Seafarers Tell Their Tales
Stories provide a considered way into a past world in this third section of the site. “Seafarers Tell Their Tales” exemplifies research as a grounded and reflective process. Our ability to show you the twists and turns of history as lived by these people builds upon the approach that started with understanding the evidence recovered from the archive.
Alexander Stuart MacKay
As an apprentice officer on the Armadale, Alexander MacKay produced a journal. This, combined with a crew photograph, and the Agreement for the vessel on the voyage to New York and Melbourne of 1901-2, informs “his tale”. You can listen to a scripted version of his journal, follow his voyage track, and identify his shipmates in the crew picture.
William Martin and Violet Jessop
There were careers to be made in the stewards' and catering departments of large
passenger liners, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when
there was more demand for these workers than for any other part of the seafaring
workforce. Violet Jessop's reminiscences shape one narrative, William Martin's
discharge book and steward's guide suggest another. Images and reproductions of
primary documents are interlaced with their scripts, evoking their work routines and
surroundings. This provides insights into what it was like to be on board ship as a man
performing domestic and personal service tasks and for a woman in a man's workplace.
Futley Ali Kala
“Lascar” is not in use today, but as a period term it identified men who were engaged
at ports in India under the special terms of a running Agreement. The conditions to
which these men agreed were inferior to those of Europeans. “Asiatic Agreements” are
few in the MHA, but using the extant documents we examine how this labour force was
constituted. Futley Ali Kala, a Lascar ship's fireman, and a witness to an official enquiry
in 1902, is the source of some insights. The trade unionist, Havelock Wilson, questions
Ali Kala, so details are included here of the union's policy on non-British seafaring
workers. The fact that Ali Kala spoke through a translator makes us cautious of claiming
this as his authentic “tale”. Rather we take the opportunity to reflect on the informal
histories of settler groups of seafarers and what this emerging interest says for the use
of the MHA resources.
Between the time of our first spotting Henry Johnson as a member of the Juno crew and our preparation of this last part of the website, more evidence about him emerged than the team had ever thought likely. True, the only personal artifact we recovered was his signature on the Agreements, but even without a photograph, journal, or a testimony to an official enquiry, Johnson's tale is well worth telling, In this case we do not put words into his mouth, but instead “Henry Johnson Revisited” is a tale of historical research with the twists and turns of the discovery process made apparent. In the audio file, a researcher discusses seafarers' wages, health and literacy, as well as cargoes, vessel ownership and deployment. She also explains what Johnson did when he quit the sea, and here we catch up on the story of seafarers ashore.