All aboard the tramp steamer! Vintage images reveal what life was like on board the vessels that transported British trade all around the world
- Tramp steamer ships engage in irregular trade; unlike freight liners, they traded without fixed ports of call
- This black and white gallery shows the crew of the Tramp Steamer SS Eston carrying out their daily duties
- They are also pictured during their down time reading, cooking, eating as well as queuing up for their wages
These retro black and white images shed light on what daily life was like for crew members on board a tramp steamer merchant vessel in the early 20th century.
The vintage gallery features men working on the Tramp Steamer ship SS Eston fulfilling their duties while sailing on the French coast.
Pictured are a stoker loading coal into the ship’s boiler, a helmsman steering the cargo vessel, the Captain checking his compass and the second mate on deck with a loud hailer.
Other photographs illustrate the various activities they got up to in their spare time like reading, cooking and eating in the mess hall. The Captain of the ship is shown viewing the French coast from his binoculars.
The tramp trade first took off in Britain around the mid-19th century; the dependability and timeliness of steam ships was found to be more financially viable than sail ships when conducting trade.
As opposed to freight liners, Tramp Steamers do not have a fixed itinerary or published ports of call and trade on the spot market.
The term Tramp for Tramp Steamer came from the British meaning of ‘tramp’ as vagrant and was first documented in the 1880s.
Due to the explosion of liner services and also due to containerisation since the 1960s, the tramp trade has declined but has not completely ended.
The Tramp Steamer ship SS Eston and the Immo Ragnar are pictured at berth in the river Thames in Woolwich, London (1938). The weight of tramp ships stayed consistent between 1900 and 1940 at around 7,000 to 10,000 deadweight tons
Seven members of the tramp steamer’s crew cooking in the SS Eston galley – the compartment where food is prepared (1935)
Some of the crew on the SS Eston Tramp Steamer having a wash with buckets of water, helped by another crew member (1935)
The tramp steamer’s first mate – the officer second in command to the captain and responsible for the safety and security of the ship – reading in his bunk (1935)
Crew members reading and writing as they relax in their bunks on the Eston Tramp Steamer. Sleeping quarters were cramped aboard steamers with little to no privacy, as four men shared a small cabin. Comfort was also minimal with the wall being the iron plating of the ship (June 1935)
High waves from the choppy sea crest over the bows of the SS Eston Tramp Steamer during the night as the vessel sails to France (1935)
Crew members line up to receive their wages on pay day aboard the Eston Tramp steamer (June 1935)
The Captain of the British tramp steamer SS Eston is pictured in his cabin surrounded by his personal belongings (1935)
The captain of SS Eston looks at the coast of France through his binoculars from the deck of the tramp steamer (1934)
The stoker of the tramp steamer SS Eston shovelling coal into the ship’s boiler. The work was hot, dirty and dangerous (1935)
The tramp steamer’s full crew gather around the Captain (left) as he reads instructions while the ship is moored (1935)
Some of the crew members of the tramp steamer eating dinner in the ship’s mess hall – the area were men would eat, drink and socialise (1935)
A stoker of the ship shovelling coal into the furnace. The coal was needed for ships’ boilers and this increased a demand for the business for moving large amounts of Welsh coal to various seaports in Britain. Tramp ships became the main drivers of trade, transporting coal and finished products from British cities internationally
A crew member watches the loading process as coal is placed in the hold of the SS Eston Tramp Steamer ready for shipping to customers around the world (1935)
The helmsman of the tramp steamer steering the ship (1935)
High waves breaking over the bows of the Tramp Steamer S.S. Eston as it sails around the coast of France (1935)
Working on a tramp steamers could be dangerous, with high waves crashing against the ship during the rough seas and soaking the decks (July 1938)
The captain holds binoculars on the deck of his tramp steamer SS Eston. He is ultimately responsible for the safe navigation of the ship (1935)
The Chief Engineer in the engine room of the Tramp Steamer. He is responsible for all the operations and maintenance of all the engineering equipment throughout the entire ship, and supervises all the other engineering officers in the department (1935)
Members of the SS Eston’s crew observe the merchant Silver Pine cargo ship from the deck of their Tramp Steamer. Five years later in the war the Silver Pine was torpedoed and sunk by an Italian submarine 300 miles west of Ireland on a voyage from Liverpool to New York (1935)
The second mate – the third in command and a watchkeeping officer – of the SS Eston Tramp Steamer on deck with the loud hailer, which was used to signal presence or communicate with nearby boats (1935)
The six-man band of the Tramp Steamer SS Eston play their instruments, including ukuleles, a guitar and an accordion on the deck of the ship in 1935
A crew member observes the coast of France, which appears on the left hand-side in clear sight from the deck of the British tramp steamer SS Eston (1935)
The Captain of the SS Eston Tramp Steamer (centre) reads the compass on the ship’s bridge. Captain’s navigate the ship and are responsible for setting both the course and the speed (1935)
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