The Moral Tales (1880-1900) Continued
The 1880’s saw another prolific writer of children’s books jumping on the ‘moral tale bandwagon’. Emma Leslie published her ‘ Tom the Boater – A Tale of English Canal Life’ in 1882. The author states her purpose – ‘to arouse the sympathies of Christian’s especially young people ….. on behalf of our home heathen’ . With acknowledgements to George Smith the author who was actually Emma Dixon sets her story on a boat journeying to Derby, the vigilance of whose boat inspectors, under the new Canal Boat act is noted. The story involves, as is the case with many of these books, the mistreatment of children by a drunken and uncaring father and their eventual salvation by Christian teaching and/or their being taken into care by an understanding and kindly middle class family who usually employ them in service !!
The success of this book led Miss Leslie to further reinforce her message with the publication of ‘The Water Waifs’. in serial form in the magazine 'The Children's Friend' throughout 1882. It was then issued as a book. The full page illustrations in the magazine show slightly more detail than the same ones in the book which have been slightly reduced in size. This is important because they are among the very earliest images known of the interior of a working narrow boats cabin. Although these images are predated by a few years by Mark Pearse's -'Rob Rat' (1878/9) they show a remarkable similarity in style and could be by the same illustrator whose name we will probably never know.
Illustration from Rob Rat 1879.
Produced in their thousands and cheaply made, these books have not lasted at all well . Add to this the hands of children and general neglect, the survivors are consequently not easy to find and of all these ‘Water Waifs’ is in my experience one of the rarest books in the group!
Left….Frontispiece illustration from ‘Hal the Barge Boy’.. Right……Enlargement of the tiller arm.
Unique in being published in verse is ‘Hal the Barge Boy’ by Frances Wilbraham. This came out in 1883. The only really notable feature of this book is its frontispiece; the boat in the illustration must have the longest tiller arm in the history of canal book illustration. The boat seemingly also appears not to have a ‘well’ or hatches from which to steer!!
Another Barge Boy appeared in 1885. This time ‘Ned the Barge Boy’ by G H Sargent. This author worked for Cadburys at Bourneville in the 1880’s and may have become interested in canal life whilst employed there, as the company owned and operated a large fleet of boats. He later moved and died in Tasmania. He is as far as I know unique amongst these authors in having his book translated and published in French under the title ‘Le ’Petit Batelier.
‘Threading its way through one of England’s most picturesque counties, now glistening like a band of silver amid broad acres of pastureland, anon ascending, by means of numerous ‘locks’ till it is lost to sight among wooded hill, runs one of those great waterways upon whose placid bosom traverses by day and night so vast a portion of the traffic of our land’.
So runs the opening paragraph of Annie Gray’s ‘ Old Lock Farm’ of c1888 albeit in typically florid Victorian prose. This is fine stuff but turn the page and we find the author in full flow inveighing against ‘ the incessant flow of bad language which falls from the lips of all too many of the men and women who spend their lives on the water’ and a few lines later she speaks of ‘ the general shops half general store and half beer house………where the barge folk can procure the liquor which brings into their floating homes such misery and sin, such wretchedness and distress’.
It would be tedious to continue with this and I quote it only to give some idea of the contents of most of these books.
Illustration from ‘The Old Lock Farm’
Annie Grey’s (yet another author with a mega output ) book, is a much more substantial effort than most of its competitors partly due to the 14 page appendix by George Smith. It is relished today by collectors for its many editions with different cover designs and its delightfully naive illustrations.
‘The Old Lock Farm’ was followed in 1893 by Alfred Colbeck’s ( A methodist minister) ‘Dick of the Paradise’, which unlike the preceding books is set on a wide beam boat, as is ‘The Boatman's Daughter’ by F.M.Robertson of 1896.
Continued………..See Part 3