London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Tortoises.
THE number of tortoises sold in the streets of London is far greater than might be imagined, for it is a creature of no utility, and which is inanimate in this country for half its life.
Of live tortoises, there are annually imported from the port of Mogadore in Morocco. They are not brought over, as are the parrots, &c., of which I have spoken, for amusement or as private ventures of the seamen, but are regularly consigned from Jewish houses in Mogadore, to Jewish merchants in London. They are a freight of which little care is taken, as they are brought over principally as ballast in the ship's hold, where they remain torpid.
The street-sellers of tortoises are costermongers of the smarter class. Sometimes the vendors of shells and foreign birds "work" also a few tortoises, and occasionally a wholesale dealer (the consignee of the Jewish house in Africa) will send out his own servants to sell barrow-loads of tortoises in the street on his own account. They are regularly ranged on the barrows, and certainly present a curious appearance—halfalive creatures as they are (when the weather is not of the warmest), brought from another continent for sale by thousands in the streets of London, and retention in the gardens and grounds of our civic villas. Of the number imported, -half, or , are yearly sold in the streets by the several open-air dealers I have mentioned. The wholesale price is from to the dozen; they are retailed from to , a very fine well-grown tortoise being sometimes worth The mass, however, are sold at to each, but many fetch They are bought for children, and to keep in gardens as I have said, and when properly fed on lettuce leaves, spinach, and similar vegetables, or on white bread sopped in water, will live a long time. If the tortoise be neglected in a garden, and have no access to his favourite food, he will eat almost any green thing which comes in his way, and so may commit ravages. During the winter, and the later autumn and earlier spring, the tortoise is torpid, and may be kept in a drawer or any recess, until the approach of summer "thaws" him, as I heard it called.
Calculating the average price of tortoises in street-sale at each, we find upwards of thus expended yearly.