The rabble-rouser at work: "Captain" Tupper fires up the audience of seamen outside Penarth's Royal Hotel in 1911.

The rabble-rouser at work: “Captain” Edward Tupper VC (who wasn’t a captain and didn’t win the VC) fires up the audience of striking seamen outside Penarth’s Royal Hotel in July 1911.

On July 31st 1911 the unmistakable curved frontage of Penarth’s Royal Hotel (now Royal Apartments)  provides the backdrop for the incendiary leader of the National Sailors and Firemen’s Union, “Captain” Edward Tupper ‘VC’,  as he rallies his members during a hard-fought  seamen’s pay-strike which had brought Penarth Docks to a virtual standstill.

A mass meeting of seamen and dockers being addressed by "Captain" Tupper on July 31st 1911

The mass meeting of seamen and dockers being addressed by “Captain” Edward Tupper outside the Royal Hotel Penarth on July 31st 1911

"Captain" Tucker had been a frover's errand boy, an army private and a private detective before becoming a union agitator.

“Captain” Tucker was no seaman. He had been a grocer’s errand boy, an army private and a private detective before becoming a union agitator – but by all accounts he was quite an orator.

During the summer of 1911  “Captain” Tupper  – (who, it turns out,  wasn’t a real captain and didn’t  hold the Victoria Cross)  rallied the members of his union – relying on his powerful oratory and a voice unaided by any microphones or loudspeakers.

In order to break the strike, shipowners decided to hire foreign labour. In Cardiff and Penarth  a large number of Chinese seamen were engaged – at higher pay rates than those of the strikers.

There was particular anger directed at Chinese seamen being employed on the steamship,  “Foreric” which was rushed by a gang of strikers, stopping all work on the vessel and enforcing a crew boycott until the unfortunate oriental crewmen were unceremoniously forced to disembark.

However reports reached the strikers that two of the Chinese seamen had been later spotted  leaving Penarth Pier on board a tug which had taken them to the Shipping Federation vessel “Lady Jocelyn”.

"Captain" Tupper writes about the "blacklegs' windjammer" in his autobiography.

“Captain” Tupper writes about the Penarth  blacklegs’ windjammer in his autobiography.

The angry crowd then mobbed the offices of the tug company which was forced to promise not to deal with any non-union labour. The strikers also attacked the homes and businesses of the Cardiff Chinese community.

Eventually the strikers did win some sort of pay rise for themselves . Tupper said the following month that thanks to him the men now had a wage of £5 a month, and if the freights (rates for cargo) went up, he promised that “The Skipper” (as he referred to himself)  would be on the spot again to see that the men get “their Jimmy O’Goblins”  (1911 slang for “money“)  and would be paid five pounds ten shillings.

Tupper said the example set by the Bristol Channel men was “the greatest example of solidarity the world had ever seen”  Capitalists and monopolists could never withstand the workers when they were united – he said.

He also admitted to the crowd “You know, I’ve been in a bit of a trouble lately. I am under £800 bail, but £800 or £8,000 will not cripple my tongue when I see a man not having fair play”

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  1. Mark Foster says:

    Racist bastards

    (Wonderful article from PDN!)

  2. Martin gossage says:

    A man in a position of power through determination and strength of character but no actual qualifications . Could it happen today? We have seen the balcony picture many times but yet again you have a new picture. .. of the crowd .Come one where are these from?

  3. Frank Howard says:

    I find these old Penarth photos fascinating.
    This one about Captain Tupper and Mr O’Gobling together with the thought of Penarth being awash with agitated seaman is just amazing, who would have thought such things were possible in those far off days.
    Keep them coming!

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