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LETTER XV.


VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE IN ENGLISH FACTORIES.


In the year 1769, Mr. Richard Arkwright obtained his first patent for spinning cotton yarn, and commenced manufacturing by machinery. This was the beginning of the Factory System. Innumerable examples are furnished by history to show that at this time the inhabitants of the North and Midland counties of England, were a healthy, hardy, strong, robust people.

It was to these counties that the government looked for supplies for the Army and Navy, more particularly than to any other. In 1777, eight years after the introduction of Arkwright's (so called) invention, Manchester raised a regiment of volunteers.

This fine body of men was called the Seventy-second, or Manchester Regiment; and their gallant conduct on the rock of Gibraltar, when it was attacked by the Spaniards, and defended by General Eliot, obtained for them lasting renown. On their return to England, they were received in Manchester with enthusiasm, and their colors were deposited with much ceremony in the Collegiate Church, from whence they were removed to the College, where they still remain as trophies of the gallantry of the regiment, and of the patriotic ardor of the town.

Contrast the above with a statement made by a respectable surgeon, engaged to examine men for the militia, a few years ago; that out of 200 men examined, only four could be said to be well-formed men, and these four stated, in answer to questions from the surgeon, that they had never worked in a factory. This difference is believed by most people to be owing to the factory system.

According to the most moderate calculations that have been made, there are, at the present time, upwards of 10,000 bad cases of decrepitude in the factory districts, each of which can be clearly traced to the factories alone This conclusion has been arrived at by taking a census of the cripples, in a few particular towns, and comparing these accounts with the whole district.

These cases of decrepitude are of two kinds, viz: cripples made from long standing and over exertion, and those made by accidents with machinery.

With respect to cripples from over-working, many erroneous opinions are afloat, even among the work-people themselves; the chief of which is, that some particular machines are more liable to make cripples than others. To a very limited extent this may be true; but my rience leads me to suppose, that, generally speaking, deformity is occasioned simply by standing in one position a greater length of time than the Divine Author of our being ever intended we should do. I am strengthened in this opinion, by the history of the cripples I have met with in different parts of the country, whether they have been brought up in the woolen, worsted, flax, cotton, or silk mill; nine out of every ten having been compelled to work from morning to night, without being allowed to sit down for a minute.

Let us turn our attention, for a moment, to the formation of the lower extremities of the human frame. There is a beautiful arch of bones formed in the foot, on the middle of which the main bone of the leg is planted; in walking, the heel and ball of the great toe touch the ground. The bones in the arch of the foot are of a wedge-like form, the same as the stones which form the arch of a bridge. This bridge receives the weight of the body, and by its elastic spring, prevents any shock being felt in leaping, &c. The weight of the body being too long sustained in factory working, this wedge-like form is lost; the bones give way, fall in, and the elastic spring of the foot is forever gone; the inside of the sole of the foot touches the ground, constituting that deformity which is called the splayfoot. The ligaments of the ankle joint then give way, and the ankle falls inwards or outwards, as the case may be. The ligaments of the knee joint give way, causing what is called "knock knee'd;" or, where the leg is bent outwards, it constitutes that deformity called "bow-legged." After the ligaments have given way, then the bones also bend, but not so much in the middle as at the extremities. This bending of the bones of the lower extremities is sometimes so striking, that occasionally six, or even twelve inches of height are lost in consequence; which may be proved in this manner. A man of correct proportions will, in general, be about the same height as the length of the arms from tip to tip of the long fingers, when extended. I have frequently seen cases of factory deformities, in which the length of the arms thus, was six inches more than the altitude of the body; in my own case, this difference is eight inches. I have observed, that, so far from the ratio of these cripples being in proportion to the weight of the work to be done, it is directly the contrary; the woolen, which is the heaviest employment, furnishing the fewest cripples, and the silk, which is the lightest of all, the greatest number.

A person going through a silk mill, and viewing the operations of the various branches of the manufacture, would suppose that no human beings could be deformed and crippled by such light, clean, and beautiful work; consisting of little more than knotting threads of silk, clipping the edges of ribbon, and other things, which seem to a casual observer, more suitable for a lady's parlor than a factory. But when we look more narrowly into the matter, we find causes for the awful effects of factory labor in silk mills. It may seem a very nice thing for a child or young person to be placed near a frame and have nothing to do but knot the threads of silk as they break; but, if we take into consideration that they are to remain close by that frame for twelve hours per day, and never sit down, our astonishment at the great number of silk mill cripples will vanish. Let us suppose that these young persons had nothing to do whatever, but were compelled to walk over a space of ground four yards long, and one yard wide, for twelve hours per day, without having leave to sit down, or rest themselves in any way, except by leaning their knees against a rail which runs along; and this duty to be performed, day after day, and year after year, the consequences, I venture to affirm, would be the same in both cases. I have also observed, that where seats are provided, and extra hands kept, so as to give the children time to rest occasionally, (as in the worsted mill of Messrs. Wood and Walker, of Bradford,) there are no cripples made.

In order to make myself acquainted with the number of cripples in Macclesfield, where silk manufacture is carried on to a very great extent, we had a census taken; and in this town, with a population of 24,000, 197 bad cases were found.

Deformities and diseases of the spine are a very common consequence of working in factories. I have never seen any instances of deformities of the arms, because these limbs have not to sustain the weight of the body. But even the arms share in the general weakness and debility arising from factory labor.

One evil arising from the bending and curving of the limbs, is the state of the blood vessels; for if the bones go wrong, the blood vessels must go wrong also. Nature has provided a beautiful contrivance for propelling the blood to every part of the human frame. This is done in a well-formed person with perfect ease, without any appearance of difficulty whatever. But it is not so with factory cripples. The blood lodges, as it were, in crannies and corners, and the apparatus for forcing it along, instead of being stronger, as in their case required, is weaker, in consequence of the weak state of the body. Hence we find that friction, with hair gloves, in many cases is absolutely necessary.

Females suffer greatly in after life, especially in the all-important operation, arising from the malformation of the bones of the pelvis, while standing at the frames when young.

Let us now turn to the second class of factory cripples, viz: those made so by machinery.

Accidents by machinery arise from three causes, viz: from cleaning the machinery while in motion, from the carelessness of the manufacturer in not having the machinery properly guarded, and from the carelessness of the work-people in passing and re-passing the machines. Little children, whose intellects are not sufficiently advanced to enable them to form a proper estimate of the dangers by which they are surrounded, show their tempers, have their quarrels, and push each other about, when almost in immediate contact with the most dreadful kinds of machinery; accidents of a very shocking description often occur from this cause; in addition to this, the young children are allowed to clean the machinery, actually while it is in motion; and consequently the fingers, hands and arms, are frequently destroyed in a moment. Upright and horizontal shafts, if unprotected, cause great destruction to life and limb, especially to females, whose flowing skirts get wound round while revolving at the rate of 100 to 200 times a minute. Death is frequently instantaneous.

One class of accidents arises from the shuttle in power-loom weaving. In large rooms where there may be upwards of 1000 shuttles flying to and fro at one time, the accidents from this cause are numerous. The shuttles are tipped with steel, and travel with great velocity, and if anything turns them out of their proper course, they in many cases pounce right upon the head of the opposite weaver, and not unfrequently turns the eye completely out of its socket on to the cheek. I have known many people who have lost one eye from this cause; one young man of my acquaintance is quite blind, having lost one eye by the shuttle, and the other by sympathy.

In order to make this matter a little more clear, let us suppose a loom weaving a piece of common shirting. The warp, or longitudinal threads, are divided in two equal numbers, or in other words, that all the odd threads, counting from the side of the warp, viz: the first, third, fifth, &c., move up and down together. So, likewise, all the even threads, viz: the second, fourth, sixth, &c. Now, if we suppose that by a movement of the loom the odd threads are made to ascend, and the even threads to descend, they will form a sufficient space between the rows of threads for the shuttle to pass through, and leave behind it a thread of weft. The next movement of the loom will be to knock close up the weft left by the shuttle, and reverse the order of the threads of the warp, or cause the odd threads to descend, and the even ones to ascend. This movement is repeated in a power-loom from 100 to 130 times per minute; being as quick as the eye can follow the shuttle. Now, should one of the threads of the warp break, (as is frequently the case) while the loom is in full operation, the shuttle will most probably trail the broken thread across the warp, which will thus prevent the threads of the warp passing each other freely. The shuttle is thus checked on its journey, and as it is going at a railway pace, it flies out, and strikes any object that may be in its way. with a force which it would be difficult to ascertain. However, some idea may be formed of its momentum by taking into account the picks which it makes per minute, which, I before observed, are from 100 to 130; thus travelling at the rate of nine miles per hour, and making between 7000 and 8000 turnings on the road, from side to side.

One young woman who had lost an eye by the shuttle, deplored her loss very much; she was on the point of marriage when the accident took place. The loss of her eye disfigured her countenance so much, that her intended husband altered his mind. Thus was this poor girl deprived of her eye and her husband, by the breaking of a thread of cotton yarn.

With respect to the number of accidents by machinery, it is difficult to speak with certainty. In looking over the Reports of the Manchester Royal Infirmary for 1839, I find entered on the books, 3496 cases of accidents for that year. Of these, 2760 were out-patients, and the rest in-patients. In the same institution, in 1840, there were 3749, of which 3018 were out-patients.

It is not to be understood that all these were mill accidents; but a great many of them are recorded as such, and with respect to others, we are left in the dark. In these two years there were fifty-seven cases of amputation of legs, arms, hands and feet, in this institution.

From the Records of the Leeds General Infirmary for 1840, it appears there were received into that institution 261 cases of mill accidents, of these eleven eases required amputation.

Thus it appears that in 1840 there were on the average about five accidents a week, showing a very large amount of human misfortune, resulting from the want of precautionary measures with regard to the machinery at which the people are employed. How much greater the actual amount is, cannot be ascertained; for it must be remembered that this is a return from only one public institution, where there are several open for the reception of like accidents, independently of the private houses to which many of the sufferers apply!

Mr. Charles Trimmer, assistant inspector of factories, speaking of accidents, says, "I have taken some pains in collecting, for the last three years, from the books of the Stockport Infirmary, the number of factory accidents. The number of accidents from March, 1837, to March, 1838, in Stockport, was 120; from 1838 to 1839, 134; from March, 1839, to 1840, 86; out of which 36 were owing to their being caught whilst cleaning the machinery, the machinery being in motion at the time."

"In the Report of the Stockport Infirmary for 1839, (says Mr. Trimmer,) there is the following passage: 'The Committee cannot conclude their Report without stating a fact which was painfully impressed on their minds during the last year. They refer to the manner in which accidents generally occur in our cotton mills. Almost all the accidents that have come under the notice of the Committee, have happened in consequence of the cleaning of the machinery while it is in motion. It is earnestly hoped that the owners and managers of our manufactories will adopt effectual means for the discontinuance of so dangerous a practice.' The practice, (adds Mr. Trimmer) has not been discontinued; because, in the following year, when the cotton trade was very bad, there were thirty-six accidents in Stockport, owing to cleaning machinery while it was in motion." He adds, "that of 340 cases, he only knows of two in which the manufacturers have made any reparation or compensation to the injured party!"

I have selected these three institutions, to show the ratio of mill accidents treated in them, but it must be borne in mind that there are a great number of other institutions in the factory districts, and that, therefore, the cases here mentioned give but a very imperfect idea of the whole amount of suffering from accidents by machinery.

The following distressing factory accidents came under my personal notice, in a single journey, made a few years since. Two young men were killed on the spot; two other young men, and one young woman, died in a few days, from injuries received; one woman lost her left arm, another her right arm; one man lost his leg, another his hand; and many lost two and three fingers each.

Such statements as have from time to time come before the public respecting the factories of England, could not be circulated but upon undeniable authority; and even then, many are inclined to doubt their accuracy. A fewyears ago the stories in circulation were so shocking to the feelings, that men were employed for the purpose of proving their truth or falsehood.

In this way two gentlemen of unblemished character and reputation, viz: P. Ashton, M. D., and John Graham, Surgeon, undertook to examine the work people, one by one, employed in six factories of Stockport. Their report was afterwards laid before a committee of the House of Lords, and by that committee received, accepted and printed. This report is a valuable one, as showing the state and conditions of the people employed in these six factories. The factories were taken as a fair sample of all in the town. From this report, I have condensed with great labor, the following particulars. The following table will show the number of persons employed, with the age at which they commenced working.


Age at which they began to work in the Factories. Employed.
4 years. 5 years. 6 years. 7 years. 8 years. 9 years. 10 years.  10 to 20.  Above 20.   Males. Females.   Total.
 4 35 96 147 143 112 102 151 33 429 394 823


The average age of these operatives at the time the examination took place, was eighteen years. The average time worked in factories was nine years and seventeen days each. In the previous twelve months, 182 males, and 204 females, had been off work in consequence of sickness; and the average duration of sickness was about four weeks and a half each.

Highest temperature in the mills 85 degrees. Lowest, ditto, 52. Mean, ditto, 65, 75.

The following is a tabular view of their condition.


Complaint. Males. Females.
Healthy 89 87
Sickly and delicate 142 172
Troubled with a cough 83 73
""scrofula 15 12
Rheumatic affection 6 1
Bowel complaint 1 1
Difficulty of breathing 30 18
Asthma 5 1
Consumption 1
Pains in the head 7 18
 ""back 1
 ""breast 7 4
 ""legs 1 3
Swelled legs 2
" ankle-joints 17 23
" knee-joints 5 6
Both knees turned in 15 2
Right knee turned in 13 15
 """out 1
Left knee turned in 1 2
 """out 1
Lame of both legs 1
Stunted in growth 39 21
Bad eyes 3 1
Swelled neck glands 4
Lost one arm by machinery 1 1
 " a thumb by  do 1
Lame arm by   do 1
 " hand by   do 1
 " hip by     do 1
 " leg by     do 1
Crooked thigh 1
Curved legs 1
Hernia 1
Distorted Spine 1
Absent through sickness 3 1


These statements need no comments.

No sooner are they worked up in this way, and rendered unable to earn their living, than they are cast off, their places being supplied by new comers.

Knowing these facts, who can wonder at there being 10,000 cripples in the factory districts?

There is no provision made by the manufacturers for the support of these unfortunate persons, after being rendered useless. Had they sustained their injuries while fighting for their country, they might have looked forward to Chelsea or Greenwich Hospital; but in vain we look for such asylums for the mutilated factory cripples. There are no such institutions throughout the length and breadth of the land. The Union workhouse and the grave, are the only asylums for such cases.

Thus we behold in a Christian country, a land which boasts of being the glory and admiration of the world, thousands of human beings, mutilated and crippled, emaciated, ruined in health, their spirits broken, their minds and reasoning powers toppling from their seats, and many of them catching, like drowning men, at straws, to save themselves from what would be a happy release from their miserable situation; crying out with Job—"Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?" Contrast this with what man was intended to be. We are told that man was made "in the image of God;" that God "saw his substance yet being imperfect," and that in "His book all our members are written;" that he was made "a little lower than the angels," and "crowned with glory and honor," and placed in this lower world "to have dominion over the works of his hands." If, as we are told, all our members are written in His book, what an awful reckoning will some of these manufacturers have to meet! How will they be able to account for the lives, and limbs, which they have heedlessly, if not wantonly sacrificed?