1902 Encyclopedia > Shipping


SHIPPING. The island of Britain (to the shipping of which the present historical notice is mainly restricted) is well fitted to serve as a commercial depot, both by the number of its natural harbours and the variety of its pro-ducts. There is evidence that Phoenician traders visited it for tin, and in after times it served as one of the granaries of the Roman empire. On the other hand raw wool was the staple article of commerce in the Middle Ages, while the supremacy of English manufactures in modern days has contributed to the development of British shipping till it has grown out of all comparison with any-thing in ancient or mediaeval times.

Britain must have been one of the most distant points that was visited by Phoenician or Carthaginian ships. Adventurous as their sailors were when compared with those of other races, and ready as they were to carry on trading on behalf of neighbouring states, it is not clear that they ever sailed across the Indian Ocean or ven-tured beyond the Persian Gulf, even in the service of the Egyptians (Brugsch). Their coasting habits led to the settlement of a chain of colonies along the Mediterranean shores, and that sea was wide enough to form a convenient barrier between the Greek and the Carthaginian settle-ments. When their empire was at length destroyed the Romans became the heirs of their enterprise, but do not appear to have pushed maritime adventure much further or opened out many new commercial connexions.

Though the Angle and Saxon tribes were doubtless skilled both in shipbuilding and in the management of their vessels at the time when they conquered Britain, these arts had greatly decayed during the four centuries that elapsed before the time of Alfred, who endeavoured to improve on existing models (Eng. Chron., 897). Hence the necessity of resisting the Danes, with the subsequent fusion of Danish and other elements in our nationality, may be taken as marking the period when English shipping had its rise. Apart from incidental notices of communi-cation with other lands, there is clear evidence, from the early English laws, of efforts to encourage commerce, par-ticularly in the status which was accorded to traders and the protection afforded to merchant ships. The whole of these arrangements seem to imply that the merchant was the owner of the vessel, who "adventured" with his cargo, and sailed in his ship himself; but these voyages were probably undertaken for the most part to ports on the other side of the Channel, as it does not appear that English ships penetrated to the Mediterranean till the time of the crusades.

The steady development of English shipping during the Norman and early Plantagenet reigns may be inferred from the more frequent intercommunication with the Continent and the many evidences of the increasing importance of the commercial classes and trading towns. In the time of Edward III. the shipping interest suffered a temporary check from the removal of the staple to England, a step which was taken with the view of attract-ing foreign merchants to visit England (1353). This policy, however, was soon reversed, and the reign of that monarch was on the whole favourable to the development of shipping. He was himself fond of the sea, and com-manded in person in naval engagements, and by taking possession of Calais and enforcing his sovereignty over the narrow seas he rendered the times more favourable for the development of commerce. More than one of the noble families of England have descended from the merchant princes of the 14th century. By this time also the compass, which had been introduced in a rude form as early as the 12th century, had been improved and had come into common use. But many years were to elapse before the enterprise of the 15th and 16th centuries made the most of the new facilities for undertaking long voy-ages ; and the fortunes of English shipping, as depicted by a contemporary (Libell of Englishe Policy, 1436), con-tinued to vary according to the state of political con-nexions with the Continent and the success of English monarchs in "keeping the narrow seas" free from the ravages of pirates. During this century, too, we hear far more of organizations of merchants to foreign parts, and of struggles between different bodies of traders. The " Merchants of the Staple" dealt in raw wool and the other staple commodities of the realm, which they exported to Calais; the "Merchant Adventurers," a powerful asso-ciation which had developed out of a religious guild, dealt chiefly in woollen cloths, but they traded with any port where they could get a footing. This brought them into frequent collision with the " Merchants of the House," who had had a footing in London since before the Con-quest. The chief attempt at accommodation took place in the time of Edward IV. (1474), but the quarrels and re-prisals continued till the discovery of the New World had revolutionized trade, and the Hanse League, expelled by Elizabeth, were unable either to injure or to compete with English shipping.

Considering the interest which all the Tudor monarchs showed in developing shipping, and the proverbial boldness and enterprise of the Cabots, Raleigh, Drake, and other sailors, it is remarkable that England obtained so little footing at first in the new lands which were dis-covered by Columbus (1492) or along the route that was opened up by Vasco da Gama (1496). Eventually she inherited much of the commercial empires of Spain, Portugal, Holland, and France, but there was still comparatively little permanent acquisition, or establishment of trading factories, at the close of the 16th century. The fact was that such undertakings were beyond the power of private traders, and that Elizabeth was too penurious to make an attempt on such a scale as to command success. It was by the formation of companies that the difficulty was at length overcome, and that associated traders, or traders working on a joint stock, were able to establish factories in foreign parts, and thus to give a new impetus to English shipping. The African Company and others were failures, but there were many which had a long and successful career. The Levant Company was established in 1581, and had factories at Smyrna. The Eastland Com-pany traded with the Baltic ; it was established in 1579, and had factories in Prussia. The Hudson's Bay Company is much more recent, and only dates from 1670. But by far the greatest of these undertakings was the East India Company, which was founded in 1600, and which, after a long struggle with commercial rivals at home and Dutch competitors abroad, attained at length to the sovereignty of a large empire. The chief cause of complaint against this company in the early stages of its existence lay in the fact that it was a joint-stock company, and that therefore the proprietors had a monopoly of a valuable trade ; the greater part of the other companies were regulated com-panies, and membership was open to any British subject who liked to pay the entrance fees and join with other merchants. The merchants thus associated agreed to abide by certain specified conditions, so as not to spoil the markets for one another, but develop the trade in which all were interested in a manner which should be advantageous to all. The Levant Company and Merchant Adventurers were regulated companies, and they led the attack on the East India Company as the monopoly of a few which injured the trade of other merchants. The controversy raged during the reigns of James I. and Charles I., and many of the leading merchants of the time—Mun, Malynes, Misselden, as well as Wheeler, the secretary of the Merchant Adventurers—took part in it. The advocates of the East India trade argued that, owing to the immense distance of their factories and the special difficulties of maintaining their position abroad, it was impossible to carry on their trade except on the joint-stock principle, and their plea prevailed in the long run.

Those English merchants who traded to towns where the Adventurers had a factory, but did not comply with their regulations, were stigmatized as " interlopers," and they were greatly disliked by the regular traders, as they

The Merchant Adventurers and the whole system of regulated companies is less familiar to us in the present day, and it may be worth while to indicate the sort of regulations which were imposed on the members. One series of rules was directed at regulating the total export trade of certain classes of goods to the chief Continental ports, so that the markets abroad might not be over-stocked, and that they might always be able to get remunerative prices. Other regulations allotted the pro-portion of goods which each member of the company should export, and the terms as to credit and so forth on which he should deal. Each factory was carefully regu-lated so as to secure a respectable and orderly life among the merchants resident abroad; none of them were to do business during the times of public preaching or on fast-days ; and there was a curious administrative system by which the compliance of the members with these regula-tions was enforced.

were accused of spoiling the market in various ways and, generally speaking, trading on any terms for an immediate advantage without regard to the steady and regular development of commerce. At a later time, there were inter-lopers within the East India Company's territories also.

The formation of these large companies for the purpose of undertaking long voyages marks a great revolution in the shipping of the country. The differentiation of the mercantile and defensive navy became more complete. There had of course been a certain number of royal ships from a very early time (see NAVY), but the fleet had not been regularly maintained in the 15th century, and the defence of the realm was practically left to individuals or associations. As late as the time of Elizabeth we find that the same thing was the case, and that the fleet which harassed the Armada consisted very largely of merchant ships. In the time of the naval wars with Holland, how-ever, this is greatly changed, and the navy was much more effectively organized and regularly maintained. But even when the royal navy was thus organized it was felt that its continued effectiveness must depend on the maintenance of merchant shipping. The two were still interconnected, and just because special importance was attached to this arm as a means of defence there was a great deal of legislation for the purpose of indirectly promoting shipping and providing seamen. This was one of the aspects in which the prosperity of British fisheries was specially attended to; the consumption of fish was stimulated by insisting on the observance of Lent and of weekly fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays, when " the eating of fish was required politically and not spiritually " 5 Eliz. c. 5, § 13, 1 Jas. I. c. 29), and this was principally done as a means of inducing men to take to a seafaring life, and so to fit themselves for the defence of the country and for the manning of our merchant ships.

Considerable progress had also been made both in the art of sailing and in the building of ships. The vessels which composed the fleets of the crusaders appear to have been for the most part galleys, provided with, a double row of oars ; the huge prows which gave a superiority in hand-to-hand fighting with a grappled vessel were of no advantage when the use of cannon had revolutionized naval warfare. We thus find that the ships of this period were built on a different model, and many inducements were held out to those who built large ships. Both Elizabeth and Charles offered bounties for the building of larger craft (100 and 200 tons); in 1597 800 tons was the largest vessel that an English yard turned out. The legislature also was most assiduous in endeavouring to encourage this industry. The importation of naval stores of all kinds, the growth of hemp for cordage and of timber, were matters of constant care, both in England itself and in the policy which was dictated to her colonies.

It is easy enough to see that in these cases the encouragement of shipping was undertaken as an indirect means of increasing the power of the country, and the same thing is true of the compli-cated arrangements that were made for giving special inducements to trade in particular articles or with particular countries. Every one is of course familiar with the fact that during the 17th and 18th centuries efforts were made to regulate trade so that gold and silver might be brought into England. It is unnecessary to enume-rate the expedients that were adopted at different times, or to dis-cuss the vexed question as to how far those who advocated the system were in error. There can be no doubt that the possession of a treasure was vastly important for political purposes, and that trade was the only means by which a state which possessed no mines could procure treasure; and it is of course possible that some of the mercantilists laid too much stress on the desirability for political purposes of amassing wealth in this form. But the fundamental principle of this system of commercial policy lay in the connexion which was felt to exist between trade and industry. Trade, it was said, stimulated industry by providing a new market for its products. If two countries trade together, each will stimulate the trade of the other to some extent, but, if. England buys raw products from Portugal and«Portugal buys manufactured cloth from England, then the operation of trade between them is such that Portugal stimulates English industry and sets English labour in motion to a far larger extent than English consumption stimulates that of Portugal ; it was believed that this relative stimulus might be detected by examining the balance of trade, and that, if by an ingenious adjustment of duties the balance could be kept in her favour, the trade would be benefiting England more than it stimulated the progress of her possible rivals. In the present day we look at the volume of trade and trust that both are gainers ; in those centuries they looked at the kind of gain that accrued and tried to ensure that England gained more than her possible enemies. Thus it was generally held that by commercial intercourse between England and France the French gained rela-tively more than the English; to the legislators of the time it seemed desirable to impose such conditions as should alter this state of affairs, or, if no agreement could be come to on the terms of a treaty, the trade should be stopped altogether, lest by continuing to overbalance England in trade the French should be enabled to overbalance her in power. These ideas of commercial policy dominated the whole of British legislation for shipping from the beginning of the 17th century till after the Napoleonic wars ; the preference which was given to English ships, English built and English manned, was enforced in a manner that, was prejudicial to the development of the colonies by the Navigation Act of 1651, and was subsequently embodied in the orders in council. But these ideas are expressed most clearly in such discussions as those regarding the Methven treaty with Portugal. Without attempting to advocate a system of which the unwisdom has become patent in our own day, it may yet be worth while to note that it was during this regime that England acquired her position as the great ship-ping nation of the world, and passed the Dutch and French in the struggle for naval supremacy. Napoleon gave unconscious testi-mony to the effectiveness of the commercial policy for building up the strength of the nation when he sought to humble England, not by direct attack, but by destroying the trade and shipping by means of which she had raised herself to power.

This policy of subordinating the interests of shipping as a trade and means by which merchants acquired wealth to the policy and power of the nation as a whole had another side. Revenue for war expenses was furnished almost entirely by the mother country; neither Ireland nor the colonies contributed at all largely to the burden of maintaining the national struggle with Continental rivals. Hence it was undesirable that these dependencies should develop at the expense of the mother country, as by so doing they would reduce the fund from which parliament drew for the expenses of the realm. Hence, while England was always willing to develop resources or industries—like the linen trade in Ireland —which did not compete with and could not undersell existing English manufactures, her politicians were unwilling to allow her dependencies to become her competitors in trade so long as they did not co-operate in maintaining power. Hence the galling restrictions to which the Irish and the colonists were subjected, both with regard to the development of some of their resources and the carrying on of profitable trade with other colonies or foreign countries. But it must not be forgotten that English merchants suffered in the same sort of way, as changes of political relations at once brought about changes in the conditions of trade, and that in at least one ease the interests of enterprising farmers at home were set aside in-favour of protecting an established industry in the colonies. The subordination of the craftsman and trader interest to the public policy of the realm brought about a system of galling regulations which pressed hardly on many persons, though they were most obviously baneful to Ireland and the colonists, who had not so much interest in the political objects for which their wealth was sacrificed.

1 It wao pursued, but less systematically, all through the Tudor reigns or even earlier. Compare 1 H. VII. c. 8, 32 H. VIII. c. 14,

It is unnecessary to attempt to illustrate in detail the applica-tion of these principles ; it only remains to add that, whether in spite of these regulations or because of them, the shipping of England increased vastly during the 18th century. This was partly due to the greater facilities which were granted for procur-ing capital for trading ventures. In mediaeval times a merchant could hardly obtain the command of additional capital, unless by means of a temporary partnership, or loans on bottomry ; but the objection to usury was fast giving way, and the public were willing to lend capital and to share in the profits of trading. The practice of trading on borrowed capital, and of obtaining temporary loans from goldsmiths, was common enough all through the 17th century, but the development of the banking system and the new forms of credit which thus became available gave still greater scope to the enterprising shipper. The full fruits of the new power were only shown, however, in the beginning of the 18th century, when the rivalry of the Old and New East India Companies and the story of the Darien expedition and the South Sea Bubble show how willing the British public were to pour their capital into trading under-takings. Among the companies which were started about this period there were two which have exercised a most salutary influence on British shipping. The Royal Exchange Assurance (6 Geo. I. c. 18) and the London Assurance revolutionized the whole system of marine assurance, and did so much to relieve skippers from the losses they suffered through the risks of commerce as to give considerable encouragement to the business. The plantations were developing into important settlements; the British merchant had outdone his Dutch rivals; and the East India Company was pursuing its course of progress in the East. There can be no wonder that, with so many opportunities for trading, and such new facilities for obtaining capital and assuring against risk, the shipping of the country developed during the 18th century. It is unnecessary to dwell on the shocks it received at the time when the American colonies asserted their independence (27 and 28 Geo. III.) or in the life and death struggle of the Napoleonic wars. The difficulty of recasting the restrictive system under which English merchants plied their trade was very great, and when it broke down in regard to America and Ireland (20 Geo. III. cc. 6, 10) it was becoming apparent that its days were numbered. The doctrines preached by Adam Smith soon began to bear fruit; the practical difficulty of regulating commerce rendered politicians more willing to let it regulate itself; and the controversy between the exclusive companies and the interlopers or independent mer-chants once more came to the front. It was during the reign of George IV. that the old system was practically abandoned and that the greater part of the old companies were dissolved, and trade to all parts of Africa, to the Levant, and to China became open to all British subjects. The East India Company maintained its posi-tion in part despite its many critics for another half century, and the peculiar conditions of the trade of the Hudson's Bay Company have made it desirable to maintain that privileged cor-poration till the present time.

It became still more obvious that the old policy of regulating the commerce of the country in the supposed interests of its power was being abandoned when Huskisson reformed the tariff in 1825. The measure he succeeded in carrying was not so thoroughgoing as the one he proposed, but its principle was that the customs duties should bo levied for revenue objects only, and not with the view of maintaining British merchants in one parti-cular employment of their capital. Later the repeal of the corn laws (1846) and navigation laws (1849) removed the last vestiges of the old commercial policy which had ruled over the development of British shipping almost from the earliest times, but which had been steadily and systematically pursued for three hundred years.

It was thus that Adam Smith's criticisms worked so effectively as to realize his dreams at no great interval of time. His deeper reasons for objecting to the commercial system of the 18th century lay in the fact that the colonial trade and shipping altogether seemed to him to have received an unhealthy stimulus, and that the country would be in a sounder economic position if capital were employed at home in developing native resources, and foreign trade built upon a foundation of highly developed native industry. But the removal of the stimulus did not have the effect he antici-pated, or restore the "balance" between industry and shipping. England is far more dependent than ever before on her relations with foreign countries, and therefore on her shipping, for the materials of her manufacture and her food, as well as for markets for her products. She is further removed than ever from that condition of " opulence " which has, according to Adam Smith, the greatest promise of stability and progress.

This has undoubtedly been due to the immense developments in manufacturing in which England, with her wealth of coal and iron, led the way. This reacted on shipping in many ways. England came to be the workshop of the world, and her shipping was freighted with soft goods from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and with hardware and machinery, to be conveyed to the most distant parts of the globe. But not only were the opportunities for trading immensely increased; the application of the steam engine to transit by water has accelerated communication, and rendered it so regular and certain as to give an extraordinary stimulus to foreign trade. The first steamboat that was more than a mere toy made its trial in 1807, and since that time steam shipping has been more and more substituted for the old sailing vessels. Still more recently there has been a considerable change in the construction of ships, from the success which has attended iron shipbuilding. The first experiment, which was generally deemed exceedingly rash, was made in 1851.

It is impossible to get satisfactory data for a comparison of the relative importance of English and foreign shipping for a long period; but it may be assumed that the shipping of the Italian republics and of the Hanse League excelled that of England during the Middle Ages, that in the 16th century Spain was far ahead of her when she could send such fleets to the West and fit out a Spanish Armada, and that in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively England was much in the same position as the great rivals —Holland and France—with which she had to compete so keenly. We may compare the present position and the relative growth of tonnage during the last century, so far as figures are available for the purpose:—

== TABLE ==

The following aggregates show the growth of the tonnage of British shipping :—in 1588, 12,500 tons (excluding fishing boats) ; in 1770, 682,811 (England and Scotland) ; in 1791, 1,511,401 (in-cluding colonies); in 1830, 2,199,959 (excluding colonies); in 1840, 2,768,262 ; in 1850, 3,565,133 ; in 1860, 4,658,687 ; in 1870, 5,690,789; in 1880, 6,574,513.

See Macpherson, Annals of Commerce; Lindsay, History of Merchant Shipping.
For earlier periods see Schanz, Englische Handels-Politik, and for later periods
Leone Levi, History of British Commerce. (W. CU.)


The establishment of Trinity House by Henry VIII. for looking after pilots, buoys, &c, in 1512, is the most important result of his care for shipping.

Wheeler in Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 18913.

El. c 13, also the Assize of Arms in 1181.

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