Addison, in issue 383 of The Spectator, gives us a charming sketch of the Thames Waterman. He had promised to go by water to Spring Garden, Vauxhall, with Sir Roger de Coverley, and the worthy Knight calls for him, and they had no sooner come to the Temple Stairs, than they were surrounded by a crowd of watermen offering them their services.
Sir Roger, after having looked about him very attentively, spotted one with a wooden leg and immediately gave him orders to get his boat ready.
As they were walking towards it, 'You must know,' says Sir Roger, 'that I never make use of anybody to row me, that has not lost a leg or an arm. I would rather bate him a few strokes of his oar, than not employ an honest man that has been wounded in the Queen's service. If I was a lord or a bishop and kept a barge, I would not put a fellow in my livery that had not a wooden leg.'
After having seated himself and trimmed the boat with his coachman, they made their way to Vauxhall. Sir Roger gets out of the waterman the history of his right leg and hears that he had left it at La Hogue.
The good knight, true to his habit of saluting everybody that passed him with a "good morrow" or "good night," greeted several boats which passed; but to his great surprise two or three young fellows, instead of returning the civility, "asked us what queer old 'put' we had in the boat, and whether he was not ashamed of himself at his time of life," with a great deal of the like Thames ribaldry, which shocks the old man considerably.
Of course, the gardens and some of its promenades shock him still more. After refreshing themselves with some burgundy and a slice of hung beef, the worthy knight sends the remainder to the one legged waterman, so it must have exceeded in size and thickness the usual Vauxhall slice, and they return not altogether pleased with the excursion.Next page: The Watermen of the Thames