London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Rats in the Sewers.
I WILL now state what I have learned from longexperienced men, as to the characteristics of the rats in the sewers. To arrive even at a conjecture as to the numbers of these creatures—now, as it were, the population of the sewers—I found impossible, for no statistical observations have been made on the subject; but all my informants agreed that the number of the animals had been greatly diminished within these or years.
In the better-constructed sewers there are no rats. In the old sewers they abound. The sewer rat is the ordinary house or brown rat, excepting at the outlets near the river, and here the water-rat is seen.
The sewer-rat is the common brown or Hanoverian rat, said by the Jacobites to have come in with the George, and established itself after the fashion of his royal family; and undoubtedly such was about the era of their appearance. man, who had worked years in the sewers before flushing was general, told me he had never seen but black (or old English) rats; another man, of years' experience, had seen but ; others had noted no difference in the rats. I may observe that in my inquiries as to the sale of rats (as a part of the live animals dealt in by a class in the metropolis), I ascertained that in the older granaries, where there were series of floors, there were black as well as brown rats. "Great black fellows," said man who managed a granary, "as would frighten a lady into asterisks to see of a sudden."
The rat is the only animal found in the sewers. I met with no flusherman or other sewer-worker who had ever seen a lizard, toad, or frog there, although the existence of these creatures, in such circumstances, has been presumed. A few live cats find their way into the subterranean channels when a house-drain is being built, or is opened for repairs, or for any purpose, and have been seen by the flushermen, &c., wandering about, looking lost, mewing as if in misery, and avoiding any contact with the sewage. The rats also—for they are not of the water-rat breed—are exceedingly averse to wetting their feet, and "take to the sewage," as it was worded to me, only in prospect of danger; that is, they then swim across or along the current to escape with their lives. It is said that when a luckless cat has ventured into the sewers, she is sometimes literally worried by the rats. I could not hear of such an attack having been witnessed by any ; but intelligent and trustworthy man said, that a few years back (he believed about years) he had in week found the skeletons of cats in a particular part of an old sewer, feet wide, and in the drains opening into it were perfect colonies of rats, raging with hunger, he had no doubt, because a system of trapping, newly resorted to, had prevented their usual ingress into the houses up the drains. A portion of their fur adhered to the cats, but the flesh had been eaten from their bones. About that time a troop of rats flew at the feet of another of my informants, and would no doubt have maimed him seriously, "but my boots," said he, "stopped the devils." "The sewers generally swarms with rats," said another man. "I runs away from 'em; I don't like 'em. They in general gets away from us; but in case we comes to a stunt end where there's a wall and no place for 'em to get away, and we goes to touch 'em, they fly at us. They're some of 'em as big as good-sized kittens. of our men caught hold of the other day by the tail, and he found it trying to release itself, and the tail slipping through his fingers; so he put up his left hand to stop it, and the rat caught hold of his finger, and the man's got an arm now as big as his thigh." I heard from several that there had been occasionally battles among the rats, with another.
The rats, from the best information at my command, do not derive much of their sustenance from the matter in the sewers, or only in particular localities. These localities are the sewers neighbouring a connected series of slaughterhouses, as in Newgate-market, Whitechapel, Claremarket, parts adjoining Smithfield-market, &c. There, animal offal being (and having been to a much greater extent or years ago) swept into the drains and sewers, the rats find their food. In the sewers, generally, there is little food for them, and none at all in the best-constructed sewers, where there is a regular and sometimes rapid flow, and little or no deposit.
The sewers are these animals' breeding grounds. In them the broods are usually safe from the molestation of men, dogs, or cats. These "breeding grounds" are sometimes in the holes (excavated by
|the industry of the rats into caves) which have been formed in the old sewers by a crumbled brick having fallen out. Their nests, however, are in some parts even more frequent in places where old rotting large house-drains or smaller sewers, empty themselves into a -class sewer. Here, then, the rats breed, and, in spite of precautions, find their way up the drains or pipes, even through the openings into water-closets, into the houses for their food, and almost always at night. Of this fact, builders, and those best informed, are confident, and it is proved indirectly by what I have stated as to the deficiency of food for a voracious creature in all the sewers except a few. man, long in the service of the Commissioners of Sewers, and in different capacities, gave me the following account of what may be called a rat settlement. The statement I found confirmed by other working men, and by superior officers under the same employment.
"I believe rats," says a late enthusiastic writer on the subject, under the cognomen of Uncle James, "to be of the most fertile causes of national and universal distress, and their attendants, misery and starvation."
From the author's inquiries among practical men, and from his own study of the natural history of the rat, he shows that these animals will have , , or nests of young in the year, for or years together; that they have from to at a litter, and breed at months old; and that there are more female than male rats, by to .
The author seems somewhat of an enthusiast about rats, and as the sewerage is often the head- quarters of these animals—their "breeding-ground" indeed—I extract the following curious matter. He says:—
The author then puts forth the following curious statement:—
The author then advocates the repeal of the "rat-tax," that is, the tax on what he calls the "true friend of man and remorseless destroyer of rats," the well-bred terrier dog. "Take the tax off rat-killing dogs" he says, "and give a legality to rat-killing, and let there be in each parish a man who will pay a reward per head for dead rats, which are valuable for manure (as was done in the case of wolves in the old days), and then rats would be extinguished for ever!" Uncle James seems to be a perfect Malthus among rats. The overpopula- tion and over-rat theories are about equal in reason.