…CONCRETE? Don’t insult me! I’m a Scottish lump of granite with Eyes and Ears and Memory…

“Hello Sailor, How are you? Welcome to Millbank Wharf, Londinium! Step down here, don’t jump, you might just loose your footing, Sir, after a three month crossing. It’s bloody muddy here Sir, cold and damp and disease infested on this bit of the swampy Thames. You staying long, Sir ? I wouldn’t if I were you; we’ve an epidemic down here…dysentery. Water is pumped to inmates for bathing, drinking straight from this filthy river. They’ve started putting the dead in unmarked graves, just to the inside of the wall by the moat… What! You might exclaim! Right next to Her Majesty’s great British Government! That’s why they want shot of them inmates ASAP! Before them germs settle on the House of Lords let alone Houses of Parliamnet … The lady-inmates are spluttering up. You know. Blood and guts and all; you won’t want to hang around…you’ll be looking after them gals on the pride of the Thames – the Floating Brothels we call them!”

“Here! moor her to this old granite of a bollard. either one will do and be off with you. Good old Scottish granite will stand the test of time. We rolled them down here, was like re-arranging Stone Henge, it was.”

” Rumour’s going round them women, they’re dropping’ like flies. Just a bit of the old lurgey, you know, malaria, typhoid, syphallis; you name it, them gals have it, conditions are appalling…if it looks grim on the outside I can assure you it is grim on in too!…and, Oh look out! there’s a nipper by your right hand. It’s only the rats…they’re just curious. Wouldn’t you be, with an accent like yours, you foreigners from down under! You lot Who speak funny! You’d thought you’d have all the time in the world to learn Queen’s English! After all 10 months crossing the world and then you pop up here saying you’ve arrived Ship-a-hoy from ‘down-under’, more like the ends of the earth. A whole foreign world away – I wouldn’t give it for all the tea in China, a voyage like that, Sir. Imagine if them girls were my daughters and oh for the curse of being poor and being born to the underclass. It must be bloody awful! That litlun that came in last week has got seven years for stealing bread. Poor girl, what future for her when she was put up for pilfering by her own parents.Just imagine if that was your Darlin daughter. And then, having served her sentence in ‘down under’ their only passage home is to service the men folk on board the returning ship…straight back into the clink that’ll be…oh for the joys of being a women!

Sir, I Wouldn’t mind walking that nice jute tight-rope to board your good ship so that I might land me a new life away from this hell. To be transported to the other side of the world where, it’s all about back to fronts and opposites! Sounds impossible to us! Dark versus daylight; cold versus hot, who wouldn’t dream of escape…just those wingeing Poms? If I were those bleedin’ wingeing witches, I wouldn’t be sobbing to be leaving. Look, how many of those Wingeing P.O.Ms can you cram in them ships quarters today? We’re the biggest prison in London but our cells are bursting. You’re going to have to break the law and go quietly past Parliament tonight in the dead of night, for your Plimsoll line is going to be well under water!

Step this way Sir and I will lead you to somewhere snug by the fire where you can warm your toes. The Wardens are having a quick snifter down at the Morpeth Arms. Some might still be staggering out of the public house back to their posh houses on Ponsonby Place. You’ll see them wives squawking out them windows like fisherman’s wives, thumping their fists that them hubbies having drunk the household wages for the week! Quick, quick come for a quick pint before them ‘lady’ Wingeing Prisoners of Millbank are released from the cells under the Morpeth to board the ship. Every month the numbers are bigger, more jammed up like sardines in them basement cells. We won’t keep your Captain waiting, Sir”

Annabel Ludovici Gray