London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Meeting of the Ballast Heavers' Wives.


BEFORE dealing with the Lumpers, or those who discharge the timber from ships—in contradistinction to the stevedores, or those who stow the cargoes of vessels,—I will give


the following report of a meeting of the ballastheavers" wives. It is the wife and children who are the real sufferers from the intemperance of the working-man; and being anxious to give the public some idea of the amount of misery entailed upon these poor creatures by the compulsory and induced drunkenness of the husbands, I requested as many as could leave their homes to meet me at the British and Foreign School, in Shakespeare-walk, . The meeting consisted of the wives of ballastheavers and coal-whippers. The wives of the coal-whippers had come there to contrast their present state with their past, with a view of showing the misery they had endured when their husbands were under the same thraldom to the publican as the ballast-heavers are now, and the comparative happiness which they have experienced since they were freed from it. They had attended unsolicited, in the hope, by making their statements public, of getting for the ballast-heavers the same freedom from the control of the publican which the coalwhippers had obtained.

The meeting consisted of the wives of ballast-heavers and coal-whippers, were present. Of the , were the wives of coal-whippers, the remaining the wives of ballast-heavers. Many others, who had expressed a desire to attend, were prevented by family cares and arrangements; but, small as the meeting was comparatively, it afforded a very fair representation of the circumstances and characters of their husbands. For instance, those who were coal-whippers" wives appeared comfortable and "well to do." They wore warm gowns, had on winter-bonnets and clean tidy caps underneath; the ballast-heavers" wives, on the contrary, were mostly ragged, dejected, and anxious-looking.

An endeavour was made to ascertain in the instance how many children each person had. This was done by questioning them separately; and from the answers it appeared that they all had families. had child each, the rest varied from to , and woman stated that she had children, all of whom were living, but that only resided now with her and her husband. had infants in their arms, and several had children sick, either at home or in some hospital.

In the next place the ballast-heavers" wives were asked whether their husbands worked under publicans? "All of them," was the reply, "work under publicans;" and, said , "Worse luck for us,"—a sentiment that was very warmly concurred in by all the rest.

This fact having been specifically ascertained from each woman, we proceeded to inquire from them separately how much their husbands earned, and how much of their earnings was spent at the publicans" houses through which they obtained work, or where they were paid.

My husband," said the first woman, "works under a publican, and I know that he earns now 12s. or 13s. a-week, but he brings home to me only half-a-crown, and sometimes not so much. He spends all the rest at a public-house where he gets his jobs, and often comes home drunk.

"My husband," exclaimed the , "will sometimes get from to a-week, but I never see anything the likes o" that money from him. He spends it at the publican"s. And when he has earned he will sometimes bring home only or We are badly off, you may be sure, when the money goes in this way. But my husband cannot help spending it, for he is obliged to get his jobs at the public-house."

"Last week," interposed another, "we had not penny coming into our house; and the week before—which was Christmas week —my husband got jobs which would come, he told me, to or if he had brought it all home; but he only brought me This was all the money I had to keep me and my children for the whole week; and I"m sure I don"t know how we got through. This is all owing to the public-house. And when we go to fetch our husbands at or o"clock at night they shut us out, and say they are not there, though we know very well they are inside in a back place. My husband has been kept in that back place many a time till or in the morning —then he has been turned out and come home drunk, without in his pocket, though the same day he has received or at the same public-house."

"They go to the public-house," added another woman, "to get jobs, and to curry favour they spend their money there, because if they did not spend their money they would never get a job. The men who will drink the greatest quantity of money will get the most jobs. This leaves their families and their wives miserable, and I am sure me and my poor family are miserable enough."

"But this," interposed a quiet, elderly woman, "is the beginning of the week, in all of which my husband has only had jobs, and all I have received of him during that time is a-week, and we stand in a-week rent. I am sure I don"t know how we get along. But our publicans are very civil, for my husband works for . Still, if he does not drink a good part of it away we know very well he will get no more work."

"It is very little," said a female with an infant in her arms, "that my husband earns; and of what little he does earn he does not fetch much to me. He got job last week, heaving tons, and he fetched me home for it. I was then in lodgings at a-week, but I could not afford them, but now I"m in lodgings at a-week. This week he has no work yet. In Christmas week my man


told me he earned , and I believe he did, but he only fetched me home or on Saturday. My husband works for a publican, and it was at his house he spent his money. day last week he asked the publican to give him a job, and he said, "I cannot give you a job, for there is nothing against you on the slate but ," and so he got none there. My infant is weeks old to-day, and this woman by me (appealing to the female next to her) knows well it is the truth that I tell— that for nights in last week my child and myself were obliged to go to bed breadless. We had nothing neither of those days. It was the same in night the week before Christmas, though my husband received that night , but all was spent at the public-house. On Christmas night we could not get any supper. We had no money, and I took the gown off my back and pawned it for to provide something for us to eat. I have nothing else to say but this—that whatever my husband earns I get little or nothing of it, for it goes to the public-house where he gets his jobs."

An infirm woman, approaching years of age, who spoke in a tone of sorrowful resignation, said,—"We have had very little money coming in of late. My husband has been very bad for weeks back. He throws up blood; I suppose he has strained himself too much. All the money I have had for weeks to keep us both has been If he was earning money he would bring it to me."

Another woman, "Not without the publican"s allowance, I am sure."

The woman, "No; the publican"s allowance would be taken off; but the publican, you see, must have a little—I do not know how much it is, but they must have something if they give us their jobs."

This woman was here asked if her husband ever came home drunk?

Yes," she replied; "many a time he comes home drunk; but he must have the drink to get the jobs.

A number of other women having made statements confirmatory of the above:—

Do you think," the meeting was asked, "your husbands would be sober as well as industrious men if they could be got away from the public-house system of employment and payment of wages?

"God Almighty bless you!" exclaimed woman, "they would love us and their families all the better for it! We should all be much the better for it."

"And so say all of us!" was the next and perfectly unanimous exclamation.

If we could see that day," said one who had spoken before, "our families would have little to complain of.

Another added, "The night-houses ought to be closed. That would be good thing."

Some inquiries were then made as to whe- ther these poor women were ill-treated by their husbands when they came home in a state of intoxication. There was a good deal of hesitation before any answers could be obtained. At last woman said, "her husband did certainly beat her, of course; but then," she added, "he did not know what he was doing."

"I," said another, "should not know what it was to have an angry word with my husband if he was always sober. He is a quiet man—very, when the drink is out of him; but we have many words together when he is tipsy; and ——" she stopped without completing the sentence.

Several others gave similar testimony; and many declared that it was the public-house system which led their husbands to drink.

woman here said that the foremen of gangs, as well as the publican, helped to reduce the ballast-heaver"s earnings; for they gave work to men who took lodgings from them, though they did not occupy them.

This was confirmed by another woman, who spoke with great warmth upon the subject. She said that married men who could not afford to spend with the publican and lodge with the foremen in the manner pointed out, would be sure to have no work. Other men went straight from job to another, while her own husband and other women"s husbands had been or weeks without lifting a shovelful of ballast. She considered this was very hard on men who had families.

A question was here asked, whether any women were present whose husbands, in order to obtain work, were obliged to pay for lodgings which they did not use?

immediately rose and said, "They do it regularly at a publican"s in ; and I know the men that have paid for them have had jobs together, when my husband has had none for weeks." "There are now," added another, " at that very place who never lodge there, though they are paying for lodgings."

They were next asked, who had suffered from want owing to their husbands drinking their earnings, as described at the publichouses in question?

Starvation has been my lot," said one. "And mine," added anothe.r "My children," said a third, "have often gone to bed at night without breaking their fast the whole length of the day." "And mine," said one, "have many a time gone without a bit or sup of anything all the day, through their father working for the publican.

"I cannot," exclaimed the next, "afford my children a ha"porth of milk a-day."

"Many a time," said , who appeared to be very much moved, "have I put my children to bed, when the only meal they have had the whole day has been lb. of bread; but it"s of no use opening my mouth."



I," said the last, "have been in London twenty-seven years, and during that time I can safely say I have never taken myself a single glass of spirits or anything else; but in that time I have suffered the martyrdom of forty years—all through my husband and the public-house. I have two children who bring me in, one of them 2s. 6d. and the other 6s. 6d. a-week, which is all we have, for my husband gets nearly nothing. If he could bring his earnings home, instead of spending them at a public-house, we should be very comfortable.

These questions led to concerning the late-hour system at the public-houses frequented by the ballast-heavers.

I often go for my husband," said one, "at one or two o"clock in the morning, after I know he has been paid; but they have kept him in a back apartment away from me, till I have threatened to smash the windows if they did not let him out. I threatened to smash the windows because my children were wanting the money for bread, which he was spending there. If our husbands were inclined to come home sober there is little chance, for they have cards and bagatelle to keep them till they become heady, and when they are become heady, there is nothing left for their families—then the publicans kick our poor men out, and lock the doors.

This statement was confirmed, and after several other persons had described their feelings,—

The coal-whippers" wives were asked whether or not their condition and that of their families had been improved since the system of carrying on the trade had been altered by the Legislature?

The answer was a most decisive affirmative. Their husbands, they said, used to spend all, or very nearly all, their earnings with the publicans; but now, when they got a good ship, they brought home the greatest part of their earnings, which was sufficient to make their families comfortable. Their husbands had become quite different men. They used to ill-treat them when they were paid at a public-house—very much so, because of the drink; but now they were very much altered, because they were become sober men to what they were. None were now distressed to provide for their families, and if there was plenty of work they would be quite happy. The improvement, woman said, must be very great, otherwise there would not be so many institutions and benefit societies, pension societies, and schools or their children.

This declaration was very warmly applauded by the wives of the ballast-heavers. They declared that similar measures would produce similar benefits in their case, and they hoped the day would soon come when they should be secure in the enjoyment of them.

So terminated the proceedings.

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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