Alien Life in England (Answers, 1904)

1.666-68. Answers, Vol. XXXII, No. 11 (London), 23 January, 1904, 216.

Extracts from ‘Alien Life in England’ by ‘An Expert’.

The following passages are from the fourth part of a series of articles entitled ‘Alien Life in England’, written by ‘An Expert’ and published in the English penny-weekly Answers. This one concerns itself with ‘Crime and the Foreign Criminal’ and is revealing of contemporary anxieties in at least some parts of English society about immigration, anxieties which may seem, to the British reader over a hundred years later, uncannily familiar and anxieties which led to the passing of the Aliens Bill through the House of Commons on the 31st of March, 1904. Nor is the concern, in the case of this article at least, mere undistinguished immigration. For all that Haines’s German Jews are not referred to specifically, ‘foreign’ is no umbrella term here and that ‘alien’ means, in a none-too-subtle fashion, ‘Jewish’ – given the mention of the displacement of the “Christian population” and the collapse of any distinction towards the end of the article – is fairly apparent.

In these articles the sober, thrifty, and industrious side of the alien’s character has been given due credit. But  there are defects to counterbalance his qualities. To be strictly fair, this remark applies to all human nature; but it happens in the case of the alien that these defects become the more pronounced by reason of the fact that they are introduced into a domain which has in no wise courted them, unless it may be said that England’s wide “open door” has been presented to the alien as the threshold to a free asylum.

Having taken note of the relative sobriety of ‘the alien’, though this is attributed more to miserliness than to religious observance – “If he could drink without cost to himself he would probably be as prone to self-indulgence as any other man” – the ‘Expert’ then passes on to the more common crimes associated with ‘the alien’, beginning with overcrowding charges:

For the sake of cheapness — in other words, in a sordid spirit of miserliness — these people will club together to herd in one room rather than expend an extra shilling or two in order to live in separate decency. The whole of the near East End, from which the Christian population has been displaced, is becoming honeycombed with piggeries of this kind, both above and below stairs. It is no uncommon thing for as much as £6 to be paid by an astute alien Jew as “key-money,” which is the term applied to the price paid to an occupier as a consideration for the surrender of the key and tenancy of his house.

A Question of Proportion

¶¶Obviously, wholesale pigging of this kind must produce physical and moral deterioration. The proof of this is that there is now in the East End a generation of stunted criminals of a type so low, mean, and cowardly that a free-roaming poacher is a healthy king in comparison with them. It is impossible, indeed, for a robust yeoman to conceive the sallow, low-browed creature who disfigures the police-court dock in East London, and who too frequently passes to Quarter Sessions, to be adequately punished at the nation’s expense.
¶¶It is estimated that 25 per cent. of the cases which now engage the attention of the magistrate at Thames Police-court arise either from alien offences or from alien disputes. If this estimate errs at all it does so on the side of liberality, for there are authorities who place the computation at 50 per cent.; while there are others who are inclined to place the estimate nearer 75 per cent. than 25 per cent. Until the records for the past year are tabulated there can be no exact figures, but even as the calculations stand they are sufficiently grave. At the Worship Street Police-court their seriousness is as acutely pronounced, for on no day in the week is it possible to stand within the precincts of the court without hearing the constant call of outlandish names.
¶¶And the comedy — or should it be the irony? — of all this is that many of the people who monopolise our courts, invoking our laws or offending against them, either do not know, or profess not to know, a word of English. The official interpreter is therefore in daily request, and the court becomes a foreign tribunal in all but British formality and procedure.

Cases in Point

¶¶Let us step into Thames Police-court, and take the charges at random. Here is an alien Jew who is charged with begging from door to door. When he was in the charge-room at the police-station his fidgetiness with his left arm excited the curiosity of a suspicious inspector, who at once proceeded to explore. The uneasiness was located in a purse strapped to the man’s arm; in the purse was £12 in gold! Nor was this all. In the beggar’s pocket was 1s 6½d in bronze; so that here was an alien impostor coining gold while an honest British docker could hardly find the wherewithal to buy bread. His sentence is a month, which means that for four weeks he will live at the country’s expense.
¶¶Another case is that of a man who has given the police the very English-sounding name of Baker, and who has declared that he has been in England only a week or two. He is no Baker, but a Russian Jew; and instead of a few weeks’ sojourn in this land of freedom to all comers, a serious record of crime is presented against him. He is remanded with a view to being sent back to Russia; but he is not the only alien Baker who has long been kneading the dough of crime.

Crime in Variety

¶¶Alien delinquencies cover the whole range of crime, and were an official at Worship Street asked the question he would probably say that he could not remember the day when an alien was not in the dock. Robberies — mean and great — housebreaking, forgeries, and larcenies of all kinds make up the yearly round. Besides these purely criminal records, the prosecutions for offences under the Factories Acts and the Food and Drugs Act are almost innumerable, especially at Thames Police-court.
¶¶If there is one thing to be registered to the vicious alien’s credit it is the rarity with which he figures in the dock for assault as compared with the home-born Briton of the lower class. Unlike the Anglo-Saxon, the alien Jew is not pugnacious, and is not a fighting-man. But although he does not lift the hot hand, and is, for the reason already given, uniformly temperate, he has a vice for gambling, and in his abounding clubs he gives the police a great deal of trouble. From this trait he may be said to live for lucre; and, in fact, he does.
¶¶The avaricious alien who has dumped himself in our midst does not hesitate to cheat the revenues of the country that has befriended him by setting up illicit whisky stills, or by resorting to any nefarious means of making money illegitimately.