You hear plenty about how chronically underslept the kids are these days, compared to some unspecified days of yore – sometime before social networking sites and PSPs, presumably. But go back a little more than a century, and outside polite society there wasn’t a lot of early-to-bed going on. No doubt I have a skewed vision of this, having read police courts for inner Melbourne’s seamy Fitzroy and Collingwood during the 1880s so recently. The knockabout demographic in those places was hardly representative. But still, it’s astonishing to think of how many young children and teens wandered the streets there in the small hours.
What about Thomas and Walter Cahill, for example, two waifs who were picked up among a swarm of ‘little outlaws’, crouching in an outhouse sometime around three in the morning? Or the four larrikin boys caught throwing stones at the market-gardener, Joshua Ah Ken, around four in East Melbourne? And the eight year old hauled away by police after stealing a pitcher from a back lot at 3.30am? And then there were the kiddie labourers – like Albert Facey in A Fortunate Life – who worked twelve hours or more a day, or who were performing nights before the theatre industry was regulated, as dancers and conjurors’ assistants. It makes SMSing your friend some hours after dinner a little less drastic, no?
Butchery in Smith-street, Collingwood, with kiddies & others loitering outside (SLV, 1860s).