Victorian London - Publications - Social
Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50;
Henry Mayhew - Letter XXIII
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Friday, January 4th, 1850
In the present Letter it is my intention to set forth as fully as possible
the nature of the system by which the Ballast-heaver is either forced by the
fear of losing all chance of future employment, or induced by the hope of
obtaining the preference of work from the publican, his employer, to spend at
least one-half of his earnings every week in intoxicating drinks.
Let me, however, before proceeding directly to the subject of my present
communication, again lay before the reader the conclusions which I lately drew
from the Metropolitan Police Returns for 1848, concerning the intemperance of
the labouring classes of London. It is essential that I should first prove the
face, and show its necessary consequences. This done, the public will be more
ready to perceive the cause, and to understand that until this and similar
social evils are removed, it is worse than idle to talk of "
the elevation of
and most unjust (to use the mildest term) to condemn the working
men for sins into which they are positively forced. To preach about the virtues
of teetotalism to the poor, and yet to allow a system to continue that compels
them to be drunk before they can get work--
not to say bread--
is surely a
mockery. If we would really have the industrious classes sober and temperate
men, we must look first, it seems, to their employers. We have already seen that
the intemperance of the coal-labourer is the fault of the employer rather than
the man, but we have only to go among the ballast-labourers to find the
demoralization of the working man arising not from any mere passive
indifference. but from something like a positive conspiracy on the part of the
According to the Criminal Returns for the Metropolis, there
were 9,197 males and 7,264 females, making altogether a total of 16,461 individuals, charged with drunkenness in the year 1848.
This makes one in every 110 individuals in London a drunkard--
which, large as it seems, is still less than one-half what it was some ten or fifteen years back. For the sake of comparison
I subjoin a table taken from the Government Report on Drunkenness: --
Return of the Number of Charges of Drunkenness which have been entered upon
the Books of the Metropolitan Police in the Years 1831, 1832, and 1833 ; with
the Number of Officers employed in, and the Locality of, each Division also the
Amount of Population in each, according to the Parliamentary Returns of 1831.
Locality of each Division.
Number of Officers em ployed in each
Computed Population in each Division according to the Parliamentary Returns.
Number of Charges of Drunkenness each Year, in the Years
1831, 1832, and
Public-houses and Beer- shops in each Division.
|(D) St. Marylebone
Now, comparing these returns with those of the year before last. we find that
the decrease of intemperance in the metropolis has been most extraordinary. In
the year 1831, one in every 48 individuals was drunk; in 1832 the number
increased to one in 46--
whereas in 1833 it decreased to one in 50, and in 1848
the average had again fallen to one individual in every 110. This decrease of
intemperance was attended with a similar decrease in the number of metropolitan
beer-shops. In 1833 there were 1,182 and in 1848 only 779 beer-shops in London.
Whether this decrease preceded or succeeded--
and so was the cause or the
of the increased sobriety of the people, it is difficult to say.
The number of public-houses in London, however, during the same period had
increased from 4,073 to 4,235. Upon the cause and effect of this I leave others
to speculate. Of the total of 16,461 persons, male and female, who were charged with being
intoxicated in the year 1848, no less than one individual in every seven
belonged to the labouring class; and. excluding the females from the number, we
shall find that, of the males, every fourth individual taken up for drunkenness
was a labouring man. Taking the whole population of London, temperate and
intemperate, only one in every 110 is a drunkard, but with the labouring classes
the average is as high as one in every 22. Of course, where the habit of
drinking is excessive, we may expect to find also excessive pugnacity. That it
is the tendency of all intoxicating liquors to increase the irritability of
the individual is well known. We might infer, therefore, a priori, that the
greater num?ber of "
would be committed by the greatest
drunkards. In 1848 there were 7,780 individuals assaulted in London, and nearly
one-fourth of these, or 1,882, were attacked by labouring men--
one in every 26
of the entire body of labourers having been charged with this offence. The "
of which the labouring classes appear, by the same returns, to be
more guilty than any other body of individuals, is also explained by their
inordinate intemperance. When a man?s bodily energy is destroyed by drink,
labour is so irksome to him, that he would rather peril his liberty than work.
What wonder, then, that as many as one in every twenty-eight labourers should be
charged with theft--
whereas of the rest of the population there are only one in
every 266 individuals. Thus, of the labouring classes, one in every 22 is
charged with being drunk; one in every 26 with committing an assault; and one in
every 28 with being guilty of simple larceny. For the truth of this connection
between drink, pugnacity, and theft, I would refer to the statement of one of
the most intelligent and experienced of the coal-whippers--
one indeed, to
whose unceasing and heroic exertions that class princi?pally owe their
The children of the coal-whippers."
he told me, "
under the old system, almost reared in the tap?room. He himself had known
many as 500 youths who were transported"
and this be it remembered out of a
class numbering only 2,000 men).
Such, then, are the proved consequences of an inordinate use of intoxicating
liquors. It becomes, therefore, the duty of every one who is anxious for the
well-being of the people, to diminish the occasions for drinking, wherever
possible. To permit the continuance of certain systems of employment and
payment, which are well known both to tempt and compel the men to indulge in
intoxicating liquors, is at once to breed the very crimes that it is the
office of Government to suppress. The custom pursued by the coal merchants, of
paying the labourers in their employ in public- houses, as I lately exposed,
appeared bad enough. The "backer" jaded and depressed with his excessive
work through the day, was entrapped into the public-house in the evening, under
the pretence of receiving his wages. Once inside, he was kept waiting there hour
after hour by the publican (who, of course, was out of silver, and had to send
some distance for it). Beer is called for by the men in the meantime. Under the
influence of the stimulant, the fatigue and the depression begin to leave the
labourers, the burden that is still on their backs (it will be remembered that
such is the description of the men themselves) is shaken off, and their
muscles no longer ache and are stiff, but relax while their flagging spirits
gradually revive under the potent charm of the liquor. What wonder, then, that
the poor creatures, finding so easy and--
when the habit is once formed--
pleasant a cure for their ills, should be led to follow up one draught with
another, and another. This system appeared to me to be vicious enough, and to
display a callousness on the part of the employers that quite startled me. But
the system under which the Ballast labourers are now suffering is an infamy
hardly to be credited as flourishing in these days. I have. therefore, been at
considerable pains to obtain such a mass of evidence upon the subject as shall
make all earnest men look upon the continuance of such a system as a national
Let me, before proceeding to cite cases of individual injustice as I had them
from the men themselves, first describe more minutely than I have yet done the
labour of the ballast-heavers.
In order to assure myself of the intensity of the labour of ballast- heaving,
of which I heard statements on all sides, I visited a gang of men at work, ballasting a collier in the Pool. My engagements prevented my
doing this until about six in the evening. There was a very dense fog on the
river, and all along its banks; so thick was it. indeed, that the water which
washed the steps where I took a boat could not be distinguished, even with the
help of the adjacent lights. I soon, however, attained the ballast-lighter I
sought. The ballast-heavers had established themselves alongside a collier to be
filled with 43 tons of ballast, just before I reached them, so that I observed
all their operations. Their first step was to tie pieces of old sail, or
anything of that kind, round their shoes, ankles, and half up their legs, to
prevent the gravel falling into their shoes, and so rendering their tread
painful. This was rapidly done, and the men set to work with the quiet
earnestness of those who are working for the morrow?s meal, and who knew that
they must work hard. Two men stood in the gravel (the ballast) in the lighter;
the other two stood on "
as it is called, which is hut a boarding
placed on the partition beams of the lighter. The men on this stage, cold as the
night was, threw off their jackets, and worked in their shirts, their labour
being not merely hard, but rapid. As one man struck his shovel into the ballast
thrown upon the stage, the other hove his shovelful through a small port-hole in
the vessel?s side, so that the work went on as continuously and as quickly as
the circumstances could possibly admit. Rarely was a word spoken, and nothing
was heard but an occasional gurgle of the water, and the plunging of the shovel
into the gravel on the stage by one heaver, followed instantaneously by the
rattling of the stones in the hold, shot from the shovel of the other. In the
hold, the ballast is arranged by the ship?s company. The throwing of the
ballast through the port-hole was done with a nice precision. A tarpaulin was
fixed to prevent any of the ballast that might not be flung through the
port-hole being wasted by falling into the river, and all that struck merely the
bounds of the port-hole fell back into the lighter; but this was the merest
trifle. The men pitched the stuff through most dexterously. The port-hole might
he six feet above the stage from which they hove the ballast; the men in the
lighter have an average heave of six feet on to the stage. The two men on the
stage and the two on the lighter fill and discharge their shovels twelve times
in a minute; that is, one shovelful is shot by each man in every alternate five
seconds; so that every one of the four men engaged at the work flings the
heights of 36 feet every minute, or 2,160 feet an hour, and in that time,
according to the concurrent computation of the heavers, the four men may
easily fling in ten tons, or 5,600lb. a man. The men work with the help of
large lanterns, being employed mostly by night.
I shall now state the sentiments of the men
generally, and then individually,
upon the subject of their grievances: --
To be certain as to the earnings of
the men, to see their state and to hear from a large number of them their own opinions of the hardships
they suffered and the sums they earned, I met two bodies of the ballast-heavers,
assembled without pre-arrangement. At one station fifty were present, at the
other thirty. The men were chiefly clad in coarse, strong jackets, some of them
merely waist?coats, with strong blue flannel sleeves, and coarse trousers,
thick with accumulated grease from long wear. They had, notwithstanding their
privations, generally a hardy look. There is nothing squalid in their
appearance, as in that of men who have to support life on similar earnings with
indoor employment. Their manners were quiet, and far from coarse. At the first
meeting fifty were present. One man said, "
Well, I think I?m the oldest man
present, and I don?t get above 5s. a week, but that?s because I?m an old
man and can?t work with the young ones."
Upon an average the common men
earned 10s. a week the year through, taking home 5s. I inquired, "
Are you all
compelled to spend a great part of all that you earn in drink with the publican?"
The answer was, and simultaneously, "
All of us--
remainder of their earnings, after the drink deductions, the men were all
satisfied they spent so much that many only took 2s. 6d. a week home to their
wives and families on an average. Last week two earned 20s., the publican taking
10s. from each. Three earned 15s.--
one of these took 1s. 6d. home, another 3s.,
both working for publicans; the third, who worked for a grocer, took home 13s.--
other 2s. being spent in tea and sugar, he being a single man. Three earned 10s--
working for a publican carried home 6s., the difference going in compulsory
drink; another 4s., and another 5s. Six did one load of ballast, receiving 7s.
6d. each for it; one took home 4s. 11d., another 6s. 6d. (a private job);
another, who did a load for 5s. 3d.. took home 2s. 3d.; the other two took home
5s. each. One man earned 3s., and took it all home, having worked at a private
job for a foreigner. Fifteen earned nothing in the course of the last week. For
the last fortnight, nine had earned nothing. There were none present hut what
had earned something in the last three weeks. "
The fortnight before Christmas,"
said one, "
I didn?t earn 5s. all that fortnight."
Nor I, nor I,"
several others. On being asked, "
Are you compelled to spend half your earnings
there was a general cry of "
More than that, sir; more than that."
I asked if men were forced to become drunkards under this system; there was a
general cry of "
and blackguards too."
Seventeen were married men;
of them, three had no children, three had one child, four had two children, two
had three, three had four, one had five, one had six. The men all said that to
get away from the publican would be "
a new life to them--
all to their benefit--
no force to waste money in drink--
and the only thing that would do them good."
Many threw away the drink they had to take from the publicans, it was so bad;
they drank Thames water rather. They were all satisfied that they earned 10s. a
week the year through. spending of that sum, what they must spend and what they
were induced to spend, from 5s. to 7s. 6d. a week."
If you get a job, the publican will advance 1s., now and then may be,
but they hate to give money; there?s trust for as much grog as we like."
hailed with delight any possible chance of their being freed from the publican.
One man said he was compelled oft enough to pawn something of his own or his
wife?s to go and spend something at the public-house, or he would have no
chance of a job. All declare "
such a system never was known to have been
carried on for years."
Many said, "
We shall be discharged if they hear we
have told you the truth."
They stated that the ballast-heavers numbered
between 300 and 400--
there were sixty craft, each requiring four heavers, and
many men were idle when all the craft were at work. Thirty were present when I counted the second meeting. A man said there might be three times that number
looking for work then, and as many at work, belonging to that station alone, in
1841, the census returns showed that there were 170 ballast-heavers; the men
assembled declared that their numbers had nearer trebled than doubled since
then. Within the last two or three years many new hands had got to work on
account of the distress in Ireland. The men agreed with the others I saw that
they earned, one week with another, 10s., taking home but 5s. at the outside,
and often 2s. 6d. In answer to my questions they said--
The winter time is the
best season; the trade is very slack in summer. Many agricultural labourers work
among the heavers in winter when they cannot be employed on the land. Earnings
in winter are pretty well double what they are in summer. Of this body all said
they were sober men before they came to ballast-heaving, and would like to be
able to be sober men again (a general assent). Three of the men had taken the
pledge before becoming ballast-heavers, and were obliged to break it to get
work. They have to drink five pots of beer, they declared, where, if they were
free men, they would drink one. When asked if the present system made them drunkards, they answered with one voice. "
every ballast-heaver in it."
Twenty were married men. All their wives and
children suffered (this was affirmed generally with a loud murmur), and often
had nothing to eat or drink, while their husbands had but the drink. It was
computed (with general con?currence) that 150 ballast-heavers paid foremen for
lodgings, not half of them ever seeing the bed they paid for. About twelve years
ago they could earn twice and three times as much as they can now, but prices
were higher (12s. per score for what is now 3s.). and the men were far less
numerous. The following is a precise statement of the sums to which each
ballast-heaver present was entitled, followed by the amount that he carried home
last week. after payment of his compulsory drinkings, and of what he might be
induced to drink at the house of his employer while waiting to be paid: --
This statement shows, out of 11s. 1?d. earnings, a receipt of less than 5s. a week. According to the returns of the Trinity House, there were 615,619 tons of
ballast put on board 11,234 ships in the year 1848. The ballast-heavers are paid
at the rate of 6d. per ton for shovelling the ballast out of the Trinity Company?s
lighters into the holds of the vessels. Hence, the total earnings of the
ballast-heavers in that year were £15,390 9s. 6d. And calculating two-thirds
(the men say they always get rid of half and often three-fourths of their
earnings in drink) of this sum to have been spent in liquor, it follows that as
much as £10,260 6s. 4d. went to the publican, and £5,130 3s. 2d. to the
labouring men. According to this estimate of their gross earnings, if we calculate the body of the ballast-heavers as number?ing 350
men, the average wages of the class are about 16s. 6d. per week each man; or, if
we reckon the class at 400, then the average wages of each person would be about
14s. 6d. per week. From all I can learn this appears to be about the truth--
earnings of the men being about 15s. a week, and their real income about 5s.
The men shall now speak for themselves.
The first that I saw were two of the better class of foremen, who volunteered
to give me an account of the system.
I am a foreman, or ganger, of the ballast-heavers,"
said one. "
under a man who is a publican and butcher; and I also work under another who is
only a butcher. I moreover work under a grocer. I engage the different gangs of
men for the parties under whom I work. I also pay the men. The publican,
butcher, or grocer, as the case may be, agrees to give me 9s. a score tons. The
fore?men often give the men the same money as they themselves receive, barring
a pot of beer, or perhaps a quartern of gin, that they may have out of the job.
Some foremen take much more."
Another foreman who was present while I was
taking the statement of this man, here observed that "
many foremen claim tow
row, or a ?fifth-handed? proportion--
that is, they will have 10s. when the
working men have only 5s. There is a great deal of imposition on the working
classes here, I can assure you. The general thing, when we go to a job out of a
public-house, is, that the publican expects the men to drink to the amount of
4s. out of every £1, and 6s. out of every 30s. that?s coming to them--
is, one-fifth part of the men?s money must be spent in liquor. The drink is
certainly not the best--
indeed, if there is any inferior stuff, they have it.
It?s an obligation on them that they drink. If they refuse to drink, they won?t
and that?s the plain truth of it. Oh, it?s long wanted
looking to; and I?m glad at last to find some one inquiring into it. If they
went to get the regular beer from the fair public-houses they would have to pay
3d. a pot for it; and at the contracting publicans they must give 4d. a pot, and
have short measure, and the worst of stuff too. Every six pots of beer they give
to the men is only five pots fair measure; and the rum they charge them 2d. a
half-pint more for than the regular public-houses would, and far worse rum into
the bargain. Besides the profit on their drink some publicans charge 6d. per
score tons as well. Out of the money coming to the men after the publican has
been paid his score, many foremen clam one-fifth part over and above their
regular share; or, in other words, the foreman takes two shares and the men only
one each. When the men have been paid, the publican paying them expects them to spend a further sum in drink, looking black at a
man who goes away without calling for his pint or his pot, and not caring if
they drink away the whole of their earnings. There?s a good many would be glad
if the men sat in their houses and spent their last farthing, and then had to go
home penniless to their wives and families."
I am a ?ganger? to a
butcher as well as to a publican,"
said one of the foremen. "
His practice is
just the same as the publican?s. He receives 10s. per score tons and pays me
for the men 9s. The men and myself are all expected to spend about one half of
our earnings with the butcher in meat. He charges 6?d. per lb., and at other
houses, with ready money, 1 am sure the men might get it for 4d. as good. His
meat is at least one-third dearer than other butchers?. I am also ganger to a
grocer. and he gets about the same profit out of the men he employs--
to say, the articles he supplies the men with are at least one-third dearer than
at other shops. If anything, he makes more out of the men than the butcher, for
if any man goes a score--
which he always encourages--
he stops the whole out
of the man?s earnings, and often leaves him without a penny after the job is
done. When the publican, grocer, butcher, or lodging-house keeper has a contract
for ballast, he directs the foreman working under him to get together the gang
that regularly work from his house. This gang are men who always deal at the
shop, and the contractor would dismiss me if I was to engage any other men than
those who were his regular customers. Many a time a publican has told me that
some man was a good hard drinker, and directed me to engage him whenever I
could. If a man sticks up a score, he also tells me to put him on first of all.
The grocer and the butcher do the same. This system is the cause, I know, of
much distress and misery among the men. The publicans make the men drunkards by
forcing them to drink. I know many wives and children who starve half their time
through it. They haven?t a bit of shoe or clothing. and all through the
publican compelling the men to spend their earnings in drink. After the gang is
paid, at least three out of the four get drunk, and often the whole four. Many a
time I have seen the whole of the men reeling home without a penny to bless
themselves, and the wife and children have to suffer for all this. They are
ill-treated and half starved. This I can safely say, from my own knowledge."
I then took, for the sake of avoiding repetition, the statements of two
constant men, working under different publicans. The
account they gave me of the way in which the publican contracted to ballast a
ship was the same as I have given elsewhere. "
1 have been twenty years a ballast-heaver,"
and all that time I have worked for a publican; and poor work it is, for I
hardly can live, and haven?t a coat to my back, saving your presence. Twenty
years ago the publican had the same number of hands, but had more work for them,
and I might then earn 20s. a week; but I couldn?t fetch that home from the
publican. If I did, I need look for no more work from him. He expected me to
spend one-half of my earnings with him; and when I left his house drunk, I might
spent the other half. If I?d got it sober I?d have taken it every farthing
home to my wife. You may depend on it I?ve. drunk gallons of drink against my
will. I?ve drunk stuff that was poison to me. I turned teetotaller six years
back, and the publican my employer sacked me when he found it out, saying, ?He?d
d if he?d have such men as me--
he didn?t make his living by
added the other man, "
and so my publican told
me; for I turned teetotaller seven year ago, and took the pledge from Father
Mathew, in the Commercial-road. The publican told me--
that if Father Mathew
chose to interfere with me, why Father Mathew might get employment for me, for
that?s the publican--
wouldn?t. So I was forced to break my pledge to
me and my youngsters--
I had six then, and I?ve buried two since."
resumed the man who first gave me the state?ment, "
worse. Last week I carried 8s. home, and if I?d got paid by the captain of a
ship for the amount of work I did, and on the same terms as he paid the
publican, I should have taken home 16s. The publican that employs us gives us
only 8s. a score, and receives 10s. from the captain, so that he does a profit
there as well as on the money that I am forced to spend in drink (to keep my
work). All the publicans don?t do this; some give what they get from the
captain, but there?s very few of them do so, and some publicans take
two-thirds, and that?s the truth."
[The second man assented.] "
with another I?ve taken home this winter from 12s. to 13s., and but for this
shameful and starvation system, having to work for a publican?s profit, and
to drink his drink, I?d take home my 20s. every week. It makes a man feel like
a slave; indeed, I?m not much better. We should be in Heaven if we got away
from the publican, or the butcher either; it?s com?pulsion one?s life
through. Sometimes the beer is so bad that we have to chuck it away, but
whatever it is, and whatever we do with it, it must be paid for; and the highest
price is charged--
of course it is. The man that drinks most, and puts up a
score (runs in debt) has the first turn for work."
And that?s the case
said the second man, "
and I know a couple of hundred men as badly off as we are, and under these publicans? control. Some of the
publicans have as many as sixty single men lodging in their houses, paying half
a crown a week; aye! and men that don?t lodge with them, when the house is
full, must pay the half-crown all the same to get a turn of work, as well as
paying for the places where they do lodge."
The first man continued, "
gin and rum is the worst that can be supplied, but we must drink it or waste it.
We often spill it on the ballast, it?s that bad"
the response of the other man]. "
And that?s not the worst. When we get a job
of putting sixty tons of ballast on board we are forced to take six pots of beer
with us to our work, but only four pots are supplied, and we must pay for six.
We are robbed on every side. I cannot describe how bad it is; a man would hardly
believe it; but all will tell you the same--
all the men like us."
the poor fellows did afterwards.] "
When we call to be paid we are kept for
hours, without fire, in a cold tap-room, forced to drink cold stuff, without
being let have a strike of fire to take the chill off it."
The other man then
made a further statement. "
I?ve been forced to put my sticks in pawn--
I had left, for I was better off once, though I was always a ballast-heaver, and
have worked for the same publican fourteen years. I have £3 in pawn now. I
blame this present system for being so badly off--
sorrow a thing else! Now,
just look at this. A single man, a lodger, will go into a publican?s and call
for Is. worth of rum, and the publican will call me a scaly fellow if I don?t
do the same; that will be when I?d rather be without his rum if I got it for
One publican (the men gave me this account concurrently, and it was
fully con?firmed by a host of others) married the niece of a waterman employed
to pull the harbour-master about the river. He kept a public-house, and carried
on the system of lodgers for ballast- heaving, making a great deal of money out
of them; by this means he got so much work at his command that the rest of the
publicans complained to the harbour-master, and the man was forced to give up
his public-house. When he had to give it up he made it over to his niece?s
husband, and that man allowed him Is. for every ship he brought him to ballast.
I?ve known him--
that?s the publican that succeeded the man I?ve been
telling you of--
have forty ships in a day--
one week with another he?s had
100 ships, that?s £5, and he has them still. It?s the same now. We?ve
both worked for him. His wife?s uncle (the harbour-master?s waterman) says
to the captains, and he goes on board to see them, after the harbour master?s
visit to them, ?Go to , get your ballast of him, and I?ll give you the best
berth in the river.? "
I next obtained an interview with a young man who was the victim of a double
extortion. He stated as follows: --
I work under a publican, and lodge in
his house. I have done so for five years. I pay 2s. a week, there being ten of us in two rooms. We?re
all single men. These two rooms contain four beds, three in the larger room, and
one in the other. We sleep two in a bed, and should have to sleep three in some,
only two of the men don?t occupy the lodgings they pay for. The bigger room
may be 16 feet by 10, the smaller a quarter of that size. You cannot turn in it--
bed can?t be brought out of the room unless it?s taken to pieces. We must
cook in the tap-room, which is a room for the purpose--
it contains forms and an
old table, with a large grate. We are found frying-pans, and gridirons, and
pans, and fire, and candle; but we must find our own knives and forks. The room
is shamefully dirty--
I mean the tap (cooking) room. It looks as if it hadn?t
been washed for years. It?s never been washed to my knowledge. The bed-rooms
are very little better. The bedding is very bad--
a flock bed, with a pair of
blankets, a quilt, and a sort of a sheet, clean once a fortnight. There?s very
bad ventilation, and very unpleasant smells. It?s a horrid den altogether.
None of us would stop there if we could help it--
but we can?t help it; for if
we leave we get no work, and if he (the publican) knew I?d told you this, I
should be discharged directly. We have peaceable, quiet sort of men in the house--
a place as it is. We are all obliged to send our washing out of the house,
paying 3d. a shirt. We are forced to find locks for our rooms to keep our bits
of things from being stolen, as the place is open, and there?s common stairs,
and anybody may walk into the rooms. One man was robbed; my clothes was in the
box with his, the box was broken open, but the clothes was left; and a few
halfpence, put away in the box, were taken. There?s lots of bugs. We can only
sleep after hard work. and we must drink when we?re at work. I?ve poured my
beer into the river many a time, it was so bad--
it tasted as if it was
poison?ous. Men have been sick after it--
I have, at different times. We have
drank water in preference; if it?s good country water, out of the ship?s
stores, it?s a treat; but we have drank Thames water rather than the bad beer.
We?re all forced to drink. To show how we?re treated I?ll tell you this: I
owe so much, and so much a week?s stopped to pay it, but it never gets less. I
am always charged the same. There it is, the same figures are on the slate, keep
paying, paying off as you will. They won?t rub it off; or, if they do rub it
off, it?s there again next time. Last week a man was discharged for grumbling because he objected to pay eighteenpence twice over. He has?nt
had a day?s work since."
Then came one who was the employ? of a publican and a grocer. He said: --
I work under a publican and a grocer. I?m any man?s man. I
stand with my fingers in my mouth at Ratcliff-cross, watching, and have done
it the last nine years. Half of us is afraid to come and speak to you. When I
volunteered, the big-whiskered and fat-faced men (the foremen) were looking at
me and threatening me, for coming to you. No matter, I care for nobody. Worse
nor I am I can?t be. No more I can?t. I go to one publican to work 60 tons,
and for that I get 4s.; but 6s. is my rights. The remainder 2s. is left--
forced to leave it--
for me to drink out on Sunday night. If I was in a fair
house the publican would pay me 7s. 6d.; as it is, I get 4s., and 2s. must be
drunk. It?s the rule at that house--
he?s in opposition, and works low. If I
was at liberty it wasn?t to his house I?d go for a drink. The hardest
drinking man gets the first work, and when a man?s half drunk he doesn?t
care what stuff he puts into his belly. Before we go to a job, the four of us
are expected to drink half-a-pint of rum or gin: the publicans expect it. If I
was a teetotaller I must pay my whack, and the other men may drink it, for the
score against the ship is divided among the men equal. Suppose two foremen meet
and have a drop of brandy or rum together about a ship?s ballast, that?s
charged to us poor fellows; its stuck up to our score, but we mustn?t say
nothing, tho? we know we never had a sup of it, but if we say a word it?s
no more work. Once on a time I worked for a publican close by, and when I
came to the house I had nothing to drink. My oldest mate whispered to me on our
way from the London Dock, and told me to speak my mind, for he knew there was a
false score against the ship, and the others was afraid to say a word. Well, I
did speak when I got into the house, and the foreman was there, and he asked me
what business I had to speak more nor another. There was 6s. charged to the
score for drink that we never touched nor ever saw--
not a sup of it. He--
told me I shouldn?t go to finish the ship. I said I would in
spite of him. I told the missus I expected she wouldn?t give no more drink but
what we had to drink ourselves, or would get when we came home; and she said she
wouldn?t, and that?s two years ago, but I haven?t had a job for them
parties since. Suppose I get to the public-house for my money at six in the
evening, I?m forced to wait until eleven--
until I?m drunk very often--
stopped when I?m hungry, after five or six hours? hard work
on the river, and not let take the money home to my wife and family, nor let have anything to
eat, for I?m waiting for that money to get a bit of grub: but when I?m half drunk the hunger goes off, just for a time. I must go and
drink in a morning if my children go without break?fast, and starve all day
till I come home at night. I can get nothing from my employers but drink. If I
ask them for is., I can?t get it. I?ve finished my load of ballast without
breaking my fast but on the beer we?re forced to take with us. I?ve found
grocers better to work under than publicans--
more honesty in them. They charged
a middling fair price, but they?ll have tow-row out of it--
that?s dry money--
much a score. They?ll stop 6d. a score for giving us the job. I can get as
good sugar as I have from them at 4d. for 3d.--
but then the difference
between the grocer and publican is, that the wife and family can have a bit of
something to eat under the grocer, but not under the publican. All goes in drink
with the publican, for we can?t carry drink home. When I go home drunk from
the publican?s, I tumble on the floor, perhaps, and say. ?Is there anything
to eat for me?? and my old woman says ?Where?s the money?--
give me that,
and I?ll give you something to eat. Then a man gets mad with vexation, and the
wife and children runs away from him--
they?re glad to get away with their
lives, they?re knocked about so. It makes a man mad with vexation, to see a
child hungry; it kills me, but whatever the foreman gives me, I must take. I
dare never say no. If I get nothing--
if all is gone in drink--
I must go from
him with a blithe face, to my starving children, or I need never go back again
for another job."
I next saw two men who stated that they were oppressed by the publican and the
foreman also. The first said--
I work under a publican, and have to pay the
foreman one-fifth of my earnings; I only have fourpence out of every shilling I
earn, and I must be a sober man indeed to get that. Both the publican and the
fore?man get eightpence out of a shilling, and make their money out of my
sweat. Nine years ago I was left, to my sorrow, with nine motherless children,
and I am the slave of the publican. He is my destruction, and such are my
sufferings that I don?t care what I do if I can destroy the system. I shall
die happy if I can see an end to it. I would go to bed supperless to-night, and so should my chil?dren, if I
could stop it. After I have a had a job of work, many?s the time I have not
had a penny to take home to my children; it has all gone betwixt the foreman and
the publican, and what is more, if I had brought anything home I should have
stood a worse chance of work the next day. If I had gone away with six?pence in
my pocket, the work that would have come to me would have gone to those who had spent all in the house. I can solemnly say that
the men are made regular drunkards by the publicans. I am nine-and-twenty years
dealing with this oppression, and I wish from my heart I could see an end to it,
for the sake of my children, and my fellow-creatures? children as well. But I
suffer quite as much from the foreman as I do from the publican. I am obliged to
treat him before I can get a job of work. The man who gives him the most drink,
he will employ the first. Besides this, the foreman has two fifth parts of the
money paid for the job--
he has twice as much as the men if he does any of the
and if he does none of the work, he takes one-fifth of the whole money--
besides this, the men do three times the foreman?s labour. If I could get the
fair value of my sweat, I could lay by to-morrow. and keep my family
respectably. In the room of that, now my family want bread often--
for it hurts my feelings. I have been idle all to-day; for hearing of this, I
came to make my statement, for it was the pride of my heart to do all that I
could to put an end to the oppression. The publicans have had the best of me,
and when the system is done away with I shan?t be much the better for it. I
have been nine-and-twenty years at it, and it has ruined me both body and soul;
but I say what I do for the benefit of others, and those who come after me."
The other man said that he worked under a publican, and a grocer as well, and
lodged with a foreman. "
I pay 2s. a week for my lodgings,"
he said; "
are two beds in the room, and two men in each. The room where we all sleep is
not more than seven feet long by five feet wide, and barely seven feet high.
There is no chimney in it. It is a garret, with nothing in it but the two beds.
There hadn?t need to be much more, for it wouldn?t hold even a chair
besides. There?s hardly room, in fact, for the door to open. I find it very
close sleeping there at night time, with no ventilation; but I can?t help
myself. I stay there for the job of work. I must stay. I shouldn?t get a day?s
work if I didn?t. The lodgings are so bad, I?d leave them to-morrow if I
could. I know I pay twice as much as I could get them for elsewhere. That?s
one way in which I, for one, am robbed. Besides this, I am obliged to treat the
foreman; I am obliged to give him two glasses of rum, as well as lodging at his
house, in order to get employment. I have also to drink at the public-house;
one-fifth of my money is kept, first and foremost, by the publican. That goes
for the compulsory drink--
for the swash which he sends us on board, and that we
think the Thames water is sweet and wholesome to it. It is expressly adulterated
for our drink. If we speak a word against it we should be left to walk the streets, for a week and more forward. Even if we were
known to meet a friend, and have a pint or a pot in another public-house, we
should be called to an account for it by the publican we worked under, and he
would tell us to go and get work where we spent our money--
and God knows very
little money we would have, coming out of his house after our hard sweat. After
the compulsory drink, and the publican has settled with us, and stopped his
fifth part of our hard-earned money for the swash --
?tis nothing else! --
that he has given us to drink, then I should be
thought no man at all if I didn?t have two pots of beer or half-a- pint of gin--
that I would count myself very lucky indeed if I had a couple of shillings to
take home, and out of that I should have to spend two-thirds of it to get
another job. I am a married man, and my wife and three children are in Ireland.
I can?t have them over, for it is as much as I can do to support myself. I
came over here, thinking to get work, and to send them money to bring them over
after me, but since I have been here I have been working at the ballast-work,
and have not been able to keep my?self. I don?t complain of what is paid for
the work; the price is fair enough, but we don?t get a quarter of what we
earn, and the Irish ballast-heavers suffer more here than in their own country.
When I came over here I had a good suit of clothes to my back, and now I?m all
in rags and tatters, and yet I have been working harder and earning more money
than I did in all my life. We are robbed of all we get by the foremen and
publicans. I was eight years a teetotaller before I went to ballast work, and
now I am forced to be a drunkard, to my sorrow, to get a job of work. My wife
and children have a bit of land in Ireland to keep them, and they are badly
enough off, God knows. I can neither help them nor send money to bring them over
to me, nor can I get over to them myself. The grocers whom we work under rob us
in the same manner. I have worked under one. He supplied bread, butter, tea,
sugar, coffee, candles, tobacco, cheese, &c. It is a larger kind of chandler?s
shop. He charges us 5?d. for the same bread as I can buy for 4?d. at other
shops. The tea, sugar, and other articles he supplies us with are at the same
rate; they are either worse or dearer than at other shops. They generally manage
to get a fifth part of our earnings wherever we go--
but the grocers are best of
all, for they don?t ruin our health, as what they give us don?t make us
sick. I work for these two houses because the foreman that I lodge with has work
out of both houses, and we are obliged to deal at the houses that he works
under; if we didn?t we shouldnt get the job; so that if we are not robbed by
the publican we are by the grocer. They will have it out of the poor, hard-working men, and the
foreman must have his gain out of us as well. I only wish to God it was done
away with, for it is downright oppression to us all, and if I never have another
stroke of work, I will strive all I can to have it done away with for the sake
of my fellow-men."
After these two came one who said--
I have been three years a
ballast-heaver. Just before that, I came to this country. When I came I got to
be a lodger with a foreman to a publican. I paid him 2s. 6d. a week. My family--
wife and two children--
came over when I had got work as a ballast-heaver. I
couldn?t take them to the lodgings I then had--
they were all for single men;
so I had to take another place, and there I went to live with my family: but to keep my work I had to pay the foreman of the publican--
him that lets
these lodgings to the ballast-heavers--
2s. 6d. a week. all the same as if I?d
been living there. That I had: and I had to do it for two years. Yes, indeed. I
didn?t earn enough to pay for two lodgings: so, two or three months back, I
refused to pay the 2s. 6d. a week for a place I hadn?t set my foot in for two
years: and so I lost my work under that foreman and his publican. If me and my
children was starving for want of a bite of bread, neither of them would give me
a farthing. There?s plenty as bad as them too, and plenty used like me, and it?s
a murdering shame to tax poor men?s labour for nothing."
This man reiterated
the constant story of being compelled to drink against his will, hating the
stuff supplied to him, being kept for hours waiting before he was paid. and
being forced to get drunk whether he would or no. The man also informed me that
he now works under a butcher, who pays 8s. a score to the hands he employs, he
(the butcher) receiving from the captain 10s. "
he said, "
a sixty ton job. I?d be entitled to 7s. 6d. without beer or such like, but
under this butcher I get only 5s. 3d., and out of that 5s. 3d.--
that?s all I
get in hard money--
I?m expected to spend 4s., or thereabouts, in meat, such
as he chooses to give. I have no choice. He gives what he likes, and charges me
6?d. a pound for what I could buy at 4d. in a regular way. Very inferior stuff
he keeps. Working under a butcher we must all live on this poor meat. We can?t
afford bread or vegetables to it."
This same butcher, I was afterwards
informed. had been twice fined for using false weights to customers such as the
man whose statement I have given; he even used wooden weights, made to look like
The following is an instance of the injustice done to the men
by those who contract to "
rather than heave the ballast on board:
"I now work,"
said the man whom I was referred to as an
exponent of the wrong, "
, a publican, who contracts to supply ships
with ballast by the lump. He?ll contract to supply a ship with all the ballast
she wants, by the lump; that is, so much money for all she wants, instead of so
much by the ton. Or he may contract with a ship at 2s. 6d. a ton. We--
a gang of 8 men--
may put two loads, or 120 tons, on board in the course of a
day. For those 120 tons he will receive 120 half-crowns; that?s £15. For
putting in those 120 tons, we--
that is, the 8 ballast heavers employed--
2s. 6d. a day of 12 or 14 hours; that is eight half-crowns or 20s., with 3s. 6d.
a day for a basket-man, in addition to the eight; so leaving the publican a
profit of £13 16s. 6d."
I could hardly believe in the existence of such a
yielding a mere pittance to the labourer, and such an enormous profit
to the contractor; and I inquired further into the matter. I found the statement
fully corroborated by several per?sons present; but that was not all I learned.
When the men, by incessant exertion, get in 120 tons in a day, as they often do,
nothing is charged them for the beer they have had, 4 or 5 pints a day each; but
if only 60 tons be got in, as sometimes happens, through the weather and other
circumstances, then the men employed on the half-crown a day must pay for their
own beer, and pay their private scores; for, unless they have private scores,
for treating a friend, or the like, "
there?s no chance of a job,"
not a bit of it."
He continued, "
Very bad drink it is--
worst; it make?s me as sick as a dog. There?s two brothers there, what they
call ?blood-hounds.? They?re called so because they hunt up the poor men
to get them to work, and to see that they spend their money at their employer?s
public-house when work?s done. If you don?t spend something, no bread to cut
not a bit of it--
and no chance of another job there. He employs
us ballast-heavers, when we?re not at the ballast, in backing coals into the
I have given the statement of a ballast-heaver as to the system
pursued by those whom he called basket-men. The employer here alluded to is one
of that class, the difference being, that the ballast-heavers shovel the ballast
out of the lighter on to the stage, and from the stage through a port-hole into
the hold. Four men are thus employed--
two in the lighter and two on the stage.
With a large ship five men are employed, and two stages. When the basket-man, or
the man contracting by the lump, is employed, this process is observed: --
are two men in the lighter, alongside the vessel to be ballasted. whose business it is to
fill five baskets employed. There are five men at the winch on board ship,
employed in heaving up the baskets, and a basket- man to turn them over and
empty out their contents.
To ascertain that there was no provident fund, no provision whatever for
sickness, I investigated the case of a man who, in consequence of illness,
occasioned by his trade, was afflicted with a pulmonary complaint. This man was
formerly one of the wine?cellarmen in the London Docks; he was then made a "
at the St. Katharine Dock, and was dismissed for having taken a lighted
pipe in while at his work; and for the last fourteen years and upwards he has
been a ballast-heaver. I now give his wife?s statement: --
My husband has
been ill for three months, and has been six weeks in Guy?s Hospital, and I?m
afraid he?ll never get out again, for he kept up as long as he could, for the
sake of the children. We have five at home, one of whom (twelve years old) I
hope to get to sea, having two older sons at sea, and being the mother of twelve
children altogether. I will tell you what led to my poor husband?s illness; he
was a kind husband to me. I consider it was his hard work that made him ill, and
his not getting his rights--
not his money, when entitled to it. After doing a
heavy day?s work he had to go and sit in a cold tap-room, drink?ing bad beer;
but it wasn?t beer--
muck I call it; and he had to wait to be paid, aye, and
might have to wait till the day after, and then come home cold, and have to go
to bed without a bit of victuals. His illness is owing to that. No horse could
stand it long. Ballast-men are worse than slaves in the West Indies. When at
work, he earned what the others did. He only drank what he couldn?t help--
worst of stuff. No drink, no work. Six weeks ago he went to the hospital, I
conveying him. When I returned home, I found three strange men had turned my
four children into the street, doing it in a brutal way. I rushed into the
house, and one said, ?Who are you?? I seized the fellow who said this by the
handkerchief, and put him out. One of them said ?Be off, you old Irish hag;
you have no business here--
we have possession.? When I saw the children in
the street, passion made me strong, and so I put him out. The collector of the
rent, who employed the broker, is a publican, for whom my husband worked as a
ballast-heaver until he was unable to work from illness. I was given into
custody for an assault, and taken before Mr. Yardley. He considered the assault
proved, and, as an honest woman, I couldn?t deny it, and so I had fourteen
days with bread and water. The children were placed in the workhouse, where they
were well treated. I was very glad they were so taken care of. As soon as 1 got out I went to see
about my children--
that was the first thing I did. 1 couldn?t rest till I did
that. I brought them home with me, though it was only to bread and water, but I
was with them. 1 only owed about 15s. rent, and had been four years in the house
at the time the publican put the broker in. We paid 6s. 6d. a week. It was no
use asking such a man as that for any mercy. He was in the habit of employing
ballast-heavers for many years, and if that doesn?t harden a man?s heart,
nothing will. In general, these ballast publi?cans are cruel and greedy. At
present I go out washing, or charing. or doing anything I can to maintain my
children; but work?s very slack. I?ve had a day-and-a-half this fortnight,
earning 2s. 6d.--
that?s all for a fortnight. The parish allows me four
loaves of bread a week. The children, all boys, just get what keeps a little
life in them. They have no bed at night, and are starved almost to death. poor
things! I blame the system under which my husband had to work--
his money going
for leaving me destitute to the world. On Christmas-day we lived on a
bit of workhouse bread. nothing else--
and had no fire to eat it by. But for the
money gone in drink, we might have had a decent home, and wouldn?t so soon
have come to this killing poverty. I have been tenderly reared, and never
thought I should have come to this. May God grant the system may be done away
with, for poor people?s sake."
I now give the statement of two women, the wives of ballast- heavers, that I
may further show how the wives and families of these men are affected by the
present system. "
I have been eleven years married,"
said one, "
had five children, four being now living."
The other woman had been married 23
years, but has no children living. "
We are very badly off,"
said the woman
with a family, "
my husband drinking hard. When I first knew him, when we were
sweethearts, in a country part of Ireland--
he was a farm labourer, and I was a
he was a sober and well-behaved man. Two years after, we
were married, and he was a sober man those two years still. We came to London to
worse luck! The first work he got was ballast-heaving. Then
he was obligated to drink, or he couldn?t get work; and so. poor man, he got
fond of it. This winter oft enough he brings me and the children home 2s. or 1s.
6d. after a job, and on that we may live for two or three days. We?re half
starved in course. The children have nothing to eat. It?s enough to tear any
poor woman?s heart to pieces. What?s gone into the publican?s till would
get the children bread and bedding and bits of clothes. Nothing but his being
employed at ballast-heaving made him a drunkard, for he is a drunkard now. He often comes home and ill-uses me, but he doesn?t
ill-use the children. He beats me with his fists; he strikes me in the face--
has kicked me. When he was a sober man. he was a kind, good husband; and when he?s
poor man! --
he?s a kind, good husband still. If he was a sober
man again, with his work. I?d be happy and comfortable to what I am now.
Almost all his money goes in drink."
We can?t get shoes to our feet"
said the second woman. "
When my husband is sober. and begins to think
(continued the first) he wishes he could get rid ot such a system of drinking--
really does wish it, for he loves hi~ family, but when he goes out to work he
forgets all that. it?s just the drink that does it. I would like him to have a
fair allowance at his work--
he requires it; but beyond that it?s all waste
and sin; but he?s forced to waste it and to run into sin, and so we all have
to suffer. We are often without fire. Much in the pawn-shop, do you say, sir?
Indeed I haven?t much out."
interposed the older woman, "
a stitch but what?s in pawn. except what wouldn?t be taken. We have 50s.
worth in pawn altogether--
all for meat and fire."
I can?t, I daren?t
(the younger woman said) expect anything better while the present system of work
continues. My husband?s a slave, and we suffer for it."
The elder woman made
a similar statement. After his score is paid. her husband has brought her 4s.,
3s., 2s., 1s., and nothing--
coming home drunk with nothing at all. Both women
stated that the drink made their husbands sick and ill, and for sickness there
was no provision whatever. They could have taken me to numbers of women situated
and used as they were. Their rooms are four bare walls, with a few pieces of
furniture and bedding such as no one would give a penny for. The young woman was
perfectly modest in manner, speech, and look, and spoke of what her husband was.
and still might be, with much feeling. She came to me with a half-clad and
half-famished child in her arms.
Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850