18 AUGUST 1866, Page 13


THE island of Great Britain, though civilized, comprises among its inhabitants a tribe of nomads supposed to be many thou- sands in number, who are only so far civilized as to wear clothes occasionally, who pass their lives in wandering from place to place without object, who possess no property, follow no occupation ex- cept begging, and have no means of subsistence except theft. They have no creed and no moral law, possess their women in common, acknowledge no jurisdiction, and never live in houses. By day they wander through the plains, insulting the settled inhabitants, and at night they apply for admission to some public caravanserai, where their savagery makes them a nuisance, and in the morning depart cursing their entertainers." Suppose one of our recent Japanese visitors had published that sentence among his experiences of this island, most dwellers in towns would have called the description libellous folly, —and yet it is all true, and all official. We have but condensed the account given of English vagrants by the Poor Law Inspectors to the Central Board. These gentlemen were asked to forward a statement of the means of providing for " casuals" in the different Unions, and they sent up their accounts, usually worded in the baldest official terms, but iu the aggregate wonderfully picturesque. The stories told are all substan- tially the same, so we need not be at the trouble to recon- cile conflicting accounts. They all declare that there exists in England a tribe of vagrants, made up originally of the class which prefers from mental constitution to die rather than work, but recruited by waifs and strays, broken-down work- men, deserters from the army, timid or unsuccessful criminals, " thieves on the look-out, low prostitutes, beggars of both sexes and all ages, hawkers of .petty articles, such as watches, caps, laces, bead ornaments, steel pens, writing paper (or anything which will serve as a pretence to approach a house, to find what can be obtained by fair or foul means), begging-letter writers, smashers, ballad singers, travelling tinkers, china menders, um- brella repairers," seldom under twenty years of age, seldom above 40, and by a very few workmen in search of occupation. This tribe occupies itself entirely in aimless wandering, without pur- pose or motive, except a vague idea that while on the move it can avoid work, which it hates more than punishments So intense is

this feeling, that the fraternity will at first risk starvation rather than do the work assigned them in the vagrant wards to earn the meal they claim from the parish rates, stab the officers who set them a task, tear up their own clothes, risk heavy penalties rather than break a few stones or pick a few pounds of oakum. The common hate binds them together into a fraternity, any in- formation obtained as to those who give or the diet in dif- ferent "houses," is passed from one to another, and news of any new rule in a workhouse penetrates the tribe in about two days, every one as he goes out telling all those he meets. They have a language of their own, nicknames of their own, and a mode of communication of their own. Left to themselves they would drop surnames in favour of qualitative epithets, as men did when they painted their skins, or thought the occupations of life its sole distinction. They write up what Americans call " cards " on the walls of the vagrants' ward, and pass the words read from one to another, after this fashion, taken from Yorkshire wards :-

"' Wolverhampton Nipper bound for London, 24th October, 1865.'

" Henry Anderson on tho 10th of October, bound for Manchester, 1865.'

" Saturday, 17th Juno, Bow Street, bound for Derbyshire, Amen— Wolverhampton Nipper and Belfast Jack was here 14th September, 1868, bound for London.'

"'Liverpool Jim. The Rod Rover was here the 22nd of August, bound for London. Positively the last appearance of this celebrated charator.'

" Deerfoot, the celebrated runner, was here the 18th of September. No more Staffordshire for him.'

"‘ Hungerford Tom, bound for Derby ; Yankey Ben, bound for Derby.'

" ' The Dutchman was here on the 21st of September, ragged and lousey, padding the hoof, and getting the mange quite fast.—The Dutchman' " I should dearly like to marry if I could find Any gay old donner suited to my mind.—Jack Sheppard from York.'

"'Worcester Joe, Wiggin Tom, longing for a flowing tin of skilloy, so that we may warm onr belley.'

" Long Macclesfield and Cockney was here on 16th of August, 1865, bound for Brum.'

" ' Cockney Harry, of Lambeth bound for Brum, for jolly rags'

" This is a rum place for a follow to come to for a night's lodging ; you will never catch me here again.—Old Bob Bridley, Oh! "

The women, all "prostitutes," as the inspectors call them, but rather female savages without the faintest idea that there is such a thing as a sexual law, number apparently about a fourth or fifth of the whole. They cannot stand the life, but the men who have begun it seldom leave it, a large number, for example, having " cadged" it ever since the passing of the new Poor Law, which deprived them of out-door relief as a right, but wander on and on aimlessly, begging or cadging, as they call it, bullying, stealing, and lodging in workhouses, till they die in some Union infirmary or ditch by the roadside. Their language is foul beyond des- cription, obscenity having the attraction for them it is said to

have for the professional thieves—vide a recent account of a con- vict ship in the Cornhill—and for some tribes of savages, their clothes are barely sufficient or insufficient for decency, their persons so covered with vermin that they infect every place they enter, their general habits so filthy that a bath is a severer penalty to them than to the " amateur casual." Utterly careless of imprison- ment, which gives them a rest and regular diet, and shuts off no enjoyment except tobacco and women, they defy the l'oor Law officers, refuse to work, and sometimes resort to actual violence. With a rare "'cuteness" they take advantage of the respectable English prejudice against nudity to tear up their clothes, con- fident that even if sent to prison they are certain not to be turned out naked into the world, a punishment which, if Englishmen were not quite so proper, would very soon cure them of that ex- pensive penchant. Of marriage they have little more idea than the lowest race of mankind, the Andaman Islanders, the only people ever discovered, we believe, in whom the first idea of modesty was absolutely wanting, who lived like the animal tribes. Rape, as we gather from a hint or two in the reports, they hardly deem an offence, and their only virtue seems to be a rude fidelity to each other, continued as long as the laws of the fraternity are unbroken. That bond relaxed they are as savagely .F.uspieious and vindictive as all other Englishmen of their class. The inspectors all believe them capable of any crime, and one of them speaks of their being ready to unite all together to commit it, but we take it there is some exaggeration in this. The inspectors get their facts from the workhouse piasters, and a workhouse master

regards a tramp much as a decent terrier regards a rat. You could not convince a good terrier that a rat was a work of God. The tramps lie, and steal, and rob on the highway, are all ready to fire ricks, and are all most unsafe neighbours to decent women unprotected by men or dogs, but very few murders or burglaries on a considerable scale are traced home to them. For the latter they have not the brains, a successful burglary requiring con- siderably more intellect than a successful battle, or a successful stroke on 'Change ; and the former is regarded even by them, as by all other Englishmen, as an exceptional crime, not to be com- mitted except for adequate reason. From some peculiarity in the institutions with which they are at war, which we have never been able to discover, but which is certainly not the excellence or the strength of our county organization, they never unite in large gangs, never make any attempt to commence a scheme of brigandage. They wander about singly, or in twos and threes, ready for any crime but not planning crimes, quite ready to rob but very much afraid of large dogs, very courageous against un- protected women, but skulkers when a broad-shouldered labourer turns his eyes their way, with no purpose except wandering, no restraint except hunger, no hope except of getting drunk on some lucky haul, nomads in the midst of civilization, simple savages without savage resources.

Sometimes they get an able man among them. There is one in Staffordshire, who always signs himself " Bow Street," either from his first committal or from having been a policeman, who must have ability of no common kind. As described by ]fur. Andrew Doyle, Poor Law Inspector for Lancashire and Cheshire, he is a man of imperfect education, with a tendency towards versi- fication, usually very bad, short in feet, defective in grammar, and confused in meaning. He, however, got, it is conjectured, into Staf- ford Gaol, where a course of sobriety improved his powers, and after his release wrote on the wall of the tramp ward in Newport Union these remarkable verses :— " ' A Paeans.

" `No end to any row, No top to any steeple, No indication where to go, No sight of familiar people, No cheerfulness, no healthy ease, No butterflies, Nor yet no bees. —Bow Street.'" Take away the last two lines, and would Hood have been ashamed either of the words or the ideas ? Their force, however, is accidental, for the same man wrote up apparently in the Union at Trysull the following doggrel :—

" My unfortunate friends, pray look around,

And tell me for what is this place renowned ; The room is large, but the windows are small, But that don't much matter at all at all.

A pint of skilly for your supper to drink ; But of sleep you cannot get a wink, You may lay on the boards or the chilly floor, About as warm as a North American shore.

The old bed is full of fleas all alive : I killed in number about five times five.

They are not poor, but all thorough-bred, And before morning you will wish they were all dead ; And by this and by that it plainly is clear,

This is the worst relief in all Staffordshire.—Bow Stmt."'

That fellow ought to be able to earn his living, and if thrown into an island without poor-houses or Christianity probably would, but as it is he is content to be, as Mr. Doyle calls him, the " Laureate of the Cadgers," a post he contests with anindividual who signs him- self "Yankee Ben," and is probably a soldier who deserted in Canada. [N.B.—A deserter is almost invariably a low scoundrel, a curious proof of the degree to which purely human law can make morals.] The majority, however, are simply veryignoraut and vicious savages, with the savage abhorrence of regular work. Why they abhor it when they will walk twenty or thirty miles a day, sleep on sack- ing after the journey, eat skilly and drink dirty water, it would be hard to say, but so it is said, and therein lies the key to the cure. We are not quite sure they do abhor it, whether the attraction of the life is not, as Charles Lamb made it out in his beautiful paper in their defence

"Rags, which are the reproach of poverty, are the beggar's robes, and the graceful insignia of his profession, his tenure, his full dress, the suit in which he is expected to show himself in public. He is never out of the fashion, •-■‘r limpeth awkwardly behind it. He is not required to m put on Court mourning. He weareth all colours, fearing none. His costume hath undergone less change than the Quaker's. He is the only man in the universe who is not obliged to study appearances. The ups and downs of the world concern him no longer. He alone continneth in one stay. The price of stock or land affecteth him not. The fluctuations of agricultural or commercial prosperity touch him not, or

"'No sun, no moon, No morn, no noon, No sky, no earthly blue, No distant looking view, No road, no street, No t'other side the way, No dawn, no dusk, No proper time of day, at worst but change his customers. He is not expected to become bail or surety for any one. No man tronbleth him with questioning his religion or politics. He is the only free man in the universe."

Whether the tramps hate work, or not, why on earth should they not be made to work, work hard and continuously? Liberty of the subject? Good. I am a subject who work hard,—give me liberty to refuse to pay out of my wages for the support of people who won't work. Christianity ? The law of Christianity is, " He who will not work, neither shall he eat." Humanity ? The truest humanity would be to take a man of this kind, wash him well, feed him well, and clothe him well every day, and then flog him well till he consented to earn the cost of all three luxuries. If that did not do, we could find it in our hearts to try Carlyle's advice and fling him over a bridge, but it would do, as is shown with curious unconsciousness in one paragraph of this report. In the Wrexham Union the authorities demanded work for food pretty steadily, the vagrants resisted, and so heavy were the committals that the magistrates complained of the expense to which the county was put.

"It was ordered that they be put to work immediately after rising, and have their breakfast three hours and a-half after, so that they thus left the house about ten o'clock a.m., having just had a tolerable meal, and were in a comfortable plight for tho day. The consequence of the above alteration was, as you will readily conceive, an almost immediate increase in the number of tramps. In about three weeks the number rose from about 70 to 120 per week. On this becoming apparent the matter was again reported to the Board, who instantly placed the order on its original footing, viz., that they (the tramps) be set to work three hours and a half after breakfast. This was, as before, resisted ; but on the parties finding that the Bench and the Board were both determined to carry it out, they submitted, and for months we had no trouble on account of their refusing to work. As these parties appeared, as it were, to have taken our terms, and their numbers began again to increase, the Board again took the whole question into full con- sideration."

In fact the tramps got the habit of work till it ceased to be distasteful. Suppose we make them work in every Union for the full labour value of the meal, and on resistance refuse food or liberty to depart till the order is complied with. There would be one or two " shocking cases," but tramping would pretty much end, to the immense relief of the decent poor and of people in the country, who in some places are positively haunted by these human vermin till we ourselves know villages where no woman will trust herself out of the sight of the houses. The most serious difficulty in the way is the risk of arresting some workman honestly in search of employment, but such a man would work, and might, if be liked, carry a protection from the overseer, or clergyman, or Dissenting minister of his parish. Liberty is worth any trouble given by tramps, but the wildest Red acknowledges that the limit of Tom's liberty is the liberty of John, and John's liberty is certainly not maintained when he is called on to mortgage his own toil in order to keep Tom in idle- ness. The truth is " vagrancy," i. e., purposeless, senseless mendicancy, is a crime, if not against the moral law, then against the social law, just as much as smuggling,—is, in fact, a fraud on the community, and should be punished as such. If a man will beg, let him beg, but any sensible community will prohibit him from extorting, and the cadger who, being able to work, sleeps every night in the workhouse, warns his fellows where to steal, and refuses to earn his lodging and breakfast, is a criminal whose child ought to be educated against his will, and himself set to do the community some service under penalties limited only by their effectiveness. Nomads are people to be studied until they begin to plunder. Then they are to cease to be nomads, under penalty of bullets.