1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Crimp

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CRIMP (possibly connected with “crimp,” to draw together, or fold in parallel lines, in the sense of “confine”; the primary meaning, however, seems to be that of “agent,” and the word may be a distinct one, of which the origin is lost), an agent for the supplying of soldiers and sailors, by kidnapping, drugging, decoying or other illegal means. Crimps were formerly regularly employed in the days of impressment (q.v.). Now the term is used, first of any one who engages to supply merchant seamen without a licence from the Board of Trade, and is not either the owner, master or mate of the ship, or is not bona fide the servant, and in the constant employment of the owner, or is not a superintendent (Merchant Shipping Act 1894, § 111); and, with a wide application, of the extortionate lodging or boarding-house keepers, who are generally in league with the “crimp” proper.

Sections 212 to 219 inclusive of the above act provide for the protection of merchant seamen in the United Kingdom from imposition. Local authorities at seaports have power to make by-laws for the licensing and regulating of lodging-houses for sailors, and to inflict penalties for the infringement thereof. If this power be not exercised, the Board of Trade may do so. Penalties are also imposed by the act for overcharging by lodging-house keepers, for detaining of seamen’s effects, and for soliciting. Unauthorized persons are prohibited from boarding a ship in port without leave. The Board of Trade officer at a port may provide money for sending a seaman to his home on discharge, and may forward his wages after deducting the expenses. Facilities are also given for having wages sent home from foreign ports at a small charge. These provisions have practically killed “crimping” in the United Kingdom. In the ports of the United States of America crimping was long prevalent, especially on the Pacific coast, and its prevention was very difficult, but state regulations as to the licensing of boarding-houses, and the limitation of the amount of so-called “blood-money” paid by masters of vessels to the suppliers of crews to ships denuded by desertions, have reduced the abuse materially.

The term “to shanghai” is used of a more serious offence. Literally meaning “to ship to Shanghai,” in China, it is applied to the drugging or rendering unconscious by violence or other means of persons, whether sailors or not, and shipping them to distant ports, in order fraudulently to obtain money in advance of wages, or for the sake of the premium paid for supplying crews.