Wordcatcher Tales: Paying the Crimp

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), p. 105:

At these growing Pacific port towns, beachcombers established themselves as crimps and arranged girls and ships for sailors of all nationalities. Richard Copping walked off the whaler Endeavour in April 1840 at the Bay of Islands along with several other sailors and three harpooners, as “she was leaking badly.” They sought other berths through the agency of a notorious lodging house in the Bay:

Of all the orgies imaginable it was here. There were nearly 100 men, mainly deserters from different ships, drinking, singing and dancing, and fighting. The captains used to come ashore and get their men but dare not touch one. So when a ship wanted hands, two or three captains would come ashore and be hail fellow well met, call for a quantity of their detestable grog, get them nearly all drunk; and at night kidnapped as many as they wanted.

Sailors would waken outward bound and in debt to the captain, who had paid the crimp. They would need to purchase more clothing, tobacco, and drinks from the captain’s slop chest at inflated prices against future earnings:

The next I remember I woke in the morn,
On a three skys’l yarder bound south round Cape Horn,
With an ol’ suit of oilskins, an’ two pair o’ sox,
An’ a bloomin’ big head, an’ a dose of the pox.

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Filed under labor, language, migration, Pacific, slavery

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