Diary of a Resurrectionist; December 2nd 1811

Monday 2nd. Met at S’. Thomas’s, Got paid for the 3 adults & settled ; met and settled with Mordecei, made Him up £2 5s. 6d. and Receipt of all demands. At Home all night.

No resurrecting – receiving payment and paying off personal debts.

James Blake Bailey claims Mordecei was a man called Michael Mordecei who was apparently a noted receiver who kept a curiosity shop in New Alley. I have not yet discovered any supporting evidence about Michael Mordecai for this conclusion and James Blake Bailey does not say how he knows of this man or anything else about who he was.

One possible alternative explanation is that it is a generic slang term for someone who is Jewish; I have seen the name used in this context in Jack Nastyface, a reminiscence of life in the navy published in 1836 by sailor William Robinson.

(Jack Nastyface itself is slang for a sailor).

I have also seen it in this context in another contemporary work called ‘Boxiana; Or, Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism’ by Pierce Egan (the early 19th century’s famous sports ‘reporter’ and writer of popular fiction), published in 1824.

“His skirmishes (Dutch Sam, a pugilist’s) would fill a volume, and the following humorous anecdote may be depended on: Sam, in passing through Wapping, one evening, when it was almost dark, observed a poor Jew and a sailor fighting, and, upon inquiring the cause, he was soon recognized by the unfortunate Mordecai, who had been levelled very often by the rough son of Neptune…”

Pierce Egan’s influential Life in London (Finish to the adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in their pursuits through life in and out of London) also features a Jewish character, old Mordecai, who is a shrewd fence and money lender, and whose character was an apparent influence on Dicken’s Fagin. Old Mordecai himself is supposedly the money lender John King, thinly disguised for this fictional work.

Money does not translate particularly well, as a rough translation of a 19th century amount to it’s 21st century equivalent doesn’t give you it’s buying power and thus an idea of how much it was worth at the time. Clothes , for example, were much more expensive before industrial manufacturing, and small items like candles (now cheap because they are no longer our general source of light) were expensive. The price of bread in the second half of 1810 could be over a shilling for a single 4lb. loaf. Prices also fluctuated at this time because of the wars.

However, £2 5s 6d is roughly equivalent to £77 in 2005 (according to the National Archives converter), which was the rough equivalent of 15 days wages for a labourer in the building trade. So Naples was paying a fairly significent debt.

There are 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.


About theresurrectionists

My name is Kirsty Chilton. I am a Medical Historian working in London and relentlessly searching for the body snatchers of 18th and 19th century London. Currently, the content of this blog is a personal project to repost and comment on the diary of 19th century Resurrectionist Joseph Naples 200 years from the time it was written.
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