SAVED FROM WRECK BUT NO WAGES!
SWANSEA LIFEBOAT SAVES THE CREW OF EIGHT FROM
THE SUCCESS OF SOUTH SHIELDS
The crew of the brig SUCCESS, signed articles for a voyage from her home port of South Shields to Havre and return. Having delivered a cargo of coal at le Havre the voyage was changed, and the crew made a new agreement to go to Swansea, then to le Havre and return to Shields.
A cargo of coal was loaded at Swansea and the vessel sailed for le Havre on 21 May 1860. She made slow progress down the Bristol Channel against contrary winds. After a few days a WNW gale sprang up forcing the master, Thomas Brown, to put about and return. The brig reached Mumbles on 25 May but as the crew tried to anchor in the roads the main chain parted. The vessel had lost her head sails and drifted out of the roadstead and across the bay to strand on Neath bar.
The Swansea lifeboat was launched from the South Dock manned by its crew of thirteen and rescued Capt Brown and the seven hands of the Success who were put up at the Sailors Home which was then in Orchard Street. A few days later they were able to return home to Shields thanks to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.
The Success broke up and her wreckage was washed up along the shore of Swansea Bay - parts of her log book were found near Sker Point and handed to Lloyd's agent at Porthcawl.
The crew had survived a shipwreck and got home but had no wages. William Trobe, managing owner of the Success, was at Swansea dealing with the authorities in connection with the wreck so the men applied to the co-owner for their wages but were refused. They then applied to the magistrates at Shields and Thomas Brown was summoned to appear at the magistrates court. Seaman George Gilbert's case was used as a test.
Under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act wages were payable only up to the time the vessel was wrecked. However a clause in section 187 of the act allowed a claim to be made if wages were not paid within a certain time. The men had been waiting for two weeks so entered a claim. Gilbert had received £4 15shilings on account and now claimed £4 10s plus compensation. The bench decided he was entitled to two voyages at £4-17-6d each and 10 days compensation at single pay. They therefore made an order for £6-6-8d being the balance due.
This is just one example of the way in which merchant seamen were treated. Britain may have had the largest merchant fleet in the world at the time but the conditions of pay, sleeping quarters, and food were very poor.