Female Labor on the Labrador.
The Rev. H. LEWIS’ Fifth Letter.
[From The Twillingate Sun of December 19, 1885.]
To the Editor of the EVENING MERCURY:
Black Head, Bay de Verde.
There is no doubt but that the legislation of 1884 did much to improve matters on board the Labrador craft; yet men who are regardless of the welfare of others have ample opportunity to carry on just as bad as ever. A female, who had a vivid experience in one of these vessels, related the manner of life they have on board. I have ample means of ascertaining the truth of her story.
“I have been going these four or five years,” said she. “A year or two back, it was given out that better regulations was going to be, but things are worse than ever; I’m not going any more, it’s too dreadful!”
“How do you manage for sleeping room?”
“Why sir, when you gets on board, each one puts their sack or bed or whatever they has, in the best place they can find, and there you have to bide in the hold of the craft until you gets down. The men folk bring you a drink of water and something to eat, and they watch their chance for that.”
“How much head room did you have?”
“Just enough to sit up to drink; not that hardly.”
“Was there any division made for men or women or families together?”
“None at all sir, everybody goes where they please, men, women and children; there’s no regulation; all crowded together, and you don’t hear anything but cursing, swearing and bad talk. It’s a shocking place for women and children, and the dirt and filth is beyond all, because you see, we are pent up in the one place for days, together, and through sea sickness and one thing and another, the smell is fearful, and the wonder is that we do not have more sickness than there is!”
Then the poor woman told me how they were landed “on the rocks” with no house or home, and the first night or two spent sleeping with their beds spread on the damp ground. Their beds and bedding made filthy, owing to their manner of life on board the vessel.
This is no fancy picture, but the stern realities that scores pass through every year, and some I know this year, after a hard summer’s toiling and a rough fall, have no provisions for the winter. This is not all; the woman who told me her experience, pointed out to me several instances of girls who had become mothers before they were wives, owing to this mode of life on board of these wretched vessels.
In a most respectable family, my attention was drawn to the servant girl. This girl had recently recovered from a species of insanity, brought on by an outrage committed on her by the skipper of the crew with which she was shipped. Another instance was a skipper who, three years in succession, has ruined the characters of three different girls; both these men were married.
I could multiply instances of like immortality, showing that both physical and moral evils are growing on us through this horrid system of carrying females to Labrador. To give other facts that would shed a lurid light on the subject would perhaps lay me open to the charge of catering to “the tastes of the filthy”. A few words that recently fell from the lips of Dr. TALMAGE on a kindred topic have, to me anyway, much meaning. I will give them: “So it is with the question of vice. It flourishes for a time, and grows by flourishing; but a time comes at last when some man, bolder than his fellows, takes the matter in hand. Then publicity and agitation are two mighty words.”
You say sir; Ministers of the Gospel ought to bestir themselves. I know that many of them have seen this evil in all its bearings. They have seen the fairest of their flock blighted and blasted by this awful system. “But what can we do?” say they. Again and again the question has come up in the annual district meetings and conference in the Methodist Church of this colony, until it is well nigh a standing rule, not to admit new members in full, until they have stood the test of at least one Labrador voyage. I have heard Episcopalians express their regrets that the most promising youths in their confirmation classes are ruined during the Labrador voyage. Would to God we have some organization like The Church of England Purity Society among us! Let me quote from a manifesto issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning the work of this society:
“Its objectives are: purity among men, a chivalrous respect for womanhood, preservation of the young from contamination, rescue work, and a higher tone of public opinion.” I would fain quote more of the earnest words of the learned prelate. Let the reader ponder well his words, and act accordingly. Determined efforts are needed to uproot this evil. Some one asked me “Why meddle in this matter, you will only make enemies?” Aye! Why? That’s the question. Why have we been so reticent? That’s the poser!