Friday, 2 November 2012

Maritime negotiation

Industrial relations involving seamen in Australia have a reputation for being robust. The tale of the Persia indicates that this situation has a long history.

The story begins with an incident during the voyage when two sailors broke into the single women's quarters. Apparently the Captain decided that the offenders would be dealt with at the end of the voyage.

True to his word, Captain Smith contacted the authorities in Gladstone on the day the ship anchored to have the two men taken into custody. When the local police came on board, they were surrounded by more than a dozen crewmates of the accused, who challenged that if the locals were to arrest any of them it would mean taking them all.

The matter was settled without violence and 15 men, all from the same watch on the Persia, were taken off the ship, tried for insubordination and sentenced to three months imprisonment. They were duly transferred to Brisbane under guard on another vessel.

It was claimed that the arrest of the first two offenders had been used by their mates as a convenient excuse and the threats to the Police were simply a ruse to get themselves arrested as well. The men were reportedly unhappy with the Mate who oversaw their watch and decided that a spell in Brisbane's new Green Hills Gaol (on the site of the Petrie Terrace Barracks entertainment complex) would be preferable to continuing the voyage to China and then on to South America.

This cynical view was reinforced when after serving a little under a month of their sentence, the men were released into the custody of Captain Smith and returned to the Persia. The Courier of 28 December carried a report of the almost inevitable outcome.

It is amazing that this trouble did not boil over at sea between Plymouth and Gladstone with terrible consequences for the immigrants (and for our family history!)

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