Thursday, June 30, 2011

holding the flame

My end of the bet has been completed.  My cousin's boyfriend has seen photo evidence of my transformation from blonde All-American Girl to purple-haired "freak."  I do see more evidence now of people's discomfort with my hair.  One of the coffee shop customers asked me "Why the hell did I do that to my hair?" and "When will it go back to normal?"

Once again, however, I have not faced any discrimination or discomfort due to my hair color.  That surprises me, mainly because it seems like others who change their appearance so drastically have dealt with this sort of thing all of the time.  My mom hasn't seem my hair yet and, despite her criticisms of my decision to change my hair before it happened, she has not said anything negative since it happened.

My new shrink doesn't seem phased by it either -- i.e. she doesn't seem to be psychoanalyzing the reasons why I did the change.  Sure, she asked about it, but I simply explained it as honoring a bet and something I had wanted to do for a while anyway, and she left it at that.

In other news... here's a freewrite based on some of my own Victorian characters.  I spent 40 minutes writing this freewrite, so it's really an incomplete segment of an incomplete story.

Lyon entered her cold, dark flat, the gloom of the winter’s night penetrating her marrow. Lydia’s poignant personal history reminded her all too well of her own past life. Not that the two were identical experiences at all. Unless one counted the irrational parents and James’ involvement.

The lock clicked loud and mechanically back into place as she bolted the door shut. She then reached out into the darkness for the table, for the candlestick and box of matches on its surface, the dim reflection of the gaslights from the streets her only illumination. What had possessed James to be so cruel to the poor girl and her lover? He usually had a reason for everything he did, so what was the reason here?

She pulled out a match, slid the box shut, and struck the thin stick against it, a memory sparking with the phosphorus head.

“I could have gotten rid of you when Grogan first brought you down here. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d gotten rid of some worthless runaway just scraping to get by. No one would have missed you… no one who mattered.”

Then why didn’t you? she wanted to ask. But she was too afraid. He was so close to her, and with him leaning over her like that, piercing her core with those horrible yellow eyes, she felt utterly trapped.

“Sir?” she whispered, her voice faint.

“Why didn’t I?” he said, as if he had been reading her thoughts. “I’m a man of unpredictable impulses. I needed a cleaning woman, you needed a job, and you amused me with your honesty and innocence. I wanted to see how long it would take to corrupt you.”

Her hand shook violently as she attempted to transfer the yellow flame to the blackened wick. That impulse, the one he had not been able to fight, had slowly murdered Rose McGeady by degrees, saturating her with an evil that could not be explained, but which had been expressed in every obedient action, every attempt to justify her wrongs.

Once, twice, thrice Lyon tried to light the candle. The flame grew lower on the match, flickering with her jerky movements onto her index finger and thumb.

A curse on her lips, she violently thrust her hand away, dropping the match in the darkness. She sucked on the burned fingers, searching with her left hand for the box of matches. Her hand bumped into the box again, and she took her fingers out of her mouth. Wincing at the pain, she struck a new match and this time succeeded in lighting the candle.

She found a cup of cold tea, half drunk, on her desk and stuck her fingers in it in an attempt to soothe the pain. She brought the cup over to the table with her free hand and sat down, staring blankly at the faded tablecloth. Her stomach grumbled with hunger pangs, but she did not feel like eating. She knew he would come along eventually, and she did not relish the meeting. Who knew what sort of mood he was in?

A few minutes later she removed her hand from the teacup and dried it on a handkerchief. She then took the candle and lit the gas lamp on her desk, the glow reaching to the farthest corners of her small flat. She then set about firing up the stove both for warmth and for boiling water with which to make a pot of tea. She took off her winter coat and slanting hat and placed them on a hook by the door. She began to clear the table of papers and plates and set out another place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

the mayhew files: receivers of stolen property

This installment of Scott's readings on Victorian crime from Mayhew's London details how criminals disposed of stolen items using "fences."

Inside a Victorian Pawnshop.  image source: Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (DMVI)
While a burglar might have filched a hundred quid worth of plate and jewelry from a house or a pickpocket stole a watch from a gentleman’s coat, the loot did them no good if they could not turn it into cash.  That was where the fence, or the receiver of stolen property, came in.

In Victorian London, the real money in crime seemed to be made by these people.  These people ran either legitimate or semi-legitimate businesses so that they could dispose of the property they received from the various sorts of thieves.  While the hundred pounds might look like a promising reward for the burglar, the amount that the fence took out of that means that the burglar would, as often as not, be out on the prowl the following week.

The first type of fence for stolen goods was the proprietor of dolly shops -- illegitimate, or unlicensed pawnshops.  They were often distinguished by being undistinguished.  They flourished in areas of town like Dudley Street, where having no sign board on your store was the norm. They contained an odd variety of suspicious good, including both men’s and women’s apparel.

Because a number of these items were stolen, it was necessary for the proprietors to move around a lot as the police could become suspicious.  Any inquiry would result in evidence against them as receivers of stolen property.

These fences operated in the following way:  

For legitimate items, the shop owners paid 2d or 3d per shilling of the value of the item.  They would keep the item for about a week.  If the party had not returned in that time then they would sell the item.  If the party who sold the item returned to claim it, the owner would give them a small portion of the sale.

Another source of income for these traders were married women who came and sold their bedding sheets in exchange for money to buy liquor.  The shop keepers did a good business and amassed so many of these stolen items in their apartments that sometimes the piles of goods would block out the light of day.

It seemed that the primary area for the trade of clothes was in the East End, specifically Rosemary Lane, Petticoat Lane, and the alleys and by-ways between them. 

Contrasted to the dolly shop owners were the legitimate pawnbrokers.  These are licensed traders who, many times, were honest in their dealings and did not deal in stolen property.  They usually paid out a third or a quarter of the value of an item and then kept the item for a year before selling it. However, a fair number of them were tempted by the easy profit of stolen goods.

A burglar would often work in conjunction with a pawnbroker, letting him know in advance when a burglary was going to be attempted.  That way the goods could be transferred directly to the pawnbroker's establishment and disposed of immediately.  When this happened silver could be melted down within a quarter of an hour -- not that the burglar stuck around to watch. Not only was a look out often placed at the scene of the crime, but one was also at the location of the fence to watch out for police on patrol.

Usually silver was a good commodity for fences as they could receive almost 5s for an ounce of it.  The burglar was paid 3s 6d, or, if he’s lucky, 4s.  This was a quick profit for the fence of nearly, or more than, 1s an ounce for very little work.  If the average plate weighed an 1/8 of a pound and the burglar managed to steal a set of eight of them, then the shop owner was looking at a profit of 16s for possibly a quarter of an hour of metal work and a little risk.

Other folks ran jewelry business and keep a melted pot of silver in the back to dispose of any stolen loot that comes their way.  These fences usually gave out only a third of the value of any jewelry brought in.

There were any number of people that would receive stolen property, however, and the thieves knew the best place for them to deposit it.  There were sometimes private folks in coffee houses or brothels that knew how to dispose of the goods as well as a pawnbroker. But it was helpful to have a shop of some sort to keep up the appearance of legitimacy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

cowboys & aliens trailer

A happy convergence of sci-fi and good old-fashioned Westerns,  or has Hollywood just gotten desperate?



You can decide when the movie comes out on July 29.

Monday, June 27, 2011

the victoriana of origins

This past Thursday and Friday my boyfriend Scott attended Origins, a gaming convention in Columbus OH.  The event itself ran until yesterday.

An annual convention, Origins does not only include tabletop wargaming, card gaming, and board games, but also cosplay, LRPing, and the vendors who supply enthusiasts with such items as they desire for their various interests.

Much to my delight (even though I could not attend myself- need to work as many days as possible before my trip to Europe!) the theme for Origins this year was Victoriana.  Yes, that includes steampunk.

So Scott, being the sweet and thoughtful guy he is, spent time taking photos of this stuff and collecting some cards for me from the various purveyors of steampunk merchandise being sold at the event.  One of the vendors was Renaissance Fashions, merchants of quality corsets and other items for the Renaissance/ Medieval or Celtic Goth/ steampunk enthusiast.  They even have their own steampunk store at Got-Steam.com, although I certainly cannot see myself purchasing any of these specialty items anytime soon. 

I believe the clockwork corset in the below photo is from their stall, but I cannot exactly remember.  I apologize for the quality- Scott's Blackberry was the only photo-taking device he had at the time:


Some of the other vendors included The Blonde Swan, which specializes in hats varying from historical to fantasy and burlesque:

image source: The Blonde Swan
image source: The Blonde Swan
Then there was this interesting military hat adorned with brass eagle, with goggles and a steampunk gas mask:


Scott was impressed with how popular the steampunk/Victoriana theme was among participants, and the quality of their outfits.  He wasn't quite as taken with some of the steampunk goggle being sold at the booths- some looked cheap to him.  The well-made items were, more often than not, very expensive. The pair of goggles and the gas mask he got me cost $50 each -- not cheap, and definitely not what I would have spent on myself for such items, despite their high quality and beauty.

There were a few Victorian-themed games as well, such as LeviathansAs described on the website for the company that designed the game:  

Leviathans is a game in development by Catalyst Game Labs that simulates combat between warships that have taken to the air in an alternate history 1910. The king leviathans, the battleships, are the largest vessels. Maneuvering in support are the smaller ships of light cruisers, destroyers, and others ships. Will you captain your fleet for king and country, expanding your nation’s power and becoming legend? Or will you fall from the sky, forgotten?
Airship battles and steampunk merchandise.  What more could one want at a gaming convention?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

surprises all around

So I went from blonde Girl-Next-Door to...


TA-DA!

The color is Raw's Deep Purple, as recommended by Sophistique Noir. The dye itself was no problem to get- just a quick trip to the local Hot Topic. I got home, washed my hair, dried it, and attempted to put it on, following some of the tips posted on Juliet's Lace... when I realized that I didn't have a brush applicator. I was sure that such an item wasn't exactly necessary, that a comb would do almost as good of a job, but as it was my first time I wanted to have all of the right implements to ensure that I did all I could to put the dye on evenly and thoroughly.

Fast forward two hours later, and I've given up on finding a brush applicator after searching several stores- it was 1:00 a.m. at this point, and the only store open was Rite Aid, which didn't have such an item.

I just went home and did the job with a fine-toothed comb. It's not as even as I had hoped, and the color seems to be coming out at the roots already (giving my hair a somewhat grayish-white palor in those areas), but I don't think it's a bad job at all. I love the color much more than I thought I would- I didn't have to bleach my hair, and Sophistique Noir was dead-on about it looking black in some lights (which is another color I have always wanted to try- makes me feel like I killed two birds with one stone).

The comments I received were... interesting to say the least. A lot of people, especially coworkers, really liked the color. The ones who didn't just didn't say anything. One of my friends did spend a good amount of time poking fun at me and calling me a freak, but the nature of our friendship involves him doing that to me anyway, no matter how I look. The really odd thing is that it seems like more people, especially men, are willing to come up and talk to me. One friend claims that this is because blondes are intimidating, but other guy friends think that that argument doesn't hold much water when held up to their own experiences dealing with blonde women.

Then my boyfriend came back from Origins, whose Victoriana-themed convention inspired him to surprise me with some early birthday gifts:

Scott is wonderful.  And crazy- he's now intentionally completed his girlfriend's transformation to a legitimate steampunk nerd with this pair of googles and the face mask.

More about what Scott found at Origins tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the flavor of steam technology

While cleaning out the storeroom of my boss's coffee shop the other day I came across a strange "contraption" of sorts that appeared to be straight from the pages of a Jules Verne novel:


I brought it upstairs to my office and asked my boss to identify the strange machine.  I thought it was a water boiler.

He informed me that it was not a working piece of anything- just a decoration that he bought to place on top of the espresso machine in the coffee shop, but never used because if he had placed it on the machine then there would have been no room for the ceramic cups and plates that are used in the daily operations.

images source: Bayou Renaissance Man

He then told me to find someone who will buy it to melt it down for scrap metal.

Wait, WHAT?!

I was appalled.  To destroy such a beautiful object, with intricately designed knobs and gauges, seems like blasphemy to my neo-Victorian mind.




I told him that I would try to sell it first.  I figured that either an individual looking to open a coffee shop or a steampunk enthusiast might want it.  I was even beginning to develop ideas of a steam-powered jet pack design for the espresso dome for myself.

While researching prices for this decoration I found out that espresso machines were first invented in the 19th century, and looked a great deal like this:

image source: Showplace Antique & Design Center
Apparently espresso first made its appearance on the Italian beverage scene in 1884 when Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, built and patented the first machine, which forced hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee.  The method made a stronger coffee drink that became known as "espresso."
First espresso machine patent.  image source: Wikipedia
The drink spread in popularity throughout Europe and the U.S. in the 20th century (with Turkish coffee, an innovation of several centuries earlier, being the preferred pressurized drink of the Middle East and North Africa).

But is it really surprising that espresso, that steam-powered beverage, is a Victorian drink?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

steampunk novels

I would like to throw a word in here about steampunk as a genre of literature.

Although enthusiasts cite such works of literature as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the first true steampunk novels, the term itself is a relatively recent label to these books.

image source: My Handbound Books - Bookbinding Blog
Steampunk's creation as a subculture goes back to the 1980s, when writers such as Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter wrote stories that essentially took place in a Victorian setting and incorporated aspects of Victorian sci-fi such as time travel, clockwork automatons, and airships.  Jeter is actually the individual credited with creating the term "steampunk" for this genre of Victorian science fiction, fantasy, and romance that has become the fashion, music, movie, design, and literature enriched subculture it is today.

Some titles with heavy steampunk influences include the following:

Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Homunuclus by James Blaylock
Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul DiFillipo 
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill  
The Prophecy Machine by Neal Barrett Jr.
Mainspring by Jay Lake
Extraordinary Engines (a collection of steampunk short stories) edited by Nick Gevers
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
Soulless by Gail Carriger
What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel written by Maggie Killjoy, founder of Steampunk Magazine

There are also steampunk romance novels out there, such as Katie MacAlister's Steamed: A Steampunk Romance

As sad as it is for me to admit, I have never read a steampunk novel.  As I have mentioned before, I had never even heard of steampunk until I started this blog back in September 2009.  Most of my reading consists of hefty history books and Victorian literature, but not the steampunk "classics" by Verne and Wells.  I have read Frankenstein twice, but the connection between Shelley's gothic horror tale and steampunk is the weakest out of the three 19th century writers I listed as having elements of steampunk in it.

image source: Black Wyvern Books
The reason I haven't read these novels is that modern literature just doesn't really appeal to me. The vocabulary used is often too simplistic for my tastes and chapters are shortened, text enlarged and margins widened to make people feel like they really read a 400 page book in three days, when they really read a 150 page book in that same amount of time.  They just feel like cheap tricks to get readers to believe that a crappy book is a real work of art.

So here's my question to the readers- should I, as a blogger, ditch the literary snobbery and divulge in some modern reading of the 19th century kind in order to round out the topics that I cover on this blog?  I for one wouldn't mind reading The Golden Compass.  I could easily divide my reading between steampunk novels and my beloved Victorian literature and history books. 

Currently on my reading queue are the following:

Mayhew's London by Henry Mayhew
The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Using Your Brain for a Change by Richard Bandler

So not too long of a list for me.  Mayhew's London will probably be done in two weeks as it's such a fascinating read- I'm already a quarter of the way through it.  The Valley of Fear will be one of of those books that I'll read to my boyfriend as he paints his historical miniatures.  I will save The Fountainhead for my two-week vacation, as the book's print and margins are so small that this 600-page novel will actually not be a burden to carry through East Europe.  I did want to save The Idiot for that purpose, but that book is much heftier and may be more of a pain to keep in my backpack.  Using Your Brain for a Change is a book on neuro-linguistic programming techniques - not a normal choice for myself to consider, but it was highly recommended to me by a friend.

I could sprinkle in a few steampunk novels with these books I suppose, but that will mean that reviews on the Victorian literature ones will not be as prevalent on this blog.  Like you all really need me to read and review books that are at least 100 years old and have been reviewed umpteen times before. :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

the most random punkiest steam photos to cure monday morning blues

My boyfriend must get bored, because he spent the better part of this weekend sending me links to photos of steampunk-inspired items.

Such as these bookish top hats:

image source: imgur

This newsprint corset:

image source: Picasa Web Albums

And this clockwork-lovin' canine:

image source: imgur

Friday, June 17, 2011

victorian tourists

Victorian tourists take a photo break while on holiday at Giza:

image source: The Daily Mail

According to this article in The Daily Mail, the tourists were traveling as part of one of the first Thomas Cook package tours to Egypt.

I wish I was on vacation too.

In other news, Ms. Lou at The Neo-Victorian Parlour has written a very interesting blog post on the history of carbonated beverages, including their evolution throughout the Victorian Era from medicinal drink to the sugary liquid staple it is today.  Check it out!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the perfect little victorian woodland getaway

Many thanks to Zan for sharing this link from Sharona Design, which features the loveliest little cottage I have ever seen- a Catskills hunting cabin-turned tiny Victorian woodland home:
image source: The New York Times
image source: Eco Smart Travel
image source: Alkeemi
image source: The New York Times
image source: BenaBasil's Corner


image source: Jamaica Byles
image source: Jamaica Byles

image source: Jamaica Byles
This article in The New York Times features how Sandra Foster and her husband made the cottage from a dream into a reality.  Although the cottage lacks a kitchen and a bathroom, I would say that Ms. Foster has managed to make the cottage a perfect little "woman cave" of her own.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

i tried...

Not wanting to miss out on the fun that should be International Steampunk Day, as soon as I got home from work yesterday evening I tore apart my wardrobe looking for an appropriate outfit. 

Unfortunately none of my steampunk fashion projects have made much headway, so I threw together a mismatch of clothes that one friend dubbed "more punk than steam."  I have to agree:

the outfit: a plain white blouse, the maroon vest I discussed in this post (without the hoped-for alterations), black shorts from Express, ripped-up fishnets, almost knee-high boots, a lace glove from Claire's, an off-white and silver scarf from a past trip to France, my pocketwatch, and a steampunk necklace made from a copper-colored chain and a variety of industrial charms
But I did receive some odd, if not appreciative looks.  And I did make my boss do a double-take when he walked past me tonight in his coffee shop while I was helping my sister close up after her shift ended, mainly because I looked so odd to my normal mode of dress.

My sister Leigh (right) and I
In retrospect, there were probably a few necessary additions needed to this outfit:

  1. Some sort of gears or clockwork parts to the vest
  2. Headgear. I am leaning towards a decent bowler hat.
  3. Eyewear.  The vote among my friends was a monocle.  I almost filched a pair of eyeglasses that my little sister left in my car just to fulfill the eyewear requirement.
  4. A cane.
  5. A real pair of breeches.  Preferably tweed.
The most important, in my opinion, is a good headpiece.  Otherwise I really do look more punk than steam in this outfit.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

international steampunk day!

It took my daily dose of The Ultimate Goth Guide to find out about the existence of International Steampunk Day.

Why the fudge am I the last person to ever find out about these things?  Especially since this isn't the first year that this "event" has occurred.  For shame, Lauren.

There is actually a reason why June 14 is the day chosen for this "holiday," although I can't seem to find out who was responsible for the first International Steampunk Day.  According to Steampunk.com, H.G.Wells, writer of such Victorian science fiction pieces as The Time Machine, was born on June 14--hence why we celebrate steampunk goodness today of all days.

So the point of International Steampunk Day, according the official Facebook page linked above, is to:

...dress up like Steampunk Characters, watch steampunk movies, play steampunk video games, read steampunk books and just bask in the glory that is the steampunk genre. So bust out your goggles and your ray guns, your felt vests and your steam gaskets and imagine a history that might have been...at least for one day.

I can listen to steampunk music, but tonight's a late work night and I can't get back to my closet to don appropriate steampunk gear.  My apparel today is not even remotely neo-Victorian, let alone steampunk -- just a boring black pencil skirt and striped white and red blouse (although I guess the Victorian cameo necklace I am wearing has to earn me some points). 

Maybe I'll have to assemble a few steampunk-themed outfits and take photos to show off tomorrow.

HAPPY STEAMPUNK DAY!


image source: Steampunk Costumes

image source: The Steampunk Tribune

Monday, June 13, 2011

why do digital when you could go wet plate collodion?

Today's Telegraph had an interesting tidbit about a project that modern photographers back to the methods used by their professional forefathers:
A group of British photographers and artists are mounting an exhibition of pictures created using Victorian cameras and processes such as the wet plate collodion method. Victorian lenses give the pictures a very particular feel which makes it odd to see cars, modern clothing and other anachronisms in a view which seems pulled straight out of history books. 
 The exhibition, which takes place at the Arts Bank at Saltburn-By-The-Sea from July 2 to July 29, will also include a hands-on demonstration of the wet plate collodion method and an evening talk by John Brewer, an expert in the method, on the opening night.

image source: Daily Telegraph

Saturday, June 11, 2011

non-victorian stuff, shameless plug, and hints of things to come

I have actually been MIA over the past few days- the past three posts were written ahead of time and timed to publish the day and time stamped at the bottom of the page.  One must admit, Blogger certainly knows what its bloggers want/need in order to continue a successful blog.  The scheduling-posts-ahead-of-time concept is one I don't commonly take advantage of, as I often don't know what I want to write until I sit down and do it.  It is useful when you do have a few blog post ideas and know that you won't be able to update at the normal times.

The ceiling in my bedroom is collapsing due to a leak in an air conditioning pump in the apartment above us.  I thought the property manager was going to have it fixed by now, three days later, but one of my roommates told me that he didn't think they were coming to fix it as the leak was fixed.  He says that the ceiling appears to be rather structurally sound despite the water damage it incurred, but I am not thrilled.  If it collapses then there goes my dresser (with a great deal of my clothes), my jewelry box, my full-length mirror, and my tolerance for the shoddy patch-jobs that get done in this crappy little apartment building we live in.  I am certainly getting what I am paying for, as our rent is dirt cheap, but still.  A ceiling with water-damaged boards that are sagging down into the apartment below should, in my opinion, be a concern to the property manager.  We'll see if it gets fixed anytime soon.

My last appointment with my current counselor took place this week, and I think I've been fluctuating between bummed out and somewhat depressed since the night before the last session.  My boyfriend thinks that that's actually a good sign, as he believes it means I am depressed about something real, rather than being depressed about generalities (as I was wont to do at the height of my depression). The counselor and I ended our sessions because she's moving to Hawaii (of all places!).  I really liked her intelligent insights, blunt attitude, and ability to take my own bluntness in stride, and felt that I was getting better over these past four months with her help, so it has been a struggle trying to trust that the new counselor I will be seeing in two weeks will be able to help me to help myself.

I had a lovely visit from my uncle this past week, who's only 16 years older than me.  I hadn't seen him in three years, since he lives in Seattle and I've never been further West than Dearborn, Michigan. This is the part where I insert the shameless plug about why he was in the Pittsburgh region- his blues band, Gravel Road, was traveling around the area with blues musician T-Model Ford.  I made the nearly three-hour trip from Pittsburgh to Erie to see them perform at The Crooked I, which was my first time seeing my uncle play anything live.   


They're coming to Pittsburgh next month, so if you're in the area I'll be at the gig.  Details TBD.

In regard to steampunk stuff, I am actually doing conceptual research on my next steampunk outfit using this vest that I discussed in a post last month.  Details TBD.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the mayhew files: river crimes

This week's tidbit on Mayhew's London (which I finally started reading for myself this week) focuses on that great body of water, the Thames, and the criminal opportunities it provides.  I promise that this section is significantly shorter than the last installment, which will make for much easier reading.

image source: Through the Sand
The first of the delightful souls who made their living, law-abiding or not, on the river are the mudlarks.  These poor souls spent their time dredging the mud flaps on the sides of the river for spilled coal, bits of copper, driftwood and even bits of fat, though God knows what the latter comes from.

The mudlarks were often young boys who worked hard for little return.  There was more of them at this kind of work in the summer than the winter, as one may well imagine.  They got up as soon as it was light and went down to the docks.  As coal-laden barges were being unloaded the boys gathered around them, picking through the mud to find pieces of coal that had fallen off the sides.  The boys then sold the coals to poor people in the neighborhood that they live in, making about 6d a day.  They could make as much selling driftwood, but they usually made slightly less.  

However, mudlarks were not above thieving right from the boats if they thought no one was paying attention.

An older version of the mudlark was the dredgeman.  Also rising early in the morning, the dredgemen made their way in their boats to where a barge has just docked, but will dredge deeper out in the water for spilled coal.  Sometimes, to ensure more of a profit, they made sure that some of the coal did spill over.  They also went alongside the boats and stole copper funnels and ropes from the sides.  These items and others were then sold to local merchants.

Sweeping boys, on the other hand, went aboard boats as their primary means of gain.  Hired to sweep the boats clean, they often engaged in a bit of cleaning of another manner entirely, picking up any stray valuables or items that could be sold.  Sweeping boys tended to sleep in open boats wrapped in whatever they could find in the winter.  They were excellent swimmers, often escaping capture once caught stealing by taking to the water and swimming away. 

The sweeping boys appear to be what the mudlarks aspired to become, as the mudlarks were generally between 6 and 12 years of age while the sweeping boys are from 12 to 16. 

Another member of this river crime class were the sellers of small wares.  These boys went aboard the ships with baskets of trinkets that they then traded to the crew men for pieces of rope or fat and bones from the cook.  They then took the items they had traded to sell on shore.  They generally lived at home with their parents.  They were not above pilfering the odd exposed valuable on the boats they worked.

The ship captain not only had to worry about the boys who came aboard his boat, but he also had to keep his eyes on the men working on it.  Sometimes these labourers would pick up some of the goods to be delivered and secret them about their persons.  These goods were then taken to local merchants and sold or more likely used by themselves. 

Smuggling was popular along the river as it was in any other port.   Smugglers carried in loads of goods past the customs house to get them in duty free.  Sometimes the amount smuggled was large-- in one instance Mayhew mentions a boat attempting to smuggling 229 pounds of tobacco.  In another case, however, one American sailor carried only a few pounds of tobacco hidden in his clothes.

Lightermen were employed to navigate boats and barges in the river.  Claiming to know the river like the back of their hand, these men were responsible for making sure that the boat avoided shallows and other areas.  While the lighterman could make a good living doing honest work, the temptation to steal often prevailed upon them.  They often sailed empty or stolen barges up to a barge they targeted for plundering when no one else was aboard.  As they may have been on that particular barge that day they know what is on it and where.  Once on the barge, unloading its goods and making off with it in the night is then a simple matter.                                                                          

These lightermen often lived with prostitutes like the tierranger or river pirate (Note: yes, there were Victorian river pirates.  Who knew?)

The river pirate was a different animal all together.  These men took to the rivers dressed as seamen and tried to make it aboard a ship with the intent to plunder it.  If discovered they would often lie and claim that they belong to another boat.  They would then ask for the name of the boat that they had been caught trying to board.  Once told the name, they would tell the members of the other boat that they were mistaken and head in the direction of another boat as if it was theirs.

River pirates usually started out as mudlarks who had advanced their way up the criminal ladder as sweeping boys, then dredgemen, before taking on their role as pirates.  Some may have been lightermen also-- by reading Mayhew one gets the impression that the difference between the thieving lighterman and the pirate was small indeed.

To give an example of river piracy- One pirate was caught in the act of plundering a boat.  Being a strong man he put up a fight, smashing the head of one of the detectives sent to arrest him with an iron bar.  The detective, at the time of writing, had not recovered from the attack.  Eventually the river pirate was overcome by the coppers, but was sentenced to only 15 months of hard labour.  Compare that sentence to the smugglers who were sentenced to six months of hard labour each for trying to sneak in 48 pounds of tobacco.

Often these pirates worked in groups and were pretty clever.  In one instance a crew detained one of these men when he stole a watch.  They called for the police and then waited for the cops to take the crook away.   Within a short span of time a boat came up with several men in overcoats.  They took the man into custody and took the watch as evidence.  When the captain of the ship went to the police the next morning to claim the watch back he discovered that the police had not heard of the incident.  It appears that the river pirates' friends had rescued him in disguise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

steampunk sea shanties, voltaire-style

Goth Renaissance man Voltaire took the steampunk dive... and I missed it by three years.  Seriously, what is wrong with me?  Am I really that oblivious to what is going on out there?!

Last night, while cruising around YouTube trying to find steampunk music to fit my current writing mood, my searches brought me to Voltaire and his 2008 self-released album, "To the Bottom of the Sea."

With his humor-laced lyrics, Old-World style instrumental backup, and themes of roving, dangers of land and sea, and the destruction of old institutions to make way for the new, this album has certainly kept me hooked for most of this workday.  It's not "truly" steampunk, but it certainly evokes some of the same themes explored in steampunk music and has that world music feel to it that has become a stable of steampunk bands from Abney Park to the Clockwork Dolls.

Below are a few selections of some of my favorite songs:



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

high fashion cogs and brass in oamaru

This past Sunday the second annual Steampunk Fashion Show and Gala Ball was held in Oamaru, New Zealand.  There was quite an effort from a variety of enthusiasts to depict the imagined attire of steampunk adventurers, explorers, warriors, creatures and whatnot.


images source: ShuangLong at SmugMug