The Real Cattle-Boat
TRAVEL AND DESCRIPTION
Test Dalton in Windsor
THE cattle boat of fiction and the one of reality are vastly different. For my part, I think that most descriptive stories on this subject have been overdrawn. The stories cling too close to the tragic, many of them are written by those who have petty grievances to air, they are for the most party too sombre, too hopeless, and in a large measure unjust and unfair, for conditions on a cattle boat have undergone radical changes within the last decade. The cattlemen and foreman are of a higher grade, men of more parts and experience in their work, more humane and more intelligent, while cattle shipping has become so important a factor of ocean traffic that the business has been lifted from a comparatively chaotic state to one that is as thoroughly organized as the mail or passenger service. The burden of proof of this advancement lies in the fact that formerly a third of the consignment was lost on a trip, while, to-day on the better lines, the loss of a single bullock is considered a rare thing.
From Montreal, the Dominion Line, the Canadian Pacific, and the Allan cross to Liverpool, while the Manchester Line departs for Manchester. Out of Boston, the Leyland Line, the White Star, and the Warren Line ship cattle to Liverpool, and the Allan Line to Glasgow. Hoboken has one line—the Phoenix, which sails for
Antwerp, and from Baltimore; the Johnston Line runs to Liverpool. Three lines hail from Philadelphia— the Atlantic Transport for London, the American Red Star for Liverpool, and the Manchester Line for Manchester. From New York—the most important cattle port in the world—the Wilson Line sends steamers to Hull, the Atlantic Transport to London, the White Star to Liverpool, the Allan Line to Glasgow, the Bristol City Line to Bristol, and the Lamport and Holt Line heads for Manchester.
The time of passage varies, the fastest boats making the trip in eight days, and the slowest vessels within fourteen. There are also a number of tramp lines of a worse class ; they are sort of “renegade”’ boats, unsafe, of ill repute, and shunned by experienced cattlemen. These steamers carry cattle on the open deck tied to frail pens and exposed to the mercy of every storm. The cattlemen are of most unsavoury reputation—a motley crew of gaolbirds and deserters from sailing vessels, who are over-anxious to return to England at any cost. So much has been written on this side of the question that current opinion has blackened cattlemen beyond redemption, and listed them as blackguards. The old lithographs of the hungry waves lashing over the tramp steamer, and carrying cattle and men overboard, were
based on boats like these. To the voyager, however daring he may be, I would abjure him not to cross the Atlantic as cattle helper on any of these steamers. Select only those boats where the cattle are stowed under sheltered decks and tied to stationary fittings. The danger of temporary fittings on an open deck is a menace to beast and man, and marine measures should be taken to stop their use.
The worst of their kind was what I held cattlemen in general to be, for I had heard many stories and talked to many people on this subject, with the lamentable result that I had gathered a long tablet of false impressions. I understood that all cattlemen were thieves, that they were beings who preyed by night and cursed by day, and in general were of the scum of the earth. Then I learned that cattle helpers fed the cattle. Just how they did this and at what time of day was not made clear. I was assured that it was the hardest work one could find, and this was the fag-end of my knowledge. Everyone had a different tale, and you can readily understand my absolute bewilderment, for, to say the least, this storehouse of facts was exceedingly indefinite. There was nothing comprehensive or detailed, but I find that my shadowy ideas were not a whit less vague than those of most people who have tried to look into this matter at second hand. There was only one thing to do—find out for myself by actual experience, and set down my observations that others might profit thereby.
I was fortunate in securing passage from New York on a fourteen-thousand-ton first-class passenger and cattle boat. It is my experience on this boat—as typical of the better conditions of the cattle transportation— that I set forth to show the true cattle boat and cattleman. I wish to be perfectly fair, and give a clear, unbiased picture of what it means to cross the Atlantic as cattle helper on a line of this standing.
The traveler may work his passage from Hoboken, Montreal, Boston, or Philadelphia, and in some cases be
paid the sum of one pound for services. From ports other than New York, return passage is generally given with no work attached on the return trip, but you must board the same steamer, which means that you only remain in England a few days. Out of New York, no cattle helpers are given free transportation for labor, none are paid for their work, and no return passage is given, for the human transportation on cattle boats leaving New York City is in the hands of agents, who charge an average of two pounds. This sum paid to them gives you the rare pleasure of feeding and watering cattle between that port and Hull, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, or London, as the case may be. You are not entitled to return on the same boat or any other boat of the line, nor is it possible to buy your way back as a cattleman—you must return as a passenger to New York. If you have mapped out a trip, and do not wish to put up with unnecessary trouble, I would advise you to start from New York, pay the two pounds, and return on a reasonably priced passenger steamer. By paying this fee, you can lord it, in a small way, by selecting your line and boat, and you will be with a better crowd of cattle bosses and messmates—there is a different crowd, just as the balcony crowd in a theatre differs from that of the top gallery. You see the same play, it is true, but you are more comfortable and better located—and this distinction in regard to cattle boats is of great import. For every advance in civilization some people must suffer, and the pinched shoe of the cattle helper is this little fee. Ten years ago this condition did not exist, but other conditions more serious than this were common along the whole line of the cattle boat problem. For the great advance in comfort there still remains this one grave imposition, but it is open and flagrant, and what caff you and I do? There is, of course;, this one recompense—not in favor goff it, but as a sort of salve to one’sdkelq ings—the two-pound fee raises^ the standard of cattle helpers,, íoimíiiü eliminates the wharf rats atfíd sâî&SA
loungers—and that is some satisfaction, as the bunks of cattle helpers are all in the same cabin.
The cattle boat agents are a plausible class and have formed a sort of a trust—a mean unbrotherly sort of arrangement, I should say, for they do not seem to trust each other ; but against this may be balanced the full confidence placed in them by the unsuspecting seafarer. There are three important agencies in New York—one on Clinton Street, another on West Street, and a third on Lower Broadway, at Bowling Green. They are licensed and carry on business under State laws. You at least have the satisfaction of knowing where you are really going. As this is their means of livelihood, they are prone to enthusiasm. Without a qualm of conscience, the agents give one the impression that a cattle helper's meals are as good as those served to the first-class passengers, if not a little better; and as for the bunks, you form an idea that you are to have a private saloon, with a steward detailed to look after your personal comfort. An agent told one of my messmates that all he had to do was to attend to two sheep. Another man was told he would like the work. The chap was under the impression that it would be so nice, he would want to come around every month or so and beg the agent to let him purchase passage on a cattle boat, so that he could have some more of the nice work. And still another of my companions was told that the work was mere child's play.
The boat was due to depart at one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. At eleven I reported for duty. Outside the pier were wagons, carriages, and automobiles, clustered in the midst of a busy scene of boxes, trunks, provisions, porters, stewards, and the general curious crowd that assembles when nothing extraordinary happens. Within the shed, gathered together in one corner near their boxes I found the cattlemen who were to be my companions. They were a lost, dazed lot, uncertain of their present and their future, and several transportation agents who had made arrangements
for them were busily answering foolish questions. At noon the head cattle foreman appeared—a tall, strong built man with a square jaw and clear, straight eyes, evidently a man of command and of his word. When the purser of the liner came into the little office, the cattlemen were lined up to be filed past his desk, like laborers going out west for a railroad company. Their names, addresses, business (if any), nationalities, and amount of money concealed about them, were tallied in the book, their signatures were affixed, and then they were accredited cattlemen. There were no porters to take our luggage, we had to pile it on the van, push it up to the side of the ship, and the aft engines pulled our boxes up on deck, where we placed them temporarily near the first hatch. We dragged our bags up the cattleman gang plank and dropped them near the trunks. Then we went to the side to look over, to see the dock again, our friends, the busy street, and dear old New York in the background. Someone warned us to keep our eyes on our goods if we wanted to be sure of them. We decided to take turns in watching, and thus for the first time came into talk and sympathy with one another ; for nothing brings one closer than mutual protection, and nothing keeps people apart more than the mistrust of ignorance on a new venture, where your nearest companion may be your first robber. I well remember those next few moments when we stood about in disjointed groups, with the nameless fear of the unknown over us, and the disconsolate reminder of impending departure—the groaning pulleys and sharp commands branding into our thoughts the leaving for another land, and our absolute ignorance of what we had before us. We did not know whether we had to feed cows, bullocks, sheep, or horses, for there were no signs of cattle. One of the fellows thought we had to drive the cows up in sections of six every day to the main deck, so that the poor brutes could promenade and get a little fresh air, and I recall that we all laughed with a very wise laugh ; but
had he asked any of us our duties, we should not have been able to inform him—it was merely ignorance of different shades with all of us, so we waited and wondered.
Of my messmates there were thirteen—three Englishmen, two Americans (both middle westerners), two Germans, two Russian Jews (both very stupid), one Frenchman, one French-Canadian (a real Canuck), one Welshman (we heard him sing), and one Egyptian, who started to sell things from the time we started until we pulled in at the Tilbury dock. It wras a mixed gang of various tongues, and those of the same nationality naturally gravitated together.
One of the Americans was an electrical engineer who was working his way over to embark for South Africa. Mohammed Ali, the Arabian, was returning to Cairo to start a coffeehouse with his. father-in-law, an “Effendi,” as he asserted. Mohammed likewise informed us that he thought the “Pyramids was a fine antique.” The Canuck was a brave lad who had worked for three months on a section road in the Northwest Territory, and at the end of that time he was not paid, so he decided he would go back to the home of his grandfather in Normandy. He had walked from Winnipeg to New York (it took him six weeks), and the French consul in New York.had given him enough money to go by cattle boat to London, where he was going to work his wa)r to the French coast, and foot it to the little village in Normandy. He was shoeless and almost clothesless when he came amongst us, but all of the fellows, dug down into their belongings and rigged him out, so that he landed in London a happy and proud Canuck. The Germans were both gluttons, by trade butchers, and they were returning to “happy Hamburg.” One of the Englishmen was a man of property—he had vast grants, he affirmed, out in Portuguese Africa, had lost his money through gambling in San Francisco, but would have more coin than he needed when his partner met him in London. We thought perhaps he might buy the
boat, but found out afterwards that he did not even pa}^ the cook who staked him to better grub. The second Englishman had some cattle on board, and thought they would be better looked after if he remained near them. The third Englishman was a tenor of a prominent opera company in the States, and was going over to London for the summer to improve himself under the great instructor, Aír. Shakespeare, and the cattle boat was a means to any end—it almost ended him, as his face and arms were so burned by exposure as to cause him pain during the whole of the trip, and gave him a rich, vivid red complexion. One of the widely traveled gentleman was the Frenchman—he claimed to be Parisian, but his accent savoured of Gascony. He had been out to India as stoker on a P. and O. liner—that was a terrible experience, he assured us ; then there were other places, many of them, where he had been, and always he had worked his way ; or, yes, it was very hard, but still he concluded that it made a man of him. Then there were the Russian Jews: they were tailors by trade, and unfortunately butts by choice of the whole crowd. It always seems that Jews of this class were born to be baited, and it is with difficulty that cattle foremen can save them from being seriously injured, so great is the general antipathy against them.
Here we were, all gathered in a common cause, with a nine days’ trip of hard work before us, and the first lesson we learned was not to trust the cattle bosses. This came from the cattle foremen, who are only responsible for the lives of the men under them, for up to that point the cattle bosses control things, and it was soon borne upon us that the cattle were far more valuable than we, that their safe delivery was more important, and that while they were animal cattle, we were only human cattle.
At last the hawsers were loosened, handkerchiefs waved in the air, goodbyes were heard on all sides, and the great steamer pulled out slowly down the river, through the harbor, past
the Statute of Liberty, and out into the ocean.
The spirit of novelty was over us, and someone suggested that we should take a look at our new quarters. We filed down, and finally pushed open a door, over which we read “Cattle Helpers." There were sixteen bunks —wooden frames, with woven steel bottoms. Two portholes gave ventilation. The cattle helpers looked in dismay at their hard bed—no mattress, no pillow, no blankets. Then someone suggested that as it was summer we should probably have no need of covering, and that we should probably become accustomed to these monastery bunks. Already we were resolved to accept the inevitable.
The widely traveled Frenchman had been on cattle boats, so with his superior knowledge he proceeded to initiate us.
“Someone must stay in here all the time," he said. “We have got to watch over things, for the cattle bosses will steal everything we have. I have known them to kill a man for five dollars," he ended with dramatic emphasis.
We conjured visions of sudden violent death, and being tossed overboard on a dark, starless night.
Three of the cattle bosses entered —it seemed as though this was their cue. They were a villianous-looking lot.
The shortest one bawled out : “Any of you fellows got any whisky?"
One of the Germans insinuated that even if he had, he wouldn’t give it to them.
“You wouldn’t, eh?" was the response, with a leer. Then he turned and addressed the crowd.
“You fellows take a tip from me, and don’t let the Dutchman run your show."
Unfortunately, at this moment he saw one of the Jews taking a drink. The poor fellow was sea-sick, and thought it would help him.
“Here, you Judas Iscariot," shouted the cattle boss, “pass over the poison !"
The Jew was frightened and did not know what to do. They took it from him, passed it around, and thanked
him with a kick. This ended the whisky and the incident, for one of the foremen appeared.
“What are you doing in here?" he yelled.
“We’ve just come in to see how the fellows were getting on," one of them responded lamely.
“Well, you just get out of here!You’ve no right in here, and I want you to keep out !"
After they had slunk away, he turned to us—
“Don’t you trust any of those fellows."
He swung round on his heel and slammed the door after him.
This was our first impression, and we tried to gather its full import.
In the evening the head cattle foreman told us to follow him. We went out past the galley and into the lower deck, where, in pens that extended the length of the boat, were over six hundred head of cattle. Traversing the length of the boat, we emerged through the forward hatch to the main deck, and were doled out two blankets and an eight-foot gunnysack. We scrambled down again, filled it with hay, and carried the bedtick back to the cabin. Things were beginning to look more promising.
We talked most of the night, and at last fell asleep, wondering what the morrow would bring forth. I have an indistinct remembrance of a last remark from Mohammed to the effect that if a cattle boss interfered with his rights, he would knife him, and much blood would flow. Then I slept soundly to the song of the waves and the throb of the propeller.
At an unearthly hour the door of our cabin was kicked in violently, and a loud voice awakened us. “Shake a leg ! shake a leg !" was the command. I thought I was back in the old logging camp in Maine, and with a jump landed in the middle of the cabin. Those who were to sleepy were pulled out feet first, and fell with a thud on the movable floor. Grumblings .and mutterings were heard, but in half an hour all were ready, and at five
o’clock in the morning we started the first day’s work.
The six cattle bosses each selected two men ; we were given pails, and the bosses stood at the water taps and filled the pails as we came up. Each bullock required about a bucket, and the whole number were watered in about an hour and a half. Then we had to wait an hour for breakfast—biscuits and tea. After a rest of an hour we were again routed out—by this time it was nearly ten o’clock.
The cattle foreman and the bosses divided the men into two gangs for the handling of the cattle. Each foreman had three bosses and six or seven cattle helpers—or “stiffs,” as we were called—to take charge of the supply of fodder allotted to his half of the cattle. This equal division was necessary, as the cattle were shipped to England by two companies, who had their usual foreman in charge of the stock.
The morning’s work, lasting until nearly ten o’clock, consisted of the men going in the hold and dragging bale after bale of hay to the opening of the hatch, where it was fastened to the tackle, pulled up, swung out, and lugged by the “stiffs” down the lines between the cattle. The wires were then cut, the hay shaken thoroughly from one end of the boat to the other, and tossed by forks into the pens. Bags of corn were also pulled up by tackle and given to the cattle. By one o’clock we were dead tired, and ready for dinner, which was a sort of thin soup and hunks of greasy meat.
At three o’clock the cattle were again watered, and more hay shaken out and fed to them, and the gangway between the pens throughout the whole boat was cleared of hay and swept clean for the night.
This mere chronicle of the general routine of the day does not imply that the work was particularly arduous— and it was not, after several days, when we had become somewhat accustomed to the work.
The first few days were dogged hard. Each bale of hay is no small weight, and dragging it half the length
of the boat was somewhat exhausting. The bags of corn were about one hundred pounds each, and to throw one over your shoulder and walk with it —perhaps two hundred yards—requires strength and skill. The shaking of the hay on a hot day was a bit disagreeable, as a continual dust was caused by it, the stuff getting in your eyes and sifting through your clothes. No one wore more than was necessary, for it was stifling below the deck. The watering of the cattle was the least arduous of all the work. But, despite the hardships, the grumblings, the demand for better food, and the general dissatisfaction that is prevalent when people willingly chose and agree to accept existing conditions and then expect more, the general view of affairs was philosophic.
Of all my companions, the most pleased at the end of the first day was Mohammed. He said that one of the cows loved him, because she had kissed him with her tongue on his face.
When we were accustomed to the routine, things went on very smoothly, and we soon found ourselves taking an interest in the cattle, in keeping our quarters ship-shape, and in working with some sort of system.
The whole length of the lower deck of the boat is used for the cattle. In this section is the galley, and a few cabins for petty officers. The forecastle comprised the cabin of the cattle foreman, and that of the cattle bosses ; aft larboard the cattle helpers, and aft starboard the stokers.
The cattle pens are formed by slipping boards into iron props which hold them securely in place. The cattle are tied firmly with an eightfoot rope, which is run through a hole in the hickory board, and tied on the outside in a figure eight knot. This board is the headboard, and the cattle are left about three feet leeway after being fastened for the entire trip. As they have a bed of hay, and plenty of food and care, their lot is not hard. There are times in winter when great gales blow up at night, when pens and headboards are wrenched to pieces, and maddened cattle are flung about helplessly with gored sides and
broken legs—then it is a matter of life and death for cattlemen to go among them in semi-darkness, and drive them back and bring some order out of the chaos..
If the “stiff,” or “cattle helper,” wishes to risk being injured, his assistance is appreciated by the bosses and the foremen ; but it is optional— this is not his duty, and he cannot be forced to go among the cattle against his will. Unless a man knows how to handle bullocks, he had better not cultivate their acquaintance under trying circumstances, for he will be more of a hindrance than a help.
It is not often that a storm is so severe as to do great damage, for conditions of cattle-shipping’ have reached so high a degree of perfection that cattlemen are able to cope with any difficulty. I have seen cattlemen handle bullocks and meet situations that would unnerve a cowboy. There are no horses and lassoes, and no chance of escape—only men on their feet, with bare hands grappling wild cattle half maddened with fear.
On a large boat with twin screws, a fin keel, and powerful engines, there is only a slight motion, so the wind and storm has little effect. When all the hatches have been closed, and wave are sweeping the decks, there is hardly any motion on the boat, and the cattle are as peaceful as though in the stockyards.
The cattle bosses have direct charge of the “stiffs.” As I have told you, this is the polite name given to all those who occupy the lowest rounds of the ladder in the experience of cattle-shipping. We are called “stiffs” because of our general ignorance and uselessness. Perhaps the name was originated by an ex-undertaker who afterwards became a cattle boss.
I hardly know where to begin and end when speaking of the cattle bosses. They lead a hard life, and as a class are a rough lot. Then I am immediately confronted with half-a-dozen cattle bosses who are drifting on tramp lines somewhere between here and Rangoon—men whom I have known to share their last cent with a
pal, and one man in particular who led as blameless a life as one could wish. He never swore, drank, nor smoked. He was interested in old cathedrals, and, strange to say, somewhat of an authority on Biblical history. At present he is a minister of the Gospel.
I call to mind another cattle boss. He was an Oxford graduate, a man of good family, and in his drunken moods would reel off bits of the “Ars Poetica.” He was always courteous, gentlemanly, and considerate. He drank—the demon, if it ever had a victim, had him by the throat. I hâve seen him fight against it, but it always conquered and it would leave him inert and helpless, and always unhappy. The cattle boat was a haven for him in one respect—for twenty days out of the thirty he could not drink.
Taking all in all, I have seen men far worse in all walks of life, but with this difference. The cattle boss has no chance of a better influence coming into his life, for he does not remain long enough in any one place.
Of a different grade and calibre is a cattle foreman. He must have been tried and found reliable, for the safety of men and cattle fall upon him. He must portion the supply of fodder so that it will last throughout the whole voyage. If any of the cattle become ill, he must know what to do. If the stock break loose at night, the foreman is the head and brains of all the men, and he must stay up until every bullock has been fastened again in its pen and everything is quiet and in perfect order; in a word, a cattle foreman is a captain in the cattle boat.
The foreman must be up at 4.30, and see that the water is fit for the cattle ; then he must keep his eyes open and see that they are properly watered, and lend a hand when necessary. You will find, as is usual in cases of greatest responsibility in any business, that the cattle-foreman works harder than any of the bosses and “ stiffs ” under him. He is hard at work all day, from early morning until the last thing at night, and there are nights when he has no sleep at all.
The subject of the cattle-boat is a most interesting and complex one. It seems simple, but one realises, when the boat steams up the Thames, and a tender comes out for the cattle, that this is just the threshold of a great enterprise. The cattle gang-plank is fastened to the side of a steamer, the pens are torn down, and the cattle are driven through the gangway to the tender, where they are jumbled promiscuously like so many sardines in a box. Then, when the lower deck is emptied of its animal cargo, and the steamer points nose towards Tilbury, with London Town in front, it
all comes to you with a shock that the work is finished and that the journey will soon be at an end.
As I stood on the open deck, gliding past the lowlands, and coming closer and closer to our journey’s end, I thought of the beginning of the trip —New York—nine days back—of my messmates, then strangers, now almost friends, and a thought crossed my mind of the best advice to give to a young man who wishes to work his passage as a cattle helper. It is short and concise and practical, and it comes from a foreman : “Do your work and mind your own business.”