by Jon Malings

Transcribed from The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, QLD, Wednesday, 16th March, 1921


“All those white men on the wharf could be gentlemen if this country was run right.” Said Sir Henry Samman, Bart., shipowner and insurance magnate of Hull, yesterday, says the Sydney “Daily Telegraph” of the 28th of February.  He nursed a somewhat dislocated portmanteau on the Osterley, and looked askance at it meanwhile. 

“Instead of that, I see them doing niggers’ work and doing it darned badly," continued Sir Henry with another look at his luggage, as if calculating how much of its contents remained intact. 

“This," he added emphatically, “is a black man’s country.  It has enormous resources and could be developed tremendously with black labour—but, as it is—” and, with a dynamic gesture he signified his utter impatience with things as they were in Australia. 

“Why, in Adelaide” he said “as an instance.  I had to practically go down on my knees in an hotel for a meal because it was a few minutes after six o’clock.  Some people who came from a boat a few minutes later had to go without.” 

Then, as if relenting the vitriol conceded that Australia was truly called “God’s own country.”  It was a short-lived tribute, however because the candid critic from Hull added that God wouldn’t be able to live here now. 

His final reference to Australia was that if things went on as at present the continent would pass over to “somebody else,” as sure as the sun shone. 

One of his pet aversions is the politician.  He urgently asserted that he was not one himself.  “I am not one of them," he exclaimed, as though the very name were a contamination.  “I am an overseer and a man of business.” 

Sir Henry Samman, who is aggressive and mentally vigorous at seventy-two, stands next to Sir James Barrie, of Dundee, as the second oldest member of Lloyd’s management committee.  He is the principal of Henry Samman and Co. tramp steamship owners of Hull, and senior vice-president of the Hull Chamber of Commerce.  He refers with pride to the port of Hull as the third in the United Kingdom. 

His views on the shipping out-look are unequivocal and startling.  “The depression is just coming on in the shipping world," in his opinion.  “We are going to see the greatest slump in shipping that the world has ever seen, in consequence of the enormous ship building programme in England and America.  There are already six or seven million tons of shipping laid up in English and America ports.” 

He explained that there was more tonnage afloat than before the war.  Britain had pulled up her losses and now had rather more than in 1914.  America had eight or nine million tons more than in pre-war days. 

Already the cancelled building orders were something enormous —particularly by the Norwegians and Swedes.  Those nations had been straining every nerve to get in before Britain, but had over-reached themselves, and found it necessary to pay large sums to cancel  contracts.  The ordinary basis for the cancellation of a contract was the payment of one-sixth of the contract price as compensation. 

“I saw this coming over two years ago," said the hard-headed man from  Hull, “and I got rid of ship after ship at nearly the top of the market.  It was plain as daylight to me that it must come with seamen’s wages four times what they used to be, and all other costs mounting.  Why, the Orient Company, I believe, had to pay as much as 225s. per ton for bunker coal at Port Said.” 

Sir Henry Samman believes that the days ahead hold very serious possibilities.  It will take many years, he believes, to work off the surplus of tonnage.  The normal loss in the world from shipwreck and other causes is about half-a-million tons a year.  As the surplus runs into many millions it will take many years to get back into a position of balance. 

“Will the resuscitation of Central Europe help the position?” he was asked. 

“It will make it worse," said Sir Henry, point blank.  “The Germans are working for low wages and building ships like the deuce for their own trade.” 

Sir Henry Samman, who is accompanied by his two daughters, is on his way to rival “God’s own country” across the Tasman sea to engage in trout-fishing.  It is his second visit to the Dominion.  So enthusiastic is he about his catches that he finds it difficult to confine himself to pounds instead of tons when describing his former successes.