On a windy Liverpool dock, a man huddled in the shelter of packing cares. It isn’t uncommon to find the dead bodies of stowaways after a voyage. He was turned over to the stoke hold.

Stranded Overseas, They Try to Get Back in Desperation as Stowaways – Hiding in the Coal Bunkers is Challenging Death – Sometimes a Woman is found in the Hold.

In the dead of night on a windy Liverpool dock, a man sat huddled in the shelter of a great square pile of packing cases.

Single lights waved in the wind at lonely intervals down the length of the dock. In their fitful gleam, the funnels and masts of steamers could be seen, a great tangle of shipping. The night was filled with the groan of hawsers and cables, the splash of waves. The air was heavy with the smell of the salt sea, of paint and tar and coal smoke.

The man in the shadows had his eyes fixed tirelessly on the far end of the dock, where a small, second-rate liner was taking on cargo. Under the glare of portable calcium lamps the crane was swinging net loads of packages and rope tied cases up off the dock, over and down into the steamer’s hold. With shouting and whistling, groups of men on the dock and on be ship’s deck loaded and unloaded the crane’s burden.

For hours the man in hiding watched this ceaseless, noisy toil of the loading of a ship. He squirmed with cold in his worn tweed suit, and twisted the collar up about his neck to help a blue cotton handkerchief keep out the chill.

There was a look of desperation in his face. He needed a wash, a shave. His hands clutched restlessly at a bundle of sacking beside him on the planks.

As he started up the dark dock the crane suddenly paused in its swinging, and there was a commotion amongst the groups of men. There was shouting and shrill whistling. After a pause of about five minutes, two small squads of men came slowly down the dark dock bearing heavy burdens.

The man in hiding rose as they approached. He saw that the burdens were men, who twisted and moaned with pain.

“Thank God!” muttered the shabby man as they passed. Forgetting his sack bundle, be ran up the dock, towards the groups under the calcium lights. Work had recommenced. Slowing up, collecting his breath, he stepped up to one who was clearly a foreman, and said:

“Need any more help?”

“Yes,” said the foreman, hurriedly. “Get up on deck, there, and ease that net into the hold. Just had a couple of men smashed there. Watch yourself, now!”

Breathing blessings on heaven, the shabby one stumbled up a rough gangway to the deck. In a moment. under the direction of a fierce man in a blue great coat, he was seizing the huge swinging packages as they came overside, and was shouting and cursing with the rest of them, like an old-time wharf rat.

But he wasn’t a wharf rat. He was a Canadian clerk. His business was the writing down and adding up of figures in a ledger. But it was so long since he had written anything but his signature in employment agency lists that he had forgotten what ink and ledgers smell like.

He had come over to Europe to share in a certain war that took place some seven to eight years ago. He had sucked mud at the Somme, climbed Vimy, gone swimming at Passchendaele, done the great sightseeing tour from Amiens to the Rhine, and then, on his way home to Canada, had married a girl from Cherriton, whom he had wooed in those far-off Shorncliffe days; and then had taken his discharge from the Canadians in England.

He had planned to loaf about Blightey for year or so, and then return to Canada at leisure. But there was a great industrial slump in England right after the war, and he found himself, as weeks flowed into months, living off his wife’s parents. He could get no work. He had no friends in England. His people had no money to send him from Canada. When he called at the Canadian commissioner’s in London to get sent home, they regretted to inform him that since he had taken his discharge in England, the Canadian government could assume no responsibility for him.

He got rough jobs here and there for a day a week, for four or five days a month. He was destitute, broke, alone, shabby.

Down and out.

By long, hard stages he got to Liverpool. He haunted the docks, trying to get a job on the crew of Canada-bound ships. The ships officers pushed him out of their way. There were hundreds of qualified seamen begging for jobs.

Day after day he saw great liners draw gracefully out into the harbor, Canada bound. He saw great crowds aboard them – going home.

He grew rather crazy.

And then dreams of his boyhood came back to him. He recalled the tales of olden days, of great sailing ships, and of boys who went as stowaways on high adventure.

And, in a dim sort of ecstasy he decided to get home to Canada as a stowaway on one of these ships curving out to sea.

For six weeks the haunted the docks. The regular dock workers gave him no chance to get jobs. They were a jealous and brutal lot. He took several beatings and bootings for being found hanging about the waterfront. But by securing occasional pitiful jobs in the city, and with the proceeds buying the odd drink for sailors in the taverns by the docks, he picked up a little useful information.

In a piece of sacking he got together three or four pounds of emergency rations, some sea biscuit, a tin of bully beef, an old army water bottle full of cold tea. He even stole some dried herrings from in front of poor little shop.

And every night, evading watchmen and dock workers, he crept into the neighborhood of the Canada-bound steamers.

One night he was caught trying to board a tramp freighter for Montreal, and was nearly drowned when the crew pushed him over the side. Another time, when he was pretending to help a squad load a great packing case into the side of a ship, the foreman of the gang spotted him and booted him off the deck.

He realized that in some way he must get a job loading cargo into a ship.

And then came this night, when two men had their legs crushed by tons of cargo; and it being three o’clock in the morning, with none of the usual hangers-on about, the foreman of the dock gang had welcomed him, and sent him on deck.

He nearly broke out sobbing when he looked down into the vast dim hold of that ship. His hands were shaking so, his legs so weak, that the deck gang had to swear at him over and over. He toiled an hour. His hands were bleeding. His starved stomach was caving in.

“Come down here, some of you!” bellowed a voice from the hold.

He followed frantically a couple of the squad who moved away to obey the summons.

Down in the hold they were stowing cargo. Crates, cases, packages were being ranged solidly and immovably down in this safe bosom of the ship – Canada bound! So strenuously and willingly did he work, heaving and pushing the great weights about, that the men gave him the dirtiest work to do. He peered. He squinted. He pried. Into every corner his wild eyes bored. And presently, as he and his mates shoved a great crated machine of some sort into a position against the side of the ship, he saw a little space, just big enough for a man to crouch, under that machine.

He manoeuvred other pieces of cargo into position so as to screen the space.

When the attention of the gang was in another corner of the hold, he slipped breathlessly into his cranny and there he crouched. He heard them call him, hunt for him. He heard them say he must have gone off.

He heard tons of cargo come aboard, and then the sounds of day, the whistling of tugs, the splash of fresh wind on the ship.

But the ship did not sail, in spite of the hurry to load her at night, till late that following afternoon. And then he remembered he had left his parcel of food the dock. He huddled in his corner, starved, half crazy with thirst, fearful that the ship might have ports of call in Ireland where he could be put ashore. Forty-eight hours he crouched in that dark hold, until he heard voices of some of the crew seeking something in the hold. They were far at sea. So he shouted with all his might for help.

They had to shift tons of cargo to get him.

They took him before the captain of the ship. He told them he had been knocked senseless while helping stow cargo and had not come to until the ship was at sea.

The captain smiled grimly.

“Aren’t you a Canadian?” asked the captain.

“Yes,” admitted the stowaway.

“Send him down to spell the trimmers,” said the captain, a little more grimly.

They don’t like stowaways, at sea. If stowing away were not discouraged, a ship’s master would never know where he got off. He might find himself with a dozen extra mouths to feed, every voyage. Then it gets ships’ officers in trouble with immigration authorities. Stowaways are decidedly a nuisance. So ship officers discourage stowing away.

Our Canadian wanderer they took down into the bowels of the ship and handed him over to the third engineer. The engineer turned him over to the stoke hold, and there he was introduced to a bad, coal-blackened squad of men known as trimmers. The trimmers grinned startlingly out of their black faces when the word stowaway was pronounced. They took possession of the shabby young man and set him to work, relieving them, turn about, at filling and wheeling barrows of coal from the bunkers to the stokers, who stood ceaselessly firing the great raging boilers.

For eight days the stowaway earned his passage among the trimmers. He worked as long as the trimmers wanted him to work. No union hours for him.

“The Somme was a picnic to that trip in the stoke hold,” he said to me – for he told me his adventures one night in Halifax, where he was awaiting money from his people to bring him the short – ah, blissfully short – journey from Halifax to western Ontario.

When the ship finally docked at Halifax, he was let up out of that hell in the bowels of the ship. He ached in every cell. He was bruised and aged and weary. But he was home. They banded him over to the immigration officers. The trimmers had mockingly assured him that he would be sent back by the Canadian immigration officers by the same ship he had come on, to the same port he had left. He was a listless and hopeless figure when he stood before the officers.

He nearly fell dead when he learned that, it he could prove he was a Canadian citizen and could get the money to pay his are back to his own people, he would be freed.

He wired for confirmation of his Canadian citizenship, and money was promised immediately.

Canada is very easy with stowaways who turn out to be Canadians. But with all others she is as stern as the rest of the world. And it is said that hundreds of the Canadians who were stranded in England after foolishly obtaining their discharge overseas, have come home either as members of the crews of ships, deserting on their arrival in a Canadian port, or else as stowaways.

Most of the stowaways do not go through all the hardships described. The easiest way to get aboard a ship is by bribing one or more members of the crew. The night before sailing, these sailors bring the stowaway aboard in the pretence that it is one of their mates a little the worse for liquor. He staggers and hangs his head, and the officer and members of the watch are unsuspicious.

They feed him from their own ration till the ship is clear of land, and then they let him be discovered, and he is put to work by an irate ship’s officer either in the stokehold, trimming, or scrubbing decks or relieving the cook’s helper of the dirtiest work that falls to that dignitary’s lot.

The agents of one of the big steamship companies tell a comic story of a stowaway who got aboard at Liverpool, a fine-looking young man in the best of business tweeds. How he got on the ship nobody ever found out. He slept in one of the lifeboats, and stole other passengers’ steamer rugs off the chairs on the boat deck. He spent his days cheerfully on deck and in the saloon, and he actually played cards and won from some of the passengers. He went down for meals with the rest of the passengers, and the stewards assigned him a place at one of the tables.

The day before landing, the lifeboats were swung in on their davits, and one of the sailors, noting that the cover of one of the boats was loose, lifted it and looked inside. There was a snug little nest, lined with the missing steamer rugs. He reported it to his officer, and that night, after everybody had retired, they came and opened the boat and found the elegant stowaway curled up sound asleep in his big cradle.

The elegant stowaway snug in his great cradle

This man agreed to pay the company his passage, and after much telegraphing the money for the trip was produced by relatives in western Canada.

The scheme of signing on with a ship and deserting at a Canadian port is a good one, if the job can be got in the first place. Ships’ officers are very fussy about experienced men, and usually refuse to sign a man on these days unless he has papers to show he’s an experienced and able seaman.

Most of the stowaways on the high seas are not romantic figures, bucking fate, but are simply the sea counterparts of the hobo of the land who rides the rattlers and the blind baggages and steals rides in freight cars.

They are the hobos of the sea, and as soon as they tire of one port, they stow away for a cruise to another – they don’t care much, which. The customary procedure with these vagabonds is to get a job at coaling of the steamer, during which they smuggle in a bundle of food and water and hide themselves in the coal bunkers. These are the ones who get the rough and tumble treatment from the officers if they are caught.

Boys are great nuisances as stowaways. Too young to be taken on as sailors, without the influence to get signed on as boys, they have no other means of working off their-romantic fevers but to stow away. There is one of these boys who plies between Halifax, Sydney and St. John’s, Newfoundland, who has been a stowaway on practically every ship that, run regularly between the ports. He has become a sort of a port joke but is getting old enough to be taken seriously, and one of these days he will find himself trimming a tramp to Valparaiso or the Antipodes.

Women stowaways are rare. Sometimes a sailor will pick up a sweetheart in some port and induce her to stow away aboard his ship. But it is no life for a woman. Halifax had one very pitiful as recently. A sailor brought aboard a young girl of sixteen and hid her in the coal bunkers. He fed her. But she was very seasick, and he abused her frightfully, and on the run from Newfoundland she had her feet and hands frozen. He got a jail sentence out of it, and the girl was sent back to her home in Newfoundland.

She hid in the coal bunkers

Steamers carrying food cargoes, such as fruit and other ready edibles, are favorites with the sea hoboes. Most of these ships are refrigerated, but some of them carry deck loads or hold cargoes of crated fruit. This ensures both food and drink to the hobo, who lies snug throughout the journey in among the crates he helped load, and then he slips overside in the night, when port is reached, and swims ashore.

It isn’t uncommon to find the dead body of a stowaway when a ship is discharging cargo. One fruit steamer found two dead stowaways who, in loading the ship in the West Indies, had left a space for themselves when the officer in charge of the loading was not looking. They had the hidden themselves in this space. But they had forgotten that even in a fair sea cargo will sometimes shift. During the voyage the ship rolled a good deal, and the pair were crushed to death by the crates of fruit.

Bodies have also been found in the coal bunkers, in the cargo hold, starved to death or crushed, and one poor boy had hidden himself underneath some planking in the hold and was drowned in bilge when the ship took on all her cargo.

In the old day of sailing ships, when stowaways faced death for a change of air, there was no Salvation Army, no colonial offices and agents to help a man on his way to the other side of the world. It is easy now to cross the sea one way or another within the law. Only the hoboes and the very desperate resort to stowing away.

The hoboes do it from habit. The desperate are never that desperate again.