London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Original Happy Family.


THE first who ever took out a happy family to exhibit in the streets was a man of the name of John Austin, who lived in Nottingham. It was entirely his own idea, and he never copied it from any one. He was a very ingenious man indeed, and fond of all kinds of animals, and a fancier of all kinds of small birds. From what I have heard him say, he had a lot of cats he was very fond of, and also some white-mice, and the notion struck him that it would be very extraordinary if he could make his pets live together, and teach creatures of opposite natures to dwell in the same cage. In the commencement of his experiments he took the young, and learnt them to live happily together. He found it succeed very well indeed; and when he gets this to his liking he goes from Nottingham to Manchester, and exhibits them, for he was told that people would like to see the curious sight. He then had cats, mice, and all sorts of little birds. He was a weaver by trade, was Austin—a stocking-weaver. He didn"t exhibit for money in Manchester. It was his hobby and amusement, and he only showed it for a curiosity to his friends. Then he was persuaded to come to London to exhibit. When he first came to London he turned to carpentering and cabinet-making work, for which he had a natural gift, and he laid the happy family aside. He didn"t know London, and couldn"t make his mind up to exhibiting in a strange place. At last he began to miss his pets; and then he gathered them together again, one here and one there, as he could get them into training. When he had a little stock round him he was advised by people to build a cage, and take them out to exhibit them.

There was no bridge to the Waterlooroad in those days, but he took up his pitch in Waterloo-road, close to the Feathers public house, where the foot of Waterloo-bridge is now. He had a tremendous success. Everybody who passed gave him money. Noblemen and gentlepeople came far and near to see the sight. When first he went there he could go out at four o"clock in the afternoon, on any fine day as he thought proper to leave his work to go out, and he could take from his 14s. to 1l. He stopped on this same spot, opposite the Feathers public-house, from his first coming to the day he left it, a short space before he died, for 36 years all but 5 months. He"s been dead for four years the 17th of last February, 1856, and then he wasn"t getting 2s. 6d. a-day. Many had imitated him, and there was four happy family cages in London. When the old man saw people could do as much as he did himself, and rather got before him in their collections, it caused him to fret. He was too old to return to carpentering, and he had never been a prudent man, so he never saved anything. He was too generous to his friends when they were distressed, and a better man to his fellow-men never walked in two shoes. If he made 5l. in a week, there was money and food for them who wanted. He found that people were not so generous to him as he was to them; that he proved to his sorrow. He was a good man.

In the year 1833 he had the honour of exhibiting before Her Majesty the Queen. She sent for him expressly, and he went to Buckingham Palace. He never would tell anybody what she gave him; but everybody considered that he had been handsomely rewarded. A few days after this there was a gentleman came to him at Waterloo-bridge (he was there all the time the bridge was building), and this party engaged him and his happy family, and took him down to exhibit at the Mechanics" Institution, down at Hull. I don"t know what he got for the journey. After that he was engaged to go to the Mechanics" Institution in Liverpool. He travelled in this way all about the country, engaged at the different Institutions.

I was with him as assistant for eight years before he died, and a better master there could not be living in the world. I had been travelling with him through Kent, showing the happy family, and business run bad and did not meet his approbation, so he at last said he would return to his station on Waterloo-bridge. Then I was left in the country, so I started a collection of animals for myself. It was a small collection of two monkeys, white rats and piebald ones, cats, dogs, hawks, owls, magpies, ferrets, and a cotamundi, a long-nosed animal from the Brazils.

I came to London after working in the country. He was perfectly agreeable to my exhibiting in the streets. He was a good old man, and I wish I knew how to be as good, for I can"t know how to be as good. I took the West-end, and he kept to the bridge. For a time I did pretty well. I"d take about 6s. a-day, but then it cost me 1s. a-day for feeding the collection; and then I had a quantity of things given to me, such as bits of meat at the butchers", and so on. In 1851 my stand was in Regent-street, by the corner of Castle-street. I did there very well when the Exhibition was open, and as soon as it was done I fell from taking about 8s. a-day down to 1s., and that"s speaking the truth. Then I shifted my post, and went and pitched upon Tower-hill. I done pretty well for the first 18 months as I was there. The sailors was the most generous people to me, and those I had most to depend upon whilst I was on Tower-hill. I"ve taken 8s. in one day on Tower-hill, and I"ve also been there, and stood there eight hours on Tower-hill and only taken 1 1/2d. It was all casual as could be. I can say I took on the average 3s. a-day then, and then I had to feed the collection. I stayed at Tower-hill till I found that there wasn"t positively a living to be made any longer there, and then I shifted from place to place, pitching at the corners of streets, and doing worse and worse, until I actually hadn"t hardly strength to drag my cage about—for it"s a tidy load. Then I returns to the old man"s original spot, on Waterloo-bridge, to try that; for the old man was dead. The first five or six weeks as I was there, during the summer, I got a tolerable good living, and I continued there till I wasn"t able to get a crust for myself. I was obliged to leave it off, and I got a situation to go to work for a fireworkmaker in the Westminster-road. Now I only take to the streets when I have no other employment. It isn"t barely a living. I keep my collection always by me, as a resource when no other work is in hand, but if I could get constant employment I"d never go out in the streets no more.

The animal that takes the longest to train is the ferret. I was the first that ever introduced one into a cage, and that was at Greenwich. It"s a very savage little animal, and will attack almost anything. People have a notion that we use drugs to train a happy family; they have said to me, "It"s done with opium;" but, sir, believe me, there is no drugs used at all: it"s only patience, and kindness, and petting them that is used, and nothing else of any sort. The first ferret as I had, it killed me about 2l. worth of things before I could get him in any way to get into the happy family. He destroyed birds, and rabbits, and guinea-pigs; and he"d seize them at any time, whether he was hungry or not. I watched that ferret till I could see that there was a better method to be used with a ferret, and then I sold my one to a rat-catcher, and then I bought two others. I tried my new system, and it succeeded. It"s a secret which I used, so I can"t mention it, but it"s the simplest thing in the world, It"s not drawing their teeth out, or operating on them; it"s only kindness and such-like, and patience. I put my new ferrets into the cage, and there they have been ever since, as may have been seen on Tower-hill and such places as I"ve pitched on. My ferrets would play with the rats and sleep at night with them, while I"ve put them in the rat-box along with the rats, to carry them home together at night. My ferrets would come and eat out of my mouth and play with children, or anything. Now, I"ll tell you this anecdote as a proof of their docility. They caught a rat one night at the Coopers" Arms public-house, Tower-hill, and they gave it to me, and I put it into the cage. The landlord and gentlemen in the parlour came out to see it, and they saw my ferrets hunt out the newcomer and kill him. They tossed over the white and brown and black rats that belonged to me, and seized the public-house rat and killed him. I always took the dead bodies away when they were killed, and didn"t let the ferrets suck their blood, or anything of that. I"ve trained my animals to that state, that if I wasn"t to feed them they"d sit down and starve by each other"s side without eating one another.

The monkey is almost as bad as a ferret for training for a happy family, for this reason—when they are playing they use their teeth. They are the best playfellows in the world, and never fall out or cry when they bite. They are the life and amusement of the company.

Now, this is a curious thing with the ferret"s nature. If he"s ever so well trained for a happy family, he will always be avenged if he"s crossed. For instance, if the ferret has a bit of meat, and the hawk comes near him and claws him, he"ll, if it"s months afterwards, kill that hawk. He"ll wait a long time, but he"s sure to kill the hawk, he"s that spiteful. So that when he"s crossed he never forgives. When the monkey and the ferret play, they always use their teeth, not to bite, but it"s their nature in their play. Mr. Monkey, when he has played with Mr. Ferret till he has made him in a rage, will mount the perches and take Mr. Ferret by the tail and swing him backwards and forwards. The ferret gets into an awful rage, and he"ll try all he knows to get hold of Mr. Monkey, but Mr. Monkey will pat him on the head, and knock him back as he tries to turn round and bite him. The ferret is the kindest of animals when at play. He don"t bear no rancour to Mr. Monkey for this. He never cares for a bit of fun, but if it"s an insult as is offered him, such as taking his food, he won"t rest till he"s revenged.

The danger with a monkey is this. Now I"ve got a puppy as was give me by a friend of mine, and I both respects the gentleman as give it me and the mother of the little dog, and I"ve taken all the pains in the world to train this pup to the happy family, but he"s a yelping, noising animal. Now, my monkey is the most pleasant and besttempered one in the world, and the amusement and delight of all who see him, as many on Waterloo-bridge can testify. Whenever this monkey goes near the dog, it howls at him. So the monkey plays with him, pulling his tail and nibbling his ears and hair, and biting his toe, and so on. Anything that"ll play with the monkey, it"s all right, and they are the best friends in the world; but if they show any fear, then it"s war, for the monkey won"t be put upon. Now, there"s another pup in the same cage which the monkey is just as fond of. They play open-mouthed together, and I"ve seen Mr. Monkey put his arms round the pup"s neck and pull it down, and then they go to sleep together. I"ve actually seen when a lady has given the monkey a bit of biscuit, or what not, he"s gone and crumbled some bits before the pup to give it its share. This is truth. My monkey is a lady monkey.

The monkeys are very fond of cuddling the rats in their arms, like children. They also pull their tails and swing them. The rats are afraid, and then Mr. Monkey keeps on teasing them. If ever Mr. Rat do turn round and bite Mr. Monkey, he"s sure to feel it by and by, for he"ll get a swing by his tail, and he"ll catch the tail whilst he"s trying to run away, and bite the tip, and worry him near out of his life. A Monkey is the peace-maker and peace-breaker of a collection. He breaks peace first and then he"ll go and caress afterwards, as much as to say, "Never mind, it"s only a lark." He"s very fond of the cat—for warmth, I think. He"ll go and cuddle her for an hour at a time; but if Miss Puss won"t lay still to suit his comfort, he takes her round the neck, and tries to pull her down, and if then she turn"s rusty, he"s good to go behind her, for he"s afraid to face her, and then he"ll lay hold of the tip of her tail and give her a nip with his teeth. The cat and monkey are the best of friends, so long as Miss Puss will lie still to be cuddled and suit his convenience, for he will be Mr. Master, and have everything to suit his ways. For that reason I never would allow either of my cats to kitten in the cage, because Mr. Monkey would be sure to want to know all about it, and then it would be all war; for if he went to touch Miss Puss or her babies, there would be a fight. Now a monkey is always fond of any- thing young, such as a kitten, and puss and he"d want to nurse the children. A monkey is kind to everything so long as it ain"t afraid of him, but if so be as it is, then the bullying and teasing begins. My monkey always likes to get hold of a kitten, and hold it up in his arms, just the same as a baby.

There"s often very good amusement between the owl and the monkey in this way. The monkey will go and stare Mr. Owl in the face, and directly he does so Mr. Owl will begin swaying from side to side; and then Mr. Monkey will pat him in the face or the nose. After he"s bullied the owl till it"s in a awful rage, the owl will take and dive at Mr. Monkey with his open claws, and perhaps get on his back. Then Mr. Monkey will go climbing all over the cage, chattering at the owl, and frightening him, and making him flutter all about. My owls can see well enough in the day-time, for they are used to be in the open air, and they get used to it.

I compare my monkey to the clown of the cage, for he"s mischievous, and clever, and good-natured. He"ll never bully any of them very long after he sees they are in a regular passion, but leave them and go to some other bird or beast. One of my pups is my monkey"s best friend, for neither of them are ever tired of playing.

The cats and the birds are very good friends indeed; they"ll perch on her back, and I"ve even seen them come on her head and pick up the bits of dirt as you"ll generally find in a cat"s head. I"ve tried a very curious experiment with cats and birds. I"ve introduced a strange cat into my cage, and instantly she gets into the cage she gets frightened, and looks round for a moment, and then she"ll make a dart upon almost the first thing that is facing her. If it"s the owl, monkey, small birds, or any thing, she"ll fly at it. It"s in general then that the monkey is the greatest enemy to the strange cat of anything in the cage. He"ll go and bite her tail, but he won"t face her. Then the other cats will be all with their hairs up and their tails swelled up to fly at the stranger, but then I generally takes her out, or else there would be a fight. All the rats will be on the look-out and run away from the strange cat, and the little birds fly to the top of the cage, fluttering and chirriping with fear.

The hawk I had a good deal of difficulty with to make him live happily with the small birds. When training a hawk, I always put him in with the large things first, and after he"s accustomed to them, then I introduce smaller birds. He"s always excited when he first comes amongst the smaller birds. I find Mr. Monkey is always the guard, as he doesn"t hurt them. When he sees the hawk fluttering and driving about after the small birds, Mr. Monkey will go and pat him, as much as to say, "You mustn"t hurt them," and also to take his attention off. After Mr. Hawk has been in the cage four, five, or six different times in training, the starlings gets accustomed to him, and will perch alongside of him; and it"s as common as possible to see the starlings, when the hawk was feeding, go and eat off the same raw meat, and actually perch on his back and pick the bits off his bill as he is eating them.

A magpie in a cage has as much as he can do to look after himself to keep his tail all right. It"s a bird that is very scared, and here and there and everywhere, always flying about the cage. His time is taken up keeping out of Mr. Monkey"s way. It"s very rarely you see Mr. Monkey interfere with him. A magpie will pitch upon something smaller than himself, such as pigeons, which is inoffensive, or starlings, as is weaker; but he never attempts to tackle anything as is likely to be stronger than himself. He fights shy of the big animals.

A good jackdaw, well trained to a happy family, is the life of the cage next to the monkey. He"s at all the roguishness and mischief that it is possible for a man to be at. If he sees a cat or a dog, or anything asleep and quiet, he"ll perch on its head, and peck away to rouse it. He"s very fond of pitching on the top of the cat and turning the fur over, or pecking at the ears, till the cat turns round, and then he"s off. If there"s a rat in his way, he"ll peck at its nose till it turns round, and then peck at its tail. If Mr. Rat gets spiteful he"ll fly to the perches for it, and then follow out Jack Daw, as much as to say, "I had the best of you." The people are very fond of the jackdaw, too, and they like putting their fingers to the wires, and Jack"ll peck them. He"s very fond of stealing things and hiding them. He"ll take the halfpence and conceal them. He looks round, as if seeing whether he was watched, and go off to some sly corner where there is nothing near him. If he can get hold of any of the others" food, that pleases him better than anything. My monkey and the jackdaw ain"t very good company. When Mr. Jack begins his fun, it is generally when Mr. Monkey is lying still, cuddling his best friend, and that"s one of the little dogs. If Mr. Monkey is lying down with his tail out, he"ll go and peck him hard on it, and he"ll hollow out "Jackdaw," and off he is to the perches. But Mr. Monkey will be after him, climbing after him, and he"s sure to catch hold of him at last, and then Mr. Jack is as good as his master, for he"ll hollow out to attract me, and I have to rattle my cane along the wires, to tell them to give over. Then, as sure as ever the monkey was gone, the jack would begin to crow.

I had a heron once, and it died; I had it about fourteen months. The way as he met with his death was—he was all well in the cage, and standing about, when he took a false step, and fell, and lamed himself. I was obliged to leave him at home, and then he pined and died. He was the only bird I ever had, or the only creature that ever was in a happy-family cage, that could keep Mr. Monkey at bay. Mr. Monkey was afraid of him, for he would give such nips with his long bill that would snip a piece out of Mr. Monkey, and he soon finds out when he would get the worst of it. I fed my heron on flesh, though he liked fish best. It"s the most daintiest bird that is in its eating.

The cotamundi was an animal as was civil and quiet with everything in the cage. But his propensity and habits for anything that was in a cage was a cat. It was always his bed-fellow; he"d fight for a cat; he"d bully the monkey for a cat. He and the cat were the best of friends, and they made common cause against Mr. Monkey. He was very fond of routing about the cage. He had very good teeth and rare claws, and a monkey will never stand against any thing as punishes him. Anything as is afraid of him he"ll bully.

I had an old crow once, who was a great favourite of mine, and when he died I could almost have cried. To tell you what he could do is a"most too much for me to say, for it was everything he was capable of. He would never stand to fight; always run away and hollow. He and the jackdaw was two birds as always kept apart from each other: they was both of a trade, and couldn"t agree. He was very fond of getting on a perch next to any other bird—an owl, for instance—and then he"d pretend to be looking at nothing, and then suddenly peck at the feet of his neighbour on the sly, and then try and look innocent. After a time the other bird would turn round on him, and then he was off, screaming "Caw" at the top of his beak, as I may say. He was a general favourite with everybody. It"s a curious thing, but I never know a crow, or a jackdaw either, to be hungry, but what they"d come and ask for food by hollowing out the same as in their wild state. Mine was a carrion crow, and eat flesh. At feedingtime he"d always pick out the biggest pieces he could, or three or four of them, if he could lay hold of them in his beak, and then he"d be off to a corner and eat what he could and then hide the remainder, and go and fetch it out as he felt hungry again. He knew me perfectly well, and would come and perch on my shoulder, and peck me over the finger, and look at me and make his noise. As soon as he see me going to fetch the food he would, if he was loose in the court where I lived in, run to me directly, but not at other times. He was a knowing fellow. I had him about one year and nine months. I used to call him the pantaloon to Mr. Monkey"s clown, and they was always at their pantomime tricks. Once an old woman came down our court when he was loose, and he cut after her and pecked at her naked feet, and she was so frightened she fell down. Then off he went, "caw, caw," as pleased as he could be. He always followed the children, picking at their heels. Nothing delighted him so much as all the roguishness and mischief as he could get into.

For finding a happy family in good order, with 2 monkeys, 3 cats, 2 dogs, 16 rats, 6 starlings, 2 hawks, jackdaw, 3 owls, magpie, 2 guinea-pigs, one rabbit, will take about 1s. 4d. a-day. I buy leg of beef for the birds, about 1 1/2lb., and the dogs have two pen"orth of proper dogs" meat; and there are apples and nuts for the monkey, about one pen"orth, and then there"s corn of different kinds, and seeds and sopped bread for the rats, and hay and sand-dust for the birds. It all tells up, and comes to about 1s. 4d. a-day.

There are two happy families in London town, including my own. I don"t know where the other man stands, for he moves about. Now I like going to one place, where I gets known. It isn"t a living for any man now. I wouldn"t stick to it if I could get any work to do; and yet it"s an ingenious exhibition and ought to be patronized. People will come and stand round for hours, and never give a penny. Even very respectable people will come up, and as soon as ever I hand the cup to them, they"ll be off about their business. There are some gentlemen who give me regularly a penny or twopence a-week. I could mention several professional actors who do that to me. I make the most money when the monkey is at his tricks, for then they want to stop and see him at his fun, and I keep asking them for money, and do it so often, that at last they are obliged to give something.

My cage has wire-work all round, and blinds to pull down when I change my pitch. There are springs under the cage to save the jolting over the stones.

I forgot to tell you that I"ve had cats, whose kittens have been taken from them, suckle rats which have been put in their places when they are still blind, and only eight days old. She"ll take to the rats instead of her kittens. I"ve not put them in the cage at this small age, but waited until they were old enough to run about. They"ll keep on suckling at the cat till they get to a tidy size, till she gets annoyed with them and beats them off; but she"ll caress them at other times, and allow them to come and lay under her belly, and protect them from Mr. Monkey. Many a time has a cat been seen suckling rats in my cage, but then they"ve been pretty old rats—of about eight or ten weeks old; and a rat will suckle then, and they"ll follow her about and go and lie under her belly, just the same as chickens under a hen—just the same.

At night I don"t let my collection sleep together in the cage. It"s four years since I first took to separating of them, for this reason: I had the cleverest monkey in London; there never was a better. I used to wheel the cage into the back-yard, and there let them sleep. One night somebody was so kind as to come and steal my monkey away. I found out my loss the same night. I had only gone into the house to fetch food, and when I came back Mr. Monkey was gone. He didn"t run away, for he was too fond of the cage, and wouldn"t leave it. I"ve often put him outside, and let him loose upon Tower-hill, and to run about gardens, and he"d come back again when I called him. I had only to turn his favourite dog out, and as soon as he see"d the dog he"d be on to his back and have a nice ride back to the cage and inside in a moment. Since that loss I"ve always carried the collection into the house, and let them sleep in the same room where I"ve slept in. They all know their beds now, and will go to them of their own accord, both the cats, the dogs, and the monkeys. I"ve a rat-box, too, and at night when I"m going home I just open the door of the cage and that of the rat-box, and the rats run into their sleeping-place as quick as possible, and come out again in the morning of their own accord.

My family are fed on the best: they have as good as any nobleman"s favourite dog. They"ve often had a deal more, and better, than their master.

I don"t know why happy families don"t pay, for they all look at the cage, and seem as pleased as ever; but there"s poverty or something in the way, for they don"t seem to have any money. When I left off last—only a month ago—I wasn"t taking 6d. a-day. It didn"t pay for feeding my little stock. I went to firework-making. They are always busy with firework-making, ready for the 5th of November. I"m sick and tired of the other affair, and would do anything to get from it; but people are afraid to employ me, for they seem to fancy that after being in the streets we are no use for anything.

I"m fond of my little stock, and always was from a child of dumb animals. I"d a deal sooner that anybody hurt me than any of my favourites.

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