The Chronicles of Newgate (Complete)

Library of Alexandria
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IN antiquity and varied interest Newgate prison yields to no place of durance in the world. A gaol has stood on this same site for almost a thousand years. The first prison was nearly as old as the Tower of London, and much older than the Bastille. Hundreds of thousands of Òfelons and trespassersÓ have from first to last been incarcerated within. To many it must have been an abode of sorrow, suffering, and unspeakable woe, a kind of terrestrial inferno, to enter which was to abandon every hope.Imprisonment was often lightly and capriciously inflicted in days before our liberties were fully won, and innumerable victims of tyranny and oppression have been lodged in Newgate. Political troubles also sent their quota. The gaol was the halfway-house to the scaffold or the gallows for turbulent or short-sighted persons who espoused the losing side; it was the starting-place for that painful pilgrimage to the pillory or whipping-post which was too frequently the punishment for rashly uttered libels and philippics against constituted power. Newgate, again, was on the high road to Smithfield; in times of intolerance and fierce religious dissensions numbers of devoted martyrs went thence to suffer for conscienceÕ sake at the stake. For centuries a large section of the permanent population of Newgate, as of all gaols, consisted of offenders against commercial laws. While fraudulent bankrupts were hanged, others more unfortunate than criminal were clapped into gaol to linger out their lives without the chance of earning the funds by which alone freedom could be recovered. Debtors of all degrees were condemned to languish for years in prison, often for the most paltry sums. The perfectly innocent were also detained. Gaol deliveries were rare, and the boon of arraignment and fair trial was strangely and unjustly withheld, while even those acquitted in open court were often haled back to prison because they were unable to discharge the gaolerÕs illegal fees. The condition of the prisoners in Newgate was long most deplorable. They were but scantily supplied with the commonest necessaries of life. Light scarcely penetrated their dark and loathsome dungeons; no breath of fresh air sweetened the fetid atmosphere they breathed; that they enjoyed the luxury of water was due to the munificence of a Lord Mayor. Their daily subsistence was most precarious. Food, clothing, fuel were doled out in limited quantities as charitable gifts; occasionally prosperous citizens bequeathed small legacies to be expended in the same articles of supply. These bare prison allowances were further eked out by the chance seizures in the markets; by bread forfeited as inferior or of light weight, and meat declared unfit to be publicly sold. All classes and categories of prisoners were herded indiscriminately together: men and women, tried and untried, upright but misguided zealots with hardened habitual offenders. The only principle of classification was a prisonerÕs ability or otherwise to pay certain fees; money could purchase the squalid comfort of the masterÕs side, but no immunity from the baleful companionship of felons equally well furnished with funds and no less anxious to escape the awful horror of the common side of the gaol. The weight of the chains, again, which, till quite recently, innocent and guilty alike wore, depended upon the price a prisoner could pay for Òeasement of irons,Ó and it was a common practice to overload a new-comer with enormous fetters and so terrify him into lavish disbursement. The gaol at all times was so hideously overcrowded that plague and pestilence perpetually ravaged it, and the deadly infection often spread into the neighbouring courts of law.
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Publisher
Library of Alexandria
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Published on
Sep 16, 2015
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Pages
750
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ISBN
9781465604163
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Language
English
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Interest in penal matters in Germany and in Austria-Hungary centres rather in the nature and number of persons who commit crimes than the methods pursued in bringing them to justice or the places in which penalties have been imposed. The character and extent of crimes committed from time to time, attracts us more generally than the prisons designed and established for their punishment. This is the more marked because such prisons have not achieved any remarkable prominence or notoriety. They have been for the most part the ordinary institutions used for detention, repression and correction, more noted for the offenders they have held than their own imposing appearance, architectural pretensions, or the changes they have introduced in the administration of justice. Only in more recent years, since so-called penitentiary science has come to the front and the comparative value of prison systems has been much discussed, have certain institutions risen into prominence in Germany and become known as model prisons. These have been erected in various capitals of the empire, to give effect to new principles in force in the administration of justice. Among such places we may specify a few, such as Bruchsal in Baden; the Moabit prison in Berlin; the prison at Zwickau in Saxony; the prisons of Munich and Nürnberg in Bavaria and of Heilbronn in Württemberg. To these may be added the prisons of Stein on the Danube, of Marburg on the Drave, and of Pankraz Nusle near Prague in Austria-Hungary. Many others might be mentioned which have played an important part in the development of penitentiary institutions.

The conflict of opinions as to prison treatment has raged continuously and as yet no uniform plan has been adopted for the whole German Empire. Each of the constituent states of the great aggregate body has maintained its independence in penal matters and the right to determine for itself the best method of punishing crime. At one time, after 1846, the theory of complete isolation was accepted in all German states, although the means to carry it into effect were not universally adopted. Reports from the United States had deeply impressed the authorities with the merits of solitary confinement, among others the well known Professor Mittermaier, one of the most notable judicial authorities of his time. But reaction came with another no less eminent expert, Von Holtzendorff, whose works on prison administration are still held in great esteem. After visiting Ireland, he was won over to the seeming advantages of the progressive system, the gradual change from complete isolation to comparative freedom, and he strongly favoured the policy of cellular imprisonment. His proposals laid hold of the practical German mind, and to-day the scheme of continuous isolation finds little support; it left its mark, however, in several prisons which will be referred to in the following pages. 

 The period in French prison practice treated in this volume is one of transition between the end of the Old Régime and the beginning of the New. It presents first a view of the prisons of the period immediately following the Revolution, and concludes with the consideration of a great model penitentiary, which may be said to be the “last word” in the purely physical aspects of the whole question, while its very perfection of structure and equipment gives rise to important moral questions, which must dominate the future of prison conduct.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the combat with the great army of depredators was unceasingly waged by the champions of law and order in France, to whom in the long run victory chiefly inclined. As yet none of the new views held by prison reformers in other countries had made any progress in France. No ideas of combining coercion with persuasion, of going beyond deterrence by attempting reformation by exhortation; of curing the wrong-doer and weaning him from his evil practices, when once more sent out into the world, obtained in French penology. At that earlier date all the old methods, worked by the same machinery, still prevailed and were, as ever, ineffective in checking crime. An active, and for the most part intelligent police was indefatigable in the pursuit of offenders, who, when caught and sentenced travelled the old beaten track, passing from prison to prison, making long halts at the bagnes and concluding their persistent trespasses upon the guillotine, but that was all.

French prisons long lagged behind advanced practices abroad, not only in respect of their structural fitness and physical condition, but also in the measure in which the method of conducting them effected the morals of those who passed through them. When the question was at last presented, it was considered with the logical thoroughness and carried out with the administrative efficiency characteristic of the French government, when impressed with the necessity for action in any given line.

The question for the French prison authorities—as indeed it is the question of questions for the prison government of all nations—is now: “What can be and shall be done for the reform of the convict rather than for his mere repression and punishment?” The material aspects of the French prison system have attained almost to perfection. These, as well as the moral aspects of the subject, which that very physical perfection inevitably presents, it is the purpose of this volume to consider.

The Rome Express, the direttissimo, or most direct, was approaching Paris one morning in March, when it became known to the occupants of the sleeping-car that there was something amiss, very much amiss, in the car.

The train was travelling the last stage, between Laroche and Paris, a run of a hundred miles without a stop. It had halted at Laroche for early breakfast, and many, if not all the passengers, had turned out. Of those in the sleeping-car, seven in number, six had been seen in the restaurant, or about the platform; the seventh, a lady, had not stirred. All had re‘ntered their berths to sleep or doze when the train went on, but several were on the move as it neared Paris, taking their turn at the lavatory, calling for water, towels, making the usual stir of preparation as the end of a journey was at hand.

There were many calls for the porter, yet no porter appeared. At last the attendant was foundÑlazy villain!--asleep, snoring loudly, stertorously, in his little bunk at the end of the car. He was roused with difficulty, and set about his work in a dull, unwilling, lethargic way, which promised badly for his tips from those he was supposed to serve.

By degrees all the passengers got dressed, all but two,Ñthe lady in 9 and 10, who had made no sign as yet; and the man who occupied alone a double berth next her, numbered 7 and 8.

As it was the porter's duty to call every one, and as he was anxious, like the rest of his class, to get rid of his travellers as soon as possible after arrival, he rapped at each of the two closed doors behind which people presumably still slept.Ê

 The period in French prison practice treated in this volume is one of transition between the end of the Old Régime and the beginning of the New. It presents first a view of the prisons of the period immediately following the Revolution, and concludes with the consideration of a great model penitentiary, which may be said to be the “last word” in the purely physical aspects of the whole question, while its very perfection of structure and equipment gives rise to important moral questions, which must dominate the future of prison conduct.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the combat with the great army of depredators was unceasingly waged by the champions of law and order in France, to whom in the long run victory chiefly inclined. As yet none of the new views held by prison reformers in other countries had made any progress in France. No ideas of combining coercion with persuasion, of going beyond deterrence by attempting reformation by exhortation; of curing the wrong-doer and weaning him from his evil practices, when once more sent out into the world, obtained in French penology. At that earlier date all the old methods, worked by the same machinery, still prevailed and were, as ever, ineffective in checking crime. An active, and for the most part intelligent police was indefatigable in the pursuit of offenders, who, when caught and sentenced travelled the old beaten track, passing from prison to prison, making long halts at the bagnes and concluding their persistent trespasses upon the guillotine, but that was all.

French prisons long lagged behind advanced practices abroad, not only in respect of their structural fitness and physical condition, but also in the measure in which the method of conducting them effected the morals of those who passed through them. When the question was at last presented, it was considered with the logical thoroughness and carried out with the administrative efficiency characteristic of the French government, when impressed with the necessity for action in any given line.

The question for the French prison authorities—as indeed it is the question of questions for the prison government of all nations—is now: “What can be and shall be done for the reform of the convict rather than for his mere repression and punishment?” The material aspects of the French prison system have attained almost to perfection. These, as well as the moral aspects of the subject, which that very physical perfection inevitably presents, it is the purpose of this volume to consider.

The combat with crime is as old as civilization. Unceasing warfare is and ever has been waged between the law-maker and the law-breaker. The punishments inflicted upon criminals have been as various as the nations devising them, and have reflected with singular fidelity their temperaments or development. This is true of the death penalty which in many ages was the only recognized punishment for crimes either great or small. Each nation has had its own special method of inflicting it. One was satisfied simply to destroy life; another sought to intensify the natural fear of death by the added horrors of starvation or the withholding of fluid, by drowning, stoning, impaling or by exposing the wretched victims to the stings of insects or snakes. Burning at the stake was the favourite method of religious fanaticism. This flourished under the Inquisition everywhere, but notably in Spain where hecatombs perished by the autos-da-fŽ or "trials of faith" conducted with great ceremony often in the presence of the sovereign himself. Indeed, so terrible are the records of the ages that one turns with relief to the more humane methods of slowly advancing civilization,Ñthe electric chair, the rope, the garotte, and even to that sanguinary "daughter of the Revolution," "la guillotine," the timely and merciful invention of Dr. Guillotin which substituted its swift and certain action for the barbarous hacking of blunt swords in the hands of brutal or unskilful executioners.

Savage instinct, however, could not find full satisfaction even in cruel and violent death, but perforce must glut itself in preliminary tortures. Mankind has exhausted its fiendish ingenuity in the invention of hideous instruments for prolonging the sufferings of its victims. When we read to-day of the cold-blooded Chinese who condemns his criminal to be buried to the chin and left to be teased to death by flies; of the lust for blood of the Russian soldier who in brutal glee impales on his bayonet the writhing forms of captive children; of the recently revealed torture-chambers of the Yildiz Kiosk where Abdul Hamid wreaked his vengeance or squeezed millions of treasure from luckless foes; or of the Congo slave wounded and maimed to satisfy the greed for gold of an unscrupulous monarch;Ñwe are inclined to think of them as savage survivals in "Darkest Africa" or in countries yet beyond the pale of western civilization. Yet it was only a few centuries ago that Spain "did to death" by unspeakable cruelties the gentle races of Mexico and Peru, and sapped her own splendid vitality in the woeful chambers of the Inquisition. Even as late as the end of the eighteenth century enlightened France was filling with the noblest and best of her land those oubliettes of which the very names are epitomes of woe: La Fin d'Aise, "The End of Ease;" La Boucherie, "The Shambles;" and La Fosse, "The Pit" or "Grave;" in the foul depths of which the victim stood waist deep in water unable to rest or sleep without drowning. Buoyed up by hope of release, some endured this torture of "La Fosse" for fifteen days; but that was nature's limit. None ever survived it longer.

ÊIt will hardly be denied after an impartial consideration of all the facts I shall herein set forth, that the British prison system can challenge comparison with any in the world. It may be no more perfect than other human institutions, but its administrators have laboured long and steadfastly to approximate perfection. Many countries have already paid it the compliment of imitation. In most of the British colonies, the prison system so nearly resembles the system of the mother country, that I have not given their institutions any separate and distinct description.

No doubt different methods are employed in the great Empire of India; but they also are the outcome of experience, and follow lines most suited to the climate and character of the people for whom they are intended. Cellular imprisonment would be impossible in India. Association is inevitable in the Indian prison system. Again, it is the failure to find suitable European subordinate officers that has brought about the employment of the best-behaved prisoners in the discipline of their comrades: a system, as I have been at some pains to point out, quite abhorrent to modern ideas of prison management. As for the retention of transportation by the Indian government, when so clearly condemned at home, it is defensible on the grounds that the penalty of crossing the sea, the "Black Water," possesses peculiar terrors to the Oriental mind; and the Andaman Islands are, moreover, within such easy distance as to ensure their effective supervision and control.

Nearer home, we may see Austria adopting an English method,Ñthe "movable" or temporary prison, by the use of which such works as changing the courses of rivers have been rendered possible and the prison edifices of Lepoglava, Aszod and Kolosvar erected, in imitation of Chattenden, Borstal and Wormwood Scrubs. France has also constructed in the outskirts of Paris a new prison for the department of the Seine, and she may yet find that the British progressive system is more effective for controlling habitual crime than transportation to New Caledonia. In a country where every individual is ticketed and labelled from birth, where police methods are quite despotic, and the law claims the right, in the interests of the larger number, to override the liberty of the subject, the professional criminal might be held at a tremendous disadvantage. It is true that the same result might be expected from the Belgian plan of prolonged cellular confinement; but, as I shall point out, this system is more costly, and can only be enforced with greater or less, but always possible, risks to health and reason.

THE three principal prisons in London in the fourteenth century were the Fleet, the KingÕs Bench and the Marshalsea, but Newgate took precedence in interest because identified with its earliest history. All have their peculiar histories full of interesting associations, replete with memories of famous inmates and striking incidents, and all are worthy of detailed description. All alike received prisoners for debt and on occasion, more heinous offenders, especially in the earlier years of their existence. The old KingÕs Bench was the peculiar prison for the Court of that name, but it also took debtors committed by the Court of Exchequer and the Court of Common Pleas. The Marshalsea Court, so called from having been originally under the control of the Knight Marshal of the Royal Household, was at first intended to settle differences between the lesser servants of the palace, and had its own judge, counsel and attorneys, but none except members of CliffordÕs Inn were permitted to practise in this court. The jurisdiction of this court extended twelve miles round Whitehall, excluding the city of London. It also served the Admiralty Court and received prisoners charged with piracy.

The Fleet prison took its name from the little stream long stigmatised as the ÒFleet Ditch,Ó the open sewer or water-way which rose in the eastern ridge of Hampstead Hill, flowed by ÒOldbourneÓ or Holborn under four bridges to discharge into the Thames on the west side of Blackfriars bridge. As time passed this ditch, after being deepened once or twice to allow for water traffic, became more and more pestilential and was at length filled up and arched over, becoming then the site of Fleet Market in what is now known as Farringdon Street, on which the main gates of the prison opened. The building was of great antiquity and is first mentioned in authentic records about A. D. 1197. A deed of that date granted it to the safe keeping of one Nathaniel de Leveland and his son Robert, in conjunction with the KingÕs Houses at Westminster. It is stated that the Fleet prison had been the inheritance of the Levelands since the time of the Norman Conquest. Four years later this same Robert de Leveland petitioned King John for leave to hand over the wardenship of the Fleet to Simon Fitz-Robert, archdeacon of Wells, while he, Leveland, proceeded with the crusaders to the Holy Land. He returned very shortly afterward, as appears from a grant of moneys made him by the City of London in 1205, his salary for guardianship of the prison. His wife Margaret was also granted an allowance as keeper of the Westminster Royal Houses.

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