Maritime Prejudices


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Inger Sheil

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This topic has been broached before, most notably in the case of Harold Lowe. The indignation of some passengers at Asian survivors has also been looked at. It's helpful to view the issue of prejudice in the context of the era - and, as my chest cold threatens to turn into something nastier and I can't get out of doors - I turned to one of Frank Bowen's books for some period material. Bowen was a Royal Marine Captain, and editor of 'Merchant Ships in the World'. The work is not quite contemporary, published as it was in 1923, but it gives an idea of the mindset of the mercantile marine during the first decades of the 20th Century.

Under the heading 'Asiatic crews', Bowen explains that 'Many British steamers carry Asiatic crews, on the grounds of economy and occassionally of sobriety.'

After that begining, he starts to warm to his subject:

It requires three of them to do the work of two Britons, but taken all round the practice would not be so unsatisfactory if it did not cause considerable unemployment and distress...

After describing the duties of a 'deck Serang' and 'Tindals', he decides that:

As a rule, the lascars, or "Indian seamen" as the Sailors' Union insists on their being called, are the most satisfactory. They have few brains, but they give instant and willing obedience, and are splendidly loyal. Malays are very fair, but are apt to be quarrelsome. The Chinaman who goes to sea in a foreign ship is the most troublesome of all, both on deck and below, and may be characterised in the mass as ever ready to be both mutinous and dangerous. Any signs of kindness are regarded as weakness, and they are so ready to use their knives that the only really successful way of handling them is to lay out the nearest at hand at the least sign of sullenness. When treated in this fashion they work pretty well.

Bowen then goes on to make a number of other observations on different races, all about equally risible to modern sensibilities.

I suspect that, as in so many other cases of rampant racism, there was an element of economic threat to the presence of these non-angloceltic crews. The theme of 'they're taking our jobs' is prominant in writing of the time (and is so today, according to some mariners I've spoken with on the subject). There is an element of truth to the idea that the wages of crewmen were undercut by foreign crewmen (not only Asian) - they were simply willing to work for less, and that was a threat.

However, many of these men had proved themselves against this background of entrenched bigotry since The Ocean Steamship Company popularised the practice by hiring Asian crew in 1893 (many of these Blue Funnel men would later stay ashore in Liverpool, forming a thriving Chinese community - 60,000 had settled there by the end of WWI). Their presence in the British Shipping trade was questioned in the House of Lords, with the official response that they had an 'indisputable and inviolate right to serve in the British Mercantile Marine'.

Nor did all seamen agree with Bowen on his views - Harold Lowe differed sharply with him on the question of the merit of Chinese sailors, holding quite the opposite view (he thought them honest, trustworthy and excellent at their jobs). One of the Titanic's other officers also made a comment about non-European crews. Although his use of the term 'dagoes' is highly offensive now, he was actually favourably comparing those men on his watch to whom he applied the term with the 'Britishers' on the other watch.

Nowadays, however, if I read the mood of the mariners correctly - and there are more than a few of them on this board, so they can right me if I'm wrong ;-) - resentment is directed more at those ships flying flags of convenience, rather than those poor underpaid individuals who sail them.

Inger
 
Sep 12, 2000
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In 1972, I worked for a rather exclusive women's clothing store in Atlanta, Georgia. Having recently moved from the DC area and never having been taught differences in people, I lived on Campbellton Road deep in SW Atlanta and loved it there. Hank Aaron's niece was a co-worker with me at this store. We worked the same job and the same hours. She was an excellent worker. One day, this young lady and I were talking about what we would do with our "little extra" from the pay check that week. The manager of this clothing store pulled me aside immediately and advised me that one was never to talk to "them" about money matters. She went on to explain that "those people" have smaller brains and therefore no capacity to think. I said, "Really?" And then I gave her my resignation and I never purchased another thing there.

I have no idea what their "flag of convenience" was, but prejudice was a very horrible thing in those days and it was something that was taught through hatred of a people because they did not "look" or "act" like the other person. And it is still being taught by a few in some places in this world. And as I understand from other threads, ther was fear of catching diseases from folks who would otherwise be in third class. But these were their skewed views of that day.

If I understand what you said about Lowe's observations, it would seem that the whole concept of prejudice was an individual thing. He having been exposed through working with men of different backgrounds had learned to respect those who were not necessarily of anglo/celtic background.

Having lived in the orient for a few years, it does not take long to learn the asian integrity and the family shame that is felt if one does not do a great or better than great job at one's workplace. I frankly was impressed with the work ethic!

But on the question of ship related resentment, I am not an expert on this topic, but I would imagine that it would be the same in any line of work, even now....whether it be a person of different background or even the hiring in one's workplace of more employees to take higher paying jobs is often resented.

Hope my opinion here was helpful.
Maureen.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Ing & Mo,

I think what was believed on shipboard among "mates" was only an extension of what was felt in the world at large though certainly the close quarters of being at sea would make differences seem much greater.

In my own work I have come across statements which are awfully disappointing because we as researchers want our heroes unsullied. That can't be managed. The time in which these people lived, a time of horrendous inequality among the races and women, precludes anyone but the most radical thinkers from across-the-board fairmindedness. The problem I face as a researcher and writer is do I tell everything just as it was originally said when what was originally said may be offensive to modern sensibilities. I haven't figured this one out but my gut feeling is some editing is required to tone down offensive remarks so that readers aren't turned off. (Ing, I'm wondering if you've run across a bit of this dilemma in working on similarly outspoken Lowe?)

Randy
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I can only speak from my own experience in the navy in regards to racial/ethnic predjudice, but unfortunately, it was alive and well.

Also quite baseless as you would find the same share of rotten apples in any given group as you would the good ones, and in my estimation, even more rotten apples among those who felt that they were somehow superior.

In the US Navy during my service, it was quite common to see Philpinos who had enlisted with an eye towards earning US citizenship. I was very impressed with their persistance and attention to detail in just about anything they did. It was unfortunate that they were rarely permitted to serve in ratings requiring a high security claerance, but some specialties(Like nuclear power, intelligence specialist and so on) were restricted to US citizens only, as if that were some kind of gaurantee of trustworthyness. As the notorious Walker spy ring illustrated, US citizens were as adept at treason as anybody else.

BTW Mo, good for you for walking out on that employer of yours. Is this outfit still in business?

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Sep 12, 2000
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Glad to say, I guess my non-support put them out. But they shortly went out of business. Yes!

It is funny that you say good for you...because I always felt badly for not standing up to that issue. I now ish that I had taken a stand. I am more vocal about things like this and take more of a stand for others who are not in a position to handle things for themselves to to speak out against prejudice. I hate stupid hatred and prejudice is just that!

BTW, went to your site and was impressed. I responded under your...shall I say....Part Deux! Aren't we the best guy around with all those postings. Pat is going to get jealous you know.
But I am fighting Shelley for Randy in another post.
Enjoy your day.
Maureen.
 
Sep 12, 2000
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One thing I wished to add here, is that I think that I read somewhere that Murdoch's family was friends with a somewhat radical author for his times and that even Murdoch himself carried books or had books that were of radical thinking for his day. Even his marriage was a very radical marriage in that his wife was allowed to work after they married and I don ot believe that that was something that happened then. Maybe this is why Smith chose the men he did, because he knew their character and how they would treat people.

I guess that I bring this up because I think that the officers of titanic were perhaps a unique bunch of men in their views on people, at least unique from the perspective of that day and time.
Just a thought I guess.
Maureen.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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hi Mo, I suspect that the reason Murdoch's wife continued working was because she had to in order to make ends meet. A not uncommon problem today unfortunately. Even then, officers pay wasn't that outstanding and unlike stewards, they couldn't receive tips for their labors. It was not unusual for stewards to make larger incomes then a ships officer...even the Captain...by way of tips alone.(See Maxtone-Graham's "The Only Way To Cross" for more information on this.)

I'm not certain Captain Smith had as much of an influance on choosing his officers either. I could be way wrong on this...and I would welcome input from others on this matter...but I beleive White Star had the final say.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Try The QE2, or any cruise line.

I don't know if you'll be able to stand the aggravation. Customer service is very much an aquired taste.(TRUST me on this one!) However, you did mention being a lawyer, and that means you deal with all manner of idiots you'd dearly love to strangle as a service to the human gene pool. If you can stand that, then I suppose you can stomach the work without killing somebody who desperately needs to be dead.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Sep 12, 2000
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Need to clarify that, I was only Al Jolson's lawyer in his representation against John Feeney, but otherwise I work with a whole lot of lawyers at my place of employment, but alas I have a computer science degree and am a computer related professional.

And if I did get to the point of strangling anybody someone from my emply would turn me in in a heartbeat. Trust me on that. I would be all ten most wanted.

But I will be in contact with Erik for my job with Captain Stubbing on the love boat tomorrow.

Maureen. (BTW, John says that Al's dead...but I think he just trying to get off light.)
 
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Susan Markowitz

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"Tips"? Did I hear "tips"? (With my luck, it would be, "Bet on Seattle Slew in the ninth race." :))

Unfortunately, as Michael says, steward(ess)-ing ranks somewhere in there with waiter/tress-ing; a tough way to earn a living. Of course, you do get to travel; but on today's cruise-ships, you get precious little time in port -- even in your home-port, with same-day turnarounds.

Then, too, you might have to deal with a crotchety head-waiter or -steward. If you can find it, a recent issue of "Seabreezes" had an article by a former waiter (I believe) whose superior kept playing nasty pranks on the staff, stashing away pieces of tableware and then accusing the staff of negligence. They finally caught on and, erm, turned the tables. :)

On a more serious note, tho, that truly was brave of you to resign from that job, Maureen. You may not have stood up as strongly as you wished -- but you did act, which is more than a lot of others might have done. Besides, there are times when speaking out with people like that is merely wasting one's breath.

In these supposedly "enlightened" times, it's often difficult to realize just how entrenched prejudicial attitudes were in much of the world at the turn of the last century -- and how much of it still exists today, albeit in more subtle forms. By coincidence, our local newspaper has been running a series on current-day immigrants in the States; it was sad to hear how many of them encounter bias on a regular basis.

Regards to all -- Susan
 
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Dear Susan,

Thanks so much for your kind words. Some people actually teach their children that there are physical differences is a human/non human way to their children. It is really sick.

Where I work, there are many folks from all over the world with all kinds of backgrounds and I was walking out front of our building and a young woman walked by and saw a group of asian men, who work for us standing together due to a work detail they were on. She turned to her friend and said, look they could be terrorists otherwise why would the chinese be here.

I stand amazed and disgusted at people's ignorance, then (1912) as well as now (2000.
Maureen.
 
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Susan Markowitz

Guest
Thanks, Maureen -- you made my day. :)

Oh, yes, it's deeply upsetting to see such attitudes, especially in this day and age. I saw so much of it growing up that I was determined to raise my child differently, to teach him tolerance, and civility, and respect.

What gives me the greatest hope for his, and our, future, is the messages that have been added to this thread. It warms my heart to know that all of you are out there, feeling and caring as you do; we may be a minority, but so long as we "hang in there", there's hope for the world.

All the best -- Susan :)
 
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I. M. McVey

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Hallo, all,

It is true that William Murdoch apparently may have read an author unusual for his time -- that author being the Anarchist/poet John Henry MacKay. (Might I add here that Anarchism in Wm's day was more than a wee different than that of today? It was far more of an Utopian ideal than the angry bomb-throwing that the term brings to mind in our modern age.) This supposition comes about from the fact that he signed a menu on the RMS "Medic" (prounounced 'Mee-dic') with a tag from MacKay. Whether it is from MacKay's work 'The Anarchists', or from MacKay's poetry, we don't know. That menu was kept by his good friend James McGiffin, who was Chief Officer of the "Medic" at the time, and who was to be Marine Superintendent at Queenstown at the time of the sinking of the "Titanic", and thus the last official of the White Star Line to see and board the ship.

But JH MacKay was not personally known to either William Murdoch or his family. The only author of note that was known to the family was Conrad, who was apparently a friend of Captain Samuel Murdoch, Wm Murdoch's Father.

As for the reasons Ada Murdoch worked, it wasn't due to a paltry wage on Wm's part. Whilst it is true that not all Lines paid well, Wm worked for one of the premier Lines of his time, and on the best ships of that Line. His wage was quite enough on its own to provide a comfortable living for he and his wife Ada, and was also enough to also allow the couple to have a decent savings. So, her working was highly unusual for the time, but it was also a time of great change, so the Murdochs were more of the 'cutting edge' than being simply radical and unconformist.

In hindsight, one sees the wisdom of a childless wife continuing to work whilst her husband is at sea. Ada was, by all accounts, a very intelligent woman, and how sad it would have been had she been forced to stop all of her intellectual activity and stay quietly at home in Belmont Road simply to observe the proprieties!

We don't know for certain if, or where, Ada might have worked, but it has been passed down that she did work (she was a teacher). Unfortunately, the German bombings of WWII destroyed many buildings (and thus, records) in Southampton, making it difficult to track any records of her possible employment in Soton during her marriage.

If anything is found out, will let you know, but I don't have high hopes on the matter. So much has been lost....

Hope this sheds a wee light and is interesting!

Kind regards, Ilya M
 

Inger Sheil

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Randy

Interesting comment re 'editing'. I do know what it is to come across a remark made by the subject and grin wryly and wonder 'what on earth were you thinking?', or 'apt, but tactless!', but I don't think editing the remarks is the way to go - although I'm certain you're not referring to in any way altering historical utterances or writings as they have come down to us. Even aside from the fact that it's the 'negative' character traits that are often as interesting as the 'positive' traits, and questions of ethics, it wouldn't be possible: other researchers would be on me like a shot. And, as Kerri often snorts, 'what - does anyone think I'd let you get away with whitewashing the man?'

People, particularly those who are involved in the field of popular history, are intent on black and white judgements, and it seems that every word or action must be judged and the historical figure found guilty or innocent. Mind you, I doubt the most hardline critics would enjoy it if a similar scrutinising glance was turned on their own words and actions - a throwaway line can be blown out of all proportion, and a thoughtless utterance, while it might be the key to a personality facet, might also simply be borne of frustration, anger, loss of temper etc.

One thing that I have found important is putting these words in their historical context, however. Lowe's emphatic language would be more of an issue than it is if we didn't appreciate that it was typical of his background. As it is, while it does signify something about his personality, it does not assume the same importance that it would if a man of genteel upbringing had the same lexicon. I imagine this is something you've found in your subject - context is of vital importance. View a phrase in isolation, and it can give a totally misleading impression of an individual's character and temperament. Likewise, a view that is intolerably racist, sexist, classist etc. by our own standards cannot be understood if we interpret it by today's mores.

Inevitably, the biographers of each age add their own patina of expectations and interpretation over the figures of the past. The Lawrence of Arabia from the biographies that appeared in the immediate aftermath of his death is not quite the same Lawrence of 'The Golden Warrior'. Schools of
interpretation and our ways of perceiving the past change - compare an 1865 biography of Lincoln to Sandburg, then turn to his most recent biographers.

Cycles, revisionist and reactionary, are at work. Later generations can have cause to regret censoring, however benevolently it is meant to be: Charlotte Bronte in a sense 'edited' her sisters to make their personalities more congenial to her Victorian audience, and Charlotte herself was 'edited' by her first biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell.

And anyway, it would be such a sterile world if there were no Harold Lowes or Luciles to drop the odd brick - if they didn't exist, we'd have to invent them.

Regards,

Inger
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Inger,

True enough! But,no the editing I was thinking of is mild and I would probably not have the ultimate decision on it anyway. Publishers do as they will.

However I feel a word can be very strong and can relate a message of hate when the original word as it was used was not intended to do so. Also the case I have in mind re: Lucile was a statement containing a racial epithet made in private to her sister and related to me by L's granddaughter, now deceased. I have as of now left this word in my mss as it gives (to me) an insight into her sense of humor and her adversarial relationship with her sister. The scene was mentioned in the previous biography of Lucile but the word was altered. I have the original word used by L in a letter from her granddaughter.

My fear is that people of a certain ethnic persuasion who might read this will be injured and misunderstand the context in which she used the term. When I get the courage up I may give more details so that I can get your opinion as well as that of others here on ET, especially individuals who are of a racial minority who can provide special insight.

Randy
 

Inger Sheil

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Randy -

Now you really *have* piqued my curiousity...will be very curious to see this comment. It can be very difficult to present a view in the context of its era without being seen to in any way condone it.

I can think of specific instances in which Lightoller and another officer used the term 'dagoes' to describe crewmen - in one instance there were certainly derogatory overtones, in the second it was simply a loose descriptive term used for non-English crewmen, and was actually followed by some complimentary remarks.

It wouldn't be the first time some of this interesting material made its way to the Editorial 'cutting room floor' - Herndan had a good deal of material on Lincoln that went unpublished in his lifetime. In the field of Australian biography, early writers substituted a less offensive term in remarks Ned Kelly allegedly made to Steve Hart. Hart was apparently upset that Kelly had called him 'a bloody thing'. He was very disturbed - repeating to one witness that he admired Kelly, but Ned had no right to call him 'a bloody thing'. Now, if the sentance had been presented 'a bloody ----' I would have realised that 'thing' wasn't really the objectionable term. As it was, it wasn't until much later when I read the actual word that I realised why the utterance was so offensive.

You could always add an editorial comment on the racial overtones of the remark, but this can be a bit cumbersome, and even intrusive (some readers might dislike having the obvious pointed out to them). On the other hand, you do run the risk of being seen to condone it if you do not comment (people have interesting ideas about authors and authority). Perhaps - if it doesn't disrupt the narrative flow of the work too much - you might actually refer to the substitution? It would be a wonderful opportunity to correct the historical record, as you have uncovered the material. And, as I'm certain your portrait of Lucille will be comprehensive, the reader is not going to loose sight of who she essentially was because she used the lexicon of her era.

All the best,

Ing
 

Inger Sheil

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Ilya -

It is indeed interesting! Ada and her independence...she seems to have been a rather cultivated woman - one can't imagine Murdoch (who had something of a choice in the matter) picking any other girl.

So many of those officers were very literate men - and one of them was related to a rather August literary figure. They knew their Masefield ;-) It's a trait I've noticed today in their modern professional descendents.

As an aside, it seems those long voyages Down Under bred romance. William and Ada, Lights and Sylvia, Pitman and Mimi...even Boxhall and that brief, ill-fated love affair. Wilde married a local girl (very local - about a street over in Liverpool), and Lowe also chose a local lass. Moody's romance with a young woman remains, alas, completely mysterious.

At any rate, many thanks for the thoughtful reply. I remember you taking us through many of the Southampton sites, from Belmore Rd to the site of the old Polygon - tremendous stuff. There are things we laypeople try to see and feel and understand, but it's at least partly abstract until a man who knows it shares his knowledge and insight.

All the best,

Ing
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Ing and others.

Well the wee hours of the night seem a safe enough place to post ciber-combustibles! So here is the racial slur Lucile used that I am concerned over and which I may suggest to editors to have omitted or altered. Those of you who have not been following this thread please scroll up to read my intention in posting this publicly. I welcome all comments and advice.

OK, in 1921 Lucile and her equally formidable sister, romance novelist Elinor Glyn, were visiting their elderly mother Mrs. David Kennedy in London. Elinor was just over from America where she was writing screen adaptations of her books for Paramount studios in Hollywood and Lucile was in from Paris after unveiling her Fall collection. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with either of these extraordinary women, they were tremendously jealous of one another's fame and so were constantly in competition. Elinor was a notorious snob, surrounding herself with aristocrats and Royals, while Lucile, essentially an artist, preferred the company of other artists, writers, musicians, actors. Lucile hated her sister's stuffy friends. "Aunt Nell does love a duke," Lucile told her daughter once. And Elinor thought Lucile's friends were "weirdos and hooligans" or as she once also put it, "all of the caste of troiseme sexe and spies."

Friends and family have stated that disputes between them often reached the scale of near battles, so vitriolic were some of their exchanges.

This occasion proved no exception, so as Elinor bragged to their mum about her success in Hollywood, i.e., bringing "culture" through fine films to the uncouth masses of America, etc., etc., Lucile rolled her eyes and pursed her lips in exasperation. Finally, fed up with so much self-puffery, Lucile changed the subject to fashion and held center stage discussing all the new styles. Elinor sat smirking. Lucile noticed her expression and, turning to her, scolded her for wearing her skirts too short. "But it's the fashion, Lucy," Elinor retorted. "Please," Lucile sniffed, "Only the niggers in Harlem wear them now!" Elinor was enraged by the remark but Mrs. Kennedy intervened to prevent a further outburst between her two headstrong daughters. Unbeknownst to the three ladies, Lucile's twelve year old granddaughter who had accompanied her, was listening intently at the door in the next room. She is thus the first-hand, though covert, source for this amusing, if indelicate, tale.

Now, this event was related in "The 'It' Girls" by Meredith Etherington-Smith but the awful "N" word was amended to "negresses."

Should I leave the original word in my account? It could be argued that it gives a realistic impression of the sisters' rivalry, racist remark notwithstanding. Still, the word is harsh. What to do?

Randy
 
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