Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bum-boat n.

[bum n.1 (1) + SE boat; the original role of such vessels was to collect human and other waste from boats at anchor; they also carried out vegetables etc to sell on board]

1. a scavenger’s boat, used to pick up the debris of shipping disasters.

Proclamation Charles II 6 Apr. n.p.: Whereas several Dirt-Boats, and Bum-Boats [...] under pretence of Fetching Dirt, and Furnishing necessary Provisions on Board such Ships as are in the River, do commit divers Thefts and Robberies.
By-Laws Trinity House n.p.: No. 6 Dirtboats, otherwise called Bumboats.

2. a boat that brought provisions from land out to larger vessels anchored offshore; thus as a term of affectionate ridicule between sailors; later use, of a boat used by hawkers selling goods to passengers on large ships; thus bum-boating n., selling goods from such a trading boat.

[UK]Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies 51: She has been at Portsmouth in the laudable calling of bum-boating, more politely stiled a green-grocer.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: bum boat. A boat attending ships to retail greens, drams, commonly rowed by a woman; a kind of floating chandler’s shop.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[US]E.C. Wines Two Years and a Half in Navy I 101: A number of bomb-boats [sic] were allowed to come off to supply with fresh grub and soft tack such of the ship’s messes as had the means of purchasing them.
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 139: He lived as help to a gentleman that kept a bumboat.
[UK]W. Kent Guardian 16 Mar. 8/1: The great increase of bum-boats on the river for the sale of beer, liquors, and purl, among the seamen.
[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 107: Bacchus is dismounted here, and lies wallowing in the thwarts of a bumboat.
[UK]W.H. Smyth Sailor’s Word-Bk (1991) 143: Bum-Boat. A boat employed to carry provisions, vegetables, and small merchandise for sale to ships.
[UK]E. Greey Queen’s Sailors III 97: He hired a bum-boat.
[UK]W.C. Russell Sailors’ Lang. 23: Bumboat—A boat that comes off to ships to sell provisions, fruit, &c.
[US]H.H. Lewis A Gunner Aboard the ‘Yankee’ 29: The bumboat did a thriving business.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 4 Aug. Red Page/2: He smuggled himself into a kind of bum-boat – a vessel of small rig that came down the Bay with provisions, and travelled up to Melbourne in the cook’s copper.
[US]R.C. Murphy Logbook for Grace (1948) 17 Sept. 80: Bumboats with lateen sails were already hovering about.
[US]Lima (OH) News 5 June 6/3: Peddlers are ‘bumboats.’.
[Aus]M. Garahan Stiffs 61: A number of bum-boats came out to us.
[US]R. Butterfield Sat. Eve. Post Treasury (1954) 14 Jan. 396: I’ll [...] ’ail a bumboat and go ashore myself.
[UK]D. Bolster Roll On My Twelve 23: As soon as we’d secured to our buoy the bumboat come alongside.
[UK]S. Hugill Shanties from the Seven Seas 592: Bumboat. Type of small rowboats found in most tropical ports surrounding deep-water ships at anchor, their owners vociferously shouting their wares.

3. attrib. use of sense 2; thus bumboat-man/-woman, the owner of such a trading boat.

[UK]Proceedings Old Bailey 4 Dec. 4/1: The Prisoner was a Bum-boat-Man, and took the Sacks off from the Wharf, and put them into his Boat.
[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 187: Pipes [...] thrust the helm into the master’s hand, saying, ‘Here, you old bum-boat woman, take hold of the tiller, and keep her thus, boy, thus’.
[UK]P. Colquhoun Police of the Metropolis 64: The penalty of 40s. adjudged under the Bum-boat Act, to be paid by every person convicted of conveying goods pilfered from vessels.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 1 July 458/1: I apprehended Watson for stealing sugar, and he was convicted, and paid a fine of 40s. under the bumboat act.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 16 Apr. 248/1: I am a licenced bumboat-man. I bought the boat of the prisoner for 2l. 5s.
[UK]‘A. Burton’ Adventures of Johnny Newcome I 58: We’re going to the Cape, I know, The Bumboat-woman told me so.
[UK]‘Bill Truck’ Man o’ War’s Man (1843) 67: A bumboat-woman would have done it [i.e. climb rigging] far better.
[UK]D. Jerrold Black-Ey’d Susan I ii: It isn’t to the last port admiral’s widow? Perhaps to big Betsy, the bumboat-woman?
[UK]Marryat King’s Own II 112: His mother [...] had arrived to the dignity of bumboat woman.
[UK]Mr Mathews’ Comic Annual 22: Sally Grogrum, the old bum-boat woman.
[UK]Marryat Snarleyyow I 192: Oh, I don’t know – sort of half-bred, long-shore chap – looks something between a bumbailey and a bumboatman.
[UK]E. Howard Jack Ashore I 274: Amazonian Poll and the burly bum-boat woman, stepped ashore.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 14 Dec. 247: I am a bum-boat man—I came home on the 15th of Sept., at three o'clock.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 67/2: He thought that the bummaree was originally a bum-boat man, who purchased of the wind-bound smacks at Gravesend of the Nore.
[UK]Western Gaz. 12 Aug. 5/4: Large numbers of people known as ‘bum-boat’ men and women go from Portsmouth in wherries to supply the crews.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Jan. 9/3: The bills said Miss Lambert was to be the gipsy, but it was some time before we could recognise the rather obstreperous bum-boat woman of ‘Pinafore’ in the vagrant of the Troubadour.
Salt Lake Eve. Democrat (UT) 22 May 1/5: The packet ships used to ride at anchor [...] and the bumboats used to shoot out three timesa day [...] taking fruit and fresh bread.
[UK]W.S. Gilbert ‘The Bumboat Woman’s Story’ Fifty ‘Bab’ Ballads 153: A bumboat woman was I, and I faithfully served the ships.
[UK]Essex Standard 21 Apr. 7/1: I was told by Johnny, the bum-boat man at Malta, that [etc.].
[UK]Graphic (London) 20 May 15: [pic. caption] From the Old World to the New, the Bumboat women come on board at Queenstown.
[UK]Manchester Times 4 May 13/3: Bum-boat women are many, and various.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 9 Jan. 400: I had seen Mike sell his box and clothes to the bumboat-men.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 8 Jan. 505: I remember the stores being landed at St. Helena and some bumboat women coming on board with curios.
[UK]Gloucester Citizen 29 Jan. 5/3: The death has occurred in Portsmouth, at the age of 86, of Mrs Mary Jane Daniell, the last of the bumboat women.
[UK]M. Harrison Reported Safe Arrival 107: One had only to see this filthy tide to realize that to eat the bum-boat-men’s fruit [...] was to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.
[US]N. Algren Chicago: City On the Make 25: The bumboat pirate called Black Jack Yattaw.
[WI]D. Walcott ‘Another Life’ Coll. Poems (1986) 162: The seven-foot-high bum-boatman.
[US](con. 1945) E. Thompson Tattoo (1977) 328: Some sort of murky grouper, a gnarled-looking scavenger for which the citizens of the bumboat colony avidly fished.

4. (Aus.) an illegal cargo of alcohol.

[UK]E. Hill Territory 443: Bumboat: An illicit load of grog by truck or packhorse.