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Snow White - CHILD MINERS

CHILD MINERS (Illustration) Geography Social Studies STEM World History Fiction Victorian Age Film

Child miners in England, like those depicted in this image included in an 1842 report by Lord Ashley, worked extremely long hours.  They usually started at 6 AM and finished at 8 PM, with a 1.5-hour break.  As a result of the report, girls and women no longer worked underground, in Britain's coal mines, although boys aged ten and above still worked at such jobs.  Image, from the 1842 report, online courtesy U.K. National Archives

 

Child miners - in Europe, in America, in Canada - endured extremely difficult conditions.  Beyond the loss of their childhood - a concept looked upon very differently today than it was for hundreds of previous years - they had to live most of their lives in darkness.

People trying to help child miners - in Britain, for example - personally met with some of the children.  After talking with them, interviewers were appalled at what youngsters as young as eight had to endure.  About a chap named George Bentley, we learn this:

This boy appears half-starved:  he, as well as three others ... I visited their homes; it and the boys were the most wretched I witnessed.

George, age eight, started working at age seven.  He ate "bread and fat" for breakfast.  He walked a mile-and-a-half, one way, to the mine pit.  While there, he worked long hours in places like mine seams.

The seams of some of the mines, particularly coal, were often very narrow.  Children worked those narrow seams, but even they had to work in bent positions.  Hours on end, in such an unnatural pose, caused permanent damage, as J.C. Symons reported:

Where the lowness of the gates induces a very bent posture, I have observed an inward curvature of the spine; and chicken-breasted Children are very common among those who work in low thin coal-mines.  (Quoted in Parliamentary Papers, Volume 15, at page 185.)

Children had to wear caps, to prevent injury to their scalps.  Cap-wearing alone, however, did not prevent head injuries:

There are certain minor evils connected with employment in the worst classes of coal mines, which, though not perhaps very serious, are nevertheless the sources of much suffering, such as irritation of the head, feet, back, and skin, together with occasional strains. 

The upper parts of their head are always denuded of hair; their scalps are also thickened and inflamed, sometimes taking on the appearance of tinea capitis, from the pressure and friction which they undergo ... (Quoted in Parliamentary Papers, Volume 15, at pages 186-7.)

One would think that child miners would have shoes on their feet, but some children worked without even that minimal protection:

In running continually over uneven ground without shoes or stockings, particles of coal, dirt and stone get between the toes, and are prolific sources of irritation and lameness, of which they often complain; the skin covering the balls of the toes and heels becomes thickened and horny, occasioning a good deal of pain and pustular gathering.  (Quoted in Parliamentary Papers, Volume 15, at page 187.)

Child miners had trouble keeping food down.  Many children working in the mine pits suffered from loss of appetite, nausea and overall stomach disorders.  The Parliamentary records, of Britain, contain specific quotes about such ailments:

  • Never has a mind for his victuals; never feels himself hungry.  (Michael Mikings)

  • Thinks the stythe makes him bad so that he cannot eat his bait, and very often brings it all home with him again, or eats very little of it.  (John Carlton)

  • He never has much appetite; and the dust often blacks his victuals.  Is always dry and thirsty.  (Michael Richardson)

  • Many times feels sick, and feels headache, and throws up his food.  Was well before he went down in the pit.  (Thomas Martin)  (For all of these quotes, see "First Report of the Commissioners on the Employment of Children," Parliamentary Papers, Volume 15, at page 188.)

In addition to this anecdotal evidence, we can view exemplar videos explaining what it was like to be a child miner.  It is surprising to realize that child labor - in general, not just in mines - was extensive throughout Europe. 

Among other things, working children significantly contributed to the building of Victorian Britain. 

 

ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER:   What does the concept of "childhood" mean to you?  What happens to a child when "being a child" is replaced with "being a worker?"   

What does the concept of "adolescence" mean to you?  What happens to an adoescent when "being a teenager" is replaced with "being a worker?" 

How do you assess the evidence - against the use of child labor - which was reported to the British Parliament (as quoted above)?  Do you think it was sufficient to end child mining altogether?  Why, or why not?

Do you consider the use of child labor, in the mines and elsewhere, as slave labor?  Why, or why not?  

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5156stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2012

Updated Last Revision: Nov 10, 2015


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