Samuel Plimsoll 1824 – 1898

Samuel Plimsoll 1824 – 1898

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The Bust of Samuel Plimsoll in Hotwell Road, Bristol

The Plimsoll Line, What is it? , Many people in Bristol have probably seen the bust of Samuel Plimsoll in Hotwell Road, some may have wondered who or what he is honored for?

Plimsoll was born in Colston Parade, Redcliffe in 1824. When he was quite young the family moved to Sheffield and then onto Cumbria. Samuel left school at an early age and started work as a clerk, then went on to become a brewery manager.

1853 saw him move again, this time to London. He became a coal merchant, which left him broke and destitute but gave him great sympathy to the needs of the poor. Samuel was not a man to sit back and dwell in his misfortune. He picked himself up and was soon campaigning against overloaded and unseaworthy merchant vessels, then known as “ Coffin Ships “ .

He was supported by the public but faced immense opposition from the ship owners and the government of the time. In 1868 Plimsoll was elected Liberal M.P. for Derby. A gale off the coast of Bridlington killed six local lifeboat men. This was in 1871. Suddenly, Plimsoll’s call for change began to be taken seriously. In 1872 he published a work called “Our Seamen”, which made an immense impression throughout the country. 1873 arrived and a royal commission was appointed to look into Plimsoll’s suggestions.

Two years later a Bill was introduced. Plimsoll regarded it as inadequate but he accepted it. Later, under pressure from wealthy ship owners, Disraeli, the Prime Minister, suddenly announced that the Bill would be dropped. Plimsoll’s temper got the better of him and he called members of the house a bunch of villains, he then shook his fist at the speaker. The matter was adjourned for a week to allow Plimsoll time for reflection. He did however apologise, but public opinion was on his side.  It was Disraeli who was finally forced to back down.

A year later, the Merchant Shipping Act was introduced, giving The Board of Trade power of inspection and the introducing of a mark, “The Plimsoll Line” onto the hull of all ships to ensure they were not overloaded.

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The Plimsoll Line

Samuel Plimsoll died in Kent in 1898 but is still remembered by sailors throughout the world. There is still of course the Plimsoll Bridge at Cumberland Basin and as previously mentioned his bust at Hotwell Road.

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1964 the then new Plimsoll Bridge over the Cumberland Basin, Bristol