With travel on trans-Atlantic liners becoming increasingly popular in the early 20th century, seamen used a crafty ploy to earn a better living by jumping one ship in America and returning home in another. Rivals competing in the burgeoning trade thus faced additional costs as they were forced to employ cover with higher rates of pay and accommodation bills.

"This is why this case is an exceedingly bad one," the prosecutor underlined when William Medley appeared before his home town magistrates in Southampton for desertion. Strangely, a novel summons in the port but common elsewhere.

The fireman had signed articles on the Adriatic on June 16, 1920, for the nine-day voyage to New York, but when the liner set sail for the reverse journey, he failed to report for duty. It transpired he had accepted a better offer from Cunard.

Daily Echo: Adriatic, the original ship William Medley had signed up for.Adriatic, the original ship William Medley had signed up for. (Image: Echo)

C F Hiscock, prosecuting on behalf of the White Star Line, explained how terms on one side of the Atlantic differed materially from those on the other. A seaman taken on in Southampton was paid £15 a month but in America he received £22.10s with the undertaking his board and lodgings would be met in England before the crewman returned to New York. Medley's replacement was put up in the Sailor's Home in Southampton and had been due to be sent back on the Olympic but that caused unexpected expense. 

"As it is an oil-burning vessel with a full complement of men, they were not permitted to put him in the firemen's quarters, though he did assist in the work of the ship. The result was that they had to refuse a third-class passenger and lost money."

Daily Echo: Mauretania, the ship Medley joined in New York.Mauretania, the ship Medley joined in New York. (Image: Echo)

Medley had been given shore leave in New York but went missing. In reality, he had joined the Mauretania which docked in Southampton a few days later.

Hiscock commented: "This sort of thing is going on all the time and I am instructed to ask for the imposition of the maximum sentence. It has become common practice with 20 or 30 men deserting in New York with the simple object of obtaining a higher rate with another ship. You will recognise this as a serious matter, running into a cost of more than £600. Often, too, a man will join as a fireman who is unused to the work, and falling ill, will become a passenger."

Daily Echo: Olympic, the ship Medley's replacement was due to sail on.Olympic, the ship Medley's replacement was due to sail on. (Image: Echo)

Medley, who lived in Oxford Street, was not in the least apologetic. "I was simply offered a good job on the Mauretania."

The Bench however were remarkably lenient, the chairman accepting that though it was a serious matter, it was the first of its kind brought before them and in the circumstances, they would not impose a prison sentence. But fining Medley £10 and with £20 costs with a month's imprisonment in default of payment, the chairman Mr Dominy said: "However, I must warn subsequent offenders they will be dealt with much more severely."