« AnteriorContinuar »
long period in the Marshalsea prison, whither he was sent from the Tower. Here he wrote his profound treatise on the succession to property among the Jews.
Some otes on the condition of the Marshalsea in the eighteenth century will be found in the first and sixth chapters of “ John Howard, and the Prisonworld of Europe.” The whole of the prison is now within the walls. There are no liberties, as formerly, outside—à manifest improvement. At one time nearly half the south side of London was within the rules; and, in the ordinary course of things, the metropolis would soon have become one extended prison, had not a change been made. Prisoners living within the rules, by exercising a little care, could go pretty nearly where they wished. Defoe, who knew the London Prisons as well as most men, says, in his “ Journey through England:"_“ The King's Bench is in Southwark; its rules are more extensive than those of the Fleet, having all St. George's Fields to walk in, but the prison-house is not near so good. By a Habeas Corpus you may remove yourself from one prison to the other; and some of those gentlemen that are in for vast sums, and probably for life, choose the one for their summer, the other for their winter habitation; and indeed both are but the show and name of prisons." This was written in 1722. The governor was, of course, always bound to produce the bodies of his inmates when required ; but the arrangements were such as to allow a large margin for the detenue's pleasure and
convenience. When railways had rendered transit rapid and regular, the prisoners were in the habit of purchasing leave to travel about. Until the recent changes took place, the Marshal had the power of selling what were called “ liberty tickets”, which conferred on the purchaser the right to absent himself for from one to three days. These tickets cost, for one day 4s. 2d., for two days, 8s. Od., for three days, 11s. 10d. The profits arising from the sale of these tickets were very considerable, and the claim of the individual who received them was one of those “vested interests” which held out longest against the assaults of reform. A few years before the amalgamation of the three prisons, and the putting an end to many of the old abuses, it was stated that the profits of the Marshal amounted to 3,6951. per annum : 8721. from the sale of beer, and 2,8231. from the sale of liberty tickets.
To a man who had money, the Bench, as Defoe says, was only the name of a prison. There was a case of a sheriff's officer finding a person boating at Cowes, whom he had carried to prison only a few days before. Even before the railway era, it was common enough for debtors within the rules to make little trips-by indulgence—to Richmond, Gravesend, Hampton Court, and other places in the suburbs of London, with their friends. Money could indeed procure everything. Philip of Macedon considered no fortress impregnable into which he could find entrance for a couple of asses well laden ; and Philip knew mankind-at least the worse part of it. But
the Syrian gentlemen, brothers to the roses of Sharon, who make themselves the administrators of the money laws, were not content with the sale of these small “indulgences.” Evidence came before the old parliamentary commission (1727—29), showing that the warders were in the regular habit of selling the “right of escape ” to such as could afford their terms. Many persons indebted to the crown for very large sums got away beyond the seas in this manner; and so carelessly were things conducted by the officials—who, it should be said, in extenuation of their guilt, bought their situations for considerable amounts of money, and looked upon the business simply as a trade—that no account was ever taken of the date of escape or the name of the person, much less any attempt made to recover the runagate. The officers bought their places, and made the most of them. Universal corruption reigned, and, with more or less intensity continued, in all the three prisons-Queen's Bench, Marshalsea, and Fleet, until the recent break-up of the old system. Money, powerful everywhere, was omnipotent in these prisons. Everything could be done with it, without it, nothing. The hair stands on end at the relation of some of the barbarities practised to extort money. When the Commons' commission began its inquiries, it was so horrified at the disclosures made, it could not go on, but instantly repaired to the House, and reported a few of the first facts which had come to light. The Commons received the report with indignation and horror, and instantly passed a resolution ordering the arrest of all the functionaries, and urging the government to prosecute them without delay. The category of their crimes included beating, ironing, torturing, and murdering the poor debtors who had not the wherewithal to satisfy their cupidity. Such a demoniacal state of things is not afterwards met with, it is true : but these debtor prisons were disgraceful scenes of drunkenness, profligacy, and riot, in the days of Howard, and, indeed, continued so to the end of their separate existence. More stringent regulations are now enforced ; and whatever the faults may be which an experienced eye can still detect, dissipation and disorder are not prominent amongst them.
The Queen's Prison is at present the receptacle of persons committed by the Court of Queen's Bench; by the Court of Exchequer ; by the Court of Common Pleas; and by the Courts of Equity. It is, in fact, a national prison. Formerly it was under the jurisdiction of the Bench ; it is now placed under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to whom an annual report is rendered. Practically, the prison is divided into three portions, which are thus appropriated :—First, To persons who are remanded for fraud and defiance of creditors. To the detenues this is the least pleasant part of the establishment; but it is not half penal enough. Second, To ordinary debtors not known to be fraudulent, who are too poor to maintain themselves. Third, To ordinary debtors who can maintain themselves in prison. The first class is again divided into; (1,) those who can maintain themselves ; (2) those who stand in need of the county allowance. Generally speaking, the third class is the most numerous—that is, of persons who can and do provide for themselves. For these, the State finds nothing but a small room, or cell, and safe custody. Whatever else he may need, the prisoner must procure at his own expense : for instance, furniture, service, bedding, coals, &c. Many of the cells of these detenues are beautifully fitted up ; carpets, books, pictures, and luxuries of every kind
may be seen in them according to the taste and opulence of the inmate. There are men here, who make up their minds to consider themselves at home. Their wives, families, and friends come regularly to see them.
From nine in the morning to seven at night the doors are open to visitors. Dinners and meals are cooked inside the walls; and there is only this restriction on the individual's taste or appetite, that the allowance of wine is restricted to a pint a day, and of malt liquor to a quart.
At Whitecross-street, as we shall see by-and-by, a person may elect to diet himself, or accept the county allowance. Here he has no such choice. If he is able to pay his own expenses, he must. Before he can claim the prison diet, he must make oath that he is not worth 101. in all the world, and cannot subsist himself without assistance ; persons making false oaths in this respect are liable to all the pains and penalties denounced by the law against wilful and corrupt perjurers. This is a severe, but whole