Derby Guide - Famous Derbeians - Samuel Plimsoll
Samuel Plimsoll, son of Thomas Plimsoll and Priscilla Willing, was born in Bristol on 10th February, 1824. Plimsoll's interests lay in the problems of shipping coal to London and soon became one of Britain's leading experts on trade. He was particularly concerned with the negligence of some shipowners and the indifference of government to the issue of marine safety.
In the 1868 General Election, Plimsoll was elected as MP for Derby on his second attemp to gain a seat in the town. He immediately began to campaign for government legislation to protect seamen. To support his case he published Our Seamen (1873), a book that provided documentary evidence about the scale of the problem. This included information that nearly 1,000 sailors a year were being drowned on ships around British shores. As part of his campaign, a copy of Our Seamen was given to every member of the House of Commons.
Ship-owners had powerful supporters in the House of Commons and it was argued by them that the government should not pass legislation that restricted the freedom of employers to run their companies. Gradually, other politicians, such as Lord Shaftesbury, became involved in Plimsoll's campaign. In 1875 Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative prime minister, changed his mind on the issue and in 1875 gave his support to an Unseaworthy Vessels Bill.
The following year Samuel Plimsoll managed to persuade Parliament to amend the 1871 Merchant Shipping Act. This provided for the marking of a line on a ship's sides which would disappear below the water line if the ship was overloaded. A further amendment in 1877 imposed a limit on the weight of cargo which vessels were permitted to carry and created rules governing the engagement of seamen and their accommodation on board ship.
Plimsoll retained his seat in Derby until he retired from the House of Commons in 1880. Although no longer in Parliament he continued to campaign for reform and in 1890 published Cattleships, a book that exposed the cruelties and dangers of cattle-shipping. Samuel Plimsoll died in 1898.
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