Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers


Front Cover and Spine, Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers by Sir James Bisset, Written in Collaboration with P. R. Stephensen, 1959.

Front Cover and Spine, Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers by Sir James Bisset, Written in Collaboration with P. R. Stephensen, 1959. GGA Image ID # 20423f9442


On the Front Cover

The champion Cunard liner, SS Mauretania, built in 1906, passing a tramp steamer in the mid-Atlantic (From the oil painting by John Allcott in the possession of P. R. Stephensen).



Second Volume of Ocean Travel facsimile reprint of out-of-print classic maritime literature. Cunard Line Officer's memoirs from 1905 through 1912.




From Sail to Steam—Farewell to the "Windbags"— Ambitions of a Young Salt—Out of Work—Trudging Liverpool Docks—Ocean Greyhounds—Some Famous Cunarders—Many Rebuffs—Early Bird Gets the Worm— The S.S. "Rembrandt"—My Uniform Suit—A Third Mate's Hopes.


My First Steamer—Everything Strange—Contrasts in Luxury—Loading Cargo—The Ship's Complement—Sailing Day—Our Passengers—"Extra Cargo!"—Clearing Out—The Pilot Comes Aboard—Casting Off—My First Watch—Pitfalls for the Unwary—Experience Teaches.


The New Routine—The Bridge—The Patent Log—Irish Sea—The Channel—Open Water—I Take Over a Watch —Buenos Aires—Montevideo—Rio de Janeiro—Bahia- Easy Navigation in Steam—Canary Wine—Las Palmas- Home and "On the Beach" Again.


To the West Indies—S.S. "Texan"—Why a Ship is a "She" —The Blue Caribbean—Jamaica Rum—Colon in 1905— The Panama Canal—Gulf of Mexico—Mississippi Delta —Quarantine at New Orleans—Fever Raging—Home Safe and "On the Beach" Again.


The Doldrums of Unemployment—Back to Sail—The Barque "Santa"—A Narrow Escape—S.S. "Jura"—The Captain's Daughter—Cape Flyaway—Buenos Aires- Magellan Strait—The Nitrate Ports—With Saltpetre to Hamburg—Aground in a Fog—Cardiff and Home—Jim Watt—A Step up the Ladder.


First Mate of S.S. " Shir a"—Maiden Voyage—A Crabby Captain—Bound for the Fast—Gibraltar—Port Said—The Suez Cariai—The Red Sea—Bombay—Dengue Fever- Home Again.


Paid Off the "Shira"—"On the Beach" Again—First Mate of the "Nether Holme"—Percy Hefford—Cleaning up a Tramp—Naval Coal at Barry Dock—Crew Desert— A Cold Job—The Western Ocean.


Excitement in a Collier—Bound for Bermuda—Dirty Weather—Flooded Decks—Securing a Hatch—First Aid- Fireman Runs Amok—Blood in the Stokehold—At the Bermudas—Why Men Go to Sea.


The Heyday of Coal-burning Steamers—Colliers—My First Voyage in the North Atlantic—Drifting to a Lee Shore—Icy Ordeal—A Cargo of Lumber—To Sydney for Bunkers—Mid-Atlantic Hurricane—My Worst Voyage.


Pay-off—Percy Hefford's Generosity—Glasgoxv Music Hall—Hullabaloo in the Fo'c'sle—" Lusitania" and "Mauretania" Launched—Working My Passage—Master Mariner's Examination—A Tribute to Tramps.


Master in Sail—The Square-Rigged Certificate—Nautical College—My Blue Paper—Liverpool Music Halls—I Pass Extra Master's Exam—I Join the Cunard Line—The "Caronia"—Tussle for Atlantic Supremacy—Turning- point of my Career.


First Voyage in a Cunarder—Getting the "Caronia" Ready for Sea—3,336 Souls Afloat—Emigrants—Watches at Sea—Officers7 Messroom—"Full Ahead Both" at 18 Knots—Queenstown—Last View of Erin.


Officers and Passengers—Sobriety at Sea—"The Devil's Hole"—Atlantic Deeps—The Iceberg Season—Radio at Sea in the Early Days—Captain's Inspection—Detailed Organization—Each to His Task.


Divine Service—Iceberg Sighted—The Behavior of Bergs—Safety at Sea—Shipboard Concert—Approaching America—New York Bay—Statue of Liberty. We Berth.


New York in the Horse Days—The Cunard Fleet in 1907—The White Star Line—The American Line— Hamburg-Amerika—Norddeutscher Lloyd—The French Line—Suicide at Sea—"Man Overboard!"


Transferred to the "Ultonia"—The Mediterranean Emigrant Service—Passengers, Mails and Cargo—A Veteran Captain—Agreeable Shipmates—Gibraltar- Naples — Stromboli—Messina — The Adriatic —Fiume — Corfu—A Cure for Seasickness—Ellis Island.


In Hospital for Refit—I Join R.M.S. "Umbria"—Famous Old Cunarder—How and When Sailors Sleep—"Rigid Economy"—"Umbria the Unready"—We Arrive Late— Burial at Sea—The Steep Ladder of Promotion—I Join the "Ivernia".


Liverpool to Boston—Two Winter Voyages in the "Ivernia"—Hungry Firemen and Trimmers—Navigating in Fog—North Atlantic Storm—Lifeboats Stove In— We Arrive Two Days Late—Boston Hospitality—Foggy Christmas Greeting.


Mediterranean Cargo-service—S.S. "Brescia" — The Power of Prayer-Many Ports of Call-Venice-Greek and Turkish Ports—The Dardanelles—Constantinople— Smyrna-Alexandria—Glad to be Home—A Commission in the R.N.R.—I Meet May.


Earning Promotion the Hard Way—The "Silver King"— Adventures of a Stowaway—The "Olympic" and "Titanic"—Era of Giant Ships—"Mauretania" and the Blue Riband—Promotion to Second Officer—Training in the R.N.R.—Lure of London.


The R.N.R.—Manners and Customs of the Navy—I Return to Liverpool—Atlantic Liners of 1912—Second Officer in S.S. "Carpathia"—Passengers' Jokes—The Emigrant Service to New York—Maiden Voyage of "Titanic".


"Titanic" Disaster—Hoodoo Ship—Primitive Radio Conditions—First SOS in History—"Carpathia" Rushes to Rescue.


Hastening to Rescue—Wireless Signals Cease—Entering Icefield—Picking Up Survivors—Terrible Extent of "Titanic" Disaster—The Tragic Scene at Sunrise.


Belated Arrival of "Californian"—Excuses for Apparent Neglect—The Living and the Dead—Divine Service Held—Heading for New York—Causes of Disaster.


Return to New York—Survivors' Stories—Wirelessing the News—Survivors Disembark—The Yellow Press—New York in Mourning—Rewards and Medals.



  1. S.S. Mauretania passing a tramp steamer in mid-Atlantic
  2. Mate in a tramp
  3. Liverpool Landing Stage with S.S. Umbria alongside
  4. S.S. Etruria, built 1885
  5. A typical tramp steamer
  6. Western Ocean tramp in heavy weather
  7. Cunard liner S.S. Caronia built 1904
  8. Cunard liner, S.S. Carpathian built 1903
  9. Atlantic iceberg, with Ice Patrol aircraft
  10. Atlantic iceberg, with Ice Patrol vessel alongside
  11. S.S. Mauretania in the Tyne River, 1906
  12. S.S. Lusitania passing the Old Head of Kinsale
  13. H.M.S. Hogue, built 1902
  14. H.M.S. Victory, Nelson's flagship
  15. May, feeding a horse, 1911
  16. White Star liner S.S. Titanic, leaving Belfast on her trials
  17. White Star liner S.S. Olympic, launched 1910
  18. Officers in S.S. Carpathia, 1912
  19. Second Officer in S.S. Carpathia, 1912


Back Cover, Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers by Sir James Bisset, 1959.

Back Cover, Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers by Sir James Bisset, 1959. GGA Image ID # 2042b4746d


On the Back Cover

HMS Hogue, built in 1902 (Imperial War Museum).


From the Back Cover

Tramps and Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers, the second volume in the PSL Library of Ocean Travel, is a facsimile reprint of the first edition of the second book of a trilogy by Sir James Bisset, originally published during the period 1958 to 1961, all three of which have been long out-of-print.

This volume concerns the author's life at sea in tramp steamers and then as an officer of the famous Cunard Line in their fashionable transatlantic service. It culminates with Sir James's experiences of saving survivors from the Titanic in 1912. The book is a great seaman's story of the sea, packed with interest for all who feel the allure of ocean adventure.


From the Inside Flap of Dust Jacket

Tramps & Ladies is the second volume in the PSL Library of Ocean Travel facsimile reprints of out-of-print classics of maritime literature. It was initially published in 1960 as the second in three volumes tracing 50 years of life at sea in the first half of the nineteenth century by Sir James Bisset, culminating in his appointment as Commodore of the Cunard Line.

In Tramps and Ladies, Sir James begins by recounting his career as a steamship officer in 1905 at the age of 21. After "knocking about in tramps" for two years, he joined the Cunard Line as a junior officer in their transatlantic service. With unmatched authority, historical accuracy, and breezy humor, Sir James Bisset describes life aboard these ocean greyhounds. He tells of the hazards of fog, icebergs, and storms in the North Atlantic when radio was in its infancy and modern aids to navigation, such as radar, were undreamed.

Placed on record for the first time when Tramps and Ladies was first published are Sir James's personal experiences of the wrecking of the ill-fated Titanic, taken from notes he made at the scene of the disaster as an officer aboard the rescue ship SS Carpathia, when he had first-hand insight into an aspect of this tragedy of the sea which few others could reliably describe.


Description of Contents

This book continues the memoirs of Sir James Bisset, which began in Sail-Ho! Here lie tells of his maritime life in the early days of steamships: on dirty little tramps carrying unromantic Swansea coal or frozen Canadian lumber; on cargo vessels loaded with farm animals for the Argentine or potent Jamaica rum; on migrant ships taking Greeks, Hungarians, and Italians from Europe to the United States; and, finally, on the Ocean Greyhounds of the Cunard Line, competing with Norddeutscher Lloyd, White Star, Hamburg-Amerika, and other famous shipping companies, for the coveted Atlantic Blue Riband.

A powerful climax of the book is the author recounting the tragic circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in the mid-Atlantic in 1912 after she had struck an iceberg. James Bisset, then an officer in SS Carpathia, the first vessel to arrive on the scene, brings to vivid life his recollections of the rescue of the survivors from the icy waters and the amazing events that followed.


Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • Personal name: Bisset, James, Sir, 1883-1967.
  • Main title: Tramps and Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers / by Sir James Bisset; written in collaboration with P.R. Stephensen ; [with a new foreword by Walter Lord].
  • Edition: New ed.
  • Published/Created: Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: P. Stephens; New York, N.Y.: Distributed by Sterling Pub. Co., 1988.
  • Description: 315 p.: ill.; 23 cm.
  • ISBN: 185260140X
  • LC Classification: VK140.B5 A3 1988
  • Related titles: Tramps & ladies.
  • Related names: Stephensen, P. R. (Percy Reginald), 1901-1965.
  • LC Subjects: Bisset, James, Sir, 1883-1967. Ship captains--Great Britain--Biography. Steam-navigation--History--20th century.
  • Notes: Spine title: Tramps & ladies. Distributor from label on added t.p.
  • Series: PSL Library of ocean travel; 2
  • LCCN: 89190531
  • Dewey class no.: 387/.0092 B
  • Geographic area code: e-uk---
  • Type of material: Book


GG Archives Catalog Listing

  • Author: Sir James Bisset
  • Title: Tramps & Ladies: My Early Years in Steamers
  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 315
  • ISBN: 1-85260-140-X
  • DCN: 387.0092'4
  • Publisher: Patrick Stephens Limited
  • Location: Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom
  • Pub. Date: 1988 (© 1959)
  • Language: English UK
  • Subjects: 1. Shipping
  • Description: Detailed Table of Contents and Listing of Illustrations. Not Indexed.
  • Size: 5 1/2" x 8 3/4"
  • Dust Jacket: Yes
  • List Price: US$ 24.95


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