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The transportation system was in full operation when the American war of independence broke out, and the markets of crime were suddenly closed. There was then no penal settlement in foreign lands to send offenders to, and the gaols of the mother country were rapidly filled. At that time, moreover, there were in England certain eccentric individuals such as Howard, Blackstone, Eden, and others—who did not believe in the virtues of transportation : they could neither be got to see its justice nor its policy ; and they strove to have an end put to it. Meantime, as the prisons were full, something had to be done in a great hurry to provide accommodation for the surplus. The idea of a ship occurred as a temporary place of confinement—the “ Justitia," an old Indiaman, and the “ Censor,” a frigate, were stationed at Woolwich for the reception of convicts sentenced to transportation. From the first, however, the plan proved a failure. Howard, who visited the establishment frequently, and took a keen interest in the experiment—being desirous that transportation, as it had existed up to his time, should be abolishedspeaks of it with profound sorrow, and condemns it in terms which are the more impressive from his desire not to embarrass the ministers under whose auspices the trial was being made. With Sir William Blackstone, and other penal reformers, Howard wished to have one or two great national penitentiaries established-in which prisoners should undergo a severe discipline of hard labour, mixed with moral and religious instruction and commissioners were appointed to select sites and make preliminary arrangements for carrying that desire into effect; but the ministers of the day were not earnest in their plans of reform—the labours of the commission ended in nothing, and government determined to commence a new series of transportations to Australia.
Meanwhile, the hulk system was continued, notwithstanding that its disastrous consequences soon became patent to all the world : and it still flourishes -if that which only stagnates, debases, and corrupts, can be said to flourish-though condemned by every impartial person who is at all competent to give an opinion on the matter ; and this because the labour of the convicts is found useful and valuable to the government-a very good reason for still employing convict labour upon useful public works, but no reason at all for continuing the hulks in their present wretched condition.
The most cursory inspection of the arsenal and dockyard at Woolwich is conclusive on these two points—the advantage which the state derives, and might derive still more under a better system, from the labour of the convicts, and the vices of their present lodgments. The convicts are seen in various parts of the yard, working in gangs of from fifteen to twenty, under the inspection of an officer and the rifle of a sentinel. They are variously employed : in cleaning and removing shot-in loading and unloading vessels -in carrying coals--in excavating-in conveying timber and other materials to the carpenters and workmen. The labour is of the character denominated “hard ;” and the convict is expected to perform a quantity proportioned to his strength. All this is quite right. The work performed by the convicts is very valuable, being, by those not intimately acquainted with the working of the dockyard system, generally much underrated. So far as the mere employment of the prisoners is concerned, we see little to object to. The principle of working criminals in arsenals and dockyards, upon breakwaters, harbours of refuge, and such like public works, we think quite sound. Such was Howard's conviction, acquired by the most extensive experience of the practical operation of systems of convict employment, identical in principle, in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and France. Such a theory of labour is the essence of Captain Maconochie's plan, and the one best adapted to its practical application.
There are, however, as we have said, the most fatal objections to the hulks themselves. The two chief hulks at present stationed in Woolwich are, the “Warrior,” an old 74-gun ship, lying alongside the dockyard, with which it communicates by a stair, and the “ Justitia,”—not the “ Justitia” of the time of Howard, but another vessel, brought up from Chatham in 1829,-moored about a mile lower down the river, in front of the arsenal. The men on board the “ Warrior,” four hundred and eighty in number, are employed in the dockyard ; those in the “ Justitia” find work in the arsenal. The “ Warrior” is the model hulk ; and to a mere visitor it has an
outward cleanliness of appearance which cannot but mislead one not accustomed to lift the veil which is ingeniously thrown over the more revolting features of the hulk. If he inquire and investigate deeper, he will find that the establishment is far from being healthy, and the rate of mortality from being low. Even the cleanliness that is seen is a sort of accident—a sacrifice to the terrible visitor from the east now upon our shores ; and it is much more apparent than real-more on the outside than the inside
-more in the chapel, on the deck, and in the galleries, than in the dormitories, the clothes, and the bedding—more, in short, in the vessel than in the convicts.
The “Warrior,” as we have before remarked, is clean and tolerably free from offensive effluvia. It has always been the best-conducted hulk in Woolwich. But a few months ago—before the inquiries undertaken at the instance of Mr. Duncombe—we remember how painfully different it was ; even it, the model hulk ! Except under the pressure of some remarkable force—like that now acting upon the minds of all, ministers and officials—hulks cannot be kept in a state fit for the habitation of human beings. Filth and fever and personal uncleanliness seem to be inseparable from them. We write this advisedly, and with all the facts before us. To guard against any suspicion that the evil is exaggerated in order to force attention to it, and in order to show what has been the normal state of the hulks in these respects from the time of Howard downward,
we will quote the sober and reserved language of the government's own report of last year on the condition of the hulks at Woolwich :-"In the hospital ship, the · Unité,' the great majority of the patients were infested with vermin, and their persons, in many instances, particularly their feet, begrimed with dirt. No regular supply of body linen had been issued ; so much so, that many men had been five weeks without a change : and all record had been lost of the time when the blankets had been washed; and the number of sheets was so insufficient, that the expedient had to be resorted to of only a single sheet at a time to save appearances.
Neither towels nor combs were provided for the prisoners' use, and the unwholesome odour from the imperfect and neglected state of the water-closets was almost insupportable. On the admission of new cases into the hospital, patients were directed to leave their beds and go into hammocks, and the new cases were turned into the vacated beds, without changing the sheets." Could any power of language add to this revolting picture ? These are simple facts, as set forth in a public report to the Home Secretary by an official person—one but little inclined to make the worst of what fell under his observation !
Then, with all this neglect of the physical requirements of health and society, what moral discipline is provided ? The decks of the vessels are divided longitudinally into small apartments capable of accommodating messes of from twelve to twenty persons each. Down the centre runs a lobby or passage