Maritime industry is central to the Victorian economy, although it now employs far fewer workers than was once the case. River and sea transport dominated during Victoria’s first decades, but as roads improved and railways expanded, more goods and people could travel by road or rail. In the twentieth century air transport became feasible. ‘Air mail’ was introduced and eventually it was possible to export other valuable (and perishable) cargos by air. But most international cargo is still transported by sea.
In the nineteenth century there were dozens of jobs associated with maritime industry. Quite apart from seafarers, many others worked as boatmen, lightermen, deckhands, pilots or in one of many associated trades. Hundreds of others worked on shore as wharf labourers, ‘lumpers’ or coalmen. As sail gave way (gradually) to steam, ships required engineers and stokers alongside other crew. Then the stokers became redundant in their turn, as ships were powered by diesel.
Many factors have influenced the decline in maritime jobs. The first was the end of the era of sail, which saw many associated jobs disappear. But equally important were changes in the mid-twentieth century — the introduction of bulk handling of products like grain, and then containerisation, which saw the majority of goods shipped in large containers rather than bags. Both reduced the need for labour on ships and on shore.
Author: Ann Wilcox
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