at the present moment deserve some attention.
By an Act passed during the last session, and following on the Acts of 1871 and 1873, power has been given to the Board of Trade to detain anseaworthy ships, and owners are required to state in the articles of agreement with their crews the amount of freeboard they intend each ship to have for the voyage, and the contract with the crew is to be made visible and unmistakable by a disc and deck-lines marked on the side of the vessel, the disc being intended to show the “maximum load-line in salt water to which the owner intends to load the ship for that voyage," and the deck-lines to show the height of the deck or decks above the said load-line.
We much fear that some shipowners by their action with regard to these provisions are in danger of calling down on the whole body some more severe legislation than now exists. For instance, it appears that when some ships have been duly detained, the owners or their agents and servants, instead of appealing to a court of law as by statute provided, have taken the matter into their own hands and carried off to sea the customs' officers put on board as Her Majesty's representatives to enforce detention. We hear that in a recent case a ship so detained sailed defiantly away on a long foreign voyage with two customs' officers on board. It is not possible to suppose that action of this sort by individuals of the shipping community can benefit the whole body in any way; but it is quite possible to see that this disunion by which some members break the law and defy authority will be thrown in the teeth of the whole body, bringing them into closer bondage and under more rigorous statutory penalties. There are also owners who have been defying the law by colorable transfers of their ships to foreign flags. Some of these transfers have been so bungling, so transparent, and above all so obviously for the purpose of retaining the ship as a British ship, and sailing her so as to avoid British liabilities, that the report of such doings brings odium upon the whole body of shipowners, and suggests to the pablic that a necessity exists for more severe legislation and perhaps of criminal prosecution.
Again, as regards the marking the load-line discs, the action of some owners has already been of such a character as to create elements of disunion in the shipowning body. The clause in the Act of 1875, respecting the load-line, is very distinct. It says that the centre of the disc