The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon I

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The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon I: the Report of our Secret Commission

W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, July 6, 1885)


1. Liberty for Vice, Repression for Crime
2. How the Facts were Verified
3. The Violation of Virgins
4. Virgins Willing and Unwilling
5. The Confessions of a Brothel Keeper
6. The London Slave Market
7. How Girls are Bought and Ruined
8. Buying Girls at the East End
9. A Girl Escapes after Being Sold
10. A Dreadful Profession
11. Why the Cries of the Victims are not Heard
12. No Room for Repentence
13. Strapping Girls Down
14. How the Law Abets the Criminal
15. A Child of Thirteen Bought for £5


In ancient times, if we may believe the myths of Hellas, Athens, after a disastrous campaign, was compelled by her conqueror to send once every nine years a tribute to Crete of seven youths and seven maidens. The doomed fourteen, who were selected by lot amid the lamentations of the citizens, returned no more. The vessel that bore them to Crete unfurled black sails as the symbol of despair, and on arrival her passengers were flung into the famous Labyrinth of Daedalus, there to wander about blindly until such time as they were devoured by the Minotaur, a frightful monster, half man, half bull, the foul product of an unnatural lust.

“The labyrinth was as large as a town and had countless courts and galleries. Those who entered it could never find their way out again. If they hurried from one to another of the numberless rooms looking for the entrance door, it was all in vain. They only became more hopelessly lost in the bewildering labyrinth, until at last they were devoured by the Minotaur.”

Twice at each ninth year the Athenians paid the maiden tribute to King Minos, lamenting sorely the dire necessity of bowing to his iron law. When the third tribute came to be exacted, the distress of the city of the Violet Crown was insupportable. From the King’s palace to the peasant’s hamlet, everywhere were heard cries and groans and the choking sob of despair, until the whole air seemed to vibrate with the sorrow of an unutterable anguish.

Then it was that the hero Theseus volunteered to be offered up among those who drew the black balls from the brazen urn of destiny, and the story of his self-sacrifice, his victory, and his triumphant return, is among the most familiar of the tales which since the childhood of the world have kindled the imagination and fired the heart of the human race. The labyrinth was cunningly wrought like a house; says Ovid, with many rooms and winding passages, that so the shameful creature of lust whose abode it was to be should be far removed from sight.

Destinat hunc Minos thalamis removere pudorem,
Multiplicique domo, caecisque includere tectis.
Daedalus ingenio fabra celeberrimus artis
Ponit opus: turbatque notas, et lumina flexura
Ducit in errorera variarum ambage viarum.

And what happened to the victims–the young men and maidens–who were there interned, no one could surely tell. Some say that they were done to death; others that they lived in servile employments to old age. But in this alone do all the stories agree, that those who were once caught in the coils could never retrace their steps, so “inextricable” were the paths, so “blind” the footsteps, so “innumerable” the ways of wrong-doing. On the southern wall of the porch of the cathedral at Lucca there is a slightly traced piece of sculpture, representing the Cretan labyrinth, “out of which,” says the legend written in straggling letters at the side, “nobody could get who was inside”:–

Hie quern credicus edit Dedalus est laberinthus
De quo nullus vadere quirit qui fuit intus.

The fact that the Athenians should have taken so bitterly to heart the paltry maiden tribute that once in nine years they had to pay to the Minotaur seems incredible, almost inconceivable. This very night in London, and every night, year in and year out, not seven maidens only, but many times seven, selected almost as much by chance as those who in the Athenian market-place drew lots as to which should be flung into the Cretan labyrinth, will be offered up as the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Maidens they were when this morning dawned, but to-night their ruin will be accomplished, and to-morrow they will find themselves within the portals of the maze of London brotheldom. Within that labyrinth wander, like lost souls, the vast host of London prostitutes, whose numbers no man can compute, but who are probably not much below 50,000 strong. Many, no doubt, who venture but a little way within the maze make their escape. But multitudes are swept irresistibly on and on to be destroyed in due season, to give place to others, who also will share their doom.

The maw of the London Minotaur is insatiable, and none that go into the secret recesses of his lair return again. After some years’ dolorous wandering in this palace of despair–for “hope of rest to solace there is none, nor e’en of milder pang,” save the poisonous anodyne of drink–most of those ensnared to-night will perish, some of them in horrible torture. Yet, so far from this great city being convulsed with woe, London cares for none of these things, and the cultured man of the world, the heir of all the ages, the ultimate product of a long series of civilizations and religions, will shrug his shoulders in scorn at the folly of any one who ventures in public print to raise even the mildest protest against a horror a thousand times more horrible than that which, in the youth of the world, haunted like a nightmare the imagination of mankind. Nevertheless, I have not yet lost faith in the heart and conscience of the English folk, the sturdy innate chivalry and right thinking of our common people; and although I am no vain dreamer of Utopias peopled solely by Sir Galahads and vestal virgins, I am not without hope that there may be some check placed upon this vast tribute of maidens, unwitting or unwilling, which is nightly levied in London by the vices of the rich upon the necessities of the poor.

London’s lust annually uses up many thousands of women, who are literally killed and made away with–living sacrifices slain in the service of vice. That may be inevitable, and with that I have nothing to do. But I do ask that those doomed to the house of evil fame shall not be trapped into it unwillingly, and that none shall be beguiled into the chamber of death before they are of an age to read the inscription above the portal–”All hope abandon ye who enter here.” If the daughters of the people must be served up as dainty morsels to minister to the passions of the rich, let them at least attain an age when they can understand the nature of the sacrifice which they are asked to make. And if we must cast maidens–not seven, but seven times seven– nightly into the jaws of vice, let us at least see to it that they assent to their own immolation, and are not unwilling sacrifices procured by force and fraud.

That is surely not too much to ask from the dissolute rich. Even considerations of self-interest might lead our rulers to assent to so modest a demand. For the hour of Democracy has struck, and there is no wrong which a man resents like this. If it has not been resented hitherto, it is not because it was not felt. The Roman Republic was founded by the rape of Lucrece, but Lucrece was a member of one of the governing families. A similar offence placed Spain under the domination of the Moors, but there again the victim of Royal licence was the daughter of a Count. But the fathers and brothers whose daughters and sisters are purchased like slaves, not for labour, but for lust, are now at last enrolled among the governing classes–a circumstance full of hope for the nation, but by no means without menace for a class. Many of the French Revolutionists were dissolute enough, but nothing gave such an edge to the guillotine as the memory of the Parc aux Cerfs; and even in our time the horrors that attended the suppression of the Commune were largely due to the despair of the femme vengeresse. Hence, unless the levying of the maiden-tribute in London is shorn of its worst abuses–at present, as I shall show, flourishing unchecked–resentment, which might be appeased by reform, may hereafter be the virus of a social revolution. It is the one explosive which is strong enough to wreck the Throne.


To avoid all misapprehension as to the object with which I propose to set forth the ghastly and criminal features of this infernal traffic, I wish to say emphatically at the outset that, however strongly I may feel as to the imperative importance of morality and chastity, I do not ask for any police interference with the liberty of vice. I ask only for the repression of crime. Sexual immorality, however evil it may be in itself or in its consequences, must be dealt with not by the policeman but by the teacher, so long as the persons contracting are of full age, are perfectly free agents, and in their sin are guilty of no outrage on public morals. Let us by all means apply the sacred principles of free trade to trade in vice, and regulate the relations of the sexes by the haggling of the market and the liberty of private contract. Whatever may be my belief as to the reality and the importance of a transcendental theory of purity in the relations between man and woman, that is an affair for the moralist, not for the legislator.

So far from demanding any increased power for the police, I would rather incline to say to the police, “Hands off,” when they interfere arbitrarily with the ordinary operations of the market of vice. But the more freely we permit to adults absolute liberty to dispose of their persons in accordance with the principles of private contract and free trade, the more stringent must be our precautions against the innumerable crimes which spring from vice, as vice itself springs from the impure imaginings of the heart of man. These crimes flourish on every side, unnoticed and unchecked–if, indeed, they are not absolutely encouraged by the law, as they are certainly practised by some legislators and winked at by many administrators of the law. To extirpate vice by Act of Parliament is impossible; but because we must leave vice free that is no reason why we should acquiesce helplessly in the perpetration of crime. And that crime of the most ruthless and abominable description is constantly and systematically practised in London without let or hindrance, I am in a position to prove from my own personal knowledge–a knowledge purchased at a cost of which I prefer not to speak. Those crimes may be roughly classified as follows:–

I. The sale and purchase and violation of children.
II. The procuration of virgins.
III. The entrapping and ruin of women.
IV. The international slave trade in girls.
V. Atrocities, brutalities, and unnatural crimes.

That is what I call sexual criminality, as opposed to sexual immorality. It flourishes in all its branches on every side to an extent of which even those specially engaged in rescue work have but little idea. Those who are constantly engaged in its practice naturally deny its existence. But I speak of that which I do know, not from hearsay or rumour, but of my own personal knowledge.


When the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was talked out just before the defeat of the Ministry it became necessary to rouse public attention to the necessity for legislation on this painful subject. I undertook an investigation into the facts. The evidence taken before the House of Lords’ Committee in 1882 was useful, but the facts were not up to date: members said things had changed since then, and the need for legislation had passed. It was necessary to bring the information up to date, and that duty–albeit with some reluctance–I resolutely undertook. For four weeks, aided by two or three coadjutors of whose devotion and self-sacrifice, combined with a rare instinct for investigation and a singular personal fearlessness, I cannot speak too highly, I have been exploring the London Inferno. It has been a strange and unexampled experience. For a month I have oscillated between the noblest and the meanest of mankind, the saviours and the destroyers of their race, spending hours alternately in brothels and hospitals, in the streets and in refuges, in the company of procuresses and of bishops.

London beneath the gas glare of its innumerable lamps became, not like Paris in 1793–”a naphtha-lighted city of Dis” – but a resurrected and magnified City of the Plain, with all the vices of Gomorrah, daring the vengeance of long-suffering Heaven. It seemed a strange, inverted world, that in which I lived those terrible weeks–the world of the streets and of the brothel. It was the same, yet not the same, as the world of business and the world of politics. I heard of much the same people in the house of ill-fame as those of whom you hear in caucuses, in law courts, and on Change. But all were judged by a different standard, and their relative importance was altogether changed. It was as if the position of our world had suddenly been altered, and you saw most of the planets and fixed stars in different combinations, and of altogether different magnitudes, so that at first it was difficult to recognize them. For the house of evil fame has its own ethics, and the best man in the world–the first of Englishmen, in the estimation of the bawd–is often one of whom society knows nothing and cares less. To hear statesmen reckoned up from the standpoint of the brothel is at first almost as novel and perplexing an experience as it is to hear judges and Queen’s Counsel praised or blamed, not for their judicial acumen and legal lore, but for their addiction to unnatural crimes or their familiarity with obscene literature. After a time the eye grows familiar with the foul and poisonous air, but at the best you wander in a Circe’s isle, where the victims of the foul enchantress’s wand meet you at every turn.

But with a difference, for whereas the enchanted in olden time had the heads and the voices and the bristles of swine, while the heart of a man was in them still, these have not put on in outward form “the inglorious likeness of a beast,” but are in semblance as other men, while within there is only the heart of a beast–bestial, ferocious, and filthy beyond the imagination of decent men. For days and nights it is as if I had suffered the penalties inflicted upon the lost souls in the Moslem hell, for I seemed to have to drink of the purulent matter that flows from the bodies of the damned. But the sojourn in this hell has not been fruitless. The facts which I and my coadjutors have verified I now place on record at once as a revelation and a warning–a revelation of the system, and a warning to those who may be its victims. In the statement which follows I give no names and I omit addresses. My purpose was not to secure the punishment of criminals but to lay bare the working of a great organization of crime. But as a proof of good faith, and in order to substantiate the accuracy of every statement contained herein, I am prepared after an assurance has been given me that the information so afforded will not be made use of either for purposes of individual exposure or of criminal proceedings, to communicate the names, dates, localities referred to, together with full and detailed explanations of the way in which I secured the information, in confidence to any of the following persons:–

His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury,
The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster,
Mr. Samuel Morley, M.P.,
The Earl of Shaftesbury,
The Earl of Dalhousie, as the author of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, and
Mr. Howard Vincent, ex-Director of the Criminal Investigation Department.

I do not propose to communicate this information to any member of the executive Government, as the responsibilities of their position might render it impossible for them to give the requisite assurance as to the confidential character of my communication. More than this I could not do unless I was prepared (1) to violate the confidence reposed in me in the course of my investigation, and (2) to spend the next six weeks of my life as a witness in the Criminal Court. This I absolutely refuse to do. I am an investigator; I am not an informer.


This branch of the subject is one upon which even the coolest and most scientific observer may well find it difficult to speak dispassionately in a spirit of calm and philosophic investigation. The facts, however, as they have been elucidated in the course of a careful and painstaking inquiry are so startling, and the horror which they excite so overwhelming, that it is doubly necessary to approach the subject with a scepticism proof against all but the most overwhelming demonstration. It is, however, a fact that there is in full operation among us a system of which the violation of virgins is one of the ordinary incidents; that these virgins are mostly of tender age, being too young in fact to understand the nature of the crime of which they are the unwilling victims; that these outrages are constantly perpetrated with almost absolute impunity; and that the arrangements for procuring, certifying, violating, repairing, and disposing of these ruined victims of the lust of London are made with a simplicity and efficiency incredible to all who have not made actual demonstration of the facility with which the crime can be accomplished.

To avoid misapprehension, I admit that the vast majority of those who are on the streets in London have not come there by the road of organized rape. Most women fall either by the seduction of individuals or by the temptation which well-dressed vice can offer to the poor. But there is a minority which has been as much the victim of violence as were the Bulgarian maidens with whose wrongs Mr. Gladstone made the world ring some eight years ago. Some are simply snared, trapped and outraged either when under the influence of drugs or after a prolonged struggle in a locked room, in which the weaker succumbs to sheer downright force. Others are regularly procured; bought at so much per head in some cases, or enticed under various promises into the fatal chamber from which they are never allowed to emerge until they have lost what woman ought to value more than life. It is to this department of the subject that I now address myself.

Before beginning this inquiry I had a confidential interview with one of the most experienced officers who for many years was in a position to possess an intimate acquaintance with all phases of London crime. I asked him, “Is it or is it not a fact that, at this moment, if I were to go to the proper houses, well introduced, the keeper would, in return for money down, supply me in due time with a maid–a genuine article, I mean, not a mere prostitute tricked out as a virgin, but a girl who had never been seduced?” “Certainly,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation. “At what price?” I continued. “That is a difficult question,” he said. “I remember one case which came under my official cognizance in Scotland-yard in which the price agreed upon was stated to be £20. Some parties in Lambeth undertook to deliver a maid for that sum —-to a house of ill fame, and I have no doubt it is frequently done all over London.”

“But, “I continued, “are these maids willing or unwilling parties to the transaction–that is, are they really maiden, not merely in being each a virgo intacta in the physical sense, but as being chaste girls who are not consenting parties to their seduction? ” He looked surprised at my question, and then replied emphatically: “Of course they are rarely willing, and as a rule they do not know what they are coming for.” “But,” I said in amazement, “then do you mean to tell me that in very truth actual rapes, in the legal sense of the word, are constantly being perpetrated in London on unwilling virgins, purveyed and procured to rich men at so much a head by keepers of brothels?” “Certainly,” said he, “there is not a doubt of it.” “Why, “I exclaimed, “the very thought is enough to raise hell.” “It is true,” he said; “and although it ought to raise hell, it does not even raise the neighbours.”

“But do the girls cry out?” “Of course they do. But what avails screaming in a quiet bedroom? Remember, the utmost limit of howling or excessively violent screaming, such as a man or woman would make if actual murder was being attempted, is only two minutes, and the limit of screaming of any kind is only five. Suppose a girl is being outraged in a room next to your house. You hear her screaming, just as you are dozing to sleep. Do you get up, dress, rush downstairs, and insist on admittance? Hardly. But suppose the screams continue and you get uneasy, you begin to think whether you should not do something? Before you have made up your mind and got dressed the screams cease, and you think you were a fool for your pains.” “But the policeman on the beat?” “He has no right to interfere, even if he heard anything. Suppose that a constable had a right to force his way into any house where a woman screamed fearfully, policemen would be almost as regular attendants at childbed as doctors. Once a girl gets into such a house she is almost helpless, and may be ravished with comparative safety.”

“But surely rape is a felony punishable with penal servitude. Can she not prosecute?” “Whom is she to prosecute? She does not know her assailant’s name. She might not even be able to recognize him if she met him outside. Even if she did, who would believe her? A woman who has lost her chastity is always a discredited witness. The fact of her being in a house of ill fame would possibly be held to be evidence of her consent. The keeper of the house and all the servants would swear she was a consenting party; they would swear that she had never screamed, and the woman would be condemned as an adventuress who wished to levy black mail.” “And this is going on to-day?” “Certainly it is, and it will go on, and you cannot help it, as long as men have money, procuresses are skilful, and women are weak and inexperienced.”


So startling a declaration by so eminent an authority led me to turn my investigations in this direction. On discussing the matter with a well-known member of Parliament, he laughed and said : “I doubt the unwillingness of these virgins. That you can contract for maids at so much a head is true enough. I myself am quite ready to supply you with 100 maids at £25 each, but they will all know very well what they are about. There are plenty of people among us entirely devoid of moral scruples on the score of chastity, whose daughters are kept straight until they are sixteen or seventeen, not because they love virtue, but solely because their virginity is a realizable asset, with which they are taught they should never part except for value received. These are the girls who can be had at so much a head ; but it is nonsense to say it is rape ; it is merely the delivery as per contract of the asset virginity in return for cash down. Of course there may be some cases in which the girl is really unwilling, but the regular supply comes from those who take a strictly businesslike view of the saleable value of their maidenhead.”

My interlocutor referred me to a friend whom he described as the first expert on the subject, an evergreen old gentleman to whom the brothels of Europe were as familiar as Notre Dame and St. Paul’s. This specialist, however, entirely denied that there was such a thing as the procuring of virgins, willing or unwilling, either here or on the Continent. Maidenheads, he maintained, were not assets that could be realized in the market, but he admitted that there were some few men whose taste led them to buy little girls from their mothers in order to abuse them. My respect for this “eminent authority ” diminished, however, on receiving his assurance that all Parisian and Belgian brothels were managed so admirably that no minors could be harboured, and that no English girls were ever sent to the Continent for immoral purposes. Still even he admitted that little girls were bought and sold for vicious purposes, and this unnatural combination of slave trade, rape, and unnatural crime seemed to justify further inquiry.

I then put myself into direct and confidential communication with brothel-keepers in the West and East of London and in the provinces. Some of these were still carrying on their business, others had abandoned their profession in disgust, and were now living a better life. The information which I received from them was, of course, confidential. I am not a detective, and much of the information which I received was given only after the most solemn pledge that I would not violate their confidence, so as to involve them in a criminal prosecution. It was somewhat unfortunate that this inquiry was only set on foot after the prosecution of Mrs. Jefferies. The fine inflicted on her has struck momentary awe into the heart of the thriving community of “introducers.” They could accommodate no one but their old customers. A new face, suggested Mr. Minahan, and an inquiry for virgins or little girls by one who had not given his proofs, excited suspicion and alarm. But, aided by some trustworthy and experienced friends, I succeeded after a time in overcoming the preliminary obstacle so as to obtain sufficient evidence as to the reality of the crime.


Here, for instance, is a statement made to me by a brothel keeper, who formerly kept a noted House in the Mile-end road, but who is now endeavouring to start life afresh as an honest man. I saw both him and his wife, herself a notorious prostitute whom he had married off the streets, where she had earned her living since she was fourteen:–

Maids, as you call them–fresh girls as we know them in the trade–are constantly in request, and a keeper who knows his business has his eyes open in all directions, his stock of girls is constantly getting used up, and needs replenishing, and he has to be on the alert for likely “marks” to keep up the reputation of his house. I have been in my time a good deal about the country on these errands. The getting of fresh girls takes time, but it is simple and easy enough when, once you are in it. I have gone and courted girls in the country under all kinds of disguises, occasionally assuming the dress of a parson, and made them believe that I intended to marry them, and so got them in my power to please a good customer. How is it done? Why, after courting my girl for a time, I propose to bring her to London to see the sights. I bring her up, take her here and there, giving her plenty to eat and drink–especially drink. I take her to the theatre, and then I contrive it so that she loses her last train. By this time she is very tired, a little dazed with the drink and excitement, and very frightened at being left in town with no friends. I offer her nice lodgings for the night: she goes to bed in my house, and then the affair is managed. My client gets his maid, I get my £10 or £20 commission, and in the morning the girl, who has lost her character, and dare not go home, in all probability will do as the others do, and become one of my “marks”–that is, she will make her living in the streets, to the advantage of my house. The brothel keeper’s profit is, first, the commission down for the price of a maid, and secondly, the continuous profit of the addition of a newly seduced, attractive girl to his establishment. That is a fair sample case of the way in which we recruit. Another very simple mode of supplying maids is by breeding them. Many women who are on the streets have female children. They are worth keeping. When they get to be twelve or thirteen they become merchantable. For a very likely “mark” of this kind you may get as much as £20 or £40. I sent my own daughter out on the streets from my own brothel. I know a couple of very fine little girls now who will be sold before very long. They are bred and trained for the life. They must take the first step some time, and it is bad business not to make as much out of that as possible. Drunken parents often sell their children to brothel keepers. In the East-end, you can always pick up as many fresh girls as you want. In one street in Dalston you might buy a dozen. Sometimes the supply is in excess of the demand, and you have to seduce your maid yourself, or to employ some one else to do it, which is bad business in a double sense. There is a man called S–– whom a famous house used to employ to seduce young girls and make them fit for service when there was no demand for maids and there was a demand for girls who had been seduced. But as a rule the number seduced ready to hand is ample, especially among very young children. Did I ever do anything else in the way of recruiting? Yes. I remember one case very well. The girl, a likely “mark,” was a simple country lass living at Horsham. I had heard of her, and I went down to Horsham to see what I could do. Her parents believed that I was in regular business in London, and they were very glad when I proposed to engage their daughter. I brought her to town and made her a servant in our house. We petted her and made a good deal of her, gradually initiated her into the kind of life it was; and then I sold her to a young gentleman for £l5. When I say that I sold her, I mean that he gave me the gold and I gave him the girl, to do what he liked with. He took her away and seduced her. I believe he treated her rather well afterwards, but that was not my affair. She was his after he paid for her and took her away. If her parents had inquired, I would have said that she had been a bad girl and run away with a young man. How could I help that? I once sold a girl twelve years old for £20 to a clergyman, who used to come to my house professedly to distribute tracts. The East is the great market for the children who are imported into West-end houses, or taken abroad wholesale when trade is brisk. I know of no West-end houses, having always lived at Dalston or thereabouts, but agents pass to and fro in the course of business. They receive the goods, depart, and no questions are asked. Mrs. S., a famous procuress, has a mansion at ––––, which is one of the worst centres of the trade, with four other houses in other districts, one at St. John’s-wood. This lady, when she discovers ability, cultivates it–that is, if a comely young girl of fifteen falls into her net, with some intelligence, she is taught to read and write, and to play the piano.


This brothel-keeper was a smart fellow, and had been a commercial traveller once, but drink had brought him down. Anxious to test the truth of his statement, I asked him, through a trusty agent, if he would undertake to supply me in three days with a couple of fresh girls, maids, whose virginity would be attested by a doctor’s certificate. At first he said that it would require a longer time. But on being pressed, and assured that money was no object, he said that he would make inquiries, and see what could be done. In two days I received from the same confidential source an intimation that for £10 commission he would undertake to deliver to my chambers, or to any other spot which I might choose to select, two young girls, each with a doctor’s certificate of the fact that she was a virgo intacta. Hesitating to close with this offer, my agent received the following telegram:– “I think all right. I am with parties. Will tell you all to-morrow about twelve o’clock.” On calling H– said:–

I will undertake to deliver at your rooms within two days two children at your chambers. Both are the daughters of brothel keepers whom I have known and dealt with, and the parents are willing to sell in both cases. I represented that they were intended for a rich old gentleman who had led a life of debauchery for years. I was suspected of baby-farming–that is, peaching, at first, and it required all my knowledge of the tricks of the trade to effect my purpose. However, after champagne and liquors, my old friend G––, M––lane, Hackney, agreed to hand over her own child, a pretty girl of eleven, for £5. if she could get no more. The child was virgo intacta, so far as her mother knew. I then went to Mrs. N––, of B––street, Dalston, (B–– street is a street of brothels from end to end). Mrs. N–– required little persuasion, but her price was higher. She would not part with her daughter under £5 or £10, as she was pretty and attractive, and a virgin, aged thirteen, who would probably fetch more in the open market. These two children I could deliver up within two days if the money was right. I would, on the same conditions, undertake to deliver half a dozen girls, ages varying from ten to thirteen, within a week or ten days.

I did not deem it wise to carry the negotiations any further. The purchase price was to be paid on delivery, but it was to be returned if the girls were found to have been tampered with.

That was fairly confirmatory evidence of the existence of the traffic to which official authority has pointed; but I was not content. Making inquiries at the other end of the town, by good fortune I was brought into intimate and confidential communication with an ex-brothel keeper. When a mere girl she had been seduced by Colonel S––, when a maidservant at Petersfield, and had been thrown upon the streets by that officer at Manchester. She had subsequently kept a house of ill fame at a seaport town, and from thence had gravitated to the congenial neighbourhood of Regent’s Park. There she had kept a brothel for several years. About a year ago, however, she was picked up, when in a drunken fit, by some earnest workers, and after a hard struggle was brought back to a decent and moral life.

She was a woman who bore traces of the rigorous mill through which she had passed. Her health was impaired; she looked ten years older than her actual age, and it was with the greatest reluctance she could be prevailed upon to speak of the incidents of her previous life, the horror of which seemed to cling to her like a nightmare. By dint of patient questioning, however, and the assurance that I would not criminate either herself or any of her old companions, she became more communicative, and answered my inquiries. Her narrative was straightforward; and I am fully convinced it was entirely genuine. I have since made strict inquiries among those who see her daily and know her most intimately, and I am satisfied that the woman was speaking the truth. She had no motive to deceive, and she felt very deeply the shame of her awful confession, which was only wrung from her by the conviction that it might help to secure the prevention of similar crimes in the future.


Her story, or rather so much of it as is germane to the present inquiry, was somewhat as follows:–

As a regular thing, the landlady of a bad house lets her rooms to gay women and lives on their rent and the profits on the drink which they compel their customers to buy for the good of the house. She may go out herself or she may not. If business is very heavy, she will have to do her own share, but as a rule she contents herself with keeping her girls up to the mark, and seeing that they at least earn enough to pay their rent, and bring home sufficient customers to consume liquor enough to make it pay. Girls often shrink from going out, and need almost to be driven into the streets. If it was not for gin and the landlady they could never carry it on. Some girls I used to have would come and sit and cry in my kitchen and declare that they could not go out, they could not stand the life. I had to give them a dram and take them out myself, and set them agoing again, for if they did not seek gentlemen where was I to get my rent? Did they begin willingly? Some; others had no choice. How had they no choice? Because they never knew anything about it till the gentleman was in their bedroom, and then it was too late. I or my girls would entice fresh girls in, and persuade them to stay out too late till they were locked out, and then a pinch of snuff in their beer would keep them snug until the gentleman had his way. Has that happened often? Lots of times. It is one of the ways by which you keep your house up. Every woman who has an eye to business is constantly on the lookout for likely girls. Pretty girls who are poor, and who have either no parents or are away from home, are easiest picked up, How is it done? You or your decoy find a likely girl, and then you track her down. I remember I once went a hundred, miles and more to pick up a girl. I took a lodging close to the board school, where I could see the girls go backwards and forwards every day. I soon saw one that suited my fancy. She was a girl of about thirteen, tall and forward for her age, pretty, and likely to bring business. I found out she lived with her mother. I engaged her to be my little maid at the lodgings where I was staying. The very next day I took her off with me to London and her mother never saw her again. What became of her? A gentleman paid me £13 for the first of her, soon after she came to town. She was asleep when he did it–sound asleep. To tell the truth, she was drugged. It is often done. I gave her a drowse. It is a mixture of laudanum and something else. Sometimes chloroform is used, but I always used either snuff or laudanum. We call it drowse or black draught, and they lie almost as if dead, and the girl never knows what has happened till morning. And then? Oh! then she cries a great deal from pain, but she is ‘mazed, and hardly knows what has happened except that she can hardly move from pain. Of course we tell her it is all right; all girls have to go through it some time, that she is through it now without knowing it, and that it is no use crying. It will never be undone for all the crying in the world. She must now do as the others do. She can live like a lady, do as she pleases, have the best of all that is going, and enjoy herself all day. If she objects, I scold her and tell her she has lost her character, no one will take her in; I will have to turn her out on the streets as a bad and ungrateful girl. The result is that in nine cases out of ten, or ninety-nine out of a hundred, the child, who is usually usually under fifteen, frightened and friendless, her head aching with the effect of the drowse and full of pain and horror, gives up all hope, and in a week she is one of the attractions of the house. Yon say that some men say this is never done. Don’t believe them; if these people spoke the truth, it might be found that they had done it themselves. Landladies who wish to thrive must humour their customers. If they want a maid we must get them one, or they will go elsewhere. We cannot afford to lose their custom; besides, after the maid is seduced, she fills up vacancies caused by disease or drink. There are very few brothels which are not occasionally recruited in that way. That case which I mentioned was by no means exceptional; in about seven years I remember selling two maids for £20 each, one at £16, one at £15, one at £13 and others for less. Of course, where I bought I paid less than that. The difference represented my profit, commission, and payment for risk in procuring, drugging, &c.


This experienced ex-procuress assured me that if she were to return to her old trade she would have no difficulty in laying her hands, through the agency of friends and relatives still in the trade, upon as many young girls as she needed. No house begins altogether with maids, but steps are at once taken to supply one or two young girls to train in. She did not think the alarm of the Jefferies trial had penetrated into the strata where she used to work. But said I, “Will these children be really maids, or will it merely be a plant to get off damaged articles under that guise? ” Her reply was significant. “You do not know how it is done. Do you think I would buy a maid on her word? You can soon find out, if you are in the business, whether a child is really fresh or not. You have to trust the person who sells, no doubt, to some extent, but if you are in the trade they would not deceive you in a matter in which fraud can be so easily detected. If one house supplied another with girls who had been seduced, at the price of maids, it would get out, and their reputation would suffer. Besides you do not trust them very far. Half the commission is paid down on delivery, the other half is held over until the truth is proved.”

“How is that done?”

“By a doctor or an experienced midwife. If you are dealing with a house you trust, you take their doctor’s certificate. If they trust you they will accept the verdict of your doctor.” “Does the girl know why you are taking her away?” “Very seldom. She thinks she is going to a situation. When she finds out, it is too late. If she knew what it meant she either would not come or her readiness would give rise to a suspicion that she was not the article you wanted– that, in fact, she was no better than she should be.” “Who are these girls?” “Orphans, daughters of drunken parents, children of prostitutes, girls whose friends are far away.” “And their price?” “In the trade from £3 to £5 is, I should think, a fair thing. But if you doubt it I will make inquiries, if you like, in my old haunts and tell you what can be done next week.”

As there is nothing like inquiry on the spot, I commissioned her to inquire as to the maids then in stock or procurable at short notice by a single bad house in the East of London, whose keeper she knew. The reply was businesslike and direct. If she wanted a couple of maids for a house in the country three would be brought to Waterloo railway station next Saturday at three, from whom two could be selected at £5 per head. One girl, not very pretty, about thirteen, could be had at only at £3. Offer to be accepted or confirmed by letter–which of course never arrived.


Being anxious to satisfy myself as to the reality of these transactions, I instructed a thoroughly trustworthy woman to proceed with this ex-keeper to the house in question, and see if she could see any of the children whose price was quoted like that of lambs at so much a head. The woman of the house was somewhat suspicious, owing to the presence of a stranger, but after some conversation she said that she had one fresh girl within reach, whom she would make over at once if they could come to terms. The girl was sent for, and duly appeared. She was told that she was to have a good situation in the country within a few miles of London. She said that she had been brought up at a home at Streatham, had been in service, but had been out of a place for three weeks. She was a pleasant, bright-looking girl, who seemed somewhat nervous when she heard so many inquiries and the talk about taking her into the country. The bargain, however, was struck. The keeper had to receive £2 down, and another sovereign when the girl was proved a maid. The money was paid, the girl handed over, but something said had alarmed her, and she solved the difficulty of disposing of her by making her escape. My friend who witnessed the whole transaction, and whose presence probably contributed something to the difficulty of the bargain, assures me that there was no doubt as to the sale and transfer of the girl. “Her escape,” said the ex-keeper, “is one of the risks of the trade. If I had been really in for square business, I should never have agreed to take the girl from the house, partly in order to avoid such escape and partly for safety. It is almost invariably the rule that the seller must deliver the girl at some railway station. She is brought to you, placed in your cab or your railway carriage, and it is then your business, and an easy one, to see that she does not escape you. But the risks of delivery at a safe place are always taken by the seller.”


When I was prosecuting these inquiries at the East-end, I was startled by a discovery made by a confidential agent at the other end of the town. This was nothing less than the unearthing of a house, kept apparently by a highly respectable midwife, where children were taken by procurers to be certified as virgins before violation, and where, after violation, they were taken to be “patched up,” and where, if necessary, abortion could be procured. The existence of the house was no secret. It was well known in the trade, and my agent was directed thither without much ado by a gay woman with whom he had made a casual acquaintance. No doubt the respectable old lady has other business of a less doubtful character, but in the trade her repute is unrivalled, first as a certificator of virginity, and secondly for the adroitness and skill with which she can repair the laceration caused by the subsequent outrage.

That surely was sufficiently horrible. Yet there stood the house, imperturbably respectable in its outward appearance, apparently an indispensable adjunct of modern civilization, its experienced proprietress maintaining confidential relations with the “best houses” in the West-end. This repairer of damaged virgins is not a procuress. Her mission is remedial. Her premises are not used for purposes of violation. She knows where it is done, but she cannot prevent that. What she does is to minimize pain and repair as effectively as possible the ravages of the lust which she did not create, and which she cannot control. But she is a wise woman, whom great experience has taught many secrets, and if she would but speak! Not that she is above giving a hint to those who seek her advice as to where little children can best be procured. A short time ago, she says, there was no difficulty. “Any of these houses,” mentioning several of the best known foreign and English houses in the West and North-west, “would, supply children, but at present they are timid. You need to be an old customer to be served. But, after all, it is expensive getting young girls for them. If you really have a fancy that way, why do you not do as Mr. ––– does ? It is cheaper, simpler, and safer.” “And how does Mr. ––– do, and who is Mr. ––– ?” “Oh, Mr. ––– is a gentleman who has a great penchant for little girls. I do not know how many I have had to repair after him. He goes down to the East-end and the City, and watches when the girls come out of shops and factories for lunch or at the end of the day. He sees his fancy and marks her down. It takes a little time, but he wins the child’s confidence. One day he proposes a little excursion to the West. She consents. Next day I have another subject, and Mr. ––– is off with another girl.” “And what becomes of the subjects on which you display your skill?” “Some go home, others go back to their situations, others again are passed on to those who have a taste for second-hand articles,” and the good lady intimated that if my agent had such a taste, she was not without hopes that she might be able to do a little trade.


At this point in the inquiry, the difficulty again occurred to me how was it possible for these outrages to take place without detection. The midwife, when questioned, said there was no danger. Some of the houses had an underground room, from which no sound could be heard, and that, as a matter of fact, no one ever had been detected. The truth about the underground chambers is difficult to ascertain. Padded rooms for the purpose of stifling the cries of tortured victims of lust and brutality are familiar enough on the Continent. “In my house,” said a most respectable lady, who keeps a villa in the west of London, “you can enjoy the screams of the girl with the certainty that no one else hears them but yourself.” But to enjoy to the full the exclusive luxury of revelling in the cries of the immature child, it is not necessary to have a padded room, a double chamber, or an underground room. “Here,” said the keeper of a fashionable villa, where in days bygone a prince of the blood is said to have kept for some months one of his innumerable sultanas, as she showed her visitor over the well-appointed rooms, “Here is a room where you can be perfectly secure. The house stands in its own grounds. The walls are thick, there is a double carpet on the floor. The only window which fronts upon the back garden is doubly secured, first with shutters and then with heavy curtains. You lock the door and then you can do as you please. The girl may scream blue murder, but not a sound will be heard. The servants will be far away in the other end of the house. I only will be about seeing that all is snug.” “But,” remarked her visitor, “if you hear the cries of the child, you may yourself interfere, especially if, as may easily happen, I badly hurt and in fact all but kill the girl” “You will not kill her,” she answered, “you have too much sense to kill the girl. Anything short of that, you can do as you please. As for me interfering, do you think I do not know my business?”

Flogging, both of men and women, goes on regularly in ordinary rooms, but the cry of the bleeding subject never attracts attention from the outside world. What chance is there, then, of the feeble, timid cry of the betrayed child penetrating the shuttered and curtained windows, or of moving the heart of the wily watcher–the woman whose business it is to secure absolute safety for her client. When means of stifling a cry–a pillow, a sheet, or even a pocket handkerchief–lie all around, there is practically no danger. To some men, however, the shriek of torture is the essence of their delight, and they would not silence by a single note the cry of agony over which they gloat.


Whether the maids thus violated in the secret chambers of accommodation houses are willing or unwilling is a question on which a keeper shed a flood of light by a very pertinent and obvious remark : “I have never had a maid seduced in my house,” he said, “unless she was willing. They are willing enough to come to my house to be seduced, but when the man comes they are never willing.” And she proceeded to illustrate what she meant by descriptions of scenes which had taken place in her house when girls, who according to her story had implored her to allow them to be seduced in her rooms, had when the supreme moment arrived repented their willingness, and fought tooth and nail, when too late, for the protection of their chastity. To use her familiar phrase, they made “the devil’s own row,” and on at least one occasion it was evident that the girl’s resistance had only been overcome after a prolonged and desperate fight, in which, what with screaming and violence, she was too exhausted to continue the struggle.

That was in the case of a full-grown woman. Children of twelve and thirteen cannot offer any serious resistance. They only dimly comprehend what it all means. Their mothers sometimes consent to their seduction for the sake of the price paid by their seducer. The child goes to the introducing house as a sheep to the shambles. Once there, she is compelled to go through with it. No matter how brutal the man may be, she cannot escape. “If she wanted to be seduced, and came here to be seduced,” says the keeper, “I shall see that she does not play the fool. The gentleman has paid for her, and he can do with her what he likes.” Neither Rhadamanthus nor Lord Bramwell could more sternly exact the rigorous fulfilment of the stipulations of the contract. “Once she is in my house,” said a worthy landlady, “she does not go out till the job is done. She comes in willingly, but no matter how willing she may be to go out, she stays here till my gentleman has done with her. She repents too late when she repents after crossing my threshold.”


In the course of my investigations I heard some strange tales concerning the precautions taken to render escape impossible for the girl whose ruin, with or without her consent, has been resolved upon. One fact, which is of quite recent occurrence in a fashionable London suburb, the accuracy of which I was able to verify, is an illustration of the extent to which those engaged in this traffic are willing to go to supply the caprices of their customers. To oblige a wealthy customer who by riot and excess had impaired his vitality to such an extent that nothing could minister to his jaded senses but very young maidens, an eminently respectable lady undertook that whenever the girl was fourteen or fifteen years of age she should be strapped down hand and foot to the four posts of the bedstead, so that all resistance save that of unavailing screaming would be impossible. Before the strapping down was finally agreed upon the lady of the house, a stalwart woman and experienced in the trade, had volunteered her services to hold the virgin down by force while her wealthy patron effected his purpose. That was too much even for him, and the alternative of fastening with straps padded on the under side was then agreed upon. Strapping down for violation used to be a common occurrence in Hall-moon-street and in Anna Rosenberg’s brothel at Liverpool. Anything can be done for money, if you only know where to take it.


The system of procuration, as I have already explained, is reduced to a science. The poorer brothel-keeper hunts up recruits herself, while the richer are supported by their agents. No prudent keeper of an introducing house will receive girls brought by other than her accredited and trusted agents. The devices of these agents are innumerable. They have been known to profess penitence in order to gain access to a home for fallen women, where they thought some Magdalens repenting of their penitence might be secured for their house. They go into workhouses, to see what likely girls are to be had. They use servants’ registries. They haunt the doors of gaols when girls in for their first offence are turned adrift on the expiry of their sentences. There are no subterfuges too cunning or too daring for them to resort to in the pursuit of their game. Against their wiles the law offers the child over thirteen next to no protection. If a child of fourteen is cajoled or frightened, or overborne by anything short of direct force or the threat of immediate bodily harm, into however an unwilling acquiescence in an act the nature of which she most imperfectly apprehends, the law steps in to shield her violator. If permission is given, says “Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law,” ” the fact that it was obtained by fraud, or that the woman did not understand the nature of the act is immaterial.”


Let me conclude the chapter of horrors by one incident, and only one of those which are constantly occurring in those dread regions of subterranean vice in which sexual crime flourishes almost unchecked. I can personally vouch for the absolute accuracy of every fact in the narrative.

At the beginning of this Derby week, a woman, an old hand in the work of procuration, entered a brothel in ––– st. M–––, kept by an old acquaintance, and opened negotiations for the purchase of a maid. One of the women who lodged in the house had a sister as yet untouched. Her mother was far away, her father was dead. The child was living in the house, and in all probability would be seduced and follow the profession of her elder sister. The child was between thirteen and fourteen, and after some bargaining it was agreed that she should be handed over to the procuress for the sum of £5. The maid was wanted, it was said, to start a house with, and there was no disguise on either side that the sale was to be effected for immoral purposes. While the negotiations were going on, a drunken neighbour came into the house, and so little concealment was then used, that she speedily became aware of the nature of the transaction. So far from being horrified at the proposed sale of the girl, she whispered eagerly to the seller, “Don’t you think she would take our Lily? I think she would suit.” Lily was her own daughter, a bright, fresh-looking little girl, who was thirteen years old last Christmas. The bargain, however, was made for the other child, and Lily’s mother felt she had lost her market.

The next day, Derby Day as it happened, was fixed for the delivery of this human chattel. But as luck would have it, another sister of the child who was to be made over to the procuress heard of the proposed sale. She was living respectably in a situation, and on hearing of the fate reserved for the little one she lost no time in persuading her dissolute sister to break off the bargain. When the woman came for her prey the bird had flown. Then came the chance of Lily’s mother. The brothel-keeper sent for her, and offered her a sovereign for her daughter. The woman was poor, dissolute, and indifferent to everything but drink. The father, who was also a drunken man, was told his daughter was going to a situation. He received the news with indifference, without even inquiring where she was going to. The brothel-keeper having thus secured possession of the child, then sold her to the procuress in place of the child whose sister had rescued her from her destined doom for £5–£3 paid down and the remaining £2 after her virginity had been professionally certified. The little girl, all unsuspecting the purpose for which she was destined, was told that she must go with this strange woman to a situation. The procuress, who was well up to her work, took her away, washed her, dressed her up neatly, and sent her to bid her parents good-bye. The mother was so drunk she hardly recognized her daughter. The father was hardly less indifferent. The child left her home, and was taken to the woman’s lodging in A––street.

The first step had thus been taken. But it was necessary to procure the certification of her virginity–a somewhat difficult task, as the child was absolutely ignorant of the nature of the transaction which had transferred her from home to the keeping of this strange, but apparently kind-hearted woman. Lily was a little cockney child, one of those who by the thousand annually develop into the servants of the poorer middle-class. She had been at school, could read and write, and although her spelling was extraordinary, she was able to express herself with much force and decision. Her experience of the world was limited to the London quarter in which she had been born. With the exception of two school trips to Richmond and one to Epping Forest, she had never been in the country in her life, nor had she ever even seen the Thames excepting at Richmond. She was an industrious, warm-hearted little thing, a hardy English child, slightly coarse in texture, with dark black eyes, and short, sturdy figure. Her education was slight. She spelled write “right,” for instance, and her grammar was very shaky. But she was a loving, affectionate child, whose kindly feeling for the drunken mother who sold her into nameless infamy was very touching to behold. In a little letter of hers which I once saw, plentifully garlanded with kisses, there was the following ill-spelled childish verse:–

As I was in bed
Some little forths gave in my head.
I forth of one, I forth of two;
But first of all I forth of you.

The poor child was full of delight at going to her new situation, and clung affectionately to the keeper who was taking her away–where, she knew not.

The first thing to be done after the child was fairly severed from home was to secure the certificate of virginity without which the rest of the purchase-money would not be forthcoming. In order to avoid trouble she was taken in a cab to the house of a midwife, whose skill in pronouncing upon the physical evidences of virginity is generally recognized in the profession. The examination was very brief and completely satisfactory. But the youth, the complete innocence of the girl, extorted pity even from the hardened heart of the old abortionist. “The poor little thing,” she exclaimed. “She is so small, her pain will be extreme. I hope you will not be too cruel with her”–as if to lust when fully roused the very acme of agony on the part of the victim has not a fierce delight. To quiet the old lady the agent of the purchaser asked if she could supply anything to dull the pain. She produced a small phial of chloroform. “This,” she said, “is the best. My clients find this much the most effective.” The keeper took the bottle, but unaccustomed to anything but drugging by the administration of sleeping potions, she would infallibly have poisoned the child had she not discovered by experiment that the liquid burned the mouth when an attempt was made to swallow it. £1 1s. was paid for the certificate of virginity–which was verbal and not written–while £1 10s. more was charged for the chloroform, the net value of which was probably less than a shilling. An arrangement was made that if the child was badly injured Madame would patch it up to the best of her ability, and then the party left the house.

From the midwife’s the innocent girl was taken to a house of ill fame, No. –, P––– street, Regent-street, where, notwithstanding her extreme youth, she was admitted without question. She was taken up stairs, undressed, and put to bed, the woman who bought her putting her to sleep. She was rather restless, but under the influence of chloroform she soon went over. Then the woman withdrew. All was quiet and still. A few moments later the door opened, and the purchaser entered the bedroom. He closed and locked the door. There was a brief silence. And then there rose a wild and piteous cry–not a loud shriek, but a helpless, startled scream like the bleat of a frightened lamb. And the child’s voice was heard crying, in accents of terror, “There’s a man in the room! Take me home; oh, take me home!”

And then all once more was still.

That was but one case among many, and by no means the worst. It only differs from the rest because I have been able to verify the facts. Many a similar cry will be raised this very night in the brothels of London, unheeded by man, but not unheard by the pitying ear of Heaven–

For the child’s sob in the darkness curseth deeper
Than the strong man in his wrath.