London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
The St. Katherine"S Dock.
NOR are the returns from St. Katherine"s Dock of a more cheerful character. Here it should be observed that no labourer is employed without a previous recommendation; and, indeed, it is curious to notice the difference in the appearance of the men applying for work at this establishment. They not only have a more decent look, but seem to be better behaved than any other dock-labourers I have yet seen. The "ticket" system is here adopted—that is to say, the plan of allowing only such persons to labour within the docks as have been satisfactorily recommended to the company, and furnished with a ticket by them in return—this ticket system, says the statement which has been kindly drawn up expressly for me by the superintendent of the docks, may be worth notice, at a time when such efforts are making to improve the condition of the labourers. It gives an identity and to the men which casual labourers cannot otherwise possess, it connects them with the various grades of officers under whose eyes they labour, prevents favouritism, and leads to their qualifications being noted and recorded. It also holds before them a reward for activity, intelligence, and good conduct; because the vacancies in the list of preferable labourers, which occur during the year, are invariably filled in the succeeding January by selecting, upon strict inquiry, the best of the extra-ticket labourers, the vacancies among the permanent men being supplied in like manner from the list of preferable labourers, while from the permanent men are appointed the subordinate officers, as markers, samplers, &c.
Let us, however, before entering into a description of the class and number of labourers employed at St. Katherine"s give a brief description of the docks themselves. The lofty walls, which constitute it in the language of the Custom-house a place of special security, enclose an area of acres, of which are water, capable of accommodating ships, besides barges and other craft; cargoes are raised into the warehouses out of the hold of a ship, without the goods being deposited on the quay. The cargoes can be raised out of the ship"s hold into the warehouses of St. Katherine"s in - of the usual time. Before the existence of docks, a month or weeks was taken up in discharging the cargo of an East-Indiaman of from to tons burden, while days were necessary in the summer and in the winter to unload a ship of tons. At St. Katherine"s, however, the average time now occupied in discharging a ship of tons is hours, and of tons or days, the goods being placed at the same time in the warehouse: there have been occasions when even greater despatch has been used, and a cargo of casks of tallow, averaging from to cwt. each, has been discharged in hours. This would have been considered little short of a miracle on the legal quays less than years ago. In , about vessels and lighters were accommodated at St. Katherine"s Dock. The capital expended by the dock company exceeds of money.
The business of this establishment is carried on by officers, clerks and apprentices, ers, samplers, and foremen, permanent labourers, preferable ticketla- bourers, proportioned to the amount of work to be done. The average number of labourers employed, permanent, preferable, and extras, is ; the highest number employed on any day last year was , and the lowest number , so that the extreme fluctuation in the labour appears to be very nearly hands. The lowest sum of money that was paid in for the day"s work of the entire body of labourers employed was , and the highest sum , being a difference of very nearly in day, or in the course of the week. The average number of ships that enter the dock every week is , the highest number that entered in any week last year was , and the lowest , being a difference of . Assuming these to have been of an average burden of tons, and that every such vessel would require labourers to discharge its cargo in days, then extra hands ought to have been engaged to discharge the cargoes of the entire number in a week. This, it will be observed, is very nearly equal to the highest number of the labourers employed by the company in the year .
The remaining docks are the and timber ponds, the Canal Dock at , and the East Country Dock. The occupy an area of about acres, of which -fifths are water. There is accommodation for ships, and in the warehouses for tons of merchandise. They are appropriated to vessels engaged in the European timber and corn
|trades, and the surrounding warehouses are used chiefly as granaries—the timber remaining afloat in the dock until it is conveyed to the yard of the wholesale dealer and builder. The Surrey Dock is merely an entrance basin to a canal, and can accommodate vessels. The East Country Dock, which adjoins the on the South, is capable of receiving timber-ships. It has an area of acres, and warehouse-room for tons.|
In addition to these there is the Regent"s Canal Dock, between and , and though it is a place for bonding timber and deals only, it nevertheless affords great accommodation to the trade of the port by withdrawing shipping from the river.
The number of labourers, casual and permanent, employed at these various establishments is so limited, that, taken altogether, the fluctuations occurring at their briskest and slackest periods may be reckoned as equal to that of St. Katherine"s. Hence the account of the variation in the total number of hands employed, and the sum of money paid as wages to them, by the different dock companies, when the business is brisk or slack, may be stated as follows:—
From the above statement then it appears, that by the prevalence of an easterly wind no less than out of the aggregate number of persons living by dock labour may be deprived of their regular income, and the entire body may have as much as a week abstracted from the amount of their collective earnings, at a period of active employment. But the number of individuals who depend upon the quantity of shipping entering the port of London for their daily subsistence is far beyond this amount. Indeed we are assured by a gentleman filling a high situation in St. Katherine"s Dock, and who, from his sympathy with the labouring poor, has evidently given no slight attention to the subject, that taking into consideration the number of wharfla- bourers, dock-labourers, lightermen, riggers and lumpers, shipwrights, caulkers, ships" carpenters, anchor-smiths, corn-porters, fruit and coal-meters, and indeed all the multifarious arts and callings connected with shipping, there are no less than from to individuals who are thrown wholly out of employ by a long continuance of easterly winds. Estimating then the gains of this large body of individuals at per day, or per week, when fully employed, we shall find that the loss to those who depend upon the London shipping for their subsistence amounts to per week, and, considering that such winds are often known to prevail for a fortnight to weeks at a time, it follows that the entire loss to this large class will amount to from to within a month,—an amount of privation to the labouring poor which it is positively awful to contemplate. Nor is this the only evil connected with an enduring easterly wind. Directly a change takes place a glut of vessels enters the metropolitan port, and labourers flock from all quarters; indeed they flock from every part where the workmen exist in a greater quantity than the work. From to vessels frequently arrive at time in London after the duration of a contrary wind, and then such is the demand for workmen, and so great the press of business, owing to the rivalry among merchants, and the desire of each owner to have his cargo the in the market, that a sufficient number of hands is scarcely to be found. Hundreds of extra labourers, who can find labour nowhere else, are thus led to seek work in the docks. But, to use the words of our informant, or weeks are sufficient to break the neck of an ordinary glut, and then the vast amount of extra hands that the excess of business has brought to the neighbourhood are thrown out of employment, and left to increase either the vagabondism of the neighbourhood or to swell the number of paupers and heighten the rates of the adjacent parishes.