19th Century Child Labour: Photos

Following the Industrial Revolution almost a century earlier, the use of child labour reached it’s peak in the Victorian Era. Children as young as four worked up to 80 hours a week, in all kinds of dangerous and difficult jobs.
The photos (except one) were taken between 1860 and 1890.

Cotton Mills employed children at just 10% of the adult wage. Families were so large at the time, that they needed the income from all the children, as soon as they were old enough to work.

Young boys were especially valued down coal mines. They were small enough to crawl through the narowest tunnels, those where the adults were too big to enter.
The smallest boys without the strength to pull a cart or wield a pick were employed sorting coal at the surface. They received around 20% of an adult wage, for the same work.

This happened all around the world, not just in Britain. And the jobs were not just in heavy industry.
This girl is employed as a child-minder for the toddler. This was in America, around 1880.

Selling newspapers or matches on the streets was a common job for young children.
As you can see, this boy has no shoes.

Children who had to depend on living in a workhouse were sent out to do a day’s labour to compensate for bed and board.

With every house still using coal fires, slim boys were prized as chimney sweeps. They could actually climb inside the chimneys, to ensure a thorough clean.
This reality was a long way from ‘Mary Poppins’.
(The photo is a recent one, to show what it would have been like)

victorian style chimney sweep, a child chimney sweep,
hulton pic

Sometimes, families worked together at home.
This mother and her children are folding boxes, probably to contain matches.
They received a pittance for every 100 boxes completed.

Something to remember, the next time your kids complain about having to tidy their room.

49 thoughts on “19th Century Child Labour: Photos

  1. Thank you for sharing this post and these photographs, Pete. Very interesting. I did a lot of research on this for my new book Through the Nethergate which features a number of ghosts that died as a result of their occupations during this era.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like an interesting book, Robbie. Child deaths at work, especially in mining, were all too common. But there were also the terrible injuries that many received, after being caught in machinery. Different times indeed.
      Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Yes indeed. We cannot imagine it at all. I can’t even imagine most 16 year-olds I meet here being able to hold down a job. But in many countries, they would have already been working for 10 years.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. The situation has not improved much for the lower class people in India, sadly. I know a few families around here, in the small town where I live, who have 8-10 kids. All these kids became breadwinners at very young age. They either work in shops or prepare minor stuff at home. I know about a family of 13 that lives on 10 dollars a week. That means one meal a day and two if they are lucky. Thankfully, medical facilities are free, and schools are free and compulsory. So, most of the families allow girls to study up to grade 5 and boys usually quit after grade 8. 😐

    Liked by 1 person

  3. we are very fortunate to have not lived in that difficult era. thanks for posting, Pete. a good reminder to not complain on petty things or demand over ridiculous or unreasonable things.:)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Uh-oh. Ha! I’ve got to respond to this, Pete! Ha! I’m going to scold you a bit. (Remember, we are friends.)…I’m a capitalist. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a small business owner. I am pro capitalist. But, I’m not a pro capitalist run amok. I pay my employee’s a generous wage. I respect them and partner with them, but at the end of the day I take the lions share. Why? Because of my investment in labor, time and money. As BB King so eloquently said, “I paid the cost to be the boss.”
        I’m smiling. I hope you are to. Still friends?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t mind being scolded, Pam. 🙂
          Of course, I was referring to the powerful 19th century industrialists. The owners of the big mills, huge produce farms, mining companies, railroads, and manufacturing plants.
          I have no doubt that you treat your employees very fairly, and that you definitely don’t have any four year-old workers in your business. 🙂
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes we say that the world has become a lot worse, but in cases like this (even though unfortunately in some parts of the world this is still happening) the world has changed for the better. Amazing pictures again though, I have to say 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Michel. In most parts of the so-called ‘developed world’, laws have been brought in to stop this kind of thing. But it sadly still goes on in so many countries to this day, and we are probably buying some of the goods produced by child labour, albeit unknowingly.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Our US census records paint a fairly accurate picture. My husband’s paternal grandmother was working in the cotton mills when she was 8. The mills were full of children. And the marriage records were even more frightening. Young girls married before they were teens often to men much older.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Of course it is, Pete. So many loopholes, so many archaic laws that allow this to continue. If a young daughter of mine were pregnant, the last thing I would recommend is that she marry to make the news ‘palatable’. We love to legislate the ridiculous and turn heads to the obvious.

        Liked by 4 people

  6. Slavery and child labour still exist, but that it is hidden and unlooked for. So unless we know what to look for and all look to see with our own eyes, it will remain behind closed doors, in nearby places with curtains closed and along lonely country lanes while we go about our own business. It won’t be easy to look at, but: antislavery.org

    Liked by 1 person

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