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June 17, 2018

india child

Photo: Poverty in India (CC0 Public Domain)

“Mudlarks” was a 19th Century term for street children who survived by scavenging amid the mud along the River Thames.  A British film titled The Mudlark (1950) told the fictional tale of how one such child – a boy named Wheeler – supposedly found his way into Queen Victoria’s presence [1].

The speech below is attributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the film.  In view of prevailing conditions today, the words retain their poignancy and power.

Some 15 million children still live in poverty in the United States, a billion worldwide [2][3].  Two million children die annually from preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia because of a lack of basic medical care.  Over 44 million have been aborted legally in the United States alone [4][5].

“The House of Commons may be a strange place to discuss the conduct of a mudlark.  But it is perhaps the best of all places to examine certain aspects of this particular mudlark’s conduct.  For here they are placed not only before the honorable members but also before the entire nation.

Now I confess I am as puzzled as anyone by some of the mystery of young Wheeler.  How did he manage to reach the age of 10 in the face of all that we did to prevent it?

I ask you to think how hard society tried to kill him.  It laid an ambush for him at his birth, surrounding his cradle with rats and vermin.  It sent gases…to pollute the air he breathed, tried to poison his mother’s milk through her drinking water, but only succeeded in poisoning his mother.  She died of typhus before he could walk, according to the police investigation.

As there is no record of a father, his government was spared the necessity of a second murder in the same family.

So now that he was an orphan – alone, defenseless and entirely at the mercy of his country – it went further.  It attacked his spirit and his soul.  It taught him nothing.  It withheld the word of God from him.  In the end, it sent him into the Thames to be a mudlark – barefoot and clothed in the merest rags, subject daily to cold and damp and fever – and in the warrens and lanes of the waterfront exposed him to the worst influences of immorality and evil, and most final of all it denied him hope.

Now as a result of this indifference and cruelty there seems to have developed in this small boy an unnatural attitude toward England.  Unnatural because in spite of all that it has done to him, he seems to love it.

So one day he raised his head from the river, looked about him, and walked out of the mud, and went to see his Queen.  Someone had told him Her Majesty was the Mother of England.  We’ve all heard this expression.  Of course, we do not take it literally.  But this unenlightened little orphan did…

Other questions remain which you may answer for yourselves.  For example, has this small Britain been brought to our consideration for himself alone or for the consideration of all British children who are as he is?

There is a singularly rough and robust doctrine held by some in this House that, though the country is overpopulated with relation to its food supply, the correction of the unfortunate situation may be safely left to the law of survival of the fittest.  Though if you’ll pardon me, I’ve never heard overpopulation complained of in time of war.  I can’t remember having heard that there were too many Britains at Waterloo.  But this I have no doubt is a comforting doctrine by which those who hold it may sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that a natural law of the jungle will presently simply their problems in arithmetic.

But under this doctrine Wheeler shouldn’t even be alive…Is there then a flaw in this concept?  And has Wheeler the right to be alive in open defiance of the patriotic obligation to be dead?  Has he no consideration for the mathematicians whose calculations may be muddled and confused by his stubborn failure to expire according to plan?

Myself, of course, I prefer another solution based on the sensible Englishman’s concern for his animals.  We see the results of it all around our countryside.  Our dogs, our cattle, our sheep, our horses.  Unfortunately, Wheeler isn’t a horse.  When it comes to horses, Britain’s sportsmen would never permit such outrageous handicapping.

Or do we go too far there in proposing to apply the principles of this art to human beings?  Are we rash to the point of madness to try to equalize the conditions of the struggle for existence?

The House must not suppose that I rose here to defend Wheeler.  There are, however, those of us who believe that the wealth of Britain is British character, and by drawing attention to certain evidences of that character as they seem to shine through the deed that Wheeler has done I have sought only to advance the cause of British children, among whom Wheeler is but a half-penny bit of our great capital investment in the future.

Nothing I have said can alter the fact that Wheeler has broken the law and must be punished.  Nor must it be supposed that the government commends him to his country’s mercy.  Indeed, were I defending him I could not have said any of this.

In his defense, I would have been reduced to one single argument, that if in this case a conspiracy existed as is charged then that conspiracy was not against the Queen, but against the boy.  And I should not have appealed to his country for mercy, but for justice.”

We might remember that God created mudlarks, as well as peacocks.

[1]  The novel The Mudlark was written by Theodore Bonnet.  The film was written and produced by Nunnally Johnson.

[2]  National Center for Children in Poverty, “Child Poverty”,

[3]  Do Something, “11 Facts about Global Poverty”,

[4]  Wikipedia, “Abortion Statistics in the United States”,

[5]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Reproductive Health – Data and Statistics”,


  1. Those statistics of poverty, child mortality, and abortion are astounding! And very sad.

  2. incarceratedshadows permalink

    An exceptional post Anna.
    Very sad and thought provoking.

  3. A lesson to be learned.

  4. David Redpath permalink

    Going to Nepal & India next year
    in support of an orphanage, and
    an old folk’s home.
    All over, what happens to poor &
    homeless children is appalling.

  5. Great post Anna.. It is heartbreaking..
    With all the needs in the world, we always have plenty to pray about..

  6. Reblogged this on Pennies For Dreams and commented:
    Mudlarks: By Anna Waldherr of A Lawyers Prayers

  7. Powerful indeed.

  8. Hi, thanks for stopping by and liking one of my book reviews. I’m here checking out your pages in return 🙂 Lovely stuff!

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