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Kids@Work

SCAVENGER, ENGLAND, 1830

Lucky, I am.

Been here three years since I was age 6, and I have not yet been dunked in the cistern by Tom the Devil.

That's what he does to scavengers when he catches one nodding off. He pulls them by their legs and dips them head down into the cistern, then sets them back at work all filthy wet and freezing cold with no way to come dry.

Oh, I've felt the leather strap 'til my back was gory red, and even his iron billy-roller rod a time or so, but I ain't been dunked in that foul sink.

Tom is our master, and by God's Love I swear he hates us deep. Some children have died from his abuse, and there's nothing done for it. We are in this factory from five in the morning until ten at night, and there's no escape. In all that time, he'll find some flaw in almost all, -or finding none, will make some up. To be the least bit late is to earn a blow from his fist, or do work poorly or move too slow, or even go to the privy, when his mood is foul. The bigger girls he beats, and treats them shamefully before all, and only that brings a smile to his turnip face.

Lucky too, I've been, not to fear crawling beneath the machines to gather threads and cotton shreds, and grease the wheels and gears. I think fear brings a scavenger to grievous harm, for he will always watch those spinning gears. I never watch, but only hug the floor, stay low, and gather what I find. Look at a machine, and it will catch up hair or limb and soon be grinding bones and skin. Some children fear the machines with all their hearts and try not to go beneath, but the Devil beats and kicks and screams until they will.

I am almost grown too large to scavenge now, and will soon do other work. Tomorrow I shall bring my little sister in to learn my place.

I pray she too will have my luck.

 

Compiled from accounts in the British Parliamentary Papers, 1831-32, XV, No. 706,
The Report of the Committee on the Labor of Children in Factories.

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