London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
These men, for by far the great majority are men, may be divided, according to the nature of their occupations, into classes:—
. The bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, who are, indeed, the same individuals, the pure-finders, and the cigar-end and old wood collectors.
. The dredgermen, the mud-larks, and the sewer-hunters.
. The dustmen and nightmen, the sweeps and the scavengers.
The class go abroad daily to in the streets, and carry away with them such things as bones, rags, "pure" (or dogs'--dung), which no appropriates. These they sell, and on that sale support a wretched life. The class of people are also as strictly ; but their industry, or rather their labour, is confined to the river, or to that subterranean city of sewerage unto which the Thames supplies the great outlets. These persons may not be immediately connected with the of London, but their pursuits are carried on in the open air (if the sewer-air may be so included), and are all, at any rate, outof- door avocations. The class is distinct from either of these, as the labourers comprised in it are not finders, but or of the dirt and filth of our streets and houses, and of the soot of our chimneys.
The classes also differ from the in the fact that the sweeps, dustmen, scavengers, &c., are paid (and often large sums) for the removal of the refuse they collect; whereas the bone-grubbers, and mud-larks, and pure-finders, and dredgermen, and sewer-hunters, get for their pains only the value of the articles they gather.
Herein, too, lies a broad distinction between the street-finder, or collector, and the street-buyer: though both deal principally with refuse, the buyer for what he is permitted to take away; whereas the finder or collector is either paid (like the sweep), or else he neither pays nor is paid (like the bone-grubber), for the refuse that he removes.
The class of street-collectors also presents another and a markedly distinctive characteristic. They act in the capacity of servants, and do not depend upon chance for the result of their day's labour, but are put to stated tasks, being employed and paid a fixed sum for their work. To this description, however, some of the sweeps present an exception; as when the sweep works on his own account, or, as it is worded, "is his own master."
The public health requires the periodical cleaning of the streets, and the removal of the refuse matter from our dwellings; and the man who contracts to carry on this work is decidedly a streetcollector; for on what he collects or removes depends the amount of his remuneration. Thus a wealthy contractor for the public scavengery, is as entirely of the street-folk as the unskilled and ignorant labourer he employs. The master lives, and, in many instances, has become rich, on the results of his street employment; for, of course, the actual workmen are but as the agents or sources of his profit. Even the collection of "pure" (dogs'--dung) in the streets, if conducted by the servants of any tanner or leather dresser, either for the purposes of his own trade or for sale to others, might be the occupation of a wealthy man, deriving a small profit from the labour of each particular collector. The same may also be said of bone-grubbing, or any similar occupation, however insignificant, and now abandoned to the outcast.
Were the collection of mud and dust carried on by a number of distinct individuals—that is to say, were each individual dustman and scavenger to collect on his own account, there is no doubt that no could amass a fortune by such means—while if the collection of bones and rags and even dogs'--dung were carried on "in the large way," that is to say, by a number of individual collectors working for "head man," even the picking up of the most abject refuse of the metropolis might become the source of great riches.
The bone-grubber and the mud-lark (the searcher for refuse on the banks of the river) differ little in their pursuits or in their characteristics, excepting that the mud-larks are generally boys, which is more an accidental than a definite distinction. The grubbers are with a few exceptions stupid, unconscious of their degradation, and with little anxiety to be relieved from it. They are usually taciturn, but this taciturn habit is common to men whose callings, if they cannot be called solitary, are pursued with little communication with others. I was informed by a man who once kept a little beer-shop near , Bridge-road (where then and still, he thought, was a bone-grinding establishment), that the bone-grubbers who carried their sacks of bones thither sometimes had a pint of beer at his house when they had received their money. They usually sat, he told me, silently looking at the corners of the floor—for they rarely lifted their eyes up—as if they were expecting to see some bones or refuse there available for their bags. Of this inertion, perhaps fatigue and despair may be a part. I asked some questions of a man of this class whom I saw pick up in a road in the suburbs something that appeared to have been a coarse canvas apron, although it was wet after a night's rain and half covered with mud. I inquired of him what he thought about when he trudged along looking on the ground on every side. His answer was, "Of nothing, sir." I believe that no better description could be given of that vacuity of mind or mental inactivity which seems to form a part of the most degraded callings. The minds of such men, even without an approach to idiotcy, appear to be a blank. characteristic of these poor fellows, bone-grubbers and mud-larks, is that they
The further and more minute characteristics of the curious class of street-finders or collectors will be found in the particular details and statements.
Among the finders there is perhaps the greatest poverty existing, they being the very lowest class of all the street-people. Many of the very old live on the hard dirty crusts they pick up out of the roads in the course of their rounds, washing them and steeping them in water before they eat them. Probably that vacuity of mind which is a distinguishing feature of the class is the mere atony or emaciation of the mental faculties proceeding from—though often producing in the want of energy that it necessarily begets—the extreme wretchedness of the class. But even their liberty and a crust—as it frequently literally is—appears preferable to these people to the restrictions of the workhouse. Those who are unable to comprehend the inertia of both body and mind begotten by the despair of long-continued misfortune are referred to page of the volume of this work, where it will be found that a tinman, in speaking of the misery connected with the early part of his street-career, describes the effect of extreme want as producing not only an absence of all hope, but even of a desire to better the condition. Those, however, who have studied the mysterious connection between body and mind, and observed what different creatures they themselves are before and after dinner, can well understand that a long-continued deficiency of food must have the same weakening effect on the muscles of the mind and energy of the thoughts and will, as it has on the limbs themselves.
Occasionally it will be found that the utter abjectness of the bone-grubbers has arisen from the want of energy begotten by intemperate habits. The workman has nothing but this same energy to live upon, and the permanent effect of stimulating liquors is to produce an amount of depression corresponding to the excitement momentarily caused by them in the frame. The operative, therefore, who spends his earnings on "drink," not only squanders them on a brutalising luxury, but deprives himself of the power, and consequently of the disposition, to work for more, and hence that idleness, carelessness, and neglect which are the distinctive qualities of the drunkard, and sooner or later compass his ruin.
For the poor wretched children who are reared to this the lowest trade of all, surely even the most insensible and unimaginative must feel the acutest pity. There is, however, this consolation: I have heard of none, with the exception of the more prosperous sewer-hunters and dredgermen, who have remained all their lives at street-finding. Still there remains much to be done by all those who are impressed with a sense of the trust that has been confided to them, in the possession of those endowments which render their lot in this world so much more easy than that of the less lucky street-finders.