SEEING EUROPE ON A CATTLE-BOAT.
by T. Scott.
“Wanted all the men we can get to go to Europe with horses, a chance to see England and other foreign countries and get paid for it.”
Thousands of handbills containing the above advertisement are daily distributed throughout Baltimore, Richmond and other Atlantic ports, among the unemployed, down-and-outs, high school boys and college men. Hundreds of unsuspicious men and boys lured by the statement, ‘A chance to see Europe and get paid for it,’ spend weeks upon a floating hell -are dumped in America-hungry, penniless, physically broken-victims of grasping shipping interests.
Fifteen dollars the run is the average pay at Newport News, Runs are from two to six weeks’ duration. A dozen leeches reduce this meagre wage, Men shipping through Hoff’s
Baltimore or from New York City get ten dollars; those shipped from the Virginia Exchange, Richmond, twelve dollars; the unemployment sharks pocketing the difference.
If one needs clothes one must buy from Brabrant, the shipping master at Newport News. One is forced to buy if he wants to ship. Brabrant gets his or you are eliminated at the British Consul’s office.
One hundred men, ninety white, ten colored, shipped as horsemen August 3rd, on the Steam. ship Hydasper, from Newport News for Avon: mouth, England, Unemployed from Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York, high-school lads from Richmond; unsophisticated boys fresh from a Blue Ridge village or Georgia mill rubbed shoulders with habitual drunkards and sexual perverts, Young and old, good and bad, cramped in one bunkroom-room-mates, bed-mates, mess-mates for weeks.
The Hydasper was considered a good ship, one of the best feeders leaving Newport News. Although the tables in the mess-room accommo-divide the men into different messes. Those who failed to get a seat were forced to stand upon their feet or lean up against a stall while eating, pieces of manure and other filth flying into their food.
Articles had been signed under the rules of the British Board of Trade and a chart containing a schedule of the rations that must be served hung upon the mess-room wall. But the steward served what he pleased-less than half the rations required by law. Tainted meat, rotten vegetables, doughy bread and rancid butter formed the menu while the food was often poorly cooked and unfit to eat.
There is little solidarity or rebellion among the horsemen. The homeless, jobless man from the city bread-line and the cringing, half-starved “croker” from the Carolinas are the spirits that dominate the mass.
The ship was like a menagerie at meal-times; cups and pans were rattled and a roar of chow” rose above the din. A few self-respecting men stood back; the others, a howling mob, grasped the scalding food and gulped it down, growling, snarling, fighting like a pack of ravenous wolves, For a week seawater was used in making tea and coffee, the oatmeal burned and food otherwise unfit to eat. Then a riot occurred. The men rushed to the steward, clamoring for something fit to drink and eat. A few bolder spirits went to the captain and presented a petition demanding better food. The captain promised to ad just the grievance, Days passed and the food grew worse.
Finally the storm broke and then men rushed in a body on the ships bridge. The captain met the howling delegation and offered them their ‘wack.’ (To weigh all provisions according to the Schedule of the Board of Trade.)
The steward immediately took steps to dis credit the “wack”. The rations served weighed less than required by law. When the men protested against the weights, he claimed that they had received the difference at the previous meals that day. The baker, cook and messboys helped the steward; as a result of their activity the food when served would not feed the men, Immediately the mess-boys circulated a petition and a dozen men urged by the steward’s aids, demanded the old system back. The captain granted their request and the food grew worse than ever.
The general foreman of the Hydaspes was feared and hated by the men. He prowled around the ship, club in hand, bullying, threatening, striking some, abusing others, making life miserable for all who worked for him. Threats were made to get him. Sometimes a man, goaded beyond endurance, would strike back. The ten assistant foremen would jump on him and beat him up. The general foreman never left the ship at Newport News and was afraid to cross the deck at night.
One day a negro, maddened by abuse, grabbed a pitch-fork and chased the foreman around the deck. He was overpowered and placed in irons. At Cardiff the nigger jumped the ship, and worked his way on a faster one to Newport News. There he hung around the docks, a gun in his pocket, impatiently waiting for the foreman’s return. A day before the Hydaspes arrived, someone tipped off the police. He was arrested and given six months for carrying a gun.
When the Hydaspes docked at Avonmouth no one was allowed on shore. As soon as the horses were unloaded the ship swung into the stream and anchored in Bristol Channel. When the men demanded shore-leave they were told it they would clean the ship they would be allowed to land at Cardiff. They dug in, done three days’ work in one. But a week passed and the men remained exactly where they were—a mille from shore-seeing England from the Bristol Channel.
The ship became a fly-trap. The bunk-room was untenable; men sleeping on the deckflies fell into the tea and soup and seasoned the meat, and bread. The water as turned oft; we had no place to wash; hot water was a luxury, bedding, clothing, bunks were vermin ridden.
The ship was ordered to Southampton to join a fleet of British transports. A dozen torpedo boat destroyers rushed to and fro around Southampton Bay. A hydroplane whirred overhead, mined obstructions con nected shore with shore, huge guns looked threateningly from massive forts. Two cruisers, sinister sentinels, raised and lowered a gigantic submarine net to let ships pass. While at night, countless searchlights seanned the silent sea.
For a week the Hydaspes lay of Southampton, then the men were transferred to the Steamship Cuthbert bound for Liverpool. While on the Cuthbert the submarine Chinera culminated in a roaring farce. Little panies had occurred, men grasping life-belts and rushing wildly over the ship. It was twilight of the Irish Coast, one day’s run from Liverpool, when the Cuthbert’s Inen shrieked a hoarse alarm. Players dropped their cards, coins flew right and left, men grasped their life-belts and scrambled to the deek, ‘Run up the flag’ some cried, while others slashed the life-boat ropes. An American flag swung to the breeze. All watched anxiously for the threatening submarine. A sigh broke from the frightened mob as a destroyer hove insight. The captain had mistaken the patrol boat for a German submarine.
At Liverpool the men were loaded into busses and rushed to the Steamship Saehem; fifteen minutes later were were on our way to Boston.
“A chance to see England and other European ports.” Fifteen days, near shore-Avonmouth, Cardiff, Southampton, Liverpool-seen from a port-hole. Forty-five days out, lous and dispirited at Newport News with the magnificent sum of $4.00 due. The price of one good drunk to drown one’s misery and then another cattleboat.