It is noticeable that songs about steamboats rarely mention any of the sailors apart from the occasional mention of the Captain. The songs were written for landlubbers and naturally concentrated on the passengers with whom the prospective purchaser of the song could identify. Sailors had to wait until Plimsoll's campaign of the 1860s until broadsides like 'The Unseaworthy Ship'{V20171} told of their plight and illustrated it with a woodcut of a paddle steamer.

Almost all wrecks happened near to shore and many ballads tell of the heart-rending cries of the drowning.

In the face of all these disasters we are bound to ask why did anybody in their right mind step aboard a steamship. The answer is that a voyage in a sailing vessel was at least as dangerous and generally more dangerous than one in a steamer. (for example, between 1830 and 1900 70% of all the sailing ships of the Tyne were lost at sea). Sailors could expect to be wrecked several times during the course of their career.

 

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