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dissenters. His aversion to mix much with promiscuous assemblies was the result of his religious principles and habits, which taught him that this was no very profitable method of spending his time; yet however uncomplying he might be with the freedoms and irregularities of polite life, he was by no means negligent of its received forms; and though he might be denominated a man of scruples and singularities, no one would dispute his claim to the title of a gentleman."
APPOINTED HIGH-SHERIFF OF BEDFORD-COMMENCES AND
COMPLETES HIS SURVEY OF BRITISH PRISONS.
From these details, our readers will be able to fancy Mr Howard as he was in the year 1773—a widower country gentleman, of plain, upright, methodical habits, aged about forty-six; devout and exemplary in his conduct, and a dissenter by profession, but without any strong prejudices for or against any sect; temperate and economical, but the very reverse of parsimonious ; fond of travelling, and exceedingly attentive to what fell under his observation; of a disposition overflowing with kindness at the aspect of a miserable object, and prompting him to go out in search of wretchedness, and to distribute over his whole neighbourhood the means of comfort and happiness. Such was Mr Howard in the year 1773; and if he had then died, his name would never have been so celebrated as it is over the world, but would only have been remembered in the particular district where his lot was cast, as the names of many benevolent landlords and good men are locally remembered all over the country. Fortunately, however, a circumstance happened which opened up for this unostentatious benefactor of a village a career of world-wide philanthropy. This was his election, in the year 1773, to the important office of high-sheriff of the county of Bedford. Regarding the special circumstances which led to his election to such a post, we have no information. It may be mentioned, however, that, in accepting the office, he subjected himself to the liability of a fine of £500—the laws which disqualified dissenters from holding such offices not having been yet repealed, although they were practically set at defiance by the increasing liberality of the age. A story was indeed once current that Mr Howard, on his nomination to the office, stated to Earl Bathurst, then lord chancellor, his scruples about accepting it, arising from the fact of his not being a member of the Church of England; and that Lord Bathurst, in reply, gave him an assurance of indemnification, in case any malicious person should endeavour to put the law in force against him. This story, however, does not appear to have been well-founded.
The duties of a high-sheriff in England are important and various. “To him are addressed the writs commencing all actions, and he returns the juries for the trial of men's lives, liberties, lands, and goods. He executes the judgments of the courts.
In his county he is the principal conservator of the peace. He presides in his own court as a judge; and he not only tries all causes of forty shillings in value, but also questions of larger amount. He presides at all elections of members of parliament and coro
He apprehends all wrongdoers, and for that purpose, in criminal cases, he is entitled to break open outer-doors to seize the offender. 'He defends the county against riot, or rebellion, or invasion. The sheriff takes precedence of all persons in the county. He is responsible for the execution of criminals." He receives and entertains the judges of assize, on whom he is constantly in attendance whilst they remain in his shire. To assist him in the performance of his duties, the sheriff employs an under-sheriff, and also a bailiff and jailers, from whom he takes securities for their good conduct."* Such was the office to which, fortunately for society, Mr Howard was appointed at the annual election of sheriffs in the year 1773.
The office of high-sheriff became a different thing in the hands of such a man as Howard from what it had been before. It was no longer a mere honourable office, all the drudgery of which was performed by the under-sheriff; it was no longer the mere right of going in state twice a-year to meet the judges, and of presiding during the gaieties of an assize-week; it was a situation of real power and laborious well-doing. Already alive to the existence of numerous abuses in prison management—as well by his general information respecting the institutions of the country, as by his own experience of prison life in France seventeen years before he had not been a month in office before all the faculties of his heart and soul were engaged in searching out and dragging into public notice the horrible corruptions and pollutions of the English prison system.
Within Mr Howard's own cognisance as sheriff of Bedfordshire, there were three prisons--the county jail, the county bridewell, and the town jail, all in Bedford; and, as a matter of course, it was with these that his inquiries commenced. Various abuses struck him in their management, particularly in that of the county jail, the accommodations of which, whether for the purposes of work, health, or cleanliness, he found very deficient. But what roused his sense of justice most of all, was to find that the jailer had no salary, and depended for great part of his income on the following clause in the prison regulations :-“All persons that come to this place, either by warrant, commitment, or verbally, must pay, before being discharged, fifteen shillings and fourpence to the jailer, and two shillings to the turnkey" The effect which this and similar exactions from prisoners in the Bedford jail made upon him, will be best learned from his own statement prefixed to his “ Account of the State of Prisons." " The distress of prisoners,” he says, “ of which there are few
* Art. Sheriff Penny Cyclopædia.
who have not some imperfect idea,came more immediately under my notice when I was sheriff of the county of Bedford; and the circumstance which excited me to activity in their behalf was seeing some who, by the verdict of juries, were declared not guilty ---some on whom the grand jury did not find such an appears ance of guilt as subjected them to trial and some whose prosecutors did not appear against them-after having been confined for months, dragged back to jail, and locked up again till they should pay sundry fees to the jailer, the clerk of assize, &c. In order to redress this hardship,” he continues," I applied to the justices of the county for a salary to the jailer in lieu of his fees.." The bench were properly affected with the grievance, and will ing to grant the relief desired; but they wanted a precedent for charging the county with the expense.
With a view to find the precedent required, Mr Howard undertook to visit the jails of some of the neighbouring counties, that he might inquire into the practice adopted there. His first visits were to the jails of Cambridge and Huntingdon; and in the course of the same month-November 1773-he prosecuted his tour through those of the following counties in addition Northampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stafford, Warwick, Worcester, Gloucester, Oxford, and Buckingham. In each and all of these jails he found abuses and grievances; different, inu! deed, in one from what they were in another, and in some fewer: and less shocking than in others, but in all disgraceful to a civilised country. In all of them, the income of the jailer was derived, as at Bedford, from fees exacted from the prisoners, and not from a regular salary; nay, in one of them the sheriff' himself drew fees from the prisoners; and in another, that of Northampton, the jailer, instead of having a salary, paid the county £40 a-year for his office. To enter into the details of his investigations of the abuses of the various prisons above enumerated, as these are given in the first edition of his “ Account of the State of Prisons," would be impossible; suffice it to say, that Mr Howard's reports on the various jails he visited are not mere general assertions that this or that jail was defective in its are rangements, but laborious and minute accounts of the statistics of each-containing, in the briefest possible compass, every circumstance respecting every jail which it could possibly be useful to know. Indeed no parliamentary commission ever presented a more searching, clear, and accurate report than Howard's account of the state of the prisons he visited.
His visits to the jails of the counties adjoining Bedford had only disclosed to him those depths of misery which he was yet to sound. Looking into the prisons,” he says,
" I beheld scenes of calamity which I became daily more and more anxious to alleviate. In order, therefore, to gain a more perfect knowledge of the particulars and extent of it, by various and accurate observation, I visited most of the county jails in England.” This more
extensive tour was begun in December 1773, and by the 17th of that month he had inspected the jails of the counties of Hertford, Berks, Wilts, Dorset, Hants, and Sussex; occupying, therefore, it will be perceived, a much less space of time in his survey than most official commissions, and yet probably doing the work much better. The next six weeks he appears to have spent at Cardington with his son, then about eight years of age, and at home no doubt on his Christmas vacation ; but towards the end of January 1774 his philanthropic tour was resumed. The jails of Rutlandshire were first visited, then those of York: on his journey southward from York he passed through the shires of Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, visiting the prisons of each : a fortnight was then devoted to an examination of the monster prisons of London: from London he set out on a journey to the western counties, inspected the jails of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Hereford, and Monmouth; and, after a short absence, returned to London, having, in the course of three months of expeditious and extensive, but most thorough scrutiny, acquired more knowledge of the state of English prisons than was possessed by any other man. then living. Such is the effect of having a definite object in view, and attending exclusively to it. If we measure ability by mere largeness of intellect, there were undoubtedly hundreds of abler men than Howard then alive in England; but what is the lazy and languid greatness of these intellectual do-nothing's compared with the solid greatness of a man like Howard, who, gifted by God with a melting love for his fellowmen, laboriously and steadily pursued one object, made himself master of one department, and dragged into daylight one class of social abuses till then unknown or unheeded ?
It happened, by a fortunate conjunction, that at the time Mr Howard was pursuing his prison inquiries, a few members of the legislature were interesting themselves in the same subject. In the previous session of parliament a bill had been introduced into the House of Commons by Mr Popham, member for Taunton, proposing the payment of jailers, not by fees from the prisoners, as heretofore, but out of the county rates. The bill had been dropped in committee on the second reading; but the subject of prison management was resumed next session, the principal movers in the inquiry being Mr Popham, and Mr Howard's intimate friends, Mr St John and Mr Whitbread. It would appear that it had been in consequence of consultations with Mr Howard that these gentlemen broached the subject in parliament at so early a period in the session ; at all events, we find Mr Howard, immediately after his return from his western tour, examined before a committee of the whole House regarding his knowledge of the state of English prisons. So full and valuable were the details submitted to the committee by Mr Howard, that on the House being resumed, the chairman of the committee, Sir Thomas Clavering, reported that “ he was directed by the com
mittee to move the House that John Howard, Esq. be called in to the bar, and that Mr Speaker do acquaint him that the House are very sensible of the humanity and zeal which have led him to visit the several jails of this kingdom, and to communicate to the House the interesting observations he has made upon that subject.” The motion passed unanimously; and Mr Howard had, accordingly, the honour of receiving the public thanks of the House for his philanthropic exertions. To show, however, how little the spirit which animated these exertions was understood or appreciated, we may mention that it is related that, during his examination before the committee, one member put the question to him, “At whose expense he travelled ?”
Mr Howard, however, was still only at the commencement of his labours. In the month of March 1774, only a few days after receiving the thanks of the House of Commons, he set out for the extreme north of England, to visit the jails there. In an incredibly short space of time he had traversed the counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancaster, Chester, and Shropshire, visiting the jails in each ; then, after revisiting those of Stafford, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, and Northampton, he returned home to Cardington; from which, after a week's repose, he set out for Kent. With the examination of the jails of Rent, Mr Howard's first survey of the jails of England may be said to have been finished. To give, once for all, an idea of the minute and thorough manner in which he discharged his self-imposed duty, we may quote his remarks on the county jail at Durham. After giving a list of the officials and their salaries, he proceeds thus :-" The high jail is the property of the bishop. By patent from his lordship, Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart. is perpetual sheriff. The court for master's side debtors is only 24 feet by 10: they are permitted sometimes to walk on the leads. They have beds in the upper hall, and in several other rooms. Their rooms should be ceiled, that they might be lime-whited, to prevent infectious disorders, and that great nuisance of bugs, of which the debtors complain much here and at other places. Common side debtors have no court; their free wards, the low jail, are two damp, unhealthy rooms, 10 feet 4 inches square by the gateway; they are never suffered to go out of these except to chapel, which is the master's side debtor's hall; and not always to that: for on a Sunday, when I was there, and missed them at chapel, they told me they were not permitted to go thither. No sewers. At more than one of my visits I learned that the dirt, ashes, &c. had lain there many months. There is a double-barrelled pump, which raises water about 70 feet. Felons have no court; but they have a day-room, and two small rooms for an infirmary. The men are put at night into dungeons: one, 7 feet square, for three prisoners; another, the great hole, 16; feet by 12, has only a little window. In this I saw six prisoners, most of them transports, chained to the floor.