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HOMELESS, BUT NOT NAMELESS.
With regard to these children, a new
vocabulary has come into use; so that if we go on much longer, a list of
euphemistic synonyms will have to be published, in order to relieve our delicate
susceptibilities on the subject of juvenile human suffering, want, and
ignorance, with respect to the homeless and deserted boys and girls of the Great
There is a stimulus in strong piquant epithets, as there is in drains of strong drink: they relieve our surcharged feelings, and excite them at the same time. The worst of it is, that in both cases indulgence too often produces craving; and gratification of the craving demoralises us, and precludes the power of useful and judicious comment, as well as of regular action. These synonyms answer too often the purpose of a pathetic speech, which draws tears instead of guineas from an audience. The weakly sentimental, which is by no [-272-] means the most sympathetic, nature must secrete something, and its contribution is quite as likely to take a lachrymal as an auriferous form. At the best, sentimental synonyms, whatever may have been their original strength and adaptability to an immediate purpose, are like other epigrams: they cannot continue in use without the danger of their standing for expressions of facts, when they are only indications of facts. Thus names, however aptly applied to a class, as expressive of their special condition at any particular time, too soon come to be accepted as expressing an inevitable meaning, and so help to undo the work which they were originally meant to promote, by seeming to relieve us of the very responsibility of which they first reminded us.
We have changed the titles of the homeless and destitute boys and girls - of everybody's children - from 'street Arabs' to 'young ravens,' and even to 'gutter children;' the latter most offensive term having, I fear, been adopted from an article of my own, in which I spoke of them as being 'picked up from the gutter,' but with no intention of fastening their innocent degradation upon them as a badge. It comes to this, however: that there is no telling how many notes of the descriptive gamut may be sounded to very little purpose in reference to the general harmony, while we persuade ourselves that those on whom we bestow the pitifully-evasive epithets are 'nobody's children.'
The truth is, that these forlorn boys and girls - these street Arabs whom we have been so ready to relegate to the great London desert as a race apart from ourselves - [-273-] are of our own heritage, and we have no birthright that does not also belong to them, inasmuch as they are indivisibly connected with us for future good or future evil. They will be the men and women of the time to come - the brethren and sisters, the helpers or the hinderers, of those little ones who now sit round our tables, and who belong to us by the ties of close and loving relationship.
It may be that writers on this subject have drawn attention too exclusively to the utter misery and destitution of these little ones, regarding it from the well-fed and properly-clothed, the respectable and 'comfortable' point of view; that is to say, that their real pity and pain at what they see when they visit the haunts of the London Arab has for the time led them to regard such a life as one of almost utter unrelieved and irresponsible wretchedness. It would be indeed awful if this were so; in fact, if we could really so regard it, and become actually possessed with such an idea, there would be no other course than for some of us - not professed philanthropists - to go out into the very streets and cry aloud like the prophets of old.
A thorough sense of such a condition, and our own necessary share in it, would be too much for any but a very robust conscience; and we have reason, perhaps, to be thankful that there are some mitigations which can prevent one being driven to a conclusion so inexpressibly terrible. The question that must be asked, however, and will, one way or another, have to be answered, is: are we to go on driving things ever as near as [-274-] we may towards this horrible consummation ? or, what is the same thing: are we to leave to their bitter ends the operation of bad laws, of deep injustice, of inhuman neglect, and the superstition of selfish unbelief?
It would, perhaps, be too much to ask any, even the most sentimental, professor of philanthropy, whether he would consider the state of these children, at their very best, a sufferable condition for one of his own little ones. We have scarcely reached that height of Christian charity which could contemplate such a question without a dizziness in the head; but we may at least claim for the neglected boys and girls of London (the raw material of the chronic pauper, the troublesome criminal, and the expensive convict), some part of the birthright of humanity, the teaching that inculcates a better hope than their highest aspirations now attain to, the help that would, at a very small sacrifice of selfish gratification, lift them above the deadly squalor and constantly-recurring misery of their daily life. And yet it is life: this is at once our best trust and our deepest reproach.
When the half-famished, half-naked tatterdemalion, who holds out a muddy box of vesuvians as an excuse for begging, or thrusts his poor little body against the cab-wheel to guard our broadcloth from the mire, scampers off to exchange a volley of cunning jests with his companions, made momentarily blithe by a double donation, we are half inclined to envy him that buoyancy that can be so easily sustained even for a minute's space.
[-275-] Ah! but a pang should underlie that laugh of ours, my friend - a pang to think that that immortal capacity of appreciation in him should have so little regard from us; that we should be satisfied to estimate it at a penny's worth, and join the age that has produced him and his like, in ignoring the claims that the very sight of him should set up.
Some of us, who are known to have gained some experience of the darker side of this Great City where so many shadows fall, may have been asked: 'What is the most terrible sight in London?'
Supposing this question to be put to twenty people, there would probably be at least ten different answers to it. We should hear of the dreadful places in which the poor are compelled to live; of those 'worst neighbourhoods' where all sorts of evil-doers hide from the light; of the still more painful spectacle of painted vice flaunting abroad amidst the haunts of respectability; of the quiet suburban villas, where the tenants pay the rent beforehand, and no questions are asked, and where the shameless invent names for the shameful - names which find their way even into the newspaper columns, and puzzle modest readers at home, who wonder about that vague demi-monde, and someway associate it with leading articles upon the difficulty of marrying on Civil-Service pay. We should be told of 'midnight meetings' and of dishonoured homes-of the struggles of the very poor to save themselves from the last dread of living humanity - the workhouse; of seamstresses sewing away their lives for pence; of girls [-276-] dying slowly in warehouses and workrooms amidst the costly garments which they make; of women swiftly wearing away in the effort to keep themselves from thinking of the awful alternative that tempts them every night as they hurry homewards through the gaily-lighted streets, and feel the keen wind penetrating their poor flimsy clothing to wake the cough that only nourishment and rest can still.
All these are terrible indeed; and thinking of them, we almost doubt which has the evil preeminence: but they are only results. Worse than these, and lying at the beginning of them all, is that which mocks our full- blown protestations of humanity and benevolence, gives the lie to our boasted enlightenment, stares our smug piety in the face with a grim laugh of pain, and is already menacing our future with a penalty that no single age can pay, since it is the accumulated debt of years and years of indifference and neglect.
Looking to the future as well as to the present, the most terrible sight in London is its homeless children, the boys and girls who (such of them as do not die - and they have a strange tenacity of life) are to make the men and women of the time to come.
It is not given to many of us to see much of them, and few people believe that they form a numerous class. Homeless children! when we hear so much of industrial schools, and of training masters in metropolitan workhouses, and of prison discipline for the incorrigible, to be followed by the blessed ordinances of the reformatory!
[-277-] Where are they? where do they go to? They must live somewhere, call it a home or not, as you like; and the casual ward affords them a legal shelter, if they choose to claim it - a shelter and a morsel of dry bread, a drink of water, if not a bowl of thin salted gruel. Where are they?
They are not far to seek; but they are difficult to find, for they are all at war with respectability, knowing well that respectability neither believes nor pities them much; and they have enough in them that is rat-like to seek their hiding-places in dark corners not far from the great highways, and so more secure from discovery than if they had made holes for themselves out of sight and sound of the great traffic of the streets.
Riding homewards on your omnibus in summer time, you may see some of them turning 'catherine-wheels' in the dusty roadway, and running till they are mere quivering heaps of tatters, on the chance of a penny. Going up the silent highway of the Thames on board a steamer, you have noted them wallowing in the slime and ooze of the river-shore, whence they shout to you to 'Chuck a copper!' that they may show their contempt for evil savours by diving for it in the mud. Plashing along the streets on a wet night, you have heard their little bare blue feet patter on the stones for the chance of risking sudden death by opening the door of a cab.
They start up suddenly at street-corners or from the pale glare of the lamps outside a tavern-door, or [-278-] emerge from the black patch of the cellar-flap that lies beneath the flaring gas-light of a gaudy gin-shop. They fight for orange-peel, or cigar-ends, or the nameless refuse that may be found about the dim precincts of metropolitan theatres. They startle you with their plaintive wheedling whine as you pause at the entrance of doubtful and deserted streets. They seem to possess some occult property of keeping in the dim haze - the dark circumference that lies beyond all the brighter spots in all the larger thoroughfares - and come upon you suddenly from under the wheels of vehicles, with outstretched hands, asking you to buy cigar-lights, or to 'Remember the sweeper!' whose useless broom-stump is his only stock-in-trade, where a crossing is impossible. Some of these poor miserable little rogues affect a farcical manner, and grin under the brim of a man's hat or assume a long-tailed coat, acquired no one knows how, but worn as an incentive to cynical passengers who may give for fun what they would never concede to famine. Others have caught the professional whine of the blear-eyed man or woman who waits round the corner to seize their gains and replenishes the boxes of vesuvians intrusted to the boys, or the bunches of faint sickly-smelling flowers that make an excuse for the girls to beg more boldly.
In this phase of their wretched lives we all know them, and think of them sometimes with an evanescent pity, pretending to hope that 'it is all right,' but knowing full well that it is all wrong. It is only when they have nothing to sell, and dare not beg, and are driven [-279-] like vermin to their holes, where they lie shuddering in the wet and cold, dreaming those wild dreams of food that visit the starving, that we do not see them. Only a few of us know that awful side of their existence: the side that they themselves, with the shy instinct of the hunted and the hungry, hide from the eyes of society, and sometimes die without revealing.
Late wayfarers crossing some of the bridges at night may come upon them suddenly in the act of looking over the parapet into the stream below, and noting the ragged patches of moonlight reflected in it from the rift in the driving bank of cloud. Something moves in the dim recess of the stone-work in which we stand, and, peering down, we see a moving form, the gleam of a white limb amidst a mass of tatters. It is difficult to distinguish whether it is a human form or not, and yet there are limbs too - many limbs. There are stealthy eyes looking out to see what new enemy has come to this refuge for the destitute. Two or three pairs of eyes, scowling, furtive, almost threatening, and with the dogged, hunted glare in them that is so sad to see. The owners of these eyes are huddled together to form a mutual shelter against the chill night air; and you had better pass on your way.
What can you do except call the attention of the law to their illegal repose, and have them driven away to seek another resting-place on the damp sodden earth beneath the dark arches? Very few visitors will disturb them in these last-named retreats, whether the arches belong to the bridge or to the railway, for they [-280-] lie in nobody's road after dark. The dark arches of the bridge, about which we heard so much a long time ago, have diminished in number; and though the dim light of a candle-end and the smouldering fire of straw and shavings sometimes flicker in those dreary caverns, and for a few moments reveal a glimpse of this awful mystery of London, these haunts are less sought after now that time railways have provided better accommodation. The coal-wagons are a temptation; but the visits of the police are more frequent; the works on the river-bank have opened up access from the main thoroughfares, and great gloomy spaces leading down to the edge of the shore are closed, or are taken for warehouses, to ease the great plethora of commerce.
It is to the arches of the railway-those great bare blank walls of brick which are sometimes supposed to have made a clean sweep in a whole neighbourhood of evil repute, but which in reality build the traffic of foot-passengers out of the slums which crouch behind them - that the homeless children go for shelter, happy if an empty van, a cart, a wagon, a pile of timber is lying there to keep them from the bitter wind. Is there a carpenter's shop, a smith's shop, a nook of brickwork, or any sort of projection that can hide a dog: there you may find a child for whom the law has done no more than to teach him that practically everybody is supposed to be guilty till he can prove himself innocent; and for whom the Gospel has done nothing, for he has heard no part of it. The glad tidings of greatest joy to him would be to learn [-281-] where to find food and fire and a bed this piercing night, without being 'jawed at' and 'knocked about,' and treated like - well, no! there is a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which would protect the dog.
As it is, the best chance of a night's lodging is that afforded by the threepenny lodging-house. There, at least, there is a fire in the wide skillet that warms the dingy cellar.
Are they therefore well-conducted and tidy resorts? Well, those that are really lodging-houses are better than most people would think. There is, as I have said, a fire in the dingy cellar, where a few silent and depressed lodgers sit at the rough deal table to eat such scraps of food as they have taken in with them. There is very little hilarity here; and the few wretched lads who contrive to spend threepence for the unwonted luxury of a bed generally go up to the sleeping-rooms at once, to have their 'threepenn'orth out.' Happy those who go to sleep at once, so that, though there may be thieves amongst the lodgers, though they may themselves have pilfered the threepence that enables them to rest their aching bones, there is less opportunity for evil communications. The broken-down, the weary, the miserable, the tramp who has come to seek 'a job of work,' the wretched sot who, having nothing left for gin, and being a painter and grainer, mixes the methylated spirit used in his trade with water, and takes it instead of a dram; the 'flash man' out of luck, the respectably-connected youth who has 'gone wrong,' [-282-] and so reached this stage on his downward road - all are to be seen at the common lodging-house more frequently than the homeless ones of London. Sometimes these poor forlorn boys and girls get some chance lodging in a room-corner where two or three families divide the few feet of space. Nothing is more common than to hear that they 'slept last night at a room where a woman gave them shelter,' somebody having died or gone away, and left a vacant corner on a bed of straw or an old sack. Even this they think is better than the markets, where they sometimes sleep on damp potato-sacks, or crawl by lucky chance under the tarpaulin of a country wagon, or lie upon the vegetable refuse, amidst which they grub for scraps of carrot, turnip, or cabbage-stumps, and devour them greedily to stifle the gnawings of their tormenting hunger.
And yet, unless the bitter weather freezes the life out of them, these wretched children do not venture to the casual wards. There are ten chances to one against half of them being admitted there; nay, I will go farther, and say that there is not room for half of them in all the casual wards in London. They would be driven sway, probably with curses, perhaps with blows, unless they were big enough and old enough to insist upon their right to sleep in that draughty and yet stifling shed, where the faint heat of the coke-fire paralyses the very flies upon the whitewashed wall, and where every sense is offended by the blasphemous crew, who hold their own when once they have passed the ordeal necessary for admission.
[-283-] Yes, the most terrible sight in London is that of our homeless children.
Regarding it from the coldest utilitarian point of view as only a dreadful waste of material, it is surely time that something should be done to save these perishing bodies and degraded intelligences. Those who know something of these neglected little ones are constantly struck with the remarkable variety of their characteristics, and with the keen ability which many of them display; struck, perhaps, still more by the remarkable grace and symmetry to be seen in some of them when care and food and rest have been successful in redeeming their poor emaciated bodies from the disease and torture of the streets; struck, it may be, most of all, by the beauty, the refinement of some of those faces, which seem to change their lineaments when the hard mask of defiance and doubt and suffering falls off under happier influences.
These discoveries, however, are made by few; and, alas, the objects of them are themselves few when it is remembered how large is the number of the destitute boys and girls for whom the law makes no provision except that they shall be perpetually moved on and watched and hunted until they commence a definite career of crime, when it at once takes cognisance of them, gives them a kind of status by its kindly recognition, and consigns them to a home which is supplied with such physical comforts that it is a wonder more of them do not matriculate earlier for the premium offered by the prison dietary and the well-warmed cell.
[-284-] This is nearly all that is done for them, and this only when they have reached a certain grade of thief- hood; for the petty pilferers who are consigned to the shorter terms of imprisonment are but sparely fed on bread and gruel, and among them are mere children; little fellows who, had they been born members of a decent family, would have escaped with a whipping and a bread-and-water dinner as an adequate punishment. 'The prisoner whose head scarcely reached to the top of the dock' is less fortunate. Little as he has been taught, he knows one thing well,-that he must eat to live, and that he ought to work in order to eat. Work? who would employ him? Where is his father? He doesn't know; perhaps he died when people said he had gone way. And his mother? He hasn't seen her for ever so long. She ran away and left him; and when he went one night to the room where she used to live, the neighbours told him she'd gone into the country. She may be dead too, for aught he knows; and as he stands there, his little, wistful, doubtful, cunning face raised towards the bench, those who can see beneath the mask of dirt may perceive something in the child-some grace of feature, or height of brow, or delicacy of form - which leads them to ask with renewed emphasis, Who is his father?' Has this child ever met his mother, unknown to himself and her, as she was flaunting her wretched finery in those West-end streets where he has crouched and seen her pass in at the door of the gin-palace, to find her own comfort in the London substitute for fire and food?
[-285-] We hear references made now and then to the industrial schools founded by the Government; but they do not provide for a tenth part of the number of the homeless children who are to be found in London streets - children who are guilty of no crime except that for which the law has no sympathy whatever - destitution. It is true that in the case of a child under fourteen years of age coming before a magistrate, his worship may give a warrant for his admission to one of these schools if there is any vacancy; and under this arrangement the managers of the schools receive a fee of five shillings for every boy received; but what chance does this leave for the admission of a sick and starving lad who voluntarily seeks a refuge?
As no boys of more than fourteen years of age are received in the Government industrial schools, and as no other resources are provided for lads who come to London from all parts of the country, and find themselves starving and naked in the stony-hearted streets, where they have neither friend nor home, it becomes a very terrible question what is to be done with them. What is done with many of them depends upon their dishonesty. When once one of these boys steals something, and is taken before a magistrate, he becomes a candidate for a reformatory. His best chance of a refuge, where he will be fed and clothed and taught something of a trade, lies in the probability of his having committed a crime.
This being the actual state of things in the 'foremost city of the world, the centre of civilisation,' it is [-286-] little wonder that earnest and benevolent men, who knew something of this most terrible sight, having arrived at really practical and certain information from their connection with Ragged Schools, and a careful inquiry into the condition of some of the children attending them, should have set about devising a remedy. It is only during the past four years, however, that the largest institution founded for this purpose in London has been able to effect a considerable work; but it has begun now to reap the benefits of its hopeful struggle on behalf of these children, who may be said to belong to us all; and already four branch institutions have sprung from the parent society, while the secretary and the committee are asking for aid to establish a fifth.
We have all heard of this noble work - all of us who read the newspapers, at least.
Every destitute child in London has a claim on it; and that claim is allowed while there is a shilling to buy a meal and a little bed to receive the applicant. No form has to be gone through: the poor little friendless outcast goes, or is taken, to the house in Great Queen-street, Bloomsbury, or, if it is a girl, to Broad-street, close by, and there finds food and warmth and rest; and after a few inquiries finds also a score of friends; looks shyly and wonderingly-perhaps still doubtingly-at the smiles on faces where only frowns might have been expected; begins to grow stronger; gets an appetite for work, a larger appetite still for reading and writing and the multiplication table, and the largest appetite of all for school- feasts and occasional treats; and so becomes a regular [-287-] inmate of the Refuge for Homeless and Destitute Children.
Of this healthy appetite for work, of which I have just spoken, we shall have the best proof by visiting the place itself- the Boys' Refuge, that is to say, at the parent institution in Great Queen-street. It looks like a place intended to answer its purpose. There is immediate aid on the very face of it; and the door opens at once upon a scene of activity which, without adopting any model principle, and in the absence of any system of election, has made this large family of more than a hundred boys a community contributing to its own support, and learning daily something of the true dignity and worth of labour.
Not a very fine house - not a house at all in the ordinary sense of the term, for the place was formerly a coach-builder's factory, and the various apartments have been readily adapted to the necessity for dormitories, a great dining-room, kitchens, and workshops for shoemaking, carpentering, firewood-cutting, and tailoring. A rough-and-ready-looking place enough, with very little spent for decoration, and only such necessary repairs and alterations as suffice to make it comfortable and available for its present purpose. Rough, but very ready, as you will admit when you hear that by far the larger number of the inmates came of their own accord, or with thankful acceptance of the offer to take them there; that pictures of the workshops and the work done here are sent to casual wards, and other places where destitute and abandoned boys who cannot read may see them, and be [-288-] led to inquire how they may join the company of young shoemakers, tailors, and carpenters. Many of the inmates go out to situations, coming to the refuge to sleep at night, and even having their meals here until they can earn money enough to keep them comfortably. Others emigrate to the colonies, where there are well- known correspondents, who write to Mr. William Williams, the secretary of the institution, asking him to send out Refuge carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, domestic and farm servants, or nursemaids to situations which will be kept vacant till their arrival.
It will be seen from this information that the institution is not only wide in its efforts to embrace the most needy, but deeply rooted in its provision for the future of those who have once come to claim its care. The letters received from those who owe to it temporal prosperity, as well as moral and religious teaching, are in themselves affecting testimonials both to the necessity for the work, and to the wise discretion with which it has been carried on.
Shoemaking is the most prominent business evidently, the lower front window being, in fact, devoted to the display of boots and shoes, mostly of a very substantial character, as suited to the customers to whom it is intended they shall most readily appeal. The moment you open the door you are in the midst of shoemaking, and the whole place smells of leather, wax-ends, and new hemp; while the thirty or forty boys seated on the little low stools might be so many mechanical toys with arms moved by machinery, except that they look a great [-289-] deal too serious, and several degrees too sensible, for toys. Serious, that is, with the proud consciousness of earning something, and of making something that people will come and buy at a fair market price, knowing that they have their value for their money. It is the same with the tailors, who, though they are employed principally in making and mending their own clothes and those of their fellow-inmates, are doing no less useful work.
Indeed, among the admirable arrangements of this institution is included that uncommon one of beginning at the beginning; and when once the boys learn how to turn out tidy boots and shoes, or to use needle and thread skilfully, they make their own clothes, and supply both themselves and the girls with good strong neat shoes; while the girls, in their refuge at Broad- street, make shirts for the boys, as well as their own clothes; and the girls at the country refuge at Ealing do most of the laundry work for both institutions.
Then the carpenters are handy fellows enough, their occupation being principally confined to plain boxes, cases, and other easy jobs for customers, together with such repairs and fittings as may be wanted indoors. The woodcutters do a capital stroke of business, as may be imagined when we learn that they cut up and sold about 30,000 bundles of firewood during a year. In the same period above 2,000 pairs of boots and shoes were made, and a still greater number repaired; about 1,400 new articles of clothing were made, and more than twice as many repaired, beside mattresses made and repaired, and other work done for customers. A good [-290-] round sum of money has been taken for errand-boys' work, and also for haymaking; a pretty fair proof that the appetite already twice spoken of is a healthy and a well-directed one.
There is little to arrest attention here in the place itself: it is simply a succession of workshops; and the instructors are busy directing the various operations of their separate trades; but there are indications which give rise to much pleasant reflection. One of them is the evident admission of play as well as work; for even while we are looking about us the sounds of hammer and saw and plane cease, there is a hum and a murmur, and when we go down again (for remember it is Saturday) the boys have doffed their aprons, washed their hands, and are busily engaged at a table cutting old, copy-books into shapes which are presently to be cunningly attached to coloured paper, rosettes, and other ornaments, to adorn the great dining-room for the 'annual dinner.' Not the annual dinner of patrons and. subscribers, but of the inmates themselves - of the young mechanics, who are in the enviable position of hosts, the girls from the neighbouring refuge in Broad-street, the rosy-checked shy country cousins from the home in the old-fashioned village of Ealing, the agricultural branch of the family at Woking, and those fresh, broad-shouldered, breezy fellows who will make a voyage from Greenhithe, and have only just come ashore in time to be present at the family party. I shall have more to say of these naval heroes presently; but first stay for a moment to look at this frame full of photographs-portraits of the once friend-[-291-]less and homeless, who, having found friends and a home, and a new life opening to them, have sometimes developed, under the happy influences of genial charity and practical religion, from something very little higher than the rodent animal into something not much lower than the very angels themselves.
We will peep into the dormitories - clean, airy, and with comfortable beds; the infirmary, with only one patient laid up with chilblains (how tenderly the worthy secretary looks at his poor little foot, and cheers him up with a laughing remonstrance!); the schoolroom, where a few of the youngest inmates are busy with 'simple addition,' and 'pot-hooks and hangers;' and then we will turn into the street and round the corner, where, in the midst of what was but lately one of the lowest neighbourhoods of London-and has not yet recovered from its reputation-a large modern building has been converted into a Refuge for Homeless and Destitute Girls who have not been convicted of crime. A very neat place too, and with such wide airy staircases, such large and lofty dormitories, that as you enter there is a brisk breeze blowing all through the house whenever more than one door at a time is opened; a breeze surprisingly fresh too, when we consider that it comes through the ample French windows direct from courts. and alleys in mid-London.
The schoolroom, where a number of neat-looking girls are sewing, is, if possible, still more attractively fresh; and the maps, the books, the very desks and forms, are as clean as good honest use will permit, or [-292-] as equally good and honest scrubbing can make them. The kitchens, too, are just now in full swing, and as we enter them a meaty and mealy gale salutes us, not altogether without a faint flavour of soapsuds, however - a peculiarity immediately accounted for by the glimpse of a washhouse-door left ajar, beyond which four energetic young women, of from ten to twelve years of age, are practising the art and mystery of laundry work, not with patent appliances and steam apparatus, but in genuine old-fashioned tubs suited to their size. I fancy, from the briskness of their elbows, that they are engaged in the operation known as 'rubbing down,' but all is in a cloud of vapour and a fleecy scud of lather.
There is just time to catch the train to Ealing, where we may be in time to see another company of young women, averaging in age from six to fourteen or fifteen, at dinner.
Such a quiet wide-fronted villa residence, with such a passage, such a parlour, such bedrooms, such a laundry, such a garden, and such a matron (a single lady at present, though we adopt the endearing title used by her daughters here and call her 'matron') as it does one's heart good to see. Talk of boards that you might eat from! why, you not only might, but it would be a positive pleasure to eat from the boards at Ealing, they are so much cleaner than most tables that one meets with in a casual way. The girls hereof whom there are about forty - are trained for domestic servants; and I am not surprised to learn that they are mostly bespoken before their term of training is com-[-293-]pleted. The parlour, a handsome room looking on to the garden at the back, is furnished as it might be in any gentleman's, house, and the sleeping - rooms are fitted with spotless bedding, the matron's and schoolmistresses' apartments representing the 'best bedrooms.'
The laundry work is a great feature, and the laundry itself, with drying-room and ironing-room, is admirably contrived by the alteration of a very large coach-house, stable, harness-room, and coachman's room and hayloft, which formed part of the premises. The great glory of the place, however, is a genuine old-fashioned garden, with such vegetables and such fruit trees and bushes, that the brisk lady who is matron and adviser and friend has grand festivals of jam-making, in which caldrons full of materials for rolly-poley puddings and treat-day tarts are prepared for the winter. In fact, between preserving, and pickling, and preparing herbs, and salting-down pork and bacon, and being in general everywhere and doing everything at once, but without confusion, and with a cheerful vivacity which is surely a blessing to these poor children, who are often taken to the Refuge in a very depressed condition, the matron is busier than any bee in that Home-and-Colonial-School hive where she was formerly a pupil.
Once a-year the girls who have left the refuge - no longer homeless and destitute, but in good situations - come to tea there with Mr. Williams, and perhaps one or two members of the committee. Then they may seek advice, counsel, or encouragement, the latter symbolised by a silver medal, which is presented to each of those [-294-] who can bring a year's good character. It may be fearlessly asserted that at no public or private school in the kingdom could there be more encouraging instances of continued well-doing than is afforded by the inmates of these refuges. A blessed harvest to reap indeed a harvest from the outcast of the Great City - from the refuse of the very streets: a golden guerdon for the nation, picked up from the gutter. But why are there ever empty beds? why any unoccupied spaces in the rooms at all three places? Alas, the necessities are still so much greater than the means - the space so much larger than the subscription-lists. Fifteen pounds will keep a boy or girl for a year; a shilling's worth of postage-stamps sent by a hundred thousand helpers would add to our country scores of decent men and women, instead of storing up a legacy of ignorance, crime, and hate in the time to come. It is a very noble work to be done at a very small cost. It might be even worth the sacrifice of a few cigars a-year, or the omission of one dinner-party in the London season. For there is a thing on which the committee of these refuges have set their hearts. Weak children, sick children, children poisoned with the foul odours of stifled courts and reeking sewers, and wanting only the fresh country air and the green fields to set them up into promising lads, are among the number who implore your help. At the same time there is a demand in some of our colonies (from which letters come to Broad-street, Bloomsbury) for lads and lasses who know something of farm-work and the business of ordinary country life and agriculture.
[-295-] To meet both these wants, a country farm is wanted. The land has been purchased, the buildings erected, and one hundred boys are already hard at work in farmhouse operations at their juvenile homestead at Bisley, near Woking. Their numbers should be increased, and there should be a country home for girls too. The work may easily be done if only the funds can be obtained.
It might be thought that the nation would respond by a voluntary impulse to such an appeal. It would only be a fitting return for what the promoters of these refuges have done for it; witness the training- ship Chichester. You have seen that floating ark in which so many young souls have been preserved from the awful deluge of vice and despair? No! Then let us run down to Greenhithe, and not a hundred paces from the railway-station we shall see her great black hull lying off in the stream. There is no mistaking it, for in white letters painted on her side we read 'Chichester Training Ship for Homeless Boys.' See, we slacken this rope on the signal-mast beside the little pier, and the ascending ball, seen from the deck, will bring a boat to us presently, rowed by a dozen sturdy young able-bodied mariners, clad in a jolly nautical fashion in blue-serge shirts, blue trousers, a great open collar of the true man-o'-war pattern, and a cap with orthodox ribbon streamers, and the name of the ship upon the band.
While they come, you shall hear what set the Chichester afloat, chartered her, and sent her here well found and victualled, manned with as bright a crew [-296-] as ever stepped a deck or lay snug in their two hundred hammocks, dreaming of the murmur of the sea, or waking now and then with a vague but painful memory of that past awful life from which they have been snatched by a press-gang of which it would well become us all to be active members. This was the way of it. It began with a supper, to which the homeless boys of London were invited. Invitations were sent to the casual wards, to the common lodging-houses, to all sorts of places where boys were known to lurk, starving and destitute. Just fancy that large room in Great Queen-street; the long tables filled with these poor outcasts of the town, in their rags, and with wild suspicious eyes gleaming from under their tangled hair. Could they believe it? - Well, seeing was believing, and there it was. Roast beef, hot plum-pudding, coffee, and a welcome from Earl Shaftesbury, who went about among them. The regular inmates of the refuge were interspersed among them too; so that there was a leaven of order; and even the grace before and after meat was sung in a way that was as affecting as the highest triumph of the musical art could have made it.
The object of that meeting was to get an answer to one question- ' Now, boys, if a ship were moored in the Thames, how many of you would be willing to go on board?' Seldom has such a collection of little dirty hands been seen as that which responded to this invitation. To go on board ship! the very thing that they had been wishing for all their lives, one might have thought; and yet there were boys there who had never [-297-] seen a large ship, and didn't know what was the name of the river on the muddy shore of which they had paddled and ducked for coppers.
There only remained to memorialise the Government for a vessel (we all know that many of them are likely to lie rotting uselessly about the harbours of the world); and, in answer to the appeal, the hull of a fifty-gun frigate was handed over to the committee. Only the hull, with the concession that masts, sails, and other stores might be drawn from the dockyard for the completion of the ship to the value of a little more than 2,000l., for which only nine months' credit was to be given.
Let this be remembered when we read the debates in the House on the Navy Estimates, and see what the nation has to pay for useless experiments; let this be remembered, too, in connection with the fact, that our navy, and especially our mercantile marine, has long been so deteriorating that merchants look to the future with dismay: and we shall then be better able to estimate what is the value of the work to be done on board the Chichester, where two hundred boys may be thoroughly trained for sea-service.
There is only one such noble ship upon the river, for the funds are not sufficient to do more than fill all those neat hammocks slung in the long light airy lower deck.
But here comes the boat, brought alongside in a masterly manner; and here is the stroke-oar waiting to lend you a hand. Do you see that medal on his blue shirt? It comes from the Humane Society, and he gained it for jumping overboard after one of his messmates who [-298-] in simple carelessness fell overboard from the deck. A fresh-coloured, smart, active fellow he is too, and his boat's crew is as trim and taut as the craft itself.
Here we are alongside without so much as rubbing a speck off the paint, and now up the landsmen's gangway to the deck, where the captain is waiting to receive us.
We may note - God knows how gladly - that when we go amongst the boys there is no half-doubting look, no sudden hush of the talk, which, by the bye, goes on in a serene, reflective tone, as though the lads had already caught the seaman's habit of rumination. That which strikes the visitor to the Chichester at first sight is the absence of rigorous or repressive discipline - the encouraging method adopted - the frequent change of occupation, and yet the orderliness that seems to be maintained by the boys themselves. The whole crew is drawn up in file: two long rows along the main deck; all but the boat's crew, who are just now busy with their dinners, which have been kept hot for them while they came ashore for us. Would you like to know what the dinner is? Sea-pie, or I'm not to be trusted as a judge of savoury smells. Yes, sea-pie: and not only that, but a separate sea-pig for each hardy mariner. Here it is, smoking hot on his plate at this moment. Crust, layer of mutton, layer of onion, mealy potato, rich gravy-all blending in one delicious steam. Soup and meat, or meat with a good allowance of fresh vegetables, and a hunch of such delicious bread that it beats any cake within ordinary expe-[-299-]rience - with occasional fruit-puddings and pies - is the daily dinner served at twelve o'clock. If you want to give a professional gentleman a moment's pleasure, we can introduce you to our ship's baker. A sturdy lad, with a canny expression in his honest face, as though he knew exactly where the difference lay between his batch of brown and his batch of white, but defied you to find it out, or to say which you liked best after you had eaten of both.
The bakery-right down in the hold-is a model of convenience; and the superfluous heat from the ovens, carried up a hollow iron tube, serves to warm the great lower deck and its long rows of sleepers during the cold winter nights.
By the time we are on the main deck again the various classes have been drafted off. Here a dozen studious-looking fellows are learning of the bo'sun the art of making splices and knots, and the way of rigging running gear. The bo'sun gives his lesson, chaffs one or two of the slow ones a little, and then leaves them to a monitor, who sets them to work in a thoroughly professional manner. Farther on, two thoughtful lads, one with a bright open Irish face, are studying the ropes and spars of a pretty model barque, and are setting up new rigging here and there upon its masts. Divided by a wooden partition is the schoolroom, where lads of various ages are writing in copy-books, absorbed in the mysteries of compound subtraction, or are reading some entertaining book to the master, who looks as bright as everybody else does on board. Round the corner, on [-300-] the other side, is a little cabin, where the matron is teaching some of the boys plain sewing, with a brisk blending of good-humoured reproof and motherly encouragement pleasant to see, especially when one clean- faced but rather clumsy-looking little fellow catches our eye, as he meekly takes his reproof, and breaks out immediately into a merry grin and such an expression of comic forbearance that we had better go away to laugh.
Shoemaking is going on close by, under the direction of an instructor, who comes on board for a few hours twice a-week; and in another select spot, on this great main deck, is the most amusing sight of all. Of course, among so many boys there must always be some two or three who want their hair cut; and this department of industry is entirely trusted to amateurs, who operate upon each other with a gravity than which nothing can be more ludicrous. Seated on a chair set upon a square piece of sailcloth, and regularly invested with the traditional drapery of the tonsorial victim, anybody would look grotesque enough; and the boys, who regard this as quite a serious performance, in that respect differ very little from other people. It is the operator who - in his deep anxiety, his efforts to achieve a marked success, which lead him to call all sorts of bodily contortions to his aid, his frequent references to the taste and judgment of the patient-is so wonderfully entertaining; almost as entertaining as the extraordinary proceedings of the elementary swimming-class - a class, by the bye, which sometimes includes the whole schoo.
[-301-] We sincerely hope that the results of this tuition may be speedily successful, for three or four lads have fallen overboard, by sheer carelessness, since the ship has been anchored at Greenhithe; and though two of them were drowned, no blame could attach to any one on board. In one case their former commander (Captain Alston) immediately leaped into the water; but the great strength and rapidity of the tide swept the boy away before he could reach him, though he was an expert swimmer, and made every effort until he was himself almost exhausted; in the other instance, the lad already mentioned as the stroke-oar of the cutter was equally prompt, and, we regret to say, equally unsuccessful. There is no danger in the method of instruction, however, except that of a brisk knock on the head or the shins; for, perhaps without being aware of it, the boys of the Chichester are first taught on the plan recommended by Dr. Franklin in his celebrated book, the Whole Art of Swimming, which commences by advising the student 'never on any account to go near the water until he knows how to swim.' To carry out this admirable principle, the Chichester boys are instructed to draw largely on their imaginations; to regard the smooth, clean, solid deck of the vessel as the element with which they have to contend, and then, lying down upon it at full length on their faces, to go through the proper motions at the word of command.
It may be imagined that this is rare fun when all the boys are practising in more or less concert; and perhaps it may form a part of the regular institution of thoroughly jovial play, which is as much a part of the [-302-] Chichester discipline as work or study. But they have a real swimming-bath also, a kind of sunk barge moored alongside, and gradually deepening from about three feet to five feet of water; a barge built of open timbers, so that the water continually flows through it, while the strong current is completely checked within its protecting sides.
They are a jovial crew there in that great black hull, out in the lights and shadows of the swift river. 'Up about half-past five in summer, and half-past six in winter; washes decks and then stow hammocks; and then we has a wash ourselves; and then breakfast-cocoa, with milk and sugar, and half a pound o' bread; then prayers; after we've sung a morning hymn, some goes aloft, and some to deck-work for to learn seamanship, and some to school, shoemaking, tailoring, or what not; and sometimes a lot of us go ashore with the boat, and bring things off; and then dinner at twelve, such as you see, and school again; and so on till tea-time-tea and bread; and then we have singing sometimes - O yes, and we can sing songs too, if we like, cos we've got a reg'lar Chichester song-book, you see; and there's fifes and drums, and draughts, and games on the lower deck, and sometimes a meeting; and sometimes we goes skylarking about just as we like, and a-bed about eight or half-past.'
Such is the brief résumé of an A.B. aged about thirteen, who forms one of a select party looking at the cutting up of skins for 'uppers;' and it doubtless represents roughly an ordinary working day. Captains of merchant ships are already on the look-out for boys from the Chichester, and with good reason. They know [-303-] more than half the lubberly long-shore men who skulk about our seaports to book as ordinary seamen; and a Chichester boy with a year's training will soon command fair wages in a well-found ship. There is an esprit de corps among them too; and letters are constantly received from lads who have gone to sea declaring their intention to 'keep up the credit of the Chichester.'
The progress of every boy is tabled on a great board hung up on the main deck, and divided into a number of small compartments, so that each one has against his name a line of little pigeon-holes, representing the classes through which he must pass. As he passes that class, its pigeon-hole is filled up with a piece of wood till he reaches the last, which is filled with a gold plug, and he is thus proclaimed 'ready for sea.'
Only a year or so after the vessel was afloat, all the crew went with the captain to the Crystal Palace to join the great gathering of the choirs; and the captain lost all hands, and grew a little anxious when the time came for returning, lest there shouldˇ be some missing from the appointed trysting-place. No, not one. They were there to a boy; and so they were at the London-bridge terminus. The great roar and glare of the mighty city had no temptations for them; they had penetrated to its hard hollow heart long ago, when they were homeless and destitute. It is a strange thought that these lads have found a home and friends by going, in a manner, to sea; and that when they stand upon the deck of that great ship, and follow the river's track Londonward, they go from instead of going to the only home they ever knew, except the parent re-[-304-]fuge in Great Queen-street, where the secretary knows every boy among them, his name, his face, his history, and can show you some wonderful pictures - photographs of these boys as they are now, broad-chested, strong- limbed, open-eyed, and with the light of honest effort in their young faces; and as they were when, pinched with famine, crouching, shambling, and with downcast but defiant cunning looks, they had just been taken from the streets. To' see these photographs is in itself a strange and terrible lesson: worth much love - worth also some money. If the reader should have both to spare, Mr. Williams is to be found at the parent institution itself, 8 Great Queen-street, Lincoln's-inn-fields.
There is no pleasanter holiday sight round London than her Majesty's ship Chichester; for it is her Majesty's-a gift to the Queen and the nation from those who have had the rescue of Nobody's Children at heart, in order that they might become Everybody's Children; who have regarded those little, bright, keen, intelligent creatures as something akin to ourselves - meant for noble purposes, immortal lives ; not as so much waste and refuse in the great stock-taking represented by registrars' returns, but as a valuable heritage of which we must surely give some account other than that which we may derive from the statistics of criminal prisons and the records of pauperdom.
Paupers! thieves! The very words seem out of place on board the Chichester, where, on the great, clean, airy maindecks, the blithe crew, in their blue uniforms, are at school, or in the various classes. It is good to [-305-] remember, as I have said already, that captains in the merchant service are anxious to secure 'Chichester boys,' as having a better knowledge of their duties than half the grown-up loafers who ship before the mast; good to find that there are volunteers who are received into the Queen's service, and will help to sustain the credit of the national marine; and that as we leave the vessel's side, and hear the lads who man the yards sing, 'We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again,' we may thank God that a greater victory has been achieved there than any conquest of a foreign foe, and may hope that we shall soon as a nation take up arms against our selfishness and slothful conceit, and make the homeless and the destitute our own children-the children of the State.
But I should like to refer briefly to the very beginning of this Labour of Love; a beginning small enough when we consider to what it has led, although, had its real and national significance been duly estimated, it should have grown to far larger dimensions.
In 1843, in a small room over a cow-shed in what was then known as the Rookery of St. Giles's, a few ragged children were assembled for instruction twice a- week, and on Sunday afternoons. It was discovered that comparatively little good could be effected in the rescue of these neglected boys and girls unless they could be redeemed from the degraded conditions that surrounded their daily lives, and to this end a few benevolent men and women subscribed for the support of a dozen or so of the most destitute among them.
[-306-] Funds increased, and in the true spirit of patient faith the projectors of the scheme increased their mode of operation in accordance with the means at their disposal. No plan was entered into for the erection of a costly building and modern scientific appliances. The need was too urgent to allow money to be expended in these things while those for whom it was contributed were perishing. An old-fashioned tenement, once a coach-builder's workshop, and a good deal in want of repair, was to be let in Great Queen-street; and there, after such necessary carpentering and lime-whiting as sufficed to put the place in decent order, a refuge was opened for homeless boys. No wretched little applicant was turned from its doors; and while there was a six- pence to spare, the poor little wanderers were gathered into this hospitable fold, fed, clothed, taught, encouraged, and-hardest task of all-made to believe that somebody in the world actually cared for them.
There seems never to have been a time when an urgent case was altogether neglected; and in 1867 above three hundred and sixty boys were receiving the benefits of the institution. Those who were too young to learn even the elements of a trade, and some who were suffering from the diseases consequent on want and exposure, were nourished and put to easy lessons in the school occupying one of the queer old upper rooms; the stronger and more intelligent were set to work at tailoring, shoemaking, carpentering, and fire-wood chopping, with intervals of school and play-hours, singing, and an occasional treat, especially at the Christmas season, [-307-] when other neglected children in the neighbourhood were invited to participate in the hot dinners, for which special subscriptions were invited.
Now, however, there are above 500 children supported by this glorious institution. More than 100 in Great Queen - street; 100 young farmers at Bisley, ploughing, sowing, reaping, tending cattle, pigs, and poultry, gardening, and at the same time growing strong in body and well informed in mind; 200 weather-beaten tars on board the big ship; and about 50 girls at each of the refuges - that in Broad-street, and the branch home at Ealing. Ah, it lies heavily on the hearts of the secretary and the committee that so little should be done for homeless and destitute girls. If any words that I could write would call prompt and earnest attention to this great need, I should greatly rejoice. It is so strange that subscriptions, and especially the subscriptions sent by ladies, should be so largely devoted to boys, by the express direction of the donors. Do we ever try to realise what must be the probable fate of scores of homeless, neglected, and destitute girls left to the contamination of the streets or the common lodging-house? Can any of us, looking in the fair faces of the bright-eyed innocent little creatures who sit at our hearths, already so beautiful in the I lovely bloom of first girlhood, think for one earnest serious minute of what they might be - must be, if they were snatched from us, even with the first advantage of their early lessons, and made the companions of evil men and women, or left, ownerless, to wander about the [-308-] foul byways of the Great City? Can we try, even feebly, to realise a part of what is the daily life of such deserted, homeless little ones, as we may see in neighbourhoods not an hour's walk from our own doors, and yet leave this part of a great work without a more efficient support than will maintain so few at Broad-street and Ealing, when situations are easily obtained for those who graduate at the latter place, and seek domestic service here or in the colonies?
Surely, to learn the fact should be enough. But it would be better still to go and see the girls themselves, and there to wonder how those fresh, ruddy, blooming, gentle-looking faces once were pale with want - many of them hard and bold with the defiant look that comes of that wretched life of the denizen of the streets ; how those still sickly, drooping, and yet almost decrepit-looking forms may find new life and strength, and be transformed by the marvellous might of loving care, and the medicine of food and cleanliness and purer air.
Do you desire to know what becomes of this great family of children gathered from the worst of London? It only needs a visit to the institution to see the letters that come from Canada, South Africa, Australia, asking for boys who have learnt the elements of agricultural work or useful trades, for girls who know the duties of domestic servants. Of 1,808 boys and 816 girls who had been admitted to the refuges up to the end of 1868, 336 boys and 54 girls emigrated to New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Queensland, Nova Scotia, [-309-] and South Africa. Forty-six boys entered her Majesty's navy, 5 went into the army, 80 into the merchant service, 326 were placed in various situations, 176 were restored to parents and friends, 18 removed to other institutions, 6 were apprenticed, 18 died, 1 went to college, and 400 were transferred to the Chichester. Of the girls who stayed in this country, 344 went to service, and have almost without exception done well; 229 were restored to their friends, 16 were removed to other institutions, 1 was married, and 15 died. It surely needs only a statement of such results to show what a waste of the raw material of humanity must be going on, and what may be done to stay it.
During the past year the average has increased in proportion to the increased numbers admitted, and especially in the ranks of the emigrants, of one special band of whom I shall say something presently.
There is something remarkably suggestive in the singing on board the Chichester and in the refuge at Great Queen-street. I do not mean only in the hearty way in which sea songs, rural songs, choruses, concerted pieces, sentimental ballads like the 'Farmer's Boy,' and others which will be found in the regular song- books, are rendered by those young voices, to which the gruff tones of the Chichester crew make a kind of bass groundwork. Every year, at Exeter Hall, they have a great musical demonstration, when the public is told what they are doing, and what progress has been made. To judge from the crowded audience on that occasion, it is one of the most popular concerts [-310-] of the season. But I now refer to the select harmonic efforts among the boys themselves. I hope I shall shock no proper sensibilities when I reveal that there is a nigger band on board that noble vessel - a regular affair, with lampblack or some convenient substitute, and even extemporised costumes; and that some of the lads who have a talent, natural or acquired, for dramatic or character representation, are permitted, under proper restrictions, to contribute occasionally to the amusement of the rest, as an element in that 'skylarking' which is a time-honoured institution in every well-found and reasonably ordered ship.
But if you would see the whole family at a glance - or so much of a glance as can penetrate through the mist of savoury meat - you should obtain an invitation to the Queen-street festival, which is held just after New-year's-day in the range of schoolrooms at Great Queen-street-rooms that were once used as workshops and full of upright wooden pillars, but with high roofs and large windows. Here is assembled a large company of little hungry guests from the ragged schools - guests not altogether unused to such dinners, for in the winter season 500 of such poor children in the neighbourhood have had a bounteous repast of hot meat and vegetables once a-week; but to-day is a special occasion. Going out for a moment at a door beside the space reserved for the chairman, the secretary, and the committee, you come upon a kind of square opening railed all round (like those that are to be seen in wholesale warehouses), whence you can look into the lower [-311-] room; but all around this space, lighted from the top by skylights, are the coppers and the ranges used for the preparation of ordinary dinners. In each copper a sound of bubbling is heard, and any experienced nose can distinguish that remarkable combined odour so well described by Mr. Dickens in the Christmas Carol indicative of plum-pudding. Some of the leading spirits of the refuge are already waiting to assist in the great ceremony of 'turning out' these admirably compounded delicacies; but still more anxious expectants are waiting for the arrival of the beef and potatoes, now at browning- point in a baker's oven close by.
Here, in a neat and orderly row, in the smaller room leading out of the main banqueting-hall, are the sixty lasses from Broad-street, smilingly conscious of that subtle odour; and before we have time to count them, in come the fifty from Ealing with their matron, all aglow with the march from the station and the run-up the once-familiar wooden stairs. A sound of fifes and drums, and-not soldiers, surely-not postmen - not even marines - but farmers in their holiday costume, a kind of uniform like that of a volunteer corps, the band distinguished by a broad ribbon sash. They are not only farmers, mind you, even when they have their working corduroy and fustian and smocks on, for some of them learn carpentering, shoemaking, and tailoring. They are being trained for colonial life, and know something beyond even the breeding of pigs and poultry, and the growing of fruit, vegetables, and such light crops as boys can manage. As to the regular in-[-312-]mates at this home - who may be said to be the hosts - we don't easily distinguish them; and besides, there is a sort of gruff humming, a sound of light swift footsteps below, a halt, the shrill pipe of a boatswain's whistle, a hoarse word of command, and, whew! with a whiff of sea-air we are boarded at pike's length by this bare-necked, blue-shirted, hard-handed crew, who come up as though they were on the shrouds, divide to the tables assigned to them, and, with a sort of bound and a hitch at the waist, drop lightly over the forms and into their places, every boy feeling that his knife is safe to its piece of lanyard. The contrast between these fellows and some of the paler, slighter, more sickly of the other inmates is so remarkable, that it strikes the most casual observer at once; but still more extraordinary is the contrast between almost every one of them and his former self, as shown in the photograph which was taken of him as he stood in his rags and wretchedness when he first entered that door at which they have just come in. Where have most of these 400 lads come from? Half of them from various casual wards and night shelters, whence they were sent, or themselves applied, for admission to the refuge; about a fifth on the application of people interested in redeeming them from the evil influence of the streets; a tenth part on their own forlorn appeal at the door itself, where they had crept in the hope of finding that what they had heard of this strange Labour of Love might be true; some taken out of the streets, where they wandered desolate; and others sent by magistrates, who could not con-[-313-]vict them for being destitute. None of them look destitute at this moment; indeed, some of the little ragged creatures who are the guests appear to be in worse plight than they, and more anxious for the arrival of the beef. Here it comes ! Six sturdy refugees, jacketless, and with their shirt-sleeves rolled up, are staggering upstairs with the great deep metal dishes, on which mounds of brown beef hiss, and unctuous potatoes sputter, gales more seasonable than those of Araby the blest; six muscular Christians feel the edges of their knives, and set to work carving great slices into handier dishes, which are carried away forthwith, and, accompanied by relays of potatoes, smoke at the end of each long table, where piles of plates are already set.
Suddenly, from the elevation of a Windsor chair on which he stands, the well-known and welcome face of the secretary emerges from the crush around the small space already noticed, and a note on a whistle hushes the glad clamour of that eager assembly. 'Rise! Let us sing grace.' Ah, and with a will! I can almost fancy the two policemen at the door softening their official faces at the sound - as I believe they do soften the official feeling in their hearts at that simultaneous thanksgiving. And the clatter that follows it! Beef, more beef, more beef still, and yet more beef! 'Leave a little room for the pudding!' is the genial entreaty; and it really seems a needful reminder, for-' Make way there!-Now then, my lads! here, bear a hand!' So says the bo'sn and his mate; and parsons; teachers, visitors, amateur helpers, as well as those two able seamen and officers of [-314-] the good ship Chichester, do bear a hand, and bring in the unctuous supplement to the repast. Not one pudding, but a dozen, perhaps a score; and boys and girls who had but just now looked a little faint, and resorted to the water-mugs, come out quite fresh again, as though all previous efforts had been merely preparatory. As to the mariners, they go systematically to work, and take their prog with a quiet determination and a confidence in themselves that speaks volumes. They eat reflectively, and with a calm judicious appreciation that yet gets through a deal of work in a remarkably short time; and in point of appetite beat their opponents - well, I meant to say 'hollow,' but that is scarcely the word on such an occasion.
Enough that there comes an end even to eating at last; that of beef, potatoes, and pudding there is still a good store for to-morrow's distribution among less fortunate little ones who are not here to-day; and that when the girls have come in and taken their places in that centre avenue between the rows of tables, we shall hear what I have just tried to tell you, and a great deal more. There is a good-humoured request on the part of the secretary that, as there is to, be some singing, the boys will not create confusion by looking at the girls when they ought to be minding their own notes; and as this is just what the boys are really doing, there is as hearty a burst of laughter as I ever expect to hear even in so large a party. This is followed by some of the well- known choruses, in which they have joined many a time before; and then there is a speech or two; and then [-315-] more singing; and after that the secretary makes a statement of affairs.
Now the farm at Bisley, with its house and cottages and. ninety acres of land, needs help. Fancy the boys here in this close neighbourhood, the poor sickly fellows pining for a breath of sweet country air, going down in detachments to spend a week there when the effort was commenced. Some of them had to sleep in a barn; but what of that? It was genial summer weather, and they drank in new health and almost new life during that holiday visit. But it is to the little boys, and those too weak to go to sea, and in danger of being found by former vicious companions if they remain in London, that this refuge is the great boon; to boys especially who may go to a home in the colonies; and for this purpose an Emigration Fund is earnestly asked for. It only requires the means to send the lads away, and there is work for them in Canada, in Australia, in Africa, in America. In July 1868, when thirteen lads were sent to Toronto, the government agent wrote:
'I could have found places for another hundred within the next ten days. The lads went principally to farmers, this being our busy season, the hay harvest having just commenced. You can never go wrong in sending any number of such boys, to arrive here in the early part of this month; and the stronger they are the better. I have little doubt they will all make useful men, as they will see nothing but industry with the farmers who have employed them. I was only at a trifling expense with them, they found employment so soon.
[-316-] 'If you could manage, in case you send out any more boys, to let them have a few shillings on their arrival here, it would insure them places at once, as they often find employers a short distance by rail from this city. The funds might be sent on to this office, and given them only in cases where necessary; however, you can please yourself in this respect.'
Encouraging accounts continue to be received from former inmates who are settled in various parts of the world. Many are now married and have families, and may be said to be doing well.
A former inmate, now settled in Africa, came home in the summer of 1868 to make arrangements for extending his business by opening up communications with manufacturers in England. He left his partner in charge of the business while he came to England, and returned to his wife and family, taking with him two boys from the refuge as apprentices.
This young man has been of invaluable service to the lads sent out to his settlement. He has behaved nobly towards them; in fact, too much cannot be said concerning the deep interest, both temporal and spiritual, he has taken in those boys the committee have sent over to the same place where he is located. He is an earnest Christian man, amid the committee believe he is influenced by the love of God in all he has done for the lads, because he himself knew what it was to be a friendless homeless lad in this Great City before being received into the refuge.
On this young man's visit to England he gave an [-317-] account of a number of the lads he received in the colony, and placed out in situations. Most of them were doing well.; some had become prosperous men; and all who had married had obtained good wives - a statement on which the informant laid peculiar stress, as illustrating the advantages of matrimony and the good sense of those who entered that holy state.
But while we are still in the flush of the banquet, let us hear something of another great dinner that was held on the 28th of November last year at the Astor House, New York - a dinner at which the guests were twenty boys from this very farm at Bisley; the hosts, Colonel Loomis and other gentlemen connected with the National Land Company of America. It is in reference to the 'remembrance of absent friends' that Mr. Williams calls attention to this reception banquet, and reads a letter from one of the young guests - and a very graphic letter too-full of kindly greeting, and containing the ingenuous assurance of the writer that he intended to work as a tailor till he could save enough money to begin farming, with the prospect of buying a cow and marrying a nice wife. In order to record what was the occasion of that dinner-party, however, I must ask for your interest in the printed account published at the time in New. York. We will step into the next room while the boys are singing, and the prizes and medals are being given to the deserving scholars, and read this printed paper that has just been placed in my hand:
'Last August an organisation was established by the Rev. Richard Wake, an English clergyman of much ex-[-318-]perience in emigration schemes, to facilitate the settlement of English agriculturists on the Pacific Railway lands of the United States. Mr. Wake entered into correspondence with the National Land Company of this country, resulting in the purchase of 33,000 acres of land on the line of the Kansas and Pacific Railroad in Kansas. A village has been founded thereon. A colony has already been formed, and it now consists of about 100 families of thrifty and intelligent English farmers. The noble Earl of Shaftesbury has adopted this colony as a medium for establishing an agricultural college, and a farm for training the boys which he may send over from his institutions in England. He has purchased two sections of 1,280 acres of the railway lands, within a district called Wakefield, Kansas. Last Monday morning the first detachment of twenty boys arrived in this city, per steamer Bellona, under the charge of an English farm superintendent. They brought good supplies of implements and materials for opening the school and farm in Kansas.
'While here, the boys and their superintendent are the guests of the National Land Company, and yesterday afternoon they marched up to the Astor House to attend a reception which Colonel John S. Loomis, president of the company, gave them on behalf of his organisation. They were politely welcomed at the office under the Astor House. They remained there a short time talking with the officers of the company, after which they were ushered through the ladies' entrance up to dine. The ladies flocked out of the parlours to have a [-319-] glimpse of their English cousins. The banquet was served in the family dining-room of the house, so that no intruders would be likely to interrupt the privacy of the occasion. The boys behaved remarkably well, and not once did they commit any acts of impropriety. They are splendid specimens of healthy English lads, well-dressed and modest. They have been from two to three years in the London school, and have acquired disciplined habits characteristic of the labour-schools in that country. Most of them are well advanced in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and their prompt and correct answers to questions indicate a thoroughness in instruction that reflects credit upon their teachers.
'Before taking seats at the table, Colonel Loomis pronounced a brief and feeling salutation to the young pioneers, and assured them that the welcome here and the reception that awaited them in Kansas could only be equalled by the philanthropic munificence of the noble Earl of Shaftesbury and the Christian gentlemen who were associated with him in founding a magnificent home for them in the land of Washington and Lincoln. At a given signal, they sang their "grace song," and then they sat down to the banquet.
'The dinner was sumptuous, the meats, pastry, and dessert being fully equal, if not superior, to those usually served at first-class hotels.
'At the close of the entertainment, Mr. Crozier, who has been connected with American mission-schools, was invited to address the boys.
'The boys were then invited to partake in general [-320-] conversation, and especially to ask such questions of their American friends present as they might desire touching American life and society, &c. Colonel Loomis, at the request of one of the lads, explained our convention system, and how nominations and elections are conducted. He made a brief speech, in which he said: "My young friends, it is no ordinary feeling which animates myself and associates of the National Land and Pacific Railway Companies in extending to the adopted children of the noble English earl, and his friends of the reform society of England, a welcome to the shores and homesteads of the United States. Our fathers descended, and our republican form of government, with all its priceless blessings to the children of all nations, came, from the Christian civilisation of the English ancestry. We have kept sacred the virtues and useful lessons which the great statesmen and the good men and women of England have given to history. They supplied us with a written law, which afforded good material to construct our political ship of state; and the English Bible, which has been our ark of safety in all the perils which have beset our social life; and also a measure of moral courage which has rendered the experiment of self-government a fact; and now upon the land and sea, and in the hearts of the people everywhere, our old English Bible, our republican constitution, and our unconquerable star-spangled banner, reign supreme. My friends, God has given us a goodly land; and if there is a place on earth where the children and the unfortunate ones of overcrowded districts can be happier than they can be in old [-321-] England, it is here ... Government - your Government now - gives to every man who was born in this country, or who will become an American citizen, a homestead on these railway lines without price if he will go upon the land and improve it. And we expect to see every one of you with a home and farm of his own in Kansas in a few years. The noble earl has saved you from a life of hard toil without recompense in England; and our Government and our people will help you to the age of manhood, and to a life of liberty and independence. You come not among strangers. We are friends; and you will find good men and women in Kansas, who will give you a greeting and a helping hand hereafter, which will teach you that the promises of your old English Bible are worthy of your faith.
'After these addresses the boys sang several songs characteristic of their early London life.'
Now this is the genteel, and, as it were, the official reporter, way of putting it; but that graphic letter already referred to lets the pleasantly lively cat out of the ceremonial bag. The boys were treated like guests, as they were, the gentlemen who entertained them really talking to them and joining them at table; while as to the last paragraph, referring to what at Masonic meetings used to be called 'proceeding to harmony,' it seems to mean that hosts and guests sang for each other's amusement; and - just a whisper - the guests probably were the most amusing of the party; for not only were the old school part-songs and ditties introduced, but almost the first boy asked to 'give a stave' [-322-] had in that past early condition from which he had been so happily delivered been a 'member of the profession' - that is to say, he had actually picked up a precarious livelihood by singing the newest ballads at public-houses in London - and so, with a touch of his early talent, responded to the call of the chairman at the great American dinner.
This provision for destitute boys, which has, I believe, reached a representative character in Great Queen-street, is not confined to the single institution of which I speak. There is the Boys' Home in Regent's-park-road, an establishment devoted to the same useful work, and eminently deserving support in answer to the appeals of its treasurer. And, arising from another valuable and well-known charity, to which I shall refer in another connection, there is the industrial school at the NEWPORT-MARKET REFUGE, the success of which, as well as its complete supervision and careful management, should insure its rapid extension far beyond the present limits, to which it is confined for want of special aid to maintain and enlarge its operations.
The refuge at Newport Market had long included destitute and starving boys among those who are brought to its shelter from the streets and from the 'dark arches,' of which at that time we heard so much, before its supporters could make any provision for maintaining a number of these poor little fellows in an industrial school. But the work was done at last; and now in a portion of the building which has been taken in from the old structure, or added to it for the purpose, the juvenile dormi-[-323-]tory for these regular inmates forms part of the wide scheme of beneficence carried on within the walls of what was once the disused slaughter-house of the half-forgotten market at the back of Leicester-square.
At the, beginning of last year there were forty-nine boys in this school, and at the end of December the number had increased to fifty-six; thirty-four boys having been admitted during the twelve months, and twenty-seven placed out in the world in various situations, nine of that number being apprenticed to tailors, with a 5l. premium for each case, and ten sent to sea on board merchant vessels, with a complete outfit provided for them. These lads, of course, chose to be sailors, and there are more who have the same ambition; but most of them are too young to enter at once on such a career, no more than three out of the fifty-six being thirteen years of age. The only trade taught in the school at present is tailoring; and the master tailor who is their instructor has interested himself deeply in obtaining good employers for the young apprentices, all of whom are reported to be doing well, and giving satisfaction to those with whom they have entered into an engagement to complete their education in the business. Other lads have obtained situations where they may look forward to an improved position; one has been apprenticed to a pianoforte maker; and four have entered the army in the band of the 97th Regiment of Foot.
For the scholars at Newport Market are eminently musical, and awaken all the echoes in that queer rambling [-324-] old building with their performances on all manner of wind instruments, under the direction of an able bandmaster, who keeps them up to the mark by leading on a brisk cornet-a-piston. You should hear them sing, too; and, above all, you should hear them cheer - none of your half-and-half, lingering hurrahs, but a clear .fire of precision, a sharp ear-splitting note in time and tune, and all together. I might almost go on to say that in some other respects they are eminently military, though their tastes seem to be of a naval character; for their superintendent is himself a soldier, Sergeant Ramsden, late quartermaster-sergeant of the 16th Regiment, 'under whose intelligent and unfailing supervision,' say the committee, 'the school has attained a very high state of efficiency and discipline. The boys have acquired habits of order and self- reliance, and are thoroughly happy.'
I see no reason to doubt it; and I may add, that this result is in a great measure due to the personal interest taken in them by some of the members of the committee itself, by its three honorary secretaries, Mr. W. Bayne Ranken (who is intimately connected with this and many other valuable institutions), Lord Eliot, Mr. Owen H. Morshead, and by the Prime Minister of England, who is also Prime Minister - that is to say, President - of the Refuge at Newport Market and its dependencies.
Perhaps the greatest benefactor to the institution during the past year has been an anonymous contributor, who sent the munificent sum of a thousand [-325-] pounds to its bank account, under the initials 'E. M. K.' I should like to think it probable that such an example would be followed; nay, I do think it probable, since there may surely be many who will give in as liberal a spirit, according to their means; and for any such who may read these lines I will mention that the bankers are Messrs. Cocks, Biddulphs, and Co., 43 Charing-cross; Messrs. Glyn, Mills, Currie, and Co., 67 Lombard-street; and Messrs. Drummonds, 49 Charing-cross.
One of the aids of which this institution gladly avails itself is, I think, worthy of attention. Two West-end clubs, the Union and the Junior Carlton, furnish them regularly with those remnants of their kitchens which are generally known by the name of #broken victuals;' and the supply is found most useful, not only in helping out the rations given to the inmates of the refuge, but also in providing a little good and nourishing food to the most needy and deserving of the poor in that distressed neighbourhood. I know that that indefatigable Roman-catholic sisterhood, the 'Little Sisters of the Poor,' collect such broken food as they can obtain in this way; but in walking about the streets of this Great City, and noting the number and extent of its clubs, dining-houses, and sumptuous hotels, it must have occurred to many of us that the actual waste of wholesome food would represent a very large amount of relief if it could be prevented, and the remainders of bread and meat, soups and vegetables, be turned to such account as a frugal and experienced purveyor for the hungry and destitute could make of them.
[-326-] I know of one large City dining-house where the proprietor endeavoured to keep such remnants separate in clean metal buckets, that they might be used for such a purpose by any institution which would send for them; but no organisation existed for the purpose of collection at stated hours before the commencement of business, and since that time they have gone to the hog-trough along with less useful 'leavings.' If it is worth the while of the pig-keepers to carry them away as 'wash,' surely some system might be devised by which, in a light cart fitted with clean cans something like milk-cans, a large quantity of useful broken meats could be collected at early morning or late in the evening, for some of the charities that feed the starving poor. By these broken meats I do not mean the scraps left on plates, but the remnants of joints and poultry, cold potatoes, carrots, &c., cut bread, and such of the day's 'waste' as is now conferred on the pigs, along with those unsavoury remnants which might be kept entirely apart. At a few of the old-fashioned restaurants, poor pensioners do, or did till lately, attend after business hours to receive the odds and ends of joints not quite cut down to the bone, the residue of the bread-trays, the corner pieces of pies and puddings, and other comfortable and satisfying snacks most useful in a poor family; but there are hundredweights of such food either wasted or misapplied in London for the want of claimants who can show to what good purpose it might be applied.
To return to our no longer destitute boys, and still [-327-] to keep the subject of food in view, however, it is cheering to know that the dietary scale adopted at Newport Market is wisely calculated to restore those poor enfeebled little frames. The breakfast consists of bread and coffee and bread and milk on alternate mornings, butter being added to the bread on Sundays; while the dinners consist of meat and vegetables on three days, bread and soup on three days, and suet-pudding on Wednesdays in each week. For tea, they have bread-and-dripping with coffee four days, coffee and bread one day, tea and bread one day, and on Sundays tea and bread-and-butter. Further than this, however, special diet is allowed to boys in delicate health or recovering from illness, and indeed in any case recommended by Dr. Rogers, the medical officer, during his visits, which are made regularly twice a-week.
Each boy is carefully examined on admission to the school, in order to discover that he has been vaccinated and is free from communicable or other disease; but even should he be suffering from such sickness as would preclude his becoming an inmate, there are opportunities for sending him to a hospital or infirmary where he would receive attention.
The remarkable exemption of these boys from sickness when the neighbourhood in which the refuge is situated is considered, in conjunction with the antecedents of the lads themselves, may, as Dr. Rogers says, be in a great measure accounted for by the habits of personal cleanliness, the sufficient and wholesome food, the thorough ventilation of the schoolroom and dormi-[-328-]tories, and the regulated exercise. The ordinary day is, in fact, divided so that each child is engaged in school for one half of his working time, and at industrial occupation for the other half. They generally rise at six o'clock, put the place in order, and after a thorough wash and joining in prayers, go to breakfast at eight. From a quarter to nine till twelve they are engaged at school or work, and in receiving religious instruction under the supervision of the Rev. J. C. Chambers, the vicar of the parish, or of his curate, the Rev. J. E. Vaux. The dinner-hour is from twelve to one o'clock, and from one to two they take out-door exercise, or on wet days practise drill and gymnastics. School or work again from a quarter-past two till a quarter to six. Tea from six to half-past, and amusing books or play till bedtime at eight o'clock. What a contrast to the dreadful life of the streets in that same neighbourhood, the byways that are still left of that evil locality once known as 'Seven Dials'!
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