Samuel Plimsoll (born 1824)
Upon the side of ships you will find the ‘Plimsoll mark’: a circle with a horizontal line across it to guarantee that no ship is loaded so heavily that the line is submerged under water. His symbol spelled the difference between life and death for untold thousands of sea merchants.
It seems incredulous that ships were actually sent out to sea overloaded and not seaworthy, but heavily insured. The men who sailed in these ‘coffin ships’ were doomed, no trade unions were there to defend them; no laws gave them any protection. However, Samuel Plimsoll devoted his life to championing their cause and fought for change via the House of Commons.
He wrote a book called ‘Our Seamen’, which was an attack on ship owners, for the existence of the extreme evil of coffin boats and for the absence of humane conditions of life at sea. After much political debate, his book rallied the moral force of public opinion and the Merchant Shipping Act was passed. This ensured sea vessels could to be examined and detained if deemed unsafe.
Quotation from Samuel Plimsoll
“I cannot trust myself to say what I think or feel in plain English. I shall therefore put my feeling into my work. And, oh! How I will work!”