February 7, 2022
COMMISSION ON THE EMPLOYMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUNG PERSONS, AND WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE (1867).
- Mr. John Brunyee, overseer .”The women and children are the masters here ; and they won’t work without high wages. The children can find employ- ment all the year in the fields, and there is a flax mill besides. They don’t work before 10, except in harvest. They often work 10, 20, or even 50 together in pulling ” line ” (flax) or potatoes. A man follows with a fork to see that they pick clean, and to take their time and so on, but he can’t look after them. He has no influence and can’t stop their talking. A woman with them could not keep them in order. The farmer expects the man to do it, but he doesn’t. I don’t think mixed gangs can be prevented. A farmer must keep his work together because of carting ; he could not separate it. The girls are very depraved. Our town at night is very bad ; we are worse than we were. The girls won’t go out to service, because they become less independent. They spend their money in finery.
- Mr. John Forster, innkeeper and small farmer. —On my farm I would often rather not have the children, but the mothers bring them and won’t work for me unless I employ the children. Children under 12 are no good to me. I think the worst employment for children is over ” potato pies ” in winter. The ” pie ” is a large heap of potatoes covered up with straw. When the farmer wants to deliver some, he gets a lot of children, old and young, who kneel down round the ” pie ” quite close together and sort them. The talk is dreadful then. I don’t see why all the big children should not be separated from the little ones.
- Mr. Thomas Foster, flax merchant. — I grow flax, but I often buy it on the land. I should pull it in August. I pay by the ” score ” of sheaves in pull- ing. The field is open and anyone comes that likes to pull. Mothers bring their little ones, otherwise I would rather not have them unless they were 8 or 10 ; they often bring them at 6, but rather to take care of them. The work lasts about three weeks. We ” stook ” it like corn, and then stack it. We beat the seed out, then the stalk is laid on the grass to ” rate.” We have seed flax now, and spread it dry ; we used to put it in dykes and spread it wet. This is done by women. It’s dry work now and don’t smell as it used. It lasts over three or four months in the autumn.
- Mr. Cornelius Maw, farmer. — At potato “pies ” I don’t like children under 12 or 13. I don’t want such in winter at all. Mothers go with their children for weeding ; they often take them out at 8. For line weeding they often take them without their mothers, because it must be done quick. It is a dis- agreeable thing to go among a company of women at work : the overlookers don’t like it, but the women won’t have their tongues tied. They are worse than the men at any kind of ribald discourse. Some mothers don’t care whether their children are near. You could’nt separate them. We should’nt employ the children unless they were supervised by the women ; a clever woman can make a child work.
- Mr. Henry W. T. Ellis, surgeon. — The mortality among infants is very great in this district; 50 children under three months old died during 1865-6. The mothers leave their children to go out to work ; even children that are suckling are left a whole day ; often 35 children in the charge of one old woman. Sometimes they give them Godfrey’s (opium) to keep them quiet while they are out. Twins and illegitimate children almost always die. I know a case here where a woman has had five or six children all of whom have died, having been given opium to keep them quiet.
- Mr. John Hastings, schoolmaster. — We have 50 children in summer. The eldest we have is 10 ;
the average would be 7, but they are younger than last year. In winter we have 80, about 30 would be over 10. Some work half a day and come to school the rest. A good many are kept away by having to nurse young children at home.