"Nobody can steal from the McPurseys, Jake."
- "I can do that and then some."
Jake grew up, for the first 3 years of his life, with his Mother in Whitechapel
. He still remembers that she smelled of aniseed and had a silver necklace of some sort.
Then the worst day in his life came: His mother explained that she was sick, very sick and wanted him to go with the constable to a new home. The new home was the orphanage in Cannon Street near St. George's Church, only a few streets away from the London Docks, led by the Deacon of St. George's, Mr. Portswell and Mrs. Laura Kerrington, who insisted on being called "Sister Laura". The two "good christians", who "just want to help the poor children" proved to be rather on the miserly and harsh side of life. Not only were there frequent "repentance sessions" in "the cage" with mandatory reciting of the bible, but when the two weren't looking, fights for food and power arose between the children.
It was on his fifth birthday that Jacob Foster
- as the owners of the orphanage had named him, since, apparently, his mother had forgotten to tell them his real name - had planned to flee. Just as he sneaked out of the sleeping chamber, one of the younger children, Peter Stephens, awoke and whispered: "If ye dun' take me wi' you, I'll scream." Seeing the boy was one of the favored punching bags of the orphanage and that he had no choice anyways, Jake smuggeled the boy out the kitty door with him.
On the street, they had some hard days, before they ran into one of "Aunt Carol
's boys. They had begged for some food, when "Sparkling Jamey" informed them, that this was "his street". Instead of letting themselves shoo away, Jake put up a fight, despite being smaller and weaker. It might have been luck that he won, that day. Or fate. Or, as Jake would say: "He had no chance beatin' me." However that may have been, Jake and Peter became one of Aunt Carol's boys, living in a house in Chambers Street, not far from the Royal Mint, and learning how to "earn a living" - and that meant begging, stealing and burglary.
For a while, it was good.
Two months after his 12th birthday, "Wally" Jake, together with "Tictic" Morris and "Tuppence" Penny were planning a break-in after having observed the nightly activity at a warehouse on the Shadwell Dock
. Every other night, a wherry
brought small crates, and sometimes passengers, to Shadwell whilst a policeman was paid for looking the other away. Even though the other children had objections, Jake convinced them that between delivery of the crates and the appearance of those who collected them, there was enough time to "have a look".
After the boatsmen had gone, the children -proficient in this sort of activity- scaled the wall of the warehouse and entered through a rooflight. They even managed to find and open one of crates from the wherry. It was opium, as Tictic could tell. "T'is too hot fer us, boys. We won' find a cust'mer wi'out drawin' suspicion.", warned Tuppence. Then, the warehouse door was unlocked and drawn open. The kids scurried back up to the rooflight, but Tictic (more used to pickpocketing pocket watches) toppled a grappling hook leaning on the wall.
Two hours later, Jake and Tuppence had finally escaped and found each other at one of the secret meeting points of Aunt Carol's Boys, but Tictic was missing. Aunt Carol was not in the least amused. After two days, a man showed up and told Auntie where she could find Tictics body - with a warning that, should "the other child" ever be seen in Shadwell, there would be more blood than that. It was on the same day that Aunt Carol, for the sake of "her little family", brought Jake to the King's Docks at Deptford
and handed him over to the Navy.