• harveyvickie

The Trapper Boy

Life down the mines in the early nineteenth century was really dangerous, but for a young boy of six years old (Yes it was legal until the Factory act of 1833, even then most ignored the new law)it was truly treacherous, this is my story of such a boy, it is as historically correct as I can be.

Ma woke me up at nearly four

I swung my legs to cold stone floor,

leaving two siblings at the head

and three at the bottom of the bed.

I followed her down creaking stairs

my heart in mouth, the thought it scares

me, going down that dark damp pit

but worry will not make me fit.

She’d saved some bread and milk for me

I wolfed it down with luke warm tea

Which Pa had left an hour ago

when to his shift he had to go.

My bottle filled up to the head

for snap I took a lump of bread,

Then headed out into the cold

my first days work at six years old.

I joined the line shuffling along

low murmurs from the snake-like thong,

Old men stumbled having trouble

younger men almost bent double

Not one man walked upright or straight

yet each walked at leisurely gait.

The morn was dark, as black as night

with odd sporadic cottage light.

I reached the pit head, joined a queue

not knowing what else I should do,

An old woman who reeked of gin

Held the bucket and I got in.

With two others I descended

on that womans strength I depended,

It seemed an age until at last

we reached a darkness unsurpassed.

A large man grabbed hold of my arm

‘Don’t panic lad, try to stay calm,

Come follow me don’t go adrift

I’ll take you where you’ll do your shift’.

I pleaded that I could not see

so the old man lit a lamp for me,

The foul stench smelled like rotting meat

and almost knocked me off my feet.

A mix of odour and body sweat

and gasses where the tunnels met.

We travelled on along the shaft

the air was still, not e’en a draught.

We walked for miles or so it seemed

At each doorway the man blasphemed

To the girl or boy who worked the door

Especially when he heard them snore.

Eventually he reached his goal

A doorway by a black dark hole,

he sat me down, said ‘See that door?

Pull on that string, nothing more’.

You’ll hear the corves heading this way

open the door, and that’s it, ok?

Every so often just open it

and let some air into the pit.

Most important don’t fall asleep

or we’ll be burying you so deep,

just let trucks through, keep the air flow’

With that the old man turned to go.

The tunnel was as black as night

I asked the man to leave a light,

He pulled a candle from his coat

then in his book scribbled a note.

‘It’ll come out of your weekly pay

I’ll come for you at end of day.’

And so I sat there all alone

in cold and damp, chilled to the bone.

I took comfort in that warm light

it wasn’t much but burned so bright

Then I heard the rumble getting near

the unknown noise filled me with fear.

Lifting my head I took a look

saw a small girl pulling a truck

she wore a belt around her waist

and through her legs a chain was placed.

It reached back to a tub of coal

she pulled it through that dark black hole

Her nose almost touching the ground

and grunting was her only sound.

‘Open the door’ she cried out loud

‘Or you’ll be sorry’ she avowed.

As she passed there did appear

A small boy shoving at the rear.

Head pushing hard against the tub

he whispered ‘Hi, my names Jacob.

No more than four, five years at best

with nothing on but blackened vest.

As he passed he managed a wave

down there in that cold shallow grave.

I waved to him and closed the door

I saw him pass twenty times more.

My glimmer of light soon burned out

and I couldn’t see what was about.

I could hear squeaking as I sat

the familiar squeaks of a rat.

I clutched my bread against my chest

kept it from the unwanted guest,

I sang a song through and through

the only song I ever knew.

No sense of feeling or of time

sat there alone in wet and grime,

I’d been there for eternity

eaten my bread and drunk my tea

When suddenly a familiar voice

my heart beat fast I did rejoice,

‘Come on it’s five, it’s time to go’

twelve hours I’d spent there down below.

I felt so sore and very weak

my bones hurt and they seemed to creak,

once more up top as black as night

would I ever again see daylight.

Day after day the Hurriers towed

while Thrusters pushed the heavy load,

Within two weeks three Trappers died

but no-one cared and no-one cried.

Sunday our only day of rest

we saw daylight, were heaven blessed

But far too tired to sing and play

they’ve stolen our childhood away.

Now I’m forty, kids of my own

looked after them – those seeds I’ve sown

Sent them to service, kept them fit

not for my kids that hellish pit.

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