Essays upon several projects: or, effectual ways for advancing the interest of the nation.:
Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.

Of SEAMEN.

IT is observable, That whenever this Kingdom is engaged in a War with any of its Neighbours, two great Inconveniences constantly fol|low; one to the King, and one to Trade.

Page  313 (1.) That to the King is, That he is forced to press Seamen for the Man|ning of his Navy, and force them in|voluntarily into the Service: Which way of violent dragging men into the Fleet, is attended with sundry ill cir|cumstances: As,

  • 1. Our Naval Preparations are re|tarded, and our Fleets always late, for want of Men; which has expos'd them not a little, and been the ruin of many a good and well-laid Expe|dition.
  • 2. Several Irregularities follow, as the Officers taking Money to dismiss Able Seamen, and filling up their Complement with raw and improper Persons.
  • 3. Oppressions, Quarrelings, and oftentimes Murthers, by the rashness of Press-masters, and the obstinacy of some unwilling to go.
  • Page  314 4. A secret Aversion to the Service, from a Natural Principle, common to the English Nation, to hate Com|pulsion.
  • 5. Kidnapping people out of the Kingdom, robbing Houses, and pick|ing Pockets, frequently practised un|der pretence of Pressing; as has been very much used of late.
With various Abuses of the like nature, some to the King, and some to the Subject.

(2.) To Trade. By the extravagant Price set on Wages for Seamen, which they impose on the Merchant with a sort of Authority, and he is obliged to give by reason of the Scarcity of Men; and that not from a real want of Men; for in the heighth of a Press, if a Merchant-man wanted Men, and could get a Protection for them, he might have any number immediately, Page  315 and none without it; so shye were they of the Publick Service.

The First of these things has cost the King above Three Millions Ster|ling, since the War, in these Three Particulars:

  • 1. Charge of Pressing on Sea, and on Shore, and in small Craft employ|ed for that purpose.
  • 2. Ships lying in Harbour for want of Men, at a vast Charge of Pay and Victuals for those they had.
  • 3. Keeping the whole Navy in constant Pay and Provisions all the Winter, for fear of losing the Men against Summer, which has now been done several Years, besides Bounty-Money and other Expences, to court and oblige the Seamen.

The Second of these, (viz.) the great Wages paid by the Merchant, has cost Trade, since the War, above Page  316 Twenty Millions Sterling. The Coal-Trade gives a Specimen of it, who for the first Three Years of the War gave 9 l. a Voyage to Common Sea|men, who before sailed for 36 s. which computing the number of Ships and Men used in the Coal-Trade, and of Voyages made, at 8 hands to a Vessel, does modestly accounting make 896000 l. difference in one year, in Wages to Seamen in the Coal-Trade only.

For other Voyages, the difference of Sailors Wages is 50 s. per Month, and 55 s. per Month, to Foremast|men, who before went for 26 s. per Month; besides subjecting the Mer|chant to the Insolence of the Seamen, who are not now to be pleased with any Provisions, will admit no Half-Pay, and command of the Captains even what they please; nay, the King himself can hardly please them.

Page  317 For Cure of these Inconveniences it is, the following Project is propos'd; with which the Seamen can have no rea|son to be dissatisfied, nor are not at all injur'd; and yet the Damage sustain'd will be prevented, and an immense Sum of Money spar'd, which is now squander'd away by the Profuseness and Luxury of the Seamen: For if Prodigality weakens the Publick Wealth of the Kingdom in general, then are the Seamen but ill Common|wealths-men, who are not visibly the Richer for the prodigious Sums of Money paid them either by the King or the Merchant.

The Project is this;

That by an Act of Parliament an Office or Court be erected, within the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiral|ty, and subject to the Lord High Ad|miral; Page  318 or otherwise Independent, and subject only to a Parliamentary Au|thority; as the Commission for taking and stating the Publick Accounts.

In this Court or Office, or the seve|ral Branches of it (which to that end shall be subdivided, and plac'd in eve|ry Sea-Port in the Kingdom) shall be listed and entred into immediate Pay all the Seamen in the Kingdom, who shall be divided into Colleges or Chambers of sundry degrees, suitable to their several Capacities, with Pay in proportion to their Qualities; as Boys, Youths, Servants, Men Able, and Raw, Midship-men, Officers, Pilots, Old Men, and Pensioners.

The Circumstantials of this Office;

  • 1. No Captain or Master of any Ship or Vessel shou'd dare to hire or carry to Sea with him any Seaman, but such as he shall receive from the Office aforesaid.
  • Page  319 2. No man whatsoever, Seaman or other, but applying himself to the said Office to be employ'd as a Sailor, shou'd immediately enter into Pay, and receive for every Able Seaman 24 s. per Month, and Juniors in pro|portion; to receive Half-Pay while un|employ'd, and liberty to work for them|selves, only to be at Call of the Office, and leave an account where to be found.
  • 3. No Sailor cou'd desert, because no Employment wou'd be to be had elsewhere.
  • 4. All Ships at their clearing at the Custom-house, shou'd receive a Ticket to the Office for Men, where wou'd be always Choice rather than Scarcity; who shou'd be deliver'd over by the Office to the Captain or Master, with|out any Trouble or Delay; all liberty of Choice to be allow'd both to Ma|ster and Men, only so as to give up all Disputes to the Officers appointed to decide.

    Page  320 Note, By this wou'd be avoided the great Charge Captains and Owners are at to keep Men on Board before they are ready to go; whereas now the care of getting Men will be over, and all come on board in one day; for the Captain carrying the Ticket to the Of|fice, he may go and chuse his Men, if he will; otherwise they will be sent on board him, by Tickets sent to their Dwellings, to repair on board such a Ship.

  • 5. For all these Men that the Cap|tain or Master of the Ship takes, he shall pay the Office, not the Seamen, 28 s. per Month, (which 4 s. per Month Overplus of Wages, will be employ'd to pay the Half-Pay to the men out of Employ), and so in pro|portion of Wages for Juniors.
  • 6. All Disputes concerning the mu|tinying of Mariners, or other matters Page  321 of Debate between the Captains and Men, to be tri'd by way of Appeal, in a Court for that purpose to be erect|ed as aforesaid.
  • 7. All discounting of Wages, and Time, all Damages of Goods, Avarages, stopping of Pay, and the like, to be adjusted by stated and Publick Rules, and Laws in Print, establish'd by the same Act of Parliament; by which means all litigious Suits in the Court of Admiralty (which are Infinite) would be prevented.
  • 8. No Ship that is permitted to enter at the Custom-House, and take in Goods, should ever be refus'd Men, or delay'd in the delivering them above five days after a Demand made, and a Ticket from the Custom-house deli|ver'd; general Cases, as Arrests and Embargoes, excepted.

Page  322The Consequences of this Method.

  • 1. By this means the Publick wou'd have no want of Seamen, and all the Charges and other Inconveniences of Pressing Men would be prevented.
  • 2. The intolerable Oppression upon Trade, from the Exorbitance of Wa|ges, and Insolence of Mariners, wou'd be taken off.
  • 3. The following Sums of Money shou'd be paid to the Office, to lye in Bank as a Publick Fund for the Ser|vice of the Nation, to be dispos'd of by Order of Parliament, and not otherwise; a Committee being al|ways substituted in the Intervals of the Session, to audit the Accounts, and a Treasury for the Money, to be compos'd of Members of the House, and to be chang'd every Session of Par|liament.
      Page  323
    • 1. Four Shillings per Month Wages advanc'd by the Merchants to the Office for the Men, more than the Office pays them.
    • 2. In consideration of the reducing Mens Wages, and consequently Fraights to the former Prices or near them, the Owners of Ships, or Merchants, shall pay at the Importation of all Goods, 40 s. per Ton Freight, to be stated upon all Goods and Ports in proportion; reckoning it on Wine Tonnage from Canaries, as the Standard, and on special Freights in proportion to the Freight formerly paid, and half the said Price in times of Peace.

Note, This may well be done, and no Burthen; for if Freights are reduced to their former Prices (or near it) as they will be if Wages are so too, then the Merchant may well pay it: As for Instance; Freight from Ja|maica Page  324 to London, formerly at 6 l. 10 s. per Ton, now at 18 and 20 l. From Virginia, at 5 l. to 6 l. 10 s. now at 14, 16, and 17 l. From Barbadoes, at 6 l. now at 16 l. From Oporto, at 2 l. now at 6 l. and the like.

The Payment of the abovesaid Sums being a large Bank for a Fund, and it being supposed to be in fair hands, and currently managed, the Merchants shall further pay upon all Goods shipp'd out, and shipp'd on board from abroad, for and from any Port of this Kingdom, 4 l. per Cent. on the real Value, bona fide, to be sworn to, if demanded: In conside|ration whereof, the said Office shall be obliged to pay and make good all Losses, Damages, Avarages, and Ca|sualties whatsoever, as fully as by the Custom of Assurances now is done, Page  325 without any Discounts, Rebates, or Delays whatsoever; the said 4 l. per Cent. to be stated on the Voyage to the Barbadoes, and enlarged or taken off, in proportion to the Voyage, by Rules and Laws, to be Printed and publickly known.

Reserving only, That then, as rea|son good, the said Office shall have Power to direct Ships of all sorts, how, and in what manner, and how long they shall sail, with, or wait for Con|voys; and shall have Power (with Limitations) to lay Embargoes on Ships, in order to compose Fleets for the benefit of Convoys.

These Rules, formerly noted, to extend to all Trading by Sea, the Coasting and Home-Fishing Trade excepted; and for them it should be order'd;

Page  326 First, For Coals; the Colliers be|ing provided with Men at 28 s. per Month, and Convoys in sufficient number, and proper Stations from Tinmouth-Bar to the River, so as they need not go in Fleets, but as Wind and Weather presents, run all the way under the Protection of the Men of War, who shou'd be continually crui|sing from Station to Station; they would be able to perform their Voyage in as short time as formerly, and at as cheap Pay, and consequently cou'd afford to sell their Coals at 17 s. per Chaldron, as well as formerly at 15 s.

Wherefore there shou'd be paid into the Treasury appointed at Newcastle, by Bond to be paid where they deliver, 10 s. per Chal|dron, Newcastle Measure; and the sta|ted Page  327 Price at London to be 27 s. per Chaldron in the Pool, which is 30 s. at the Buyers House; and is so far from being dear, a time of War espe|cially, as it is cheaper than ever was known in a War; and the Officers shou'd by Proclamation confine the Seller to that Price.

In consideration also of the Charge of Convoys, the Ships bringing Coals shall all pay 1 l. per Cent. on the Value of the Ship, to be agreed on at the Of|fice; and all Convoy-Money exacted by Commanders of Ships, shall be re|linquish'd, and the Office to make good all Losses of Ships, not Goods, that shall be lost by Enemies only.

These Heads indeed are such as wou'd need some Explication, if the Expe|riment were to be made; and, with submission, wou'd reduce the Seamen Page  328 to better Circumstances, at least 'twou'd have them in readiness for any Publick Service much easier than by all the late methods of En|couragement by registring Sea|men, &c.

For by this Method all the Sea|men in the Kingdom shou'd be the King's hired Servants, and receive their Wages from him, whoever em|ploy'd them; and no man cou'd hire or employ them, but from him: The Merchant shou'd hire them of the King, and pay the King for them; nor wou'd there be a Seaman in Eng|land out of Employ, which, by the way, wou'd prevent their seeking Service abroad. If they were not actually at Sea, they wou'd receive Half-Pay, and might be employ'd in Works about the Yards, Stores, and Navy, to keep all things in Repair.

Page  329 If a Fleet or Squadron was to be fitted out, they wou'd be mann'd in a Week's time, for all the Seamen in England wou'd be ready: Nor wou'd they be shye of the Service; for it is not an Aversion to the King's Service; nor 'tis not that the Duty is harder in the Men of War than the Merchant-men; nor 'tis not fear of Danger which makes our Seamen lurk, and hide, and hang back in a time of War; but 'tis Wages is the matter: 24 s. per Month in the King's Service, and 40 to 50 s. per Month from the Merchant, is the true cause; and the Seaman is in the right of it too; for who wou'd serve his King and Countrey, and fight, and be knock'd o' the head at 24 s. per Month that can have 50 s. without that ha|zard: And till this be remedied, in vain are all the Encouragements which can be given to Seamen; for Page  330 they tend but to make them Insolent, and encourage their Extravagance.

Nor wou'd this Proceeding be any damage to the Seamen in general; for 24 s. per Month Wages, and to be kept in constant Service, or Half-Pay when idle, is really better to the Seamen than 45 s. per Month, as they now take it, considering how long they often lye idle on shore, out of Pay: For the extravagant Price of Seamens Wages, tho' it has been an Intolerable Burthen to Trade, has not visibly enrich'd the Sailors; and they may as well be content with 24 s. per Month now as formerly.

On the other hand, Trade wou'd be sensibly reviv'd by it, the intole|rable Price of Freights wou'd be redu|ced, and the Publick wou'd reap an immense Benefit by the Payments men|tion'd in the Proposal; as,

    Page  331
  • (1.) 4 s. per Month upon the Wa|ges of all the Seamen employ'd by the Merchant; which if we allow 200000 Seamen always in Employ, as there cannot be less in all the Ships be|longing to England, is 40000 l. per Month.
  • (2.) 40 s. per Ton Freight upon all Goods imported.
  • (3.) 4 per Cent. on the Value of all Goods exported or imported.
  • (4.) 10 s. per Chaldron upon all the Coals shipp'd at Newcastle; and 1 per Cent. on the Ships which carry them.

What these Four Articles wou'd pay to the Exchequer yearly, 'twou'd be very difficult to calculate, and I am too near the End of this Book to attempt it: But I believe no Tax ever given since this War, has come near it.

Page  332 'Tis true, out of this the Publick wou'd be to pay Half-Pay to the Sea|men who shall be out of Employ, and all the Losses and Damages on Goods and Ships; which tho' it might be consi|derable, wou'd be small, compar'd to the Payment aforesaid; for as the Pre|mio of 4 per Cent. is but small, so the Safety lies upon all men being bound to Insure: For I believe any one will grant me this, 'tis not the smallness of a Premio Ruins the Ensurer, but 'tis the smallness of the Quantity he In|sures; and I am not at all asham'd to affirm, That let but a Premio of 4 l. per Cent. be paid into one Man's hand for all Goods Imported and Exported, and any Man may be the General En|surer of the Kingdom, and yet that Premio can never hurt the Merchant neither.

So that the vast Revenue this wou'd raise, wou'd be felt no where, nei|ther Page  333 Poor nor Rich wou'd Pay the more for Coals; Foreign Goods wou'd be brought home cheaper, and our own Goods carri'd to Market cheaper; Owners wou'd get more by Ships, Merchants by Goods, and Losses by Sea wou'd be no Loss at all to any Body, because Repaid by the Publick Stock.

Another unseen Advantage wou'd arise by it, we shou'd be able to out|work all our Neighbours, even the Dutch themselves, by Sailing as cheap, and carrying Goods as cheap in a time of War as in Peace, an Advan|tage which has more in it, than is easily thought of, and wou'd have a noble influence upon all our Foreign Trade. For what cou'd the Dutch do in Trade, if we cou'd carry our Goods to Cadiz at 50 s. per Ton Freight, and they give 8 or 10 l. and the like in other Places? Whereby we cou'd Page  334 be able to Sell cheaper or get more thau our Neighbours.

There are several considerable clau|ses might be added to this Proposal, some of great advantage to the Ge|neral Trade of the Kingdom, some to particular Trades, and more to the Publick; but I avoid being too Parti|cular in things which are but the Pro|duct of my own private Opinion.

If the Government shou'd ever pro|ceed to the Experiment, no question but much more than has been hinted at wou'd appear; nor do I see any great difficulty in the Attempt, or who wou'd be aggriev'd at it; and there I leave it, rather wishing than expecting to see it undertaken.