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Thursday, January 31, 1850
I now continue the evidence which I
commenced in my last letter, concerning the class of characters frequenting the
low lodging-houses of the Metropolis. I there gave the statements, it will
perhaps be remembered, of a young pickpocket and a returned convict, together
with the testimony of a man of superior education and birth, who, through
inveterate intemperance, had been forced to become an inmate of these wretched
and infamous dens. These men, I wish it to be distinctly understood, are not
picked cases. The first two were taken from a house at the East-end, which
pretends to be of a far superior character to the ordinary run of such places -
and the third was met with at a house in the Borough. To complete the picture of
the classes usually congregating in these places, I shall in my present letter
give the confessions of one of the beggars, and one of the prostitutes, who may
be taken as fair average types of the other inmates of the low lodging-houses of
London; and I shall conclude with a Report of a Meeting of 150 of the Vagrants
gathered from all parts of the metropolis.
First, of the Beggars. Throughout my investigation I have observed one unfailing characteristic of this class. The dull vagrant boy - vagrant from choice, necessity, tyranny, or example, sinks into the mere beggar; the acuter and more daring lad, step by step, becomes the expert thief. The beggars I conversed with - the mere beggars - were silly, dull fellows, some of them utterly ignorant of the tricks and "lurks resorted to by their brethren. They were what their sharp half-brothers, and thieves, would call "soft." Some beggars were really half fools, and even some who practised all the tricks of the trade did it as a part acquired by rote. The "lurks are clearly originated by the acuter class, who do not confine themselves to begging. Among the thieves was every degree of acuteness, from the sharpness of mere cunning to the full development of astute roguery in educated men. The beggars, as a class, are generally unable to read and write, but the thieves are not only more intelligent, but better educated.
The following table, taken from the Criminal Returns of 1848, shows that more than two-thirds of those committed to prison are able to read and write:
The instruction of the offenders has been without much variation, exhibiting, on a comparison of the last ten years, a decreased proportion of those entirely uninstructed. The numbers committed last year, falling under the following definitions, were: -
|Unable to read and write||7,350||2,161|
|Able to read and write imperfectly||13,950||3,161|
|Able to read and write well||2,634||350|
|Instruction superior to reading and writing well||76||5|
|Instruction could not be ascertained||396||86|
And the centesimal proportion, compared with those in the preceding nine years, was:
|Ingress of Instruction||1830||1840||1841||1842||1843||1844||1845||1846||1847||1848|
Unable to read and write
Able to read and write imperfectly
Able to read and write well
|Instruction superior to reading and writing well||0.32||0.37||0.45||0.22||0.47||0.42||0.37||0.34||0.28||0.27|
|Instruction could not be ascertained||2.60||2.45||2.27||2.34||2.91||2.41||2.30||1.78||1.65||1.59|
A beggar decently
attired, and with a simple and what some would call even a respectable look,
gave me the following statement:
"I am now twenty-eight, and have known all connected with the begging trade since I was fourteen. My grandfather (mother's father) was rich, owning three parts of the accommodation houses in St. Giles's; he allowed me 2s. a week pocket-money. My grandfather kept the great house, the old Rose and Crown, in Church-lane, opposite Carver-street, best known as the 'Beggars' Opera.' When a child of seven, I have seen the place crowded - crammed with nothing but beggars, first-rates - none else used the house. The money I saw in the hands of the beggars made a great impression upon me. My father took away my mother's money. I wish my mother had run away instead. He was kind, but she was always nagging. My father was a foreman in a foundry. I got a situation in the same foundry after my father cut. Once I was sent to a bank with a cheque for £38 to get cashed, in silver, for wages. In coming away, I met a companion of mine, and he persuaded me to bolt with the money, and go to Ashley's. The money was too much for my head to carry. I fooled all that money away. I wasn't in bed for more than a fortnight. I bought linnets in cages for the fancy of my persuader. In fact, I didn't know what use to put the money to. I was among plenty of girls. When the money was out I was destitute. I couldn't go back to my employers, and I couldn't face my mother's temper - that was worse; but for that nagging of hers I shouldn't have been as lam. She has thrashed me with a hand-broom until I was silly; there's the bumps on my head still; and yet that woman would have given me her heart's blood to do me a good. As soon as I found myself quite destitute, I went wandering about the City, picking up the skins of gooseberries and orange peel to eat, to live on - things my stomach would turn at now. At last my mother came to hear that I had tried to destroy myself. She paid the £38, and my former employers got me a situation in Paddington. I was there a month, and then I met him as advised me to steal the money before - he's called the ex-king of the costermongers now. Well, he was crying hareskins, and advised me again to bolt, and I went with him. My mind was bent upon costermongering and a roving life. I couldn't settle to anything. I wanted to be away when I was at work, and when I was away I wanted to be back again. It was difficult for me to stick to anything for five minutes together; it is so now. What I begin I can't finish at the time - unless it's a pot of beer. Well, in four days my adviser left- me; he had no more use for me. I was a flat. He had me for a "go-along," to cry his things for him. Then, for the first time in my life, I went into a low lodging-house. There was forty men and women sleeping in one room. I had to sleep with a black man, and I slept on the floor to get away from the fellow. There were plenty of girls there; some playing cards and dominoes. It was very dirty - old Mother —, in Lawrence-lane - the Queen of Hell she was called. There was one tub among the lot of us. I felt altogether disgusted. Those who lived there were beggars, thieves, smashers, coiners, purchasers of begged and stolen goods, and prostitutes. The youngest prostitute was twelve, and so up to fifty. The beastliest language went on. It's done to outrival one another. There I met with a man called Tom Shallow (shallow is cant for half-naked), and he took me out ballad-singing, and when we couldn't get on at that (the songs got dead) he left me. I made him 10s. or 12s. a day in them days, but he only gave me my lodgings and grub (but not half enough), and two pipes of tobacco a day to keep the hunger down, that I mightn't be expensive. I then listed. I was starving, and couldn't raise a lodging. I took the shilling, but was rejected by the doctor. I listed again at Chatham afterwards, but was rejected again. I stayed jobbing among the soldiers for some weeks, and then they gave me an old regimental suit, and with that I came to London. One gave me a jacket, and another a pair of military trowsers, and another a pair of old ammunition boots, and so on. About that time a batch of invalids came from Spain, where they had been under General Evans. On my way up from Chatham, I met at Gravesend with seven chaps out on 'the Spanish lurk' as they called it - that is, passing themselves off as wounded men of the Spanish Legion. Two had been out in Spain, and managed the business if questions were asked; the others were regular English beggars, who had never been out of the country. I joined them as a sergeant, as I had a sergeant's jacket given me at Chatham. On our way to London - 'the school' (as the lot is called) came all together - we picked up among us £4 and £5 a day - no matter where we went. 'The school' all slept in lodging- houses, and I at last began to feel comfortable in them. We spent our evenings in eating out-and-out suppers. Sometimes we had such things as sucking pigs, hams, mince pies - indeed, we lived on the best. No nobleman could live better in them days. So much wine, too! I drank in such excess, my nose was as big as that there letter-stamp; so that I got a sickening of it. We gave good victuals away that was given to us - it was a nuisance to carry them. It costs us from 6d. to 1s. a day to have our shoes cleaned by poor tramps, and for clean dickies. The clean dodge is always the best for begging upon. At Woolwich we were all on the fuddle at the Dust Hole, and our two spokesmen were drunk; and I went to beg of Major , whose brother was then in Spain - he himself had been out previously. Meeting the major at his own house, I said, 'I was a sergeant in the 3d Westminster Grenadiers, you know, and served under your brother.' 'Oh! yes, that's my brother's regiment,' says he. 'Where was you, then, on the 16th of October!' Why, sir, I was at the taking of the city of Irun,' says I - (in fact, I was at that time with the costermonger in St. Giles's, calling cabbages, white heart cabbages, oh!') Then said the major, 'What day was Ernani taken on?' Why,' said I (I was a little tipsy, and bothered at the question) 'that was the 16th of October, too.' 'Very well, my man,' says he, tapping his boots with a riding whip he held, 'I'll see what I can do for you;' and the words were no sooner out of his mouth when he stepped up to me and gave me a regular pasting. He horsewhipped me up and down stairs, and all along the passages; my flesh was like sassages. I managed at last, however, to open the door myself and get away. After that the school came to London. In a day we used to make from £8 to £10 among us, by walking up Regent-street, Bond-street, Piccadilly, Pall-mall, Oxford-street, the Parks - those places were the best beats. All the squares were good, too. It was only like a walk out for air, and your 25s. a man for it. At night we used to go to plays, dressed like gentlemen. At first the beaks protected us, but we got found out, and the beaks grew rusty. The thing got so overdone, every beggar went out as a Spanish lurksman. Well, the beaks got up to the dodge, and all the Spanish lurksmen in their turns got to work the universal staircase, under the care of Lieutenant Tracy (Tothill-fields treadmill). The men that had really been out and got disabled were sent to that staircase at last, and I thought I would try a fresh lurk. So I went under the care and tuition of a sailor. He had been a sailor. I became a turnpike sailor, as it's called, and went out as one of the Shallow Brigade, wearing a Guernsey shirt and drawers, or tattered trowsers. There was a school of four. We only got a tidy living - 16s or £1 a day among us. We used to call every one that came along - coalheavers and all - sea-fighting captains. 'Now, my noble sea-fighting captain,' we used to say, 'fire an odd shot from your larboard locker to us, Nelson's bull-dogs;' but mind we never tried that dodge on at Greenwich, for fear of the old geese, the Collegemen. The Shallow got so grannied (known) in London, that the supplies got queer, and I quitted the land navy. Shipwrecks got so common in the streets, you see, that people didn't care for them, and I dropped getting cast away. I then took to screeving (writing on the stones). I got my head shaved, and a cloth tied round my jaws, and wrote on the flags:
'ILLNESS AND WANT,'
though I was never better in my life, and always had a good bellyful before I started of a morning. I did very well at first: 3s. or 4s. a day - sometimes more - till I got grannied. There is one man who draws Christ's heads with a crown of thorns, and mackerel, on the pavement, in coloured chalks (there are four or five others at the same business); this one, however, often makes £1 a day now in three hours; indeed, I have known him come home with 21s., besides what he drank on the way. A gentleman who met him in Regent-street once gave him £5 and a suit of clothes to do Christ's heads with a crown of thorns and mackerel on the walls. His son does Napoleon's heads best, but makes nothing like so much as the father. The father draws cat's heads and salmon as well - but the others are far the best spec. He will often give thirteen-pence, and indeed fourteen-pence, for a silver shilling, to get rid of the coppers. This man's pitch is Lloyd-square, not far from Sadler's Wells. I have seen him commence his pitch there at half-past eleven, to catch the people come from the theatre. He is very clever. In wet weather, and when I couldn't chalk, as I couldn't afford to lose time, I used to dress tidy and very clean for the 'respectable broken-down tradesman or reduced gentleman' caper. I wore a suit of black, generally, and a clean dickey, and sometimes old black kid gloves, and I used to stand with a paper before my face, as if ashamed:
'TO A HUMANE PUBLIC -
I HAVE SEEN BETTER DAYS.'
This is called standing pad with a fakement. It is a
wet-weather dodge, and isn't so good as screeving, but I did middling, and can't
bear being idle. After this I mixed with the street patterers (men who make
speeches in the streets) on the destitute mechanics lurk. We went
in a school of six at first, all in clean aprons, and spoke every man in his
turn. It won't do unless you're clean. Each man wanted a particular article of
dress. One had no shirt - another no shoes - another no hat - and so on. No two
wanted the same. We said:
"'Kind and benevolent Christians! - It is with feelings of deep regret, and sorrow and shame, that us unfortunate tradesmen are compelled to appear before you this day, to ask charity from the hands of strangers. We are brought to it from want - I may say, actual starvation.'" (We always had a good breakfast before we started, and some of us, sir, was full up to the brim of liquor.) "'But what will not hunger and the cries of children compel men to do.' "(We were all single men.) "'When we left our solitary and humble homes this morning our children were crying for food, but if a farthing would have saved their lives, we hadn't it to give them. I assure you, kind friends, me, my wife, and three children, would have been houseless wanderers all last night, but I sold the shirt from off my back as you may see (opening my jacket) to pay for a lodging. We are, kind friends, English mechanics. It is hard that you wont give your own countrymen a penny, when you give so much to foreign hurdygurdies and organ-grinders. Owing to the introduction of steam and machinery and foreign manufactures we have been brought to this degraded state. Fellow countrymen, there are at this moment 4,000 men like ourselves, able and willing to work, but can't get it, and forced to wander the streets. I hope and trust some humane Christian within the sound of my voice will stretch out a hand with a small trifle for us, be it ever so small, or a bit of dry bread or cold potato, or anything turned from your table, it would be of the greatest benefit to us and our poor children.' " (Then we would whisper to one another, 'I hope they wont bring out any scran - only coppers'). "'We have none of us tasted food this blessed day. We have been told to go to our parishes, but that we cannot brook; to be torn from our wives and families is heartrending to think of - may God save us all from the Bastile! (We always pattered hard at the overseers).'"
The next of the school that spoke would change the story somehow, and try to make it more heart-rending still. We did well at first, making about 5s. a-day each, working four hours, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. We got a good deal of clothing too. The man who went without a shirt never went to a door to ask for one; he had to show himself in the middle of the road. The man that did go to the door would say, Do bestow a shirt on my poor shopmate, who hasn't had one for some days.' It's been said of me, when I had my shirt tied round my waist all the time out of sight. The man who goes without his shirt has his pick of those given; the rest are sold and shared. Whatever trade we represented we always had one or two really of the trade in the school. These were always to be met at the lodging-houses. They were out of work and had to go to low lodging-houses to sleep. There they met with beggars who kiddied them on to the lurk. The lodging-houses is good schools for that sort of thing, and when a mechanic once gets out on the lurk he never cares to go to work again. I never knew one return. I have been out oft and oft with weavers with a loom, and have woven a piece of ribbon in a gentleman's parlour - that was when we was Coventry ribbon weavers. I have been a stocking weaver from Leicester, and a lacemaker too from Nottingham. Distressed mechanics on their way to London get initiated into beggar's tricks in the low lodging-houses and the unions. This is the way, you see, sir. A school may be at work from the lodging-house where the mechanic goes to, and some of the school finds out what he is, and says, Come and work with us in a school: you'll do better than you can at your business, and you can answer any questions; we'll lurk on your trade.' I have been out with a woman and children. It's been said in the papers that children can be hired for that lurk at 4d. or 6d. a day - that's all fudge, all stuff, every bit of it - there's no children to be hired. There's many a labouring man, out of work, who has a wife and three or more children, who is glad to let them go out with any patterer he knows. The woman is entitled to all the clothes and grub given, and her share of the tin - that's the way it's done; and she's treated to a drink after her day's work, into the bargain. I've been out on the respectable family man lurk. I was out with a woman and three kids the other day; her husband was on the pad in the country, as London was too hot to hold him. The kids draws, the younger, the better, for if you vex them, and they're oldish, they'll blow you. Liverpool Joe's boy did so at Bury St. Edmund's, to a patterer that he was out with, and who spoke cross to him. The lad shouted out so as the people about might hear, 'Don't you jaw me, you're not my father; my father's at home playing cards.' They had to crack the pitch (discontinue) through that. The respectable family dodge did pretty well. I've been on the clean family lurk too, with a woman and children. We dressed to give the notion that, however humble, at least we were clean in all our poverty. On this lurk we stand by the side of the pavement in silence, the wife in the perticler clean cap, and a milk-white apron. The kids have long clean pinafores, white as the driven snow; they're only used in clean lurk, and taken off directly they come home. The husband and father is in a white flannel jacket, an apron worn and clean, and polished shoes. To succeed in this caper there must be no rags, but plenty of darns. A pack of pawn-tickets is carried in the waistcoat pocket. (One man that I know stuck them in his hat like a carman's). That's to show that they've parted with their little all before they came to that. They are real pawn-tickets. I have known a man pay 2s 6d. for the loan of a marriage certificate to go out on the clean lurk. If a question is asked I say: 'We've parted with everything, and can get no employment; to be sure, we have had a loaf from the parish, but what's that among my family?' That takes the start out of the people, because they say, why not go to the parish? Some persons say, 'Oh, poor folks, they're brought to this, and how clean they are - a darn is better than a patch any time.' The clean lurk is a bare living now - it was good - lots of togs came in, and often the whole family were taken into a house and supplied with flannel enough to make under clothing for them all; all this was pledged soon afterwards, and the tickets shown to prove what was parted with, through want. Those are some of the leading lurks. There's others. Fits,' are bad now, and paralytics' are no better. The lucifer lurk seems getting up though. I don't mean the selling, but the dropping them in the street as if by accident. It's a great thing with the children; but no go with the old uns. I'll tell you of another lurk: a woman I knows sends out her child with ¼ oz. of tea and half a quarter of sugar, and the child sits on a door step crying, and saying, if questioned, that she was sent out for tea and sugar, and a boy snatched the change from her, and threw the tea and sugar in the gutter. The mother is there, like a stranger, and says to the child: 'And was that your poor mother's last shilling, and daren't you go home, poor thing?' Then there is a gathering sometimes 18d. in a morning; but it's almost getting stale, that is. I've done the shivering dodge too - gone out in the cold weather half naked. One man has practised it so much that he can't get off shivering now. Shaking Jemmy went on with his shivering so long that he couldn't help it at last. He shivered like a jelly - like a calf's foot with the ague - on the hottest day in summer. It's a good dodge in tidy inclement seasons. It's not so good a lurk, by two bob a day, as it once was. This is a single-handed job; for if one man shivers less than another he shows that it isn't so cold as the good shiverer makes it out - then it's no go. Of the maimed beggars, some are really deserving objects, as without begging they must starve to death; that's a fact, sir. What's a labouring man to do if he's lost any of his limbs? But some of these even are impostors. I know several blind men who have pensions; and I know two who have not only pensions, but keeping lodging houses, and are worth money, and still go out a begging - though not near where they live. There's the man with the very big leg, who sits on the pavement, and tells a long yarn about the tram carriage having gone over him in the mine. He does very well - remarkable well. He goes tatting and billy-hunting in the country (gathering rags and buying old metal), and comes only to London when he has that sort of thing to dispose of. There's Paddy in the truck too; he makes a good thing, and sends money home to Ireland; he has a decrepit old mother, and it's to his credit. He never drinks. There's Jerry, the collier, he has lost both arms, and does a tidy living, and deserves it; it's a bad misfortune. There's Jack Tiptoe, he can't put one heel to the ground - no gammon; but Mr. Horsford and he can't agree, so Jack takes to the provinces now. He did very well indeed here. There used to be a society among us called the Cadger's Club; if one got into a prison there was a gathering for him when he came out, and 6s. a week for a sick member, and when he got out again two collections for him, the two amounting perhaps to £1. We paid 3d. a week each - no women were members - for thirteen weeks, and then shared what was in hand, and began for the next thirteen, receiving new members and transacting the usual business of a club. This has been discontinued these five years; the landlord cut away with the funds. We get up raffles, and help one another in the best way we can now. At one time we had forty-five members, besides the secretary, the conductor, and under-conductor. The rules were read over on meeting nights, every Wednesday evening. They were very strict; no swearing, obscene or profane language was permitted. For the first offence a fine of ld. was inflicted, for the second 2d., and for the third the offender was ejected the room. There was very good order, and few fines had to be inflicted. Several respectable tradesmen used to pay a trifle to be admitted, out of curiosity, to see the proceedings, and used to be surprised at their regularity. Among the other rules were these: a fine of ld. for any member refusing to sing when called on; visitors the same. All the fines went to the fund. If a member didn't pay for five meeting nights he was scratched. Very few were scratched. The secretary was a windmill cove (sold children's windmills in the streets), and was excused contributing to the funds. He had 1d. from each member every sharing night, once a quarter, for his labour; he was a very good scholar, and had been brought up well. The landlord generally gave a bob on a sharing night. The conductor managed the room, and the under-conductor kept the door, not admitting those who had no right to be there, and putting out those who behaved improperly. It was held in the Coachmakers' Arms, Rose-street, Longrave-street; tiptop swells used to come among us, and no mistake; real noblemen, sir. One was the nephew of the Duke of ,and was well-known to all of us by the nick-name, Facer. I used to smoke a very short and very black pipe, and the 'honourable gent' has often snatched it from my mouth, and has given me a dozen cigars for it. My face has been washed in the gin by a noble lord after he'd made me drunk, and I felt as if it was vitriol about my eyes. The beggars are now dispersed and broken up. They live together now only in twos and threes, and, in plain truth, have no money to spend; they can't get it. Upon an average, in former days a cadger could make his two or three guineas per week without working overtime; but now he can hardly get a meal, not even at the present winter, though its's been a slap up inclement season, to be sure. The Mendicity Society has ruined us - them men took me and gave me a month, and I can say from my conscience that I was no more guilty of begging at that time than an unborn baby. The beggars generally live in the low lodging-houses, and there of a night they tell their tales of the day, and inform each other of the good and bad places throughout London, and what lurks' do the best. They will also say what beats they intend to take the next day, so that those who are on the same lurk may not go over the same ground as their pals. It is no use telling a lie, but the low lodging-houses throughout London and the country are nests for beggars and thieves. I know some houses that are wholly supported by beggars. In almost every one of the padding kens, or low lodging-houses in the country, there is a list of walks written on a piece of paper, and pasted up over the kitchen mantel-piece. Now at St. Alban's, for instance, at the —,and at other places, there is a paper stuck up in each of the kitchens. This paper is headed 'WALKS OUT OF THIS TOWN,' and underneath it is set down the names of the villages in the neighbourhood at which a beggar may call when out on his walk, and they are so arranged as to allow the cadger to make a round of about six miles, each day, and return the same night. In many of these papers there are sometimes twenty walks set down. No villages that are in any way gammy' are ever mentioned in these papers, and the cadger, if he feels inclined to stop for a few days in the town, will be told by the lodging-house keeper, or the other cadgers that he may meet there, what gentlemen's seats or private houses are of any account on the walk that he means to take. The names of the good houses are not set down in the paper, for fear of the police. Most of the lodging-house keepers buy the 'scran' (broken victuals) of the cadgers; the good food they either eat themselves or sell to the other travellers, and the bad they sell to parties to feed their dogs or pigs upon. The cadgers' talk is quite different now to what it was in the days of Billy. You see the flats got awake to it, so in course we had to alter the patter. The new style of cadgers' cant is nothing like the thieves' cant, and is done all on the rhyming principle. This way's the caper. Suppose I want to ask a pal to come and have a glass of rum and smoke a pipe of tobacco, and have a game of cards with some blokes at home with me, I should say, if there were any flats present, Splodger, will you have a Jack-surpass of finger-and-thumb, and blow your yard of tripe of nosey me knacker, and have a touch of the broads with me and the other heaps of coke at my drum.' (In this it will be observed that every one of the cant' words rhymes with the words ordinarily used to express the same idea.) I can assure you what little we cadgers do get we earn uncommon hard. Why, from standing shaking - that is, being out nearly naked in the hardest frosts - I lost the use of my left side for nearly three years, and wasn't able to stir outside the door. I got my living by card-playing in the low lodging-houses all that time. I worked the oracle - they were not up to it. I put the first and seconds on and the bridge also. I'd play cards with any one. You see, sir, I was afeard to come to you at first because I had been a starving' on the pavement only a few days ago, not a hundred yards from your very door, and I thought you might know me.''
The statement which follows - that of a prostitute, sleeping in the low lodging-houses, where boys and girls are all huddled promiscuously together, discloses a system of depravity, atrocity, and enormity, which certainly cannot be paralleled in any nation, however barbarous, nor in any age, however "dark." The facts detailed, it will be seen, are gross enough to maked us all blush for the land in which such scenes can be daily perpetrated; but the circumstances, which it is impossible to publish, are of the most loathesome and revolting nature: -
A good-looking girl of sixteen gave me the following awful statement. Her hands were swollen with cold: -
"I am an orphan. When I was ten I was sent to service as maid of all-work, in a small tradesman's family. It was a hard place, and my mistress used me very cruelly, beating me often. When I had been in place three weeks, my mother died; my father having died twelve years before. I stood my mistress's ill-treatment for about six months. She beat me with sticks as well as with her hands. I was black and blue, and at last I ran away. I got to Mrs.—, a low lodging-house. I didn't know before that there was such a place. I heard of it from some girls at the Glasshouse (baths and washhouses), where I went for shelter. I went with them to have a halfpennyworth of coffee, and they took me to the lodging-house. I then had three shillings, and stayed about a month, and did nothing wrong, living on the three shillings and what I pawned my clothes for, as I got some pretty good things away with me. In the lodging-house I saw nothing but what was bad, and heard nothing but what was bad. I was laughed at, and was told to swear. They said, 'Look at her for a d— modest fool' - sometimes worse than that, until by degrees I got to be as bad as they were. During this time I used to see boys and girls from ten and twelve years old sleeping together, but understood nothing wrong. I had never heard of such places before I ran away. I can neither read nor write. My mother was a good woman, and I wish I'd had her to run away to. I saw things between almost children that I can't describe to you - very often I saw them, and that shocked me. At the month's end, when I was beat out, 1 met with a young man of fifteen - myself was going on to twelve years old - and he persuaded me to take up with him. I stayed with him three months in the same lodging-house, living with him as his wife, though we were mere children, and being true to him. At the three months' end he was taken up for picking pockets, and got six months. I was sorry, for he was kind to me; though I was made ill through him; so I broke some windows in St. Paul's-churchyard to get into prison to get cured. I had a month in the Compter, and came out well. I was scolded very much in the Compter on account of the state I was in, being so young. I had 2s. 6d. given to me when I came out, and was forced to go into the streets for a living. I continued walking the streets for three years, sometimes making a good deal of money, sometimes none, feasting one day and starving the next. The bigger girls could persuade me to do anything they liked with my money. I was never happy all the time, but I could get no character and could not get out of the life. I lodged all this time at a lodging- house in Kent-street. They were all thieves and bad girls. I have known between three and four dozen boys and girls sleep in one room. The beds were horrid filthy and full of vermin. There was very wicked carryings on. The boys, if any difference, was the worst. We lay packed on a full night, a dozen boys and girls squeedged into one bed. That was very often the case - some at the foot and some at the top - boys and girls all mixed. I can't go into all the particulars, but whatever could take place in words or acts between boys and girls did take place, and in the midst of the others. I am sorry to say I took part in these bad ways myself, but I wasn't so bad as some of the others. There was only a candle burning all night, but in summer it was light great part of the night. Some boys and girls slept without any clothes, and would dance about the room that way. I have seen them, and, wicked as I was, felt ashamed. I have seen two dozen capering about the room that way; some mere children - the boys generally the youngest. * * * There were no men or women present. There were often fights. The deputy never interfered. This is carried on just the same as ever to this day, and is the same every night. I have heard young girls shout out to one another how often they had been obliged to go to the hospital, or the infirmary, or the workhouse. There was a great deal of boasting about what the boys and girls had stolen during the day. I have known boys and girls change their 'partners,' just for a night. At three years' [something missing from text here, I think, ed.] and I stole a piece of beef from a butcher. I did it to get into prison. I was sick of the life I was leading, and didn't know how to get out of it. I had a month for stealing. When I got out I passed two days and a night in the streets doing nothing wrong, and then went and threatened to break Messrs.— windows again. I did that to get into prison again; for when I lay quiet of a night in prison I thought things over, and considered what a shocking life I was leading, and how my health might be ruined completely, and I thought I would stick to prison rather than go back to such a life. I got six months for threatening. When I got out I broke a lamp next morning for the same purpose, and had a fortnight. That was the last time I was in prison. I have since been leading the same life as I told you of for the three years, and lodging at the same houses, and seeing the same goings on. I hate such a life now more than ever. I am willing to do any work that I can in washing and cleaning. I can do a little at my needle. I could do hard work, for I have good health. I used to wash and clean in prison, and always behaved myself there. At the house where I am it is 3d. a night; but at Mrs.—'s it is 1d. and 2d. a night, and just the same goings on. Many a girl - nearly all of them - goes out into the streets from this penny and twopenny house, to get money for their favourite boys by prostitution. If the girl cannot get money she must steal something, or will be beaten by her 'chap' when she comes home. I have seen them beaten, often kicked and beaten until they were blind from bloodshot, and their teeth knocked out with kicks from boots as the girl lays on the ground. The boys, in their turn, are out thieving all day, out and the lodging-house keeper will buy any stolen provisions of them, and sell them to the lodgers. I never saw the police in the house. If a boy comes to the house on a night without money or sawney, or something to sell to the lodgers, a handkerchief or something of that kind, he is not admitted, but told very plainly, Go thieve it, then.' Girls are treated just the same. Any body may call in the day time at this house and have a halfpennyworth of coffee and sit any length of time until evening. I have seen three dozen sitting there that way, all thieves and bad girls. There are no chairs, and only one form in front of the fire, on which a dozen can sit. The others sit on the floor all about the room, as near the fire, as they can. Bad language goes on during the day, as I have told you it did during the night, and indecencies too, but nothing like so bad as at night. They talk about where there is good places to go and thieve. The missioners call sometimes, but they're laughed at often when they're talking, and always before the door's closed on them. If a decent girl goes there to get a ha'porth of coffee, seeing the board over the door, she is always shocked. Many a poor girl has been ruined in this house since I was, and the boys have boasted about it. I never knew boy or girl do good, once they get used there. Get used there, indeed, and you are life-ruined. I was an only child, and haven't a friend in the world. I have heard several girls say how they would like to get out of the life, and out of the place. From those I know, I think that cruel parents and mistresses cause many to be driven there. One lodging-house keeper, Mrs.— , goes out dressed respectable, and pawns any stolen property, or sells it at public-houses."
As a corroboration of the girl's statement, a wretched-looking boy, only thirteen years of age, gave me the following additional information. He had a few rags hanging about him, and no shirt - indeed, he was hardly covered enough for purposes of decency, his skin being exposed through the rents in his jacket and trowsers. He had a stepfather, who treated him very cruelly. The stepfather and the child's mother went "across the country" begging and stealing. Before the mother died, an elder brother ran away on account of being so beaten:
"Sometimes (I give his own words) he (the stepfather) wouldn't give us a bit to eat, telling us to go and thieve for it. My brother had been a month gone (he's now a soldier in Gibraltar) when I ran away to join him. I knew where to find him, as we met sometimes. We lived by thieving, and I do still - by pulling flesh (stealing meat). I got to lodge at Mrs.— ,and have been there this eight months. I can read and write a little. (This boy then confirmed what the young girl had told me of the grossest acts night by night among the boys and girls, the language, &c., and continued) - "I always sleep on the floor for ld. and pay a ½d. besides for coke. At this lodging- house cats and kittens are melted down, sometimes twenty a day. A quart pot is a cat, and pints and half-pints are kittens. A kitten (pint) brings 3d. from the rag shops, and a cat 6d. There's convenience to melt them down at the lodging-house. We can't sell clothes in the house, except any lodger wants them; and clothes nearly all goes to the Jews in Petticoat-lane. Mrs. — buys the sawney of us; so much for the lump, 2d. a pound about; she sells it again for twice what she gives, and more. Perhaps 30 lb. of meat every day is sold to her. I have been in prison six times, and have had three dozen; each time I came out harder. If I left Mrs.—'s house I don't known howl could get my living. Lots of boys would get away if they could. I never drink, I don't like it. Very few of us boys drink. I don't like thieving, and often go about singing; but I can't live by singing, and I don't know how I could live honestly. If I had money enough to buy a stock of oranges I think I could be honest."
The above facts require no comment from me.
As a further proof, however, of the demoralizing influences of vagrancy, I will now conclude my investigations into the subject with a report of the meeting of vagrants, which I convened for the express purpose of consulting them generally upon several points which had come under my notice in the course of my inquiries. Your reporters' account of this meeting is as follows:
A meeting of an unprecedented character was held at the British Union School-rOOm, Shakespeare-Walk, Shadwell, on Monday evening last. The use of the school-room was kindly granted by Mr. Fletcher, the proprietor, to whose liberality we stand indebted for many similar favours. It was convened by our Metropolitan Correspondent, for the purpose of assembling together some of the lowest class of male juvenile thieves and vagabonds who infest the metropolis and the country at large; and although privately called, at only two days' notice, by the distribution of tickets of admission among the class in question at the various haunts and dens of infamy to which they resort, no fewer than 150 of them attended on the occasion. The only condition to entitle the parties to admission was that they should be vagrants, and under twenty years of age. They had all assembled some time before the hour for commencing the proceedings arrived, and never was witnessed a more distressing spectacle of squalor, rags, and wretchedness. Some were young men, and some mere children; one, who styled himself a "cadger" was six years of age, and several who confessed themselves "prigs" were only ten. The countenances of the boys were of various characters. Many were not only good looking, but had a frank, ingenuous expression that seemed in no way connected with innate roguery. Many, on the other hand, had the deep-sunk and half-averted eye which are so characteristic of natural dishonesty and cunning. Some had the regular features of lads born of parents in easy circumstances. The hair of most of the lads was cut very close to the head, showing their recent liberation from prison; indeed, one might tell by the comparative length of the crop, the time that each boy had been out of gaol. All but a few of the elder boys were remarkable, amidst the rags, filth, and wretchedness of their external appearance, for the mirth and carelessness impressed upon their countenances. At first their behaviour was very noisy and disorderly: coarse and ribald jokes were freely cracked, exciting general bursts of laughter; while howls, cat-calls, and all manner of unearthly and indescribable yells threatened for some time to render the object of the meeting utterly abortive. At one moment a lad would imitate the bray of a jack-ass, and immediately the whole hundred and fifty would fall to braying. Then some ragged urchin would crow like a cock, whereupon the place would echo again with a hundred and fifty cock-crows. Then, as a black boy entered the room, one of the young vagabonds would shout out "sw-ee-op." This would be received with peals of laughter, and followed by a general repetition of the same cry. Next, a hundred a fifty cat-calls of the shrillest possible description would almost split the ears. These would be succeeded by cries of "Strike up, you catgut scrapers," "Go on with your barrow," "Flare up, my never sweats," and a variety of other street sayings. Indeed, the uproar which went on before the meeting began will be best understood if we compare it to the scene presented by a public menagerie at feeding time. The greatest difficulty, as might be expected, was experienced in collecting the subjoined statistics of their character and condition. By a well-contrived and persevering mode of inquiry, however, the following facts were elicited:
With respect to their ages, the youngest boy present was 6 years old. He styled himself a "cadger, and said that his mother, who is a widow, and suffering from ill-health, sends him into the streets to beg. There were 7 of 10 years of age, 3 of 12, 3 of 13, 10 of 14, 10 of 15, 11 of 16, 20 of 17, 26 of 18, and 45 of 19.
19 had fathers and mothers still living; 39 had only one parent; and 80 were orphans in the fullest sense of the word, having neither father nor mother alive.
Of professed beggars there were 50, and 66 who acknowledged themselves to be habitual thieves. The announcement that the greater number present were thieves pleased them exceedingly, and was received with three rounds of applause.
12 of the youths assembled had been in prison once (two of these were but 10 years of age); Shad been in prison twice; 3, thrice; 4, four times; 7, five times; 8, six times; 5, seven times; 4, eight times; 2, nine times (1 of them 13 years of age); 5, ten times; 5, twelve times; 2, thirteen times; 3, fourteen times; 2, sixteen times; 3, seventeen times; 2, eighteen times; 5, twenty times; 6, twenty-four times; I, twenty-five times; 1, twenty-six times; and 1, twenty-nine times. The announcements in reply to the questions as to the number of times that any of them had been in prison were received with great applause, which became more and more boisterous as the number of imprisonments increased. When it was announced that one, though only nineteen years of age, had been in prison as many as twenty-nine times, the clapping of hands, the cat-calls, and shouts of "brayvo!" lasted for several minutes, and the whole of the boys rose to look at the distinguished individual. Some chalked on their hats the figures which designated the sum of the several times that they had been in gaol.
As to the causes of their vagabondism, it was found that 22 had run away from their homes, owing to the ill-treatment of their parents; 18 confessed to having been ruined through their parents allowing them to run wild in the streets, and to be led astray by bad companions; and 15 acknowledged that they had been first taught thieving in a lodging-house.
Concerning the vagrant habits of the youths, the following facts were elicited: 78 regularly roam through the country every years, 65 sleep regularly in the casual wards of the unions, and 52 occasionally slept in tramper's lodging-houses throughout the country.
Respecting their education, according to the popular meaning of the term, 63 of the 150 were able to read and write, and they were principally thieves. 50 of this number said they had read "Jack Sheppard," and the lives of Dick Turpin, Claude du Val, and all the other popular thieves' novels, as well as the "Newgate Calendar" and "Lives of the Robbers and pirates." Those who could not read themselves, said they'd had "Jack Sheppard" read to them at the lodging-houses. Numbers avowed that they had been induced to resort to an abandoned course of life from reading the lives of notorious thieves and novels about highway robbers. When asked what they thought of "Jack Sheppard," several bawled out "He's a regular brick" - a sentiment which was almost universally concurred in by the deafening shouts and plaudits which followed. When asked whether they would like to be Jack Sheppards, they answered, "Yes, if the times was the same now as they were then." Thirteen confessed that they had taken to thieving in order to go to the low theatres; and one lad said he had lost a good situation on the Birmingham Railway through his love of the play.
Twenty stated they had been flogged in prison - many of them two, three, and four different times. A policeman in plain clothes was present; but their acute eyes were not long before they detected his real character notwithstanding his disguise. Several demanded that he should be turned out. The officer was accordingly given to understand that the meeting was a private one, and requested to withdraw. Having apologized for intruding, he proceeded to leave the room - and, no sooner did the boys see the policeman move towards the door, than they gave vent to several rounds of very hearty applause, accompanied with hisses, groans, and cries of "throw him over."
The process of interrogating them in the mass having been concluded, the next step was to call several of them separately to the platform, to narrate, in their peculiar style and phraseology, the history of their own career, together with the causes which had led them to take up a life of dishonesty. The novelty of their position as speech-makers seemed peculiarly exciting to the speakers themselves, and provoked much merriment and interest amongst the lads. Their antics and buffoonery in commencing their addresses were certainly of the most ludicrous character. The first speaker, a lad 17 years of age, ascended the platform, dressed in a torn "wide-awake" hat, and a dirty smock-frock. He began: Gentlemen (immense applause and laughter), I am a Brummagem lad (laughter). My father has been dead three years, and my mother seven. When my father died I had to go and live along with my aunt. I fell out of employment, and went round about the town, and fell into the company of a lot of chaps, and went picking ladies' pockets. Then I was in prison once or twice, and I came to London, and have been in several prisons here. I have been in London three years; but I have been out of it several times in that time. I can't get anything honest to do; and I wish I could get something at sea, or in any foreign land. I don't care what or where it is (cheers and yells)."
Another lad, about 16, clad in a ragged coat, with a dirty face and matted hair, next came forward and said - My father was a soldier, and when I growed up to about ten years I joined the regiment as a drummer in the Grenadier Guards. I went on and got myself into trouble, till at last I got turned away, and my father left the regiment. I then went out with some more chaps and went thieving, and have been thieving about two years now. (Several voices - "Very good;" "that's beautiful;" "I hope you do it well.")
The third boy, who stated that he had been twenty-four times in prison, said he belonged to Hendon, in Middlesex, and that his father left his mother seventeen years ago, and he did not know whether he was dead or alive. He went to Christchurch school for some time, but afterwards picked up with bad companions, and went a thieving. He went to school again, but again left it to go a thieving and cadging with bad companions. He had been doing that for the last five years; and if he could get out of it he would be very glad to leave it (cheers).
The fourth lad (who was received with loud cheering, evidently indicating that he was a well-known character) said, he came from the city of York, and was a farrier. His father died a few years ago, and then he took to work; but "the play" led him on to be a thief, and from that time to the present he had done nothing but beg or thieve. If he could go to Australia he would be very glad; as if he stopped in England he feared he should do nothing but thieve to the end (laughter, with cries of "well done," "very well spoken").
The next speaker was about 18 years of age, and appeared a very sharp, intelligent lad. After making a very grave but irresistibly comical prefatory bow, by placing his hand at the back of his head, and so (as it were) forcing it to give a nod, he proceeded: My father is an engineer's labourer, and the first cause of my thieving was that he kept me without grub, and wallopped me (laughter). Well, I was at work at the same time that he was, and I kept pilfering, and at last they bowled me out (loud cheers). I got a showing up, and at last they turned me away; and not liking to go home to my father, I ran away. I went to Margate, where I had some friends, with a shilling in my pocket. I never stopped till I got to Ramsgate, and I had no lodging except under the trees, and had only the bits of bread I could pick up. When I got there my grandfather took me in and kept me for a twelvemonth. My mother's brother's wife had a spite against me, and tried to get me turned away. I did not know what thieving was then; and I used to pray that her heart might be turned, because I did not know what would become of me if my grandfather turned me away. But she got other people to complain of me, and say I was a nuisance to the town; but I knowed there was no fault in me; but, however, my grandfather said he could put up with me no longer, and turned me away. So after that I came back to London, and goes to the union. The first night I went there I got tore up (cheers and laughter). Everything was torn off my back, and the bread was taken away from me, and because I said a word I got well wallopped (renewed laughter). They "small-ganged" me; and afterwards I went seven days to prison because others tore my clothes. When I went in there - this was the first time - a man said to me, "What are you here for?" I said "For tearing up." The man said to another, "What are you here for?" and the other made answer, "For a handkerchief." The man then said, "Ah, that's something like;" and he said to me, "Why are you not a thief - you will only get to prison for that." I said, "I will." Well, after that I went pilfering small things, worth a penny or twopence at first; but I soon saw better things were as easy to be got as them, so I took them (laughter). I picked up with one that knowed more than me. He fairly kept me for sometime, and I learnt as well as him. I picked him up in London workhouse. After that I thought I would try my friends again, and I went to my uncle at Dover, but he could do nothing for me, so I got a place at a butcher's, where I fancied myself fairly blessed, for I had 2s. a week and my board and washing. I kept a twelvemonth there honest, without thieving. At last my master and I fell out and I left again, so I was forced to come up to London, and there I found my old companions in the Smithfield pens - they were not living anywhere. I used to go to the workhouse and used to tear up and refuse to work, and used to get sent to "quod," and I used to curse the day when it was my turn to go out. The governor of the prison used to say he hoped he wouldn't see my face there again; but I used to answer, "I shall be here again to-night, because it's the only place I've got." That's all I've got to say.
The next lad, who said he had been fourteen times in prison, was a tall, cleaner, and more intelligent-looking youth than any that had preceded him. After making a low affected bow, over the railing, to the company below, and uttering a preliminary a-hem or two with the most ludicrous mock gravity, he began by saying - "I am a native of London. My father is a poor labouring man, with 15s. a week - little enough, I think, to keep a home for four, and find candle-light (laughter). I was at work looking after a boiler at a paper-stainer's in Old-street-road at 6s. a week, when one night they bowled me out. I got the sack, and a bag to take it home in (laughter). I got my wages, and ran away from home, but in four days, being hungry, and having no money, I went back again. I got a towelling, but it did not do me much good. My father did not like to turn me out of doors, so he tied me to the leg of the bedstead (laughter). He tied my hands and feet so that I could hardly move, but I managed somehow to turn my gob (mouth) round and knawed it away. I run down stairs and got out at the back door and over a neighbour's wall, and never went home for nine months. I never bolted with anything. I never took anything that was too hot for me. The captain of a man of war about this time took me into his service, where I remained five weeks till I took a fever, and was obliged to go to the hospital. When I recovered, the captain was gone to Africa; and, not liking to go home, I stepped away, and have been from home ever since. I was in Brummagem, and was seven days in the new stir' (prison), and nearly broke my neck. When I came out, I fell into bad company, and went cadging, and have been cadging ever since; but if I could leave off, and go to the Isle of Dogs, the Isle of Man, or the Isle of Woman (laughter), or any other foreign place, I would embrace the opportunity as soon as I could. And if so be that any gentleman would take me in hand, and send me out, I would be very thankful to him, indeed. And so good night (cheers)."
A dirty little boy, 14 years of age, dressed in a big jacket, next stood forward. He said his father was a man-of-war's man, and when he came home from sea once his father, his mother, and all of them got drunk. The lad then stole 4d. from his father's pocket. After this, when he was sent for sixpenny rum he used to fetch fourpenny, and for fourpenny gin three- penny; and for fourpenny beer he used to fetch threepenny, and keep the difference to himself. His mother used to sell fruit, and when she left him at the stall he used to eat what he could not sell, and used to sell some to get marbles and buttons. Once he stole a loaf from a baker's shop. The man let him off, but his father beat him for it. The beating did him no good. After that he used to go "smugging" (running away with) other people's things. Then one day his father caught him, and tied his leg to the bedstead, and left him there till he was pretty near dead. He ran away afterwards, and has been thieving ever since.
A lad about 20 was here about to volunteer a statement concerning the lodging-houses, by which he declared he had been brought to his ruin, but he was instantly assailed with cries of "come down!" "hold your tongue!" and these became so general, and were in so menacing a tone, that he said he was afraid to make any disclosures, because he believed if he did so he would have perhaps two or three dozen of the other chaps on to him (great confusion).
OUR CORRESPONDENT: Will it hurt any of you here if he says anything against the lodging-houses (yes, yes)? How will it do so?
A Voice: They will not allow stolen property to come into them if it is told.
OUR CORRESPONDENT: But would you not all gladly quit your present course of life (yes, yes, yes)? Then why not have the lodging-house system, the principal cause of all your misery, exposed?
A Voice: If they shut up the lodging-houses, where are we to go? If a poor boy gets to the workhouse he catches a fever, and is starved into the bargain.
OUR CORRESPONDENT: Are not you all tired of the lives you now lead (vociferous cries of "yes, yes, we wish to better ourselves," from all parts of the room)? However much you dread the exposure of the lodging-houses, you know, my lads, as well as I do, that it is in them you meet your cornpanions, and ruin, if not begun there, is at least completed in such places. If a boy runs away from home he is encouraged there and kept secreted from his parents. And do not the parties who keep these places grow rich on your degradation and your peril (loud cries of "yes, yes")? Then why don't you all come forward now, and, by exposing them to the public, who know nothing of the iniquities and vice practised in such places, put an end to these dens at once? There is not one of you here - not one, at least, of the elder boys, who has found out the mistake of his present life, who would not, I verily believe, become honest and earn his living by his industry if he could. You might have thought a roving life a pleasant thing enough at first, but you now know that a vagabond's life is full of suffering, care, peril, and privation; you are not so happy as you thought you would be, and are tired and disgusted with your present course. This is what I hear from you all. Am I not stating the fact (renewed cries of "yes, yes, yes;" and a voice: "The fact of it is, sir, we don't see our folly till it is too late.") Now I and many hundreds and thousands really wish you well, and would gladly do anything we could to get you to earn an honest living. All, or nearly all, your misery, I know proceeds from the low lodging-houses (yes, yes, it does, master! it does); and lam determined, with your help, to effect their utter destruction. (A voice, "I'm glad of it, sir - you are quite right; and I pray God to assist you'').
The elder boys were then asked what they thought would be the best mode of effecting their deliverance from their present degraded position. Some thought emigration the best means, for if they started afresh in a new colony they said they would leave behind them their bad characters, which closed every avenue to employment against them at home. Others thought there would be difficulties in obtaining work in the colonies in sufficient time to prevent their being driven to support themselves by their old practices. Many again thought the temptations which surrounded them in England rendered their reformation impossible; whilst many more considered that the same temptations would assail them abroad which existed at home.
Our CORRESPONDENT then addressed them on another point. He said he had seen many notorious thieves in the course of his investigations. Since then he had received them at all hours into his house - men of the most desperate and women of the most abandoned characters - but he had never lost a 6d. worth of his property by them. One thief he had entrusted with a sovereign to get changed, and the lad returned and gave him back the full amount in silver. He had since gone out to America. Now he would ask all those present whether, if he were to give them a sovereign, they would do the same? (Several voices here called out that they would, and others that they would not. Others again said that they would to him, but to no one else.)
Here one of the most desperate characters present, a boy who had been twenty-six times in prison, was singled out from the rest, and a sovereign given to him to get changed, in order to make the experiment whether he would have the honesty to return the change or abscond with it in his possession. He was informed, on receiving it, that if he chose to decamp with it, no proceedings should be taken against him. He left the room amid the cheers of his companions, and when he had been absent a few moments all eyes were turned towards the door each time it opened, anxiously expecting his arrival, to prove his trustworthiness. Never was such interest displayed by any body of individuals. They mounted the forms in their eagerness to obtain the first glimpse of his return. It was clear that their honour was at stake; and several said they would kill the lad in the morning if he made off with the money. Many minutes elapsed in almost painful suspense, and some of his companions began to fear that so large a sum of money had proved too great a temptation for the boy. At last, however, a tremendous burst of cheering announced the lad's return. The delight of his companions broke forth again and again in long and loud peals of applause, and the youth advanced amidst triumphant shouts to the platform, and gave up the money in full.
The assemblage was then interrogated as to the effect of flogging as a punishment; and the general feeling appeared to be that it hardened the criminal instead of checking his depravity, and excited the deadliest enmity in his bosom at the time towards the person inflicting it. When asked whether they had seen any public executions, they almost all cried out that they had seen Manning and his wife hung; others said that they had seen Rush and Sarah Thomas executed. They stated that they liked to go a "death-hunting," after seeing one or two executed. It hardened them to it, and at last they all got to thieve under the gallows. They felt rather shocked at the sight of an execution at first; but, after a few repetitions, it soon wore off.
Before the meeting broke up several other lads expressed a strong desire to make statements.
A young man, 18 years of age, and of a miserable and ragged appearance, said he first left home from bad usage; and could not say whether it was the same with his sister or not, but she left her home about nine months ago, when he met her while he was getting his living as a costermonger. With the stock money that he had, rather than she should be driven to prostitution and the streets, he bought as many things as he could to furnish a room. This exhausted his stock-money and then his furniture had to go a little at a time to support him and his sister in food. After this he was obliged to take a furnished room, which put him to greater expense. To keep her off the streets, he was compelled to thieve. His father, if he ever had the feeling of a Christian, would never have treated him as he had done. Could a father (he asked) have any feeling, who chained his son up by the leg in a shed, as his father had done to him, and fed him on bread and water for one entire month: and then, after chaining him up all day, still chain him in bed at night. This it was that drove him into the streets at first. It was after his mother died, and he had a stepmother, that his father treated him thus. His mother-in-law ill-treated him as well as his father. the had been a transport he could not have been treated worse. He told his father that he was driving him on the road to transportation, but he took no notice of it; and he was obliged to leave his roof. He had been in Newgate since.
A little boy, dressed in the garb of a sailor, came up to our Correspondent crying bitterly, and implored him to allow him to say a word. He stated: I am here starving all my time. Last night I was out in the cold and nearly froze to death. When 1 got up I was quite stiff and could hardly walk. I slept in Whitechapel under a form where they sell meat. I was an apprentice on board of a fishing smack, and ran away because I was ill-treated. After I ran away I broke into my master's house because I was hungry. He gave me twelve months, and now he is in the union himself; he failed in business and got broken up. I have been out of prison three months, starving; and I would rather do anything than thieve. If I see a little thing 1 take it, because I can't get anything to eat without it. (Here the child, still weeping piteously, uncovered his breast, and showed his bones starting through his skin. He said he was anxious to get Out of the country.)
The following statement respecting the lodging-houses was made, after the others had left, by another lad. He left home when about thirteen, and never thieved before that. His father was dead, and his mother was unable to keep him. He got a situation and held it for three years and nine months, until he picked up with a man from a lodging-house, and through keeping late hours he was obliged to leave his place and sleep in a lodging-house himself. The lodging-house is in Short's-gardens. This he considered to have been the commencement of his downfall. About forty thieves lived in the house, and they brought in stolen property of every description, and the deputies received it and took it to other people to sell it again, and get the price and pay the thieves. They got double as much as the thieves did, or else they would have nothing to do with it. Several housebreakers lived at the house, and he heard them there plan the robbery of Bull and Wilson, the woollen-drapers in St. Martin's-lane. One of the men secreted himself in the house in the day time, and the other two were admitted by him at night. If he had stated this at the meeting the persons present would have killed him. He was sure that more might be done by giving proper encouragement to virtue, and by reforming the criminal, than by rigorous prosecution. He said (with tears in his eyes) that he should be very willing and happy to work for an honest living if he could only get it to do. He showed a letter of recommendation for good conduct to his former master, and a Bible; both of which had been given him by the chaplain of the gaol which he had just left, after undergoing an imprisonment of twelve months, It was useless (he said) for a young man like him to apply to the parish for relief; he might just as well stand in the street and talk to a lamp-post. Then what was a man to do after he left prison? He must go a thieving to live. He was persuaded that if there was an institution to give employment to the homeless, the friendless, and the penniless, after being liberated from prison, it would be the means of rescuing thousands.
The proceedings then terminated. The assemblage, which had become more rational and manageable towards the close, dispersed, quite peaceably it should be added, and the boys were evidently sincerely grateful for the efforts being made to bring their misfortunes before the notice of those in whose power it may be to alleviate them.
Before they were dismissed, as much money was dispensed to each as would defray his night's lodging.
I now purpose returning to my investigations into the condition and earnings of the artisans of the metropolis. In my next letter I shall treat of the incomings and state of the Boot and Shoe Makers.