Trinity Seamen's Hospital

Historians have offered conflicting views over the reach and efficiency of the Seamen's Sixpence programme. Established in 1696, it was intended to assist disabled mariners, the widows of seamen who lost their lives at sea, and children who were unable to provide for themselves. To support the operation of the Greenwich Hospital, all naval seamen or sailors "in any Ship or Vessel,whatsoever belonging to or to any the Subjects of England, or any other His Majesty's Dominions" were to pay sixpence each month they worked at sea. Seamen who were engaged in bringing fish to Great Britain or Ireland, and those who worked on vessels or open boats plying British rivers or coasts were exempted.[note 42] Conrad Dixon has asserted that the programme was a "most successful confidence trick" by which the state used merchant seamen's monthly contributions to provide services for naval mariners. In contrast, N.A.M.Rodger contends that "most professional seafarers could establish some naval service without difficulty" and thereby gain access to the Greenwich Hospital. (43) Dixon, however, exaggerates the lack of benefits for merchant seafarers. Rodger, on the other hand, overlooks the fact that many English seamen were not "professional seafarers" but rather men who regularly shifted from sea to land. More than sixty percent of the men on Scarborough ships spent less than five months a year at sea, and only twenty-two percent made more than one voyage per annum. (44) Such sporadic, short-term connections with the sea do not suggest that Scarborough was filled with professional seamen. Even assuming that some of the landsmen serving on Scarborough vessels did eventually serve in the Royal Navy, the majority of maritime workers would have been unlikely to ever have been eligible to receive benefits from the Greenwich Hospital.

However one wants to characterize the Seamen's Sixpence programme,several things are indisputable. First, as the First Lord of the Admiraltyacknowledged in testimony before Parliament, some time in the King's service "was always required" in order to obtain the benefits at Greenwich. Second, even those mariners with extensive service in the Royal Navy, such asJohn Nicol, who broke his "King's bread" from 1775 to 1783 and from 1794to 1801, found coming to London to seek entry to Greenwich Hospital to be of"no use," leaving them to "eke out" their "subsistence in the best manner they could". Third, by mid-century many merchant seamen were dissatisfied with the programme. Whether due to having to travel long distances to pursuea claim or believing, as did New England fishermen in the 1760s, that few of them could reasonably anticipate admission, the programme had few supporters among merchant seamen.(45)  Most important, seamen who had not served inthe Royal Navy could not receive services at Greenwich.(46)

Scarborough had a long-standing tradition of efforts to avoid its disabled and elderly seamen being "by poverty constrained to beg."(47) By the first half of the seventeenth century, Scarborough had created an institutional structure to provide for its elderly and disabled mariners. Commencing in1638, Trinity House offered assistance to Scarborough seafarers. Although Ralph Davis believes that there was no widespread evasion of paying the sixpence,in the 1730s Scarborough "crews were not paying the [required seamen's sixpence] dues," resulting in "distress amongst the seamen of theTown." This left the Society seriously short of funds. As part of a growing concern over many disabled and elderly mariners being without resources, Parliament in 1747 authorized the Trinity House at Scarborough and organizations in other ports to collect the duty and to supervise its use for local programmes in "support of maimed and disabled seamen, and the widows and children of such as shall be maimed, disabled or drowned in the Merchant Service."Although the 1747 legislation authorized Bristol's Society of MerchantVenturers, the Corporation of Trinity House at Hull, and ad hoc committees in other ports to develop their own charitable programmes for mariners using sixpence monies, many towns failed to do so.(48) In contrast, shortly after the1747 reform the Trinity Society constructed a hospital with twenty-seven apartments. Its location in the middle of a bustling port town was a physical reminder of the cost of maritime employment and the central importance ofmariners to the town's economy. The port's seamen demonstrated approval of local control over the sixpence assessments by commencing regular payments.In the eighteen years after the 1747 reform less than one-half of one percent ofall mariners on Scarborough ships refused to pay the seamen's sixpence. WhyScarborough's tars were willing to pay an assessment transmitted to their localTrinity Society rather than to Greenwich Hospital cannot be known with certaintyas neither newspaper accounts nor correspondence have been found that sheds light on this question. But given the strong resistance by many merchant seamen to the assessment, it would appear that local control of the monies bymen many sailors knew, had worked with and probably trusted would havebeen a factor. In any event, as a result of seamen resuming their payments, theTrinity Society's bank account quickly grew to more than £1000. These monies enabled the Society to build in 1752 the Seamen's Hospital with twenty-five"spacious" apartments. The Hospital's financial condition was also aided whenScarborough shipmasters made contributions to its operations. The subscriptionlist reads like the port's shipping list as many of the port's notable maritime families helped underwrite the Hospital.(49)

Admission to the hospital did not require that its beneficiaries work each day, as was required of those in the local workhouse. Instead, elderly seamen - such as seventy-eight-year-old John Coats, who had continued working at sea until the age of seventy - were provided services by the Society solely on the basis of their prior maritime employment. Once admitted to the hospital, the benefits provided compared favourably with other forms of welfare in northern English communities of the time. Whereas typical income replacement in the region ranged between ten and twenty percent, the standard four shillings that Scarborough Seamen's Hospital pensioners received constituted sixteen percent of the typical seamen's twenty-five shilling monthly wage. Moreover, seamen and widows with children received additional benefits,usually two shillings per child per month. As a result, more than four out of ten pensioners received eight or more shillings per month.(50) Such paymentswere more in line with benefits provided in southern England which averaged thirty percent of income replacement. Scarborough pensioners were also provided with housing, making Seamen's Hospital benefits generous compared tothose received by other pensioners in the region. These relatively generous benefits, combined with the fact that pensioners were not required to wear a badge marking them as recipients of charity, as did English poor houses and New York church wardens when they provided relief, were explicit expressions by the Scarborough community that it valued older seafarers and maritime widows.(51)

Although the Seamen's Hospital assisted elderly mariners, the bulk of its efforts benefited Scarborough's maritime widows and children. Scarborough merchant seamen's widows could not count on the crown to provide the kinds of adequate pensions that Rachel Hannah Burden and other widows of Royal Navy officers often received. (52) Thus, they needed to rely upon local resources. Among the 296 adults who were beneficiaries of the Hospital's services between 1752 and 1765, 236 were widows and only sixty were elderly,disabled or infirm mariners. Many of these widows received substantial benefitsand more than thirty percent received them for five or more years. Although many, such as Elizabeth Colling and Mary Boswell, received the standard four shillings per month, others received considerably greater amounts,generally due to having children to care for.(53) Mary Allatson, who received £512.7, or more than £39 a year over a thirteen-year period, was unusual in receiving such considerable benefits. But even those receiving four shillings per month were provided a standard of living similar to that of many of the port's labourers and considerably better than those in the town's poorhouse.

The Seamen's Hospital served several purposes. Most important, it provided for those mariners unable to care for themselves. Long-term stays,such as Joseph Scott's seventy-seven months, were common. At the end of 1765, more than forty percent of the mariners noted in the 1752-1765 registers remained in residence, many having been there for more than forty months.More than one in five of those listed in the 1752-1765 registers died in the Hospital. When elderly seamen were no longer able to serve as cooks, the Seamen's Hospital provided both financial assistance and housing. Elderly cooks were the most likely seafarers to receive pensions. Although cooks comprisedless than three percent of the men serving on Scarborough ships, they made up twenty-two percent of the seamen who received hospital benefits. Officers, who were most likely to have independent economic resources, were under-represented in the hospital's register comprising only twenty-two percent of pensioners while occupying twenty-nine percent of the berths.(54) Thus, although professional seamen and their families may have been the primary beneficiaries of hospital care, Scarborough's redistribution of sixpence assessments tended to focus on the care of the neediest of its maritime families.

The Hospital also provided Scarborough's elderly seamen a means to retain some economic independence. Frail health denied many of them the opportunity to continue to go to sea, thus making them reliant upon others.While the offer of four shillings a month and a warm bed would have been attractive to many older mariners, such enticements did not cause large numbers of Scarborough seamen to remain in the Hospital for extended periods. In contrast to Greenwich Hospital pensioners who sang of "ne'er to sea again,"Scarborough's elderly seamen remained active mariners long after most sailors elsewhere had taken off their tarred breaches for the last time. The Seamen'sHospital register is replete with notations of elderly mariner pensioners leavingin the spring to work "at sea" only to return in the fall or winter. Typical of many such pensioners was Robert Graden. A sailor in his mid-to-late fifties, in 1758 and 1759 he left the Hospital between February and April to work "at sea" and returned the following fall. Among the sixty men in the Hospital between 1753 and 1765, forty percent returned to the sea. In their old age - they averaged fifty-one years of age when returning to sea - these men were able to retain their seafaring identities by working on short coastal voyages. The practice of allowing these men to return during the winter also meant that they did not risk losing their safety net by going back to sea. Seafarers such as John Galecliff could for six years go to sea, return to the Hospital each winter and,when they could no longer handle the rigours of maritime work, remain as full-time pensioners in the Hospital for more than five years after their last voyage.(55) This pattern of older mariners returning to sea during the warm months and avoiding the harsh conditions of the North Sea during the winter likely extended the lives of William Marshall and other pensioners who survived for more than a decade after returning to sea. It also avoided the problem that nearby towns experienced in the early nineteenth century of being "much troubled with applications" from maritime workers during the winter"for poor relief." (56)

The strength of Scarborough's maritime social safety net and the role the Seamen's Hospital played in that network can be seen in the career of John Hodgson. In 1748, at the age of thirty, Hodgson was a seaman on Ann and Mary on a coasting voyage from Scarborough. Hodgson was apparently disabled in 1753-1754, spending that winter in the Seamen's Hospital before he "returned to the sea" in May 1754. In October 1755, Hodgson married Jane Sneaton of Scarborough. His work at sea provided the couple with a decent lifestyle; he even had sufficient funds to provide a mortgage for John Brown to purchase a house. After his nuptials at St. Mary's, John served on a number of coasting and short voyages to northern European ports. At the beginning of1759, Hodgson was listed as a member of the carpenter's crew on HMS Lowestoff. While Lowestoff was stationed at Plymouth, Hodgson arranged to have £20 remitted to his wife in Scarborough. Just over a year later, the Scarborough sailor was again disabled. Rather than apply for admission to Greenwich Hospital, he choose to return to Scarborough and re-enter the Seamen's Hospitalwhere he received a monthly stipend of four shillings for at least the next five and one-half years. Scarborough was a community that provided Hodgson maritime employment for more than a decade, the love of a family and an institution which enabled him to return to sea at a time when many disabled mariners lost access to seafaring employment. All made the return to the Seamen'sHospital more appealing for Hodgson than entering the Greenwich Hospital.(57)

Conclusion

The period between 1747 and 1765 provided a set of circumstances that ensured that many of Scarborough's maritime dependents were well cared for.Generally healthy working conditions on short coastal and North Sea voyages,timely payment of wages, an extensive kinship network that supported the port's maritime dependents, the 1747 legislative reform, Trinity House's effective response to the opportunities offered by the reform, seamen's willingness to pay their sixpence assessments to local authorities, shipowners' financial support of the Seamen's Hospital, and the flow of illicit profits from smuggling all helped create an effective social safety network. Another factor that was likely to have spurred the residents of Scarborough to create and maintain this safety net was that almost every day a ship returned to port with men who paid for and were often dependent upon the charitable assistance the networkprovided. The need for and benefits obtained from the network were not abstractions or something to be obtained only after long years at sea and travelling to London to file papers at the Navy Office. The local nature of the network,overseen by local residents and benefiting friends and neighbours, likely generated support for the network's development and maintenance. And while the motivation for this network cannot be stated with certainty, it can be said that the safety net it provided to the port's maritime dependents was unusual in both its reach and effectiveness.

While Scarborough's residents can take credit for this significant achievement, the role of the Royal Navy and the war with France and Spain cannot be understated. Without the movement of Scarborough's young men into the navy, fourteen-year-old Peter Postell and the other young boys who learned their maritime craft as servants on Scarborough's vessels would have had far fewer opportunities to obtain berths. And it is considerably less likelythat John Gatecliff or most of the other elderly men who regularly "returned to sea" from the Seamen's hospital, or many of the older cooks on Scarborough's ships, would have been so employed as young men discharged by the Royal Navy came home seeking merchant ship berths. Support of the port's maritime dependents changed after the Treaty of Paris. The postwar decrease in shipping reduced monies paid to Trinity House at the same time that demands for its services increased significantly. In the face of lessened sixpence payments,the Trinity Society in 1764-1765 began reducing pension benefits. All pensioners found their monthly stipends cut in half, with ninety-six receiving only oneor two shillings, a significant decrease in their standard of living.(58) At the same time, shipowners and other potential private benefactors experienced decreases in revenues as well. When these factors are combined with the sizable costs in providing benefits to the elderly and disabled mariners who would no longer have been employed on Scarborough ships, it is reasonable to conclude that the nature of the maritime safety net that existed between 1747 and1765 would have been significantly different in the ensuing decades. All this points to the conclusion that Scarborough's maritime safety net in the period 1747-1765 was unusual, of limited duration and the result of a particular, and perhaps unique, set of conditions existing in Scarborough prior to the end ofthe Seven Years' War.

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