< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >


[-202-]      

CHAPTER LXV.

THE WRONGS AND CRIMES OF THE POOR.

THE parlour of the Dark-House was, as usual, filled with a very tolerable sprinkle of queer-looking customers. One would have thought, to look at their beards, that there was not a barber in the whole district of the Tower Hamlets; and yet it appears to be a social peculiarity, that the lower the neighbourhood, the more numerous the shaving-shops. Amongst the very rich classes, nobles and gentlemen are shaved by their valets: the males of the middle grade shave themselves; and the men of the lower orders are shaved at barbers' shops. Hence the immense number of party-coloured poles projecting over the pavement of miserable and dirty streets, and the total absence of those signs in wealthy districts.
    The guests in the Dark-House parlour formed about as pleasant an assemblage of scamps as one could wish to behold. The establishment was a notorious resort for thieves and persons of the worst character; and no one who frequented it thought it worth while to shroud his real occupation beneath an air of false modesty. The conversation in the parlour, therefore, usually turned upon the tricks and exploits of the thieves frequenting the place; and many entertaining autobiographical sketches were in this way delivered. Women often constituted a portion of the company in the parlour; and they ware invariably the moat noisy and quarrelsome of all the guests. Whenever the landlord was compelled to call in the police, to have a clearance of the house - a proceeding to which he only had recourse when his guests were drunk and penniless, and demanded supplies of liquor upon credit, - a woman was sure to be at the bottom of the row; and a virago of Spitalfields would think no more of smashing every window in the house, or dashing out the landlord's brains with one of his own pewter- pots, than of tossing off a tumbler of raw gin without winking.
    On the evening of which we are writing there were several women in the parlour of the Dark. House. These horrible females were the "blowens" of the thieves frequenting the house, and the principal means of disposing of the property stolen by their paramours. They usually ended by betraying their lovers to the police, in fits of jealousy; and yet - by some strange infatuation on the part of those lawless men - the women who acted in this way speedily obtained fresh husbands upon the morganatic system. For the most part, these females are disfigured by intemperance; and their conversation is far more revolting than that of the males. Oh! there is no barbarism in the whole world so truly horrible and ferocious - so obscene and shameless - as that which is found in the poor districts of London!
    Alas! what a wretched mockery it is to hold grand meetings at Exeter Hall, and proclaim, with all due pomp and ceremony, how many savages in the far-off islands of the globe have been converted to Christianity, when here - at home, under our very eyes - even London itself swarms with infidels of a more dangerous character :- how detestable is it for philanthropy to be exercised in clothing negroes or Red Men thousands of miles distant, while our own poor are cold and naked at our very doors :- how monstrously absurd to erect twelve new churches in Bethnal Green, and withhold the education that would alone enable the poor to appreciate the doctrines enunciated from that dozen of freshly-built pulpits!
    But to return to the parlour of the Dark-House. In one corner sate the Resurrection Man and the Cracksman, each with a smoking glass of gin-and-water before him. They mingled but little in the conversation, contenting themselves with laughing an approval of any thing good that fell upon their ears, and listening to the discourse that took place around them.
    "Now, come, tell us, Joe," said a woman with eyes like saucers, hair like a bundle of tow, and teeth like dominoes, and addressing herself to a man who was dressed like a coal-heaver, - "tell us, Joe. how you come to be a prig?"
    "Ah! do, Joe - there as good feller," echoed a dozen voices, male and female.
    "Lor' it's simple enough," cried the man thus appealed to: "every poor devil must become a thief in time.''
    "That's what you say, Tony," whispered the Cracksman to the Resurrection Man.
    " Of course he must," continued the coal-heaver "more partickler them as follows my old trade - for though I've got on the togs of a whipper, I ain't one no longer. The dress is convenient - that's all."
    "The Blue-bottles don't twig-eh?" cried the woman with the domino teeth.
    "That's it: but you asked me how I come to be a prig - I'll tell you. My father was a coal-whipper, and had three sons. He brought us all up to be coal-whippers also. My eldest brother was drownded in the pool one night when he was drunk, after only drinking about two pots of the publicans' beer: my other brother died of hunger in Cold-Bath Fields prison, where he was sent for three months for taking home a bit of coal one night to his family when he couldn't get his wages paid him by the publican that hired the gang in which he worked. My father died when he was forty - and any one to have seen him would have fancied he was sixty-five at least - so broke down was he with hard work and drinking. But no coal-whipper lives to an old age: they all die off at about forty-old men in the wery prime of life."
    "And why's that?" demanded the large-toothed lady.
    "Why not?" repeated the man. "Because a coal-whipper isn't a human being - or if he is, he isn't treated as such: and so I've always thought he must be different from the rest of the world."
    "How isn't he treated like any one else? "
    "In the first place, he doesn't get paid for his labour in a proper way. Wapping swarms with low public-houses, the landlords of which act as middle-men between the owners of the colliers and the men that a hired to unload 'em. A coal-whipper can't get employment direct from the captain of [-203-] the collier: the working of the collier is farmed by them landlords I speak of; and the whipper must apply at their houses. Those whippers as drinks the most always gets employment first; and whether a whipper chooses to drink beer or not, it's always sent three times a-day on board the colliers for the gangs. And, my eye! what stuff it is! Often and often have we throwed it away, 'cos we could'nt possibly drink it - and it must be queer liquor that a coal-whipper won't drink!"
    "I should think so too. But go on."
    "Well, I used to earn from fifteen to eighteen shillings a-week; and out of that, eight was always stopped for the beer; and if I didn't spend another or two on Saturday night when I received the balance, the landlord set me down as a stingy feller and put a cross agin my name in his book."
    "What was that for?"
    "Why, not to give me any more work till he was either forced to do so for want of hands, or I made it up with him by standing a crown bowl of punch. So what with one thing and another, I had to keep myself, my wife, and three children, on about seven or eight shillings a-week - after working from light to dark."
    "And now your wife and children is better purrided for?" said the woman with the huge teeth.
    "Yes - indeed! in the workus," answered the man, sharply. "So now you see what a coal-whipper's life is. He can't be a sober man if he wishes to - because he must pay for a certain quantity of drink; and so of course he won't throw it sway, unless it's so bad he can't keep it on his stomach."
    "And was that often the case?"
    "Often and often. Well - he can't be a saving man, because he has no chance of getting his wages under his own management. He is the publican's slave - the publican's tool and instrument. Negro slavery is nothing to it. No tyranny is equal to the tyranny of them publicans."
    "And why isn't the plan altered?"
    "Ah! why? What do the owners of the colliers, or the people that the cargo's consigned to, care about the poor devils that unload? The publicans takes the unloading on contract, and employs the whippers in such a way as to get an enormous profit. Talk of appealing to the owners - what do they care? There has been meetings got up to change the system - and what's the consekvence? Why, them whippers as attended them became marked men, never got no more employment, and drownded themselves in despair, or turned prigs like me."
    "Ah! that's better than suicide."
    "Well - I don't know, now! But them meetings as I was a-speaking of, got up deputations to the Court of Aldermen, and the matter was referred to the Coal and Corn Committee - and there was, as usual, a great talk, but nothink done. Then an application was made to some Minister - I don't know which; and he sent back a letter with a seal as big as a crown-piece, just to say that he d received the application, and would give it his earliest attention. Some time passed away, and no more notice was ever taken of it in that quarter; and so, I s'pose, a Minister's earliest attention means ten or a dozen years.'
    "What a shame to treat people so."
    "It's only the poor that's treated so. And now I think I have said enough to show why I turned prig, like a many more whippers from the port of London. There isn't a more degraded, oppressed, and brutalised set of men in the world than the whippers. They are born with examples of drunken fathers afore their eyes; and drunken fathers makes drunken mothers; and drunken parents makes sons turn out thieves, and daughters prostitutes ;- and that a the existence of the coal-whippers of Wapping. It ain't their fault: they haven't edication and self-command to refuse the drink that's forced upon them, and that they must pay for ;- and their sons and daughters shouldn't be blamed for turning out bad. How can they help it? And yet one reads in the papers that the upper classes is always a-crying out about the dreadful immorality of the poor!"
    "The laws - the laws, you see, Tony," whispered the Cracksman to his companion.
    "Of course," answered the Resurrection Man. " Here we are, in this room, upwards of twenty thieves and prostitutes: I'll be bound to say that the laws and the state of society made eighteen of them what they are."
    "Nobody knows the miseries of a coal-whipper's life," continued the orator of the evening, " but him that's been in it his-self. He is always dirty - always lurking about public-houses when not at work - always ready to drink - always in debt - and always dissatisfied with his own way of living, which isn't, however, his fault. There's no hope for coal-whippers or their families. The sons that don't turn out thieves must lead the same terrible life of cart-horse labour and constant drinking, with the certainty of dying old men at forty ;- and the daughters that don't turn out prostitutes marry whippers, and draw down upon their heads all the horrors and sorrows of the life I have been describing."
   "Well - I never knowed all this before!"
    "No - and there's a deal of misery of each kind in London that isn't known to them as dwells in the other kinds of wretchedness: and if these things gets represented in Parliament, the cry is,  'Oh! the people's always complaining; they're never satisfied!' "
    "Well, you speak of each person knowing his own species of misery, and being ignorant of the nature of the misery next door," said a young and somewhat prepossessing woman, but upon whose face intemperance and licentiousness had made sad havoc; "all I can say is, that people see girls like us laughing and joking always in public - but they little know how we weep and moan in private."
    "Drink gin then, as I do," cried the woman with the large teeth.
    "Ah! you know well enough," continued the young female who had previously spoken, "that we do drink a great deal too much of that! My father used to sell jiggered gin in George Yard, Whitechapel."
    "And what the devil is jiggered gin?" demanded one of the male guests.
    "It a made from molasses, beer, and vitriol. Lor', every one knows what jiggered gin is. Three wine glasses of it will make the strongest man mad drunk. I'll tell you one thing," continued the young woman, "which you do not seem to know - and that is, that the very, very poor people who are driven almost to despair and suicide by their sorrows, are glad to drink this jiggered gin, which is all that they can afford. For three halfpence they may have enough to send them raving; and then what do they think or care about their miseries?"
    "Ah! very true, said the coal whipper. "I've heard of this before."
    "Well-my father sold that horrid stuff," re-[204-]sumed the young woman; "and though he was constantly getting into trouble for it, he didn't mind, but the moment he came out of prison, he took to his old trade again. I was his only child; and my mother died when I was about nine years old She was always drunk with the jiggered gin; and one day she fell into the fire and was burnt to death. I had no one then who cared any thing for me but used to run about in the streets with all the boys in the neighbourhood. My father took in lodgers, and sixteen or seventeen of us, boys and girls all huddled together, used to sleep in one room not near so big as this. There was fifteen lodging houses of the same kind in George Yard at that time; and it was supposed that about two hundred and seventy-five persons used to sleep in those houses every night, male and female lodgers all pigging together. Every sheet, blanket, and bolster, in my father's house was marked with STOP THIEF, in large letters. Well - at eleven years old I went upon the town; and if I didn't bring home so much money every Saturday night to my father, I used to be well thrashed with a rope's end on my bare back."
    " Serve you right too, a pretty girl like you."
    "Ah! you may joke about it - but it was no joke to me! I would gladly have done anything in an honest way to get my livelihood —"
    "Like me, when I was young," whispered the Resurrection Man to his companion.
    "Exactly. Let's hear what the gal has got to say for herself," returned the Cracksman; "the lush has made her sentimental ;- she'll soon be crying drunk."
    "But I was doomed, it seemed," continued the young woman, "to live in this horrible manner. When I was thirteen or fourteen my father died, and I was then left to shift for myself. I moved down into Wapping, and frequented the long-rooms belonging to the public-houses there. I was then pretty well off; because the sailors that went to these places always had plenty of money and was very generous. But I was one night suspected of hocussing and robbing a sailor, and - though if I was on my death-bed I could swear that I never had any hand in the affair at all - I was so blown upon that I was forced to shift my quarters. So I went to a dress-house in Ada Street, Hackney Road. All the remuneration I received there was board and lodging; and I was actually a slave to the old woman that kept it. I was forced to walk the streets at night with a little girl following me to see that I did not run away; and all the money I received I was forced to give up to the old woman. While I was there, several other girls were turned out of doors, and left to die in ditches or on dunghills, because they were no longer serviceable. All this frightened me. And then I was so ill-used, and more than half starved. I was forced to turn out in all weathers - wet or dry-hot or cold - well or ill. Sometimes I have hardly been able to drag myself out of bed with sickness and fatigue - but, no matter, out I must go - the rain perhaps pouring in torrents, or the roads knee-deep in snow - and nothing but a thin cotton gown to wear! Winter and summer, always flaunting dresses - yellow, green, and red! Wet or dry, always silk stockings and thin shoes! Cold or warm, always short skirts and a low body, with strict orders not to fasten the miserable scanty shawl over the bosom! And then the little girl that followed me about was a spy with wits as sharp as needles. Impossible to deceive her! At length I grew completely tired of this kind' of life; and so I gave the little spy the slip one fine evening. I was then sixteen, and I came back to this neighbourhood. But one day I met the old woman who kept the dress-house, and she gave me in charge for stealing wearing apparel - the clothes I had on my back when I ran away from her!"
    "Always the police - the police - the police, when the poor and miserable are concerned," whispered the Resurrection Man to the Cracksman.
    "But did the inspector take the charge?" demanded the coal-heaver.
    "He not only took the charge," answered the unfortunate girl, "but the magistrate next morning committed me for trial, although I proved to him that the clothes were bought with the wages of my own prostitution! Well, I was tried at the Central Criminal Court —"
    "And of course acquitted? "
    "No - found Guilty —"
    "What - by an English jury?"
    "I can show you the newspaper - I have kept the report of the trial ever since."
    "Then, by G—d, things are a thousand-times worse than I thought they was!" ejaculated the coal-whipper, striking his clenched fist violently upon the table at which he was seated.
    "But the jury recommended me to mercy," continued the unfortunate young woman, "and so the Recorder only sentenced me to twenty-one days' imprisonment. His lordship also read me a long lecture about the errors of my ways, and advised me to enter upon a new course of life; but he did not offer to give me a character, nor did he tell me how I was to obtain honest employment without one."
    " That's the way with them beaks," cried one of the male inmates of the parlour: " they can talk for an hour; but supposing you d said to the Recorder, 'My Lord, will your wife take me into her service as scullery-girl?' he would have stared in astonishment at your imperence."
    "When I got out of prison," resumed the girl who was thus sketching the adventures of her wretched life, "I went into Great Titchfield Street. My new abode was a dress-house kept by French people. Every year the husband went over to France, and returned with a famous supply of French girls, and in the mean time his wife decoyed young English women up from the country, under pretence of obtaining situations as nursery-governesses and lady's-maids for them. Many of these poor creatures were the daughters of clergymen and half- pay officers in the marines. The moment a new supply was obtained by these means, circulars was sent round to all the persons that was in the habit of using the house. Different sums, from twenty to a hundred pounds —"
    "Ah! I understand," said the coal-whipper. " But did you ever hear say how many unfortunate gals there was in London?"
    "Eighty thousand. From Titchfield Street I went into the Almonry, Westminster. The houses there are all occupied by fences, prigs, and gals of the town."
    "And the parsons of Westminster Abbey, who is the landlords of the houses, does nothink to put 'em down," said the coal-whipper.
    "Not a bit," echoed the young woman, with a laugh. " We had capital fun in the house where I lived - dog-fighting, badger-baiting, and drinking all day long. The police never visits the Almonry —"
    "In course not, 'cos it's the property of the parsons. They wouldn't be so rude."
    This coarse jest was received with a shout of laughter; and the health of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster was drunk amidst uproarious ap-[-205-]plause, by the thieves and loose women assembled in the Dark-House parlour.*

[* The causes which produce prostitution are as follows:
    I. Natural causes - 1. Licentiousness of inclination. 2. Irritability of temper. 3. Pride and love of dress. 4. Dishonesty, and desire of property, 5. indolence.
    II. Accidental causes :-1 . Seduction. 2. Inconsiderate and ill-sorted marriages. 3. Inadequate remuneration for female work. 4. Want of employment, 5. Intemperance. 6. Poverty. 7. Want of proper looking after their servants on the part of masters and mistresses. 8. Ignorance, 9. Bad example of parents. 10. Harsh and unkind treatment by parents and other relations. 11. Attendance on evening dancing schools, and dancing parties. 12. Theatre-going 13. The publication of improper works, and obscene prints. 14. The countenance and reward given to vice, 15. The small encouragement given to virtue.
    The proportions amongst those females who have deviated from the path of virtue may be quoted as follows:-
    1. One-fourth from being servants in taverns and public-houses, where they have been seduced by men frequenting these places of dissipation and temptation.
    2. One-fourth from the intermixture of the sexes in factories, and those employed in workhouses, shops, &c.
    3. One-fourth by procuresses, or females who visit country towns, markets, and places of worship, for the purpose of decoying good-looking girls of all classes.
    4. One-fourth may be divided into four classes :- l. Such as being indolent, or possessing had tempers, leave their situations. 2. Those who are driven to that awful course by young men making false promises. 3. Children who have been urged by their mothers to become prostitutes for a livelihood. 4. Daughters of clergymen, half pay officers, &c., who are left portionless orphans.]

"Well, go on, my dear," said the coal-whipper, when order was somewhat restored.
    "I never was in a sentimental humour before to-night - not for many, many years," resumed the young woman; "and I don't know what's making me talk as I am now."
    "'Cos you haven't had enough gin, my dear," interrupted a coarse-looking fellow, winking to his companions.
    Scarcely was the laughter promoted by this sally beginning to subside, when a short, thick-set, middle-aged man, enveloped in a huge great-coat, with most capacious pockets at the sides, entered the parlour, took his seat near the door, and called for a glass of hot gin-and-water.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >