Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Last Haunt of the Shanghaier

A Meeting With Old Jim Turk

As described by the best selling, turn of the century, 
author of sea stories, Frank T. Bullen

With commentary by Yours Truly

Frank T Bullen was born in a poor section of London in 1859. When he was 9 years old he quit school to become an errand boy. After doing this for awhile he did what so many poor boys did in those days, he went to sea. Bullen sailed the world for many years raising in status to that of chief mate. Following this he went to work as a clerk at the Meteorological Office, In this position, like so many civil servants before and since, he was able to spend time writing. His sea story The Cruise of the " Cachelot," published in 1906. became a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Shortly after this success he published a book relating his spiritual experiences as a sailor and member of the evangelical, Seamen's Friend Society. Parts of this book recalled his journey up the Columbia to Portland, which was in his words, "the last haunt of the shanghaier." He went on to say, "It is no figure of speech to say, if you have money enough, and sufficient pull the police will let you do what you like in Portland. 

Needless to say, these words enraged the Oregonian book reviewer who titled his review: "Bullen, Writer of Fiction." The reviewer claimed that such statements would have been false even in the "palmiest days of Jim Turk and Bunko Kelly." He went on to complain that the port suffered from a "freight discrimination of 30 cents per ton" levied against it due to "misunderstanding and misrepresentation such as that put forth by Bullen."

Well I say, hold on there! What year is this? 1906. Turk is dead, Sullivan is gone. Bunko has disappeared. But down there on the waterfront it looks like we still have Jack Grant, of Sullivan, Grant Bros, & McCarron,  keeping up the old sailor's boardinghouse in the north end, Over in Albina the White Brothers are still at it, with the help of Mysterious Billy Smith. They would later merge and be the sailor's boardinghouse monopoly of Grant & White, still going strong in 1911 (the year my father was born). 

By 1915 "shipping sailors" had stopped being the lucrative business it once was, but thank heaven, Oregon governor Oswald West pushed through prohibition (earlier than the U.S. Congress) and the shanghaier boys had a ready made occupation to step into--bootlegging. I can prove this to anyone's satisfaction, should they care to push the issue.

Now, back to Bullen. He makes it sound like none of the crew on his ship took the bait that Jim Turk laid for them. If this was the case it was a rare ship, and a very rare crew. Here is a snippet of Bullen's experience in our fair port:


In due time we left our moorings, and in tow of one of the stately, towering river-steamers that Americans delight in, we departed. The' Willamette Chief' our imposing motor-it seemed almost irreverent to speak of her as a tug, so splendid did she appear by our side-glided up stream against the considerable current with great ease, at no time exerting all her power. That great stern-wheel of hers seemed irresistible.

The view as we turned bend after bend was truly enchanting, especially to me, whose opportunities of looking upon inland scenery had been so small. Those solemn, endless avenues
of pines coming right down to the water's edge and reflecting the tall pillars of their stems in the placid surface of the river, especially appealed to me,

I could not help comparing them with the vastly different vegetation on the banks of the Clarence, in New South Wales, up which I so often steamed when lamp trimmer in the Helen McGregor.

I do not remember how long we were towing up: I only know that the time seemed very short, and before we could realize that the long upward tow was nearly at an end, Portland, with its rows of double-tiered wharves, its fine buildings and clusters of shipping, burst into view.

But who is this coming off in a four-oared boat, bumping  alongside, and climbing over the rail with a strange air of proprietorship? Without taking any notice of the after-guard, he strolls forward and introduces himself to us as we all stand grouped together staring at the city.

He is, it appears, one James Turk, who keeps a respectable boarding-house for seamen, to which he has come to invite us.

He informs us casually that wages for AB.'s are at present forty dollars a month, and that the paltry formality of getting a legal discharge need not trouble us. It appears they don't go much on discharges here.

"An' ye'll git tew mont's' advance, y'know, 'fore ever ye go aboard," he adds. This last is rather much for me to listen to silently, so I say, with the utmost politeness;

"Who'll get two months' advance, did you say?"

"Anybody as ships here," he replied excitedly; "you ef ye like ter be man enough t' git yer dunnage an' stip into my boat thet's 'long side."

"Thanks," I murmured,' I thought the boarding master usually got the advance, and the sailor that was fool enough to have anything to do with him got a broken head and a few bruises if he ventured to ask for what belonged to him.

Swift as thought the wild-beast stood revealed man-stealer, murderer, criminal of loathiest shape. Can any term of opprobrium be too severe to apply to these demons of the American ports, whose awful trade has been a blot upon the fair fame of the great Republic for so many years?

This particular devil burst forth into a flood of flaming blasphemies against us all, and myself in particular, lurid language to which none of us answered a word. Until presently big Jem stepped forward quietly and said:

"My vrient, jou vants de crace of Gott fery batt."

Shall I ever again see such a transformation? The truculent villain looked stupidly first at Jem, then at us all, one after the other, and then wearily turned away, ejaculating this formula:  "Well, God damn my soul t' hell. So he passed from our ken and we saw him no more."

But afterwards we heard that this particular specimen of the Pacific Coast boarding master had a reputation for evildoing second to none in all that foul fraternity. And we were assured that we might be exceedingly grateful that none of us had been waylaid by his orders and brutally done to death. But I do not know. It has been my experience that in most cases where sailors have been thus evilly treated it has been because they themselves have been consenting parties in a measure, that they have willingly gone to those places where they were most easily trapped.

Poor brother seamen! As if you had not sufficient enemies without you yourselves giving those enemies all the facilities they require to work you harm.

For two days we did not feel inclined to go ashore. There was much to be done, and when the day's work was over it was pleasanter to sit upon the fo'csle head and smoke than to go rambling we knew not whither. 

It is interesting to note that way back in the 1870s when the Seamen's Friend Society was just starting out in Portland old Jim Turk let them hold at least one meeting in his Sailor's Home.