(notes by Alastair Wilson)
A ‘liner’ is a passenger boat that plies regularly between certain ports. The cargo steamer, in sea slang called a ‘tramp’, on the other hand, never knows where her next voyage will take her. She may go to West Africa for a cargo of oil or rubber in January, and in June be dodging ice in the White Sea on her way to Archangel for timber, and a month or so later may be loading cotton in New Orleans or lying in Rangoon on the chance of getting a load of rice.The speaker of the lines is one of the “unfortunate women”, cited above. The Hard, or ‘Common Hard’, is still there on Portsmouth waterfront, but its nature has greatly changed. As its name implies it was a hard landing, available to all, where boats could be pulled out of the water to be repaired and painted – much of the rest of the harbour, outside the Royal Dockyard, was mud, and small boy ‘mudlarks’ would grovel for pennies in the mud.
Very often she is out of touch with her owners, and her captain solicits custom from port to port. The earnings of a cargo steamer plying an uncertain trade therefore bear comparison with those of unfortunate women who hang about Portsmouth Hard by the Royal Dockyard waiting for sailors who have been paid off or granted liberty ashore.
... bought her cheap and painted her all over like the Hoor o’ Babylon”...The liner’s superior ‘make-up’ doesn’t necessarily make a lady out of her.