If you want to see Swansea as it was known by the many Dinas mariners who were apprenticed to masters from that port, have a look at a copy of ‘Finden’s Views of the Ports, Harbours, Coast Scenery and Watering Places of Great Britain’. The engravings and commentary date from the late 1830s and early 1840s.
As might be expected from the date of the publication, the author was much concerned with the dangers of a mariner’s life. There are numerous engravings and discussions of ship wrecks, life boat design (the RNLI had just been founded in 1824) and light houses. The commentary on the Mumbles rocks includes a plea:
The number of ships lost or driven ashore, in 1833, amounted to eight hundred. It is probable, then, that the annual loss by shipwreck is not much short of a million sterling. If one fifth of this loss could be prevented by additional lighthouses, the saving of money would amount to a million in five years, – to say nothing of the still more important saving in human life. We are anxious – not on the store of economy only, but of humanity – to place these lamentable facts before the eyes of Government, from whose hands the mitigation at least, if not the removal, of such disaster is confidently expected.
Volume 1 and volume 6 of ‘Finden’s Views’ (both smelling very strongly of coal dust) are on sale at Oxfam Wilmslow.
I find it hard, when I look out at sea anywhere in West Wales and see nothing but the odd ferry, Milford tanker or fishing boat collecting lobster pots, to picture what the coast will have been like 50, 100 or 200 years ago filled with boats and ships of every shape and size. For one whose childhood included the busy waters of Hong Kong harbour in the 50s the seas hereabouts seem achingly empty, almost sterile. I don’t count wind- and kite-surfers…
The corollary is, of course, that we don’t have the distressing loss of craft and lives that Finden’s describes.
I too was struck by the number of boats in this picture .. and also in the other engravings in these fascinating books. I had an attempt at discovering how many men were employed at sea 100/150/200 years ago but the information is hard to find. As the men were away, they don’t appear on the census returns and other lists (like the wonderful Mariners’ Index) don’t include the ordinary seamen.