Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter XXIII

[back to menu for this book]


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 the masses," 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 master.
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-- a proportion 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 Division. 

Computed Population in each Division according to the Parliamentary Returns.

Number of Charges of Drunkenness each Year, in the Years 1831, 1832, and 1833.

Public-houses and Beer- shops in each Division.




Males. Females. Total. Males. Females. Total. Males. Females. Total. Public houses Beer-shops Total
(A) Whitehall 120 6,238 406 230 636 384 243 627 371 228 599 32 5 37
(B) Westminster 168 53,147 1,596 800 2,396 2,396 831 2,660 1,864 1,193 3,057 186 58 244
(C)St. James 188 105,862 2,290 1,127 3,417 2,119 1,055 3,174 2,208 1,256 3,464 302 20 322
(D) St. Marylebone 166 122,206 1,375 727 2,102 1,300 650 1,950 1,019 605 1,624 148 54 202
(E) Holborn 168 75,241 1,785 1,079 2,864 1,241 897 2,138 879 618 1,497 249 19 368
(F) Covent-garden 168 41,010 2,238 1,555 3,793 2,165 1,617 3,782 1,665 1,388 3,053 309 23 332
(G) Finsbury 236 115,266 2,141 1,423 3,564 2,192 1,440 3,632 1,916 1,270 3,186 368 100 468
(H) Whitechapel 191 119,042 1,253 812 2,065 1,631 1,268 2,899 1,803 1,295 3,098 359 102 461
(K) Stepney 296 143,137 899 574 1,473 1,387 732 2,119 1,125 762 1,887 437 131 568
(L) Lambeth 191 101,561 1,732 1,271 3,003 1,581 1,234 2,815 1,291 944 2,235 183 70 153
(M) Southwark 189 107,537 1,655 1,050 2,705 1,470 982 2,452 1,284 843 2,127 321 66 387
(N) Islington 269 140,407 850 373 1,223 1,165 573 1,738 826 409 1,235 267 144 311
(P) Camberwell 243 77,825 256 87 343 201 75 276 203 80 283 138 96 234
(R) Greenwich 212 58,778 363 137 500 513 240 753 418 210 628 283 51 334
(S) Hampstead 223 112,136 573 301 874 613 326 939 697 319 1,016 138 74 212
(T) Kensington 184 70,296 124 24 148 303 109 412 464 137 601 220 93 313
(V)Wandsworth 186 62,039 212 35 247 210 60 270 235 55 290 133 76 209
Totals 3,398 1,511,728 19,743 11,605 31,353 20,304 12,232 32,636 18,268 11,612 29,880 4,073 1,182 5,255

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 consequence-- 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 " common assaults" 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 " simple larceny" 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 redemption: -- " The children of the coal-whippers." he told me, " were under the old system, almost reared in the tap?room. He himself had known as 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-- so 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 dishonour.
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 " an stage," 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-- all-- all." Of the 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.-- the other 2s. being spent in tea and sugar, he being a single man. Three earned 10s-- one. 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," said several others. On being asked, " Are you compelled to spend half your earnings in drink?" 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 " We are-- 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." " Another thing," they said, " 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." All 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. " all: 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: --  

Earned Took Home
£ s d £ s d
0 12 0 7 0
0 7 0 3 6
0 15 0 9 0
0 12 0 6 0
0 13 0 4 0
0 11 0 5 0
0 16 0 6 0
0 15 0 5 0
0 5 0 0 2 6
0 8 0 0 5 0
0 9 6 0 5 0
1 0 0 0 10 0
0 12 0 0 3 6
1 0 0 0 9 0
0 12 0 0 4 0
0 15 0 0 9 0
0 15 0 0 8 6
0 12 0 0 3 6
0 9 0 0 5 0
1 0 0 0 4 6
1 0 0 0 10 0
0 10 0 0 3 0
0 10 0 0 5 0
0 12 0 0 2 6
0 8 0 0 3 6
0 14 0 0 9 0

16 13 0 7 0 0

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-- the 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. " I work 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-- that 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 get employed-- 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-- that is 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 ballast-heavers together-- 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," said one, " 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 be d-- d if he?d have such men as me-- he didn?t make his living by teetotallers.'" " Yes," 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 he-- that?s the publican-- wouldn?t. So I was forced to break my pledge to live-- me and my youngsters-- I had six then, and I?ve buried two since." " Work," resumed the man who first gave me the state?ment, " keeps getting 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.] " One week 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 with me," 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, " The 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" [" often, often," was 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." [So indeed 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-- what 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 nothing." 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-- the 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-- bad 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-- I?m 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 all up-- 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-- that?s the foreman-- 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-- drunk from vexation-- 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-- so 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 work-- 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-- worse luck, 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; " there 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-- so 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-- a 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. " Suppose," he said, " I have 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 lead.
The following is an instance of the injustice done to the men by those who contract to " whip," rather than heave the ballast on board: --  
    "I now work," said the man whom I was referred to as an exponent of the wrong, " for Mr.-- , 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-- that is, 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-- receive 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 system-- 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," said my informant-- " not a bit of it." He continued, " Very bad drink it is-- the 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 next morning-- 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 steamers." 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: -- There 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 " permanent man" 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-- the 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 in drink-- 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, " and have 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 cottier?s daughter-- 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 better ourselves-- 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-- he has kicked me. When he was a sober man. he was a kind, good husband; and when he?s sober now-- 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-- he 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." " We," interposed the older woman, " haven?t 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