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SAMUEL PLIMSOLL (1824-1898)

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Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 841 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SAMUEL PLIMSOLL (1824-1898), British politician and social reformer, was born at Bristol on the loth of February 1824. Leaving school at an early age, he became a clerk, and rose to be manager of a brewery in Yorkshire. In 1853 he endeavoured to set up a business of his own in London as a coal merchant. The venture proved a failure, and Plimsoll was reduced to destitution. He has himself related how for a time he lived in a common lodging-house on 7s. g d. a week. Through this experience he learnt to sympathize with the struggles of the poor; and when the success of his enterprise placed him in possession of a competence, he resolved to devote his leisure to the amelioration of their lot. His efforts were directed more especially against what were known as " coffin-ships "—unseaworthy and overloaded vessels, often heavily insured, in which unscrupulous owners were allowed by the law to risk the lives of their crews. Plimsoll entered parliament as Liberal member for Derby in 1868, and endeavoured in vain to pass a bill dealing with the subject. In 1872 he published a work entitled Our Seamen, which made a great impression throughout the country. Accordingly, on Plimsoll's motion in 1873, a royal commission was appointed, and in 1875 a government bill was introduced, which Plimsoll, though regarding it as inadequate, resolved to accept. On the 22nd of July, the premier, Disraeli, announced that the bill would be dropped. Plimsoll lost his self-control, applied the term " villains " to members of the house, and shook his fist in the Speaker's face. Disraeli moved that he be reprimanded, but on the suggestion of Lord Hartington agreed to adjourn the matter for a week to allow Plimsoll time for reflection. Eventually Plimsoll made an apology. The country, however, shared his view that the bill had been stifled by the pressure of the shipowners, and the popular agitation forced the government to pass a bill, which in the following year was amended into the Merchant Shipping Act. This gave stringent powers of inspection to the Board of Trade. The mark that indicates the limit to which a ship may be loaded is generally known as Plimsoll's mark. Plimsoll was re-elected for Derby at the general election of 188o by a great majority, butgave up his seat to Sir W. Harcourt, in the belief that the latter, as home secretary, could advance the sailors' interests more effectively than any private member. Though offered a seat by some thirty constituencies, he did not re-enter the house, and subsequently became estranged from the Liberal leaders by what he regarded as their breach of faith in neglecting the question of shipping reform. He held for some years the presidency of the Sailors' and Firemen's Union, raised a further agitation, marred by obvious exaggeration, about the horrors of the cattle-ships. Later he visited the United States with the object, in which he did good service, of securing the adoption of a less bitter tone towards England in the historical textbooks used in American schools. He died at Folkestone on the 3rd of June 18g8.
End of Article: SAMUEL PLIMSOLL (1824-1898)
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