Wednesday 16 December 2015

Black Sall

The Town was a "lads' mag" (to borrow a modern phrase) that flourished in the late 1830s, early 1840s, aimed at 'men about town'. The tone was often semi-pornographic, with features including 'Sketches of Courtezans', describing the life histories of well-known prostitutes, and the occasional description of 'low life' in the Pierce Egan style. The description below covers this ground - and I apologise, in advance, for 1830s racism, orientalism, sexism &c. - painting a fascinating picture of 'fast' life in the maritime world of the East End, and early-Victorian prostitution.


"The lady with the diamonds and laces,
By day may heighten her charms.
But Sall, without any such graces,
At night lies as warm in your arms.

The night, when her sable o'ershades us,
Will veil all the pomp of the day;
Then Sall is as good as my lady,
And cats are all equally grey."

Our readers will no doubt be struck with the contrast which our present sketch forms to the bland elegance of that which graced the columns of our last number.
 settlement so long sought for by Mr. Buckingham in reference to the East, nor do we allude to the eastern land of the genii of our childhood - "The Arabian Nights." We refer only to the eastern hemisphere of our vast metropolis; and to aid us in our treatise, and to illustrate our views, we have taken the liberty of introducing Black Sarah, the far-famed mollisher of Radcliffe-highway, to the notice of our friends in the West.
  Oh, gentle readers, few of you, we fear, have busied yourselves with oriental research; few, indeed, are wise in the affairs of our Eastern settlements. We must explain: we do not mean the
    Blue-gate Fields is a small narrow turning about the centre of Ratcliffe-highway, leading into the back road, St. George's in the East; facing it in the Highway is a pawnbroker's and a gin shop; near to the top of it, in the road, are East India Company's Chinese and Lascar barracks, for the last thirty years, and we believe now, under the superintendence of Mr. Gole. - These same Lascars and Chinamen, though odd-looking persons in appearance, are still prone to the natural indulgence of the sex, and what our best-beloved cousin, the beauteous Ellen Clarke is to the Duke, the count and others, such is Black Sarah to these eastern wights; and the proximate situation of the before-mentioned Blue-gate Fields, where she resides, to the barracks, makes it very convenient for these luxurious sons of India to call and revel in the dusky charms of the finely-proportioned worsted-headed Sall.
    Sall, it will be instantly perceived, is not one of the insipid things they call genteel; she may be compared in maritime analogy, to a Dutch-built piratical schooner, carrying on a free trade under the black flag; ergo, in the same spirit, the ladies of her calibre in the west, may be said to resemble the pleasure yachts of noblemen and gentlemen, and to a certain extent, they more than bear out the metaphor. But let not our friends be deceived in Sarah - she is better than she looks:

"For 'tis vain to guess,
At woman by appearances;
They paint, and patch their imperfections
Of intellectual complexions,
And daub their tempers o'ver with washes
As artificial as their faces." - Hudibras

"Beauty soon grows familiar to the lover, fades to the eye, and palls upon the sense;" at any rate, it is evident our jolly Jack Tars entertain this opinion in its fullest sense, and act upon it oo; for many and many a stout and lusty lagger has bourne down upon, and hoisted the British standard over, our sable privateer, Black Sall.
    Sall is a good creature in her way. She never was taken before the cadi (for we must give the beak his eastern appellation) upon any change worse than "drunk and disorderly;" and she had been heard to declare that she "niver had more dan two mons wid labour since she valked de High-vay;" or, to use our own classic phraseology, since she has done the peripatetic on the pavĂ© of the "city of (gin) palaces".
    We have heard talk of eastern magnificence, of seraglios, of baths, of mosaic pavements, of temples and mosques, dedicated to the worship of the Prophet Mahomet; but our eastern sketch treats not of them, and yet there is much of oriental luxurious indolence about the character of our women and men of the east end of the town. If we travel into the regions of Shadwell, Gravel-lane, the Match-walk, or Wapping, and take a peep up the little courts and allies there, we see stretched on the chairs and beds of the lower apartments, in true Sardinapalus-like style, the jolly Jacks smoking, not the hookah, like the Mussulman, but the short dudee, and beside them sit or squat, strictly after the oriental fashion, their sultanas for the time being, clad in the gorgeous and varied colour of the rainbow; and in the evening, the ear is saluted, not with the "lascivious pleasings of a lute" but the enlivening scrapings of a fiddle. Jack does not sit, like the great caliph, quietly, to observe his girls dance, but, in right good earnest, enters into the sport himself, toe and heeling it in company with his Moll, black or white; for Jack, as we said before, is not one of those "d-----d nasty particular sorts of fellow as stands nice about the colour of the craft, so long as she's a fast sailer." Such is black Sarah, and therefore a favourite with black and white; she is the very life and soul of the neighbouring lush cribs, and sticks to her locality as if she know no other. Who is there that knows anything of the Highway that will not immediately recognise our friend Sall, attired exactly as our artist has represented her, walking from ken to crib, in company with Cocoa Bet, Bet Moses, the Mouth of the Nile, Salmony-faced Mary Anne, Peg Mitchell, Poll Sellers, Kit Fury, Bet Blake, Long Nance Taylor, and others, who surround and form a kind of convoy to her of the black flag.
    The gay daughters of Eve, in this quarter, are rarely seen in bonnets; their morning habiliments are racy in the extreme; they actually walk the streets in a short bed-gown, or night-jacket. In the afternoon they dress and visit the public-houses as regularly as our fair ones in the west do the theatres. The Half Moon and Seven Stars in the Highway, the Ship and Shears and the Duke of York in High-street, Shadwell, and the Shakspeare's Head in Shakspeare's walk, we may mention as houses frequented by Sall and her numerous circle of bewitching satellites.

The Town, 8 July 1837

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