Before Magpie became known as the little sail maker, he was a climbing boy in London. Climbing boys were the young apprentices of chimney sweeps. As early as age four to six, they were forced to climb up and clean the narrow, filthy flues. Many of these children were orphans or had been sold to chimney sweeps for a few guineas. As their working conditions were miserable, they were often pricked in the feet with pins or had lighted straw placed beneath them to get them to climb up the chimneys. They were badly abused and poorly fed, and many of them died of burns or suffocation. If they lived beyond childhood, their growth was often stunted and they suffered from an assortment of respiratory ailments. Fortunately for Magpie, he was rescued from this fate by the Duke of Clarence who arranged and paid for a posting for him on HMS Isabelle.