The Year Was 1842

The year was 1842 and the issue of child labor was coming under scrutiny. In Britain, one-third of coal mine workers were under the age of eighteen, as were one-fourth of metal mines workers. Following a mining disaster in 1838, there was an investigation of mining conditions. 

In 1842, Lord Ashley delivered a report citing the deplorable conditions, and, invoking Victorian morals, he revealed that girls were working alongside boys and men, and that the warm conditions of the mine led to improper clothing. The report led to swift enactment of the Coal Mines Act of 1842, which forbid women and boys below ten years of age from working underground. For more on mining conditions, see “The Peel Web” website. 

In the U.S., child labor was also a growing problem. Children often went to work in the dark and returned in the dark, only seeing the light of day on Sunday. In 1842, Massachusetts passed legislation limiting the children’s work day to ten hours. Unfortunately these laws weren’t always enforced.

There were other labor concerns in Britain as well. Chartists had gathered around 3.3 million signatures on a petition in support of the People’s Charter of 1838 and added to it other complaints, including factory conditions. The petition was rejected by an overwhelming margin, infuriating supporters. In August 1842 protesters marched into mills and effectively shut them down by emptying mill dams and removing boiler plugs. The movement, known as the “Plug Riots,” led to violence in some areas, but eventually the Chartist movement would die down again, as its supporters waited for another opportunity to press their case.

In Hamburg, a fire burned much of the city, leaving fifty-one dead and more than 20,000 people homeless. After the devastation, the city rebuilt itself, this time installing water pipes under the streets and making other improvements.  

In North American, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty finally decided the Maine-Canada border, although the Oregon Territory border with Canada was still being disputed. 

Dr. Crawford Long made his mark in medical history in 1842 when he became the first to use ether to anesthetize a patient for surgery. At that time surgeons typically used alcohol or hypnotism to relax patients during medical procedures. Dr. Long had seen the effects of laughing gas and ether at parties or “frolics” and noticed that although people exposed to the substances ran into things, they didn’t seem to feel the pain. Other doctors began experimenting with the procedure and Dr. Long made his findings public in 1849.

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2 thoughts on “The Year Was 1842

  1. Child labor laws evidently were not inforced in the USA at that time….maybe one of the reasons we wanted our independence from the old country.

    My father James A.Pack, left Martin County Kentucky at the age of 17,seeking employment in the coal mines of Detroit, W.Va. He moved to W.Va. coal fields as the going pay was $1.50 per day, as compared to $1.00 per day in Kentucky.

    Of course he met a lovely young lady,Bessie Meddings, where my story begins.

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