[back to menu for this book]
Friday. October 26, 1849
There is an error in my last letter which I should like to
correct before entering upon the subject of my present communication. The total
amount of money paid as wages for the manufacture of the entire quantity of silk
goods produced in Great Britain is £3,700,000, and not £370,000, as stated in
my second letter. To the intelligent reader the mis-statement was evidently a
typographical error, the produce of Spitalfields being afterwards estimated at
one- tenth of the entire quantity manufactured throughout the kingdom, and the
sum paid in wages to the operatives of that particular district alone being
stated to be about £370,000. I also wish it to be known that, in reckoning the
number of hands employed in Spitalfields at 20,000, I included those engaged in
warping and winding, as well as in weaving merely, because Mr. M'Culloch had
done so in his estimate of the total produce of the country, and I was desirous
of checking the accounts furnished to me by the workmen with the data supplied
to Mr. M'Culloch by the manufacturers. Some persons, looking at the earnings of
the Spitalfields weaver for a particular week, may think the average of 5s. 6d.
far below the truth; and such, indeed, was the impression originally made upon
myself. But, upon inquiring more closely into the matter, I found that the time
that the weavers are at "play" (as they technically term being out of
work) is so considerable in the course of the year, that their regular income
bears no proportion to their occasional gains. Mr. Thomas Heath, in his
examination before the Government Commissioner, is very explicit on this point.
"There are," said the Commissioner, "many persons who represent
the earnings of weavers at your branch (figured goods) as much higher than what
you state." "Many persons deceive themselves," was the reply,
"by omitting to take into account the time which they lose by 'play' - that
is, the time which they are unemployed. I took home a piece today which I had
wove in six days, and I got 30s. for it. Some people would say that my earnings
were 30s. a week, but it is no such thing. I paid 4s. expenses, which reduces
the amount to 26s., and then it probably will be a week of play before I am set
to work again. The manufacturer will wait till he gets an order for what I am
doing. He will do no work on the chance of sale; so it will be only 13s. a week.
I have been as fortunate as most of the trade. I have never been discharged
altogether. I have always been attached to some warehouse, but then I have had a
great deal of play, as others have had. I have not been able to buy a coat for
these five years." Indeed, from after inquiries made in connection with the
subject, I feel satisfied that, taking the total amount of money received as
wages throughout the year, 5s. 6d. is about the average weekly earnings of each
of the operatives engaged in the manufacture of silk in the neighbourhood of
I shall now pass from the weavers of Spitalfields to the labourers at the "Docks". This transition I am induced to make, not because there is any affinity between the kinds of work performed at the two places, but because the docks constitute as it were a sort of home colony to Spitalfields, to which the unemployed weaver migrates in the hope of bettering his condition. From this it would be generally imagined that the work at the docks was either better paid, less heavy, or more easily, and therefore more regularly, obtained. So far from such being the fact, however, the labour at the docks appears to be not only more onerous, but doubly as precarious as that of weaving, while the average earnings of the entire class seem to be even less. What, then, it will be asked, constitutes the inducement for the change? Why does the weaver abandon the calling of his life, and forsake an occupation that at least appears to have, and actually had, in the days of better prices, a refining and intellectual tendency? Why does he quit his graceful art for the mere muscular labour of the human animal? This, we shall find, arises purely from a desire for some out-of-door employment; and it is a consequence of all skilled labour - since the acquirement of the skill is the result of long practice - that if the art to which the operative has been educated is abandoned, he must take to some unskilled labour as a means of subsistence. I pass, then, to the consideration of the incomings and condition of the dock labourers of the metropolis, not because the class of labour is similar to that of weaving, but because the two classes of labourers are locally associated. I would rather have pursued some more systematic plan in my inquiries, but, in the present state of ignorance as to the general occupations of the poor, system is impossible. I am unable to generalize, not being acquainted with the particulars - for each day's investigation brings me incidentally into contact with a means of living utterly unknown among the well-fed portion of society.
All I can at present assert is, that the poor appear to admit of being classified, according to their employments, under three heads - Artisans, Labourers, and Petty Traders; the first class consisting of skilled, and the second of unskilled, workmen; while the third comprises hawkers, costermongers, and such other small dealers, who are contradistinguished from the larger ones by bringing their wares to the consumer instead of leaving the consumer to seek the wares. Of the skilled workmen few are so poorly paid for their labour as not to obtain a sufficiency for the satisfaction of their wants. The amount of wages is generally considerably above the sum required for the positive necessaries of life - that is to say, for appeasing an appetite, or allaying a pain, rather than gratifying a desire. The class of Spitalfields weavers, however, appear to constitute a striking exception to the rule - from what cause I do not even venture to conjecture. But with the unskilled labourer the amount of remuneration is seldom much above subsistence point, if it be not very frequently below it. Such a labourer, commercially considered, is, as it were, a human steam-engine, supplied with so much fuel, in the shape of food, merely to set him in motion. If he can be made to perform the same amount of work with half the consumption, why, a saving of one-half the expense is supposed to be effected. Indeed, the grand object in the labour market of the present day appears to be to economise human fuel. If the living steam-engine can be made to work as long and as well with a less amount of coal, just so much the better is the result considered.
The dock labourers are a striking instance of mere brute force with brute appetites. This class of labour is as unskilled as the power of a hurricane. Mere muscle is all that is needed; hence every human "locomotive" is capable of working there. All that is wanted is the power to move heavy bodies from one place to another. Mr. Stuart Mill tells us that labour in the physical world is always and solely employed in putting objects in motion; and assuredly, if this be the principal end of physical labour, the docks exhibit the perfection of human action. Dock work is precisely the office that every kind of man is fitted to perform, and there we find every kind of man performing it. Those who are unable to live by the occupation to which they have been educated can obtain a living there without any previous training. Hence we find men of every calling labouring at the docks. There are decayed and bankrupt master butchers, master bakers, publicans, grocers, old soldiers, old sailors, Polish refugees, broken-down gentlemen, discharged lawyers' clerks, suspended Government clerks, almsmen, pensioners, servants, thieves - indeed, everyone who wants a loaf and is willing to work for it. The London Dock is one of the few places in the metropolis where men can get employment without either character or recommendation; so that the labourers employed there are naturally a most incongruous assembly. Each of the docks employs several hundred "hands" to ship and discharge the cargoes of the numerous vessels that enter; and as there are some six or seven of such docks attached to the metropolis, it may be imagined how large a number of individuals are dependent on them for their subsistence. At a rough calculation, there must be at least 20,000 souls getting their living by such means.
For the present I shall notice only the London Dock, reserving the result of my inquiries into the incomings and condition of the labourers at the other docks till my next letter. Before proceeding to give an account of the London Dock itself, let me thus publicly tender my thanks to Mr. Powles, the intelligent and obliging secretary, for the ready manner in which he placed the statistics of the company at my service. Had I experienced from the deputy-superintendent the same courtesy and consideration, the present exposition of the state of the labourers employed in the London Dock would doubtless have been more full and complete; but the one gentleman seemed to be as anxious to withhold information as the other was to impart it. Indeed, I found, in the first instance, that the orders given by the deputy-superintendent throughout the dock to each of the different officers were that no answers should be made to any inquiries I might put to them; and it was not until I had communicated my object to the secretary, that I was able to obtain the least information concerning even the number of "hands" employed at different times, or the amount of wages paid to them.
I shall now give a brief statement of the character, condition, and capacity of the London Dock, after which the description of the kind of labour performed there, and then the class of labourers performing it will follow in due order.
The London Dock occupies an area of 90 acres, and is situate in the three parishes of St. George, Shadwell, and Wapping. The population of these three parishes, in 1841, was 55,500, and the number of inhabited houses 8,000, which covered a space equal to 338 acres. This is in the proportion of 23 inhabited houses to the acre, and seven individuals to each house. The number of persons to each inhabited house is, despite of the crowded lodging-houses with which it abounds, not beyond the average for all London. In my last letter I showed that Bethnal-green, which is said to possess the greatest number of low-rented houses, had only upon an average 17 inhabited houses to each acre, while the average through London was but 5.5 houses per acre. So that it appears that in the three parishes of St. George-in-the-East, Shadwell, and Wapping, the houses are more than four times more crowded together than in the other parts of London, and more numerous, by half as many again, than those even in the low-rented district of Bethnal-green. This affords us a good criterion as to the character of the neighbourhood, and consequently of the people living in the vicinity of the London Dock.
The courts and alleys round about the dock swarm with low lodging-houses, and are inhabited either by the dock labourers, sack-makers, watermen, or that peculiar class of London poor who pick up a precarious living by the water side. The open streets themselves have all, more or less, a maritime character. Every other shop is either stocked with gear for the ship or for the sailor. The windows of one house are filled with quadrants and bright brass sextants, chronometers and huge mariner's compasses, with their cards trembling with the motion of the cabs and waggons passing in the street. Then comes the sailor's cheap shoe-mart, rejoicing in the attractive sign of "Jack and his Mother." Every public-house is a "Jolly Tar," or something equally taking. Then come sail-makers, their windows stowed with ropes and lines smelling of tar. All the grocers are provision agents, and exhibit in their windows tin cases of meat and biscuits, and every article is warranted to keep in any climate. The corners of the streets, too, are mostly monopolized by slopsellers, their windows party-coloured with bright red and blue flannel shirts, the door nearly blocked up with hammocks and well-oiled "nor'-westers," and the front of the house itself nearly covered with canvas trousers, rough pilot coats, and shiny black dreadnoughts. The passengers alone would tell you that you were in the maritime districts of London. Now you meet a satin-waistcoated mate, or a black sailor with his large fur cap, or else a Custom-house officer in his brass-buttoned jacket.
The London Dock can accommodate 500 ships, and the warehouses will contain 232,000 tons of goods. The entire structure cost £4,000,000 of money. The tobacco warehouses alone cover five acres of ground. The walls surrounding the dock cost £65,000. One of the wine vaults has an area of seven acres, and in the whole of them there is room for stowing 60,000 pipes of wine. The warehouses round the wharfs are imposing from their extent, but are much less lofty than those at St. Katherine's, and being situated at some distance from the Dock, goods cannot be craned out of the ship's hold and stowed away at one operation. According to the last half-yearly report, the number of ships which entered the London Dock during the six months ending the 31st of May last was 704, measuring upwards of 195,000 tons. The amount of earnings during that period was £230,000 and odd, and the amount of expenditure nearly £121,000. The stock of goods in the warehouses last May was upwards of 170,000 tons.
As you enter the dock, the sight of the forest of masts in the distance, and the tall chimneys vomiting clouds of black smoke, and the many-coloured flags flying in the air, has a most peculiar effect; while the sheds, with the monster wheels arching through the roofs, look like the paddle-boxes of huge steamers. Along the quay you see now men with their faces blue with indigo, and now gaugers with their long brass-tipped rule dripping with spirit from the cask they have been probing; then will come a group of flaxen-haired sailors, chattering German; and next a black sailor, with a cotton handkerchief twisted turban-like around his head. Presently a blue-smocked butcher, with fresh meat and a bunch of cabbages in the tray on his shoulder, and shortly afterwards a mate with green parakeets in a wooden cage. Here you will see sitting on a bench a sorrowful-looking woman, with new bright cooking tins at her feet, telling you she is an emigrant preparing for her voyage. As you pass along this quay the air is pungent with tobacco, at that it overpowers you with fumes of rum. Then you are nearly sickened with the stench of hides and huge bins of horns, and shortly afterwards the atmosphere is fragrant with coffee and spice. Nearly everywhere you meet stacks of cork, or else yellow bins of sulphur or lead-coloured copper ore. As you enter this warehouse, the flooring is sticky, as if it had been newly tarred, with the sugar that has leaked through the casks, and as you descend into the dark vaults you see long lines of lights hanging from the black arches, and lamps flitting about midway. Here you sniff the fumes of the wine, and there the peculiar fungus smell of dry-rot. Then the jumble of sounds as you pass along the dock blends in anything but sweet concord. The sailors are singing boisterous nigger songs from the Yankee ship just entering, the cooper is hammering at the casks on the quay, the chains of the cranes, loosed of their weight, rattle as they fly up again; the ropes splash in the water; some captain shouts his orders through his hands; a goat bleats from some ship in the basin; and empty casks roll along the stones with a hollow drum-like sound. Here the heavy laden ships are down far below the quay, and you descend to them by ladders, whilst in another basin they are high up out of the water, so that their green copper sheathing is almost level with the eye of the passenger, while above his head a long line of bowsprits stretch far over the quay, and from them hang spars and planks as a gangway to each ship.
This immense establishment is worked by from one to three thousand hands, according as the business is either "brisk" or "slack." Out of this number there are always from four to five hundred permanent labourers, receiving upon an average 16s. 6d. per week wages, with the exception of coopers, carpenters, smiths, and other mechanics, who are paid the usual wages of their crafts. Besides these there are many hundreds - from one thousand to two thousand five hundred - casual labourers, who are engaged at the rate of 2s. 6d. per day in the summer, and at 2s. 4d. per day in the winter months. Frequently, in case of many arrivals, extra hands are hired in the course of the day at the rate of 4d. per hour. For the permanent labourers a recommendation is required, but for the casual labourers no "character" is demanded. The number of the casual hands engaged by the day depends of course upon the amount of work to be done, and I find that the total number of labourers in the docks varies from 500 to 3,000 and odd. On the 4th May, 1849, the number of hands engaged - both permanent and casual - was 2,794; on the 26th of the same month it was 3,012, and on the 30th it was 1,189. These appear to be the extremes of the variation for the present year. The fluctuation is due to a greater or less number of ships entering the dock. The lowest number of ships entering the dock in any one week last year was 29, while the highest number was 141. This rise and fall is owing to the prevalence of easterly winds, which serve to keep the ships back, and so make the business "slack." Now deducting the lowest number of hands employed from the highest number, we have no less than 1,828 individuals who obtain so precarious a subsistence by their labour at the docks that, by the mere shifting of the wind, they may be all deprived of their daily bread. Calculating the wages at 2s. 6d. a day for each hand, the company would have paid £376 l0s. to the 3,012 hands employed on the 26th of May last, while only £148 12s. 6d. would have been paid to the 1,189 hands engaged on the 30th of the same month. Hence not only would 1,823 hands have been thrown out of employ by the chopping of the wind, but the labouring men dependent upon the business of the docks for their subsistence would in one day have been deprived of £227 17s. 6d. This will afford the reader some faint idea of the precarious character of the subsistence obtained by the labourers employed in this neighbourhood, and consequently - as it has been well proven that all men who obtain their livelihood by irregular employment are the most intemperate and improvident of all - it will be easy to judge what may be the condition and morals of a class who today as a body may earn near upon £400, and tomorrow only £150. I had hoped to have been able to have shown the fluctuations in the total amount of wages paid to the dock labourers for each week throughout the whole year; and so, by contrasting the comparative affluence and comfort of one week with the distress and misery of the other, to have afforded the public some more vivid idea of the body of men who are performing perhaps the heaviest labour, and getting the most fickle provision of all. But still I will endeavour to impress him with some faint idea of the struggle there is to gain the uncertain daily bread. Until I saw with my own eyes this scene of greedy despair, I could not have believed that there was so mad an eagerness to work, and so biting a want of it among so vast a body of men. A day or two before I had sat at midnight in the room of the starving weaver; but as I heard him tell his bitter story there was a patience in his misery that gave it more an air of heroism than desperation. But in the scenes I have lately witnessed the want has been positively tragic, and the struggle for life partaking of the sublime. The reader must first remember what kind of men the casual labourers generally are. They are men, it should be borne in mind, who are shut out from the usual means of life by the want of character. Hence you are not astonished to hear, from those who are best acquainted with the men, that there are hundreds among the body who are known thieves, but who come there to seek a living; so that, if taken for any past offence, their late industry may plead for some little lenity in their punishment.
He who wishes to behold one of the most extraordinary and least- known scenes of this metropolis, should wend his way to the London Dock gates at half-past seven in the morning. There he will see congregated within the principal entrance masses of men of all grades, looks, and kinds; some in half-fashionable surtouts, burst at the elbows, with the dirty shirts showing through; others in greasy sporting jackets, with red pimpled faces; others in the rags of their half-slang gentility, with the velvet collars of their paletots worn through to the canvas; some in rusty black, with their waistcoats fastened tight up to the throat; others, again, with the knowing thieves' curl on each side of the jaunty cap; whilst here and there you may see a big-whiskered Pole, with his hands in the pockets of his plaited French trousers. Some loll outside the gates, smoking the pipe which is forbidden within; but these are mostly Irish.
Presently you know, by the stream pouring through the gates, and the rush towards particular spots, that the "calling foremen" have made their appearance. Then begins the scuffling and scrambling, and stretching forth of countless hands high in the air, to catch the eye of him whose voice may give them work. As the foreman calls from a book the names, some men jump upon the backs of the others, so as to lift themselves high above the rest, and attract the notice of him who hires them. All are shouting. Some cry aloud his surname, some his christian name; others call out their own names, to remind him that they are there. Now the appeal is made in Irish blarney, now in broken English. Indeed, it is a sight to sadden the most callous, to see thousands of men struggling for only one day's hire, the scuffle being made the fiercer by the knowledge that hundreds out of the number there assembled must be left to idle the day out in want. To look in the faces of that hungry crowd, is to see a sight that must be ever remembered. Some are smiling to the foreman to coax him into remembrance of them; others with their protruding eyes eager to snatch at the hoped-for pass. For weeks many have gone there, and gone through the same struggle, the same cries, and have gone away, after all, without the work they had screamed for.
From this it might be imagined that the work was of a peculiarly light and pleasant kind, and so, when I first saw the scene, I could not help imagining myself; but in reality the labour is of that heavy and continuous character that you would fancy only the best fed could withstand it. The work may be divided into three classes: wheel work, or that which is moved by the muscles of the legs and weight of the body; jigger or winch work, or that which is moved by the muscles of the arm - in each of these the labourer is stationary; but in the truck work, which forms the third class, the labourer has to travel over a space of ground greater or less in proportion to the distance which the goods have to be removed. The wheel work is performed somewhat on the system of the tread-wheel, with this exception - that the force is applied inside, instead of outside the wheel. From six to eight men enter a wooden cylinder or drum, upon which are nailed battens, and the men, laying hold of ropes, commence treading the wheel round, occasionally singing the while, and stamping in time in a manner that is pleasant from its curiosity. The wheel is generally 16 feet in diameter and eight to nine feet broad, and the six or eight men treading within it will lift from 16 to 18 hundredweight, and often a ton, 40 times in an hour, an average of 27 feet high. Other men will get out a cargo of from 800 to 900 casks of wine, each cask averaging about 5 cwt., and being lifted about 18 feet, in a day-and-a-half. At trucking, each man is said to go, on an average, 30 miles a day, and two-thirds of that time he is moving 1? cwt. at 6? miles per hour.
This labour, though requiring to be seen to be properly understood, must still appear so arduous, that one would imagine it was not of that tempting nature that 3,000 men could be found every day in London desperate enough to fight and battle for the privilege of getting 2s. 6d. by it; and even, if they fail in "getting taken on" at the commencement of the day, that they should then retire to the appointed yard, there to remain hour after hour in the hope that the wind might blow them some stray ship, so that other "gangs" might be wanted, and the calling foreman seek them there. It is a curious sight to see the men waiting in these yards to be hired at 4d. per hour, for such are the terms given in the after-part of the day. There, seated on long benches ranged against the wall, they remain - some telling their miseries and some their crimes to one another, whilst others doze away their time. Rain or sunshine, there can always be found plenty ready to catch the stray shilling or eight pennyworth of work. By the size of the shed, you can tell how many men sometimes remain there in the pouring rain rather than run the chance of losing the stray hour's work. Some loiter on the bridges close by, and presently, as their practised eye or ear tells them that the calling foreman is in want of another gang, they rush forward in a stream towards the gate, though only six or eight at most can be hired out of the hundred or more that are waiting there. Again the same mad fight takes place as in the morning; there is the same jumping on benches, the same raising of hands, the same entreaties, and the same failure as before. It is strange to mark the change that takes place in the manner of the men when the foreman has left. Those that have been engaged go smiling to their labour. Indeed, I myself met on the quay just such a chuckling gang passing to their work. Those who are left behind give vent to their disappointment in abuse of him whom they had been supplicating and smiling at a few minutes before. Upon talking with some of the unsuccessful ones, they assured me that the men who had supplanted them had only gained their ends by bribing the foreman who had engaged them. This I made a point of inquiring into, and the deputy-warehousekeeper, of whom I sought the information, soon assured me, by the production of his book, that he himself was the gentleman who chose the men, the foreman merely executing his orders; and this, indeed, I find to be the custom throughout the dock.
At four o'clock the eight hours' labour ceases, and then comes the paying. The names of the men are called out of the "Master book," and each man, as he answers to the cry, has half-a-crown given to him. So rapidly is this done, that in a quarter of an hour the whole of the men have had their wages paid to them. They then pour towards the gate. Here two constables stand, and as each man passes through the wicket he takes his hat off, and is felt from head to foot by the dock officer and attendant. And yet, with all the want, misery, and temptation - the millions of pounds of property, amid which they work, and the thousands of pipes and hogs- heads of wines and spirits about the docks - I am informed, on the best authority, that there are on an average but 30 charges of drunkenness in the course of the year, and only eight of dishonesty every month. This may perhaps arise from the vigilance of the superintendents; but to see the distressed condition of the men who seek and gain employment in the London Docks, it appears almost incredible that out of so vast a body of men, without means and without character, there should be so little vice or crime. There still remains one curious circumstance to be added in connection with the destitution of the dock labourers. Close to the gate by which they are obliged to leave, sits on a coping stone the "refreshment man," with his two large canvas pockets tied in front of him and filled with silver and copper, ready to give change to those whom he has trusted for their dinner that day until they were paid.
As the men passed slowly on in a double file towards the gate, I sat beside the victualler, and asked him what constituted the general dinner of the labourers. He told me that he supplied them with pea-soup, bread and cheese, saveloys, and beer. Some, he said, ha' twice as much as others. Some ha' a pennyworth, some ha' eatables and a pint of beer, others two pints, and others four, and some spend their whole half-crown in eating and drinking. This gave me a more clear insight into the destitution of the men who stood there each morning. Many of them, it was clear, came to the gate without the means of a day's meal, and being hired, were obliged to go on credit for the very food they worked upon. What wonder then, that the "calling foreman" should be often carried many yards away by the struggle and rush of the men around him, seeking employment at his hands. One gentleman assured me that he had been taken off his feet, and hurried a distance of a quarter of a mile by the eagerness of the impatient crowd around him.
Having made myself acquainted with the character and amount of the labour performed, I next proceeded to make inquiries into the condition of the labourers themselves, and thus to learn the average amount of their wages from so precarious an occupation. For this purpose, hearing that there were several cheap lodging houses in the neighbourhood, I thought I should be better enabled to arrive at an average result by conversing with the inmates of them, and thus endeavouring to elicit from them some such statement of their earnings, at one time and at another, as would enable me to judge what was their average amount throughout the year. I had heard the most pathetic accounts from men in the waiting yard how they had been six weeks without a day's hire. I had been told of others who had been known to come there day after day, in the hope of getting sixpence, and who lived upon the stray pieces of bread given to them in charity by their fellow- labourers. Of one party I was informed by a gentleman who had sought out his history in pure sympathy for the wretchedness of the man's appearance. The man had once been possessed of £500 a year, and had squandered it all away, and, through some act or acts that I do not feel myself at liberty to state, had lost caste, character, friends, and everything that could make life easy to him. From that time he had sunk and sunk in the world, until at last he had found him with a lodging-house for his dwelling-place, the associate of thieves and pickpockets. His only means of living at this time was bone and rag grubbing, and for this purpose the man would wander through the streets, at three every morning, to see what little bits of old iron, or rag, or refuse bone, he could find in the roads. His principal source of income, I am informed from such a source as precludes the possibility of doubt, was by picking up the refuse ends of cigars, drying them, and selling them at one halfpenny per ounce as tobacco to the thieves with whom he lodged.
However, to arrive at a fair estimate as to the character and earnings of the labourers generally, I directed my guide, after the closing of the docks, to take me to one of the largest lodging-houses in the neighbourhood. The young man who was with me happened to know one of the labourers who was lodging there, and having called him out, I told him the object of my visit, and requested to be allowed to obtain information from the labourers assembled within. The man assented, and directing me to follow him, he led me through a narrow passage into a small room on the ground-floor, in which sat, I should think, at least 20 to 30 of the most wretched objects I ever beheld. Some were shoeless, some coatless, others shirtless, and from all these came so rank and foul a stench, that I was sickened with a moment's inhalation of the foetid atmosphere. Some of the men were seated in front of a table eating soup out of yellow basins. As they saw me enter they gathered round me, and I was proceeding to tell them the information I wished to gather from them, when in staggered a drunken man in a white canvas suit, who announced himself as the landlord of the place, asking whether there had been a robbery in the house, that people should come in without saying with your leave, or by your leave. I explained to him that I had mistaken the person who had introduced me for the proprietor of the house, when, he grew very abusive, and declared I should not remain there. Some of the men, however, swore as lustily that I should, and after a time succeeded in pacifying him. He then bade me let him hear what I wanted, and I again briefly stated the object of my visit. I told him I wished to publish the state of the dock labourers in the newspaper, on which the man burst into an ironical laugh, and vowed, with an oath, that he know'd me, and that the men were a set of b-----y flats to be done in that way. "I know who you are well enough," he shouted. I requested to be informed for whom he took me. "Take you for," he cried, "why, for a b-----y spy. You here from the Secretary of State - you know you do, to see how many men I've got in the house, and what kind they are." This caused a great stir among the company, and I could see that I was mistaken for one of the detective police. I was located in so wretched a court, and so far removed from the street, with a dead wall opposite, that I knew any atrocity might be committed there almost unheard; indeed the young man who had brought me to the house had warned me of its dangerous character before I went, but from the kind reception I had met with from other labourers, I felt no fear. At last the landlord flung the door wide open, and shrieked from between his clenched teeth, "By God, if you ain't soon mizzled I'll crack your b-----y skull open for you," and so saying he prepared to make a rush towards me, but was held back by the youth who had brought me to the place. I felt that it would be dangerous to remain; and rising, informed the man that I would not trouble him to proceed to extremities.
It was now so late that I felt it would be imprudent to venture into another such house that night. So, having heard of the case of a dock-labourer, who had formerly been a clerk in a Government office, I made the best of my way to the spot I had been directed to.
He lived in the top back room in a small house up another dismal court. I was told by the woman who answered the door to mount the steep stairs, as she shrieked out to the man's wife to show me a light. I found the man seated on the edge of a bed, with six young children grouped round him. These were all shoeless; and playing on the bed was an infant, with only a shirt to cover it. The room was about seven feet square, and, with the man and his wife, there were eight human creatures living in it. In the middle of the apartment, upon a chair, stood a washing-tub, foaming with fresh suds, and from the white crinkled hands of the wife it was plain that I had interrupted her in her washing. On one chair close by was a heap of dirty linen, and on another were flung the newly washed. There was a saucepan on the handful of fire, and the only ornaments on the mantelpiece were two flat-irons and a broken shaving-glass. On the table at which I took my notes there was the bottom of a broken ginger beer-bottle filled with soda. The man was without a coat, and wore an old tattered and greasy black satin waistcoat. Across the ceiling ran strings to hang the clothes upon. On my observing to the woman that I supposed she dried the clothes in that room, she told me that they were obliged to do so, and it gave them all colds and bad eyes. On the floor was a little bit of matting, and on the shelves in the corner one or two plates. In answer to my questionings, the man told me he had been a dock labourer for five or six years. He was in her Majesty's Stationery- office. When there he had £150 a year. Left through accepting a bill of exchange for £871. He was suspended eight years ago, and had petitioned the Lords of the Treasury, hut never could get any answer. After that, he was out for two or three years, going about doing what he could get, such as writing letters. "Then," said the wife, "you went into Mr. What's-his-name's shop." "Oh, yes," answered the man, "I had six months' employment at Clerkenwell. I had 12s. a week and my board there."
Before this they had lived upon their things. He had a good stock of furniture and clothing at that time. The wife used to go out for a day's work when she could get it. She used to go shelling peas in the pea season, washing, or charing - anything she could get to do. His father was a farmer well to do. He should say the old man was worth a good bit of money, and he would have some property at his death. "Oh, sir," said the woman, "we have been really very bad off indeed; sometimes without even food or firing in the depth of winter. It is not until recently that we have been to say very badly off, because within the last four years has been our worst trouble. We had a very good house - a seven-roomed house - in Walworth, and well furnished, and very comfortable. We were in business for ourselves before we went there. We were grocers, near Oxford-street. We lived there at the time that Aldis, the pawnbroker's, was burnt down. We might have done well, if we had not given so much credit." "I've got," said the husband, "about £90 owing me down there now. It's quite out of character to think of getting it. At Clerkenwell I got a job at a grocer's shop. The master was in the Queen's Bench prison, and the mistress employed me at l2s. a week, until he went through the Insolvent Debtors Court. When he passed the court, the business was sold, and of course he didn't want me after that. I've done nothing else but this dock labouring work for this long time. Took to it first because I found there was no chance of anything else. The character with the bill transaction was very much against me; so, being unable to get employment in a wholesale house or anywhere else, I applied to the docks. They require no character at all there. I think I may sometimes have had about seven or eight days altogether. Then I was out for a fortnight, or three weeks perhaps; and then we might get a day or two again; and on some occasion, such as - well, say July, August, September and October, I was in work, one year, almost the whole of those months - three years ago I think that was. Then I did not get anything, excepting now and then not more than about three days' work until the next March - that was owing to the slack time. The first year I might say that I might have been employed about one-third of the time. The second year I was employed six months. The third year I was very unfortunate. I was laid up for three months with bad eyes and a quinsey in the throat, through working in an ice ship. I've scarcely had anything to do since then. That is nearly 18 months ago, and since then I have had casual employment, perhaps one, and sometimes two days a week. It would average 5s. a week the whole year. Within the last few weeks I have, through a friend, applied at a shipping merchants, and within the month I have had five days' work with them, and nothing else, except writing a letter, which I had 2d. for - that's all the employment I've met with myself. My wife has been at employment for the last three months; she has a place she goes to work at. She had three shillings a week for washing, for charing, and for mangling; the party my wife worked for has a mangle, and I go sometimes to help; for if she has got 6d. worth of washing to do at home, then I go to turn the mangle for an hour instead of her, she's not strong enough." "We buy most bread," said the wife, "and a bit of firing, and I do manage on a Saturday night to get them a bit of meat for Sunday, if I possibly can; but what with the soap, and one thing and another, that's the only day they do get a bit of meat, unless I've a bit given me. As for clothing, I'm sure I can't get them any, unless I have that given me -poor little things." "Yes, but we have managed to get a little more bread lately," said the man. "When bread was 11d. a loaf, that was the time when we worse off. Of course, we had seven children alive then. We only buried one three months ago. She was an afflicted little creature for 16 or 17 months; it was one person's work to attend to her, and we was very badly off for a few months then. We've known what it is sometimes to go without bread and coals in the depth of winter. Last Christmas two years we did so for the whole day, until the wife came home in the evening, and brought, it might be, 6d. or 9d., according how long she worked. I was looking after them. I was at home ill. I have known us to sit several days, and not have more than 6d. to feed and warm the whole of us for the whole of the day. We buy half a quartern loaf, that'll be 4?d., or sometimes 5d., and then we have ld. for coals; that would be pretty nigh all that we could have for our money. Sometimes we get a little oatmeal and make gruel. We had hard work to keep the children warm at all. What with their clothes and what we had, we did as well as we could. My children is very contented; give 'em bread, and the're as happy as all the world. That's one comfort. For instance, today we've had half a quartern loaf, and we had a piece left of last night's, after I came home. I had been earning some money yesterday. We had two ounces of butter, and I had this afternoon a quarter of an ounce of tea, and a pennyworth of sugar. When I was ill I've had two or three of the children around me, fretting, at a time, for want of food. That was at the time I was ill. A friend gave me half a sovereign to bury my child. The parish provided me with a coffin, and it cost me about 3s. besides. We didn't have her taken away from here not as a parish funeral exactly. I agreed that if he would fetch it, and let it stand in an open place that he has got there near his shop until the Saturday, which was the time, I would give the undertaker 3s. to let a man come with a pall to throw over the coffin, so that it should not be seen exactly that it was a parish funeral. Even the people in the house don't know, not one of them, that it was buried in that way. I had to give 1s. 6d. for a pair of shoes before I could follow my child to the grave, and we paid 1s. 9d. for rent, all out of the half sovereign. I think there's some people at the docks a great deal worse off than us. I should say that there's men go down there and stand at that gate from seven to 12, and then they may get called in and earn a shilling, and that only for two or three days in the week, after spending the whole of their time there.