This is a paper about how maritime workers were perceived in the past. In 1968, in a very influential paper, the American historian Jesse Lemisch lamented that ‘Maritime history, as it has been written, has had little to do with the common seaman.’ (1) In prefacing his paper with a description of the archetypal sailor or ‘Jack Tar’, Lemisch argued that, as historians, ‘surely we can do better than these stereotypes’. At that time, this was an important proposition. Others seem to have agreed, for with the passage of time a lot of work has been done to understand the seafarer, though not necessarily as a direct response to Lemisch’s challenge. Space does not permit a discussion of the relevant literature, but without doubt a more rounded – if not fully formed – historical view of seafarers has resulted. (1)Jesse Lemisch, ‘Jack Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the Politics of Revolutionary America’, William and Mary Quarterly, 25/3 (1968), 371-407, at 372.