from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. One who scavenges for valuable items in sewers, especially in London during the Victorian period.


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  • Variants survive today in slum-ridden megacities like Cairo, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires, but the epitome was early nineteenth-century London, where a scavenger army of tens of thousands of impoverished men, women, and children, each with a defined specialty, scavenged the dregs of the metropolis. There were toshers in the sewers and mudlarks on the riverbanks, rag-pickers atop rubbish heaps and bone-pickers behind kitchens. "Pure-finders" scooped up dog manure for tanneries, dustmen collected ash and night-soil men emptied cesspools. . . . Teeming cities like London and Paris could not have functioned without the ad hoc scavenging system, but the cost was very high. The scavengers worked in filth, and as the investigations of William Farr and John Snow demonstrated, filthy conditions were crucial in the spread of communicable disease.
    Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 85

    February 7, 2016

  • "Early risers strolling along the Thames would see the toshers wading through the muck of low tide ... their oversized pockets filled with stray bits of copper recovered from the water's edge. The toshers walked with a lantern strapped to their chest sic to help them see in the predawn gloom, and carried an eight-foot-long pole that they used to test the ground in front of them, and to pull themselves out when they stumbled into a quagmire."
    —Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map (New York: Penguin, 2006), 1–2

    October 1, 2008

  • One who, on the Thames, steals copper from the bottom of ships.
    Adm. William Smythe's Sailor's Word~Book, 1867

    May 17, 2008