Essay on Child Labour Victorian Era

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Every character in the story develops its individual features and has a fixed place within the narrative. Expectedly, all of them embody human qualities. Often, the qualities represented by the characters are contradictory. The leading character of Ebenezer Scrooge is mainly compared to the character of Tiny Tim based on their exclamations “Bah! Humbug!” and “God bless us every one!”, which differ in their core. Tiny Tim performs a symbolic part, by giving a face to the countless faceless deprived children Dickens used to meet back in his day in London daily. Dickens’s intention is to inform society and warn about the world in which a pure child can die even though its disease is curable. Many of Dickens’s pieces are about poor children, but A Christmas Carol is the most compelling and the most emotive.  He adored sentimentality, and so did his readers.  You can walk past beggars and homeless people on the street every day, but would you just walk past Tiny Tim?  Dickens trusts his readers wouldn’t. By crafting a character that was unambiguously a victim of his destiny, and in no way in control of it, he assumed his readers would grasp what it was like to be poor, underprivileged and insignificant and they would start being mindful about it. In the third stage of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present accompanies Scrooge to the household of the Cratchits. There, he sees from the horse's mouth the trouble of Tiny Tim who, regardless of suffering from a grave illness, is a gentle and sympathetic young child. Seeing Tim act in such a way affects Scrooge deeply. Readers can notice that Tiny Tim is an ideal religious character.  He is literally sacrificed to help Scrooge realize the effects of not caring about others.  He is suffering a great deal and ultimately passes away from starvation and lack of medical attention.  Modern science is nowadays able to decode the symptoms of Tiny Tim’s disease, which may help the reader understand him better. Medical doctor Russel Chesney made his diagnosis based on Tim's malformations mentioned in the book, together with the narrative's suggestion that Tim’s illness would be treatable, in case father had more money. According to Chesney, “Tiny Tim suffered from a combination of rickets and tuberculosis. Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, calcium or phosphate. Lack of these crucial nutrients softens the bones, and leg braces would have been the 1840s solution. Not only that, but vitamin D deficiency can contribute to tuberculosis by weakening the immune system, allowing the bacterial infection that causes the disease to run rampant. Tuberculosis, once known as the 'white plague,' was a killer in Dickens' time, Chesney said.”  Tiny Tim's life in overcrowded, dirty and unhygienic London would have set him up for both diseases. “At the time, 60 percent of children of working-class London families had rickets, brought on by poor nutrition and lack of sunlight. (London's coal-choked skies blocked the sun's ultraviolet light that helps the body synthesize vitamin D.) At the same time, half of working-class kids had signs of tuberculosis, Chesney reported Monday (March 5) in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Tiny Tim's rickets could have been reversed — and his tuberculosis improved — by sunshine, a better diet and cod liver oil, a supplement rich in vitamin D, Chesney said.” Tiny Tim’s death is straightforwardly the consequence of Scrooge not paying Bob Cratchit enough money, and not caring about his family enough to at least ask about them.  Scrooge’s disregard and disdain towards Tiny Tim is indicative of how out of touch he is. Scrooge is so awe-struck by the boy’s devotion, and his religiousness, that he asks the ghost if he will die.  When the spirit tells him he will, he shouts out in tremor and asks why the child can’t be saved. What follows is more than enough for Scrooge to understand what he did wrong. 

“… What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

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Scrooge hangs his head in humiliation when the words he said to the men asking for donations for the poor are thrown back at him.  The ghost bids him to “forbear that wicked cant” and remember where the surplus is, reminding him that “in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions” At long last, Dickens takes pleasure in in telling us that Tiny Tim did not die, and Scrooge was like a second father to him.  In the end, at least one child was spared.  Dickens anticipated his readers would attempt to save some children themselves. However, the harsh reality was truly different and by far not as happy-ending for most Victorian youth. 

Victorian children are always remembered within studies due to the amount of change they had to undergo throughout the course of their, often very short, lives. Not only was the industrial revolution one of these changes but the way in which they worked day to day right through to education. Victorian Child Labour was the norm in the 1800s. There was no such thing as child protecting services like we know nowadays. “Child labour was not an invention of the Industrial Revolution”, says Emma Griffin, a professor of history at UEA. “Poor children have always started work as soon as their parents could find employment for them. But in much of pre-industrial Britain, there simply was not very much work available for children. This changed with industrialisation. The new factories and mines were hungry for workers and required the execution of simple tasks that could easily be performed by children. The result was a surge in child labour – presenting a new kind of problem that Victorian society had to tackle.” According to professor Griffin, studies have revealed that the standard age at which children began working in the first half of the 19th-century Britain was 10 years of age, although this differed extensively depending on the areas you were looking at. Regarding industrial regions, the average age of a working child was around eight and a half years old. “Most of these young workers entered the factories as piecers, standing at the spinning machines repairing breaks in the thread. A few started as scavengers, crawling beneath the machinery to clear it of dirt, dust or anything else that might disturb the mechanism. In the mines, children usually started by minding the trap doors, picking out coals at the pit mouth, or by carrying picks for the miners. As work was often scarce in the country, rural children tended to start work later – typically at 10 and a half years old. Their work consisted of bird-scaring, sowing crops and driving horses. In towns, most boys were employed as errand boys or chimney sweeps, though once again finding employers who wanted to hire a child could be a difficult task. The average age for starting work was 11 and a half years old.” As a result, there was a significant diversity in the starting working age. The youngest labourers would be generally found in the industrial regions. Nevertheless, all of them struggled under the same hardships. They were forced to work for an awfully small wage, carrying out the tasks that were dull and often life-threatening, and in addition frequently working long, draining hours. Luckily, not everybody found this practice acceptable. The extensive hiring of child labourers in factories and mines indicated a split with established routine and was something that various groups considered repugnant. It caused a series of Parliamentary investigations into the situation of hardworking children in factories and mines, which recorded the horrifying conditions endured by the young workers. The descriptions particularly dazed authors Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens – encouraging the origins of ‘The Cry of the Children’ and A Christmas Carol. Child workers emerged in some other novels by Dickens, perhaps the most remarkable examples would be Oliver Twist, as the trainee of Mr Gamfield the chimney-sweep, and David Copperfield. “David Copperfield was based loosely on Dickens’s own experiences of starting work at Warren’s Blacking factory at the age of 12 following his father’s imprisonment for debt. Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies took up the plight of the nation’s chimney sweeps and a host more ephemeral novels, such as Frances Trollope's The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy and Charlotte Elizabeth’s, Helen Fleetwood also exposed the suffering of child workers to the middle-class reader. In addition, many of the period’s most vocal and prolific commentators turned their attention to child workers. And of course, the situation of child workers entered the political heart of the nation when reformers such as John Fielden and Lord Ashley, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, took up their cause in Parliament.” The anti-child labour movement ended in two key pieces of legislation. The Factory Act from 1833 and the Mines Act from 1842. The Factory Act banned the hire of children younger than nine years of age and regulated the hours that child workers at the age between nine and thirteen could work. The Mines Act raised the opening age of shaft employees up to 10 years. Essentially, the two Acts homogenized the industrial areas with the rest of the nation and terminated the methodical service of young children. 

This was a significant step forward for young workers’ interests, however it did not do much to better the working situation of the countless child labourers that stayed at work. Kids in their workplaces remained essentially unguarded from the exploitation and abuse at the hands of their employers and workmates. In the 1850s the upcoming liberal MP, George Edwards, toiled as a farm helper under a man who “never missed an opportunity to thrash me”. This, he completed though, was “no exception to the rule, all poor boys in those days were badly treated.” In spite of the fact that some parents knew of their children’s mistreatment, poverty often tied their hands and made them unable to take any action at all. For instance, Roger Langdon portrayed how he was almost murdered by the drunken ploughman, for whom he laboured. However, informing his parents did not bring him any help, as “every other place in the parish was filled and my parents could not afford to keep me in idleness” he continued to work for the ploughman. Facing the systematic misuse of juvenile and defenceless employees established a more problematic issue than merely eliminating small kids from the workplaces. Approaching the end of Queen Victoria's reign, some additional improvement was made. The Factory Act of 1878 banned children to work before reaching the age of 10 and was relevant to all trades. It was reinforced by the Education Act of 1880, which presented obligatory schooling up to the age of 10. “Subsequent amendments raised the school-leaving age to 12, with dispensations to leave before this age if pupils reached the required standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. By the end of Victoria's reign, almost all children were in school up to the age of 12. This helped to ensure that a marked improvement in child welfare occurred between the beginning and end of Victoria's reign.” concludes Griffin. Even though there were laws that were passed over a period of several decades that to some extent improved the working conditions and dealing with children, it was not until individuals like Lord Shaftesbury and Thomas Agnew took action that proper change occurred. To be able to imagine the actual working situation, one must know what the jobs entailed and what difficulties were linked to actual execution of the tasks. Victorian child labour comprised a wide-ranging spectrum of employments. Steam was the number one source of energy during Victorian times. Firstly, there was working in coal mines. Coal powered everything from trains and steamships to factories that employed steam to power their devices. In order to have steam one needs water and heat. To have heat one must burn coal, and heaps of it. Hence, coal mines exploited a great part of the Victorian child workforce in the 1800s. The idea of employing children for working the coal mines was very appealing to mining corporations. Children were far tinier, which allowed them to move better in tight places. Also, they required the employer to pay a lot less money. One of the on the job features of Victorian child labour was, as already mentioned, the frightful working circumstances. This was predominantly amplified in the coal mines. It was dark in the mines, making it tricky to see and at times would cause perpetual difficulties with sight from the continuous tension in the eyes. Furthermore, as a result of a lack of suitable ventilation, coal dust was extremely thick in the air. Bearing in mind that Victorian children would work up to 18 hours a day it is simple to see how it would be easy for respiratory complications to appear. On the top of that, there was unvarying noise, and rat plague was more than usual in the mines. Some children grew permanent spine distortion from being forced to walk bent over repetitively. Explosions or cave-ins were an omnipresent concern. Due to the near non-existence of safety awareness in the mines and all Victorian child labour for that matter, death was a persistent and ever-present threat. Another popular job for Victorian youngsters was chimney-sweeping. The life of a chimney sweep in Victorian times was nothing like what you see in movies. It was a cruel, dull and tedious survival for Victorian children working as chimney sweeps. Some were as young as 3 years old, when performing the task. Their extremely small body size named them a widespread pick for going down the tight chimney heaps. A Victorian child chimney sweep may have well been the most hazardous job for children in the 1800s, particularly when the child first began doing the job. Being sent down the smokestack the first numerous times would cause the child’s arms, elbows, legs and knees to be chafed and skinned to the flesh. Often their knees and elbows looked like there was no skin on them at all. The person in charge would then rinse their cuts with salt water and make them go down another chimney without any compassion or consideration. Subsequently, the child would grow lumps making their duty a little more endurable. But the perils of the job were merely commencing. Falling was a main worry for chimney sweeps or getting wedged in the smokestacks also, both could cause death very easily. The endless breathing in of dust caused irretrievable lung mutilation in many child sweeps. There were some registered cases of children getting trapped in chimneys and no one even knowing it, deserting them to die alone from exposure, smoke inhalation or worse. The lifespan of Victorian Chimney sweeps hardly ever made it to middle age. The tactics used in the Victorian era were indeed horrendous. Sometimes supervisors even kidnapped children to use on the job. They underfed them, so that they would be skinny enough to continue going down chimneys. Sweeps typically outgrew the job around 9 or 10 years of age. The worst fact, however, is that children were not even essential for the job. Sweeping chimneys could be easily and more safely done just by using brushes. In 1875, a 12-year-old boy George Brewster died after his Master Sweep commanded him to clean the chimney at Fulbourn Hospital. Previously mentioned Lord Shaftesbury was visibly moved by the story and the splattering of public turmoil that followed. “He proposed a new Act that would supersede the Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act of 1840.The Chimney Sweepers Act 1875 made sure that all chimney sweeps had to be registered with the police. Then their work had to be officially supervised. The guidelines of the previous acts would be enforced as well.” Though, there were far more working children in need of help, not only child chimney sweeps. Victorian Child Labour was hardly something new for Britain or Europe for that matter. Children had been exploited for labour for centuries before. They were required to help take care of their families. It was during the 1800 alertness began to spread toward the problems of child labour in factories and other workplaces. There were laws and amendments passed until the use of children under the age of 16 years of age was forbidden for full-time work. Although up until these acts were approved child labour in Victorian era was widespread. Factory owners perceived children as inexpensive and efficient work force. They toiled for a sheer fraction of what a grown-up would make. Unfortunately, girls were even more ill-used.  For their size and vitality there were occupations that kids executed as good or even better than adult workers. Every so often you would find more children workers than adults ones employed at a factory. At the factories children had no rights. They were given the filthiest and most dangerous jobs. Frequently a child would be instructed to clean under still running machines. There almost no safety measures enforced in Victorian era, hence the event of an injury or death was not unusual. Victorian child labour was made up of extremely long working hours. The usual work week would last from Monday to Saturday from 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. Workers would be hit or penalized for being late, falling asleep or making a mistake. “In 1881 Thomas Agnew, a Liverpool businessman visited the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was so impressed by what he saw that he went back to England and started the Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This set the ball rolling and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) was created in 1891.” In a progressively complex society, the opportunities for illiterate children were poor. Considering this, several instituted day schools were established. These involved the Ragged Schools, Parish Schools, apprenticeships and Church Schools. Ragged schools were invented in the Sunday School established in 1780 in Gloucester by Robert Raikes. He trained children to read so that they would be able to interpret the Bible. Later, John Pounds from Portsmouth, assembled groups of kids to entertain his disabled nephew, and by 1818 managed to have a class of around 40 members. He was schooling them to read from the Bible, as it was the only easily accessible book. Before long, this concept extended to London. In 1844, nineteen Ragged Schools merged to create a ‘Ragged School Union’, led by Lord Shaftesbury. In 1861 they were schooling more than 40,000 pupils in London. These involved the children of criminals, drunkards, violent parents and abandoned orphans. By 1870 one could count 250 Ragged Schools in London alone and above a hundred schools in the shires. In the meantime, Quintin Hogg, the son of a wealthy London trader, had established a Ragged School in 1863, when he was just 18 years old. His students were the roughest and most deprived children of the streets of London. Hogg endured, and set up a ‘doss house’ for destitute boys. His sister volunteered to lead classes for girls, who were by no means any less fierce. Even the University of Westminster can trace its origin to Quintin Hogg. There were also the Parish schools. Parish workhouses were expected to deliver an education for the children in their care whom they had not managed to apprentice out, but this responsibility was inadequately monitored. The concept of apprenticeships was quite marvellous: for a stable period, generally seven years, a leader of a craft would coach a young person so that they could make their living at that craft. The leader provided accommodation and garments, but was not obliged to compensate the apprentices, even though a lot of them did in the final stage of the learning period, as the apprentices had acquired enough skills to prove useful and benefit the business. This routine was utilized all through the society. Thriving traders, financiers and goldsmiths made neat amounts from the rewards paid by the parents of expectant apprentices. “The members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, who had a monopoly of river traffic, had 2,140 apprentices in 1858. Poor masters could profit from the unpaid labour of children taken from the parish workhouse. There were many scandals of parish apprentices being so ill‐treated that they ran away, or even died.” Even though schools have always been around it was not until the Victorian period that they were improved significantly and accessible to children from all social classes. When Queen Victoria initially came to the throne schools were for the rich kids only. Generally, children never attended school and did not know how to read or write. Children coming from wealthy families were usually tutored at home by their governesses until the age of ten. Affluent boys would then go to public schools. “Only the English could call their most exclusive and expensive educational establishments ‘public’. Winchester College was the earliest, founded in 1382. The College of St Mary at Eton followed, in 1440. There was a burst of new foundations in the 19th century, reflecting the aspirations of the middle classes to the status symbols of the nobility and gentry. They emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and of a brand of Christianity later called ‘Muscular Christianity’. They produced self‐confident young men ready to become leaders destined for the army or the civil service, at home or in the Empire. Scholarship came lower down in their priorities.”, says Liza Picard, researcher and writer about London’s history. Girls, instead, continued to be taught at home. In the upper classes it was expected that a girl would get married to an eligible bachelor and hence she did not require a formal schooling. It was enough to look attractive, be able to entertain her husband’s companies, and give birth to a rational number of heirs. A lady was required to be skilled in so-called ‘accomplishments’, for instance singing, dancing, sewing, playing the piano or flower‐arranging. If she would not find a suitable husband, she was tackled with an unattractive future as a 'maiden aunt' who would always help to look after her elderly parents or her relatives’ children. She could possibly be required to work as a governess, closed in the classroom with pupils who had almost no interest in taking in the information she would be providing. This became more and more unappealing to smart females. However, their prospects were expanded when Queen’s College in Harley Street, London was founded in 1848, to provide governesses an acclaimed and profitable qualification. No ‘accomplishments’ were needed there. Other girls’ public schools arisen as well. This increase in female education led to reintroduced requests for the vote. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was established in 1897, passionately criticised by the Queen, who from her place of incredible authority saw no purpose of women’s participation in vote. Finally, in 1870 there was an act passed which made it obligatory for all children aged between five to ten years of age in Britain to attend school. This was very similar to the system we use today. The school lasted from Monday to Friday, though the age of children leaving the school was much lower. The leaving age was risen to eleven in 1893, nonetheless parents and employers of working children still prohibited many of them from attending school for they were making money, without which some families would not be able to manage. Schools were different from what we are used to today. Within poor inner-city parts there could easily be between 70 and 80 pupils crammed in just one classroom. The schools were imposing buildings with high up windows to prevent children from seeing out of. Moreover, the interior of the schools lacked any type of creativity or inspiration and was often very plain to avoid distracting the pupils from paying attention to the teacher. Smaller classes were usually found in village schools; nevertheless, the age differences between children were much bigger. It was common to see children with an age gap of as much as four years working together. Because of the size of the school lecture halls, the learning process became rigid and implemented a large amount of repetition. Typically, the teacher would be writing on the chalkboard and the children would copy the notes down. Education was short of inventiveness and it was a harsh, uneasy way for children to learn anything at all.

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