An imperial hundredweight is approximately 112lb (just over 50kg) so the quarter of a hundredweight of gelignite these kids was playing with was more than enough to blow them to pieces. Lucky for them that someone stopped by and saved them from destruction. Also lucky for the mum that didn’t use the soap-like plug of gelignite to do her washing. I think washing in a copper was quite dangerous enough in those days without your kids handing you a stick of gelignite into the bargain!
The more I look for washing copper articles the more surprised I am that anyone that had one on their property survived. Most of the articles about them are regarding women’s skirts catching fire and them being seriously burnt or killed, or small children falling into the boiling water and suffering terribly in hospital until they die. It is awful. The other thing that makes me surprised the humble copper didn’t kill everyone that came in contact with them is the other uses they were put to. They didn’t just use the for washing and bathing. They were also used for cooking.
I have found newspaper references to them being used for; drying grapes, purifying honey, making tomato sauce, brewing beer, boiling jars for preserving fruit and being used as illegal stills . Once they were finished using them for cooking there was a chance that they were again dragged out for a multitude of purposes such as; boiling rope to prevent it stretching, dyeing cloth, making a solution to kill ticks in a shed, and making an arsenic-based weed killer and many other things that would not make their way into my washing machine let alone my cooking pot!
You might think that they would have a few coppers, each used for different things, and I certainly hope so, but the only recipe I found that recommended having a single purpose copper was for the making of jam. There was a lot of published advice on how to keep your copper clean and after reading all the things that it could have been used for, no wonder they were so obsessed with keeping them clean!
I am alway looking for an excuse to get out of doing housework. Mrs Wilmot has a very good excuse for letting the washing get out of hand after this incident. Lucky she used the piece of wood containing the charge in the outside fire though. Imagine if that wood had gone into the stove in the kitchen!
At times I have posted articles where the punishment for crime was a certain amount of days on the tread wheel. I thought I would write about the tread wheel just in case you had never heard of it before.
The treadwheel was described as ‘the endless staircase’ and was just that, sort of like walking around the outside of a small, but heavy, mouse wheel. The one in Hobart was 50ft long and could take up to 150 prisoners at a time. Carters Barracks in Sydney had two mills; a large and a small and each of these were composed of two tread wheels. The small took two teams of 10 men, in shifts of 40 mins on and 20 mins off. The large took 18 men on each wheel, 36 mins on and 24 mins off. This wheel revolved twice a minute and the men would each cover 1344ft (409m), or 72 revolutions, per shift.
The ‘staircase’ powered the machinery that was used to grind wheat and corn etc. The punishment wasn’t just the fact that they spent the days of their sentence on this torturous, unending climb. Convicts were often in heavy ankle chains. At times these chains were weighted according to crime and could be more than 28lb (13kg).
It is often stated that convicts dreaded being sentenced to the tread wheel but in my newspaper searches I have only found reference to others begging for mercy on behalf of the sentenced and at times paying a fine to allow them to be discharged from that particular punishment. I have only found one of the convicted begging for mercy himself. (That is not to say that they didn’t, just that my searches haven’t turned up any others yet.) I have found many reports of them begging to be let off fines and to be given extensions to the payment of such though. Does this mean that fines were more of a deterrent that the tread? Perhaps the tread was something that was dreaded but those convicted just didn’t protest against the sentence. The only one I have found was Martin Collins, a person described as ‘corpulent’ in 1835. They sent him anyway, suggesting that it would do him good. Maybe fines were easier to get out of but a protest against the tread would possibly lead to an increase in the length of the sentence. Generally the sentences were quite short, anything from 24 hours to a week seems to be the most popular amount of time given, but often there are sentences that are for months for the more terrible crimes.
I have wondered at the effectiveness of a punishment that makes the bad guys stronger. It might be a terrible punishment for just the week or so, but if you were a really bad guy and spent a considerable amount of time there you would come out of it with legs that were able to endure quite a prolonged chase. I am not sure that you want the worst offenders in your society to be the ones with the best ability to run away.
I haven’t found any reports of injury or death resulting from the treadwheel though. That doesn’t tell me that it was safe though, it just tells me that once you were in there you were not heard of until you came out the other end of your sentence, and that what happened in there was not made public. It doesn’t seem to have deterred repeat offenders though.
I have also found sentences that were handed down in the same court at the same time for both the tread wheel and for hard labour on the tread wheel. I am not sure what the difference would be. Is it just a turn of phrase or are there different versions of the same punishment? Maybe this is just code for the application of the ankle chains.
This doesn’t seem to have been to popular a punishment with some groups in society and there are often negative reports about it. I wonder if it was as effective as they expected or if it was just a good way to get the machinery turning without the expense of hiring people or maintaining a stable of mill horses.
I started doing the buried words part of this blog because I love to hear words that are rarely used these days. They would stick in my head more effectively if I wrote a post about them and I hoped that maybe someone else would read them and remember them too. I considered it job done yesterday when the man of the house used ‘boudoir’ in the context of a sulking room. No, he hadn’t read my blog, he had just heard me raving on about it and obviously it stuck in his head too. I wouldn’t have been going on about it if I hadn’t been writing the post so, indirectly, the blog has had its desired effect. Job done. Maybe I should write a post about men doing more housework too….
I was lighting the fire last night and it started me thinking about all the skills and knowledge our quite recent ancestors had that we no longer think we have a need for. We have lost so many skills that were once considered common knowledge and rely so heavily on appliances for our day-to-day comfort that the human race is doomed when Skynet takes over…. joking….mostly… 😉
I keep some wood next to the fireplace in my grandmothers washing copper so I don’t have to go outside at night and brave the nocturnal scurriers in the woodpile. I have been asked what it is and when I say it is a copper I am usually met with a blank look. I suspect that most people under a certain age think we humans went straight from living in caves and bashing our loincloths on rocks, to laundries, hot running water and washing machines. Some people remember them being used, but not many.
When I first got the copper from my Dad the kids asked what it was and how it worked. I got halfway through the explanation before they wandered off, bored. The only thing I have to know is the difference between jeans and t-shirts and smalls and how to measure the washing goo.
Back then washing was such an involved chore, and judging by the sheer volume of articles in the same vein as the one on the right, apparently quite dangerous.
These days the hardest thing is lugging the basket up to the washing line and pegging it out. Although for me the hardest thing is remembering to bring it in before dark, when the damp and spiders move in.
In the time of my coppers heyday my grandmother would have either made her own soap, or bought bars of soap, and then shaved it into flakes. I complain when it’s a rainy day and I can’t hang things on the line to dry (like today). Imagine how much I would whinge if I had to go through all the things they did instead of dumping dirty clothes into the machine and coming back 20 minutes later to find them magically transformed into clean and damp clothes. My Grandmother would have carted wood for the fire to heat the water, carted water to fill the copper stirred the washing with a big stick in the copper over a fire,scrubbed with a scrubbing board, wring by hand (unless they had a mechanical wringer). Rinse, and repeat. Carting water back and forth all day long for washes and rinses and more washes. Exhausting. My Dad even remembers he and his brothers being bathed in it as children, so it really sounds like the copper was seldom cold.
All that effort for just one chore that we consider only slightly annoying today. Now we push the button and walk away knowing the clothes will be clean when we go back to it. Can you imagine all the things needed to be done just to keep a house going for just one week 100 years ago? Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book At Home, makes the point that once people had servants for everything, that they had servants like we have appliances today. I suppose that those people surrounded by servants lived like we do now. There are things that need to be done, but it gets done for you so the knowledge of the doing disappears.
I think we should all try to learn to do something the hard way, appliance free. I’m not telling you to do it that way forever…god no…when my washing machine died recently did I drag the copper out into the garden and start carting water? No. I called a man in to fix it. But when Skynet becomes self-aware and we all have to resort to living in caves again…..