27848181911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — VagrancyThomas Allan Ingram

VAGRANCY (formed from “vagrant,” wandering, unsettled; this word appears in Anglo-Fr. as wakerant and O.Fr. as wancrant, and is probably of Teut.origin, cf. M.L.G. welkern, to walk about; it is allied to Eng. “walk,” and is not to be directly referred to Lat. vagari), the state of wandering without any settled home; in a wider sense the term is applied in England and the United States to a great number of offences against the good order of society. An English statute of 1547 contains the first mention of the word “vagrant,” using it synonymously with “vagabond” or “loiterer.” Ancient statutes quoted by Blackstone define vagrants to be “such as wake on the night and sleep on the day and haunt custom able taverns and alehouses and routs about; and no man wot from whence they come ne whither they go.” The word vagrant now usually includes idle and disorderly persons, rogues, vagabonds, tramps, unlicensed pedlars, beggars, &c.

The social problem of vagrancy is one that in 1910 had not yet been satisfactorily dealt with, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. Indeed, the legislation of the early 19th century remained still in force in England and Wales. In early times, legislation affecting the deserving poor and vagrants was blended. It was only very gradually that the former were allowed to run a freer course, but provisions as to vagrancy and mendacity, including stringent laws in relation to constructive “sturdy beggars,” “rogues” and “vagabonds,” formed, until well on in the 19th century, a prominent feature of Poor Law legislation. In 1713 an act was passed for reducing the laws relating to rogues, vagabonds, sturdy beggars and vagrants into one act, and for more effectually punishing them and sending them to their homes, the manner of conveying them including whipping in every county through which they passed. This act was in turn repealed in 1740; the substituted consolidation act (13 Geo. II. c. 24), embracing a variety of provisions, made a distinction between idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds and incorrigible rogues. Four years later was passed another statute which continued the rough classification already mentioned. The laws relating to idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds, incorrigible rogues and other vagrants in England were again consolidated and amended in 1822, but the act was superseded two years later by the Vagrancy Act (5 Geo. IV. c. 83), which in 1910 was the operative statute.

The offences dealt with under the act of 1824 may be classified as follows: (1) offences committed by persons of a disreputable mode of life, such as begging, trading as a pedlar without a licence, telling fortunes, or sleeping in outhouses, unoccupied buildings, &c., without visible means of subsistence; (2) offences against the poor law, such as leaving a wife and family chargeable to the poor rate, returning to and becoming chargeable to a parish after being removed therefrom by an order of the justices, refusing or neglecting to perform the task of work in a workhouse, or damaging clothes or other property belonging to the guardians; (3) offences committed by professional criminals, such as being found in possession of house-breaking implements or a gun or other offensive weapon with a felonious intent, or being found on any enclosed premises for an unlawful purpose, or frequenting public places for the purpose of felony.

Offences specially characteristic of vagrancy are begging, sleeping out, and certain offences in casual wards, such as refusal to perform a task of work and destroying clothes. Persons committing these last-mentioned offences are classed as “idle and disorderly persons” and are liable on summary conviction to imprisonment with hard labour for fourteen days or on conviction by a petty sessional court to a fine of £5 or a months imprisonment with or without hard labour. A second conviction makes a person a “rogue and vagabond” liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for fourteen days or on conviction by a petty sessional court to a fine of £25 or imprisonment for three months with or without hard labour. Any person sleeping out without visible means of subsistence is a rogue and vagabond, or on second conviction an incorrigible rogue, while an ordinary beggar is an idle and disorderly person. Under the poor law as reformed in 1834 the primary duty of boards of guardians was to relieve destitute persons within their district, but legislation and administration gradually widened that duty, so that eventually they came to administer relief to vagrants also, or casual paupers, as they are officially termed.

Within the limits prescribed by the local government board the treatment in English casual wards varies in a striking degree. Before admission to a casual ward a vagrant requires an order, obtained either from a relieving officer or his assistant. In cases of sudden or urgent necessity, however,Casual Wards. the master of the workhouse has power to admit without an order. Generally speaking, vagrants are not admitted to the casual wards before 4 p.m. in winter or 6 p.m. in summer. On admission, they are supposed to be searched, but this is not usually done with much thoroughness; broken food found on them is sometimes allowed to be eaten in the ward; money, pipe, tobacco, &c., are restored to them on discharge. As soon as practicable after admission vagrants are required to be cleansed in a bath with water of suitable temperature. Their clothes are taken away and disinfected and a nightshirt provided. Sleeping accommodation is provided either on the cellular system or in associated wards, the proportion of workhouses providing the former being 2 to 1. Vagrants are, as a general rule, supposed to be detained two nights and are required to perform a task of work. This consists of stone-breaking, wood-sawing. wood-chopping, pumping, digging or oakum picking, and should represent nine hours' work.

The supervising authority has endeavoured, in prescribing the work to which vagrants are put, to make it as deterrent as possible, but in practice the Work presents little difficulty to the-habitual vagrant, and very few workhouses enforce the two nights’ detention rule. The fare provided for vagrants is a welcome relief, too, from their usual scanty fare, and in many of the modern workhouses the wards are almost luxurious in their style and equipment.

The consequence of this generous treatment of those who are “work-shy” is that instead of being repelled or reformed by their treatment, the class is continually on the increase. This increase has received the serious attention of social reformers, and in 1904 the president of the local government board appointed a Reform movement.departmental committee to inquire into the subject of vagrancy. The committee presented its report in 1906, which with the evidence of witnesses is a most valuable exposition of the subject. Among the various recommendations of the committee the most important were the transference of casual wards to the control of police authorities; the issue of way-tickets, as used on the continent of Europe and a very few Eng ish counties, by the police to bona fide work-seekers, and more especially the detention of habitual vagrants in labour colonies. This last recommendation was also that of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws which reported in 1909, to which those interested are also referred for valuable information.

The system of way-tickets has been found useful in Germany and Switzerland in assisting the genuine work-seeker on his way and in discriminating between him and the idle vagrant. In Germany those leaving their districts must carry certain papers of identification in addition to a Wanderschein or way-ticket. For the relief of the destitute wayfarer there is the Herberge or lodging-house, maintained by a voluntary society, and the Verpflegungs-station, or relief station, maintained by the local authorities, In each, those in search of work can obtain lodging and food either for a small payment or by the performance of three hours' work, such as wood-chopping or stone-breaking. In Switzerland way-tickets are issued by a society named the Inter-Cantonal Union to those who can prove that they have worked for an employer within the three preceding months, and that at least five days have elapsed since that employment ceased. The Vagrancy Committee recommended that the English way-ticket in book orm should give the man's personal description, his usual trade, his reason for wanting to travel and his proposed destination, and should contain his signature and, possibly, his finger-prints for the purpose of testing identity. The name of each casual ward visited should be stamped on the ticket. The duration of the ticket should be limited to a certain period, possibly a month. With such a ticket, a man should be entitled at the casual ward to a night's lodging, supper and breakfast, and after performing two hours' work to help to pay for his food and lodging he should be free to leave whenever he liked. The name of the next ward on the direct line of his route, which he could reach that night, should be entered on the ticket, and on his arrival at that place he should be treated in the same manner. The ticket would thus form a record of his journey and show whether he was genuinely in search of work.

The remedy which has been considered as most likely to be effective for the cure of habitual Vagrancy in England is that of labour colonies, which have been tried on the continent of Europe with a substantial measure of success. These European labour colonies are described in detail in the Labour colonies.appendices to the Report and Evidence of the Vagrancy Committee and in the books mentioned at the end of this article, but a résumé of the more important colonies may here be given.

Holland.—There are two classes of colonies, both originally established by the Maatschaapij van Weldadigheid (Society of Beneficence), a society founded by General van den Bosch (1780–1844) in 1818. The Free Colonies were designed for the reception of indigent persons, for the purpose of teaching them agriculture, and so enabling them eventua ly to earn their own living independently. There are three of these free colonies, viz. Frederiksoord, Willemsoord and Wilhelminasoord, forming practically one colony, with a population of about 1500. The expenses of the colonies are met by voluntary subscriptions, but it has been found that the persons who enter the free colonies remain there and few fresh cases are received. The number of inmates has been steadily decreasing. The society also maintained Beggar Colonies for the compulsory detention of persons committing the offence of begging. They were more penal than reformatory institutions, and the inmates were taught certain occupations by which they might support themselves on leaving. They did not prove self-supporting and were eventually taken over by the state. The chief institution is that at Veenhuizen, which occupies some 3000 acres of land, and where some 4000 men of the vagrant class are detained for periods varying from not less than six months to not more than three years. 'There is a similar institution for women at Leiden.

Belgium.—In Belgium the institutions for the repression of vagrancy are maintained by the state under a law of November 27th, 1891. They are of three kinds:—(1) Dépôts de mendicité (beggars depots); (2) maisons de refuge (houses of refuge); and (3) écoles de bienfaisance (reformatory schools). The beggars' depots are “ exclusively devoted to the confinement of persons whom the judicial authority shall place at the disposal of the government ” for that purpose, and these are classified as (a) able-bodied persons who, instead of working for their living, depend upon charity as professional beggars; (b) persons, who, owing to idleness, drunkenness or immoralityylive-in ia state of vagrancy; and (c) souteneurs. There are two of these depots: one for men at Merxplas, and another for women at Bruges. Persons are committed to the depots on summary conviction for a period of not less than two years or more than seven years. The population of Merxplas is over 5000; the colonists are employed in land reclamation, farming and various industries. Small daily wages, varying from 1d. to 3d., are paid, but these may be withheld for disciplinary purposes. One half of the wages is retained by the management and paid out to the colonist on leaving, the other half being iven monthly in the shape of tokens to spend at the canteen in articles of food, tobacco, &c.

The houses of refuge are for men who from age or infirmity are unable to work, or who have been driven to begging or vagrancy by the want of work or misfortune. The chief house of refuge is at Hoogstraeten, where the helpless and sick are received; that at Wortel being reserved for the able-bodied. The colonists earn wages ranging from 1d. to 7d. a day, one-third of this being given to them to spend, and they may take their discharge when they have saved 12s. from their earnings or can show that they have work to go to. The maximum period of detention is one year.

Germany.—In Germany there are between thirty and forty labour colonies, under the management of a charitable association, the Labour Colony Central Board. There is however, no compulsory detention. The institutions which deal with vagrants and persons who neglect to maintain themselves are termed “workhouses” (Arbeitshäuser), but they correspond to the compulsory colonies of Belgium and Holland. Under the penal code of 1900, any one (a) who wanders about as a vagabond: (b) who begs, or causes or allows his children to beg; (c) who through gambling, drunkenness or idleness is forced to apply for relief for himself, or those for whose maintenance he is responsible; (d) who while in receipt of public relief refuses to do work given him by the authorities; (e) who after losing his lodging fails to procure another within a certain time, is liable to detention in a workhouse for a period not exceeding two years. The workhouses are under strict military discipline, the inmates being termed prisoners. They are taught domestic, agricultural and industrial occupations.

Switzerland.—Labour colonies are of two kinds, voluntary and compulsory. The voluntar colonies, of which there are three in Switzerland, are managed by philanthropic societies. Entry and discharge are voluntary, but those seeking admission must agree to stay a stated time, usually one or two months. Compulsory colonies are established in every canton, under the management of the cantonal council. Beggars can be arrested, and, if habitual offenders, can be sent to a labour colony for a period varying from six months to two years. If the man is found to have refused work, he can be sent to a labour colony as a “work-shy” for from three months to two years. Owing in great measure to the success of these labour colonies, Vagrancy has considerably diminished in Switzerland, and the colonies everywhere are small; that at Witzwyl, the largest, having less than 200 inmates. Punishment is generally inflicted by reduction of food; the inmates receive no wages, but by industry may earn are mission of their period of detention.

Authorities.—For a history of vagrancy see C. J. Ribton-Turner, History of Vagrants and Vagrancy (1887): See also Reports, Evidence and Appendices of Departmental Committee on Vagrancy, 1906—most valuable publication—as well as The Vagrancy Problem (1910), by W. H. Dawson, who was a witness before the committee, and whose work quoted is full of first-hand information. Two Board of Trade Reports on “Agencies and Methods for dealing with the Unemployed,” 1893 and 1904, will be found useful, as also Rev. W. Carlile and V. W. Carlile's The Continental Outcast (1906).)  (T. A. I.)