Matthews, Jodie (2013) “Thousands of these floating hovels”: Picturing Bargees in Image and Text. Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 35 (2). pp. 121-142. ISSN 0890-5495

In thinking about bargees or, more specifically, men and women living on canal boats with their families, readers in nineteenth-century Britain were encouraged to: “picture them going silently along the waterways of our land, [...] half a million souls, to whom a decent life is simply impossible” (Pearse, Rob Rat, 25–6; original emphasis). There are vast disparities in accounts of how many people lived on board boats full-time,
but it was, campaigners, inspectors, proselytisers, and authors agreed, precisely their
movement along the network of Britain’s canals that made a “decent life” unachievable. Indecent lives were characterised by unsanitary conditions, insobriety, a lack of school and church attendance, violence, crime, and immorality. The nomadism of the “floating population” was the presumed cause of this supposedly appalling state and its perpetuation (Smith, Our Canal Population, 17). It was not just the canal boat people who showed the effects of continual movement, however; the “picture” of bargees described above was just as nomadic.

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