One typical day at the Hospital in the 1850s consisted of work (picking oakum and cleaning of dormitories) and exercise, as well as breakfast and dinner at 9 am and 3 pm respectively.
As a toddler he was employed as an oakum-picker and flax-pounder for the Royal Dockyards.
Old rope was also hung up, to provide oakum for closing up the seams between ships' boards.
He was entrusted with supervising the task, sewing bits of oakum and wool into an old sail, which was then drawn under the ship to allow water pressure to force it into the hole in the hull.
Inmates were put to work oakum-picking and treading the treadmill, and it operated on the silent/separate system.
The building is the oldest on Garden Island, two-storey, built of stuccoed brick with stone sills, arches and columns. The original loft floor of timber remains, caulked with oakum and bitumen.
John Barth's 1960 novel "The Sot-Weed Factor" (Chapter 14, Part II: Going to Malden) features the main character and his valet performing "various simple chores like oakum-picking and holystoning" while aboard Captain Tom Pound's ship.
Because of colonial and naval expansion of the era, economies needed large quantities of hemp for rope and oakum.
Traditional caulking was made from combining the fibers of cotton and oakum, a type of hemp rope fiber soaked in pine tar.
One of the workers accidentally ignited a ball of black oakum with a light.
Oakum can be used to seal cast iron pipe drains. After setting the pipes together, workers pack oakum into the joints, then pour molten lead into the joint to create a permanent seal.
They would have unpicked oakum for up to 10 hours a day.
The cellar of the "Devon Arms" was used as the oakum picking room, where paupers were given the unpleasant job of untwisting old rope to provide oakum, used to seal the seams of wooden boats.
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