The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

No. 26. — Patience Kershaw, aged 17, May 15:

I go to pit at five o’clock in the morning and come out at five in the evening; I take my dinner with me, a cake, and eat it as I go; I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh 300 cwt.; I hurry 11 a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings, to get the corves out.

This girl is an ignorant, filthy, ragged, and deplorable-looking object, and such an one as the uncivilized natives of the prairies would be shocked to look upon.

It’s good of you to ask me, Sir, to tell you how I spend my days
Down in a coal black tunnel, Sir, I hurry corves to earn my pay.
The corves are full of coal, kind Sir, I push them with my hands and head.
It isn’t lady-like, but Sir, you’ve got to earn your daily bread.

I push them with my hands and head, and so my hair gets worn away.
You see this baldy patch I’ve got, it shames me like I just can’t say.
A lady’s hands are lily white, but mine are full of cuts and segs.
And since I’m pushing all the time, I’ve got great big muscles on my legs.

I try to be respectable, but sir, the shame, God save my soul.
I work with naked, sweating men who curse and swear and hew the coal.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, kind Sir, not even God could know my pain.
I say my prayers, but what’s the use? Tomorrow will be just the same.

Now, sometimes, Sir, I don’t feel well, my stomach’s sick, my head it aches.
I’ve got to hurry best I can. My knees are weak, my back near breaks.
And then I’m slow, and then I’m scared these naked men will batter me.
But they’re not to blame, for if I’m slow, their families will starve, you see.

Now all the lads, they laugh at me, and Sir, the mirror tells me why.
Pale and dirty can’t look nice. It doesn’t matter how hard I try.
Great big muscles on my legs, a baldy patch upon my head.
A lady, Sir? Oh, no, not me! I should’ve been a boy instead.

I praise your good intentions, Sir, I love your kind and gentle heart
But now it’s 1842, and you and I, we’re miles apart.
A hundred years and more will pass before we’re standing side by side
But please accept my grateful thanks. God bless you Sir, at least you tried.

Thomas Wilson, Esq., of the Banks, Silkstone, owner of three collieries:

I object on general principles to government interference in the conduct of any trade, and I am satisfied that in mines it would be productive of the greatest injury and injustice. The art of mining is not so perfectly understood as to admit of the way in which a colliery shall be conducted being dictated by any person, however experienced, with such certainty as would warrant an interference with the management of private business.

Both testimonies from here

Thankfully, things have changed for the better since the 19th Century but the attitude of the likes of Thomas Wilson remain the same as can be seen on any number of blogs and also in some of the comments on this one.

JD‘s profile and a list of his posts can be found in the left sidebar at this site.

9 comments for “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

  1. fake
    November 9, 2010 at 09:16

    Why do you need goverment interference for such situations.

    Worker unions?

    The goverment is only needed to ensure the mine operators do not use voilence to break up the unions, or that the unions do not use voilence to get their way.

  2. November 9, 2010 at 09:40

    An excellent post JD. I was about to type that last line myself when I came to it and smiled. Just yesterday I read a post, from a blogger who describes himself as a ‘natural Conservative’, extolling the beneficial effects of ‘the dignity of labour’, without any evident irony or embarrassment. We should be wary of assuming that the young woman’s story is absolutely true and unembellished but there are too many similar reports from the time to doubt the essentials and there are plenty of ‘respectable business men’ (or, as I once heard one describe himself, ‘legitimate’, whatever that may mean) who would happily return to such conditions and condemn others to such misery for their own comfort and position.

  3. November 9, 2010 at 10:22

    If we accept that bosses never care for anyone but themselves and their businesses, even to allowing such abuse as these conditions but if we also accept that union leaders also don’t care for their members – they just want power for their unions and to have demarcation disputes, if we accept that Westminster is hellbent on giving our sovereignty over to a body, headed by people who don’t care [see 12 noon here], if we accept that the banks are out to rip us off and debt-enslave us and our country, to be bailed out when they miscalculate, if we accept that the marxists and those who deny they are are out to steal from us and to enslave us – then what can we believe in?

  4. November 9, 2010 at 10:54

    We could try believing in ourselves and thinking for ourselves and standing on our own two feet.

  5. fake
    November 9, 2010 at 11:31

    [quote]If we accept that bosses never care for anyone but themselves and their businesses even to allowing such abuse as these conditions[/quote]


    **but if we also accept that union leaders also don’t care for their members**

    Nothing stopping people forming another union, or forcing a change in union leadership. If people continue to support a union who’s leaders do not represent their interests, why should it be for someone else to save them?

    If force cannot be used by either side to get what they want, then both sides can potentially be playing on an equal foot, the government is only needed to stop either side using force as a tool of persuasion.

    What can we believe in?

    People, the ability of people to arrange their own affairs, to stand up for their own rights, to speak their own mind.

  6. November 9, 2010 at 11:36

    A few major disasters too many (eg the Hartley colliery disaster) started to kill off the standpoint espoused by the owner above. Too many “respectable” business people these days would not provide a safe working environment without regulation

  7. November 10, 2010 at 05:51

    300 cwt?

    Why do I find that hard to believe?

    You load 16 tons and what do you get?
    Another day old and deeper in debt.

    And now you’re talking 30 tons….

  8. fake
    November 10, 2010 at 10:13

    **Hartley colliery disaster**

    And where the owners prosecuted for criminal negligence, or sued for compensation?

    This isnt the 1800s where you can bully workers into falling into line.

  9. November 12, 2010 at 03:17

    fake wrote: ‘This isnt the 1800s where you can bully workers into falling into line.’

    What planet are you on?

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