Stoker/Trimmer Employment on Titanic


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Jack Dawson

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Hi, Generally when reading of Titanic's stokers and trimmers, only the briefest of mention is made to how they came to sign on to the ship. My pretty basic understanding, is that an individual would seek employment for a voyage on a ship by ship basis, rather than a permanent position with a certain line, but I'd like to learn more.

I'm not too clear on what paperwork they would have needed to seek that position, but I assume they have to give something?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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The Captain was a full time employee who earned an annual salary. As you suggest, everybody else signed on for the duration of each return voyage, with no guarantee that they would be re-engaged for the next. In practice, however, crew members who were well known and had a continuous record of good conduct and satisfactory performance could expect to be re-engaged. Details of each voyage including assessments of conduct and competence were recorded in the seaman's discharge book, which would need to be produced by any man or woman in the queue to sign on for a voyage. The crew did not get their books back until they were discharged at the end of the voyage, so there was no way of avoiding any negative endorsements if their conduct or competence were not up to scratch. There were not a few crew members on the Titanic who had never been to sea before, so presumably they had needed a character reference from a previous employer or perhaps from a schoolmaster to obtain their first discharge book.
 

Dave Gittins

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At the time, there were only two kinds of reports made by the captains. Conduct was either 'very good' or 'decline to report'. A 'decline to report' could end a career.

After the sinking, many of the surviving crew had to have their books reconstructed to show their previous voyages. Here's a record of a man named Ackerley, who was on Carpathia during the rescue of Titanic's survivors. The second last entry shows the voyage concerned.

Ackerley record.jpg
 

Rob Lawes

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Jun 13, 2012
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On a ship with hundreds of crew the skipper must have needed a new wrist after signing every single discharge book.

The father of a friend of mine who served in the merchant navy once described to me a building in Southampton in the pre-computer age where the walls displayed cards listing employment opportunities on various ships. Much like a job centre, you selected the voyage you wanted and then the staff would do the necessary paperwork.

Out of interest, how were the Titanic crews logbooks recreated? Did a crew man keep a seperate document that listed his / her voyages as a back up in case they lost their book? How was it verified to ensure they were telling the truth?
 

Dave Gittins

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Presumably claims could be checked against old crew lists. As to signing, at least some of the signatures on the above document are rubber stamps, as are details of the voyages. I have a document listing the Titanic crew survivors and their ability and conduct are all marked VG, with a rubber stamp.

I once knew a sailor from the heyday of the US merchant marine. He described going to the shipping office and choosing a voyage that appealed to him, just as you describe. Those were the days!
 

Jim Currie

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Back then, their was a thing in the UK called "The pool". This was simply the Local Shipping Office. You were either a 'Pool' man or a Company man.
If a man needed work, he would go down to The pool and see what was on offer. If he saw a vacancy which suited him, he would go to the desk and apply for it.
The master of the ship had to sign an agreement with every single member of the crew.(inked rubber signature stamps were a Godsend). The Articles of Agreement were signed by each crew member in front of the local Superintendent of the Shipping Office. Normally these articles were for a single voyage or for 2 years. Each deck crew member had to have appropriate proof of past experience. This would have been submitted before signing-on. Other than two certificated engineers, the engine room staff did not have to have any statutory qualifications.
In ships crewed by colonials, in India or Hong Cong for example, the procedure was a bit different but essentially the same.

The Official Log book contained a list of Crew Members. Against each name, the master made a conduct report. A Decline to Report was a nasty . On the other hand, a seaman could opt to have the lesser notation.. ENR... Endorsement Not Required. All was not lost though. The seaman could appeal against the master's report and the Superintendent mentioned earlier would look into the circumstances. If he thought fit, he could issue the seaman with a certificate indicating that in his opinion, the DR was unjustified.
 
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Jack Dawson

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Hi everyone, this is good information on the subject. It has cleared up a lot of the questions I had in mind. Weren't many of the deck crew former RNR men too?
 
May 3, 2005
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Were there such things as the equivalent of different departments such as operations, engineering, etc. and specialty rating such as BM''s, YN's, etc. in the navy in ships such as the Titanic ?
 
Feb 9, 2008
14
3
73
ANYWHERE-BUT-HERE
At the time, there were only two kinds of reports made by the captains. Conduct was either 'very good' or 'decline to report'. A 'decline to report' could end a career.

After the sinking, many of the surviving crew had to have their books reconstructed to show their previous voyages. Here's a record of a man named Ackerley, who was on Carpathia during the rescue of Titanic's survivors. The second last entry shows the voyage concerned.

View attachment 2029
I was once sacked off a ship in downtown Beaumont Texas after a 3am row on the plates with a steaming drunk Chief Engineer. It was the only time my relief on the 4-8 had been early the whole voyage.
However, the point of the story is this when I refused to apologise to said Chief I was dismissed the vessel and only on the flight home did I glance at my Discharge Book and found in it that the Old man had written Conduct Unacceptable!
That meant an end to my seagoing career. Eventually both the Old Man and the Chief were made to rescind those remarks, but even then instead of V. Good which even the biggest drunkard on the ship always received all I received was Good for conduct.
At least they didn't end my career, next trip I was promoted 3rd Engineer by a sober Chief Engineer! And I never sailed with those two again, the Chief was eventually brought ashore and fired for chronic alcoholism! A first in the annals of the British Merchant Navy! LOL
 
Feb 9, 2008
14
3
73
ANYWHERE-BUT-HERE

Back then, their was a thing in the UK called "The pool". This was simply the Local Shipping Office. You were either a 'Pool' man or a Company man.
If a man needed work, he would go down to The pool and see what was on offer. If he saw a vacancy which suited him, he would go to the desk and apply for it.
The master of the ship had to sign an agreement with every single member of the crew.(inked rubber signature stamps were a Godsend). The Articles of Agreement were signed by each crew member in front of the local Superintendent of the Shipping Office. Normally these articles were for a single voyage or for 2 years. Each deck crew member had to have appropriate proof of past experience. This would have been submitted before signing-on. Other than two certificated engineers, the engine room staff did not have to have any statutory qualifications.
In ships crewed by colonials, in India or Hong Cong for example, the procedure was a bit different but essentially the same.

The Official Log book contained a list of Crew Members. Against each name, the master made a conduct report. A Decline to Report was a nasty . On the other hand, a seaman could opt to have the lesser notation.. ENR... Endorsement Not Required. All was not lost though. The seaman could appeal against the master's report and the Superintendent mentioned earlier would look into the circumstances. If he thought fit, he could issue the seaman with a certificate indicating that in his opinion, the DR was unjustified.

Remember going to the Shipping Federation in Prescott Street London to get my Discharge Book sorted out, I'd already got a job so I was a "Company Man", walked up to the desk and was met with the blackest of looks, "Officers next door" the bloke said loud enough for all the guys milling about to hear quite clearly. Not sure how to describe the feeling as I was about a half inch in height by this time, a straight guy walking into a gay bar perhaps, or walking in on your mum and dad procreating? LOL
I also remember going to a small office in Dock Street to collect my Seaman's Card, our "Passports" ashore cos the Old Man held all the Passports.
Happy days, wish I'd stayed longer than my 10 years in the Merchant Navy.
 

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