An unforgettable name for a small vessel carrying goods for sale to ships in port. The dictionary assures me that ‘bum’ is in the sense of a ‘vagrant’ not a part of the British anatomy. It seems to be of late 17th century origin, and original referred to a boat removing refuse from ships, but also bringing them produce.
Here, Virginia Woolf uses it to describe a woman frozen solid beneath the ice of the Great Frost that petrified the Thames and (almost) all who sailed in her in 1608. I like the understated ‘certain blueness about the lips’ hinting at the fact she was dead and icily drowned.
‘The old bumboat woman, who was carrying her fruit to market on the Surrey side, sat there in her plaids and farthingales with her lap full of apples, for all the world as if she were about to serve a customer, though a certain blueness about the lips hinted the truth.’
Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando, ed. Rachel Bowlby, Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992, p. 35