1 JULY 1882, Page 13



[To THE EDITO4 or THE " SPECTAT011."j 'n,—The letters that have appeared in the Spectator during the last few weeks upon my letters, "Canal Adventures by Moonlight," and the" Canal Boat Acts Amendment Bill" I am humbly promoting, call for a reply from me.

One correspondent, whose narrow, stunted, and warped know- ledge and views of boaters and their habits, ways, and customs, is derived from an occasional, hasty, key-hole peep into their cabins, has come to the conclusion that "hasty legislation" which is to educate the boat children, improve their morals and social habits, is to be deprecated ; and then he flings off at " dwriestic legislation," and finally throws up his arms aghast at the idea of the State assuming "parental responsibility," on account of the "side results," which the "philanthropist little contemplates," and which must in his opinion follow these efforts in spreading education, sanitary reform, moral precepts, and religious principles among our canal population. I have nothing but pity for the man who, with antiquated notions— of which he himself is ashamed—and ideas of two hundred years ago, muddles his brain attempting to grapple with the social problems of to-day past his comprehension. If your correspondent will only open one eye, he will see, without going far, what legislation, education, and sanitary reform have done for our chimney-sweeps, factory hands, brick- yard children, and those employed in mines, and contrast their con- dition now with that of a hundred years ago, and he will, I think, come to the conclusion that" domestic legislation "has not been fraught with "difficulties," and produced the "side results" he imagines. He will also see what the absence of "education" and "domestic legislation" has done for our canal-workers.

Previous to the canal crusade, canals and canal-workers were in a worse condition than they had ever been during the last 125 years, The canals were silting up, shares going down and the boaters to ruin, both body and soul. Even the shadow of legislation that has taken place, and the prospect of what is to come, has begun to put matters in a different light. No more canals will be monopolised. by railway companies, and allowed to silt up, as the Leicester and Ashby-de-la-Zouch canals are doing, and, also canals in other parts of the country. Overcrowding will be prevented, and the children will be edu- cated.

Another correspondent suggests, no doubt with the best in- tentions, but with little practical insight into either canals or

canal workers, that they should work boats on the post-boy system, viz., by shifts. With our present system of canal traffic, this would be thoroughly impracticable. We might almost as well talk of boats and ships upon our rivers and seas being worked by shifts, as talk of our canal boats upon our rivers and canals being worked by shifts. Boatmen can, as a rule, now get home, if they think well—those who have homes on land—once in eight or ten days, and in many in- stances in less time; and with our canals being made deeper and wider, to admit boats of several hundred tons' burden, as I suggest in my book, and worked by steam-tugs, the boatmen could in this little country get home every three or four days, i.e., if their homes were at convenient places. Surely, this would be no hardship, as compared to what our artisans, commercial travellers, and sailors have to endure.

Mr. Clegram says that I have been over-anxious to see im- mediate results of the Act. I do not think so ; and everybody —except those canal proprietors and boat-owners who would glory in seeing the Act become entirely obsolete—who has seen or knows anything of our 60,000 boat women and children, and the wretched little holes in which many of them live, and the wicked lives they lead, will agree with me that the time has new come when the Act of 1877 should be properly carried out, or thrown into the canal with a stone tied to it by interested parties, to prevent its rising to the surface again, to offend their eyes or to trouble their consciences. Those kind-hearted Christians who, with their hands in their pockets, and as movable as posts, talk of improving our next generation of boaters by ser- mons and tracts alone, and the conjuring up of wild theories. are doing positive harm to the cause of the canal children, and making simpletons of themselves.

Christianity will do much, I know, and I am glad of it, as a secondary agent to improve our boaters ; but it has not and cannot take the lead in our present-day reformation. Of course,

our protection, education, and sanitary laws are the outcome of Christianity ; and these laws, which have done so much to

make England what it is, I want applied to our boating popula- tion. Is this demand just and reasonable, and is it right of the canal proprietors, boat owners, Christian simperers, and our legislators to prevent it, by side-moves and red-herrings P I be- gun the Canal crusade ten years ago, with the basis of the Canal Boats Act before me. My first work, "Our Canal Population," was published in 1875. In 1877 the Canal Boats Act was passed, which, according to Clause 15, came into operation on January 1st, 1878. The regulations were issued by the Local Government Board on March 20th, and then again on May 17th, 1878. The Local Government Board issued on July 27th, 1878, a circular giving further instructions and particulars to the local regis- tration authorities, canal companies, and boat-owners. No notice was taken of these manifestoes, and on December 28th, and. five following days, I was walking alongside a frozen-up canal between Rugby and. London, to try to find out if there were any canal boats registered, and if not, why not? And the result of my journey was that instead of finding nearly 1,000 registered in this canal, I only found one. A journey of six days in a canal boat between London and Leicester, in September, 1880, revealed the almost complete failure of the Canal Boats Act in accomplishing the chief objects for which it was passed.

I admit, and am thankful for it, that a very large number of boats are at the present time registered. This is a very simple process, and ought to have been don'ts years ago. The object of registration is to lead up to the Act and the regulations of the Local Government Board being properly carried out. I ask those who would keep the children in ignorance,—Have they been carried out, by securing the education of the children, and preventing overcrowding in the cabins ? I answer, most emphatically, "No, not by a fiftieth part of what they should have been." Ninety per cent. of the children living and working upon canal boats cannot read and write to-day.

I have visited more than once the old boatmen's Bethel, on the Worcester Wharf, Birmingham, and more recently the Boatmen's Hall, built by Miss Ryland, and have never found more than nine or ten boat children in the school. The governess told me that eight would be a fair average. Last year I counted only two boat babies in the school, while there were over a dozen uneducated boat children, of school age, playing on the wharf banks. Not one boatman was in the Hall drinking coffee, while some, partly drunk, were lolling about in their dirt.

Last week, I counted upon fourteen boats going through Braunston Tunnel, working between London, Birmingham, and Staffordshire, between thirty and forty children, and I did not find or hear of more than three or four who could read or write. Upon a boat registered at Birming- ham, I found man, woman, and six poor, uneducated children, who might not have been washed for a month. Upon another boat I found a man, woman—not his wife, but in an extremely interesting condition—and two little boat-girls. None of them could read and write. The woman, notwith- standing her condition, pinched features, and sallow look, took more than her share of work. This boat-owner was worth—so the woman said—some thousands of pounds, earned by boating. While I stood by, the boat-line broke, and the woman, with her two little girls at her heels, began in a most shocking and fearful manner to swear loudly, and wish that the barge, line, man, boat, and all were dead, and in a warm place.

The Canal Boats Act has failed from several causes, some of which were not seen, and others were seen, but overlooked, at the time it was passed. The Bill I am humbly promoting pro- vides for these faulty places, and in a manner that will neither pinch the boatman nor tread upon the toes of boat-owners worth mention, and the shares of canal proprietors will be in- creased in value.

For the life of me, I cannot see how the provisions of the simple little Bill can seriously cripple the operation of Canals. More stringent measures than I proposed in the Bill have been adopted on the canals in France. In America, since we passed the Act in 1877, laws and machinery have been put in motion to bring about effectual improvements among the canal population ; while we, with folded hands, have been hesitating, wondering, and doubting what steps to take so as not to offend the tender consciences of a few canal-boat proprietors. Mr. Clegram further says that a better state of things has been brought about since the passing of the Act, faulty as it is, without crippling canal operations. If the shadow of the Act has brought this about, then why on earth does not he, and other canal proprietors, lend me a helping hand to bring this substance to bear upon this dark spot of our civilisation and Christianity? From the very first chapter to the present -time, the policy of too many canal proprietors has been one of "put off" and delay upon flimsy excuses, worked from behind the scenes, not daring, owing to the cause of boat children being such as to call for immediate and special attention, openly to show their faces against public opinion and the demands of the children.

I was told before and since the passing of the Act that the canal traffic would. be diverted to railways, and I should ruin everybody connected with canals. Has this been so F. Mr. Clegram will be the first to answer "No." Then why be afraid of extending its provisions so as to make the Act work- able, easy and effectual in accomplishing what every sane,

thinking or observing man in England sees to be requisite"; especially as the canal and boat proprietors have failed to do. their part in improving the condition of our boaters and their families?

In the Act of 1877, Clause 12 was inserted in order to give- the Canal Companies power to take funds to build schools for the children upon canal premises in various parts of the- country, and although the Act has been passed five years, not one canal company in the kingdom has availed itself of the provisions of this clause.

The following case will show how deeply interested canal authorities are in canal boat children. Some months since I drew attention, through the Press, to the case of a poor, blind, swearing, dirty, boat girl of eleven winters being stived up in a filthy cabin. A canal manager denied my statements, al- though the girl had been floating by his premises for years. After his eyes had been opened, he undertook to provide for an. asylum for the poor, little, blind boating-girl, which undertaking has not been carried out, and the girl was, a few days since,. still boxed-up in the cabin, and growing fast into idiotcy.

To sum up the whole thing, I want nothing bat the educa- tional, protective, and sanitary laws of the country applied to the canal and gipsy children, without any further delay. There is no earthly reason why they should not ; and notwithstanding the advice of Mr. Clegram and others to let the Act of 1877 die- of its own accord, so long as the tackle holds, I shall not rest till this has been accomplished.—I am, Sir, &c.,