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CHAPTER XV.

Borsemnuger - Laur.

The transpontine portion of the great capital is remarkable for the number and excellence of its public institutions. Every chief thoroughfare, square, or open space, is adorned with one or more of these monuments of a pious and charitable ancestry. Asylums for the deaf and blind-infirmaries for the casual sick—hospitals for the old or hopelessly diseased-alms-houses for the poor—retreats for the unfortunate-houses for the insane—in fact, homes for “all the ills that flesh is heir to” every where abound. This, the distinction of London generally, is pre-eminently the distinction of the Surrey division of it; and, as it is one of the first things to attract the attention of the stranger, so it is also one of the most likely to impress him with a high sense of the public spirit of the nation. Nor is attention confined to the physical and mental wants and ailments of the metropolitans. No; the darker aspects of our moral life have also due provision made for their treatment. There is a prison for the debtor, and a gaol for the criminal. The latter is the object of the present visit.

Horsemonger-lane gaol-situated just outside the borough of Southwark, on the south side of Newington-causeway (entrance in Horsemonger-lane) — is a common gaol for the county of Surrey, under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff and Court of Quarter Sessions, and thirteen visiting magistrates. Pursuant to the Act of Parliament for the better Regulation of Gaols and Houses of Correction, (4 Geo. IV.) these latter make an annual report to the Secretary of State on its condition. To this report we shall have to refer by-and-by.

Horsemonger-lane gaol was built at the suggestion of Howard. It consists of two portions ; the department occupied by debtors, and that occupied by criminals or persons arrested on criminal charges. The general characteristics of a debtors' prison-and they are now tolerably alike—have been described at Whitecross-street and the Queen's Prison, and we will therefore only remark here, that these divisions of Horsemonger-lane gaol are quite distinct, and on no account is any communication permitted between the two orders of detenues.

The reader will remember—the story has been told too often for him not to have heard it—that this is the prison to which Leigh Hunt was committed for calling George IV.“an Adonis of fifty.” It was here that Moore and Byron paid that memorable visit to “ the wit in the dungeon,” when the noble poet saw him for the first time in his life. Times and rules are changed since then : the “luxurious comforts—the trellised flower-garden without, the books busts, pictures, and pianoforte within which Moore deseribes on the occasion when Byron dined with him in the prison, would be looked for in vain now.

There are for criminals ten classes or wards, each ward having its yard and day-room. On entering one of these, the visitor is painfully impressed with the absence of all rule and system in the management. He finds himself in a low, long room, dungeon-like, chilly, not very clean, and altogether as uncomfortable as it can conveniently be made. This room is crowded with thirty or forty persons, of all ages and shades of ignorance and guilt-left to themselves, with no officer in sight. Here there is no attempt to enforce discipline. Neither silence nor separation is maintained in the largest prison in the metropolitan county of Surrey! In this room we see thirty to forty persons with nothing to domany of them know not how to read, and those who do are little encouraged so to improve their time. Some of them clearly prefer their present state of listless idleness : with hands in their pockets, they saunter about their dungeon, or loll upon the floor, listening to the highly-spiced stories of their companions, well content to be fed at the expense of the county—upon a better diet, better cooked, than they are accustomed to at home—without any trouble or exertion on their own part. Conversing with them, we find that a few of these pariahs of civilization hate the listless apathetic bondage in which they are kept ; that they would be glad to have work to do--to get instruction, if they could. But the majority prefer the state of vegetation as more congenial to their cherished habits of inaction. Here they are gratified to their wish.

The report to which we have alluded deplores the fact of an increase of the yearly commitments. Surely this is not a matter to surprise any one who understands the working of the gaol system. We have no hesitation in saying, that, to the worst sort of offenders, Horsemonger-lane gaol presents attractions rather than terrors. The report, which puts every thing in its best light, says the prisoners are employed in “ knitting, netting, oakum-picking, lime-washing, and cleansing the gaol.” The evidence in favour of four out of these five items we see nothing of : the “knitting and netting" may be going on somewhere; but, if so, it is invisibly : we can say that if the "lime-washing and cleansing the gaol” were taken to a little more frequently and earnestly than it appears to be now, with all the boast of the report, it would be all the better for the health of her Majesty's lieges, both within and without the prison walls. Picking oakum-like the tread-wheel, a disgusting employment, which should be reserved as a degrading punishment for the lowest and most intractable offenders—appears to be the only work going on at all on the men's side. Two pounds weight of the material is given to each man as his daily task : by twelve or one o'clock many have finished, and the rest of the day is given up to lazi

The fact is, the old criminals, having been often in gaol, have acquired, by long practice, a knack of getting the oakum through their fingers very quickly. As a punishment, it is very unequal. To the young offender it is a severe punishment, breaking his nails, and tearing the flesh off his fingerends. For the hardened criminal it has no terrors. Under no circumstances is it “ hard labour.” It is quite as sedentary an occupation as writing; but it taxes neither the body nor the brain. At most, it employs the fingers. Idleness, therefore, does not fear it. And, in this large prison, only about half the prisoners have this modicum of work assigned to them. The prisoners for trial, those remanded, and those who are detained for want of sureties, have nothing whatsoever to do! Who can wonder that the commitments increase ?

ness.

All the male wards are like the one described. The same disorder is observable in all—the same contamination is going on in all. As we pass from one room into another, the inmates are heard laughing and shouting; and it is not always possible for the visitor to escape them without insult. Seeing so little work going on—that first great element of reformation-one is anxious to see what provision is made for the second-education. Here, at all events, the inspector imagines something worthy of a distinguished body of philanthropic magistrates will be

The last report says :-“ The prisoners are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic ; Bibles, and other books of a moral nature, are supplied them.” These terms are very precise, and one therefore expects to find a flourishing school-a thing much

seen.

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