OED usage notes for the term ‘mudlark’:

26 Feb
1796   P. Colquhoun Police of Metropolis iii. 60   Men and boys, known by the name of Mud-larks, who prowl about, and watch under the ships when the tide will permit.
1796   P. Colquhoun Police of Metropolis iii. 61   Gentlemen plunderers..are far more pernicious than the lumpers or mud-larks.
1801   Monthly Rev. 35 243   Miserable beings..accustomed to grub in the river at low water for old ropes..known by the appellation of Mud-larks.
1804   M. Edgeworth Lame Jervas xi, in Pop. Tales I. 77   He..became what is called a mud-lark; that is a plunderer of the ships cargoes that unload in the Thames.
1845   Chambers’s Edinb. Jrnl. 3 105/1   These ‘mud-larks’..bear generally a bad character… Their functions do not end with the shore, but in the sewer.
1851   H. Mayhew London Labour II. 155/2   The mud-larks collect whatever they happen to find, such as coals, bits of old-iron, [etc.].
1859   C. Hotten Dict. Mod. Slang 65   Mud-larks,..occasionally those men who cleanse the sewers, with great boots and sou’wester hats.
1892   A. Dobson 18th Cent. Vignettes 233   The same crowd of mud-larks and loafers would come rushing into the water to offer..their services.
1959   Times 16 Mar. (Port of London Suppl.) p. xvi/1   ‘Long apron men’ and mudlarks who..waited to pick up goods thrown to them by accomplices on board merchantmen.
1985   Antiquaries Jrnl. June 450   It was found by an experienced mudlark, licensed by the Port of London Authority to dig and search the foreshore at that point.
1994   T. Clark Junkets on Sad Planet viii. 137   Coal-heavers, or even those Mudlarks who comb the City sewers for any scrap of stuff they can find to sell.
1995   Independent on Sunday 19 Feb. (Review Suppl.) 71/3   The public is allowed to beachcomb on the shores, but serious mudlarks..must obtain a license (£9 per annum) from the PLA and abide by its rules.

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