Printer Friendly

The sea in Liverpool's history.

THE story of Liverpool is bound up with the sea, without the enduring influences of which its whole destiny would have been different. When the traveller, Richard Blome, visited Liverpool in 1673, he noticed that it contained |divers eminent merchants, whose trade and traffic, especially with the West Indies, made it famous'. The growth in Liverpool's trade naturally also caused a rapid growth in its population, amounting to about 5,000 people at the beginning of the eighteenth century. A merchant like Sir Thomas Johnson, for example, MP for Liverpool between 1701 and 1723, laid the basis of the trans-Atlantic traffic in tobacco. The tobacco trade in Liverpool obsessed him, even to the exclusion of the military campaigns of the great Duke of Marlborough. His extant correspondence, especially with Richard Norris, of Speke, abundantly indicates how wearisome he found London and how much and often he longed to be back in the Northern emporium. It was an era of commercial speculation, leading up to the notorious |South Sea Bubble', of 1720. Sir Thomas seems then to have been involved in many highly risky business ventures, most of them reaching out across Liverpool's inviting sea. It cost him a small fortune: about 8,000[pounds] by the year 1719. Depleted in his resources, in 1723, he finally left England for the lucrative post of |Collector of Customs' in distant Virginia: yet another reminder of the role of the sea for Liverpool, linking the Old World with the New.

During the eighteenth century Liverpool fostered many privateers, of whom William Hutchinson is the outstanding example. He fitted out many ships from Liverpool, during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). He seized many French ships in the Mediterranean, bringing them back as prizes to Liverpool. He acquired much Liverpool pride, despite his origins in the northeast. It was said, |he might have been born within the sound of St. Nicholas's bells', on the Liverpool waterfront. But his roving years ended when, in 1759, he was appointed Liverpool's first |dock-master'. He played a big part in developing Liverpool's docks, especially King's Dock (1788) and Queen's Dock (1796). He wrote a famous and influential book, Practical Seamanship (1777). Its hints on the conduct of naval warfare were subsequently of much use during the French Wars, well after Hutchinson's own lifetime. This book is surprisingly pragmatic about the nature of successful privateering:

Safety as well as success, in my opinion, depends greatly on the manner these

ships are fitted out. Trading ships, designed more for defence than offence, I

would recommend to be made to look as big, powerful and warlike as possible,

in order to intimidate. But privateers, on the contrary, should look as little and

defenceless and conceal their power as much as possible, till there is a real

occasion for it, and then as suddenly as possible to make it known to give the

greater surprise, which I can say from experience often gives great advantages.

The ship should be able to support the size of its guns without being too crank

for a sailing and fighting ship. The ship should not be overcrowded or overburdened

with the heavy cannon. A round iron cannon ball is to be preferred.

A crew of about 160 is to be expected.

In 1789, Hutchinson was the founder of the Liverpool Marine Society, for the relief of widows and children of seamen lost at sea. He was, it was said, |a thorough master of his profession, and observant of the minutest details'. He devoted the final years of his life to highly useful studies of the meteorology and tides of the Mersey Estuary and died at the age of eighty-four on 11 February, 1801. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas', Liverpool, almost within sight and sound of the docks, where so much of his life and work had been spent.

Another illuminating example of the role of the sea in the history of Liverpool was Bryan Blundell (1674-1756). He made great personal wealth, plying the trade routes between Liverpool and the West Indies. In 1708 he was one of the founders of Liverpool's famous 'Blue Coat School' for the education of poor boys and girls. He, too, was buried after his death in the waterfront church of St. Nicholas.

Commercial ventures, virtually on a global range and scale, effectively created the wealth, whether individual or communal, of Liverpool, up to and including the crucial Victorian era. Sir John Gladstone (1764-1851) became a |merchant prince', distinguishing by his acumen and foresight Liverpool from any other place in the land. He also gave Liverpool an enhanced fame, an enduring role in history, as the birthplace of his famous son, W. E. Gladstone, the Victorian Prime Minister. Even in 1875, |W.E.G.' had not forgotten his great, indomitable father: Sir John Gladstone had done honour to the commerce of England. The more I think of him the more I respect his name and his memory'. Incidentally, it is historically inaccurate to suggest that the Gladstone fortune owed a lot to the institution of slavery. Sir John opposed the abolition of slavery in the interests of the slaves as well as the planters, arguing that |paternalism' would be lost. In the summer of 1833 he refused to allow |W.E.G.' to visit the family properties in Demerara, in order to see things for himself. In 1837, after the final British abolition of slavery, Sir John gladly received in compensation the large sum of 85,600[pounds]. But a few years after that the family plantations in Demerara were all sold so that somewhat dubious episode in the history of the Gladstone fortunes was finally closed. By 1849, he had liquidated his sugar plantations among the islands of the British West Indies. That was the end of Sir John Gladstone's sugar adventures, of which far too much has generally been made.

Another very interesting example of successful mercantile enterprise, emanating from Victorian Liverpool, was Sir William Brown (1784-1864), later to be a benefactor of the |Brown Library' in the City. Belfast born, in his youth he served as a shipping agent in Baltimore, Maryland. His first contact with Liverpool came in 1810, when be moved out of linen and into cotton. The hazards of the trans-Atlantic trade, particularly during the War of 1812 with the USA, induced him gradually to relinquish his commercial links with the family firm in Baltimore. These did not entirely cease, but after 1815 Liverpool became his effective base, where the sea took up less and less of his time and his attention, until he had ploughed much of his maritime profits into land-based merchant banking, at which he was very successful. Much of that business, however, was generated from or by America. It was very severely hit by the American Civil War, but that came at the end of Brown's life. For many years he was accepted as an unofficial envoy and adviser about Anglo-American relations, even at Cabinet level and his advice was often sought about life and conditions in America. He was the founder of the |Brown Library' in 1860. The commemorative brochure for that occasion, still preserved in Liverpool, was decorated with the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes.

The role of the sea in the earlier chapters of Liverpool's history lay in generating commercial gain and wealth, but its role changed as a result of new conditions of the late Victorian period. It became one of communications in particular the passenger traffic to North America. People rather than commodities became the basis of Liverpool's enduring links with the sea. The City, guided by the famous Samuel Cunard, pioneered the first regular steamship services between England and North America. Thus it became the home of the passenger-liner. The Cunard Line, out of Liverpool, was by no means confined to North America. In 1852, it opened a new service to Gibraltar, Malta and Istanbul. The popular range was extended when, in 1860, the first 'steerage passages' were introduced for North America. The first of the Cunard ships to go from Liverpool to Bombay, via Suez, made the trip in 1880. By 1900, the Company had eight ships on the trans-Atlantic crossing. Its twentieth century ships included both the Lusitania and the Mauretania. Cunard's ships were influential in fostering the Anglo-American relations. In their first years they carried both English plants for American gardens, and American plants for English gardens, particularly for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, opened in 1841. The Cunard line, after 1841, supplied special glass containers for the trans-Atlantic freight in botanical specimens. It must have been largely because of that achievement that Samuel Cunard, in 1846, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Similarly, Alfred Holt (1829-191 1) derived much of his early enthusiasms for maritime enterprises from his recollections of his visit to Ireland in 1845, at the height of the Potato Famine. He set up the famous |Blue Funnel' line, based in Liverpool, on 11 January, 1865. His first ship, the Agamemnon, left Liverpool for China in the spring of 1866. His ensuing ships all had Homeric names: Achilles, Nestor, Argo and Ganymede. Unlike Cunard ships, they went mostly to China and the Far East. By 1875, the Holt fleet comprised a total of fourteen ships. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 greatly helped the Holt line, as it did many other Liverpool shipowners. The 'Blue Funnel' line eventually became world famous, alike for freight and for passengers. After 1870, its ships were much in use, taking Moslem pilgrims to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, en route for the Holy Places at Mecca. By 1913, its biggest ships, the Nestor and the Ulysses each had excellent facilities for some 280 passengers. Alfred Holt himself was an inveterate traveller, especially in the United States, which he visited in 1873. He recorded then, between Kansas City and Denver, his view from the train of enormous herds of buffaloes, 'as far as the eye could see'. In 1881, he went in the Argo, on a cruise of the Norwegian fjords, and later he used the same ship as a yacht for sundry Mediterranean cruises. He thoroughly enjoyed life, but rumour has it that he spent some of his happiest moments at the Punch and Judy shows in his native Liverpool.

Another American link -- although this time with South rather than North America -- is in the story of the Booth line, which was founded by two brothers, Alfred (1834-1914) and Charles Booth (1840-1916). It originated largely in freight, taking on passengers only later. It concentrated especially on Brazil and the Amazon Basin. It began its first regular services to Brazil in 1866, using the Augustine and the Jerome, each of just over 1,000 tons, and each built in Liverpool. In those days the return journey between Liverpool and Brazil took about 23 days in each direction. By 1890, the passenger services had become important. These extended up the Amazon River, as far as Manaos, whose new-found wealth, based on rubber, created an oasis of Western civilization in the jungle. Perhaps the most amazing feature of the operations of the Booth line in South America occurred in 1901, when the company took over a local concern to convey passengers the whole length of the Amazon, as far as Iquitos in Peru. The Hildebrand, built at Aberdeen in 1893, became the flagship of the Booth line, especially for the passenger traffic along the Amazon, and it was also the first ship of the Booth line to be provided with specially devised anti-mosquito fittings. For many years, therefore, Liverpool was proud to witness regular departures of the Booth line vessels, from the River Mersey: sights that become items in the local folk memory.

Tall ships of the famous Harrison line went forth from the Mersey from the beginning of 1853. They were essentially the projects of Thomas Harrison (1815-88), soon to be joined by his brother, James (1821-91). No less than six of its ships were commandeered for service in the Crimean War. During the American Civil War (1861-65), one of its ships, the Gladiator, was sold to the Confederate States at a good profit to become a |blockade runner'. During the later decades of the nineteenth century, Barrison ships based in Liverpool regularly went to both North and South America. James Harrison, in particular, became a personal friend of the great Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who after 1854 was struggling for the construction of the Suez Canal. The Harrison line was among the first shipping companies of the world to appreciate the benefits and the possibilities of the Canal properly. Its ships, trading to the Far East, first used that Canal in 1870. By 1882, the Harrison line bad gained a truly global trade with 24 large ships in its fleet. In 1902, it commenced its freight services to South Africa, to be followed in 1913 by passenger services. Many of its ships were lost in the two World Wars. Ship building costs have further reduced its fleet since then, but its operations are still quite extensive.

Trips to both South America and the Far East also demonstrated the global activities of the Liverpool shipping line founded by Sir Thomas Brocklebank (1814-1906). In the year 1855, the firm carried out ten voyages to Calcutta, six to China, and sixteen to South America with varying success and profitability. It confidently made the necessary transition, from sail to steam and from wood to iron. It was in the forefront of all such maritime innovations. As off-shoots of the Indian trade, the firm quite early embarked upon trading ventures to Batavia, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Japan and China. At the same time in South America its ships carried Liverpool's reputation as far off as Valparaiso, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. After 1873 the Brocklebank line gave up South American sailings and relied more and more on the Calcutta tea trade. It claimed to be using the biggest cargo ships in the world, of 3,000 tons. It began to carry passengers in 1870 and by the end of the century its passenger services had become as important as freight. In 1960, it maintained a substantial fleet of ships, trading especially to Calcutta, Chittagong, Pondicherry, Savannah, New York and Boston.

Nor are more direct echoes of the sea in Liverpool's literature at all difficult to find. John Masefield (1878-1967), the Poet Laureate, served as a cadet on HMS Conway in the Mersey and his writings often reflect Liverpool's long and close associations with the sea. He often visited Liverpool and wrote: |I am the English sea-queen; I am she who made the English wealthy by the sea. The street of this very City is the tide where the world's ships that bring my glory ride'. He could still 'spin many sea yarns about Liverpool', some of them derived from his youth, on HMS Conway. That had been |the last of the sailing ships still at home in Liverpool'. Sailing, ships, and the sea were inextricably associated with Liverpool: its pride and its wealth. Masefield remarked also that it had been Sir John Gladstone who had sent out from Liverpool the first trading ship to distant India, thus pioneering what was to become a large and lucrative trade. Liverpool for him was always to be extolled as |A Capital, whose highway is the sea', transcending even the substantial edifices of its public buildings, even its great Cathedral, where Masefield in 1950 attended a civic service, graced by hymns mostly about the sea.

Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-79) is the famous author of The Cruel Sea. This book relates his wartime experiences as a naval officer, serving on trans-Atlantic convoys into Liverpool during the last war. He was awarded the prestigious |Heinemann Foundation Prize' for The Cruel Sea and in 1964 he was summoned to his native Liverpool to attend the one-man exhibition organized in his honour in the |Brown Library'.

The sea in Liverpool's literature is a theme of immense variety, interest, and significance. We may decide that Liverpool's literary links with the sea, as seen by Masefield and Monsarrat, are relatively small in comparison with its more land-based literary links, de Quincey, Felicia Hemans, Dickens, and the Victorian Nonconformist, Silas K. Hocking. Yet the sea has been vital for the more practical concerns in Liverpool's history. For the bulk of those concerned over the centuries with Liverpool's sea, from Cunard to Booth, Brocklebank and Harrison, life was a harder and more rewarding school than literature.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Liverpool, England
Author:Glasgow, Eric
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:A visit to the Auvers-Sur-Oise of Vincent van Gogh.
Next Article:Westminster: Does Parliament Work?

Related Articles
City nominated as the region's best day out.
Clipper yacht race comes to Liverpool.
City wins race for the Clipper.
CHOICES: Hope across the Irish Sea; Education in the round at Liverpool Hope.
Model ideas flood in as culture chiefs ask: Who deserves a new city statue?
The big race is on to find a starter!
Your letters: Borderline case made.
Liverpool shares pride in the mighty QM2.
Letter: All in a name.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters