and the Liverpool Docker
George Orwell took the road from Wigan to
Liverpool in February 1936, to meet an unemployed Liverpool docker whose
essays on Shakespeare's play The Tempest, and Joseph Conrad's novel The
Nigger of the Narcissus, had recently been published in literary journals.
The docker was Seacombe-born George Garrett, an important and almost forgotten
figure in the social and cultural history of Merseyside.
Orwell was impressed not only with Garrett's ability as a literary critic
and writer of short stories, but also with his considerable knowledge
of literature, especially the novels of Dostoyevski, Melville and Jack
London, and the plays of Ibsen, Strindberg and Eugene O'Neill.
Orwell and Garrett had much in common besides their love of literature.
As the Old Etonian mingled with the down-and-outs of London and Paris
in the 1930s, so the ex-elementary schoolboy Garrett had mingled with
the down-and-outs of South America and the United States in the years
prior to the outbreak of the Great War. In 1936, Orwell was busy researching
the effects of unemployment in the mining communities of Wigan. By then
Garrett had published Liverpool 1921-22 - a graphic analysis of the effects
of unemployment among Liverpool's ex-servicemen. Both writers wrote under
assumed names. 'George Orwell' was the pseudonym used by Eric Blair, while
Garrett frequently used the pseudonym 'Matt Low', an obvious pun on his
seafaring days. The Spanish Civil War provided both writers with outlets
for their mutual fears about the rise of European fascism. In December
1936, Orwell volunteered for the Republican army in Spain. Garrett became
a founder member of the Left Theatre (now the Unity) in Liverpool.
George Garrett's family moved from Seacombe to the Park Road area of Liverpool,
where he attended St Vincent's School. In 1911 - the year of the Transport
Strike in Liverpool - George was already involved in radical politics,
much to the concern of his parents.
Eventually he ran away to sea, jumped ships in Argentina, become a 'hobo'
and led a rough life tramping around the USA.
In August 1914 he returned to England and to seafaring. His ship - the
SS Oswald - was captured by the German navy, but the crew were rescued.
In 1918 he married, but remained unemployed for long periods, due to his
membership of the Communist Party. He returned to New York, became a member
of the Industrial Workers of the World ('The Wobblies') and completed
his political education.
Garrett wrote short stories dealing realistically with seafaring, working
class family struggles, social conditions and confrontations with authoritarian
institutions - social, political and religious. His unfinished autobiography
- Ten Years on the Parish - is an insightful and moving account of working
class life in Liverpool between the wars.
His account of the first hunger march (1922) is a unique record of this
historical event, and contains some comical descriptions that show the
resilience and determination of that body of mainly ex-service heroes.The
struggle of the unemployed in Liverpool - again mainly ex-service men
- and the formation of the Unemployed Workers' Movement is another unique
event described movingly by Garrett.
Garrett, sadly, is relatively unknown and unacknowledged in Liverpool.
He should be celebrated because he remains one of the finest working class
writers to have come from the city, especially as we approach 2008.
George Garrett’s works have been collected and republished in a
single volume, The Collected Works of George Garrett, published by Nottingham
The following was sent to us by Nick Bailey.
He says the George Garrett article reminded him of it.
The Hungry Mile - A poem by Ernest Antony
They tramp there in their legions on the morning dark and cold
To beg the right to slave for bread front Sydney’s lords of gold;
They toil and sweat in slavery, ‘twould make the devil smile
To see the Sydney wharfies tramping down the hungry mile
On ships from all the seas they toil, that others of their kind
May never know the pinch of want or feel the misery blind
That make the lives of men a hell in those conditions vile
That are the hopeless lot of those who tramp the hungry mile.
The slaves of men who know no thought of anything but gain
Who wring their brutal profits from the blood and sweat and pain
Of all the disinherited who slave and starve the while
Upon the ships beside the wharves along the hungry mile
But every stroke of that grim lash that sears the souls of men
With interest due from years gone by shall be paid back again
To those who drive these wretched slaves to build the golden pile
And blood shall blot the memory out - of Sydney’s hungry mile
The day will come, aye, come it must, when these same slaves shall rise
And through the revolution’s smoke ascending to the skies,
The masters face shall show the fear he hides behind the smile
Of these his slaves who on that day shall storm the hungry mile.
And when the world grows wiser and all men at last are free
When none shall feel the hunger nor tramp in misery
To beg the right to slave for bread, the children then may smile
At those strange tales they tell of what was once the hungry mile.
Comment left by Jennifer Garrett on 4th March, 2007 at 13:13
George Garrett was my grandfather, so I was pleased to see this latest acknowledgement of his undoubted talent as a writer and politician.
I would be interested in any of your sources - I already have copies of all the books you mention.
Comment left by Mark Gregory on 18th April, 2007 at 3:10
The author of 'The Hungry Mile', Ernest Antony, was born on a dairy farm in Victoria, in 1894, the family later moving to West Australia where his father variously engaged in road building and farming.
Ernest left school at the age of thirteen, worked on the land where "a pair of blade shears, shovel, axe, adze and a team of horses were his tools of trade".
He left home in 1916 and began a nomadic working life that took him across Northern Australia, and down the East Coast as far as Port Melbourne, lumping wheat, construction jobs, mule and camel team driving, prospecting for tin and gold, railway work, timber cutting, cane fields work, waterside labouring.
He was a trade unionist, participated in strikes, gained a reputation for being a militant, was variously blacklisted for his involvements, and contributed poetry to labour movement publications.
During the 1930s he was one of the many men who unsuccessfully tramped Sydney's Hungry Mile in search of work. World War 2 saw him employed as a bridge and wharf carpenter for the duration, and he was prominent in trade union work.
After the war Ernest variously worked in West Australia, the Northern Territory, and in New South Wales, his work including market gardening, dog training, cattle driving, prospecting, and bridge building.
He died on the pension in Gunnedah, NSW, in 1960. As his brother concluded in his letter to Nelson: "I buried him six feet under and as far as I know the old bloke is still there. Also on the way round he married twice ".
Harry described the working life of his brother thus: "Men who did not see eye to eye with the good kind worthy master were frequently on the move in order to eat and he was of that rebellious order. The swag (and) parts unknown was often his only address".
Comment left by Dominic Garrett on 29th July, 2007 at 16:56
Its taken me thity-nine years to become aware of my Grandfather and exactly what he stood for. Without doubt as you mentioned, he is one of the working class pioneers of early political literature but to little acclaim, from both his peers and the city that was home.
Comment left by Bill Howard on 17th August, 2007 at 13:50
It is very good that George Garrett has been given some recognition, if a little belatedly. My wifes grandfather Bob Tissyman was also involved in the Unemployed Workers Movement and if anyone out there has any info I would be glad to have it.
Comment left by Bethany Garrett on 18th July, 2008 at 14:16
George Garrett was my my great-grandfather and it's articles like this which make me proud to bear Garrett as my surname. My side of the Garrett family never left Liverpool and there used to be a display of his work at the Liverpool Life Museum in the city centre but this was knocked down to make way for "progress" for Capital of Culture 2008. As your sources are much better than mine does anyone know what became of these works and how you could get hold of them?
Comment left by Ken Clay on 31st December, 2010 at 15:52
George Garrett's play Flowers and Candles is on the Penniless Press website at www.pennilesspress.co.ukprosegeorge_garrett.htm
Comment left by Ken Clay on 31st December, 2010 at 15:56
Just to correct the address of the George Garrett play. It's at