Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Seven Curses of London, by James Greenwood, 1869


The Best Remedy.

Emigration—The various Fields—Distinguish the industrious Worker in need of temporary Relief—Last Words.

All other remedies considered, we come back to that which is cheapest, most lasting, and in every way the best—emigration.
   This, of course, as applying to unwilling and undeserved pauperism. These are the sufferers that our colonies are waiting to receive with open arms. They don't want tramps and vagrants. They won't have them, well knowing the plague such vermin would be in a land whose fatness runs to waste. But what they are willing to receive, gladly and hospitably, are men and women, healthy, and of a mind to work honestly for a liberal wage. New Zealand has room for ten thousand such; so has Australia and Canada.
    It would be a happy alteration, if some milder term than "pauper" might be invented to distinguish the industrious worker, temporarily distressed, so as to be compelled to avail himself of a little parochial assistance, from the confirmed and habitual reci­pient of the workhouse dole. As was pertinently remarked by Colonel Maude, at a recent meeting held in the rooms of the Society of Arts, and at which the policy of assisting willing workers to emigrate to New Zealand was argued:
    "There are people who are fond of putting forward the offen­sive doctrine, that a man who is a ‘pauper,' as they call him, has thereby become unfit ever again to exercise the self-reliance and independence in any other country necessary to procure him a living, the want of which qualities has brought him to the abject condition he is now in. Like most sweeping generalities, this is both false and cruel. The condition of the wage-paid class is, in the nature of things, more dependent than that of any other; and without for a moment depreciating the wisdom of frugality and thrift, I would ask some of those who are in the enjoyment of independent incomes, whether their position would not be almost as desperate if their income were suddenly withdrawn? And this is constantly happening to large masses of our artisans, in many cases entirely without fault of their own; and then how does the State deal with them? It says, ‘If you will wait until you have parted with your last penny and your last article of furniture, and then come to us, we will assist you, but only then, and only in the following manner; The allowance of food, clothing, and shelter which we will give you shall be the least which experience proves will keep body and soul together. We will break the law of God and of nature by separating you from your family. We will prevent you seeking for work elsewhere by confining you in a house where employers are not likely to search for you, and whence you can­not go to seek it yourself. The nature of the work you shall per­form shall not be that in which you are proficient, but shall be of the most uninteresting and useless kind. Owing to the small quantity of food we give you, you will not be able to exert your powers to their best advantage. By resorting to us for assistance, you will be lowered in the estimation of your fellow-workmen; and in all probability, as experience tells us, you will return to us again and again, until you become a confirmed and helpless pauper.' 
    "We are fond of pointing to Paris, and of showing how dearly the French pay for their system of providing work for the people; but if it be true, as I have lately heard, that there are one million of paupers at this moment in England—and besides these, I am in a position to state that there cannot be less than one million persons who would be glad of permanent employment at reasonable wages —I do not think we have much to boast of. Besides, does anyone doubt that if the French Emperor were possessed of our illimitable colonies, with their endless varieties of climate, he would very soon transfer his surplus population to them, and be very glad of the chance? And we ought to consider the cost of our paupers. Let us take it at 10l. a head per annum. As a matter of economy, it would pay very well to capitalise this tax, and at two years' pur­chase we could deport large numbers in great comfort, and thus save a good deal of money to the ratepayers, even supposing none of the money were ever refunded; but I hope to show how that amount would be more than repaid. But I suppose that some people will say, ‘Your system, then, is transportation?' My answer might be, ‘If you are not ashamed to impose the humiliating and unpleasant condition which you at present force upon an applicant for relief, surely when you have satisfied yourselves that his lot will be much happier and brighter in the new home which you offer him, all your compunctions should vanish.'"
    I have ventured to quote Colonel Maude at length, because he is a man thoroughly conversant with the subject he treats of, and all that he asserts may be implicitly relied on. And still once again I am tempted to let another speak for me what perhaps I should speak for myself—the concluding words of this my last chapter. My justification is, that all that the writer expresses is emphatically also my opinion; and I am quite conscious of my inability to con­vey it in terms at once so graphic and forcible. The gentleman to whom I am indebted is the writer of a leader in the Times:
"Here is a mass of unwilling pauperism, stranded, so to speak, by a receding tide of prosperity on the barren shores of this metropolis. Something must be done with it. The other object is more important, but not so pressing. It is, that people who cannot get on well at home, and who find all their difficulties amounting only to this—that they have not elbow-room, and that the ground is too thickly occupied—should be directed and even educated to follow the instructions of Providence, and go to where there is room for them. There is no reason why every child in this king­dom should not have the arguments for and against emigration put before it in good time, before it arrives at the age when choice is likely to be precipitated, and change of mind rendered difficult.
    Children in these days are taught many things, and there really seems no reason why they should not be taught something about the colonies, in which five millions of the British race are now prospering, increasing, and multiplying, not to speak of the United States. But we must return to the object more immediately press­ing. It is surrounded by difficulties, as was confessed at the Man­sion House, and as is evident on the facts of the case. But we believe it to be a case for combined operation. Everything seems to be ready—the good men who will take the trouble, the agency, the willing guardians, the public departments, or, at least, their functionaries—and the colonies will not complain if we send them men willing to work, even though they may have to learn new trades. The Boards of Guardians and the Government will con­tribute, as they have contributed. But they cannot, in sound principle, do more. The public must come forward. Sorry as we are to say the word, there is no help for it. This is not a local, it is a national affair. Chance has thrown these poor people where they are. It would be a good opportunity thrown away, if this work were not done out of hand, one may say. Here are some thousands attracted to the metropolis by its specious promises of a long and solid prosperity. They cannot go back. They must now be passed on. Where else to but to the colonies?
    "It must be evident by this time to the poor people themselves that they may wait and wait for years and years without getting the employment that suits them best. The metropolitan ratepayers are losing temper, and making themselves heard. The colonies are all calling for more men and more women, and more children approaching the age of work. Several members of the Government attended the meeting, either in person or by letter, with promises of money, advice, and aid. There is the encouragement of success­ful millions, who within our own lifetime have established them­selves all over the world. Every cause that operated forty years ago operates now with tenfold force. At that date the only notion of an emigrant was a rough, misanthropical sort of man, who had read Robinson Crusoe, and who fancied a struggle for existence in some remote corner, with a patch of land, some small cattle, con­stant hardships, occasional disasters and discoveries, welcome or otherwise. It was not doubted for a moment that arts and sciences and accomplishments must be left behind. There could be no Muses or Graces in that nether world. The lady, so devoted as to share her husband's fortune in that self-exile, would have to cook, bake, brew, wash, sew, mend, and darn, if indeed she could spare time from the still more necessary toil of getting something eat­able out of the earth, the river, or the sea. That was the prevailing picture of emigrant life; and when missionary tracts and Mr. Burford's dioramas indicated houses, streets, and public buildings, it was still surmised that these were flattering anticipations of what there was to be, just as one may see rows of semi-detached villas, picturesque drives, shrubberies, miniature lakes, and gothic churches in the window of a land-agent's office, representing the golden futurity of a site now covered by cattle or corn. Forty years have passed, and where there might be then a few hard settlers, there are now cities, towns, and villages which England might be proud of; railways, and every possible application of art and science on a scale often exceeding our own. Large congrega­tions meet in handsome churches, stocks and shares are brought and sold, machinery rattles and whizzes, ladies walk through show­rooms full of the last Parisian fashions, dinners are given worthy of our clubs, and operas are performed in a style worthy of Covent Garden, in places where, forty years ago, men were eating each other."