Jack Black: The Queen’s Rat Catcher

Posted: November 20, 2009 in Other Ripper Research
The following excerpt is from the book, "London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopedia of the Conditions and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, And Those That Will Not Work," Volume 3, by Henry Mayhew, 1861 and details the work of one of the Queen’s destroyers of vermin, known professionally as "Jack Black."
 
Chapter I: The Destroyers Of Vermin
 
Jack Black
 

AS I wished to obtain the best information about rat and vermin destroying, I thought I could not do better now than apply to that eminent authority "the Queen"s ratcatcher," and accordingly I sought an interview with Mr. "Jack" Black, whose hand-bills are headed—"V.R. Rat and mole destroyer to Her Majesty."

I had already had a statement from the royal bug-destroyer relative to the habits and means of exterminating those offensive vermin, and I was desirous of pairing it with an account of the personal experience of the Queen of England’s ratcatcher.

In the sporting world, and among his regular customers, the Queen’s ratcatcher is better known by the name of Jack Black. He enjoys the reputation of being, the most fearless handler of rats of any man living, playing with them—as one man expressed it to me—"as if they were so many blind kittens."

The first time I ever saw Mr. Black was in the streets of London, at the corner of Hart street, where he was exhibiting the rapid effects of his rat poison, by placing some of it in the mouth of a living animal. He had a cart then with rats painted on the panels, and at the tailboard, where he stood lecturing, he had a kind of stage rigged up, on which were cages filled with rats, and pills, and poison packages.

Here I saw him dip his hand into this cage of rats and take out as many as he could hold, a feat which generally caused an "oh!" of wonder to escape from the crowd, especially when they observed that his hands were unbitten. Women more particularly shuddered when they beheld him place some half-dozen of the dusty-looking brutes within his shirt next his skin; and men swore the animals had been tamed, as he let them run up his arms like squirrels, and the people gathered round beheld them sitting on his shoulders cleaning their faces with their front-paws, or rising up on their hind legs like little kangaroos, and sniffing about his ears and cheeks.

But those who knew Mr. Black better, were well aware that the animals he took up in his hand were as wild as any of the rats in the sewers of London, and that the only mystery in the exhibition was that of a man having courage enough to undertake the work.

I afterwards visited Jack Black at his house in Battersea. I had some difficulty in discovering his country residence, and was indebted to a group of children gathered round and staring at the bird-cage in the window of his cottage for his address. Their exclamations of delight at a grey parrot climbing with his beak and claws about the zinc wires of his cage, and the hopping of the little linnets there, in the square boxes scarcely bigger than a brick, made me glance up at the door to discover who the bird-fancier was; when painted on a bit of zinc—just large enough to fit the shaft of a tax cart—I saw the words, "J. Black, Rat Destroyer to Her Majesty," surmounted by the royal initials, V.R., together with the painting of a white rat.

JACK BLACK, HER MAJESTY’S RATCATCHER

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