Date RangeLate 1880s to 1930sDescriptionWellington’s population was increasing in the 1800s and with this the amount of waste produced was growing. With no consistent way to dispose of rubbish it wound up festering in the streets and behind houses and with no sewer system water was unsafe to drink. Health concerns were rising and the end of the century saw several solutions being implemented. Private services did exist, but these were not widely adopted.
A high-pressure sewer system was constructed to improve water quality. Dustmen began collecting household rubbish and the Destructor was built on Clyde Quay to dispose of it. In the late 1880s the Wellington City Council employed Scavengers to clean the streets. Operating under the City Engineer and Surveyor’s Office, Scavengers drove horse-drawn carts on routes around the city. They started their day at seven in the morning and worked until four in the afternoon with a Leading Hand in each district overseeing each route.
In wet weather the Scavengers were expected to work late nights to ensure the streets were clean for the next morning. In a petition from 1899, the Scavengers described working 27-hour work-days in cold and harsh weather and asked for an increase in pay for night work. In 1919, a further petition asking for fair pay cited a recent increase in days worked, as previously Scavengers had alternate Sundays off but this was changed to seven-day work weeks all year.
It was thankless work being a Scavenger. In 1914, an application from Scavengers along with Dustmen and Destructor firemen asking for an extra day annual leave was rebuffed. Residents complained when they took lunch breaks on Brook Street in Thorndon, calling it “Neither sightly nor sanitary” in a letter dated 1913 “Cannot some other Neighbourhood have its turn of the evil?”. In a 1926 memo the City Engineer’s office described the amount of work these men did. Twenty loads of street scavenging and sump refuse brought in daily, the work split among four carts.