Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Coaling stations as places

Part of my thesis looks at the experiences of those involved in coaling, and their interactions with imperial environments. As E. G. Anning, in The Log of H.M.S. Argonaut explains:

‘A ship on a foreign station, moving from port to port, offers continual opportunity for diversion, and as an abundance of leave is granted to men of good character, they have ample opportunity to visit the different towns, see the sights, and study the ways of the natives.’

This blog will give just a few examples of the impressions of coaling stations recorded in ships’ logs.

On the native workers of St Lucia: ‘Dressed in the most grotesque rigs imaginable: one in a pair of pants which are tied round his neck, and a bluejackets old cap.’

On Hong Kong: ‘Few places are more interesting to the traveller from Europe than this city, furnishing as it does such a change of scenery, manners and customs, so widely different from anything he has probably seen before.’

Amoy, like most Chinese cities was dirty and ‘exude[s] a foul stench unbearable to any but Chinese.’
Yokohama was of particular interest due to the ‘figure, physiognomy, costume, and customs of the people’

St. Vincent (Cape Verde) was‘dismal and uninteresting.’

Valetta was a favourite of blue jackets: ‘his requirements are catered for on a somewhat lavish scale.’

Port Said was the ‘acme of coaling ports, as coal can be brought on board ship here much faster than at any port in the world.’

Gibraltar contained ‘a mixture of races, customs, and manners, such as can scarcely be found at any other place in Europe.’

Ascension Island was so reviled that when it was planned to close it as a station was rumoured a sailor exclaimed: ‘for the sake of those who have from time to time to pass a portion of their life here, this is to be wished.’

Simon’s Town split opinion. One log suggests that ‘There can scarcely be a landscape more gloomy and desolate than the sterile rocky mountain and white sandy plains which inclose Simon’s Bay.’ Another, however, comments on the ‘loveliness of its fauna and the bold ruggedness of its rocky scenery.’

My favourite comment, however, is this:  ‘I cannot call to mind any other settlement more dismal, miserable, and devoid of all interest than this at the Falkland Islands.’ 


  1. Port Said was the ‘acme of coaling ports, as coal can be brought on board ship here much faster than at any port in the world.’

    Now there's damning with faint praise. There's clearly a difference here between places where you could coal because there was a port there, and places where a coaling station had been created ex novo.

  2. In general, although the language was very racialised, sailors were very impressed with the workers at Port Said.

    And you are indeed correct, there are in fact three types, naval stations, commercial stations where naval stocks exist, and commercial stations where ships buy from commercial stocks (although the latter decreases as time goes on.)