Real-life child thief may have inspired artful Dodger in Oliver Twist
London: Until now it was accepted the cheeky pickpocket Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist was an invention of Charles Dickens’ imagination.
But a historian now believes that he has uncovered the real-life inspiration for the child thief, the Sun reported.
While researching child convicts sent to Australia during the Victorian era, Cameron Nunn came across the account of 13-year-old thief Samuel Holmes.
The report, dated 1836, written by magistrate William Augustus Miles was unearthed at the National Archives in Kew, southwest London two years before Dickens’ novel was published.
Miles interviewed Holmes alongside other young convicts on the prison ship HMS Euryalus for a special parliamentary committee looking at juvenile crime in London.
Trained as a pickpocket in an east London hideout almost identical to bearded villain Fagin’s criminal den, young Holmes had already served four prison sentences.
In the interview, Holmes told Miles how he came to join a criminal gang.
“Two boys took me to a house in Stepney, kept by a Jew, and he agreed to board and lodge me for 2’6 a week provided I brought and sold to him all that I might steal. He has about 13 boys in the house on the same terms,” Holmes said.
Nicknamed “Smouchee”, the pint-sized pincher even described a trap door used to hide the loot and boasted of a raid in which he stole a shopkeeper’s till containing 17 pounds.
And, as in the novel, Holmes soon graduated to overseeing the teen crooks under the watch of his cruel gang master.
“The parallels between Holmes’ account and the description of Fagin’s house in Oliver Twist, as well as their mirror-image personalities, are too similar to be a coincidence,” historian Nunn said.
Nunn believes Dickens must have come across Holmes’ story while working as a political correspondent for a newspaper before becoming a novelist.