Ship Workers

Children working in shipyards were often in charge of the transport of rivets. These permanent mechanical fasteners would be heated in a stove until they were glowing red. Once this occurred, the rivets would be thrown from child to child in an assembly line fashion until it reached the its destination in the ship’s hull. An obvious occupational hazard of this burning of the clothing and flesh if one were to miss the red hot metal and have it land anywhere on the child. In addition to severe burns, children working in shipyards were subject to hearing loss. The incessant noise of metal pounding day in and day out could lead to a decrease in the child’s hearing.

Some labor of older children also entailed working on the ships once they went out to sea. These young men worked for smack-owners, or ship owners, in the form of an apprenticeship. The crew, usually consisting of around five, was housed in a single small cabin. They continually wore work clothing in the event that sudden orders came up, their cabins often flooded, and the vessel itself was usually in some state of disrepair as small vessels were not subject to port regulation. These apprentices were paid a meager salary, and the crew was usually on the water forty weeks of the year. (Steinberg 2006)


1.  Working Conditions for Poor Victorian Children

2. Steinberg, Marc W. “Unfree Labor, Apprenticeship and the Rise of the Victorian Hull Fishing Industry: An Example of the Importance of Law and the Local State in British Economic Change.” International Review of Social History Int. Rev. Soc. His. 51, no. 02 (2006): 243. doi:10.1017/s0020859006002446.


By Denise Webb