Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Interesting Facts about Our Mutual Friend, No 1

Second paragraph of the very first chapter:  'The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him to be recognizable as his daughter. The girl rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very easily; the man, with the rudder-lines slack in his hands, and his hands loose in his waistband, kept an eager look out. He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier.' 

Here's what I didn't know about this passage until today. Watermen ferried passengers and lightermen carried small loads of goods or cargo; larger loads were carried by bargemen.  The 1841 census recorded 2516 bargemen and women, 1503 lightermen and 1654  watermen working the Thames.  Though he belongs to none of these categories (he is technically a ‘dredgerman’) Gaffer Hexam would have been legally considered part of ‘the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen’, the relevant professional body.  The presence of Hexam’s daughter in the boat—and Rogue Riderhood’s later insistence that he and Hexam should be ‘partners’—is explained by the recent passage of the Waterman and Lighterman’s Amendment Act in 1859, which had made it a legal requirement that boats be crewed by at least two people at all times.  (‘By the 35th bye-law, vessels requiring two able persons to navigate them, a licensed lighterman and an apprentice shall be sufficient—The section in the Act says so. To remove any doubt, in order that we may not stand in the way, we have altered the wording of the bye-law to "two competent persons.”’  ‘Minutes Taken before the Select Committee on Thames Conservancy’, 19 June 1863).  Interesting!

Well.  Sort of interesting. 

No comments: