Imatges de pÓgina

various instances given. Under an Act of 1518 debtors for a sum under forty shillings might be imprisoned in the gaol called the Compters for life. In the Clerkenwell Bridewell, where there were six debtors, besides other prisoners, five men were sick in the infirmary and one dying, with little or no covering, and one dead. In the women's sick ward twelve were lying in their clothes on the barrack bedstead and floor without any bedding

He quotes the report of May 29th, 1729, of a Committee appointed to enquire into the state of gaols; many prisoners are so poor as to be committed for a debt of one shilling only. By proceeding in the Court of Exchequer or other Court of Record the lawyers managed to carry on the proceedings until the debt and accumulated costs amounted to over forty shillings, whereupon the debtor was thrown into prison. In Ely gaol, where debtors and felons were confined together, he finds one debtor for a debt of 3s. 5 d., charges 8s. 3d.; another with a wife and five children for costs 4s. 9d. and gaol fees 3s. 6d. At Bury St. Edmunds in 1783 he finds a poor widow, eighty years of age, committed in March, 1780, for a fine of five pounds, and at Devizes a woman debtor for a debt of 2s. 3d., costs and fees 5s. 2d., and conveyance to gaol 10s. 6d.

The conditions of the prisons themselves, which had for the most part been originally part of fortresses, explain the prevalence of the gaol fever. Many prisons, he says, have no water ; where there is water, they have what the keeper thinks fit to give them; in one place three pints a day for all purposes. They are deprived of air, crowded in close rooms, cells and underground dungeons for fourteen to sixteen hours. He compares one of the dungeons in the county gaol at Chester to the Black Hole of Calcutta. Some floors were damp, some had an inch or two of water. Straw was laid on such floors. Some gaols had no sewers. There was very little light, one cause being that the gaolers had to pay the window tax. In Chesterfield, in a cellar for women, I saw a sick object committed for bastardy under y James I., C. 4, to save, he suggests, parish expenses. In Folkingham you go down by a trap door in the floor seven steps into a horrid dungeon 51 feet high ; no chimney; no pump; no sewer or sanitary convenience. Yet a woman with a child at her breast was sent hither for a year and a day. There are frequent mentions of underground dungeons. No bath, no bedding, no employment, no water, no food, gaol fever runs throughout the book.

When the prisoner goes in, those already confined force him or her to pay "garnish,” to give money or to give up some of their clothes on entrance. But the evil custom on going in was nothing to the difficulty of obtaining release. He gives several instances of prisoners at Leicester and elsewhere, pardoned and ordered to be set at liberty, who were retained for fees.

Of the prisons in Ireland he says that he carefully inspected the gaols in Dublin in 1783, that every evil that he had mentioned was practised in them. Acquitted persons, he tells us, were continued in confinement, until they had discharged their fees to the clerks, the sheriffs, gaoler and turnkeys. Even boys, almost naked and under the age of twelve, were sometimes confined for a year or two for these fees, though amounting to no more than forty shillings. Some acquitted prisoners at Kilmainham, detained for their fees, had children dying with the smallpox, others had hardly rags to cover them.

As to the conditions in the prisons themselves, they would be almost incredible if one did not keep in mind the irresponsibility of officials, when not subject to public inspection. The system was equally evil both for the gaoler and the prisoners. In a prison, says Howard, “the check of the public eye is removed. There are few fears; there are no blushes. The lewd inflame the more modest, the audacious the timid. Their confinement doth notoriously promote and increase the very vices it was designed to suppress.” He notes the various forms of gambling and their consequences, and that few prisons separate men and women in the daytime, felons and all others being confined together. At St. Albans, in 1779, he says, I found a girl who was sentenced for a year's improvement locked up all day with two soldiers in the workroom. At another time he sees a boy and a girl confined together. At Worcester Castle, in consequence of no separation, most of the women become with child. Many children, he says, have been born in this gaol. At Winchestera girl, thirteen years of age, committed for two years, had long been confined to her bed.

The gaoler generally had the supplying of liquor. In one instance, in the Marshalsea prison the tap was let to a prisoner


in the rules of the King's Bench prison. I was credibly informed that one Sunday in the summer of 1775 about six hundred pots of beer were brought in from a public house in the neighbourhood, the prisoners not then liking the tapster's beer.

The cruelties committed on the prisoners were almost equally incredible. In Ely gaol up to 1768 the prisoners were secured by chaining them on their backs on a floor across which were several iron bars, with an iron collar with spikes about their necks and a heavy iron bar over their legs. The women, poor, dirty and sickly objects, were at work with padlocks on their legs, though they are never out in the Court except on Sundays. At another gaol, he says " at my last visit I found the magistrates had sent to this keeper a number of thumbscrews for securing prisoners; at another the three prisoners, though they were women, had each a heavy chain ; at Reading the women were not only chained together by their hands, but had heavy irons also on their legs "; and generally he condemns the loading of prisoners, including the women, with heavy irons, even for lying down, obtaining fees for not doing so, the prisoners having frequently to walk ten or fifteen miles in irons to the town for trial, gaol delivery in some counties being only once a year.

As an additional horror at Knaresborough an officer confined took in a dog to defend him from the vermin, but the dog was soon destroyed and the prisoner's face was much disfigured by them.

He counted the prisoners in 1776 as follows : in England and Wales 2,437 debtors, in London and the English counties 845 felons and 653 petty offenders, the petty offenders in Wales and in the city and town gaols being included with the felons in a total of 149. In 1782 he notes 7,196 discharged debtors, 4,328 of whom had wives with 13,126 children with them. The debtors, he says, crowd the prisons with their wives and children.

He is very severe indeed upon the prisons in Scotland as old buildings, dirty and offensive, without courtyards and generally without water, condemning the cage in the Tolbooth and the severity practised there of chaining the condemned to an iron bar. Certain it is, says Howard, that many of those who survive their long confinement are by it rendered incapable of working, some by scorbutic distempers, others by their toes

mortified or quite rotted off. He quotes to the same effect a contractor for transported convicts who writes, “ the mortality we met with in our last ship, if repeated in this, will so surfeit us that we shall never take another.” In the hulks on the Thames from August, 1776, to March, 1778, on one ship out of 632 prisoners 176 had died. They improved after his visits.

It can come as no surprise that, when Marlborough, with his many offices and his £70,000 a year, requires recruits for his battles in Flanders, or when the navy must be manned against the Dutch or French, they should find willing men to serve among the debtors and felons and prisoners imprisoned for some trifling trespass in the British prisons. In Flanders there was linen on every hedge and they could steal openly after the example of their superiors. In the Savoy prison Howard finds men who, having received His Majesty's pardon on condition of enlisting, and having afterwards deserted, had been re-arrested and confined. Of Ireland he says, “I could not avoid observing officers from the recruiting regiments waiting at the doors and windows to receive either the offenders who are permitted to enlist or any of their associates.” “Our English prisons also contributed their share towards recruiting the army, enlisting being the condition on which many have obtained their release from confinement or immunity from some other punishment, carrying the most fatal diseases into the midst of our seamen and soldiers." The first English fleet, he tells us, sent in the war to America lost by gaol fever above 2,000 men. He ends by telling us in 1783" the gaols crowded from the peace.”

It would be most unjust to assume that all the men who thus enlisted and fought in Flanders or Spain were criminals in any real sense of the word. The majority were no more criminals than the tipsy man or the beggar who, professional or amateur, thief or hungry man, has to-day offended the morals of justice by asking for alms. The count of numbers by Howard shows the very large proportion of debtors to the persons accused or convicted of crime. A few of the others may have been real criminals, but probably for the most part they were persons condemned to death for some little theft not bailable, such as Fielding illustrates in the fourth chapter of Amelia, or for some paltry trespass, such as he ridicules in Book 4, chapter 5, of Joseph Andrews. The laws were savage and the accumulation of evil tradition gave to the men who administered them every opening for folly and cruelty.

Howard travelled over Europe, inspecting prisons in every country. In some, such as Holland, he found much to admire, but in other countries fearful forms of death and torture, engines of torture and torture chambers, and dark and loathsome dungeons. Speaking of the terrible dark dungeons and cages and the torture in Liége, he says, “ Confinement in these dungeons so overpowers human nature as sometimes irrecoverably to take away the senses. One woman, however, I saw who, as I was told, had sustained this horrid confinement forty-seven years without becoming distracted." In Russia he sees a man and a woman suffer from the knout. He was not allowed to see the prisons and torture chambers of the Inquisition at Lisbon, Madrid and Valladolid. He tells of the declaration of the humane Louis XVI., August 30th, 1780, for the demolition of the worst of the prisons, Petit Châtelet and Fort l'Evêque, of the total abolition of underground dungeons by him and of his humane treatment of prisoners.

Howard contrasts our humane treatment of prisoners of war with the barbarous treatment by the French of our prisoners. He had himself been in French prisons, his Portuguese packet having been taken by a privateer in 1756 when he was on tour in Portugal. In Dunkirk in 1779 there were in five rooms 133 British prisoners of war, officers, passengers and sailors crowded together. They lay on straw with one coverlet for three. He condemns the very bad condition of our prisoners of war at Bergues and Calais. Many had been wrecked in the great storm of December 31st, 1778, and were almost naked. The French, Spanish, Dutch and American prisoners do not, with exceptions, seem to have had much better treatment in the islands

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