Victorian London - Crime - Prostitution - London Labour and the London Poor - Sailors' Women - Soldiers' Women

London Labour and the London Poor
A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work.
By Henry Mayhew.
London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, Stationers' Hall Court. 1862.

[digitised copy kindly provided by Les Butler, ed.]

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Sailors' Women

     Many extraordinary statements respecting sailors' women have at different times been promulgated by various authors; and from what has gone forth to the world, those who take an interest in such matters have not formed a very high opinion of the class in question.
     The progress of modern civilization is so rapid and so wonderful, that the changes which take place in the brief space of a few years are really and truly incredible. That which ten, fifteen, or twenty years might have been said with perfect truth about a particular district, or an especial denomination, if repeated now would, in point of fact, be nothing but fiction of the grossest and most unsubstantial character. Novelists who have never traversed the localities they are describing so vividly, or witnessed the scenes they depict with such graphic distinctness, do a great deal more to mislead the general public than a casual observer may at first think himself at liberty to believe. The upper ten thousand and the middle-classes as a rule have to combat innumerable prejudices, and are obliged to reject the traditions of their infancy before they thoroughly comprehend the actual condition of that race of people, which they are taught by immemorial prescription to regard as immensely inferior, if not altogether barbarous.
     It is necessary to make these prefatory remarks before declaring that of late years everything connected with the industrious classes has undergone as complete a transformation as any magic can effect upon the stage. Not only is the condition of the people changed, but they themselves are as effectually metamorphosed. I shall describe the wonders that have been accomplished in a score or two of years in and about St. Giles's by a vigilant and energetic police-force, better parochial management, schools, washhouses, mechanics' institutes, and lodging-houses that have caused to disappear those noisome, pestilential sties that pigs would obstinately refuse to wallow in.
     The spread of enlightenment and education has also made itself visible in the increased tact and proficiency of the thief himself; and this is one cause of the amelioration of low and formerly vicious neighbourhoods. The thief no longer frequents places where the police know very well how to put their hands upon him. Quitting the haunts where he was formerly so much at home and at his ease, he migrates westwards, north, south, anywhere but the exact vicinity you would expect to meet him in. Nor is the hostility of the police so much directed against expert and notorious thieves. They of course do not neglect an opportunity of making a capture, and plume themselves when that capture is made, but they have a certain sort of respect for a thief who is professionally so; who says, "It is the way by which I choose to obtain my living, and were it otherwise I must still elect to be a thief, for I have been accustomed to it from my childhood. My character is already gone, no one would employ me, and, above all, I take a pride in thieving skillfully, and setting your detective skill at defiance."
     It is indeed the low petty thief, the area-sneak, and that genus that more especially excites the spleen, and rouses the ire of your modern policeman. The idle, lazy scoundrel who will not work when he can obtain it at the docks and elsewhere, who goes cadging about because his own inherent depravity, and naturally base instincts deprive him of a spark of intelligence, an atom of honest feeling, to point to a better and a different goal. Emigration is as a thing unexisting to them; they live a life of turpitude, preying upon society; they pass half their days in a prison, and they die prematurely unregretted and unmourned.
     Whitechapel has always been looked upon as a suspicious, unhealthy locality. To begin, its population is a strange amalgamation of Jews, English, French, Germans, and other antagonistic elements that must clash and jar, but not to such an extent as has been surmised and reported. Whitechapel has its theatres, its music-halls, the cheap rates of admission to which serve to absorb numbers of the inhabitants, and by innocently amusing them soften their manners and keep them out of mischief and harm's way.
     The Earl of Effingham, a theatre in Whitechapel Road, has been lately done up and restored, and holds three thousand people. It has no boxes; they would not be patronized if they were in existence. Whitechapel does not go to the play in kidgloves and white ties. The stage of the Effingham is roomy and excellent, the trapwork very extensive, for Whitechapel rejoices much in pyrotechnic displays, blue demons, red demons, and vanishing Satans that disappear in a cloud of smoke through an invisible hole in the floor. Great is the applause when gauzy nymphs rise like so many Aphrodites from the sea, and sit down on apparent sunbeams midway between the stage and the theatrical heaven.
     The Pavilion is another theatre in the Whitechapel Road, and perhaps ranks higher than the Effingham. The Pavilion may stand comparison, with infinite credit to itself and its architect, with more than one West-end theatre. People at the West-end who never in their dreams travel farther east than the dividend and transfer department of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street, have a vague idea that East-end theatres strongly resemble the dilapidated and decayed Soho in Dean Street, filled with a rough, noisy set of drunken thieves and prostitutes. It is time that these ideas should be exploded. Prostitutes and thieves of course do find their way into theatres and other places of amusement, but perhaps if you were to rake up all the bad characters in the neighbourhood they would not suffice to fill the pit and gallery of the Pavilion.
     On approaching the play-house, you observe prostitutes standing outside in little gangs and knots of three or four, and you will also see them inside, but for the most part they are accompanied by their men. Sergeant Prior of the H division, for whose services I am indebted to the courtesy of Superintendent White, assured me that when sailors landed in the docks, and drew their wages, they picked up some women to whom they considered themselves married pro tem., and to whom they gave the money they had made by their last voyage. They live with the women until the money is gone, (and the women generally treat the sailors honourably). They go to sea again, make some more, come home, and repeat the same thing over again. There are perhaps twelve or fifteen public-houses licensed for music in St. George's Street and Ratcliff Highway: most of them a few years ago were thronged, now they can scarcely pay their expenses; and it is anticipated that next year many of them will be obliged to close.
     This is easily accounted for. Many sailors go further east to the K division, which includes Wapping, Bluegate, &c.; but the chief cause, the fons et origo of the declension is simply the institution of sailors' savings banks. There is no longer the money to be spent that there used to be. When a sailor comes on shore, he will probably go to the nearest sailors' home, and place his money in the bank. Drawing out again a pound or so, with which he may enjoy himself for a day or two, he will then have the rest of his money transmitted to his friends in the country, to whom he will himself go as soon as he has had his fling in town; so that the money that used formerly to be expended in one centre is spread over the entire country, ergo and very naturally the public-house keepers feel the change acutely. To show how the neighbourhood has improved of late years, I will mention that six or eight years ago the Eastern Music Hall was frequented by such ruffians that the proprietor told me he was only too glad when twelve o'clock came, that he might shut the place up, and turn out his turbulent customers, whose chief delight was to disfigure and ruin each other's physiognomy.
     Mr. Wilton has since then rebuilt his concert-room, and erected a gallery that he sets apart for sailors and their women. The body of the hall is filled usually by tradesmen, keepers of tally-shops, &c., &c.
     And before we go further a word about tally-shops. Take the New Road, Whitechapel, which is full of them. They present a respectable appearance, are little two-storied houses, clean, neat, and the owners are reputed to have the Queen's taxes ready when the collectors call for them. The principle of the tally business is this: - A man wants a coat, or a woman wants a shawl, a dress, or some other article of feminine wearing apparel. Being somewhat known in the neighbourhood, as working at some trade or other, the applicant is able to go to the tally-shop, certain of the success of his or her application.
     She obtains the dress she wishes for, and agrees to pay so much a week until the whole debt is cleared off. For instance, the dress costs three pounds, a sum she can never hope to possess in its entirety. Well, five shillings a week for three months will complete the sum charged; and the woman by this system of accommodation is as much benefited as the tallyman.
     The British Queen, a concert-room in the Commercial Road, is a respectable, well-conducted house, frequented by low prostitutes, as may be expected, but orderly in the extreme, and what more can be wished for? The sergeant remarked to me, if these places of harmless amusement were not licensed and kept open, much evil would be sown and disseminated throughout the neighbourhood, for it may be depended something worse and ten times lower would be substituted. People of all classes must have recreation. Sailors who come on shore after a long cruise will have it; and, added the sergeant, we give it them in a way that does no harm to themselves or anybody else. Rows and disturbances seldom occur, although, of course, they may be expected now and then. The dancing rooms close at twelve - indeed their frequenters adjourn to other places generally before that hour, and very few publics are open at one. I heard that there had been three fights at the Prussian Eagle, in Ship Alley, Wellclose Square, on the evening I visited the locality; but when I arrived I saw no symptoms of the reported pugnacity of the people assembled, and this was the only rumour of war that reached my ears.
     Ship Alley is full of foreign lodging-houses. You see written on a blind an inscription that denotes the nationality of the keeper and the character of the establishment; for instance Hollandsche lodgement, is sufficient to show a Dutchman that his own language is spoken, and that he may have a bed if he chooses.
     That there are desperate characters in the district was sufficiently evidenced by what I saw when at the station-house. Two women, both well-known prostitutes, were confined in the cells, one of whom had been there before no less than fourteen times, and had only a few hours before been brought up charged with nearly murdering a man with a poker. Her face was bad, heavy, and repulsive; her forehead, as well as I could distinguish by the scanty light thrown into the place by the bullseye of the policeman, was low; her nose was short and what is called pudgy, having the nostrils dilated; and she abused the police for disturbing her when she wished to go to sleep, a thing, from what I saw, I imagined rather difficult to accomplish, as she had nothing to recline upon but a hard sort of locker attached to the wall, and running all along one side and at the bottom of the cell.
     The other woman, whose name was O'Brien, was much better looking than her companion in crime; her hand was bandaged up, and she appeared faint from loss of blood. The policeman lifted her head up, and asked her if she would like anything to eat. She replied she could drink some tea, which was ordered for her. She had met a man in a public-house in the afternoon, who was occupied in eating some bread and cheese. In order to get into conversation with him, she asked him to give her some, and on his refusing she made a snatch at it, and caught hold of the knife he was using with her right hand, inflicting a severe wound: notwithstanding the pain of the wound, which only served to infuriate her, she flew at the man with a stick and beat him severely over the head, endangering his life; for which offence she was taken by the police to the station-house and locked up.
     There are very few English girls who can be properly termed sailors' women; most of them are either German or Irish. I saw numbers of German, tall brazen-faced women, dressed in gaudy colours, dancing and pirouetting in a fantastic manner in a dancing-room in Ratcliff Highway.
     It may be as well to give a description of one of the dancing-rooms frequented by sailors and their women.
     Passing through the bar of the public-house you ascend a flight of stairs and find yourself in a long room well lighted by gas. There are benches placed along the walls for the accommodation of the dancers, and you will not fail to observe the orchestra, which is well worthy of attention. It consists, in the majority of cases, of four musicians, bearded shaggy-looking foreigners, probably Germans, including a fiddle, a cornet, and two fifes or flutes. The orchestra is usually penned up in a corner of the room, and placed upon a dais or raised desk, to get upon which you ascend two steps; the front is boarded up with deal, only leaving a small door at one end to admit the performers, for whose convenience either a bench is erected or chairs supplied. There is a little ledge to place the music on, which is as often as not embellished with pewter pots. The music itself is striking in the extreme, and at all events exhilarating in the highest degree. The shrill notes of the fifes, and the braying of the trumpet in very quick time, rouses the excitement of the dancers, until they whirl round in the waltz with the greatest velocity.
     I was much struck by the way in which the various dances were executed. In the first place, the utmost decorum prevailed, nor did I notice the slightest tendency to indecency. Polkas and waltzes seemed to be the favourites, and the steps were marvelously well done, considering the position and education of the company. In many cases there was an exhibition of grace and natural ease that no one would have supposed possible; but this was observable more amongst foreigners than English. The generality of the women had not the slightest idea of dancing. There was very little beauty abroad that night, at least in the neighbourhood of Ratcliff Highway. It might have been hiding under a bushel, but it was not patent to a casual observer. Yet I must acknowledge there was something prepossessing about the countenances of the women, which is more than could be said of the men. It might have been a compound of resignation, indifference, and recklessness, through all of which phases of her career a prostitute must go; nor is she thoroughly inured to her vocation until they have been experienced, and are in a manner mingled together. There was a certain innate delicacy about those women, too, highly commendable to its possessors. It was not the artificial refinement of the West-end, nothing of the sort, but genuine womanly feeling. They did not look as if they had come there for pleasure exactly, they appeared too business-like for that; but they did seem as if they would like, and intended, to unite the two, business and pleasure, and enjoy themselves as much as the circumstances would allow. They do not dress in the dancing-room, they attire themselves at home, and walk through the streets in their ball costume, without their bonnets, but as they do not live far off this is not thought much of. I remarked several women unattached sitting by themselves, in one place as many as half-a-dozen.
     The faces of the sailors were vacant, stupid, and beery. I could not help thinking one man I saw at the Prussian Eagle a perfect Caliban in his way. There was an expression of owlish cunning about his heavy-looking features that, uniting with the drunken leer sitting on his huge mouth, made him look but a "very indifferent monster."
     I noticed a sprinkling of coloured men and a few thorough negroes scattered about here and there.
     The sergeant chanced to be in search of a woman named Harrington, who had committed a felony, and in the execution of his duty he was obliged to search some notorious brothels that he thought might harbour the delinquent.
     We entered a house in Frederick Street (which is full of brothels, almost every house being used for an immoral purpose). But the object of our search was not there, and we proceeded to Brunswick Street, more generally known in the neighbourhood and to the police as "Tiger Bay;" the inhabitants and frequenters of which place are very often obliged to enter an involuntary appearance in the Thames police court. Tiger Bay, like Frederick Street, is full of brothels and thieves' lodging houses. We entered No. 6, accompanied by two policemen in uniform, who happened to be on duty at the entrance to the place, as they wished to apprehend a criminal whom they had reason to believe would resort for shelter, after the night's debauch, to one of the dens in the Bay. We failed to find the man the police wanted, but on descending to the kitchen, we discovered a woman sitting on a chair, evidently waiting up for some one.
     That woman," said the sergeant, "is one of the lowest class we have; she is not only a common prostitute herself, and a companion of ruffians and thieves, but the servant of prostitutes and low characters as debased as herself, with the exception of their being waited upon by her.
     We afterwards searched two houses on the opposite side of the way. The rooms occupied by the women and their sailors were larger and more roomy than I expected to find them. The beds were what are called "fourposters," and in some instances were surrounded with faded, dirty-looking, chintz curtains. There was the usual amount of cheap crockery on the mantel-pieces, which were surmounted with a small looking-glass in a rosewood or gilt frame. When the magic word "Police" was uttered, the door flew open, as the door of the robbers' cave swung back on its hinges when Ali Baba exclaimed "Sesame." A few seconds were allowed for the person who opened the door to retire to the couch, and then our visual circuit of the chamber took place. The sailors did not evince any signs of hostility at our somewhat unwarrantable intrusion, and we in every case made our exit peacefully, but without finding the felonious woman we were in search of; which might cause sceptical people to regard her as slightly apocryphal, but in reality such was not the case, and in all probability by this time justice has claimed her own.
     A glance at the interior of the Horse and Leaping Bar concluded our nocturnal wanderings. This public-house is one of the latest in the district, and holds out accommodation for man and beast till the small hours multiply themselves considerably.
     Most of the foreign women talk English pretty well, some excellently, some of course imperfectly; their proficiency depending upon the length of their stay in the country. A German woman told me the following story:-
     I have been in England nearly six years. When I came over I could not speak a word of your language, but I associated with my own countrymen. Now I talk the English well, as well as any, and I go with the British sailor. I am here to-night in this house of dancing with a sailor English, and I have known him two week. His ship is in docks, and will not sail for one month from this time I am now speaking. I knew him before, one years ago and a half. He always lives with me when he come on shore. He is nice man and give me all his money when he land always. I take all his money while he with me, and not spend it quick as some of your English women do. If I not to take care, he would spend all in one week. Sailor boy always spend money like rain water; he throw it into the street and not care to pick it up again, leave it for crossing-sweeper or errand-boy who pass that way. I give him little when he want it; he know me well and have great deal confidence in me. I am honest, and he feel he can trust me. Suppose he have twenty-four pound when he leave his ship, and he stay six week on land, he will spend with me fifteen or twenty, and he will give me what left when he leave me, and we amuse ourself and keep both ourself with the rest. It very bad for sailor to keep his money himself; he will fall into bad hands; he will go to ready-made outfitter or slop-seller, who will sell him clothes dreadful dear and ruin him. I know very many sailors - six, eight, ten, oh! more than that. They are my husbands. I am not married, of course not, but they think me their wife while they are on shore. I do not care much for any of them; I have a lover of my own, he is waiter in a lodging and coffee house; Germans keep it; he is German and he comes from Berlin, which is my town also. I is born there.
     Shadwell, Spitalfields, and contiguous districts are infested with nests of brothels as well as Whitechapel. To attract sailors, women and music must be provided for their amusement. In High Street, Shadwell, there are many of these houses, one of the most notorious of which is called The White Swan, or, more commonly, Paddy's Goose; the owner of which is reported to make money in more ways than one. Brothel-keeping is a favourite mode of investing money in this neighbourhood. Some few years ago a man called James was prosecuted for having altogether thirty brothels; and although he was convicted, the nuisance was by no means in the slightest degree abated, as the informer, by name Brooks, has them all himself at the present time.
     There are two other well-known houses in High Street, Shadwell - The Three Crowns, and The Grapes, the latter not being licensed for dancing.
     Paddy's Goose is perhaps the most popular house in the parish. It is also very well thought of in high quarters. During the Crimean war, the landlord, when the Government wanted sailors to man the fleet, went among the shipping in the river, and enlisted numbers of men. His system of recruiting was very successful. He went about in a small steamer with a band of music and flags, streamers and colours flying. All this rendered him popular with the Admiralty authorities, and made his house extensively known to the sailors, and those connected with them.
     Inspector Price, under whose supervision the low lodging-houses in that part of London are placed, most obligingly took me over one of the lowest lodging-houses, and one of the best, forming a strange contrast, and both presenting an admirable example of the capital working of the most excellent Act that regulates them. We went into a large room, with a huge fire blazing cheerily at the furthest extremity, around which were grouped some ten or twelve people, others were scattered over various parts of the room. The attitudes of most were listless; none seemed to be reading; one was cooking his supper; a few amused themselves by criticising us, and canvassing as to the motives of our visit, and our appearance altogether. The inspector was well known to the keeper of the place, who treated him with the utmost civility and respect. The greatest cleanliness prevailed everywhere. Any one was admitted to this house who could command the moderate sum of threepence. I was informed those who frequented it were, for the most part, prostitutes and thieves. That is thieves and their associates. No questions were asked of those who paid their money and claimed a night's lodging in return. The establishment contained forty beds. There were two floors. The first was divided into little boxes by means of deal boards, and set apart for married people, or those who represented themselves to be so. Of course, as the sum paid for the night's lodging was so small, the lodgers could not expect clean sheets, which were only supplied once a week. The sheets were indeed generally black, or very dirty. How could it be otherwise? The men were often in a filthy state, and quite unaccustomed to anything like cleanliness, from which they were as far as from godliness. The floors and the surroundings were clean, and highly creditable to the management upstairs; the beds were not crowded together, but spread over the surface in rows, being a certain distance from one another. Many of them were already occupied, although it was not eleven o'clock, and the house is generally full before morning. The ventilation was very complete, and worthy of attention. There were several ventilators on each side of the room, but not in the roof - all were placed in the side.
     The next house we entered was more aristocratic in appearance. You entered through some glass doors, and going along a small passage found yourself in a large apartment, long and narrow, resembling a coffee-room. The price of admission was precisely the same, but the frequenters were chiefly working men, sometimes men from the docks, respectable mechanics, &c. No suspicious characters were admitted by the proprietor on any pretence, and he by this means kept his house select. Several men were seated in the compartments reading newspapers, of which there appeared to be an abundance. The accommodation was very good, and everything reflected great credit upon the police, who seem to have the most unlimited jurisdiction, and complete control over the low people and places in the East-end of London.
     Bluegate Fields is nothing more or less than a den of thieves, prostitutes, and ruffians of the lowest description. Yet the police penetrate unarmed without the slightest trepidation. There I witnessed sights that the most morbid novelist has described, but which have been too horrible for those who have never been on the spot to believe. We entered a house in Victoria Place, running out of Bluegate, that had no street-door, and penetrating a small passage found ourselves in a kitchen, where the landlady was sitting over a miserable coke fire; near her there was a girl, haggard and woe-begone. We put the usual question, Is there any one upstairs? And on being told that the rooms were occupied, we ascended to the first floor, which was divided into four small rooms. The house was only a two-storied one. The woman of the place informed me, she paid five shillings a-week rent, and charged the prostitutes who lodged with her four shillings aweek for the miserable apartments she had to offer for their accommodation; but as the shipping in the river was very slack just now, times were hard with her.
     The house was a wretched tumble-down hovel, and the poor woman complained bitterly that her landlord would make no repairs. The first room we entered contained a Lascar, who had come over in some vessel, and his woman. There was a sickly smell in the chamber, that I discovered proceeded from the opium he had been smoking. There was not a chair to be seen; nothing but a table, upon which were placed a few odds-and-ends. The Lascar was lying on a palliasse placed upon the floor (there was no bedstead), apparently stupefied from the effects of the opium he had been taking. A couple of old tattered blankets sufficed to cover him. By his bedside sat his woman, who was half idiotically endeavouring to derive some stupefaction from the ashes he had left in his pipe. Her face was grimy and unwashed, and her hands so black and filthy that mustard-and-cress might have been sown successfully upon them. As she was huddled up with her back against the wall she appeared an animated bundle of rags. She was apparently a powerfully made woman, and although her face was wrinkled and careworn, she did not look exactly decrepit, but more like one thoroughly broken down in spirit than in body. In all probability she was diseased; and the disease communicated by the Malays, Lascars, and Orientals generally, is said to be the most frightful form of lues to be met with in Europe. It goes by the name of the Dry ----, and is much dreaded by all the women in the neighbourhood of the docks. Leaving this wretched couple, who were too much overcome with the fumes of opium to answer any questions, we went into another room, which should more correctly be called a hole. There was not an atom of furniture in it, nor a bed, and yet it contained a woman. This woman was lying on the floor, with not even a bundle of straw beneath her, rapped up in what appeared to be a shawl, but which might have been taken for the dress of a scarecrow feloniously abstracted from a corn-field, without any very great stretch of the imagination. She started up as we kicked open the door that was loose on its hinges, and did not shut properly, creaking strangely on its rusty hinges as it swung sullenly back. Her face was shrivelled and famine-stricken, her eyes bloodshot and glaring, her features disfigured slightly with disease, and her hair dishevelled, tangled, and matted. More like a beast in his lair than a human being in her home was this woman. We spoke to her, and from her replies concluded she was an Irishwoman. She said she was charged nothing for the place she slept in. She cleaned out the water-closets in the daytime, and for these services she was given a lodging gratis.
     The next house we entered was in Bluegate Fields itself. Four women occupied the kitchen on the ground-floor. They were waiting for their men, probably thieves. They had a can of beer, which they passed from one to the other. The woman of the house had gone out to meet her husband, who was to be liberated from prison that night, having been imprisoned for a burglary three years ago, his term of incarceration happening to end that day. His friends were to meet at his house and celebrate his return by an orgie, when all of them, we were told, hoped to be blind drunk; and, added the girl who volunteered the information, "None of 'em didn't care dam for police." She was evidently anticipating the happy state of inebriety she had just been predicting.
     One of the houses a few doors off contained a woman well known to the police, and rather notorious on account of her having attempted to drown herself three times. Wishing to see her, the inspector took me to the house she lived in, which was kept by an Irishwoman, the greatest hypocrite I ever met with. She was intensely civil to the inspector, who had once convicted her for allowing three women to sleep in one bed, and she was fined five pounds, all which she told us with the most tedious circumstantiality, vowing, as "shure as the Almighty God was sitting on his throne," she did it out of charity, or she wished she might never speak no more. "These gals," she said, "comes to me in the night and swears (as I knows to be true) they has no place where to put their heads, and foxes they has holes, likewise birds of the air, which it's a mortial shame as they is better provided for and against than them that's flesh and blood Christians. And one night I let one in, when having no bed you see empty I bundled them in together. Police they came and I was fined five pounds, which I borrowed from Mrs. Wilson what lives close to - five golden sovereigns, as I'm alive, and they took them all, which I've paid back two bob a week since, and I don't owe no one soul not a brass farthing, which it's all as thrue as Christ's holiness, let alone his blessed gospel."
     The woman we came to see was called China Emma, or by her intimate associates Chaney Emm. She was short in stature, rather stout, with a pale face utterly expressionless; her complexion was blonde. There was a look almost of vacuity about her, but her replies to my questions were lucid, and denoted that she was only naturally slow and stupid.
     My father and mother," she said, "kept a grocer's shop in Goswell Street. Mother died when I was twelve years old, and father took to drinking. In three years he lost his shop, and in a while killed himself, what with the drink and one thing and another. I went to live with a sister who was bad, and in about a year she went away with a man and left me. I could not get any work, never having been taught any trade or that. One day I met a sailor, who was very good to me. I lived with him as his wife, and when he went away drew his half-pay. I was with him for six years. Then he died of yellow fever in the West Indies, and I heard no more of him. I know he did not cut me, for one of his mates brought me a silver snuff-box he used to carry his quids in, which he sent me when he was at his last. Then I lived for a bit in Angel Gardens; after that I went to Gravel Lane; and now I'm in Bluegate Fields. When I came here I met with a Chinaman called Appoo. He's abroad now, but he sends me money. I got two pounds from him only the other day. He often sends me the needful. When he was over here last we lived in Gregory's Rents. I've lived in Victoria Place and New Court, all about Bluegate. Appoo only used to treat me badly when I got drunk. I always get drunk when I've a chance to. Appoo used to tie my legs and arms and take me into the street. He'd throw me into the gutter, and then he'd throw buckets of water over me till I was wet through; but that didn't cure; I don't believe anything would; I'd die for the drink; I must have it, and I don't care what I does to get it. I've tried to kill myself more nor once. I have fits at times - melancholy fits - and I don't know what to do with myself. I wish I was dead, and I run to the water and throw myself in; but I've no luck; I never had since I was a child - oh! ever so little. I's always picked out. Once I jumped out of a first-floor window in Jamaica Place into the river, but a boatman coming by hooked me up, and the magistrate give me a month. The missus here (naming the woman who kept the place) wants me to go to a refuge or home, or something of that. P'raps I shall.
     The Irishwoman here broke in, exclaiming-
     And so she shall. I've got three or four poor gals into the refuge, and I'll get Chaney Emm, as shure as the Almighty God's sitting on his throne." (This was a favourite exclamation of hers.) "I keeps her very quiet here; she never sees no one, nor tastes a drop of gin, which she shouldn't have to save her blessed life, if it were to be saved by nothink else; leastways, it should be but a taste. It's ruined her has drink. When she got the money Appoo sent her the other day or two back, I took it all, and laid it out for her, but never a drop of the crater passed down Chaney Emm's lips.
     This declaration of the avaricious old woman was easily credible, except the laying out the money for her victim's advantage. The gin, in all probability, if any had been bought, had been monopolized in another quarter, where it was equally acceptable. As to the woman's seeing no one, the idea was preposterous. The old woman's charity, as is commonly the case, began at home, and went very little further. If she were excluded from men's society she must have been much diseased.
     I find the women who cohabit with sailors are not, as a body, disorderly, although there may be individuals who habitually give themselves up to insubordination. I take them to be the reverse of careful, for they are at times well off, but at others, through their improvidence and the slackness of the shipping, immersed in poverty. The supply of women is fully equal to the demand; but as the demand fluctuates so much I do not think the market can be said to be overstocked. They are unintelligent and below the average of intellectuality among prostitutes, though perhaps on a par with the men with whom they cohabit.

Soldiers' Women

     The evil effects of the want of some system to regulate prostitution in England, is perhaps more shown amongst the army than any other class. Syphilis is very prevalent among soldiers, although the disease is not so virulent as it was formerly. That is, we do not see examples of the loss of the palate or part of the cranium, as specimens extant in our museums show us was formerly the case. The women who are patronized by soldiers are, as a matter of course, very badly paid; for how can a soldier out of his very scanty allowance, generally little exceeding a shilling a day, afford to supply a woman with means adequate for her existence? It follows from this state of things, that a woman may, or more correctly must, be intimate with several men in one evening, and supposing her to be tainted with disease, as many men as she may chance to pick up during the course of her peregrinations, will be incapacitated from serving her Majesty for several weeks.
     The following quotation from Mr. Acton's book will suffice to show what I mean. He is speaking of a particular regiment.
     "In 1851, Dr. Gordon, surgeon to the 57th, read a paper before the Surgical Society of Ireland, in which he states, (see 'Dublin Medical Press,' February 26th, 1851,) that during the year ending 31st March, 1850, the following number, out of an average strength of 408 men, were treated for venereal diseases in the head-quarters hospital-
Number admitted

113

Number of days in hospital

2519

Amount of soldiers’ pay

£136.10s.9d


     At the first blush, the economist would be apt to imagine that a very large sum of money is lost to the state annually by the inroads of syphilis. It is but fair to state that this is not the case, as tenpence a day is stopped from each man's pay while he is in hospital, so that about five-sixths of his wages are recovered. The actual loss to the country is his time, which, however during peace, is non-productive.
     From the statistical reports on the sickness, mortality, and invaliding among the troops in the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean, and British America, presented to Parliament some years ago (1839), it would appear that syphilis is a fatal enemy to the British soldier.
Total cases during seven and a quarter years

8,072

Total aggregate strength for do

44,611

Annual mean strength for ditto

6,153


     Thus 181 per 1000, or about one man in five appear to have been attacked.
     Let us compare this with the following statistics extracted from a report on army diseases from 1837 to 1847.

     Aggregate strength:

Cavalry

54,374

Foot guards

40,120

Infantry

160,103

Total

254,597


     Extent of venereal disease:
Cavalry

11,205

Foot guards

10,043

Infantry

44,435

Total

65,683

Deaths

17


     Number of men per 1000 of strength admitted during ten years:
Cavalry

206

Foot guards

250

  Infantry

277


   

    This report was drawn up by Dr. Balfour and Sir Alexander Tulloch, and the reason that a distinction is made between the line and the foot-guards, is that the line contains a large number of recruits and men returning from foreign service, whereas in the foot-guards, there is usually a much greater proportion of soldiers who have arrived at maturity, on the one hand, and who, on the other, have not served in foreign climates. As these circumstances were likely to have affected the amount of sickness and mortality, the returns of the two classes were kept distinct and separate in preparing the tables.
     Few infected soldiers escape notice, as health inspections are made once a week, which is the general rule in the service. If a soldier is found at inspection to be labouring under disease, he is reported for having concealed it to his superior officer, who orders him punishment drill on his discharge from hospital. In order to induce him to apply early for relief, the soldier is told that if he do so, he may probably be only a few days instead of several weeks under treatment.
     It is contrary to the rules of the service, to treat men out of hospital; even were it otherwise, the habits of the soldier, and the accommodation in barracks, would not favour celerity of cure." (1)
     In the brigade of Guards, though the average of syphilis primitiva is heavy, as above stated, only 11 per cent. of the cases are followed by secondary symptoms, which, however, follow 33 per cent. of the cases in the line. Dr. Balfour says a mild mercurial system is usually pursued in the army; and indeed mercury by many surgeons is held absolutely necessary for hard, or Hunterian chancres.
     A woman was pointed out to me in a Music Hall in Knightsbridge, who my informant told me he was positively assured had only yesterday had two buboes lanced; and yet she was present at that scene of apparent festivity, contaminating the very air, like a deadly upas tree, and poisoning the blood of the nation, with the most audacious recklessness. It is useless to say that such things should not be. They exist, and they will exist. The woman was nothing better than a paid murderess, committing crime with impunity. She was so well known that she had obtained the soubriquet of the "hospital" as she was so frequently an inmate of one, and as she so often sent others to a similar involuntary confinement.
     Those women who, for the sake of distinguishing them from the professionals, I must call amateurs, are generally spoken of as "Dollymops." Now many servant-maids, nurse-maids who go with children into the Parks, shop girls and milliners who may be met with at the various "dancing academies," so called, are "Dollymops." We must separate these latter again from the "Demoiselle de Comptoir," who is just as much in point of fact a "Dollymop," because she prostitutes herself for her own pleasure, a few trifling presents or a little money now and then, and not altogether to maintain herself. But she will not go to casinos, or any similar places to pick up men; she makes their acquaintance in a clandestine manner: either she is accosted in the street early in the evening as she is returning from her place of business to her lodgings, or she carries on a flirtation behind the counter, which, as a matter of course, ends in an assignation.
     Soldiers are notorious for hunting up these women, especially nurse-maids and those that in the execution of their duty walk in the Parks, when they may easily be accosted. Nurse-maids feel flattered by the attention that is lavished upon them, and are always ready to succumb to the "scarlet fever." A red coat is all powerful with this class, who prefer a soldier to a servant, or any other description of man they come in contact with.
       (1) Acton.
     This also answers the soldier's purpose equally well. He cannot afford to employ professional women to gratify his passions, and if he were to do so, he must make the acquaintance of a very low set of women, who in all probability will communicate some infectious disease to him. He feels he is never safe, and he is only too glad to seize the opportunity of forming an intimacy with a woman who will appreciate him for his own sake, cost him nothing but the trouble of taking her about occasionally, and who, whatever else she may do, will never by any chance infect. I heard that some of the privates in the Blues and the brigade of Guards often formed very reprehensible connections with women of property, tradesmen's wives, and even ladies, who supplied them with money, and behaved with the greatest generosity to them, only stipulating for the preservation of secrecy in their intrigues. Of course numbers of women throng the localities which contain the Knightsbridge, Albany Street, St. George's, Portman, and Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk. They may have come up from the provinces; some women have been known to follow a particular regiment from place to place, all over the country, and have only left it when it has been under orders for foreign service. A woman whom I met with near the Knightsbridge barracks, in one of the beerhouses there, told me she had been a soldiers' woman all her life.
     When I was sixteen," she said, "I went wrong. I'm up'ards of thirty now. I've been fourteen or fifteen years at it. It's one of those things you can't well leave off when you've once took to it. I was born in Chatham. We had a small baker's shop there, and I served the customers and minded the shop. There's lots of soldiers at Chatham, as you know, and they used to look in at the window in passing, and nod and laugh whenever they could catch my eye. I liked to be noticed by the soldiers. At last one young fellow, a recruit, who had not long joined I think, for he told me he hadn't been long at the depot, came in and talked to me. Well, this went on, and things fell out as they always do with girls who go about with men, more especially soldiers, and when the regiment went to Ireland, he gave me a little money that helped me to follow it; and I went about from place to place, time after time, always sticking to the same regiment. My first man got tired of me in a year or two, but that didn't matter. I took up with a sergeant then, which was a cut above a private, and helped me on wonderful. When we were at Dover, there was a militia permanently embodied artillery regiment quartered with us on the western heights, and I got talking to some of the officers. who liked me a bit. I was a---- sight prettier then than I am now, you may take your dying oath, and they noticed me uncommon; and although I didn't altogether cut my old friends, I carried on with these fellows all the time we were there, and made a lot of money, and bought better dresses and some jewellery, that altered me wonderful. One officer offered to keep me if I liked to come and live with him. He said he would take a house for me in the town, and keep a pony carriage if I would consent; but although I saw it would make me rise in the world, I refused. I was fond of my old associates, and did not like the society of gentlemen; so, when the regiment left Dover, I went with them, and I remained with them till I was five and twenty. We were then stationed in London, and I one day saw a private in the Blues with one of my friends, and for the first time in my life I fell in love. He spoke to me, and I immediately accepted his proposals, left my old friends, and went to live in a new locality, among strangers; and I've been amongst the Blues ever since, going from one to the other, never keeping to one long, and not particler as long as I get the needful. I don't get much, very little, hardly enough to live upon. I've done a little needlework in the day-time. I don't now, although I do some washing and mangling now and then to help it out. I don't pay much for my bed-room, only six bob a week, and dear at that. It ain't much of a place. Some of the girls about here live in houses. I don't; I never could abear it. You ain't your own master, and I always liked my freedom. I'm not comfortable exactly; it's a brutal sort of life this. It isn't the sin of it, though, that worries me. I don't dare think of that much, but I do think how happy I might have been if I'd always lived at Chatham, and married as other women do, and had a nice home and children; that's what I want, and when I think of all that, I do cut up. It's enough to drive a woman wild to think that she's given up all chance of it. I feel I'm not respected either. If I have a row with any fellow, he's always the first to taunt me with being what he and his friends have made me. I don't feel it so much now. I used to at first. One dovetails into all that sort of thing in time, and the edge of your feelings, as I may say, wears off by degrees. That's what it is. And then the drink is very pleasant to us, and keeps up our spirits; for what could a woman in my position do without spirits, without being able to talk and blackguard and give every fellow she meets as good as he brings?
     It is easy to understand, the state of mind of this woman, who had a craving after what she knew she never could possess, but which the maternal instinct planted within her forced her to wish for. This is one of the melancholy aspects of prostitution. It leads to nothing - marriage of course excepted; the prostitute has no future. Her life, saving the excitement of the moment, is a blank. Her hopes are all blighted, and if she has a vestige of religion left in her, which is generally the case, she must shudder occasionally at what she has merited by her easy compliance when the voice of the tempter sounded so sweetly.