London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry
1851

Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men.

Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men.

 

A MEETING of ticket-of-leave men, convened by Mr. H. Mayhew, was held some time since at the National Hall, , with the view of affording to persons of this class, who are anxious to lead a reformed life, an opportunity of stating the difficulties they have to encounter in their endeavour to obtain a honest livelihood. About members of the body responded to Mr. Mayhew"s invitation. The men were admitted on presenting their tickets--of leave, and were required on entrance to fill up the columns of a register, setting forth their ages, their occupations, the offence for which they were last convicted, their sentences, and the amount of instruction they had severally received. From the information thus collected, it appears that only out of the present were above the age of , the large majority ranging between and , the highest age of all being ; that they consisted of labourers, hawkers, costermongers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, and other handicraftsmen; that their previous punishments varied from years to years" transportation; and that more than -half of them had been educated either at day schools or Sunday schools. Suspecting that the men would be unwilling to attend if the police presented themselves, either in the hall or at its entrance, Mr. Mayhew took the precaution to apply beforehand to the Metropolitan Commissioners on the subject. The authorities at once acceded to the request thus made to them, and not a solitary constable was permitted to overawe the meeting."

Mr. Mayhew, in opening the proceedings, said:—"The object of this meeting is threefold. In the place, I wish society to know more about you as a distinct class; secondly, I wish the world to understand the working of the ticket-of-leave system; and, thirdly, I want to induce society to exert itself to assist you, and extricate you from your difficulties. When I went among you, it was not very easy for me to make you comprehend the purpose I had in view. You at fancied that I was a Government spy, or a person in some way connected with the police. I am none of these, nor am I a clergyman wishing to convert you to his particular creed, nor a teetotaler anxious to prove the source of all evil to be over-indulgence in intoxicating drink; but I am simply a literary man, desirous of letting the rich know something more about the poor. (Applause.) Some persons study the stars, others study the animal kingdom, others again direct their researches into the properties of stones, devoting their whole lives to these particular vocations. I am the who has endeavoured to study a class of my fellow-creatures whom Providence has not placed in so fortunate a position as myself, my desire being to bring the extremes of society together—the poor to the rich, and the rich to the poor. (Applause.) I wish to get bodies of men together in a mass, their influence by that means being more sensibly felt than if they remain isolated. I know you, perhaps, nearly as well as many of you know yourselves. I have had many of you in my house with my wife and children, and to your honour and credit be it said, you never wronged me of the smallest article, and, moreover, I never heard a coarse word escape your lips. I have trusted many of you who have been long tried by want of food. I have given you money to get change for me, and you never yet took advantage of me. This shows that there is still a spark of good in each of you. That spark I wish Society to develope, that you may be made what all must really desire to see you. Some or Sundays ago I was at prison during Divine service. Society believes you to be hardened in heart and unimpressionable. Well, I saw some prisoners there weeping like children at the melting tale which the clergyman told. He spoke of the burial of a girl by torchlight, at which he officiated, explaining that the reason why the

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funeral took place so late was that the father of the deceased had to come about miles to be present, and thence the delay. The old man"s tears, he said, fell like rain on the coffin-lid; and yet, in his anguish, the bereaved parent exclaimed that he preferred to see his daughter a corpse than for her to live a life of infamy in the streets. (Sensation.) This sad story could not fail to touch a chord in each of your breasts. But to come to the ticket-of-leave system. The public generally believe that it is a most dangerous thing to set you free under that system. I know this is of the most important experiments in connexion with the reformation of offenders that has ever been tried, and it has worked better than any other of which I have had experience. In , the old mode of transportation was changed, and an Act passed directing that no person should be sentenced to transportation except for years or upwards, and that thenceforward sentence of penal servitude should be substituted for transportation for less than years. At the same time, a discretionary power was given to commute sentences of transportation into terms of penal servitude. Then, for the time, was it ordained that it should be lawful for her Majesty, under the seal of her secretary of state, to grant any convict, now or hereafter sentenced to transportation, or to the punishment substituted for it, a license to be at large in the United Kingdom, or such part thereof as is expressed in the license, during a portion of his term of imprisonment. The holder of this license is not to be imprisoned by reason of his previous sentence; but if his license is revoked, he is to be apprehended and re-committed. Since the passing of that Act, and between and —a period of about years and a quarter—the number of convicts released from public works and prisons has been . To this number have to be added juveniles from Parkhurst prison, ; and convicts from Bermuda and Gibraltar, : making a total of . Of this aggregate, have had their licenses revoked, and have been sentenced to penal servitude and imprisonment; making together who have had their licenses cancelled out of the entire . Out of this , were committed for breach of the vagrancy law, for ordinary assaults, for assaults on the police, for breach of the game-laws, for desertion from the militia, and for misdemeanour; making together , and leaving as the exact number who have relapsed into their former course of life. Thus it appears that only and a-half per cent of the whole number of tickets-of-leave granted have been revoked. Now, considering that the number of re-committals to prison for England and Wales averages in every prisoners; this, I think, is a very favourable result of the ticket-of-leave experiment. Look- ing at the extreme difficulty of a return to an honest life, it is almost astonishing that so low a per-centage as and a half of the licenses in all England should have been revoked. You know that, during your imprisonment, there are stages of probation. In certain prisons you have to do a prescribed amount of work, for which you receive a certain gratuity. The shoemakers, for instance, get every week if they make and a-half pairs, for pairs, and for pairs. The tailors get if they make suits of prison garments, for suits, and for . The matmakers get for square feet of their work, for feet, and for . The cotton-weavers get for yards, for , and for . The cloth-weavers are paid in a similar manner. These sums are entered to your credit, and pass with you from prison to prison until they at last accumulate into an amount, which is handed over to you under certain restrictions on leaving. In the stage of probation, you receive in addition to the ordinary weekly gratuity; in the stage you receive an addition of ; and in the stage of or This sum— large or small, according to the term of imprisonment—is placed to your credit on quitting the prison, and is thus distributed:— to be paid immediately on discharge, or by post-office order on the convict"s arrival at his native place. If the sum is over and under he receives on his discharge, and the balance at the end of months; if over and under , half is paid on his discharge and the balance at the end of months; if over and under , is paid on his discharge, half the balance in months, and the remainder in months. In order, however, to obtain this balance, it is necessary for you to be provided with certificates as to character, either from a clergyman, a magistrate, or the employer with whom the holder of the license is then at work. The applicants for these balances have been in number up to the last. Of these, have sent in certificates of a satisfactory nature, only having been sent in of a contrary character— certificates were furnished by clergymen, by magistrates, and by employers under whom the persons liberated were engaged. In the cases above-mentioned, after the expiration of the prescribed number of months, the money was paid to the applicants. Considering the difficulty these persons must experience in obtaining the certificates required of them, the figures I have stated are highly satisfactory as to the working of the system; and I cannot, therefore, understand how society should have gone so far astray on this point as it has done. The public, however, believe ticket-of-leave men to be very dangerous characters—it does not know the training they undergo while in prison. A high authority tells me, that it is

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impossible for a gentleman"s son to be trained with greater care at Eton or at any of the other public schools than each of you have been. When, however, Society sees or , or even some half-dozen of you relapse into your former practices, they jump to the conclusion that the same is the case with you all. They, in fact, think that relapses are the rule and amendment the exception, instead of the fact being quite the other way. This is like the self-delusion of the London apprentices, who fancy there are more wet Sundays in a year than rainy week-days, simply because they want to get out on Sundays, and are particularly vexed when the bad weather keeps them at home. (Laughter.) Now I have tried many experiments at the reformation of criminals, and -half of them have failed. Yet I am not discouraged; for I know how difficult it is for men to lay aside their past habits. Every allowance ought, therefore, to be made, because they cannot be expected to become angels in a moment. The vice of the present system, in fact, is, that unless a criminal suddenly becomes a pattern man, and at once forgets all his old associates, Society will have none of you, and, as a certain gentleman has expressed it, "you must all be shot down, and thrown into Society"s dust-bin." (Applause.) A well-known literary gentleman, who had moved in good society, had a daughter, with whom he lived at the east end of London. He was rather lax, perhaps, in the rearing of his child, allowing her to do pretty much as she liked. She once went to a concert, and got acquainted with a "mobsman," who accompanied her home, and at last introduced himself to her father as his daughter"s suitor. Being a well-dressed, respectable-looking person, the father—good, easy man!—took a liking for him, and not being particular in his inquiries as to the lover"s course of life, allowed them to marry. After their marriage, however, the daughter discovered what her husband"s pursuits really were. She, of course, acquainted her father with the fact, who, in great distress of mind, called his sonin-law to him, and telling him that he had never had a stain upon his name or character, implored him by every argument he could urge to lead an honest life. The mobsman promised to comply. His father-in-law removed him from the neighbourhood in which he was staying, and placed him in the service of a large railway carrier. In this employ, having day to take a parcel to a gentleman"s house, up-stairs on the mantelpiece he saw a gold watch. This temptation was too much for him, and he seized the article and put it into his pocket. The theft was discovered before the offender had gone any distance; the man was soon arrested, but the father, by dint of great exertion, got him off, on returning the watch and communicating with its owner before the complaint was made at the police-office. The father again en- treated his son-in-law to abandon his evil courses, but the latter said his old associations were too strong for him, and that he saw no other resource open for him than to leave London altogether. The old man accordingly took him with him to a residence on the banks of the Thames, where, at length, some of his old companions unfortunately met him, and told him of a "crib" they were going to "crack," and of the heavy "swag" they were likely to get. The prodigal"s old habits were again too much for him. He accompanied his former associates in their criminal enterprise, was captured, and thrown again into prison—his fatherin- law died in a mad-house, and his wife committed suicide. Thus fearful, then, are the effects of criminal associations, and therefore I am only surprised that so small a percentage of the ticket-of-leave men have yielded to a relapse. Successful, however, as the system has thus far proved, I yet see a considerable amount of evil in connexion with it; and this is the reason why I have called you together, hoping that some of the tales you have to relate will serve to rouse the public to a sense of your real position, and induce them to stretch forth a hand to save you from the ruin that on every hand threatens you. When you come out of prison, destitute as you are of character, there are only or kinds of employment open to you, and I therefore wish Society to institute some association to watch over you, to give you every possible advice, to lead you to good courses, and, moreover, to provide you with the means of getting some honest livelihood. (Applause.) I know that as a class you are distinguished mainly by your love of a roving life, and that at the bottom of all your criminal practices lies your indisposition to follow any settled occupation. Continuous employment of a monotonous nature is so irksome to you, that immediately you engage in it you long to break away from it. This, I believe, after long observation of your character, to be true of the majority of you; and you are able to judge if I am right in this conclusion. Society, however, expects, that if you wish to better yourselves, you will at once settle down as steadily as it does, and immediately conform to all its notions; but I am satisfied that if anything effectual is to be done in the way of reforming you, Society must work in consonance and not in antagonism with your nature. In this connexion it appears to me that the great outlet for you is street trading, where you are allowed to roam at will unchafed by restraints not congenial to your habits and feelings. In such pursuits a small fund for stock-money suffices, and besides, no character is required for those who engage in them. From the inquiries made by a gentleman who lately visited the places in which most of you live, I find that the great

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majority of you follow some form or other of street occupation. Still there is this difficulty in your way. The public requires its thoroughfares to be kept clear of obstruction, and I know that the police have been ordered to drive you away—to make you, as the phrase is, "move on." You may fancy that the police act thus of their own accord; but I learn from communication with the Commissioners, that the police have to receive requisitions from the shopkeepers and other inhabitants to enforce the Street Act, and are compelled to comply with them. In instance a tradesman living in a street-market, where about poor persons were obtaining a livelihood, complained to the police of the obstruction thus occasioned to his business, which was of a "fashionable" nature. The consequence was that the thoroughfare had to be cleared, and these persons were reduced almost to a state of starvation, and many of them were forced into the workhouse. Now I don"t believe that this is right; and I am prepared to say to Society, that no man in the kingdom should have the power to deprive so large a body of poor persons of all means of gaining an honest subsistence. (Loud applause.) At the same time, certain regulations must be respected; the streets even, you will allow, must not be blocked—(hear, hear)—there must be a free passage, and it is necessary to consider whether a plan may not be devised which will answer both ends. It strikes me that a certain number of poor men"s markets might be established very advantageously; for the poor are so linked together that they would rather buy of the poor than the rich; and it is much to their credit that it is so. If spots of ground for markets of this kind were bought by benevolent individuals, and a small toll levied on admission to them, I am sure the speculation would be profitable to those who embarked in it, as well as beneficial to the interests—moral as well as pecuniary—of the street traders. Connected with these establishments there ought to be a school for the children of the traders, a bank for preserving your money, a cook-shop to prevent you from being obliged to take your meals at the publichouse, together with many other useful adjuncts which might be grouped round the market. Such experiments have been tried before now. There is the old Rag-fair at , where formerly old clothes were sold in the streets. In that case a Jew bought a piece of land, to which poor traders were admitted on payment of a halfpenny per head, and the project succeeded so admirably that the owner of the ground soon became a rich man. At Paris similar markets have been instituted, and with success, by M. Delamarre; and in the same city there are also public kitchens, where cooked meat can be had at a cheap rate, so as to keep the poor people out of the public-houses. Lodging-houses for such of the men as choose to come to them would likewise be a valuable appendage to the suggested street-markets, but they must be free from the almost tyrannical supervision which prevails in the existing model lodginghouses in London. Whilst so much vexatious restriction is put upon men"s liberties, they cannot be expected to frequent these places in the numbers they otherwise would. Lodging-houses for the reception of ticket-of-leave men on leaving prison might prevent them from being thrown loose upon the world until they have some prospect of a livelihood before them. I wish Society to take these men by the hand—to be lenient and considerate towards them, and not to be annoyed if or should recede from their good resolutions; for the experience of the reformatory institutions of London shows that there are often per cent of relapses among their inmates. Therefore, if only and a-half per cent of you fail in your laudable endeavours, as the returns I have quoted show, to be the whole proportion, then I say that you are a class who ought to be encouraged. By this means we shall be able to grapple effectually with this great trouble—viz. how to reform the great bulk of our criminals. Under these circumstances I have invited you here to-night, to give you an opportunity of telling Society what are your difficulties. There is a gentleman present who will publish your grievances all over the kingdom, and I charge you all to speak only the truth. You cannot benefit by any other course, and therefore be you a check the upon the other; and if any departs from the strict fact, do you pull him up. Thus you will show the world that you have met here with an earnest desire to better yourselves—thus you will present a spectacle that will go far to convince Society that it runs no risk in giving you your liberty —and prevail upon it to regard not wholly without compassion the few members of your class who, yielding in an evil hour to the trying temptations which beset them, sink unhappily into their former delinquencies." (Loud and prolonged applause.)

The men were then requested to ascend the platform, and relate their own experience, as well as to state their views of how their class could best be assisted. The to respond to this invitation was a young man of neat and comparatively respectable appearance, who seemed to be known to the rest by the name of "Peter," and who, with great fluency and considerable propriety of expression, proceeded to narrate his own past career as follows:—

"Friends, I hope you will excuse any hesitation or stammering on my part while I stand in this unusual position. All the education I have received has been picked up in prison—understand that. As to the difficulties encountered by ticket-of-leave men I know nothing, save from my own personal

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experience. You cannot judge properly of the intentions of the convict, unless you begin with his career from the time that he enters prison. Well, you must know, that I was transported for years. I was sent to , and there put to the tailoring business. From the outset I had a great partiality for books, and I then learnt to read and write better than I could do before. I also acquired a little grammar and arithmetic, simply to improve my mind; and if mental improvement is any part of moral improvement, I was, of course, morally improving also. I knew more arithmetic then than I do now, having lost my knowledge in consequence of excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors. In fact, I got as far as the beginning of algebra—certainly a very abstruse science to tackle. After spending months in I went to Portland, where I had to wheel barrows from morning to night. I still persevered, however, with my books; and the great anxiety that constantly weighed on my mind was, what would become of me when I was liberated. I knew that the work I was doing would be well done; and I was far happier then than I am now, because I feel that there is no breakfast for me to-morrow morning till I go and thieve it; and that is the simple truth. (Applause.) I supposed that if I went to the Chaplain, who had delivered several charitable discourses, very much in accordance with my own feelings, he might assist me. I therefore stated my case to him, telling him that I really wished to become a better member of society. He listened to my tale, and wished me to see him once a-week, which I did. But the Chaplain at this time was the Rev. Mr. Moran (as we understood), and when I wanted books he would not encourage me, unless I consented to become a communicant. If I had done that I should have had more favour shown to me, and been provided with whatever I wished; but not feeling myself fit for such a thing, I therefore refused. I then waited till a change took place, and the Rev. Mr. Ubridge, (as we understood), a lover of science and literature, came—a clergyman whose system was altogether different, having none of these Roman Catholic restrictions. We were then allowed to think and do as we liked in regard to religion, and no man was forced to attend the communion-table unless he thought himself as fit for it as the Minister. I applied to the new Chaplain, and told him I considered my mind to have been much enlightened. I suppose everybody fancies the same, who knows a little, though not much. When my turn to be liberated approached they came to me in my separate cell, and I told them there was no chance of my bettering myself unless I could get an honest living. I said that I must go back to London, where I had been transported, and that the only thing I expected was to be transported again; for my bad character would be no recommendation to me—the police all knew me, and wherever they saw me they would point me out as a ticketof- leave man. (Applause.) On my release I received I came to Southampton with of the officers of the establishment, who was kind enough to ask me to take a drop of brandy. Not having had any spirits for years previous, this little got into my head, and having drank another glass or I was intoxicated, and I spent all my money that night—yes, and got locked up into the bargain. (Laughter.) If I did not quite spend all my money myself, somebody else helped me to spend it. I came to London without a farthing. I hadn"t a friend in the world, and even at present, if I want a meal, I have no to say "Here it is for you." What is a man in such a case, being without work, to do? Is he to starve? Well, I wore out pairs of shoes, walking the streets for months together, looking for a situation, but all in vain; and I became as emaciated as this post, (pointing to the pillar of the lamp on the platform,) having had nothing better than a bit of bread and a herring to eat, and not ounce of animal food during all that period. I had a little pride, which kept me from begging. All the good feelings engendered in prison passed away. I returned to my old companions, with whom I went for about months, when I was at length caught, and received another twelvemonth"s imprisonment, which expired only last Monday fortnight. During the months I was with my old companions I got a good living—I could always make my or a-week by practices which I did not like, but which I was driven to adopt, because the public would not let me earn honestly. Since, however, I received the card of admission to this meeting, I have not put my hand to a dishonest act, and if the promise it holds out is fulfilled I never will. I have little more to say. I attended here to-night in the hope of reaping some permanent benefit, and also to encourage those who, like myself, wish to become honest members of society. (Applause.) I trust the benevolent gentleman who has so humanely interested himself in this cause will be successful in his exertions on behalf of a body of unfortunate and persecuted beings, who, I should say, are more knocked about by the police, and more discouraged by the opinions of the public at large, than any other class in the United Kingdom. (Applause.) May God and right reason direct this movement, and bring it to a speedy and prosperous issue." (Loud cheers greeted "Peter," as he descended from the "tribune.")

The next spokesman was a thin-faced and diminutive, but shrewd-looking costermonger, of about years of age, and tidier in appearance than many of his class, who

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said:—"Friends, I am only a little , and you can"t expect much from me; indeed, "Peter" hasn"t left me much to say. I will, however, begin at the beginning. At the age of I was left without father or mother, and others here could say the same. I was taught to get a living by selling oranges in the streets, and I kept at that for months. I was afterwards induced to go along with a few boys, who went about thieving; and I had nobody to look after me. Having no friend, I nevertheless always got a good "lift" from the police. I was soon arrested, and at Newgate received years" transportation. I spent years and months at the Isle of Wight, and months at Portsmouth. I would not have been kept so long at the Isle of Wight if I had been religious; but as I could not act the hypocrite I was obliged to give up this religion. During this time I never took the sacrament, as they wanted me to do. Well, I gets my liberty, and I had several pounds put into my hands when I left. I came to London-bridge station, and thought it was the Waterloo station, and fancying I was near , I looked about for the Victoria Theatre. A chap then said to me, "You had better not be seen in those clothes." I afterwards changed my dress and sold the other clothes. I soon found myself with only about half-crowns in my pocket. My only friend was a cousin, who was engaged in buying hareskins and rabbit-skins about the streets, and he recommended me to do the same. This was in the winter time, and I hardly knew kind of skin from another. However, I did pretty well at this for or weeks; when, day, as I was walking with a sack of skins upon my back through , , policemen came up to me, and demanded to look into my bag. Rather than consent to this I went to the Police Court along with them. When I got there a policeman said to the inspector, that I was a "ticket-of-leave," and had something in my sack. I insisted on seeing the magistrate, and the inspector brought me to him, but instead of allowing me to speak to his worship, he spoke , saying that I was very violent and saucy, and a "ticket-of-leave." Instead of hearing what I had to say under these circumstances, the magistrate, too, burst out, "Oh, you are an insolent fellow, and a disgrace to society; if the Secretary of State knew of your doings, he would banish you." And his worship, also muttering something about sending me to "quod" for contempt of court, I thought it better to "hook it." During years and a-half of my term at the Isle of Wight, having learnt something of shoemaking, I now travelled down to Northampton, but could get no work because I had no tools. Even what I did know of the trade was not enough to enable me to get a living by it. I then went on to Derby, and was near starving. I had no lodging. I was not quite so proud as "Peter," for I went up to a gentleman and told him the strength of it. I said, I am a "ticket-of-leave." He hardly understood me, but I tried to explain it to him, and he gave me a shilling. With this aid I got my shirt washed, put myself to rights, polished my boots, and up I goes to a magistrate to see what he would say about it. I told him I wanted to go to London, and could not walk all the way. This magistrate can tell whether I am now speaking the truth. I got an interview with him at Derby, and told him I was a ticket-of-leave man. He would scarcely believe me, and imagined rather that I was a returned convict. The police jeering me, said, "How well polished his boots are! but we think him an impostor." So, with no other help than the shilling I had obtained, I trudged along in my misery until, with the worms and maggots gnawing my belly, I reached London. Here my cousin got me into the "market" again, and I married last Christmas twelvemonth, and have child. I am now just managing to "crack an honest crust;" and while I can do that I will never thieve more. (Applause.) I am not much of a talker, therefore I can only hope that the kind gentleman who has called us together will succeed in his praiseworthy endeavours to secure fair-play to our ill-used class. I have nothing more to say." (Loud cheers.)

The speaker was a stonemason, of about , and of a honest and industrious aspect, who said:—"My friends, I have but little to say regarding myself. I was sent away from Newgate to Wakefield in , and put to work. As to gratuity money given to convicts, certainly none was allowed at Wakefield while I was there. As to our treatment there and at other places, I can say that I never had a bit of sweet meat all the time I was at Wakefield. I never had anything but mince-meat chopped up, always green, and others can testify to the same thing. man got days of bread and water for complaining of this. After staying months at Wakefield I went to Portsmouth, where I remained about years and a half, during which time I certainly worked hard. There the treatment of the men differs greatly, according to their conduct. A man who behaves well is treated well; but those of a volatile spirit are treated badly. For myself I never had a report made against me all the time I was there, and I obtained my liberty under ticket-of-leave, although I was sentenced to years" imprisonment, at the end of years and months. A few others, who came later than I did, were fortunate enough to get their freedom about the same time. I was not jealous about that, but was glad to get away myself. I had a mother and sister to go to; and though my sister was in employment, I did not cost them

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anything. I got work at my own trade, and experienced few of the hardships which most of my class do when liberated. I know poor man who said this meeting was the last place that he would come to, as it would expose him. He has worked weeks for a person in Gray"s-Inn-lane. He had been in good circumstances, was a clerk, and under the eye of a minister. He had to sleep in a place where the vermin crawled over his bed, and he had to get up in the night and remove his clothes to keep them clean. For the weeks he has been at work he has scarcely had the barest necessaries of subsistence. I have been to see this man every Sunday, and can safely say that he has not had sixpence in his pocket ever since he has been out of prison. He was engaged at fire-work making, but this trade becoming slack after the , he was thrown upon the streets again. I will not say what became of the man afterwards, because that is not necessary. I will merely mention that he is now struggling on, depending entirely on the public for a meal of victuals. I have myself been to work in the city for months, and have not been intoxicated once. I am not fond of drink. I am steady and mean to continue so, and I trust every here will resolve to do the same, for you will find it much more to your comfort. I am fortunate enough to be able to earn a livelihood at my trade as a mason; but though I am not in want myself, I could not refrain from coming here to throw what light I could on this subject, and showing my readiness to help others who are in distress." (Applause.)

The next who mounted the platform was an elderly man, evidently much reduced in cirstances. He stated—"I am a dock-labourer, and in was convicted, though innocent, at the . I was within miles of the place where the robbery of which I was accused was committed. I was certainly in company with the female who was robbed hours before the theft occurred; but I had no hand in it, and yet I was sentenced to years" transportation. I passed my months at ; then I went to Woolwich, and next to Gibraltar. At the latter place Mr. Armstrong is the overseer of the convicts, and he is the severest man ever known; not a worse being in the Australian or any penal settlements. Flogging went on there from before daylight till long after dark. I was years and months under his system, and I received on leaving Gibraltar, of which was stopped to pay my passage to England. When I came home I strived as hard as any man to get an honest livelihood. I tried every experiment—I went all up and down Whitechapel, but no, the police would not allow me—they picked me out as a marked man. Then I worked or months at the Docks, but lately that employment has been very slack, and I have tried all the offices in vain for the last fortnight. I leave you to consider, therefore, what a man is to do when he strives to get a living and can"t. No man in all London has seen more trouble than I have. In I got years" imprisonment. When I came out a man borrowed my coat to walk through the City with, and next day, as I was going past Bow Church, I was taken up for a robbery which that man had committed, my coat being sworn to, as it had a stain on the collar. I was taken before Alderman Gibbs that morning, and fully committed for trial; and when I appeared at Newgate I got months in the Compter gaol, though innocent. I had not been months out of the Compter before I was taken up for beating a policeman, who said I threw a stone at him, but I never did. A fortnight afterwards the man who did it got days, and I gets years for it, though I was not nigh the place. No man in London has suffered as I have done wrongfully, and none has been so "worked up" as I am at this moment. For the last fortnight the winds have been such as to prevent a single ship from coming up the Channel, and morning after morning between and men regularly wait at the Docks for employment and cannot get it. When I am employed, it is at the West Quay; but the permanent labourers are served . Such men as I have very little chance, as they bring persons from the other side of the Dock sooner than engage "casualty" labourers. During the eighteen months that have elapsed since I came from Gibraltar, I have walked the streets of London whole days without breaking my fast; and since o"clock yesterday up to this moment I have not done so. I really wish, sir, that something could be done for us all."

Mr. Mayhew asked the men whether they thought the formation of a society, and a system by which those who were in work could assist those who were out of it, would benefit them?

To this many voices answered, "Yes! yes!"

Mr. Mayhew continued: "I know that if your stock-money is once gone you are completely helpless. A man who had been tried for his life and sent to Australia came to me day, when let out of prison, with a loaf under his arm, and said, "This is all I have got to keep me, and if I ask for work there is a policeman at my heels to tell every that I am a returned convict." His case became desperate, when, about the time of the Great Exhibition, I offered to give him a little money if he would pledge me his word to do all that he could to lead an honest life. He shook hands with me, and promised to do so. He then had cards printed, and tried to make a living by selling gelatine sweets. After a little time he took a small huckster"s shop, and subsequently married a lodging-house keeper, and has since been doing very well. I

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know that the period between the ages of and is the time when a roving life has its strongest attractions; but after that, when a man is hunted like a dog, he gets tired of it. I have seen frequent examples of this, and known whole families of poor people, with only sixpence at their command, to invest that small sum in sprats, and live a month upon it by turning it over and over.

"I once took a poor boy (a young thief) and got him a place at the office, when the printer and editor told me he was as good and as well-behaved as any boy on that establishment. The difficulty, however, was to separate him from his old "pals." He got among them on an Easter Monday, and was found picking pockets at a fair, and taken to prison; it was "all up with him" till he had seen the misery of his course of life, but I am sure, if taken by the hand, he will ultimately become a good member of society. I mention this to show, that if a little leniency and kindness are evinced towards the men we may beat down the crime of the country to an enormous extent. But we must not fancy it possible that such persons can be made model-men in an instant. Indeed, I believe that the disposition shown to make converts to religion of you produces a large amount of hypoerisy. (Cries of Yes! yes!) If this leads you to become better men, in Heaven"s name, say so; but if it engenders the worst form of evil, let it be exposed. That there are such things as miracles of instantaneous reformation, I don"t deny; but the thing wanted is some society to give men what will keep them from starving, clothe them, and find them in a lodging; and when they are thus placed in decent comfort, and made, as a necessary consequence, more kindly in their nature, other people may then come to them and try to make them religious. To attempt, however, to proselytise men who are famishing, appears to me a mockery and a delusion, and only the most depraved class of criminals would, I believe, yield to it." (Applause.)

The ticket-of-leave man who addressed the assembly was a man of middle stature, slightly made, and between and . He said:—

I was sentenced to seven years" transportation at the Old Bailey. I went to Wakefield and can confirm the statement of a previous speaker, that no gratuities are allowed there. I next went to Portsmouth, where I remained two years and two months, when I was discharged on ticket-of-leave. I returned to the neighbourhood from whence I was committed. A master who promised to give me constant employment had before this given me a certificate. I was discharged about eighteen months ago. Whilst I was at work for my master a female came up to me and asked me if I had seen two other women pass. I answered, "No," when she invited me to have something to drink; and knowing the female, I accepted her offer. While walking with her, only two doors from where I lived, a policeman came up and took us both into custody. This, I suppose, was because I was known to be a returned convict. The woman was charged with being concerned with others of her own sex with robbing a gentleman, and on being searched a portion of the money was found on her, but none on me. Moreover, the gentleman stating that there was no man engaged in the theft, I was discharged. I then resumed work, but was taken again upon a charge of burglary. Many of you may have heard of the case. I was in my shirt-sleeves when I was arrested. The case was tried before Mr. Brenham. I did not deny my name, and being a ticket-of-leave man I was remanded for a week. I was afterwards brought up and re-examined, and after a careful investigation I was discharged. If there had been the slightest suspicion attaching to me, from my character being known, I must have been either imprisoned for three months, or committed for trial. I again returned to my work, but in three weeks afterwards I was dragged out of my bed and locked up for three hours in the Bagnigge-wells station, whence I was taken to Bow-street. Three policemen had burst my bedroom-door open before six o"clock in the morning, and while it was yet dark. They said they wanted me, because I had been concerned with a female in the robbery which had occurred two nights previous, on Pentonville-hill. The inspector told me he had received an order from the Secretary of State to send me back to Portsmouth prison, my license being revoked. When I got to Bow-street I was placed before Mr. Hall, not in open court, but in a private room. That gentleman also told me that my license had been revoked, on the alleged grounds that I was living by dishonest means. I was sent back to prison accordingly; but through the intercession of my brother—a married man, who showed that I had been working for twelve months—I was again released. There was no just ground whatever for sending me back to prison. I have only been home a fortnight, and having no tools I don"t know what to do. The master who employed me before has got another man.

MR. MAYHEW here remarked, that it would be a great encouragement to Society to help them, if those who were doing well assisted those who were doing badly; whereupon

PETER observed that "it was little help that the could possibly give to the other. An Association (he said) was what was wanted, whereby the men"s present urgent necessities could be relieved before they fell into mischief. A few days after a man"s liberation he generally found that he had acted foolishly, and returned to his senses. If, therefore, a society took him by the hand, and gave him temporary shelter and counsel, it would be the best thing that could happen to him."

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Those of the lads and men present who had been left without father or mother from an early age, were then requested to hold up their hands; when out of the fortyeight did so.

A lame blacksmith and fitter, of about , whose garb and complexion were in strict keeping with his craft, and who spoke with not a few grains of stern bitterness in his tone, next mounted the rostrum. He said: "I have been transported, and am a "spotted man," with whom the police can do as they like. I was a long time at Dartmoor, of the hardest convict stations a man can go to, and I did the prison work there. I went there in , when an eminent doctor, Mr. McIntosh, belonged to the place, but having good health I did not need his assistance. While in the infirmary on several occasions, but not for illness, I saw the medicine that was given to the patients. It was only a large bottle of salts. I have known a man to be cut out of his hammock, taken down-stairs, and buried, all in hours; and I have heard the doctor say of a sick man, "Let him drink out of a pail till he bursts." (Some sensation.) I was a privileged man because I was handy, and fitted up almost the whole iron-work of the place. Once some books were pilfered; and at dinner-time there was a general turn over and search at parade. The "searcher" was a very sedate man, at least in the eyes of the Governor, but he was the most malicious person that ever stripped. After feeling the pockets of the man next to me, this person called me out, and, contrary to the rule, took me into the yard and stripped me naked. I remonstrated, and wished him to choose a place not in the open air, but for this I was ordered to a cell, and while on my way there he borrowed a sword from an officer—the foreman of the smith"s shop—and made a cut at me with the back edge of the weapon, inflicting a wound of eighteen inches long. I went to my cell, and next morning I was, to my astonishment, charged with attempting to knock this very man down with a hammer! The Governor would not hear a word that I had to say. I was inspected by the doctor, and then put back, to appear afterwards before the directors. The charge against me was wholly false. The foreman of the smith"s shop was a straightforward man, and when applied to about my character, he told the governor that a quieter man, and more capable of doing his work than me, he could not wish to see. The accuser could not look me in the face; but if the foreman spoke the truth to the directors,—and he was a man who would speak nothing else,—he would have been sure to have his band removed from his cap. So, instead of my being taken before the directors, I was sent to my dinner; and I never received the least redress for the wrongs I endured.

Before returning home I was classed as a permanent invalid, and yet I was kept at work on iron-work of three tons weight. After acting four years as a mechanic and a "firstrater" at Dartmoor, I got invalided pay, and went home with about 7l. in my pocket. That is all the reward given to a good workman and well-conducted man at Dartmoor. I have heard much of Wakefield, and believe the system there will reform any man. It has a firstrate character; but as to Dartmoor, a man leaving it can have no reformation in him. At Dartmoor, when visitors wish to try the prisoners" soup, a basin of nice beef tea, standing smoking on the hob, and fit to show gentlemen, is offered them to taste. But this is not the soup which is really given to the convicts; that is merely a little rice and water. In fact, Dartmoor is one of the most villanous places a man can be put into. You have there to swab up two or three pails of water before you can rise in the morning. The brutality practised is terrible; and remember, when a man is prejudiced against the treatment he receives, no permanent improvement of his character is possible. Let any Dartmoor man here get up and deny what I say about the place, if he can. The aristocracy fancy that it is an excellent convict station, but it is not. I have seen clean and comfortable-looking men taken off parade, because they would not do an officer"s dirty work, and conducted to a covered passage, from which they have not come out again until they did so with faces cut about and bleeding, and with clothes all torn to pieces. I don"t say that all the other convict establishments are like Dartmoor. I have seen bodies of seventy and eighty men come there from Wakefield— good-intentioned persons, and evidently having undergone religious impressions, to judge by their regularly kneeling down to prayers; but Dartmoor must contaminate them, and make them worse than ever before they leave it. I never had any particular religious feelings myself while at Dartmoor; but I am sure that a pious life is the most comfortable one under the canopy of heaven. I was very wrongfully sent away to that penal establishment. I had never been convicted before; and my only offence was being concerned in a tap-room drunken fight, for which I was charged with a misdemeanour. It was stated that I intended to do a man some grievous bodily harm, but it was proved that I had no weapon at the time larger than a penny-piece. I only left Dartmoor six or seven months ago. If I were in work, I should be most happy to give my mite towards the society that this gentleman (Mr. Mayhew) speaks of, for the benefit of the poor ticket-of-leave men; but the slackness of trade has thrown me out for the last month, and I have maintained myself and four others who are on my hands for half-a-year.

The concluding speaker was a young and cleanly-looking working man, of prepossessing address, who stated:—"I have experienced

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considerable oppression from the police, who, I think, want as much showing up as anybody. In , I was sentenced to years" transportation. I stopped at the for some time, and then went to Northampton borough gaol, where I lay months. Thence I was sent to Woolwich, where I stayed about years and months, and was employed in dragging timber from end of the yard to the other. However, I did very well there, and I find no fault with the place. When I got my liberty I returned home, where I had a father and mother and a sister; but as they were in humble circumstances, I did not like to throw myself on them for my support, and so I looked about for something to do. I am now keeping company with a young woman. night as I was going home, at half-past , after sitting some hours with her and her father, a policeman suddenly comes up to me, and tapping me on the shoulder, says: "Holloa, George; so here you are! Mind I don"t send you somewhere else for months." I answered: "So you may, when I have given you occasion for it." My landlord saw us, and said that I had done nothing. "No," said the policeman, "or I would not allow him to go free;" and he then told me to move on. My young woman"s father keeps a barber"s shop; and this policeman goes up to him and acquaints him with my character, asking him whether he is aware that the young man his daughter keeps company with is a returned convict. The father tells her of it, at least she gives me broad hints that imply as much. This man then shows me up, and exposes me several times to the tradesmen in my neighbourhood. I then see what I can do. I cannot get a certificate of character, and I try to write myself. Then I get several months" imprisonment, and now I have been out weeks. But I have not done anything dishonest. Still, if it goes on like this, I am sure I must be compelled to do that. A fortnight ago, as I was going home, the same policeman again interfered with me, and I was obliged to put up with his insults. Last week I wrote a letter to the captain of the hulks at Woolwich, telling him of the oppression I suffer. I received a letter from the chaplain, of course containing religious advice, but the answer I obtained from the captain of the hulks was, that the next time I am insulted I should write to him again, when he will acquaint the Secretary of State with it, and put it down, if possible. How can we hope to get employment from any tradesmen, if the policemen persist in telling who we are? I know that if I were an independent gentleman myself, I would not trust a man who had no reference of some kind."

MR. MAYHEW: "We will now break up this meeting. I will let you know when to meet again. When I can arrange the formation of a committee of gentlemen willing to connect themselves with the undertaking I have sketched out, we can hold another assemblage in public. (Cheers.) In the meantime, if I can assist any of you with the loan of a few shillings—but, mind you, come to me gently, and not thick and fast—I will do what I can to help you. (Hear, hear.) I am a person who work myself for all I get, and remember I call myself a "shilling man," and not of your "sovereign people" (Laughter); and when I say "a loan," I want you all to feel that by doing your best to repay me, you will enable me to extend the same assistance to a greater number of your class. (Hear, hear.) Colonel Jebb looks on you almost with the eye of a father, and it touches him to the quick to hear of any of you relapsing. I trust that we shall prove successful in our object; but let me in conclusion entreat you all to adhere faithfully to your good resolves; and I hope you will find far greater happiness in pursuing honest courses than dishonest ones." (Cheers.)

The meeting, which lasted from o"clock to half-past , and was most orderly throughout, then quietly dispersed.

THE END

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LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, , AND .

 
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 Title Page
collapseChapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
collapseOur Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
collapseChapter III: - Street Musicians
collapseChapter IV: - Street Vocalists
collapseChapter V: - Street Artists
collapseChapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
collapseChapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
collapseChapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
collapseChapter IX: - Ballast-Men
collapseChapter X: - Lumpers
collapseChapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
collapseChapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
collapseChapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
collapseChapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
collapseChapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
collapseChapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
collapseChapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men
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