Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889 - Chapter 14 - Emigration for Servants

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"IT'S useless for you to say nothing to me, 'Arry; I've signed it with my blood, and Lucy Thomas, she's done the same, and we're going to send it to a lawyer to be witnessed, so it's all done in a business-like and proper fashion. If you're not married when I come back, I'll think about it, but I's going to see the world, I is, I's not always going to stay here. I's not going to marry and have a lot of children. I's going to have my fling first. There, 'Arry, don't be silly."
    This extraordinary statement was overheard by a Commissioner a few weeks ago on the top of a City omnibus.
    The speaker, a smartly dressed young woman, was sitting beside a young man of the ordinary billy-cock, short coat, light trouser fashion. He, 'Arry, had his arm round her waist, and when she begged him not to "be silly" he removed it, [-162-] pulled the billy-cock over his eyes, and gave a growl of dissatisfaction.
    The young woman had made up her mind to emigrate, and she continued to expatiate on the glories of Queensland, the money she could earn there, and the many sweethearts she was sure to find waiting for her. 'Arry lighted his pipe, and sulked until she began to coax him in feminine fashion, whereupon he declared that there were many pretty girls in London, and if she went away he could find some one else, she need not trouble herself, her offer to marry him when she came back was "quite uncalled for."
    London servants, and in fact young women all over the United Kingdom, seem quite to have lost their fear of the water and of foreign countries.
    Mr. Clement Scott expressed his surprise at this when he visited the Jumna, and saw the young emigrants arriving there "as cheerful and happy as young people can well be."
    He says: "I turned to my companion with surprise, asking, 'Where are the tears and sighs, the weeping and the wailing, the sorrow for leaving the old country, that I confidently expected ? Where are the forlorn creatures with their scraps of garden-soil conveyed in pocket- handkerchiefs in order to plant a bit of home [-163-] over there ? Where are the sentimental girls with an old rose-bush done up in a parcel and bedewed with tears? I can find no trace of anguish here.'
    "'No, they are not crying now, my friend,' was the reply; 'they have got over it. All their tears and lamentations have been left at Blackwall in the Emigrants' Home.'"
    Every month a ship leaves England with about two hundred women on board for Queensland, and sometimes fourteen ships carry women over there in the year. The Government of Queensland spends over a million a year on emigration; and the cry is still, " Send us more servants." Any young woman with good health and good character can get a free passage if she is not over thirty-five years of age ; if above that age she is called upon to pay £5 towards her passage, but £1 of this goes towards her kit. Each girl must buy her kit at a cost of £1, for it has been found that infection is thus avoided, also all danger of vermin. But the kit is worth £1 17s. at the least, and the girl has the benefit of it afterwards, so there is nothing to grumble at. Mrs. Caroline Blanchard, the Hon. Sec. of the Colonial Emigration Society, has kindly furnished us with full information about emigration for servants. This lady has lived in the colonies [-164-] herself, and is an agent of the Queensland Government. She tells us that English mistresses object very strongly to her Society, for they say that good servants are scarce in England, and that it is a mistake to send away young English women. But Mrs. Blanchard finds that those servants who can command good wages in England do not care to leave the mother country, only girls of the class of general servants. Considering that over-population is the crux of the female labour question, Mrs. Blanchard is convinced that her society is at the present time doing good service, and we are inclined to agree with her. It may be a mistake to encourage able-bodied men to emigrate, but England (especially London) is well-nigh choked with young women.
    Mrs. Blanchard tells us that the girls are eager to go. Formerly they were deterred from emigrating by dread of the voyage, and fear of not getting a situation when they landed. But now many have friends out there, and others have read long accounts of colonial life, so they do not hesitate to leave England. Moreover, they feel the sharp competition that goes on here, and they recognise the fact that it is wiser to go away than to stay where they are not wanted.
    The following true anecdotes show the open-[-165-]ings that there are for young women who emigrate.
    A Queensland Government matron who had been out to the colony many times, with batches of from sixty to one hundred and twenty young women under her charge, writes:- " We stop at the following ports-Malta, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Batavia. After leaving Batavia, our next stopping place is a pretty but lonely little island called 'Thursday Island,' which forms one of a group of seven islands, named by Captain Cook after the days of the week. It is also the principal pearl-fishing station of the Straits. Two or three voyages ago the resident Government agent came to me to find two general servants. I had no one booked for the island, but asked some of them if they would volunteer to land there ; he not only offered them the high wages of twenty shillings a week, but, among other inducements, told them that there were seven eligible young bachelors on the island, each having £10 a month, and only two unmarried women, whom the said bachelors were cutting each other's throats about; that he would like to take two young women back with him, if only to restore peace."
    On this island is a woman who went out young as a free emigrant in the Storm King as a [-166-] domestic servant. She is now owner of the best hotel there, and possesses five pearl-fishing boats, sending her commodities to the London market. She says she can clear out any day with £15,000; but as she is a widow with five children, she thinks it wiser to stay and protect the business for them.
    Her simple story runs thus: "I worked hard for two years in service in the bush, then married a working man. We rode two hundred miles across country to some diggings, set up a store, made money, came to Thursday Island, built an hotel, and went in for the pearl fishery, and met with the success recorded above, living comfortably and bringing up our family respectably."
    Full information about emigration can he obtained from Mrs. Blanchard, Colonial Emigration Society, 9, Adelphi Terrace, W.C. She says that servants are in demand in all of the colonies, but especially in Queensland. She can promise a free passage to Queensland, and good wages on arrival there, to all respectable young women willing to emigrate. A doctor and a matron accompany the ships, and the girls are looked after until they obtain situations. At Brisbane the depot is besieged by mistresses directly the ship arrives, and in a few hours not a girl can be had for love or money.
    [-167-] The Dacca left England in the summer of 1888 with over two hundred girls on board, bound for Brisbane. Our Commissioners visited the Emigrants' Home the night before she started, and went down to Tilbury with Captain Almond, whose business it is to send away emigrants. The Queensland Government seems to be exceptionally fortunate in its selection of agents and supervising officers. It is impossible to speak too highly of Mrs. Blanchard, whose kindness to the girls makes them feel, although they have only seen her a few times before they sail, that they are leaving behind them a friend-almost a relation. Captain Almond has carried his labours on behalf of emigrants almost to a science, both in the Home at Blackwall and also on board the Government steamers. At the same time one feels that all is being done for the emigrants in relation to their new life in the new country, that the old country is being pushed altogether into the background. Our Commissioners say that it gave them quite a shock to watch over two hundred fine young Englishwomen hurrying away from the mother country without a sigh or a tear, glad to go, and determined that nothing shall bring them back again. When the tender reached the Dacca these girls looked like a garden of poppies, for at the Home is a small store, and there the [-168-] maidens had bought straw hats trimmed with muslin, and ornamented with red flowers, for the modest sum of 9d. each. A prettier, healthier, happier set of girls it is quite impossible to see anywhere. " Unmarried women first," sang out Captain Almond.
    Then Mr. Wilkie, the manager of the Emigrants' Home at Blackwall, sent the girls one by one from the tender to the big ship, where they were received by the doctor and the matron. The foreign crew helped the girls to carry their goods and chattels into the unmarried women's quarters, which are shut off from the rest of the ship, and the girls streamed into their cabins. Each girl was supplied with a small sack containing enough clothes to last her for a fortnight, and many of them carried folding chairs, which can be had at the Home very cheap. A strong smell of roast beef pervaded the cabins, and no sooner were the girls off the tender than the cooks began to serve up a dinner provided by the Queensland Government.
    We have not space to give a full description here of the accommodation provided for these young women; but our Commissioners speak of the order and cleanliness of the lower deck. Each girl finds her kit on the cabin bed, and when this is undone she discovers herself possessed of [-169-] a good flock pillow and mattress, a thick blanket, a box of soap, tins for her meals, and everything that is necessary for her comfort during her six weeks' voyage. The girls are divided into messes, and each mess has a captain ; over all are the matron and the doctor. Books and games are provided, and everything is done to make the girls feel at home ; they are even allowed to choose their cabin companions.
    One upper deck is devoted to them, and the only rule they have to keep is this - they must not stray away from their quarters without permission. But they may receive visits from their friends among the single men and the married people, whose quarters are on the other side of the saloon, and nothing is left undone that can increase their comfort. Their bugbear is seasickness, but even this does not seem to affect their spirits. All these girls go out to Queensland as servants, but if they are willing to work, and can prove that they have been in domestic service, no inquiries are made about their social position. So they vary in station from Bridget, whose father digs "taties," to the handsome girl from Norfolk, who says that her intention is to make her way in the new country. These girls are the pick of our young countrywomen, and Captain Almond looks at them with satisfaction, [-170-] saying, "The Government pays us to provide them with good material."
    But it is a serious fact that while English girls hurry out of London, foreign girls of an inferior physique come in to take their places. We get the refuse of the Continent in their stead, and as "the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity," it is a bad look-out for the next generation.
    The Emigrants' Home at Blackwall is the work of Captain Almond and others. We all know how emigrants were fleeced in former days, how they sold the very clothes from off their backs to buy food and lodging. The girls are received in this home free of expense, provided with beds, ·food, and good advice gratis. Lord Radstock and his friends go down the night before they sail to hold a prayer-meeting, and many people say that the emigrants' hymns cannot be heard twice, because they affect the lachrymal glands in an unpleasant manner. It is a wonderful sight to see those five or six hundred men and women singing! The girls are light-hearted enough, but the older people have to break away from many ties, and the memory of these things makes their voices tremulous. They gather together in the great hall of the Home that last night in old England, [-171-] having said good-bye to their homes, their friends and relations, and their sad faces show little confidence or hope. But the girls look quite different. They think of the high wages in Brisbane, the £40 and £50 a year they can earn up-country. Many of them have friends or relations in Queensland, and not a few are eager for a life of adventure.
    It may be said that emigration does not come within our province. But all classes of working women here suffer from the fact that the supply of female labour greatly exceeds the demand at present, so we cannot confer upon the girls in whom we are interested a greater boon than that of showing them a way of escape out of this metropolis.