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Black Salt : Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships - Ray Costello

Black Salt

Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships


Published: 27th March 2014
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During the Age of Sail, black seamen could be found in many shipboard roles in the Royal Navy, such as gunners, deck-hands and 'top men', working at heights in the rigging. In the later Age of Steam, black seamen were more likely to be found on merchantmen below deck; as cooks, stewards and stokers. Nevertheless, the navy was possibly a unique institution in that black and white could work alongside each other more than in any other occupation. In this fascinating work, Dr. Ray Costello examines the work and experience of seamen of African descent in Britain's navy, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and British-born Black sailors. Seamen from the Caribbean and directly from Africa have contributed to both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Marine from at least the Tudor period and by the end of the period of the British Slave Trade at least three percent of all crewmen were black mariners.

Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population. In spite of racial prejudice in port, relationships were forged between sailors of different races which frequently ignored expected norms when working and living together in the isolated world of the ship.

Black seamen on British ships have served as by no means a peripheral force within the British Royal and Mercantile navies and were not only to be found working in both the foreground and background of naval engagements throughout their long history, but helping to ensure the supply of foodstuffs and the necessities of life to Britain. Their experiences span the gamut of sorrow and tragedy, heroism, victory and triumph.

Written with enthusiasm and a joy to read, Costello enlightens the reader with numerous fascinating stories and anecdotes as well as previously unpublished first-hand testimonies of black seafarers and their adventures at sea and on land, some positive, others tragic. The price tag of this book may put some potential buyers on the back foot but it is a very nicely presented and incredibly well researched look at the history of black seafarers in Britain. Although black seafarers are believed to have been a part of the British maritime industry as far back as the 9th century, the first record of a black seafarer was In 1547, when slave Jacques Francis, along with his master, joined an expedition to salvage Henry VIII's famous warship, the Mary Rose. As well as being one of the first recorded black seafarers, Jacques is possibly one of the first black witnesses In a British court after he was called as a witness when his master was accused of stealing from two other wrecks. As the slave trade grew over the next 200 years, so did the numberofbonded black seafarers In the British fleet who served under their masters' name, and most of these go unrecorded. However, not all black seafarers In Britain at that time were slaves and the book also charts the careers of som e of those who are recorded in history. The book moves into the 19th century where research has found that, despite previous beliefs that not many black people lived in Britain until the 20th century, many port towns bad long established black communities. The 1851 census shows that the overwhelming majority of Immigrants from the British colonies were mariners and seamen's homes exclusively for non-white seafarers began to be established. By this time it was possible, although very difficult, for black seafarers to rise up the ranks, but those who did often found that the lack of respect from subordinates made the rank impossible to maintain. The best opportunities were onboard 'tramp' ships where black seam en of all ranks benefited from the large amount of work available and attained a degree of freedom and career progression. Unfortunately the attitudes towards non-white seafarers deteriorated in the early 20th century although the outbreak of war did provide opportunities for employment. The Second World War seemed destined to repeat the pattern and saw strikes by Indian and Chinese seamen which forced the British merchant fleet to realise their importance during the war's labour shortages. Attitudes and employment opportunities for black seafarers increased though the 20th century, especially with the Race Relations Act of1976 and the crew shortages of the 1960s and 70S. The book covers history to the present day where the declining shipping industry in the UK has hit all races hard, but equality is a more entrenched mind-set. Black Salt is a fascinating read which is hard to put down. It is as enjoyable as it is thought---provoking and covers an area of the British Merchant and Royal navies that is often over looked. Well worth the price tag. Black Salt is a fascinating read which is hard to put down. It is as enjoyable as it is thought-provoking and covers an area of the British Merchant and Royal navies that is often over looked. Well worth the price tag. Seafarers of Africa Descent on British Ships is a sweeping project in a small volume. The task Costello sets himself is to reveal the, as of yet barely explored, even ignored history of men of African descent serving on British ships (merchant and naval). His book is also meant to educate the British public about this history and to promote further research into the topic. The time frame of this work stretches from the sixteenth through to the end of the twentieth centuries, which is summarized in a four-page timeline, following the introduction. This is an ambitious undertaking which produces the most significant problem with the work. While the author is able to indicate the presence of Black people (he notes 'men') in Britain during the ninth century, he has his first evidence of their involvement in life afloat in 1547 with the story of a Black diver working on the wreck of the Mary Rose. This is followed by subsequent chapters on Britain's slave trade and the use of slaves and free Black men aboard slave ships and merchant ships as sailors. A chapter on men of African descent in the British Navy ends with the statement that, at the conclusion of the Napoleonic era, Black sailors were common aboard naval vessels, and while not totally accepted by all, had largely blended into the crews through their use of the English language and being Christians. These four chapters are based on stories of individual sailors, as told under their own hand or by others. Few and often brief, these stories are used to their maximum effect and extent. The absence of more extensive documentary evidence is the problem that confronts all those doing research on the race of British sailors before the middle of the nineteenth century. The story of Captain John Perkins is very interesting. Perkins, born in Jamaica to a white father and black mother in the mid-1700s, became what Costello declares as "probably the first" Royal Navy captain of African descent (pp.97-99). Admirals Rodney and Duckworth both seem to have played the role of patron for Perkins, providing him with local commissions leading up to his opportunity to command the 32-gun frigate Tartar in 1804. He appears to have served his career (and lived) entirely in the West Indies. As Costello moves into the late nineteenth century and through the First and Second World Wars, the book begins to build, becoming more powerful while based on a thicker layer of evidence. At the end of the age of sail, Black sailors had certainly obtained professional skill and importance aboard ship equal to any non-Black sailor, though full equality was not yet experienced. There were examples of ship masters of African descent and men of colour owning and operating their own merchant vessels. The transition to the age of steam seemed to unsettle this position, creating new class lines aboard ship through the technical innovations demanding professional operators and unskilled labour to stoke the engines. Black seamen were given the latter positions. Since owners of merchant shipping lines held the idea that people from tropical climates could better serve in the excruciatingly hot boiler rooms, more African men were taken on. This angered the white sailors as their opportunities for work began to disappear. The International Seafarer's Union did not seem to support all sailors equally. Service in the two world wars is addressed in separate chapters. During the First World War, Black sailors served afloat in the Merchant and Royal Navy earning heroic honours and professional acclaim. During the Second World War, Costello states that Black sailors were not recruited for the Royal Navy; indeed a March 1940 memorandum barred them from such service (pp.186-187). Their service to Britain came aboard Merchant Navy vessels, where, as before, their seamanship and bravery were not lacking. The interwar years, however, were a period of economic struggle for sailors of African descent and their families. Two critical elements laid bare by Costello are the amount of persistent prejudice against sailors of African descent and his examination of Black sailors' lives ashore, especially in Liverpool. Throughout the book Costello makes perfectly clear the amount of prejudice, discrimination and violence pitched against the Black seamen (and their families). Examples include the free Black sailor on a slave ship losing his freedom at journey's end, Admiral Young's 1777 order to limit the number of Black sailors aboard ship, through to the beatings of lone Black seamen in the streets of Liverpool, not to mention the limits to promotion in the navy prior to 1960. The inclusion of a discussion on eugenics and racism at the turn of the twentieth century and its role in shaping attitudes towards Black seamen is both interesting and important. The extended chapter entitled 'Blighty' is the first place where Costello lays out life ashore for Black seafarers. Using information pertaining to Greenwich pensioners, Black street hawkers and performers with ties to the sea, verse and census data for Liverpool, he starts to open a narrow window into their lived experience. The chapters focusing on the twentieth century spend more time ashore with men and their families, but it is the one entitled 'Sailortown Under Attack' that leaves the reader with a clear sense of the bleak racial relationships in Britain during the interwar years. These two aspects of the book alone make it a recommended reading for anyone interested the lives of sailors ashore and their experience afloat. The images in the book are helpful, though the most interesting are the four photographs which depict sailors of African descent. More of these photographs could have been added to the second half of the book. The other images, largely drawings, are fairly familiar. The index is usable, the bibliography is good, but the endnotes and references are not always consistently formatted. For example, TNA, PRO are used interchangeably for the British National Archives (p.225) which the reader is told is now called the Public Record Office (p.viii). These minor annoyances aside, Costello certainly accomplishes the goal of opening up the study of Black seamen in British merchant and naval ships. More work is to be done, but the start is here, with this book. Costello certainly accomplishes the goal of opening up the study of Black seamen in British merchant and naval ships. More work is to be done, but the start is here, with this book. Riffling through almost four centuries, the author of Black Salt considers the history of British seafarers of African and Afro-Caribbean descent, attempting to shine "new light on an overlooked group of servicemen". Ray Costello, an academic writing here for a general audience, discusses their lives at sea and ashore, the Royal Navy as well as the merchant marine. The book clearly stems from the author's lifelong passion for-and expertise in-the history of the African diaspora and the black experience in Britain, in particular the city of Liverpool. It's based on considerable research and is packed with numerous stories, anecdotes, and first hand testimonies. The book opens with a review of the slave trade, and particularly enlightening is the author's examination of black crewmen on slave ships. Moving through the 18th and 19th centuries, Costello notes that Royal Navy enlistment afforded to black seamen a protection they did not find elsewhere in the Anglo-American world. He analyses the increase of a black presence ashore in the major British ports, then moves to a discussion of the status and social class of seafarers of all ethnicities. Costello's consideration of the transition from sail to steam, and the concomitant effect on the black seafarer, is of interest. Essentially he asserts that this drove most of the men below decks into menial stoker and steward billets. The author believes that toward the end of the 19th and into the 20th century, the evidence reveals a significant increase in negative attitudes toward non-white seafarers. Much of this, he says, was not specific to seafaring society either afloat or ashore, but more of a wider "sea-change in the British psyche and that of other Europeans concerning the assumption of the natural inferiority of black people." Costello notes that stances such as this remained strong through World War II, when "black sea-farers were blatantly excluded from the Royal Navy." Happily, though, the author notes that progress was made "after Empire", in the form of not only a rebroadening of opportunities at sea, but also as a more general trend across society. Costello concludes by expressing the hope that he has addressed a historical omission and demonstrated that "black seamen of British ships served as by no means a peripheral force within the British Royal and mercantile navies." Black Salt covers a very wide range of topics. Costello provides even a surplus of minutiae. All professional writers and serious researches should guard against the temptation to include everything they know on a given subject. In this case, judicious pruning to streamline the work, to keep the story on course by eliminating considerable amounts of trivia and anecdotes, would have helped. Only in some chapters does the narrative carry through with detail that supports what is being related, versus the detail standing as the narrative. Moreover, although Costello writes clearly with an admirable command of the language, the book seems like a doctoral dissertation in its structure and presentation (even though his was on another African-diaspora topic). He begins with a very academic construct and throughout the text he continually quotes other scholars by name. This is extremely disruptive to the narrative flow in a general audience book. There's considerable repetition of points throughout the chapters, along with a great deal of jumping back and forth in time. This is confusing. The author should have effected a transformation from scholarly writing to a more conventional narrative history, which would have made Black Salt more accessible. Even though Costello's area of expertise encompasses the black community in Liverpool, his close focus on that city gives the book a bit of an unbalanced coverage. Finally, in its exorbitant price the author id disserved by his publisher. Nevertheless, this work is of value particularly to those interested in comprehensively collecting in the areas of black studies and maritime studies. ... this work is of value particularly to those interested in comprehensively collecting in the areas of black studies and maritime studies. The story of Black Afro-Caribbean soldiers in the Great War is an often neglected aspect of the conflict: many people know about Walter Tull the professional footballer who became an officer in 1917, but Tull was one of thousands of Black men who served in Khaki. A new book by Ray Costello helps bridge this gap in our knowledge: This is a well researched and written title on a forgotten part of the Great War and is highly recommended.

Acknowledgements List of illustrations Introduction Timeline 1. Worlds Collide 2. Destination Uncertain 3. A Tar's Life 4. War Under Sail 5. Blighty 6. A Question Of Rank 7. From Sail To Steam 8. Global Conflict 9. Sailortown Under Attack 10. The Second World War 11. After Empire 12. Epilogue Notes and References Bibliography Index

ISBN: 9781781380147
ISBN-10: 1781380147
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 246
Published: 27th March 2014
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.6  x 1.91
Weight (kg): 0.45