Waterfront Supercargo – A Singlejack Little Book by Tom Murray (1980)

This 1980 booklet by Tom Murray was released in 1980 as one of the Singlejack Little Books. It begins with Murray’s note, “It is therefore the purpose of this book to shed a little light on a rapidly disappearing group: the men of the San Francisco waterfront.”

If you’re curious what ‘Supercargo’ is, here’s a definition: “the title a hold over from the old days, and denoted the company representative responsible for all functions involved in loading or discharging a vessel. In years past he had the authority to hire and fire both clerks and longshoremen, select and decide what cargo must be loaded and where and how in a loading vessel; to order and release tugboats if required, as well as derrick and flat barges and to order lighters of fuel oil (often called “bunkers”) for the ship’s consumption. He ordered potable water for the ship’s tanks, kept up the necessary tonnage, cargo and stowage papers, as well as myriads of other clerical details; he ordered the vessel shifted from terminal to terminal when necessary, as well as linemen to “let go” the lines at the present dock, and others to “take in” the mooring lines at the next dock. In short, practically whatever detail had to be taken care of, the old-time Supercargo did it. However, from the early 30s on the title Supercargo persisted but he was actually no more than a supervisor of clerks engaged between dock office, Walking boss and clerks. Very few if any domestic steamship lines use the old-time Supercargo per se, as his functions are now performed by a number of lesser individuals.”

Tom Murray passed away in 1979, before the booklet was published.

While this one is a bit drier than the other booklets in the series, it’s got lots of useful information for this interested in how waterfront work looked last century. Like the other Little Book(s), this book is common in the trade.

For those interested we have posted a scan on Libcom, here (not our best scanning job, apologies in advance).

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