Whenever there is something in the news (and admittedly it’s not very often) about a ship running into some kind of trouble, it always amazes me to hear how international the crew of a ship is, because invariably we learn that although a ship might be registered in one country, many of the crew members are often from somewhere else.
When I hear that, I always wonder what life must be like on a ship. What do guys do when they are stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean and they are from completely different cultures and probably can’t communicate all that well?
I was looking at some records from the American Consulate in Singapore the other day and in November of 1900 the consulate reported to the US government that the crew of a wrecked American ship called the Tam O’Shanter had arrived.
It looks like the ship must have wrecked somewhere off of the coast of Java, as the seamen arrived in Singapore from Batavia (i.e., Jakarta), and much of the crew was apparently going to be repatriated to Hong Kong and China because that is where they came from.
In the letter from the consulate, the names of the crew members are provided, and it’s a fascinating list:
1st Officer A. Boulter
2nd Officer Fred Steller
Carpenter Alfred Tromblean
Steward Ah Chong
(Chinese) Cabin Boy Willson [!! A Chinese guy’s name was “Willson”??]
Seaman Yesgoosh [??]
Tomato [Is there really a Japanese surname pronounced “Tomato”??]
K. Dogoods [?? I’m guessing that this was a nice guy. A “do-gooder.”]
Ok, so we can assume that some of these names were just not recorded accurately. Nonetheless, they clearly give the sense that this was an “interesting” group of people.
Imagine being stuck on a boat with Ah Chong, Tomato, Yesgoosh, K. Dogoods and a Chinese cabin boy named “Willson”. . .
On a more serious note, the “international-ness” of ship life can also be seen as an early form of transnational economic exploitation. So for all we know, Ah Chong and Tomato might not have liked people like A. Boulter and Fred Steller all that much.