Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

eighteen persons had here slept ; and, according to the report of the turnkey, some of these were untried.

• All to whom I spoke, complained of continual illness. One had been there thirty-one months, and according to his own account, never well. Another fourteen months, and never well :—and how (they very fairly asked) can it be otherwise, when we are giddy and sick every morning, from the air in which we have passed the night? - This they said in the presence of the turnkey, who gave his tacit consent to it; only adding an observation precisely similar to that recorded by Mr Neild, as made to him when visiting this jail seventeen years ago. He says, “ The turnkey himself told me, that in a morning when he unlocked the door, he was so affected with the putrid steam issuing from the dungeon, that it was enough to knock him down."' p. 156–59. Mr B. adds in a note- A person only accused of a crime may be placed in this prison, wear heavy irons, and sleep every night in the “ pit,” and this for a whole year before his trial. This fact, if it stood alone, would be sufficient to justify the efforts now making, to direct public attention to the state of our jails.'

In many other jails, which are less minutely described, the same general system prevailed. At Kingston, the town jail is a public house ;--in the tap-room of which the debtors may always be found sitting in a crowd of casual customers. In ColdBath Fields, three men, convicted of an unnatural crime, were

shut up in a retired cell, with a youth committed for an assault. · In Newgate, the abuses are innumerable, and are nearly sufficient to account for all the depravity which continues to disgrace the metropolis. The following address is very powerful.

The author is speaking of a youth dismissed from one of these prisons, after being confined for some misdemeanour.

In this state of mind and body, at the expiration of his term of confinement, you throw him at once upon the town, without a shilJing in his pocket, his next meal depending upon the dexterous application of those lessons of fraud, which have been his only recent acquirement. He must starve, or he must rob; you have taken from him the means of honest labour, but you have initiated him into other and more gainful arts. He came to your prison a misdemeanant; you send him from its walls a criminal-wasted in strength, polluted in principles, and ruined in character. All respectable men reject him, because they know, that to have been in your prison, is to be corrupted. He is compelled, by the cravings of nature, to take refuge amongst the hordes of thieves ; they receive him with open arms, supply his immediate necessities, and advance him money on account, to be repaid by the product of his future depredations.

They laugh away his scruples, if the society in which you had placed him had left him any, and soon furnish him with an opportunity of displaying his gratitude, his courage, and his proficiency. His is then a rapid career ; he soon knows every haunt of vice, and is known

by the fraternity of thieves as a willing labourer in any branch of their calling ; his face grows familiar to the officers of justice; he has soon passed through half the prisons in the metropolis; till at length he stands at the bar, convicted of some act of desperate enormity; the *dreadful sentence of the law is passed upon him, and all hopes of mercy, are forbidden. The judge, the magistrates, the jury, the spectators, are shocked at such an instance of youthful depravity, while their hearts whisper, “ Thank God, I am not as this robber.” But if he who sows the seed contributes to the production of the harvest, they may find other subjects of astonishment than his guilt, and accomplices where they least expect them.' p. 52–54.

Mr B. assures us, that this is no fanciful picture—but an abridgement of many true. histories that have fallen under his own observation. We may give the following short one as an illustration.

A well educated boy, whose name I suppress, came to London with his father; and I am assured, by a very respectable tradesman, who knew him well, that he would not have objected to take him into his service. He is now fourteen years old, and a boy of an intelligent countenance. He was apprehended in May last, as a vagrant, for selling religious tracts, in Bishopsgate Church Yard, without a Hawker's License, and sent to the City Bridewell for a month. There he passed the day with twenty men and four boys committed for various crimes : and he slept with an Irishman who employed him to pick pockets, and steal from the other prisoners ; and received, as the boy says, the produce of his thefts. The man and five others took a fever, and the boy continued to sleep with him during its progress. He caught it himself, brought it home, and communicated it to his father, mother, and three brothers, of whom one died. His nurse and her family were seized with it, and have not recovered at this moment. On his return, he was so covered with vermin, that his parents were obliged to destroy the blankets and rug of his bed. The father told me, that before his apprehension, he was a good and dutiful son, and that he had no fault to find with him. His mother said he was a quiet demure boy, fond of reading, and always willing to go with her to a place of worship. Now he never takes a book into his hands, except to purloin it; and if she mentions any religious service, she is answered by execrations on her and her advice. She placed him in the school in Angel Alley; but he sent word to the master, with a desperate oath, that he would never go again. She cannot keep any work in the house: he has stolen and sold her Bible, his father's clothes, and the clothes lent by the Raven Row School to his brother : he is seldom at home: his father has found him at night sleeping in the baskets of Covent Garden, with a horde of girls and boys,-thieves and prostitutes.' p. 56-58. • Mr B. closes the first part of his work with some excellent suggestions as to the obvious and practicable reforms which are suggested by these observations—and by a short recapitulation of the existing laves, in open violation of which most of these abuses are carried on. The very variety, and capricious irregularity which prevail in every part of the present most faulty system, is a strong proof of its defects. We have already noticed the practice in different places as to irons and fetters. The allowance of food is no less irregular.

In Tothill Fields and Ipswich, no allowance for debtors except from charity-Bedford, three quartern loaves per week for all pri. soners.—Bristol, a four-penny loaf per day.-- Borough Compter, fourteen ounces of bread per day, two pounds of meat per week.—Bury, one pound and a half of bread per day, one pound of cheese, and threequarters of a pound of meat per week. - Norwich, two pounds of bread per day, half a pound of cheese per week.-- Penitentiary, Milbank, one pound and a half of bread, one pound of potatoes, two pints of hot gruel, per day, and either six ounces of boiled meat, without bone, or a quart of strong broth mixed with vegetables.-Fourteen ounces of bread per day, with two pounds of meat per week, are not enough to support life: Besides, in some prisons, the allowance is withheld for a considerable time. The hour of delivery is fixed; and if a prisoner arrives after it, he receives nothing till the next morning. There are differences with regard to bedding ;—from no bedding, or coverlid, a blanket for two men, a blanket for each, two blankets for each, two blankets and a rug each, three blankets and a rug for each ; to, three blankets, a rug, a hair bed, and two pillows each.' p. 69, 70.

That such gross abuses as most of those we have noticed, should occur in the most populous and opulent districts of this enlightened country—and that they should be suffered to prevail in the very heart of our great and benevolent metropolis, under the eye of the legislature, and in the very precincts of our high courts of justice, cannot but strike every one as equally strange and disgraceful. It is still more strange, however, and not less instructive to learn, that intelligent and humane individuals have been found to defend the present system as the best that could be adopted in practice--that Mr Alderman Atkins publicly vindicated the whole establishment of Newgate, and compared the inside of that prison to a “ gentleman's dairy in the country;' while another honourable member contended, that our priso• ners had all that prisoners ought to have—unless gentlemen

thought they ought to be accommodated with Turkey car• pets!! There cannot be a finer specimen of the temper in which certain classes of persons always meet the statement of any abuses in our existing establishments.

In the second part of his book, Mr B. goes on to show experimentally what reformations are practicable, and by what incans, and to what an extent they have been already carried into execution. With this view he gives an ample account of the jail and house of correction at Bury--the Penitentiary at

Millbank, and the jail at Ilchester, together with pretty full details as to the older establishments of the Rasphouse at Amsterdam, the Maison de Force at Ghent, and the state prison at Philadelphia. We cannot now afford room for any abstract of those very valuable notices, further than to say, that the possibility of defraying a great part of the expense of such establishments by the labour of the prisoners, and the facility of converting those abodes of misery and corruption into schools of industry and morality, seems to be demonstrated, beyond all contradiction, by the success of every one of those institutions in which the experiment has been judiciously tried. In all those places the inmates are carefully divided into classes work is provided -religion and moral instruction administered—and the utmost attention paid to the health and bodily comforts of the prisoners. We would not withhold from our readers the encouraging and consolatory view of the subject which is contained in these accounts, had we not, in the remaining section of the work before us, a still more striking and delightful picture to present them, in the history of Mrs Fry's miraculous achievements in the reformation of the female convicts in Newgate.

The story, we think, is as affecting as it is instructive; and unites, in our estimation, the pathetic and the marvellous of the boldest work of fancy, with the sanctity of truth, and the utility of a great moral lesson.

The abuses in Newgate, that great receptacle of guilt and misery, constructed to hold about 480 prisoners, but generally containing, of late years, from 800 to 1200, are eloquently set forth in the excellent publication of Mr Bennet, of which we have transcribed the title, though we have no longer left ourselves room to specify them. * It may be sufficient, however, to observe, that the state of the women's wards was universally allowed to be by far the worst; and that even Alderman Atkins admitted, that in that quarter some alteration might be desirable, though, in his apprehension, it was altogether impracticable. Though by no means inclined to adopt the whole of the worthy Alderman's opinions, we may safely say, that we should have been much disposed to agree with him in thinking

* The services of this gentleman in the Police Committees, as well as in that on Madhouses, and several others, are above all praise :nor do we know another instance of so much patience, perseverance and activity, displayed for so long a time in these comparatively obscure but most meritorious exertions. We hope soon to have an opportunity of directing the attention of our readers to some of the im. portant subjects which this gentleman has introduced to the notice, of the public..

the subjects of those observations pretty nearly incorrigible; and certainly should not have hesitated to pronounce the change which has actually been made upon them altogether impossible. Mrs Fry, however, knew better of what both she and they were capable; and, strong in the spirit of compassionate love, and of that charity that hopeth all things, and believeth all things, set herself earnestly and humbly to that arduous and revolting task, in which her endeavours have been so singularly blessed and effectual. This heroic and affectionate woman is the wife, we understand, of a respectable banker in London; and both she and her husband belong to the society of Friends that exemplary sect, which is the first to begin and the last to abandon, every scheme for the practical amendment of their fellow-creatures and who have carried into all their schemes of reformation a spirit of practical wisdom, of magnanimous patience, and merciful indulgence, which puts to shame the rashness, harshness, and precipitation of sapient ministers, and presumptuous politicians. We should like to lay the whole account of her splendid campaign before our readers; but our limits will no longer admit of it. However, we shall do what we can; and, at all events, no longer withhold them from this heart-stirring narrative.

About four years ago, Mrs Fry was induced to visit Newgate, by the representations of its state, made by some persons of the Society of Friends.

• She found the female side in a situation which no language can describe. Nearly three hundred women, sent there for every gradation of crime, some untried, and some under sentence of death, were crowded together in the two wards and two cells, which are now appropriated to the untried, and which are found quite inadequate to contain even this diminished number with any tolerable convenience. Here they saw their friends, and kept their multitudes of children; and they had no other place for cooking, washing, eating, and sleeping.

. They slept on the floor, at times one hundred and twenty in one ward, without so inuch as a mat for bdding; and many of them were very nearly naked. She saw them openly drinking spirits; and her ears were offended by the most terrible imprecations. Every thing was filthy to excess, and the smell was quite disgusting. Every one, even the Governor, was reluctant to go amongst them. He persuaded her to leave her watch in the office, telling her that his presence would not prevent its being torn from her. She saw enough to convince her that every thing bad was going on. In short, in giving me this account, she repeatedly said " All I tell thee is a faint picture of the reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the ferocious manners and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness which every thing bespoke, are quite indescrib.ible.” One act, the account of which I received from another quarter, marks the degree of wretchedness to which they were

« AnteriorContinuar »