Victorian London - Publications - Social
Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50;
Henry Mayhew - Letter XXIV
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Tuesday. January 8th, 1850
Before dealing with the Lumpers, or those who discharge the timber and other
in contradiction to the Stevedores, or those who stow the cargoes of
I will give the following report of a meeting held yesterday afternoon
among the Ballast-heavers wives. It is the wife and children who are the real
sufferers from the intemperance of the working man; and being anxious to give
the public some idea of the amount of misery entailed upon these poor creatures
by the compulsory and induced drunkenness of the husbands, I requested as many
as could leave their homes to meet me at the British and Foreign School, in
Shakespeare-walk, Shadwell. The meeting consisted of the wives of
ballast-heavers and coal-whippers. The wives of the coal-whippers had come there
to contrast their present state with their past, with the view of showing the
misery which they had endured when their husbands were under the same thraldom
to the publican as the ballast-heavers are now. and the comparative happiness
which they have experienced since they have been freed from it. They had
attended unsolicited, in the hope, by making their statements public, of getting
for the ballast- heavers the same freedom from the control of the publican which
the coal-whippers had obtained. The meeting consisted of the wives of
ballast-heavers and coal-whippers. Thirty-one were present. Of the thirty-one,
nine were the wives of coal-whippers; the remainder, twenty-two, the wives of
ballast-heavers. Many others, who had expressed a desire to attend, were
prevented by family cares and arrangements; but small as the meeting was
comparatively, it afforded a very fair representation of the circumstances and
characters of their husbands. For instance, those who were coalwhippers'
appeared comfortable and "
They wore warm gowns, had on winter
bonnets, and clean, tidy caps underneath; the ballast-heavers'
wives, on the
contrary, were mostly ragged, dejected, and anxious-looking.
An endeavour was made to ascertain, in the
first instance, how many children each person had. This was done by questioning
them separately; and from the answers it appeared that all had families. Eight
had one child each, the rest varied from two to eight, and one woman stated that
she had twelve children, all of whom were living, but that only four now resided
with her and her husband. Five had infants in their arms; and several had
children sick, either at home or in some hospital.
In the next place, the ballast-heavers'
wives were asked whether their husbands worked under publicans. "
All of them,"
was the reply, "
work under publicans;"
and, said one, "
worse luck for us"
sentiment that was very warmly concurred in by all the rest.
This fact having been specifically ascertained from each
woman, the Metropolitan Correspondent of The Morning Chronicle proceeded
to inquire from them separately how much their husbands earned, and how much of
their earnings was spent at the publicans'
houses through which they obtained
work, or where they were paid.
said the first woman, "
under a publican. and I know that he earns now 12s. or 13s. a week, but he
brings home to me only half-a-crown, and sometimes not that much. He spends all
the rest at the public-house, where he gets his jobs; and often comes home
exclaimed the second, "
sometimes get from 24s. to 28s. a week, but I never see anything the likes o'
money from him. He spends it at the publican'
s. And when he has earned 24s.,
he will sometimes bring home only 2s. or 2s. 6d. We are badly off, you may be
sure, when the money goes in this way. But my husband cannot help spending it,
for he is obliged to get his jobs at the public-house."
interposed another, "
had not one penny coming into our house; and the week before--
my husband got two jobs, which would come, he told me, to 8s.
or 9s., if he had brought it all home; but he only brought me 1s. This was all
the money I had to keep me and my five children for the whole week; and I'
sure I don'
t know how we got through. This is all owing to the public-house;
and when we go to fetch our husbands at eleven or twelve at night, they shut us
out and say they are not there, though we know very well they are inside in a
hack place. My husband has been kept in that back place many a time till two or
three in the morning--
then he has been turned out, and come home to his family
drunk, without sixpence in his pocket, though the same day he has received 8s.
or 9s. at the same public-house."
They go to the public-house,"
another woman, "
to get jobs, and to curry favour they spend their money there,
because if they did not spend their money they would get never a job. The men
who drink the greatest quantity of money will get the most jobs. This leaves
their families and their wives miserable, and I am sure me and my poor family
are miserable through it."
said another, "
last week. He brought home 5s. out of it, and that at two o clock on the Sunday
morning, when he was quite drunk. He had spent all the remainder at the publican'
who paid him. I have two children, and this 5s. was all we had to keep us the
week round, and pay rent besides."
interposed a quiet elderly
is the beginning of the tenth week, in all of which my husband has had
only four jobs. Those four jobs for the ten weeks just make it is. 3½d. a week,
that I have received from him, and we stand in 2s. 6d. a week rent. I am sure I
t know how we get along. But our publicans are very civil, for my husband
works for two. They lay down the money for him when he comes to be paid; still,
if he does not drink a good part of it away, we know very well he will get no
It is very little,"
said a female, with
an infant in her arms. "
that my husband earns; and of what little he does earn
he does not fetch much to me. He got one job last week, heaving 45 tons. and he
fetched me home 1s. 6d. for it. I was then in lodgings at 1s. 6d. a week, but I
could not afford them, and now we are in lodgings at 9d. This week he has no
work yet. In Christmas week my man told me he earned 25s., and I believe he did,
but he only fetched home between 8s. and 9s. on Saturday. I had myself and child
and husband to keep out of that. My husband works for a publican, and it was at
his house he spent the money. One day last week this publican said to him, when
he asked for a job, 'I cannot give you a job, for there is nothing against you
upon the slate but 1s.;'
and so he got none there. He works for another
public-house, and he went there; but the publican would not give him a job
unless he spent all he earned. My infant is six weeks old to-day, and this woman
by me (appealing to the female next to her) knows well it is the truth that I
that for two nights in last week my child and myself were obliged to go
to bed breadless. We had nothing neither of those days. It was the same one
night in the week before Christmas, though my husband received that same night
8s.; but all was spent at the public-house. On Christmas night we could not get
any supper. We had no money, and I took the gown off my back and pawned it for
2s., to provide something for us to eat. I have nothing else to say but this--
whatever my husband earns I get little or nothing of it. for it goes to the
public-house where he gets his jobs."
s wife, also with
an infant in her arms. said--
We have seven children. This in my arms is the
seventh. My husband has frequently earned from 10s. to 15s. a week during the
last year; but sometimes he has been idle for a week or a fortnight together. I
reckon he brings home, as nearly as he can, all that he earns, but of course he
has a score with the publican. The publican has the best part of all he earns;
and whatever he earns, I believe the publican gets, one week with another, full
10s. a week out of it. We have to live the best way we can out of what little
that remains. Very often we have been without food a whole day, and have not had
much chance of any the next day. unless we pledged everything that we had to get
said a middle-aged woman,
my husband gets 25s., but then he may have no work the week after. He brings
home all he gets; but out of the 25s. at least 5s. goes to the publican for whom
he works, and he is obliged to take beer to have the work. My husband is very
good, however. Sometimes, if he takes it into his head, he will spend the whole
of his earnings at his master'
s house; but sometimes he will spend none. One
week with another, I dare say he brings home clear 10s.; but one week with
another the public-house gets as much out of him--
that is 10s. a week. He
would bring all his money home, if it were not for the publican, where he gets
his jobs, and where he is paid."
I do not know what my husband gets,"
said the next. "
He never tells me where he goes; and for that reason I do not
know how much he earns; but I do know, and I have known it a good while. that he
is obliged to spend at the public-house where the jobs are given one-fifth of
what is due to him. He often comes home drunk; and sometimes when he is in that
way he ill-treats me. He never ill-treats me except he is drunk. I believe he
brings home all he can; for if he did not, we should all starve. We have eight
children and ourselves; so that we have had hard times of it often. My husband
works for any place where he can get work; but it is mostly under the publicans."
I know what my husband can do for his
family pretty well,"
added another. "
He brings home for them 7s. a week, one
week with another; but for this he does £1'
s worth of work, and he is
compelled to spend the rest where he gets the work. If he did not he would not
get another job. One publican where he went to to-day for a job told him, 'I
shall give you no more work.'
My husband asked why? 'Because,'
'you went the other day to an office-man'
that he had supplied information to this journal). My husband said he had, for
he had a family to keep. Wel1,'
said the publican, 'you shall have no more
work from me for doing that;'
and he has had no work to-day through it. I
really think that my man earns, one week with another, £1, for he works hard
when he has it to do, and I am sure he would bring it all home if he had not to
spend it for the score. He must pay the score and a shilling besides. This makes
it so that if he earns 6s. we will say, he fetches home only 2s. 6d., and no
more. May be. that sometimes it will reach 3s., but then the next day he will
come to me for a shilling back again, to treat the ganger, so that the foreman
may give him another job."
An infirm woman, approaching fifty years of
age, who spoke in a tone of sorrowful resignation, said--
"We have had very
little money coming in of late. My husband has been very bad for ten weeks back.
He throws up blood. I suppose he has strained himself too much. All the money I
have had for six weeks to keep us both has been 8s. If he was earning money he
would bring it to me."
Another Woman: "Not without the
s allowance, I am sure."
The First Woman: "No;
s allowance would be taken off; but the publicans. you see, must
have a little. I do not know how much it is, but they must have something if
they give us their jobs. I do not know how much my husband earns, for he never
This woman was here asked if her husband
ever came home drunk?
she replied, "
many a time he
comes home drunk; but he must have the drink to get the jobs."
proceeded the next, "
3s. 6d., and sometimes 4s. a day, but he never brings anything like that home to
his family. He cannot, because he pays so much to the publican; and out of what
he does bring I have often to give him 1s. to seek out another job. He comes
home drunk very often; when he is drunk he is very violent; but when he is sober
there is not a quieter husband anywhere."
said a woman who was
miserably dressed, "
does not tell me what he earns; but when he is in work he
brings me, in general, 10s. or 12s. the week. He works for a publican, and I
know very well that more than he gives me he gives to the publican. Still, when
he has it he gives it me. Indeed, he must; for we have six children, which makes
eight of us altogether. He comes home drunk three times a week. According as he
has a job he must have drink. He cannot get jobs without getting drunk upon
them, so it'
s of no use thinking any more about it."
My man is a very good husband,"
observation of the next female. "
He gets one job, and sometimes two in a week,
but he is obliged to spend half of what he earns in the public-house where the
work is given. Sometimes I have from him 3s., sometimes 5s., sometimes 7s. a
week; several times it has been 10s., but some weeks he does not get any work at
all. I should say we have 6s. a week coming in the year round. That is very
little with our family, but we are obliged to be content with it."
said another, "
I had just
5s. 6d., and the week before, which was Christmas week, I had 7s. 8d. from my
husband. He generally tells me what he gets; and I know, from what he told me,
that in both weeks he earned more than double what he gave me. All the rest he
was obliged to spend. He feeds the publicans as well as other folks out of his
wages. By 'other folks'
I mean his family."
A number of other women having made
statements confirmatory of the above--
Do you think,"
the meeting was
your husbands would be sober as well as industrious men if they could
be got away from the public-house system of employment and payment of wages?"
"God Almighty bless you,"
one woman, "
they would love us and their families all the better for it! We
should all he much the better for it!"
And so say all of us,"
was the next and
perfectly unanimous exclamation.
If we could see that day,"
said one who
had spoken before, "
their families would have little in the world to complain
Another added, "
The night-houses ought to
be closed. That would be one good thing."
They have been many a bitter cup to me,"
said one who, from her dress, appeared to be in mourning.
Some inquiries were then made as to whether
these poor women were ill-treated by their husbands when they came home in a
state of intoxication. There was a good deal of hesitation before any answers
could be obtained. At last one woman said her husband certainly did beat her,
she added, "
he did not know what he was doing."
said another, "
should not know what it was to have an angry word with
my husband if he were always sober. He is a quiet man--
very, when the drink is
out of him; but we have many words together when he is
tipsy, and she stopped without completing the sentence.
Several others gave similar testimony; and many declared that
it was the public-house system which led their husbands to drink.
One woman here said that the foremen of
gangs, as well as the publican. helped to reduce the ballast-heavers'
earnings; for they gave work to men who took lodgings from them, though they did
not occupy them, and through such persons men with families had no chance. In
fact, the taking of the lodgings was, it was said. just a way of giving the
foreman so much money for work, because in many cases the men did not live at
the lodgings at all.
This was confirmed by another woman, who
spoke with great warmth upon the subject. She said that married men, who could
not afford to spend with the publican and lodge with the foreman in the manner
pointed out, would be sure to have no work. Other men went straight from one job
to another, while her own husband. and other women'
s husbands, had been three
and four weeks without lifting a shovelful of ballast. She considered this
very hard on men who had families.
A question was here asked, whether any women were present
whose husbands, in order to obtain work, were obliged to pay for lodgings which
they did not use?
One immediately rose and said--
it regular at a publican s in Wapping; and I know that the men who have paid for
them have had six jobs together, when my husband has had none for weeks
There are now,"
added another, "
fourteen at that very place
who never lodge there though they are paying for lodgings."
They were next asked, who had suffered from
want, owing to their husband'
s drinking their earnings, as described, at the
public- houses in question?
Starvation has been my lot,"
added another. "
said a third, "
gone to bed at night without breaking their fast the whole length of the day."
And mine, said one, "
have many a time gone without a bit or a sup of anything
all the day, through their father working for the publican"
exclaimed the next, "
afford my children a ha'
porth of milk a day. My husband
does not seem to work for them."
Many a time,"
said one, who appeared to
be very much moved, "
have I put my four children to bed, when the only meal
they have had the whole day has been 1lb. of bread, but it'
s of no use opening
said the last, "
have been in London 27 years, and during
that time, I can safely say that I have never taken myself
a second glass of spirits or anything else; but in that time I have suffered the
martyrdom of 40 years--
all through my husband and the public-house. I have two
children who bring me in, one 2s. 6d. and the other 6s. 6d. a week, which is all
we have, for my husband gets nearly nothing. If he could bring his earnings
home, instead of spending them at the public-house, we should be very
These questions led to one concerning the
late-hour system at the public-houses frequented by ballast-heavers. "
go for my husband,"
said one, "at one or two o'
clock in the morning.
after I know he has been paid, but they have kept him in a back apartment away
from me till I have threatened to smash the windows if they did not let him out.
I threatened to smash the windows because my children were wanting the money for
bread that he was spending there. If our husbands were inclined to come home
sober there is little chance, for they have cards and bagatelle to keep them
till they become heady, and when they are become heady, there is nothing left
for their families--
then the publicans kick our poor men out and lock the
This statement was confirmed; and after
several other persons had described their sufferings.
wives were asked whether
or not their condition and that of their families had been improved since the
system of carrying on the trade had been altered by the Legislature.
The answer was a most decided affirmative.
Their husbands, they said, used to spend all, or very nearly all, their
earnings, with the publicans; but now, when they got a good ship they brought
home the greatest part of their earnings, which was sufficient to make their
families comfortable. Their husbands had become quite different men. They used
to ill-treat them when they were paid at the public-house--
very much so,
because of the drink; but now they were very much altered, because they had
become sober men from what they were. None were now distressed to provide for
their families, and if there were plenty of work, they would be quite happy. The
improvement, one woman said, must have been very great, otherwise there would
not have been so many institutions and benefit societies, pension societies,
and schools for their children.
This declaration was very warmly applauded
by the ballast- heavers'
wives. They declared that similar measures would
produce similar benefits in their case, and that they hoped the day might soon
come when they should be secure in the enjoyment of them.
So terminated the
This meeting took place at three in the
afternoon, and at seven another was held in the same rooms, at which upwards of
1,500 labouring men were present. The report of the latter meeting will be given
in this Journal tomorrow.
if possible, in a more degraded state than the ballast-heavers. They are not, it
is true, under the same amount of oppression from the publican; but still they
are so besotted with the drink which they are tempted to obtain from the
publicans who employ them, as to look upon the man who tricks them out of their
earnings rather as a friend than an enemy. The lumpers make, during six months
in the year, as much as 24s., and during the other six months they have nothing
to do. Of the 24s. that they earn in their busy time, 20s., it will be seen, is
spent in the public- house. One master lumper, who is a publican, employs as
as 100 men. This information I have, not only from the men themselves,
but from the managers of the Commercial Docks, where the greater number of
lumpers are engaged. The 100 men in the publican'
s employ, as will be seen
from the evidence of the wives, spend upon an average £1 a week in the house,
taking generally but 4s. home to their wives and families--
so that no less a
sum than £100 a week is squandered in the publican- contractor'
s house by the
working men in drink. There is not only a pay-night, but two "
are appointed in each week, as a means of inveigling the men to their master'
tap-room; and indeed the same system, which gives the greatest drunkard the best
chance of work, prevails among the lumpers as among the ballast-heavers. The
effect of this is, that the lumpers are the most drunken, debased, and poverty-striken
of all the classes of labouring men that I have yet seen--
for, earning more
than the ballast-heavers, they of course have more to spend in the public-house.
I made a point of looking more minutely into the state of these men on the
Sunday, for I have found that on that day it is easy to tell the habits of men
by their external appearance. The greater part that I saw were either
intoxicated, or else reeking of liquor, as early as eleven o'
clock on the
Sunday morning. One foreman was decently dressed, it was true; but then he was
sent to me, I was credibly informed, by the master publican, who had heard of my
previous investigations, to give me a false impression as to the state of the
labourers. The rest of the men that I saw were unwashed and unshaven, even up to
five and six in the afternoon of that day. Their clothes were the same tattered
and greasy garments that I had seen them in, the day before--
indeed the wives
of the lumpers appeared to be alone alive to the degradation of their husbands.
At one house that I visited late on the Sunday'
evening, I found two of the
children in one corner of the small close room, on the bare boards, covered with
a piece of old carpet, and four more boys and girls stowed away at the top and
bottom of the one bed in which the rest of the family slept. Dirty wet clothes
were hanging to dry on lines across the room--
and the face of the wife, who was
alone, in all her squalid misery, was black and gashed with cuts and bruises.
Not a step I took but I was dogged by some
foreman or other. in the hopes of putting me on a wrong scent. I had arranged
with the men on Saturday morning to have a meeting with them on that night after
their labour; but on going to the appointed place I found not one labouring man
there, and I learnt the next day that the publican had purposely deferred paying
them till a late hour, so that they might have no chance of meeting me.
On Monday morning, while at the office of
the superintendent of the Commercial Docks Company, one of the lumpers staggered
drunk into the room, intent upon making some insolent demand or other.
That this drunkenness with all its attendant
vices is not the fault of the lumpers, but the necessary consequence of the
system under which they are employed, no man who has seen the marked difference
between the coal-whippers and that class of labourers who will "
work out of
can for a moment doubt. The sins of the labouring man, so
far as I have seen, are, in this instance, most indisputably the sins of his
immediate employer. If he is drunken, it is his master who makes him so; if he
his house bare--
~his wife ragged--
his children half clothed, half
fed, and wholly uneducated, it is mainly because his master tricks him out of
his earnings at the public-house.
Let me now give a description of the Lumpers'
labour, and then of their earnings.
The timber trade is divided, by the custom
of the trade, into two classes, called timber and deals. By "
is meant what is brought in uncut logs; this is American red pine, yellow pine,
elm, ash, oak, and birch. The teak trade is more recent, and seems to be an
exception to the classification I have mentioned; it is generally described as
teak; mahogany and dye woods again are not styled timber. The "
all sawn ready for the carpenter'
s or joiner'
s use. At the Custom-house,
the distinctions are "
woods; that is, timber and deals.
On timber there is now a duty of 1s. per load (a load being 50 cubic feet), and
on deals of 2s. The deals are sawn in Canada, where immense steam-mills have
been erected for the purpose. The advantage to the trader
in having this process effected in Canada rather than in England seems to be
this: the deals brought over (prepared as I have described), of different
lengths, varying from six feet to 20. while three inches is a usual thickness,
are ready for the workman'
s purpose, and no refuse matter forms a part of
them. Were the pine brought in logs, the bark and the unevenness of the tree
would add to the freight for what was only valueless. Timber and deals require
about the same time for their discharge. The largest vessels in this trade that
enter the port of London are to be found in the West India South Dock, formerly
the City Canal. On one occasion in this dock a vessel of 800 tons, containing
24,000 deals and ends, was discharged in twenty-six working hours, forty-five
men being employed. I am informed that twenty men would discharge a ship of
600 tons, of timber and deals, in seven days; forty men will do it in four days.
In order to become acquainted with the system of Lumping I went on board
a vessel in the river. where a gang of twenty men were at work. She was a vessel
of 600 tons, from Quebec. She lay alongside the Flora, a Norwegian vessel, the
first timber ship that had reached the port of London since the change in the
navigation-laws had come into operation. The Flora'
s cargo was 900 pieces of
timber, which would be discharged by her crew, as the lumpers are only
employed in British vessels. The vessel that I visited, and which lay next to
the Flora. had her hold and the between-decks (which might be 38 yards in
length) packed closely with deals. She held between 17,000 and 18,000 deals. She
was being lightened in the river before going into dock. Twenty men were at
work; two barges were moored alongside close to two port-holes in the stern of
the ship. There were three men in each barge, who received and packed the deals
into the barge as they were thrust out of the port-holes. The larger deals were
carried along by two men as soon as a sufficient clearance had been made to
enable them to run along--
at first bent half double. The two men who carried
the deals ran along in a sort of jog-trot motion, keeping time, so that the
motion relieved the pressure of the weight. The men all said, "
to run than to walk with the deals."
The shorter deals (ends) were carried one
by each man, who trotted on in the same measured step. Each man, or each two men
employed, delivered his or their "
to one especial man in the barge, so
that a constant communication from the ship to the barge was kept up, and the
work went on without hitch or stoppage. This same vessel, on a former occasion.
was discharged in thirty-six hours, which shows (as there were between 17,000
and 18,000 carryings and deliverings of the deals) how rapidly the work is
conducted. The "timber" is all dragged from the hold or the
between-decks of the ship by machines. The lumpers "bouse" it from its
place in the ship by means of winches. tackles, and "
which latter are
iron links to lay hold of the log. Three of these winches and tackles are
stationed at equal distances on each side of a large ship, and thus, with the
aid of crowbars, the several pieces of timber are dragged along the hold. and
then dropped gently into the water (either in the docks or the river), and
floated in rafts to its destination. All "
is floated. as a rule.
Sometimes, when the ship is discharged in dock, timber or deals are let down a
slide on to a platform, and so carried to the pile or the waggon. Contractors
are employed by the ship- owners in the West India Dock, as they will do some
ships cheaper by £10 than the company could afford to do it. The shipowners
hear the expense of discharging the ship.
The following statement of one of the
working men was given most unwillingly; indeed it was only by a series of
cross-questionings that any approximation to the truth could be extracted from
him. He was evidently in fear of losing his work, and the tavern to which I had
gone to take his statement was filled with foremen watching and intimidating
him. He said:--
I am a working lumper, or labourer at discharging timber and
deal ships. I have been sixteen years at the work. I should think that there are
more than two hundred men in Deptford who are constantly engaged at the work.
There are a great many more working lumpers living at Limehouse, Poplar, and
Blackwall. These do the work principally of the West India Docks; and when the
work is slack there, and brisk at the Commercial, East Country. or Grand Surrey
Canal Docks, the men cross the water and get a job on the Surrey side of the
river. In the summer a great many Irish labourers seek for work as lumpers. They
come over from Ireland in the Cork boats. I should say there are altogether
upwards of 500 regular working lumpers, but in the summer there are at least
200 more, owing to the number of Irish who come to England to look for work at
that time of year. The wages of the regular lumpers are not less when the
Irishmen come over in the summer, nor do the men get a less quantity of work to
do. There are more timber and deal ships arriving at that season, so more hands
are required to discharge them. The ships begin to arrive in July. and they
continue coming in till January; after that time they lay up till March, when
they sail for the foreign ports. Between January and July the regular working
lumpers have little or nothing to do. During that time there are scarcely any
timber or deal ships coming in. and the working lumpers
then try to fall in with anything they can--
either ballasting a ship, or
carrying a few deals to load a timber-carriage, or doing a little 'tide-work.'
Between July and January the work is very brisk. We are generally employed every
day for those six months. Sometimes we lose a day (after lightening a ship in
the river) while the vessel is going into dock. We call it lightening a ship
when she is laden too heavy and draws too much water to enter the docks. In such
a case we generally begin discharging the timber or deals in the river, either
off Deptford or Blackwall. according as the ship may be for the docks on the
Middlesex or Surrey side. In the river we discharge the deals into lighters,
whereas, when the ship is in dock, we generally discharge along a stage on to
the shore. Timber we put overboard in both cases, and leave it for the raftsmen
to put together into rafts and float into the timber-ponds of the different
docks. The deals we merely land. It is our duty to put them ashore, and nothing
more. After that the deal porters take them and sort and pile them. They sort
the white from the yellow deals, and each kind into different lengths, and then
arrange them in piles all along the side of the dock. Our usual time of working
is from six to six in the summertime, and from daylight to dark in the winter.
We always work under a foreman. There are two foremen lumpers to almost every
ship that we discharge, and they engage the men, who work in gangs under them.
Each gang consists of from four to twelve men, according as the size of the ship
is large, or she is wanted to be discharged quickly. I have known as many as
thirty lumpers engaged in discharging one ship; she was 1,000 tons, and wanted
to he got out quick, so that she might make another voyage before the winter
set in abroad. The foreman and men are employed by the master lumper. Some of
the master lumpers are publicans; some others keep chandlers'
others do nothing else, that I know of. The master pays the working men 3s.
6d. a day, and the foreman 1s. extra. We are settled with every Saturday night.
We have two draw-nights in each week--
that is, the master advances either a
part or the whole of our earnings if we please, on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
I work under a publican. My master has only gone into the public line very
recently. I don'
t think he'
s been at it for more than eighteen months. He
has been a master lumper, I should say, for these ten or twelve years past. I
worked under him before he had a public-house. Then he paid every Tuesday,
Thursday, and Saturday nights, at the same house as he is now the proprietor of.
The master lumpers always pay the men they employ at the public-house, whether
they are publicans or not. My master employs, I should say, in the spring
season. from 80 to 100 hands regularly, and most of these meet at his house
every Tuesday and Thursday night, and all on Saturday night, either to be
settled with in full, or have a part of their wages advanced. We are usually
paid at seven in the evening. I have been paid as late as three o'
on a Sunday morning, but that was some years ago, and I was all that time in the
public-house. We go straight to the public-house after we have done our work. At
this time of the year we knock off work at dark--
that is, at five [I am
informed at the Commercial Docks that the usual hour is four] o'
and we remain at our master'
s until pay time--
that is seven o'
we do for three nights in the week certain, and after our work on other nights
we mostly meet at our master'
s public-house. The men generally draw on a
Tuesday from 2s. to 4s., and on a Thursday night the same sum is advanced to
them. The men are not forced to spend anything in the house. Each man has
a little beer while the master is getting ready to pay him on the draw-nights,
and he generally remains in the house some time after he has received his money,
according as he thinks proper. On a draw-night, in the brisk season, many out of
the 100 he employs will stop drinking till ten o'
clock. Some go away home
immediately after they have drawn their money. At least half stop for some time--
is till nine o'
clock. Some sit there and spend all they draw. All the beer
that the lumpers have on board ship, while at their work, is supplied by the
master. He supplies any quantity that is wanted. The reason why he keeps the
public-house is to have the right of supplying the beer to the men. He wouldn'
of course, like to see us take beer from any other public-house than his. If we
did, he would give us the 'sack.'
Every master lumper works out of a
public-house, and the men must have their beer from the house that he
works out of, and if they don'
t, why they aint wanted. We generally take about
two pots per man a day with us from the house when we go to our work of a
morning. On a Saturday night we mostly stop longer than on the draw-nights. Upon
an average the working lumpers, I should say, spend about 2s. a day in the
season in the public-house. [It will be seen hereafter, that the lumpers'
wives whom I saw declare that the men spend, generally, 20s. out of the 24s.]
After a hard week'
s work I think they have generally about 8s. or 9s. out of
the £1 4s. that they earn in the busiest time of the year. I myself have taken
home as little as 5s. [According to this statement, assuming that there are 100
many say there are more--
regularly at work out of this public-house in
the spring season, and spending each, upon an average, from 12s. to 20s., or say
16s. a week, this will give 1,600s., or £80 a week, squandered in beer.] I
should say, taking all the year round, the men make 10s. 6d. a week. For at
least four months in the year there is no work at all, and for two months more
it is very slack. I am a married man with one child. When I am in full work I
take home 5s. a week at the least. My wife and child has to suffer for it all."
The next I saw was one who had volunteered
to speak out, so that, by comparing the following statement with the foregoing.
we may be able to come to some notion of the truth. The man'
s statement was as
I have worked as a journeyman lumper seventeen
years. When I first began that work I was paid 3s. 6d. a day, being employed two
days and a half or three days in a week the year through. The young hands are
generally knocked about and sent from one ship to another, humbugged about, and
obliged to wait and wait. never getting anything for the time they have to wait.
In a timber ship this is the way the work is carried on to lump her (unload
her). Well, say a ship is 1,000 tons burthen; suppose her cargo is timber and
with a deck load of yellow wood pine, the heaviest cargo that comes to London on
ll tell you the truth if I lose my work. I don'
t care a fig. I can'
be worse. That man you just seen hasn'
t told you the whole truth. He'
afeard. He works out of a public-house, and daren'
t speak. The ships come up,
and eight or nine master lumpers go aboard, and the captain may say, 'The
s to have her. One man will say, 'I'
ve done this ship before;'
ll get the ship because he knows how to tip some proper party, and he
tips five bob or half a sovereign. Suppose this man gets the ship; he'
master man, and he goes to a foreman, and he says, 'Get me a gang together,'
and the foreman gets a gang together, and he must get a good set if the work'
to be done quick. The master lumper has all the pull; the foreman doesn'
only his shilling a day extra. Oft enough he gets the best hands at
first, and when a quantity that may be wanted is got off he puts on cheaper
new Irish Grecians, some people calls them, or others. Any new hands is
the same. I never show these men how to work. They ruin our trade, and are
ruining it more and more; they'
ll work for nothing. Each man gets 3s., the
master paying the waterage. In August, September, and October, work is the best.
Then we get 4s. and a pint of beer. They give us 4s. 2d., but we must pay the
twopence for a pint of beer--
that lies in a man'
s option it'
s said: but if
a man doesn'
t do so he'
s thought scaly. If we don'
t have our beer, we'
done. The master lumpers who are not publicans pay at public-houses, and have
sometimes to borrow the money of the publicans to pay the men, before they get
their money from the shipowner. I shall lose my work, maybe, and have to go to
that is, you see, a place between the Commercial Dock and the Dog
and Duck, where we walk looking out for a job-because I speak this way to you.
If jobs don'
t come, there'
s the workhouse. Lots come from Ireland, and go to
work, knowing nothing about it. But they'
ll work for anything, and so get on.
[This he repeated frequently.] I am a married man with a family. but don'
how many, or I should be more a marked man. I wish I could write as slick as
d do only head work then, and work no more. I have spent 25s. a week in
drink. I ought to have as good a suit as you, when I get work as a foreman,
which I do sometimes. Last week I got 20s., and took home 3s. I'
m afraid to
speak, I should lose my work. [This he said over and over again.] I must spend
my money in drink some way, or I can'
t get on in any work; there'
and bothers. I was told I couldn'
t get paid last Saturday night, for fear I
should have anything to do with telling you or anybody the truth. I didn'
all my money until Sunday, and it was all gone on Sunday night. You
understand; if a man gives offence, next morning he'
s told 'You'
s a hand short of what we expected to want--
In less than three years a publican that contracts may make his fortune. Where
these men sell a pint to a neighbour they sell three pots to a lumper. It'
compulsion, as you may say--
s no compulsion. A contractor, on a tidy
job, will get his £4 profit--
sometimes £10 or £15 on a good job; and he
keeps moving on that way; no matter how our kids starves. Aye, and more than
ve known contractors have £50 for a ship, and has done it for £16. I
went on board the--
. He wanted to employ me as foreman, at 4s. a
day, but he wanted me to pay waterage, and I refused. I have had 6s. a day as
foreman. An average lumper will get 4s. a day when he is at work. I was
threatened to be flung out of the windows if I came to any meeting with you.
m out of work, the old woman has to keep me. She works at gowns, or
anything. How she lives God only knows!"
The following is the statement of one who
appeared to me to be both a truthful and a just man. His wife was a superior
woman, and being present at his home--
where the information was obtained--
acted as a check upon him, even if he had been disposed to lean either to master
or workman. The man'
s house was comfortably furnished, evidently owing to the
greater prudence of his wife, for I have found it is a rule that when the wife
is cleanly and thrifty, the husband is always a higher class man:--
been a lumper nine years. Prices are not so good now as when I first knew the
business. We got 4s. 6d. a day then; that is, the old hands did. In a year after
it fell to 4s. Work was slack, and so employers could get men to work at their
own prices. Three or four years back prices fell to 3s. 6d. a day."
informant then repeated what I had formerly heard, attributing this further
decrease to the great influx of Irish labourers, owing to the distress in
Ireland, and their willingness to work for any wages whatever, which enables
employers to get the old hands on easier terms. 'The lumpers,"
are employed principally in timber and deal ships, but will
undertake any work to which their employer chooses to set them. The corn-ships
are all discharged by the fellowship porters; excepting the vessels in the
South-west India Dock (formerly the City Canal), where the servants of the
company are employed; but they must then have one of the regularly appointed
meters. There is far too much drinking among us. One man I know had 14s. to
receive for wages the other week, but he went on 'on tick'
public-house, had nothing to take on Saturday night, and was 5s. in debt. It
is a great disadvantage in our business that work is so uncertain. Last
Christmas twelvemonth, all that I earned the week before Christmas was 6d. I
have now 15s. in pawn, and as we have no club nor anything of that kind, if I
was to be sick there'
s only the parish. In a slack time I have sold Christmas
carols or anything."
I will now give the statement of one of the
foremen who was sent to me intoxicated by the publican-contractor, to persuade
me that the system under which the working men are employed and paid is a
beneficial and a just one to the labourer. The inconsistencies in the statement
the reader will easily detect. He said:--
I am the foreman of a gang of
lumpers. The gangs vary in number according to the size of
the vessel to be laden. They vary from eight to 26. When the gang exceeds 10
men, two foremen are employed, as the work is carried on on both sides of the
ship at the same time. I work under a publican, who contracts with the shipowner
to do the work of unlading the vessel by the lump; that is, so much for
the entire job, without any reference to weight or measurement. I engage the men
employed, anybody I please--
and they are paid by the contractor. At this time
of the year, when work cannot be carried on longer than from half-past seven in
the morning until towards five in the evening, each man is paid 3s. 6d. for his
s work: he is paid that sum in money. He is not required to spend any of
that money; nor would any man have a worse chance of work who didn'
anything in drink at the house of the contractor. He hasn'
t been a publican
about a year. We take a pot of beer a man, or twelve pots for every ten
more usually from the house of the contractor. I consider that we are not
obliged to do this. It is very seldom that any gang of men has a full week'
work. I calculate that they are not employed above three days in the week, take
the average of the year: that gives an average earning of 10s. 6d. per week. For
the next three months there will be hardly anything doing in the timber- ships,
on account of the ice in the St. Lawrence and the Baltic. During this slack time
the men go off to any job. They may pick up a little tide-work; that is, to
assist in taking a ship from a wet dock into a dry one, or any arrangement of
that kind. We have no sick fund among us--
no benefit club, no society of any
kind. When a man'
s fairly beat out, his fellow workmen may subscribe a trifle
for him. Drunkenness is too common among us, but I don'
t know that the system
of working under publicans has much to do with it. My employer would as soon see
his men take their money home. Many of the men are in great distress; their
families are hard put to it; they are the people that have to suffer for it. The
foreman, by agreement with his employer, has so much a day over what the men
have, but no per centage, and nothing to do with the paying of the lumpers. I
dare say from 700 to 1,000 men are employed as lumpers in timber ships, when
work is good; lumpers work only in timber ships. There are a far greater number
of men in the trade than there used to be, on account of the number of
labouring men that have come over from Ireland lately. These Irishmen, when they
first go to lumping, are very awkward about it, and don'
t soon get handy.
Before they came in such lots. wages were better. They have been 4s. 6d. a day
to men that knew their work. For the last three years and more wages have been
no higher than 3s. 6d. a day. Of course the Irishmen, when first set to work,
t worth so much as the old hands, but they were employed, and so wages
fell down to their level. There is only one publican among the contractors for
lumping. There are four principal contractors, and several small ones. I don'
know the exact number. They all pay the men and the foremen alike. My employer
will not allow any lumper to run up drink scores at his house to be worked out
afterwards. There are too many men in the lumping business. There is no system
of giving a gang of men their turn. We employ those we consider best to do the
I next saw two lumpers'
wives. The husband
of one had been fourteen years, and the other ten years, at the business. They
both worked under a master who is a publican. One said, "
My husband is such a
strange man that he never tells me what he does get."
The husband of the
other, who is a foreman, according to the wife'
s statement, occasionally gets
5s. and sometimes 4s. 6d. a day. The first woman said, "
It is a very bad
principle for a man to have work out of a public-house; it makes a man spend a
shilling where otherwise he would not."
The wife of the one whose husband was
a foreman said, "
I have had many a bitter bruise for the last fifteen years,
and all through the drink. Sometimes he stops till after twelve or one o'
I have not had anything to eat today--
not a taste of anything, or even a bit
of fire. On draw-nights he usually comes home about ten o'
clock, and I call
that a very good hour for a lumper, for draw-nights are very bad nights; the men
then generally spend at the public-house three parts of what they earn. On
pay-night the men generally stop till the public-house is closed, and then some
of them doesn'
t bring a penny home, but comes home in debt. When the men are
in work they may go trust for anything they want. Those that drink the hardest
get the most work; they are the most looked upon. If the men was to bring all
they earn home--
aye, or even one-third of it--
it would make the family very
comfortable, as there would be a few more blankets and sheets on the bed--
and good shoes to their wives'
s feet. Mine are two odd ones,"
added the woman, thrusting out her feet; "
our dog stole this one, and
brought it in in his mouth. The men, when they are in full work, earn 24s. per
week, and they bring home upon an average 4s. out of that sum. Ah, that'
about it, and there is a fourth part of them don'
t do that-the rest goes for
what the publicans please to stick up to them."
1 know if mine brought home
more than he does,"
said the other, "
I and the children would have some
flannel petticoats. I have got one thin one, but a puff of wind would blow that
away. They won'
t take it in pawn, or it would have gone long ago."
second woman added, "
I have not got anything that would get me a penny, else
it would have been in pawn to fetch me over today. When my husband beats me it
is when I am in bed; but when I am not in bed I can fly from him. I know of one
woman who is in the union now. Her husband always made his 24s. a week in the
spring, but he brought only a shilling or two home to her at the week'
He was almost always drunk, and then he would knock her down and jump upon her,
and leave her for dead. When he was sober he was a good quiet sort of a man. He
worked out of a public-house, and that is only a part of
what the women have to suffer through their husbands being entrapped by the
publican into his house. The woman I speak of has gone into the union to get
away from the man'
s ill-treatment, and to have something nourishing to keep
her, for it was very little she got at home, poor thing! She is suffering in the
union now. She is very bad indeed."
I have not seen my husband,"
other one, "
since last Thursday evening. He has gone away, and has not left me
a farthing piece. I have taken my aprons on and pawned them for 9d., and that is
all gone now. I had out of the 9d. I got 14lbs. of coal--
that is 2d.--
¾d. candle, and a farthing bundle of wood; that is 3d. altogether. Then I had a
porth of bread and half a quartern of butter, and a ha'
tea, and a ha'
porth of sugar. and a quarter of a pound of bacon l½d., beside
porth of onions, and a pennyworth of potatoes--
s all; and I think
I laid my money out very well; and that has been all I have had since last
Thursday, and now it'
s Sunday. Today I have had nothing at all. I don'
where my husband is gone, for the publican won'
t let me know. If I go and ask
at the public-house they only laugh at me. Indeed, whenever a wife goes after
her husband at the public-house to fetch him home, she is sent miles out of the
way for a lark, so as to keep him there drinking. On the Saturday night the
publican keeps the men there till the house is closed, and many of them stays
there drinking far into the Sunday morning in spite of the law. Take the
generality of the lumpers'
wives, they are very badly off indeed."
the women produced a bundle of pawn-tickets of things belonging to herself and
her landlord. She told me that she had been obliged to make away with the
blankets. sheets, and fire-irons of the lodgings that she occupied in order to
live. She had kept the door shut all day (she said), for fear the landlord
should come in, and missing the property, send her to Maidstone gaol.
To show the temptations that beset the poor,
I give the statement of a woman known to all her neighbours as a very thrifty
housewife, and an active, industrious woman. Her children'
s, her own, and her
s clothing, scant and old as it was, all showed great care-taking; her
home was very tidy. A few years back, a little after Christmas, she and her
husband (now a lumper, but then pursuing a different calling) had been out all
day, penniless, and returned to their room a little before dusk, without
having earned a farthing. The wife was then suckling her first child. which
was two months old. She felt very faint, and the only thing in the house on
which she thought it possible to raise a penny was a glass tumbler--
she continued, "
which you see on the table. Everything but
that had gone to the pawn-shop. Well, it cost 5~d., and I went to--
to sell it for 2d. I couldn'
t sell it at all, as the dealer had too many of
such things. I then went to a neighbour and said, 'Mrs. B--
, for God'
sake lend me 2d. on this glass, for we'
' said she,
m sure you should have 3d., but I haven'
t 3d., nor a halfpenny.'
Well, when I'
d gone back it was dark, and my husband had gone to bed, such as
for we had neither blankets nor sheets left to cover us--
as the best
way to forget he was hungry and cold. We hadn'
t a bit of fire nor candle, but
there was a bit of light came from the lamp in the street through the window. I
sat down by the fire, that wasn'
t in, to suckle my child - poor little Bill!
s a fine lad now--
and I found I had hardly any milk; and what would become
of the child? All at once a thought came into my head, and I said to myself, 'Yes,
ll cut my own throat, and then little Bill'
and I determined I
would. Then I said to myself, 'No, I won'
t; for if I can cut my own throat,
I know I can'
t cut the child'
s; so it'
ll be little use, I'
ll go to the
waterworks, and jump in with him in my arms. I got up to do it, and then another
thought came on me, and I laid down the child on that chair, and I shook my
husband and said, 'You villain, I'
ll cut your throat, I will,'
jumped up and seized hold of me, and then I felt how bad I'
d been; but one'
passion must have some vent, so I seized that very kettle you see there by the
the gas rather lighted it--
and I smashed it on the floor; it was the
first thing that came to hand--
and broke a bole in it that cost me 2½d. to get
mended. After that I felt calmed a bit, and began to see how wicked I'
and I fell down on my knees and cried like a child, for I was thankful to God I'
been preserved. Then I went to bed and prayed never to feel the like again."
This statement was made with perfect simplicity; it came out incidentally, and
the poor woman had no reason to believe that it would be printed.
Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850