Victorian London - Transport - Railways, above ground - Lines - Blackwall to Fenchurch Street

BLACKWALL RAILWAY, FENCHURCH STREET. About 4 miles in length; built upon arches, and worked originally by two pair of stationary engines - one of 400 horse-power at the Minories station, and one of 200 horse-power at Blackwall. The ropes (3 5/8 inches in circumference, or 1 inch diameter) were made of wire formed of four strands, (each composed of 42 wires), and extended along the whole length of the railway, guided by grooved pulleys, and coiled alternately at each extremity on drums. The expense of working the engines and ropes was about fourteenpence per train per mile. The machinery was made by the Messrs. Maudslay. The carriages (attached to the ropes by "grips") travelled alternately along either line, and the signals for starting and the general working of the line were given by the electric telegraph. But this was found an expensive process. The stationary engines therefore discontinued early in 1849, and the usual railway engines introduced in their stead. The portion of the line from Fenchurch-street to the Minories, a distance of only 450 yards, cost 250,000l. Boats run from Blackwall to Gravesend every half hour or oftener, throughout the season, performing the passage from the London Terminus to Gravesend in 1 hours with tide, and 2 hours against it. Tickets are issued at the stations to clear the whole distance; and on a fine day the excursion is a very pleasant one, with the additional recommendation of being very cheap. Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall, was opened for the reception of packets, July 6th, 1840.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

TO AND THROUGH THE ISLE OF DOGS

THE Blackwall Railway must be used for pleasure as well as business, Blackwall shares whitebait with Greenwich, and yachting-men run down to embark at the Brunswick Pier; but no other London line has so little of the look of "holiday traffic" about it. Throughout its length it is as severely business-like as a coalpit tramroad and almost as grimy. No ornament is wasted on its Fenchurch-street Terminus, to begin with. Half a dozen cabs almost fill the little open space it fronts, and its facade is of the least florid order of Pointless architecture. Space is everywhere economised. Curt notifications of "No Admittance" frown over its narrow egress portals, and through equally cramped ingress doorways, which almost touch the others, the passenger finds his way into booking-offices not much larger than good sized packing-cases. I am inclined to believe that the ticket-clerks' pigeon-holes are smaller than elsewhere, and only appear of the normal size through contrast with the surrounding contractedness. At any rate, the clerks seem to be chosen with a view to the scanty room they can be accommodated with, and the planking of the cells in which the little hermits are enclosed - drearily lonely, with fresh faces ever flowing past them - are certainly grained and clouded with blacker dirt and more adhesive grease than can be found on the boards of any similar hermitages. The steps that lead up to the platforms are dark and narrow. When a train comes in between a couple of the platforms, it les jammed like a tier of ships in dock; and the engine that brought it in has to remain sulking against the buffers until another engine has panted away with the carriages once more. As passengers tumble out of them on one side, passengers tumble into them on the other. There is not much waiting at the Fenchurch-street Terminus. Time is money with most of the people who frequent it, and, if you do lose your train, you must find your consolatory entertainment in perusing the posters with which the gloomy shed is tapestried, and listening to the newsboys who patrol it, shrilly advertising, "Punch, Fun, Judy and the Tommy-'ock."
    The majority of your fellow-passengers are sure to be seafaring men, shipping-clerks, emigrants, or people in some way or other connected with the Great Deep or the shallower current of the River. Most of these personages are addicted to the mastication of tobacco. An American traveller on the Blackwall line must marvel at the fastidious strictures which have been made by English tourists on that habit as practised on the railroads of his native country. The Blackwall chewer, however, does not indulge in the long-range artillery practice of his Transatlantic brother. Ever and anon, he opens his knees like the points of a pair of compasses, and deposits the mahogany-hued result just behind his still closed heels with the solemn thud and splash of the first drop of a thunder-shower. The nominative and objective of the third personal pronoun feminine are heavily worked in the course of a railway journal to or from Blackwall. The conversation bristles with "shes" and "hers." Ships that have sailed or are about to sail, ships that have not been heard of, or have just been docked, that were seen coming up the river last night, or brought up this morning in the Hope, ships building, ships repairing, ships loading, form the staple of the talk : some of them being lauded as if lovers were chanting their mistresses' praises in amaebean strains, or spoken of with the familiar affection of a middle-aged husband not disposed to rhapsodize, but yet proud of the 'cuteness and coziness of his "old woman;" and others having their characters picked to pieces just as if they were human fair ones exposes to the moral dissection of a conclave of old maids.
    It is amusing to find how soon the emigrants have acquired the esprit-de-craft. They trumpet the vessels they have selected, they depreciate the merits of other ships on the berth for the same ports, as authoritatively as if they had sailed many a voyage in both. Of nautical technicalities, more or less accurately employed, they are even more lavish than the mariners proper; and they swagger also a good deal more than usually quietly-behaved Jack. They take a pride in defying shore-going conventionalisms, and fancy themselves Livingstones with a dash of the bold buccaneer. One cannot help smiling at the thought of the draggle-tailed appearance their stagy nautical get-up will present in a day or two - of how they will be staggering to the side with swimming brain, tottering feet, and nerveless fingers, and wishing they had courage to end their misery by a suicidal plunge into the wild waters whose ceaseless swirl but aggravates their nausea; lying about on the spars, as log-like, or crying for basins in their bunks, "like a sick girl," long before they are out of the Channel; - of the eagerness with which they will rush ashore (hoping that something may happen to prevent them, without shame to their manhood, from ever embarking again) when the ship calls in at Plymouth, and of the humiliating keenness with which they will feel the Plymouth small boys' sarcasm, "Messmate, how many days out from Blackwall?" shouted after them as they straggle about the town with still unsteady gait.
    The characters of officers as well as ships are freely discussed in a Blackwall train. One rugged first mate tells his vis-a-vis fellow, with a chuckle, how the "Betsy Jane" always missed stays when his smart young skipper tried to put her about, whilst he could manage her without turning the other watch out, if the passengers would bear a hand. "Ought to be able to handle 'Betsy Jane' better," the gruff old sea-dog adds with intense enjoyment of his joke, "for he married her - owner's son-in-law, you know." His vis-a-vis caps his story with one about his "old man," who had his wife aboard last voyage, and was for ever "touching" everywhere. "I s'pose she want her petticuts mangled," the misogynist mariner growls with deep disgust. Meanwhile a chubby young second mate, who, in spite of the sun-and-spray-dimmed house-flag on his cap, and the bronze that has supervened on his English rosiness looks very much like Cupid starting for his first voyage in a gilt-buttoned peajacket, is, per contra, amusing his companion with jests on his last chief officer - an importation from the coasting-trade, who had never made the Australian voyage before (which Cupid has made a dozen times), and was always entering "hurricanes" in the log-bok when it blew a capful between the Cape and Sydney Heads.
    The freedom with which they nautical men cut into one another's conversation, and the easy abruptness with which they back out of it, are noteworthy features in the contemporaneous dialogues. A Poplar shipwright is complaining to a steamer's steward that there is no "new work" going nor "old work nayther" at his yard. His friend reminds him that he had a job on the "Two Brothers," and proceeds to state that she looks as good as new after repairs, as he can say for "Bill's gone out in her, third;" and he has just bidden Bill good-bye at Gravesend. "Seen anything of the ship 'Templar?'" briefly interjects a little close-shaven man in black who, but for his oil-skinned cap, and a certain accent of command in his clear blue eye and staccato voice, would look more like a theatrical "super" than a merchant captain. "No, sir," answers the steward, without looking round, and in an unaltered tone, just as if it were part of the chronicle into which he had plunged of "our boat's" performances during her last run to "Rowterdam;" and in the same unbroken fashion the skipper continues his adverse argument on double topsails into which he has been provoked by the two first mates' approval of the same.
    If the Blackwall line looks business-liek within the shed, still more so does it look outside. The train runs past vast wool warehouses, inscribed with letters almost as tall as ranks of French infantry; goods depots, yawning above a maze of cross-rails and turn-tables, and announcing entrances on the level half-a-dozen streets off; and long lines of tarpaulin-covered trucks and waggons, whose initials show that they have congregated there from the far west and the still more distant north. Out of the grey sea of smoke that eddies above mile-wide reefs of begrimed and battered chimney-pots on every side, spring lighthouse-like chimney stalks, flaunting black flags of defiance to parliament as they belch forth their caliginous coils. Here a Nautical Academy advertises itself on a housetop with a board like a brewer's. There you read on a gable-end that "Christ Church Schools, Supported by Voluntary Contributions," are held in the arches over which you are rumbling. There is a slight difference between Christ Church arches and Eton's "antique towers," although they, too, were originally intended for "poor and indigent boys". Mediaeval charity was a good deal more tasteful, at any rate, than modern.
    Some of the Blackwall Railway stations are as gloomy as these singular "groves of Academe." The booking-office is a murky vaulted cellar, and when the passenger has reached the top of the filthy cellar stairs, he finds himself in a tiny wooden Dutch over, which can be traversed in half a dozen strides, but which he is afraid to traverse, lest he should knock fellow passengers off the narrow shelf which does duty for platform. The same economical architecture characterises the arches which span the ditch-like side lanes over which the railway straddles. Their battlements are of rusty corrugated metal, that looks as if it had been picked up cheap in a ship-breaker's yard.
    The glimpses the Blackwall-bound traveller catches of Rosemary-lane, Cable-street, and the Back-road are dreary enough, but those sewer-like lanes running into them are inexpressibly dismal. It is impossible to believe that their stagnant atmosphere was ever stirred and purified by a hearty, innocent laugh. How can people be happy in such holes? As to being virtuous, it seems ridiculous to entertain the thought. The inhabitants crawl about like vermin, and if they prey like vermin, are they morally responsible for acting according to nature into which they have been born and bred? Of course, for its own protection, society is obliged to hold them legally responsible; but would not society's "selfishess" be more "enlightened" if it attacked the cause as well as the effect? Whilst such dwellings exist, it is natural that there should be crime as that there should be cholera. The squalid haul that the policeman drags into the police-dock from such districts affects one like the carcasses and skeletons nailed upon a gamekeeper's gable. It was necessary that the vermin should be punished, but still it seems hard that they should be punished for merely following the instincts of their kind. "Is not this great Babylon that I have built by the might of my power?" exclaimed Nebuchadnezzar, as he walked on the roof of his palace; and, for a punishment, he had to eat grass like an ox, and his nails were turned into talons. If any one man could be made accountable for the building of the greater part of our great Babylon that is seen from the Blackwall Railway, he would not be likely to boast of his achievement; but bestial appetites and rapacious claws would be fitly symbolical for the condition into which he had reduced his tenants. A tawny African desert strewn with bleaching bones would not be so depressing a spectacle as the grimy wilderness of jumbled roofs, staggering chimney-stacks, and blind or blinking windows, athwart which the Blackwall Railway cuts at the commencement of its career. The mortar in which the shattered chimney-pots stand awry is black and cracked like desiccated mud. A pall of soot is spread over the broken tiles and the crumbling rafters that peep out between. The small windows have the look of eyes clouded by cataract, or damaged in fight. Supplementary stories of slanting slate - not much bigger than middle-sized house-cisterns - have been added to tottering hovels, swarming with life, and those tanks are "family-homes!" That the trains at Stepney Junction, in a single week, should have made mangled corpses of two wretched suicides, weary of existence in Ratcliff, is a grim fact to call to mind when you roll over the rails splashed with their blood; but, save as to the mode of death selected, you can scarcely think the fact wonderful.
    The cramped, squat, streets of yellow brick into which the waste of smoke-furred red brick merges, even Mr. Robins would scarcely have ventured to describe as "highly eligible riverside residences;" but they seem cheeful in comparison. Some of them have little gardens rather bigger than hearthrugs; the palings are smothered with scarlet-runners; a sunflower, looking as broad as a warming-pan, blazes in the teatray-like middle bed; and a pert little flagstaff perks itself up, like the horn on a baby caterpillar's tail, in front of the doll's "arbour" at the bottom.
    It is hard to say whether the churches that lift their dingy towers above the cloudy chaos are inspiriting or otherwise. They give proof of good intentions, but, planted where they are, their dull grey is suggestive of salt that has lost its savour. At any rate, the festering mass around seems satirically out of proportion to their corning power. The lofty-sparred ships, whose flags are seen flaunting over the house-tops on the right, produce a similarly harsh sense of contrast. They tell of boundless wealth, invincible enterprises, and yet they are laden and unladen by the miserable tenants of the filthy warren that sprawls to the foot of the jealously dead and towering dock wall.
    A nearer sight is soon obtained of vessels. The train thunders along a pier-like bridge, roofed and half walled with corrugated zinc. In the basin beneath there is a jumble of lighters, barges, and unloading brigs and barques. Skipful and skipful of coals ceaselessly swings up from the colliers' holds and rattles down the shoots into the gaping mouths of the hippopotamus-like  craft moored alongside. Coal is heaped high upon the wharfs, and built up in huge blocks into Cyclopean walls. Lime lies in piles like snowdrifts. Rusty rails and "chairs," pig iron and rod iron, are being stacked with an infernal clash and jangle. Table-lands of ready-broken road-metal stretch along the water-side, as symmetrically flattened and sloped as if a neat Titan had run his hand, along their tops and down their sides. Floating timber is rocking and jostling in the muddy waters. Barges and billyboys, truss-laden almost up to their cross-trees, grind against the quays like hay-stacks and corn-ricks that some great flood has sent adrift.
    A fresher breeze blows from the river when the line gets off its arches. The boundary walls grow dank as well as dark. Ribbons and patches of marshy green have invaded the black ballasting, and the spare pairs of wheels that are ltitered about are richly red with rust. Grass even grows between the white stones of the road that separates the line from the vast warehouses of the West India Dock. A flag or two may be seen fluttering beyond, a waggon or two are waiting in the road; but otherwise there is no outward and visible sign of the docks' inward and emmet-like bustle. Furlong after furlong the drab pile stretches, story after story it rises; but the slate-coloured doors are closed, and seen from the outside it looks far more like the sealed sepulchre than the business place of a gigantic commerce. The idle cranes on the top stories stretch out their arms like Zeresh gibbets waiting for their Mordecais or Hamans.
    Again, however, the line runs into the very midst of ships. A green-painted clipper puts her gilt nose over the wall; her slanting hawse-holes reminding one of the scared eyes of a horse that refuses to take the fence up to which it has been spurred. You might fancy that you were running stem on into the river, but the train brings up instead in the dingy crepuscular rifle gallery dignified with the name of the Blackwall Terminus.
    A step takes you out on the Brunswick Pier, and if you find that you have lost your boat, you are rather puzzled what to do with yourself whilst waiting for the next.
    I found myself in that predicament the other day. Blackwall Reach was almost bare of shipping. A rusty collier brig, with sails patched like her crew's breeches, was coming round the bend. Two or three little steamers with red funnels were anchored lower down. Bugsby's Marshes opposite were not an exhilarating prospect, and when the trap staircases that lead down to the landing-stages have been inspected and discovered to be empty, the resources of the pier proper are exhausted.
    Fortunately the East India Docks are just round the corner, and there you may see clustered in scores some of the finest ships that enter the port of London. The "bustling river" impresses foreigners, but in the docks they must get a more adequate notion of the magnitude of London trade. Long reaches of the river are often not bustling, and where it is most bustling, the finest specimens of its sailing craft, at least, are not to be seen, except single when warping into or out of dock. But in the docks they lie side by side in a crowded congress of Leviathans, assembled like the Pan-Anglican Synod, from all quarters of the globe, with freight a good deal more in keeping with the distance it has been carried. It is like peeping into a mine to glance down into their dim cavernous holds, from which bale after bale, crate after crate, barrel after barrel, comes up in bewildering continuity. You lose yourself whilst wandering about these floating villages. The very "dust bins" at the corners of the East India Docks are good-sized cottages. Almost all the vessels in these docks have a crack look about them. The East India Docks are the Quartier St. Germain of the Thames, where aristocratic shipping congregates. Here lies a frigate-built East Indiaman or Australian liner - the most picturesque large sailing ship afloat - with her graceful bow, in which beauty has not been sacrificed to speed, and yet the speed has been secured; her jib-boom bent downwards like a bow, her white streak, her open ports, her yards as square, her rigging as trim as a man-of-war's. Alongside lies a Black Ball liner, whose black sides give her the look of a magnified gondola, and whose cutwater is as sharp as a steamer's. A little farther on they are mooring an American clipper, with still more raking masts, still heavier, wider yards, and a white eagle sprawling on her stern.  And, beyond a knot of loungers are passing admiring comments on the just-arrived Greenock tea-ship that has won the great tea-race. The flyer's wings are folded, and she floats as proudly as a black swan at rest, looking as if she quite understood all the praise lavished on her, and felt that she richly deserved it.
    But when I wandered through the docks, I had still time upon my hands. A sudden thought struck me - I would explore the Isle of Dogs. The name is a household word to all Cockneys - they have heard it played upon scores of times in punning pantomimes; but how many of them know anything of its local habitation beyond the glimpse that may be got of its fringe from a Gravesend or Margate boat? No one, except on occasion of a great ship-launch, would think of going to the Isle of Dogs for pleasure, and great ship-launches unfortunately do not take place there now. The artisans who used to swarm to it for business from Poplar and East Greenwich frequent it now in sadly diminished floods. At its busiest time it was a terra incognita to the vast majority of Londoners; now it possesses in addition the painful interest of being comparatively deserted by its whilom flourishing denizens. I set out for a walk round it, although within earshot of  railway whistles and almost within eyeshot of St. Paul's, with a prose-dashed feeling of the poetry that must affect a visitant of ruined cities buried in American forests.
    On the right rose the dead wall of the West India Docks, with little black hut showing at regular intervals above, furnished with pulley-wheels, as if inhabited by marsh-hermits who so hauled up their supplies. I crossed white drawbridges ridged with high metal flanges to keep crossing waggons in the middle. On the left rolled the almost vacant reach of river; on the right masts rose above brick walls, looking as land-sprung as park-trees; and vessels and timber floated in lanky artificial lochs. I passed "Lloyd's Proving Range," a long lofty gallery of rusty corrugated iron, bristled with scolloped pinnacles; and paced the deserted streets of Cubitt Town.
    I once heard a humorous Kentish rustic describing a part of Maidstone as a locality which the Creator had "made o'Saturday night, and so he left it unfinished." I was forcibly reminded of that somewhat bold description whilst wandering through Cubitt Town. The houses are of the normal squat, flimsy, featureless class which finds favour with the "cheap builders" of London; but suddenly every pretence at pavement vanishes, the post of the "doctor's" red lamp at the corner stands lonely as Eddystone lighthouse, and the street runs into marsh, on which horses, with burs in their manes, are fattening themselves for the knacker's yard, mud-streaked little pigs are squeakingly complaining of the bites which stray mangy dogs persist in taking at their by no means too plumps behinds, and patriachally-bearded Billygoats, big-uddered Nannygoats, and frisky kids are nosing and vaulting amidst sherds of yellow pottery. In the distance tower truncated pyramids of red and yellow brick, with grey haze wreathing over them. Nearer at hand are wastes of hummocked land, laked with pools of stagnant, scummily-irised water, which the bigger small boys of the place have converted into artillery ranges; more diminutive brethren being the whimpering targets for their hot fire of oyster shells.
    The grey-stone church, the red and yellow brick schools, are almost the only wholesome-looking building in the town. Most of the houses look like decaying mushrooms. There is an appalling proportion both of private dwellings and of shops "To Let;" the lower windows of the former being roughly boarded up to exclude gratuitous tenants. Public-houses are plentiful, but the dinginess which previous thronging custom has brought upon them stands out with dismal prominence in their present desolation. Workmen who can get no work, unshorn and clad in dirty duck and greasy corduroy, lounge about in knots of three and four, drearily moping, still more drearily joking at to the probabilities of the passing stranger's standing an eleemosynary pint. The puff of a steam-engine, the rattle of a hammer, are sounds as rare as welcome. Again and again the road is fringed with a long range of workshops, through the starred holes of whose broken windows no bustle can be seen, no clank of tools, no hum of voices comes. Broad, white-lettered black boards above their portals announce "These Desirable Premises to be Sold or Let on lease."
    Between two such establishments a narrow street runs down to a deserted pier. The green grass is fast covering the black clinkers with which it is paved. At the bottom a glimpse may be got of a deserted shipyard. It is a forest of bare poles. On the pebbly "hard" into which it slopes lies a dis-masted black barge - her cracked, sprawling sideboard looking like the broken fin of a dead, stranded whale. That may be taken as the type of the shipyards of the Isle of Dogs at present. I saw only two vessels shored up for repairs; abnormal quiet reigns even in the ship-breaker's yard, littered with sea-greened copper, fractured spars, sun-blistered planks, and noseless, armless figure-heads. Other trades, however, seem still to thrive in the Isle of Dogs and perfume its atmosphere with a strange medley of malodour. Were it not for the penetrating scent of abundant tar, the nose would collapse under the infliction of the horribly mingled stinks of rancid grease, bilge-water, and mysteriously anonymous "chemicals." "Family Night Lights" have a great factory all to themselves in Millwall. As you follow the river's curve, you pass all kinds of works - some of them so big that their buildings have to be linked on to one another with rhubarb-coloured bridges running above the roadway. Boeotian fatness broods in the air around this oil mill. The steam corn mill next to it is furred with flour in streaks like rain-furrowed whitewash. Above this wall peeps a chaos of blighted-pumpkin-like boilers and pipes carefully wrapping in filthy, shaggy swathing. Through the wall runs a hose, swelling like an angry snake as the stream which the turncock in mufti has just supplied from the plug outside rushes through it. Just inside that wall a lofty chimney-stalk springs up like a blasted Californian pine, seemingly quite cut off from the works to whose ill-humours it gives vent. The smoky, dumpy cones of a pottery come next, pitched higgledy-piggledy amongst ash-heaps, rain-pools, clay-piles and avalanches of smashed pipkins. The pottery cones are cracked, but they seem to be chuckling over the thought that if they tumble, they will not have so far to fall as their tall neighbours, some of which are also cracked, and others prophylactically hooped like barrels - a precaution which gives them the aspect of vastly-magnified bamboos. In the midst of the fuming chimney-stalks, rumbling wheels, and panting engines, is interposed the cool, quiet contrast of a stone-yard, with moist numbered blocks piled one upon another and arranged in avenues, like "Druidical remains."
    I have said that no one would dream of going to the Isle of Dogs for pleasure; but natheless, I found "villas" there; enclosed in smart palisades, skirted with grass-plats and fringed with little trees and shrubs. Apparently their builder soon repented of his enterprise, for one of the small number can only boast of a basement, and moulders a ready-made ruin above its shaggy lawn. Noble Greenwich Hospital opposite, backed by its wooded hill, looks pityingly across at the pretentious row that dares, perched on the margin of a marsh, to assume Cockney architectural airs in face of its time-mellowed domes and colonnades.
    In spite of its frill of works, the Isle of Dogs still looks a marsh. Blind alleys between the works are blocked with river-wall: where little lanes open on the river, the island seems to have sprung a leak, and one expects the water to rush in. Mist hangs about the flat, creeping hither and thither like visible ague: the houses look as if they had caught cold through not changing their wet stockings. The one omnibus which has come to an irresolute stand-still in the miry main street of Millwall, "like one who hath been led astray," seems to have wandered from some slug-haunted old yard in which superannuated "buses" are laid up in mildewed ordinary. The two policemen look equally blue-mouldy, and pine for the far-off beats in which more fortunate brethren behold cooks' faces beaming like rising suns between area rails. The hobbydehoy roughs who loaf out amongst the puddles have something alligator-like in their moist lankiness. The cheap periodicals in the one or two little shops, which satisfy the island's thirst for literature, appear damper than when they came fresh from the press a month ago. "Champagne Charley" and the "Three Jolly Dogs" droop along-side them in lugubriously limp coarse woodcuts, hydropathically cured of all their fastness. Jolly Dogs in the Isle of Dogs seem as much out of their element as Clown, Harlequin, and Pantaloon at a Methodist class-meeting.
    The Isle of Dogs is said to be so called because when our monarchs hunted in the Forest of Essex, and lived at Greenwich, their hounds were kennelled for convenience' sake in the marshy horseshoe opposite. This derivation, doubtless, will be set aside by future etymologists. They will pronounce the royal pack a myth invented to account for the corruption of the Isle of Docks into the Isle of Dogs. In a few generations most probably the whilom marsh will have been "revindicated" by the water, in the shape of a system of gate-locked lakes. As you wander on towards Limehouse, you cross the inlet of the new docks, its lead-coloured brickwork as yet unfurred with slime; and see their basins, so soon to be converted into mud-soup, lonelily stretching far inland and looking almost limpid as the sunglight dimples their merely wind-stirred ripples. On one side of them spreads a pitted chaos, in which clayey navvies are plying the pick and spade, and mire-encrusted ballast-waggons are rumbling along rough, rusty, narrow-gauge rails, with ends turned up by sabot toes.
    More white drawbridges - more long reaches of dead wall, through whose posterns greasy dock-labourer are listlessly trooping back to work - a saccharine scent in the air as if a colony of Titan housewives had assembled to make jam in company. The circuit of the island is completed - here are the West India Docks once more. A portal, decorated with a ship with struck topmasts carved in stone, gives ingress to their courts and quays. Upon the bulwarks of the ships moored along the quays loll, in keeping with the docks' speciality, an unusual number of black mariners, rolling their white eyeballs, and showing their white teeth, like a cloud's silver lining, as they bask, sheltered from the wind, in grinning enjoyment of the grateful autumn sunlight. More negro sailors are clustered about the cosmopolitanly patronised public just outside the docks; but the wind is blowing freshly there; and heedless of the landlord's staringly painted injunction to his customers "not to sit upon the steps" the poor Ethiops crouch upon his portico, stamping their feet and tucking their chilled hands into their armpits, eyeing with benumbed wonder and envy the Norwegian sailors from the Timber Dock, who are rollicking over shandygaff in their unbuttoned shirt-sleeves, and punctuating with melancholy yah-yahs the merry confusion of tongues that rages around, as they think regretfully of stifling Kingston.

Richard Rowe, Argosy,  November 1867