London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
HAVING already given an account of the supply and consumption of timber throughout the country generally, I shall now speak of the importations into London, and more especially of the condition of the labourers connected with the foreign and colonial timber trade.
The quantity of colonial and foreign timber that has been brought into the port of London since the year has been as follows:—
The consumption of the metropolis has been little less than the quantity imported. In the years above enumerated the total importation of foreign and colonial deals and battens was pieces, of which were consumed in London; and the total importation of foreign and colonial timber was loads, of which were consumed. This gives an average annual importation of deals and battens, of which only have been sent out of the country every year. Of timber, the average annual importation is loads, and the average annual exportation only loads.
The number of wood-laden ships that have entered the port of London since , together with the countries whence they came, is given below. By this we shall perceive that our trade with Norway in this respect has sunk to exactly -half of what it was years back, while that with Sweden and Finland has been very nearly doubled in the same time. The timber-ships from the Prussian ports have increased little less than -, while those from Russia have decreased in the same proportion. The trade with Quebec and Montreal also appears to be much greater than it was in , though compared with there has been a considerable falling off; that of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remains very nearly the same as it was at the beginning of the decennial period. Altogether the great change appears to have been the decline of the Norwegian and Russian timber-trade, and the increase of that with Sweden and Prussia. It is also worthy of notice, that notwithstanding the increase of population, the number of wood-laden ships entering the port of London every year has not materially increased within the last years.
The next step in our inquiry is, What becomes of the wood-laden ships that annually enter the port of London? Whither do they go to be unladen? to what docks, or places of "special security," are they consigned to be discharged and to have their cargoes delivered or bonded?
For this purpose there are docks, of which lie on the Surrey side of the river. These are the , the Canal Dock, and the East Country Dock, and they are almost contiguous to each other, the Surrey Canal Dock lying immediately alongside the Commercial, and the East Country at the upper end of it. They are situated in, and indeed occupy, nearly the whole of that small cape of land which is formed by the bending of the river between the Pool and . The docks on the Middlesex side of the river, which are used for the reception and unlading of timber-ships, are the West India and the Regent"s Dock, or the entrance to the Regent"s Canal.
The number of wood-laden ships that have entered the principal docks for the last years is given below. I am informed by Mr. Jones of the , that for every ship above tons men are required to sort and pile away. Rafting from ships of the above burden requires or men daily, according to circumstances.
The foreign and colonial timber trade is, then, confined to of the docks belonging to the port of London. Of these , —the Commercial, the Canal, and the East Country—are situate on the Surrey side of the river, occupying altogether an area of acres, of which are water and land, and offering accommodation and protection for no less than vessels. Here the principal part of the timber and deal trade is carried on, the Commercial receiving the greatest number of wood-laden vessels, perhaps greater than any other dock in the world. These, together with that portion of the West India Dock which is devoted to the same purpose, make the entire extent of the timber docks attached to the port of London about acres, of which upwards of are water—a space sufficient to give berths to no less than ships.
I now come to speak of the condition and earnings of the labourers connected with the timber and hard-wood trade. Of these, it appears there are men casually employed at all the timber docks, of whom only obtain work all the year round. How the casual deal-porters and rafters live during the months of the year that the slack season usually lasts in the timber trade, I cannot conceive. As not a sixpence of their earnings is saved in the brisk season, their fate in the winter is to suffer privations and afflictions which they only know.
I shall begin with the state of the docklabourers employed at the foreign and hardwood trade. This trade is confined mainly, if not solely, to the West India Dock.
Concerning this branch of the wood trade, I give below the statement of a man who has worked at it for many years, and in doing so, I wish to draw attention to the latter part of the narrative, as a proof of what I have repeatedly asserted respecting the regard exhibited by the authorities of the West India
|Dock, and in particular by Mr. Knight, the superintendent, for the welfare of all the men, whether directly or even indirectly employed by them.|
This indirect employment of workmen, however, is the great bane of the industrious classes. Whether the middleman goes by the name of sweater, chamber-master, lumper, or contractor, it is this trading operative who is the great means of reducing the wages of his fellow working-men. To make a profit out of the employment of his brother-operatives he must obtain a lower-class labour. He cares nothing about the quality of the work, so long as the workmen can get through it somehow, and will labour at a cheaper rate. Hence it becomes a business with him to hunt out the lowest grades of working men—the drunken, the dishonest, the idle, the vagabond, and the unskilful men—because these, being unable to obtain employment at the regular wages of the sober, honest, industrious, and skilful portion of the trade, he can obtain their labour at a lower rate than what is usually paid. "Boy-labour or thief-labour," said a middleman on a large scale, "what do I care, so long as I can get my work done cheap." I have already shown that the wives of the sweaters not only parade the streets of London on the look-out for youths raw from the country, but that they make periodical trips to the poorest provinces of Ireland, in order to obtain workmen at the lowest possible rate. I have shown, moreover, that foreigners are annually imported from the Continent for the same purpose, and that among the chamber-masters in the shoe trade, the child-market at Bethnal-green, as well as the workhouses, are continually ransacked for the means of obtaining a cheaper kind of labour. All my investigations go to prove that it is chiefly by means of the middlemansystem that the wages of the working men are reduced. This contractor—this trading operative—uses the most degraded of the class as a means of underselling the worthy and skilful labourers, and of ultimately dragging the better down to the abasement of the worst. If men cannot subsist on lower prices, then he takes apprentices or hires children; or if workmen of character and worth refuse to work at less than the ordinary rate, then he seeks out the moral refuse of the trade, those whom none else will employ; or else he flies to the workhouse and the gaol to find labour meet for his purpose. Backed by this cheap and refuse labour, he offers his work at lower prices, and so keeps on reducing and reducing the wages of his brethren until all sink in poverty, wretchedness, and vice. I am therefore the more anxious to impress upon the minds of those gentlemen who are actuated by a sincere regard for the interests and comforts of the men in their employ, the evils of such a system; for, however great may be the saving of trouble effected by it, yet, unless it be strictly watched (as I must confess it is at the West India and ) it can only be maintained by the employment of a cheaper and worse class labourer, and therefore must result in the degradation of the workmen. I have said thus much, because I find this contract system the general practice at all the wood-docks, and because I am convinced that the gentlemen to whom the management of those docks is entrusted, Mr. Knight, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Cannan, have the welfare of the men in their employ sincerely at heart.
Of the evils of lumping, or discharging woodships by contract, I have already treated at considerable length. Under that system, it will be remembered, I showed that the contractor, who is commonly a publican, makes his profit, not by cheapening the labourer, but by intoxicating him. Like the contractor for ballast, he gets his money out of the drunkenness of the workmen, and by this means is enabled to undersell the dock proprietors; or, in other words, to discharge the wood-laden ships at a less rate than they could possibly afford to do it for by the fair and honourable employment of their men. Of the effects of this system—the drunkenness of the men, the starvation of the wives, the squalor and ignorance of the children, the wretchedness and desolation of the homes, I have already treated at some length: and it will be seen hereafter that in those docks where the supervision that is maintained at the West India and Commercial is not kept up, the labourers are reduced to almost the same state of poverty and destitution.
But to return. A man living in a small room in a poor neighbourhood, but in a tidy apartment, and with a well kept little garden at the back, gave me the following account of his earnings and labour in the mahogany department of the :—