David Morse was one of a number of pilots who operated in the port of Cardiff.
Pilots play an important role in maritime trade by using their local knowledge of currents, tides, land and sea-marks to safely bring large ships into dock. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there was no regulation of pilots in Cardiff. In 1798, the Bristol Pilotage Authority was constituted to cover the whole of the Bristol Channel, including Cardiff and Swansea. At this time, Cardiff had very little foreign shipping, and there was little demand for pilots as local vessels did not require them.
As maritime trade increased in Cardiff throughout the nineteenth century, the situation became unfair to both local pilots, who did not have the protected status that Bristol pilots enjoyed, and to shippers, who might have to pay double pilotage fees; one fee to the Bristol pilot who guided the ship into Cardiff Roads, and another fee to the local pilot who then guided the ship into harbour.
Attempts to change the system were made in the 1830s and 1840s, but in 1860 it was stipulated that Cardiff pilotage was to remain subordinate to Bristol. By this date, 4,434 foreign ships entered Cardiff Docks, compared to 984 entering Bristol. The following year Cardiff, together with Newport and Gloucester, finally managed to achieve independence from Bristol. Three separate pilotage boards were set up for these ports under the Bristol Channel Pilotage Act of 1861.
The Pilotage Board for Cardiff comprised the Mayor of Cardiff, three representatives of the Town Council, three representatives of the Bute Trustees, one representative of Glamorgan Canal Company, and two of the Penarth Dock Company. This was later extended to include three representatives of the ship-owners and two of the licensed pilots, following a dispute over safety which nearly resulted in a pilots’ strike.
The number of licensed pilots peaked in 1890 at 120.