Friday, October 10, 2008

Sometimes you have to draw a line

So thought British MP, Samuel Plimsoll.

It was the mid-1800's, and the overloading of British ships was leading to many lives being lost (and to overloaded vessels being known as 'coffin ships').

While the concept of a safe loading weight for seafaring vessels had been realised as early as 2500BC by the Cretans, it was Plimsoll who successfully pushed for the painting of a line around the side of a vessel, demarcating the lowest level that it should sit in the water.

It took six years of encouragement from his wife, and much determination in the British parliament before his bill was finally passed in 1876. He had seen what he regarded as a callous disregard for human life merely for the sake of profit, and so he became the 'friend of sailors' as he campaigned for the adoption of the mark first proposed by shipowner James Hall.

We find this description of him in Vanity Fair in 1873:

"He is not a clever man, he is a poor speaker and a feeble writer, but he has a big good heart, and with the untutored utterings of that he has stirred even the most indifferent. He has taken up a cause, not a popular cause nor a powerful one -- only the cause of the British sailor who is sent to sea in rotten vessels in order that ship-owners may thrive. He has written a book about it -- a book jumbled together in the fashion of an insane farrago, written without method and without art, but powerful and eloquent beyond any work that has appeared for years because it is the simple honest cry of a simple honest man. Also a man who is bold enough to tell what he believes to be the truth, and it is still pleasing to many people in these Islands to find that in any accessible form."

I have a great deal of interest in designers and thinkers. But someone like Samuel Plimsoll, who was essentially plugging someone else's idea, is worthy of more than just interest.

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