This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
While these old-time stewards took such extreme pleasure in talking over the delights of commissions and per cents, there was another source of profit worked by some of them that was never spoken of. They were generally a rugged and manly set of men, used to controlling others, and perhaps were conscious that there was nothing to be proud of in this sort of brokerage. It was the selling of the situations under them. None can know whether the practice was general or to what extent it prevailed, but it was well known that the situations on some boats could only be obtained by purchase. The stewards kept up communications and knew where every available porter, second steward, stewardess, cook and baker could be found, and if the old hands were not coming back some such trades as this took place. The boat paid a certain price for each employd, the rate being fixed by the stewards themselves, and no man or woman was wanted, or could ever afterwards obtain a situation, who would offer to come and take less. The stewardess (housekeeper) was required to be a respectable, matronly sort of a woman, one whom the lady passengers could feel at home with; the wages for such was usually forty dollars per month, but she did not secure it all, having to pay part of it to the steward.
In the case of a cook the trade would be about like this:
Steward - "This boat pays eighty dollars; what will you give me for the job - will you pay me twenty dollars a month for it?"
Cook - "No, I will pay you ten dollars a month".
Steward - "You can't have it. But you want to work?"
Cook - "Yes, I want to work".
Steward - "And my friend up the river writes me that you are a good cook; now, I like my cook to be a good one if he does not cost me too much - I'll split the difference; you shall pay me fifteen dollars a month for the job, pay every trip before you go ashore".
Cook - "All right, I'll do that".
Steward - "Well, pull off your coat and go to work; I'll go and enter your name on the cashier's book".
But the cook generally had the privilege of hiring and discharging his kitchen help, and could partly recoup himself by selling the second cook's job in the same way.
It must be said in their favor, however, that the majority of river stewards thought this a despiceable practice. "Why," cried one of them with intense scorn, "a man aint fit; to be a steward that can't beat his hand out of all their money at cards. That's the way I always do, and It is more honorable than grinding them down; what is the use of making small dickers!"