Kamis, 16 April 2009

The Adventures of SCSSHBCDAC: a tragic tableau

Previously, the intrepid investigators from the Sydney City and Suburbs Sewerage and Health Board Crowded Dwellings and Areas Committee braved late-nineteenth century Clarence Street's lodging houses, where they encountered numerous nude lodgers and a drunken landlady.

This time they report on the rented houses of the inner city, and some of its children.


Fifth Day, Monday 22 November 1875.

Met at the Volunteer Club at 3 pm; commenced our inspection by visiting two houses close to the corner of Kent and Margaret streets, No 190 and 192, the property of Mr Samuel Lyon, of Woolahra. These houses are 18 inches below the level of the ground in front, and about 4 feet below it at the back; each contains two rooms on the ground floor and a small attic in the roof, and rents at 11s a week. There is one closet for both houses, with water laid on, but with direct action; the bedrooms are hot and close in consequence of deficient ventilation. One of the tenants told us she had been unwell for some time and that she attributed her ill-health to damp, arising from the floor, from which their was an unmistakable stench, proceeding from some collection or other of offensive matter, or from some foul surface drainage. These houses were not in good repair or at all in a tidy condition and, us usual, we were told that the landlord would not lay out a penny upon them.

We next proceeded to Miller's Buildings, owned by Mr Dickson, undertaker. There are fourteen houses in the court, containing two rooms each, 11 x 11 ft, with a small attic above, and let at 6s a week; there are four water closets for the fourteen houses. From one of these houses two children were removed the same morning by the police, almost in a state of nudity, unwashed, and uncared for, and literally covered with vermin. The filthy condition of the room from which these unfortunate little outcasts were rescued may be better imagined than described. We were strongly advised by the residents in the court not to enter it, and we contented ourselves by peeping in. Some rags, the colour of dirt, scattered about the place, a rickety chair, and a pretence for a stretcher, constituted the furniture of the apartment. The bare walls and floors, begrimed with dirt, completing the dismal picture. On the door-step was a heap of human excreta, covered with an old straw hat.

More wretched objects of destitution than these poor little children, who were in such a filthy state that while their case was being considered they had to be kept in the police shed, being unfit to enter the precincts of the Court, can scarcely be imagined.

From this place we crossed over to Sussex-street, and inspected the Harbour View Terrace, a property consisting of six houses, owned by a man named Wincks. The first house in the court has a water closet to itself, which is just 6 feet from the front door, about half that distance from the corner of the house, and stinking frightfully. The rooms are 11ft x 11 ft, and 8 ft high. In one of these rooms a sort of baby-farming on a small scale seems to be carried on. We saw a woman feeding an infant of three months old with a bottle, its mother being 'out too often to attend to it.' The whole atmosphere of this area was sickening, and habits of the occupants so slipshod and dirty that any newcomer could scarcely fail to become speedily demoralised.

Finished our visiting at Market-street, at 6 pm.


Next episode: In Opium's Thrall!