Joseph Conrad, "The Nigger Of The "Narcissus": A Tale Of The Forecastle":

the two young Norwegians looked tidy, meek, and altogether of a promising material for the kind ladies who patronise the Scandinavian Home.

I've searched through various dictionaries and completed various google-searches but couldn't find the answer. Is it something like a brothel? Or maybe a community? It's the end of the XIX and the beginning of the XX century. Great Britain. The Norwegians are sailors back to Great Britain after a long trip.

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    My guess is that it was a hostel for sailors ashore, especially intended for Scandinavian sailors. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 17:27
  • ... Yes, it's probably an incidental expression, like 'Bleak House'. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 17:49
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    If it were a brothel the "kind ladies" would not "patronise it". A patron is a customer or benefactor, and the working ladies (if a brothel) would not be the customers. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 18:09
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it does not involve the English language per se; it should perhaps be moved to Literature or History. Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 10:16
  • @EdwinAshworth if you move it to the literature.stack, will the answer be transferred as well?
    – P. Vowk
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


Robert Hampson, in his essay "Topographical Mysteries: Conrad and London" says that the reference is to, as Kate Bunting says, a hostel for sailors. These often had a moral or social purpose. A "temperance" home would be one where alcohol was not allowed.

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Conrad's Cities: Essays for Hans Van Marle edited by Gene M. Moore

Port districts were places where a young sailor, far from home, would be exposed to moral risks - brothels, prostitutes, drinking and gambling establishments, dirty or unsanitary lodging houses sometimes run or used by criminals. One object of sailors' homes was to provide an alternative place of lodging to these, often where the sailor's native language would be spoken, and encourage wholesome activities. Sailors who had finished a voyage would often be "paid off", that is, given their wages for the whole voyage in one lump sum, and temptations or theft could make their money vanish or diminish, and they could get venereal diseases.

  • This is very similar to the Norwegian Seamen’s Church (Norsk Sømanskirke), which runs churches and previously also commonly shelters/hostels for Norwegian sailors travelling abroad. Not sure why the kind ladies would patronise a sailor hostel, though… Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 23:58
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    I am sure that you know that 'to patronise' can mean to support a charitable or worthy activity, e.g. by donations of time or money. It is possible that the ladies cooked meals or simply provided wholesome, motherly, Christian company for the young sailors. Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 6:57
  • Thank you. What does 'moral' mean here, though?
    – P. Vowk
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 8:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Surely "patronise" in the sense of acting as patron or benefactor to, rather than as a customer. I'm sure that middle class ladies would have supported the seamen's missions financially both by direct contributions and by holding fundraising events. I also suspect that they would have had young, blond men like the ones described in mind as they did so.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 1:59
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    @P.Vowk, in this instance, it means to follow the straight-laced christian model of behaviour that was a popular facade in Victorian times. No drink, no "loose women," and no strong language. This moralistic effort has been ignored by sailors on liberty for hundreds of years.
    – user352645
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 10:53

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