SATURDAY, May 3, 1817.
Committee of Aldermen to consider all matters relating to the jails of this city.
Present—The Right Hon. the Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs, and several Aldermen.
The Committee met agreeably to the resolutions of the 29th ult. at the Keeper's House, Newgate, and proceeded from thence, attended by the Sheriffs, to take a view of the jail at Newgate.
The Committee, on viewing that part of it appropriated to the female prisoners, were attended by Mrs. Elizabeth Fry and several other ladies, who explained to the Committee the steps they had adopted to induce the female prisoners to work and to behave themselves in a becoming and orderly manner; and several specimens of their work being inspected, the Committee were highly gratified.
At another place is the following entry. After giving date of meeting, and names of committee present, the minute goes on to say:—
The Committee met at the Mansion House and were attended by Mrs. Elizabeth Fry and two other ladies, who were heard in respect of their suggestions for the better government of the female prisoners in Newgate.
Resolved unanimously: "That the thanks of this Committee be given to Mrs. Fry and the other ladies who have so kindly exerted themselves with a view to bettering the condition of the women confined in the jail in Newgate, and that they be requested to continue their exertions, which have hitherto been attended with good effect."
Mrs. Fry's journals contain very few particulars relating to her work at this precise time. It seemed most agreeable to her to work quietly and unknown as far as the outside public was concerned. But a lady-worker who was in the Association has left on record a manuscript journal from which some extracts may fitly be given here, as they cast valuable light on both the work and workers.
We proceeded to the felons' door, the steps of which were covered with their friends, who were waiting for admission, laden with the various provisions and other articles which they required, either as gifts, or to be purchased, as the prisoners might be able to afford. We entered with this crowd of persons into an ante-room, the walls of which were covered with the chains and fetters suspended in readiness for the criminals. A block and hammer were placed in the centre of it, on which chains were riveted. The room was guarded with blunderbusses mounted on movable carriages. I trembled, and was sick, and my heart sunk within me, when a prisoner was brought forward to have his chain lightened, because he had an inflammation in the ankle. I spoke to him, for he looked dejected and by no means ferocious. The turnkey soon opened the first gate of entrance, through which we were permitted to pass without being searched, in consequence of orders issued by the sheriffs. The crowd waited till the men had been searched by the turnkeys, and the women by a woman stationed for that purpose in the little room by the door of the entrance. These searchers are allowed, if they suspect spirits, or ropes, or instruments of escape to be concealed about the person, to strip them to ascertain the fact. A melancholy detection took place a few days ago. A poor woman had a rope found upon her, concealed for the purpose of liberating her husband, who was then sentenced to death for highway robbery, which sentence was to be put into execution in a few days. She was, of course, taken before a magistrate, and ordered into Newgate to await her trial. She was a young and pretty little Irish woman, with an infant in her arms. After passing the first floor into a passage, we arrived at the place where the prisoners' friends communicate with them. It may justly be termed a sort of iron cage. A considerable space remains between the grating, too wide to admit of their shaking hands. They pass into this from the airing-yard, which occupies the centre of the quadrangle round which the building runs, and into which no persons but the visiting ladies, or the persons they introduce, attended by a turnkey, are allowed to enter. A little lodge, in which an under turnkey sleeps, is also considered necessary to render the entrance secure. This yard was clean, and up and down it paraded an emaciated woman, who gave notice to the women of the arrival of their friends. Most of the prisoners were collected in a room newly appropriated for the purpose of hearing a portion of the Sacred Scriptures read to them, either by the matron or by one of the ladies' committee—which last is far preferable. They assemble when the bell rings, as near nine o'clock as possible, following their monitors or wardswomen to the forms which are placed in order to receive them. I think I can never forget the impression made upon my feelings at this sight. Women from every part of Great Britain, of every age and condition below the lower middle rank, were assembled in mute silence, except when the interrupted breathing of their sucking infants informed us of the unhealthy state of these innocent partakers in their parents' punishments. The matron read; I could not refrain from tears. The women wept also; several were under the sentence of death. Swain, who had just received her respite, sat next me; and on my left hand sat Lawrence, alias Woodman, surrounded by her four children, and only waiting the birth of another, which she hourly expects, to pay the forfeit of her life, as her husband has done for the same crime a short time before.
Such various, such acute, and such new feelings passed through my mind that I could hardly support the reflection that what I saw was only to be compared to an atom in the abyss of vice, and consequently misery, of this vast metropolis. The hope of doing the least lasting good seemed to vanish, and to leave me in fearful apathy. The prisoners left the room in order. Each monitor took charge of the work in her class on retiring. We proceeded to other wards, some containing forgers, coiners, and thieves; and almost all these vices were engrafted on the most deplorable root of sinful dissipation. Many of the women are married; their families are in some instances permitted to be with them, if very young; their husbands, the partners of their crimes, are often found to be on the men's side of the prison, or on their way to Botany Bay....
They appear to be aware of the true value of character, to know what is right, and to forsake it in action. Finding these feelings yet alive, if properly purified and directed it may become a foundation on which a degree of reformation can be built. Thus they conduct themselves more calmly and decently to each other, they are more orderly and quiet, refrain from bad language, chew tobacco more cautiously, surrender the use of the fireplace, permit doors and windows to be opened and shut to air or warm the prison, reprove their children with less violence, borrow and lend useful articles to each other kindly, put on their attire with modesty, and abstain from slanderous and reproachful words.
None among them was so shocking as an old woman, a clipper of the coin of the realm, whose daughter was by her side, with her infant in her arms, which infant had been born in Bridewell; the grandfather was already transported with several branches of his family, as being coiners. The old woman's face was full of depravity. We next crossed the airing-yard, where many persons were industriously engaged at slop-work, for which they are paid, and after receiving what they require, the rest is kept for them by the Committee, who have a receipt-book, where their earning and their expenditure may be seen at any time, by the day or week. On entering the untried wards we found the women very different from those we had just left. They were quarrelling and very disorderly, neither knowing their future fate, nor anything like subordination among one another. It resembles the state of the women on the tried side before the formation of the Visitors' Association. Not a hand was employed, except in mischief. One bold creature was ushered in for committing highway robbery. Many convicts were arriving, just remanded from the Sessions House, and their dark associates received them with applause—such is the unhallowed friendship of sin. We left this revolting scene and proceeded to the school-room, situated on the untried side of the prison for want of room on the tried. The quiet decency of this apartment was quite a relief, for about twenty young women arose on our entrance, and stood with their eyes cast on the ground.
Another extract from the diary of this lady will be found to describe, in graphic terms, the visit to the prison recorded in the Corporation minutes. As one reads the simple and truth-like story, the scene rises before the mind's eye:—the party of gentlemen upon their semi-official visit; the awe-stricken prisoners, scarcely comprehending whether this visit boded ill or well to them; and the little company of quiet, godly, unfashionable Quaker ladies, who were thus "laying hands" upon the lost of their sex, in order to reclaim them. Such a picture might well be transferred to canvas.
Rose early and visited Newgate, where most of the Committee met to receive the Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs, several Aldermen, and some of the Jail Committee. Even the irritable state of city politics does not interfere with this attempt at improvement. The women were assembled as usual, looking particularly clean, and Elizabeth Fry had commenced reading a Psalm, when the whole of this party entered this already crowded room. Her reading was thus interrupted for a short time. She looked calmly on the approaching gentlemen, who, soon perceiving the solemnity of her occupation, stood still midst the multitude, whilst Elizabeth Fry resumed her office and the women their quietude. In an impressive tone she told them she never permitted any trifling circumstance to interrupt the very solemn and important engagement of reading the Holy Scriptures; but in this instance it appeared unavoidable from the unexpected entrance of so many persons, besides which, when opportunity offers, we should pay respect to those in authority over us, to those who administer justice. She thus, with a Christian prudence peculiar to herself, controlled the whole assembly, and subdued the feelings of the prisoners, many of whom were but two well acquainted with the faces of the magistrates, who were themselves touched and astonished at being thus introduced to a state of decorum so new within these walls, and could not help acknowledging how admirably this mode of treatment was adapted to overcome the evil spirit which had so long triumphed there. The usual silence ensued after the reading, then the women withdrew. We could not help feeling particularly glad that the gentlemen were present at the reading. The prisoners crowded around the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs to beg little favors. We had a long conference with these gentlemen relative to this prison and its object, and to the wisest regulations for prison discipline, and the causes of crime. Indeed, we could not have received more kind and devoted attention to what was suggested. Elizabeth Fry's manner seemed to awaken new trains of reflection, and to place the individual value of these poor creatures before them in a fresh point of view. The Sheriffs came to our committee-room. They ordered a cell to be given up to the Committee for the temporary confinement of delinquents; it was to be made to appear as formidable as possible, and we hope never to require it.
The soldiers who guarded Newgate were, at our own request, dismissed. They overlooked the women's wards, and rendered them very disorderly.... I found poor Woodman lying-in in the common ward, where she had been suddenly taken ill; herself and little girl were each doing very well. She was awaiting her execution at the end of the month. What can be said of such sights as these?... I read to Woodman, who is not in the state of mind we could wish for her; indeed, so unnatural is her situation that one can hardly tell how, or in what manner, to meet her case. She seems afraid to love her baby, and the very health which is being restored to her produces irritation of mind.
This last entry furnishes, incidentally, proof of the barbarity of the laws of Christian England at that time. Human life was of no account compared with the robbery of a few shillings, or the cutting down of a tree. This matter of capital punishment, in its turn, attracted the attention of the Quaker community, together with other philanthropic individuals, and the statute book was in time freed from many of the sanguinary enactments which had, prior to that period, disgraced it.
By this time notoriety began to attend Mrs. Fry's labors, and she was complimented and stared at according to the world's most approved fashion. The newspapers noticed her work; the people at Court talked about it; and London citizens began to realize that in this quiet Quakeress there dwelt a power for good. Given an unusual method of doing good, noticed by the high in place and power, together with praise or criticism by the papers, and, like Lord Byron, the worker wakes some morning to find himself or herself famous. But growing fame did not agree with Elizabeth Fry's moral or spiritual nature. She possessed far too noble a soul to be pleased with it; her responsibility and her success, except so far as they affected the waifs she desired to bless, were matters for her own conscience, and her God. She mentioned in her journal her fears whether or not this publicity, and the evident respect paid her by the people in power in the city, might not develop worldly pride of self-exaltation in her. Highly-toned and pure as her spirit was, it shrank from any strain of self-seeking or pride. Only such a spirit could have conceived such a work of usefulness; only such an one could endure the inevitable repulsion which attends such work among the degraded, and conquer.
EVIDENCE BEFORE THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
Public attention was so far aroused on the subject of prison discipline, and the condition of criminals, that a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to examine into evidence respecting the prisons of the metropolis. On the 27th of February, 1818, Mrs. Fry was examined by this Committee, relative to her personal experiences of this work, and her own labors in connection with it. The clear, calm statements made by her before this Committee cast considerable light upon her doings, and the principles upon which she acted. There is no exaggeration, no braggadocio, no flourish of philanthropy,—simply a straightforward story of quiet but persistent endeavors to lessen the human misery within the walls of the prison at Newgate; for, hitherto, her efforts had been confined to that jail.
"Query. You applied to the Committee of the Court of Aldermen?"
"Ans. Not at first; I thought it better to try the experiment for a month, and then to ask them whether they would second us, and adopt our measures as their own; we, therefore, assembled our women, read over our rules, brought them work, knitting, and other things, and our institution commenced; it has now been about ten months. Our rules have certainly been occasionally broken, but very seldom; order has generally been observed. I think I may say we have full power among them, for one of them said it was more terrible to be brought up before me than before the judge, though we use nothing but kindness. I have never punished a woman during the whole time, or even proposed a punishment to them; and yet I think it is impossible in a well-ordered house to have rules more strictly attended to than they are, as far as I order them, or our friends in general. With regard to our work, they have made nearly twenty thousand articles of wearing apparel, the generality of which is supplied by the slop-shops, which pay very little. Excepting three out of this number that were missing, which we really do not think owing to the women, we have never lost a single article. They knit from about sixty to a hundred pairs of stockings and socks every month; they spin a little. The earnings of work, we think, average about eighteenpence per week for each person. This is generally spent in assisting them to live, and helps to clothe them. For this purpose they subscribe out of their small earnings of work about four pounds a month, and we subscribe about eight, which keeps them covered and decent. Another very important point is the excellent effects we have found to result from religious education; our habit is constantly to read the Scriptures to them twice a day. Many of them are taught, and some of them have been enabled to read a little themselves; it has had an astonishing effect. I never saw the Scriptures received in the same way, and to many of them they have been entirely new, both the great system of religion and morality contained in them; and it has been very satisfactory to observe the effect upon their minds. When I have sometimes gone and said it was my intention to read, they would flock up-stairs after me, as if it were a great pleasure I had to afford them."
"You have confined yourself to reading the Scriptures, and pointing out generally the moral lessons that might be derived from them?"
"Yes, generally so."
"Without inculcating any particular doctrine?"
"Nothing but the general Scripture doctrine; in short, they are not capable of receiving any other."
"Nothing but the morals of the Scripture,—the duties towards God and man?"
"That is all; we are very particular in endeavoring to keep close to that. We consider, from the situation we fill, as it respects the public, as well as the poor creatures themselves, that it would be highly indecorous to press any particular doctrine of any kind, anything beyond the fundamental doctrines of Scripture. We have had considerable satisfaction in observing, not only the improved state of the women in the prison, but we understand from the governor and clergyman at the penitentiary, that those who have been under our care are very different from those who come from other prisons. We also may state that when they left Newgate to go to Botany Bay, such a thing was never known in the prison before as the quietness and order with which they left it; instead of tearing down everything, and burning it, it was impossible to leave it more peaceably. And as a proof that their moral and religious instruction have had some effect upon their minds, when those poor creatures were going to Botany Bay, the little fund we allowed them to collect for themselves, in a small box under our care, they entreated might all be given to those that were going, those who remained saying that they wished to give up their little share of the profit to the others."
"Do you know anything of the room and accommodation for the women in 1815?"
"I do not; I did not visit it in that year."
"What was it in 1817?"
"Not nearly room enough. If we had room enough to class them, I think a very great deal more might be accomplished. We labor very much in the day, and we see the fruit of our labor: but if we could separate them in the night, I do think that we could not calculate upon the effect which would be produced."
"At present, those convicted for all offenses pass the day together?"
"Very much so; very much intermixed, old and young, hardened offenders with those who have committed only a minor crime, or the first crime; the very lowest of women with respectable married women and maid-servants. It is more injurious than can be described, in its effects and in its consequences. One little instance to prove how beneficial it is to take care of the prisoners, is afforded by the case of a poor woman, for whom we have obtained pardon (Lord Sidmouth having been very kind to us whenever we have applied for the mitigation of punishment since our committee has been formed). We taught her to knit in the prison; she is now living respectably out of it, and in part gains her livelihood by knitting. We generally endeavor to provide for them in degree when they go out. One poor woman to whom we lent money, comes every week to my house, and pays two shillings, as honestly and as punctually as we could desire. We give part, and lend part, to accustom them to habits of punctuality and honesty."
"Is that woman still in Newgate, whose husband was executed, and she herself condemned to death, having eight children?"
"Has not her character been very materially changed since she has been under your care?"
"I heard her state to a gentleman going through the other day, that it had been a very great blessing to her at Newgate, and I think there has been a very great change in her. Her case is now before Lord Sidmouth, but we could hardly ask for her immediate liberation."
"What reward, or hope of reward, do you hold out?"
"Rewards form one part of our plan. They not only have the earning of their work, but we endeavor to stimulate them by a system of marks. We divide our women into classes, with a monitor over every class, and our matron at the head. It is the duty of every monitor to take up to the matron every night an account of the conduct of her class, which is set down; and if they have a certain number of what we call good marks at the end of any fixed period, they have for rewards such prizes as we think proper to give them—generally small articles of clothing, or Bibles and Testaments."
"Be so good as to state, as nearly as you can, what proportion of the women, without your assistance, would be in a state of extreme want?"
"It is difficult to say; but I think we average the number of eighty tried women. Perhaps out of that number twenty may live very well, twenty very badly, and the others are supported by their friends in some degree. When I say twenty who live very well, I mention, perhaps, too large a number—perhaps not above ten. I think their receiving support from out-of-doors is most injurious, as it respects their moral principles, and everything else, as it respects the welfare of the city. There are some very poor people who will almost starve at home, and be induced to do that which is wrong, in order to keep their poor relations who are in prison. It is an unfair tax on such people; in addition to which, it keeps up an evil communication, and, what is more, I believe they often really encourage the crime by it for which they are put into prison; for these very people, and especially the coiners and passers of bank-notes, are supported by their associates in crime, so that it really tends to keep up their bad practices."
"Do you know whether there is any clothing allowed by the city?"
"Not any. Whenever we have applied or mentioned anything about clothing, we have always found that there was no other resource but our own, excepting that the sheriffs used to clothe the prisoners occasionally. Lately, nobody has clothed them but ourselves; except that the late sheriffs sent us the other day a present of a few things to make up for them."
"There is no regular clothing allowed?"
"It appears to me that there is none of any kind."
"Have you never had prisoners there who have suffered materially for want of clothing?"
"I could describe such scenes as I should hardly think it delicate to mention. We had a woman the other day, on the point of lying-in, brought to bed not many hours after she came in. She had hardly a covering; no stockings, and only a thin gown. Whilst we are there, we can never see a woman in that state without immediately applying to our fund."
"When they come in they come naked, almost?"
"Yes, this woman came in, and we had to send her up almost every article of clothing, and to clothe her baby. She could not be tried the next sessions, but after she had been tried, and when she was discharged, she went out comfortably clothed; and there are many such instances."
"Has it not happened that when gentlemen have come in to see the prison, you have been obliged to stand before the women who were in the prison in a condition not fit to be seen?"
"Yes, I remember one instance in which I was obliged to stand before one of the women to prevent her being seen. We sent down to the matron immediately to get her clothes."
"How long had the woman been in jail?"
"Not long; for we do not, since we have been there, suffer them to be a day without being clothed?"
"What is the average space allowed to each woman to lie upon, taking the average number in the prison?"
"I cannot be accurate, not having measured; from eighteen inches to two feet, I should think."
"By six feet?"
"Yes. I believe the moral discipline of a prison can never be complete while they are allowed to sleep together in one room. If I may be allowed to state it, I should prefer a prison where women were allowed to work together in companies, under proper superintendence; to have their meals together, and their recreation also; but I would always have them separated in the night. I believe it would conduce to the health both of body and mind. Their being in companies during the day, tends, under proper regulations, to the advancement of principle and industry, for it affords a stimulus. I should think solitary confinement proper only in atrocious cases. I would divide every woman for a few weeks, until I knew what they were, but I would afterwards regulate them as I have before mentioned."
"Has gaming entirely ceased?"
"It has of late: they have once been found gaming since we had care of the prison, but I called the women up when I found that some of them had been playing at cards, and represented to them how much I objected to it, and how evil I thought its consequence was, especially to them; at the same time I stated that if there were cards in the prison, I should consider it a proof of their regard if they would have the candor and the kindness to bring me their packs. I did not expect they would do it, for they would feel they had betrayed themselves by it; however, I was sitting with the matron, and heard a gentle tap at the door, and in came a trembling woman to tell me she had brought her pack of cards, that she was not aware how wrong it was, and hoped I would do what I liked with them. In a few minutes another came up, and in this way I had five packs of cards burnt. I assured them that so far from its being remembered against them, I should remember them in another way. I brought them a present of clothing for what they had done, and one of them, in a striking manner, said she hoped I would excuse her being so forward, but, if she might say it, she felt exceedingly disappointed; she little thought of having clothing given her, but she had hoped I would give her a Bible, that she might read the Scriptures. This had been one of the worst girls, and she had behaved so very badly upon her trial that it was almost shameful. She conducted herself afterwards in so amiable a manner, that her conduct was almost without a flaw. She is now in the Penitentiary, and, I hope, will become a valuable member of society."
"You have stated three things which to your mind are essential to the reformation of a prison: first, religious instruction; secondly, classification; thirdly, employment. Do you think that any reformation can be accomplished without employment?"
"I should believe it impossible; we may instruct as we will, but if we allow them their time, and they have nothing to do, they must naturally return to their evil practices."
"How many removals of female prisoners have you had in the last year, in Newgate; how many gone to Botany Bay?"
"Eighteen women; and thirty-seven to the Penitentiary."
"Can you state out of what number of convicts these have been in the course of a year?"
"I do not think I can; but, of course, out of many hundreds."
"In fact, has there been only one regular removal within the last year?"
"But one. There is one very important thing which ought to be stated on the subject of women taking care of women. It has been said that there were three things which were requisite in forming a prison that would really tend to the reformation of the women; but there is a fourth, viz: that women should be taken care of entirely by women, and have no male attendants, unless it be a medical man or any minister of religion. For I am convinced that much harm arises from the communication, not only to the women themselves, but to those who have the care of them."
"In the present arrangement is it not so with regard to the women?"
"It is very nearly so; but if I had a prison completely such as I should like it, it would be a prison quite apart from the men's prison, and into which neither turnkeys nor anyone else should enter but female attendants and the Inspecting Committee of Ladies, except, indeed, such gentlemen as come to look after their welfare."
"In what does the turnkey interfere now with the prison?"
"Very little; and yet there is a certain intercourse which it is impossible for us to prevent. And it must be where there is a prison for women and men, and there are various officers who are men in the prison; it is impossible that they should be entirely separate. In the present state of Newgate such a plan as I have in my mind respecting the proper management of women prisoners cannot be put into execution. We must have turnkeys and a governor to refer to; but I should like to have a prison which had nothing to do with men, except those who attended them spiritually or medically."
"Do you believe men to be as much excluded from all communication with the women now as is possible in the present state of Newgate?"
"Yes, I think very nearly so. My idea with regard to the employment of women is, that it should be a regular thing undertaken by Government, considering (though, perhaps, I am not the person to speak of that) that there are so many to provide for; there is the army and navy, and so many things to provide for them; why should not the Government make use of the prisoners? But I consider it of the utmost importance, and quite indispensable for the conduct of these institutions, that the prisoners should have part of the earnings of their work for their own use; a part they might be allowed to take for tea, sugar, etc., but a part should be laid by that there maybe some provision for them when they leave the prison, without their returning to their immoral practices. This is the case, I believe, in all prisons well regulated, both on the continent of Europe and America. In a prison under proper regulation, where they had very little communication with their friends, where they were sufficiently well fed and clothed, constantly employed and instructed, and taken care of by women, I have not the least doubt that wonders would be performed, and that many of those, now the most profligate and worst of characters, would turn out valuable members of society. After having said what I have respecting the care of women, I will just add that I believe that if there were a prison fitted up for us, which we might visit as inspectors, if employment were found for our women, little or no communication with the city, and room given to class them, with female servants only, if there were a thousand of the most unruly women they would be in excellent order in one week; of that I have not the least doubt."
The natural consequence of this evidence was increased publicity and increased usefulness; the first to Mrs. Fry's sorrow, and the second to her great joy. Much as she desired to work in secret, it was not possible; nor, all things considered, was it for the best that she should do so. The prison reform which she desired to see carried out was destined to cover, and indeed, required a larger area than she could obtain. But the fame of her improvements at Newgate, the tales of lions being turned into lambs, and sinners into saints, by the exertions of this woman and her band of helpers, caught the ear and thrilled the heart of the public. The excitement produced among the community deepened and intensified as more of the work became revealed. Representatives of every class in society visited the gloomy precincts of Newgate, in order to see and hear for themselves how far these wonders extended, while at every hospital and fashionable board the theme was ever the same. At one time Mrs. Fry was at Newgate in company with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other celebrities; while at another time she appeared at the Mansion House, honored by royalty, the "observed of all observers." The Queen of England, among others, was anxious to see and converse with the woman who had with such quiet power succeeded in solving a great social problem, and that where municipal authorities had failed.
Mrs. Fry, although belonging to that religious community which takes not off the hat to royalty, possessed loyal feelings. Therefore, when Queen Charlotte commanded her to appear at the Mansion House, in order to be formerly presented to her, with true womanly grace and respect she hastened to obey. It was intended that the presentation should have taken place in the drawing-room, but by some mistake Mrs. Fry was conducted to the Egyptian Hall, where a number of school-children were waiting to be examined. Mrs. Fry occupied a post near the platform; and after a little time the Queen, now aged and infirm, perceived her. As soon as the examination of the children was over she advanced to Mrs. Fry. Her Majesty's small figure, her dress blazing with diamonds, her courtesy and kindness as she spoke to the now celebrated Quakeress, who stood outwardly calm in the costume of her creed, and just a little flushed with the unwonted excitement, attracted universal homage. Around stood several bishops, peers, and peeresses; the hall was filled with spectators, while outside the crowd surged and swayed as crowds are wont to do. For a few moments the two women spoke together; then the strict rules of etiquette were overcome by the enthusiasm of the assembly and a murmur of applause, followed by a ringing English cheer, went up. This cheer was repeated by the crowd outside, again and again, while the most worldly butterfly that ever buzzed and fluttered about a court learnt that day that there was in goodness and benevolence something better than fashion and nobler than rank. This was almost, if not quite, Queen Charlotte's last public appearance; she very soon afterwards passed to her rest, "old and full of days."
Ever true to her own womanly instincts, we find Mrs. Fry lamenting, in her journal, that herself and the prison are becoming quite a show; yet, on the other hand, she recognized the good of this inconvenience, inasmuch as the work spread among all classes of society. Various opinions were passed upon her, and on one occasion a serious misunderstanding with Lord Sidmouth, respecting a case of capital punishment, severely tried her constancy. Some carping critics found fault, others were envious, others censorious and shallow; but neither good report nor evil report moved her very greatly, although possibly at times they were the subject of much inward struggle.
This question of Prison Reform at last reached Parliament. In June, 1818, the Marquis of Lansdowne moved an address to the Prince Regent, asking an inquiry into the state of the prisons of the United Kingdom. He made a remarkable speech, quoting facts relating to the miseries of the jails, and concluded with a high eulogium on Mrs. Fry's labors among the criminals of Newgate, giving her the title "Genius of Good." This step drew public attention still more to the matter and prison-visiting and prison reform became the order of the day. As public attention had been aroused, and public sympathy had been gained for the cause, it is not wonderful that beneficial legislative measures were at last carried.
Meanwhile the ladies continued their good work. It was one of the cardinal points of their creed, that it was not good for the criminals to have much intercourse with their friends outside. In past times unlimited beer had been carried into Newgate; at least the quantity so disposed of was only limited by the amount of ready cash or credit at the disposal of the criminals and their friends. This had been stopped with the happiest results, and now it seemed time to adopt some measures which should secure some little additional comfort for the prisoners. In order to effect this a sub-matron, or gate-keeper, was engaged, who assisted in the duties at the lodge, and kept a small shop "between gates," where tea, sugar, and other little comforts could be purchased by the prisoners out of their prison earnings. This step was a successful one, for with the decrease of temptation from without, came an increase of comfort from within, provided they earned money and obeyed rules. Plenty of work could be done, seeing that they all required more or less clothing, while Botany Bay could take any number of garments to be utilized for the members of the penal settlement there.
Two months after Lord Lansdowne's motion was made in Parliament, Mrs. Fry, together with Joseph John Gurney, his wife, and her own daughter, Rachel, went into Scotland on a religious and philanthropic tour. The chief object of this journey seems to have been the visitation of Friends' Meetings in that part of the kingdom; but the prison enterprise was by no means forgotten. In her journal she records visits to meetings of Friends held at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Knowsley. At the latter place they were guests of the Earl of Derby, and much enjoyed the palatial hospitality which greeted them. They made a point of visiting most of the jails and bridewells in the towns through which they passed, finding in some of them horrors far surpassing anything that Newgate could have shown them even in its unreformed days. At Haddington four cells, allotted to prisoners of the tramp and criminal class, were "very dark, excessively dirty, had clay floors, no fire-places, straw in one corner for a bed, and in each of them a tub, the receptacle for all filth." Iron bars were used upon the prisoners so as to become instruments of torture. In one cell was a poor young man who was a lunatic—whence nobody knew. He had been subject to the misery and torture of Haddington jail for eighteen months, without once leaving his cell for an airing. No clothes were allowed, no medical man attended those who were incarcerated, and a chaplain never entered there, while the prison itself was destitute of any airing-yard. The poor debtors, whether they were few or many, were all confined in one small cell not nine feet square, where one little bed served for all.
At Kinghorn, Fifeshire, a young laird had languished in a state of madness for six years in the prison there, and had at last committed suicide. Poor deranged human nature flew to death as a remedy against torture. At Forfar, prisoners were chained to the bedstead; at Berwick, to the walls of their cells; and at Newcastle to a ring in the floor. The two most objectionable features in Scotch prisons, as appears from Mr. Gurney's "Notes" of this tour, were the treatment of debtors, and the cruelties used to lunatics. Both these classes of individuals were confined as criminals, and treated with the utmost cruelty.
According to Scotch law, the jailer and magistrates who committed the debtor became responsible for the debt, supposing the prisoner to have effected his escape. Self-interest, therefore, prompted the adoption of cruel measures to ensure the detention of the unfortunate debtor; while helpless lunatics were wholly at the mercy of brutalized keepers who were responsible to hardly any tribunal. Of the horrors of that dark, terrible time within those prison-walls, few records appear; few cared to probe the evil, or to propose a remedy. The archives of Eternity alone contain the captive's cries, and the lamentations of tortured lunatics. Only one Eye penetrated the dungeons; one Ear heard. Was not Elizabeth Fry and her coadjutors doing a god-like work? And when she raised the clarion cry that Reformation, not Revenge, was the object of punishment, she shook these old castles of Giant Despair to their foundations.
THE GALLOWS AND ENGLISH LAWS.
About this period the subject of Capital Punishment largely attracted Mrs. Fry's attention. The attitude of Quakers generally towards the punishment of death, except for murder in the highest degree, was hostile; but Mrs. Fry's constant intercourse with inmates in the condemned cell fixed her attention in a very painful manner upon the subject. For venial crimes, men and women, clinging fondly to life, were swung off into eternity; and neither the white lips of the philanthropist, nor the official ones of the appointed chaplain, could comfort the dying. Among these dying ones were many women, who were executed for simply passing forged Bank of England notes; but as the bank had plenary powers to arrange to screen certain persons who were not to die, these were allowed to get off with a lighter punishment by pleading "Guilty to the minor count." The condemned cell was never, however, without its occupant, nor the gallows destitute of its prey. So Draconian were the laws of humane and Christian England, at this date, that had they been strictly carried out, at least four executions daily, exclusive of Sundays, would have taken place in this realm.
According to Hepworth Dixon, and contemporary authorities, the sanguinary measures of the English Government for the punishment of crimes dated from about the time of the Jacobite rebellion, in 1745. Prior to that time, adventurers of every grade, the idle, vicious, and unemployed, had found an outlet for their turbulence and their energies in warfare—engaging on behalf of the Jacobites, or the Government, according as it suited their fancy. But when the House of Hanover conquered, and the trade of war became spoiled within the limits of Great Britain, troops of these discharged soldiers took to a marauding life; the high roads became infested with robbers, and crimes of violence were frequent. Alarmed at the license displayed by these Ishmaelites, the Government of the day arrayed its might against them, enacting such sanguinary measures that at first sight it seemed as if the deliberate intent were to literally cut them off and root them out from the land. That era was indeed a bloodthirsty one in English jurisprudence.
Enactments were passed in the reign of the second George, whereby it was made a capital crime to rob the mail, or any post-office; to kill, steal, or drive away any sheep or cattle, with intention to steal, or to be accessory to the crime. The "Black Act," first passed in the reign of George I., and enlarged by George II., punished by hanging, the hunting, killing, stealing, or wounding any deer in any park or forest; maiming or killing any cattle, destroying any fish or fish-pond, cutting down or killing any tree planted in any garden or orchard, or cutting any hop-bands in hop plantations. Forgery, smuggling, coining, passing bad coin, or forged notes, and shop-lifting; all were punishable by death. From a table published by Janssen, and quoted from Hepworth Dixon, we find that in twenty-three years, from 1749 to 1771, eleven hundred and twenty-one persons were condemned to death in London alone. The offenses for which these poor wretches received sentence included those named above, in addition to seventy-two cases of murder, two cases of riot, one of sacrilege, thirty-one of returning from transportation, and four of enlisting for foreign service. Of the total number condemned, six hundred and seventy-eight were actually hanged, while the remainder either died in prison, were transported, or pardoned. As four hundred and one persons were transported, a very small number indeed obtained deliverance either by death or pardon. In fact, scarcely any extenuating circumstances were allowed; so that in some cases cruelty seemed actually to have banished justice. It is recorded, as one of these cases, that a young woman with a babe at the breast, was hanged for stealing from a shop a piece of cloth of the value of five shillings. The poor woman was the destitute wife of a young man whom the press-gang had captured and carried off to sea, leaving her and her babe to the mercy of the world. Utterly homeless and starving, she stole to buy food; but a grateful country requited the services of the sailor-husband by hanging the wife.
The certainty of punishment became nullified by the severity of the laws. Humane individuals hesitated to prosecute, especially for forgery; while juries seized upon every pretext to return verdicts of "Not guilty." Reprieves were frequent, for the lives of many were supplicated, and successfully; so that the death-penalty was commuted into transportation. Caricaturists, writers, philanthropists, divines—all united in the chorus of condemnation against the bloody enactments which secured such a crop for the gallows. Men, women, girls, lads and idiots, all served as food for it. Jack Ketch had a merry time of it, while society looked on well pleased, for the most part. Those appointed to sit in the seat of justice sometimes defended this state of things. One of the worthies of the "good old times"—Judge Heath—notorious because of his partiality for hanging, is reported to have said: "If you imprison at home, the criminal is soon thrown back upon you hardened in guilt. If you transport you corrupt infant societies, and sow the seeds of atrocious crimes over the habitable globe. There is no regenerating a felon in this life. And, for his own sake, as well as for the sake of society, I think it better to hang."
As a caricaturist George Cruikshank entered the field, and waged battle on behalf of the poor wretches who swung at the gallows for passing forged Bank of England notes. He drew a note resembling the genuine one, and entitled it "Bank note, not to be imitated." A copy of this caricature now lies before us. It bears on its face a representation of a large gallows, from which eleven criminals, three of whom are women, are dangling, dead. In the upper left hand corner, Britannia is represented as surrounded by starving, wailing creatures, and surmounted by a hideous death's head. Underneath is a rope coiled around the portraits of twelve felons who have suffered; while, running down, to form a border, are fetters arranged in zig-zag fashion. Across the note run these words, "Ad lib., ad lib., I promise to perform during the issue of Bank notes easily imitated, and until the resumption of cash payments, or the abolition of the punishment of death, for the Governors and Company of the Bank of England.—J. KETCH." The note is a unique production, and must have created an enormous sensation. Cruikshank's own story, writing in 1876, is this:—
Fifty-eight years back from this date there were one-pound Bank of England notes in circulation, and, unfortunately, many forged notes were in circulation also, or being passed, the punishment for which offense was in some cases transportation, in others DEATH. At this period, having to go early to the Royal Exchange one morning, I passed Newgate jail, and saw several persons suspended from the gibbet; two of these were women who had been executed for passing one-pound forged notes.
I determined, if possible, to put a stop to such terrible punishments for such a crime, and made a sketch of the above note, and then an etching of it.
Mr. Hone published it, and it created a sensation. The Directors of the Bank of England were exceedingly wroth. The crowd around Hone's shop in Ludgate Hill was so great that the Lord Mayor had to send the police to clear the street. The notes were in such demand that they could not be printed fast enough, and I had to sit up all one night to etch another plate. Mr. Hone realized above L700, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that no man or woman was ever hanged after this for passing one-pound Bank of England notes.
The issue of my "Bank Note note not to be Imitated" not only put a stop to the issue of any more Bank of England one-pound notes, but also put a stop to the punishment of death for such an offense—not only for that, but likewise for forgery—and then the late Sir Robert Peel revised the penal code; so that the final effect of my note was to stop hanging for all minor offenses, and has thus been the means of saving thousands of men and women from being hanged.
It may be that the great caricaturist claims almost too much when he says that the publication of his note eventually stopped hanging for all minor offenses; but certainly there is no denying that this publication was an important factor in the agitation.
It is said that George III. kept a register of all the cases of capital punishment, that he entered in it all names of felons sentenced to death, with dates and particulars of convictions, together with remarks upon the reasons which induced him to sign the warrants. It is also said that he frequently rose from his couch at night to peruse this fatal list, and that he shut himself up closely in his private apartments during the hours appointed for the execution of criminals condemned to death.
Tyburn ceased to be the place of execution for London in 1783; from that year Newgate witnessed most of these horrors.
Philanthropists of every class were, at the period of Mrs. Fry's career now under review, considering this matter of capital punishment, and taking steps to restrain the infliction of the death penalty. The Gurney family among Quakers, William Wilberforce, Sir James Mackintosh, Sir Samuel Romilly, and others, were all working hard to this end. In 1819 William Wilberforce presented a petition from the Society of Friends to Parliament against death punishment for crimes other than murder. Writing at later dates upon this subject, Joseph John Gurney says: "I cannot say that my spirit greatly revolts against life for life, though capital punishment for anything short of this appears to me to be execrable." And, again, "I cannot in conscience take any step towards destroying the life of a fellow-creature whose crime against society affects my property only. I am in possession, like other men, of the feelings of common humanity, and to aid and abet in procuring the destruction of any man living would be to me extremely distressing and horrible." As a banker, Mr. Gurney felt that the punishment for forgery should be heavy and sharp, but less than death. In the Houses of Parliament various efforts were made to obtain the commutation of the death penalty, and when in 1810 the Peers rejected Sir Samuel Romilly's bill to remove the penalty for shop-lifting, the Dukes of Sussex and Gloucester joined some of the Peers in signing a protest against the law. The time appeared to be ripe for agitation; all classes of society reverenced human life more than of old, and desired to see it held less cheap by the ministers of justice.
According to Mrs. Fry's experience, the punishment of death tended neither to the security of the people, the reformation of any prisoner, nor the diminution of crime. Felons who suffered death for light offenses looked upon themselves as martyrs—martyrs to a cruel law—and believed that they had but to meet death with fortitude to secure a blissful hereafter. This fearful opiate carried many through the terrible ordeal outwardly calm and resigned.
Among the condemned ones was Harriet Skelton, a woman who had been detected passing forged Bank of England notes. She was described as prepossessing, "open, confiding, expressing strong feelings on her countenance, but neither hardened in depravity nor capable of cunning." Her behavior in prison was exceptionally good; so good, indeed, that some of the depraved inmates of Newgate supposed her to have been condemned to death because of her fitness for death. She had evidently been more sinned against than sinning; the man whom she lived with, and who was ardently loved by her, had used her as his instrument for passing these false notes. Thus she had been lured to destruction.
After the decision had been received from the Lords of the Council, Skelton was taken into the condemned cell to await her doom. To this cell came numerous visitors, attracted by compassion for the poor unfortunate who tenanted it, and each one eager to obtain the commutation of the cruel sentence. It was one thing to read of one or another being sentenced to death, but quite another to behold a woman, strong in possession of, and desire for life, fated to be swung into eternity before many days because of circulating a false note at the behest of a paramour. Mrs. Fry needed not the many persuasions she received to induce her to put forth the most unremitting exertions on behalf of Skelton. She obtained an audience of the Duke of Gloucester, and urged every circumstance which could be urged in extenuation of the crime, entreating for the woman's life. The royal duke remembered the old days at Norwich, when Elizabeth had been know in fashionable society and had figured somewhat as a belle, and he bent a willing ear to her request. He visited Newgate, escorted by Mrs. Fry, and saw for himself the agony in that condemned cell. Then he accompanied her to the bank directors, and applied to Lord Sidmouth personally, but all in vain. It was not blood for blood, nor life for life, but blood for "filthy lucre;" so the poor woman was hung in obedience to the inexorable ferocity of the law and its administrators.
On this occasion Mrs. Fry was seriously distressed in mind. She had vehemently entreated for the poor creature's life, stating that she had had the offer of pleading guilty only to the minor count, but had foolishly rejected it in hope of obtaining a pardon. The question at issue on this occasion was the power of the bank directors to virtually decide as to the doom of the accused ones. Mrs. Fry made assertions and gave instances which Lord Sidmouth assumed to doubt. Further than this, he was seriously annoyed at the noise this question of capital punishment was making in the land, and though not necessarily a cruel or blood-thirsty man, the Home Secretary shrank from meddling too much with the criminal code of England. This misunderstanding was a source of deep pain to the philanthropist, and, accompanied by Lady Harcourt, she endeavored to remove Lord Sidmouth's false impressions, but in vain. While smarting under this wound, received in the interests of humanity, she had to go to the Mansion House by command of Her Majesty Queen Charlotte, to be presented. Thus, very strangely, and against her will, she was thrust forward into the very foremost places of public observation and repute. She recorded the matter in her journal, in her own characteristic way:—
"Yesterday I had a day of ups and downs, as far as the opinions of man are concerned, in a remarkable degree. I found that there was a grievous misunderstanding between Lord Sidmouth and myself, and that some things I had done had tried him exceedingly; indeed, I see that I have mistaken my conduct in some particulars respecting the case of poor Skelton, and in the efforts made to save her life, I too incautiously spoke of some in power. When under great humiliation in consequence of this, Lady Harcourt, who most kindly interested herself in the subject, took me with her to the Mansion House, rather against my will, to meet many of the royal family at the examination of some large schools. Among the rest, the Queen was there. There was quite a buzz when I went into the Egyptian Hall, where one or two thousand people were collected; and when the Queen came to speak to me, which she did very kindly, I am told that there was a general clapp. I think I may say this hardly raised me at all; I was so very low from what had occurred before.... My mind has not recovered this affair of Lord Sidmouth, and finding that the bank directors are also affronted with me added to my trouble, more particularly as there was an appearance of evil in my conduct; but, I trust, no greater fault in reality than a want of prudence in that which I expressed."
The Society of Friends had always been opposed to capital punishment. Ten years previously, Sir Samuel Romilly had determined to attack these sanguinary enactments, one by one, in order to ensure success. He began, therefore, with the Act of Queen Elizabeth, "which made it a capital offense to steal privately from the person of another." William Alien records in the same year, 1808, the formation of a "Society for Diffusing Information on the Subject of Punishment by Death." This little band worked with Sir Samuel until his painful death in 1818; while Dr. Parr, Jeremy Bentham, and Dugald Stewart aided the enterprise by words of encouragement, both in public and in private. In Joseph John Gurney's Memoirs, it is stated that Dr. Lushington declared his opinion that the poor criminal was thus hurried out of life and into eternity by means of the perpetration of another crime far greater, for the most part, than any which the sufferer had committed.
The feeling grew, and in place of the indifference and scorn of human life which had formerly characterized society, there sprang up an eager desire to save life, except for the crime of murder. In May, 1821, Sir James Mackintosh introduced a bill for "Mitigating the Severity of Punishment in Certain Cases of Forgery, and Crimes connected therewith." Buxton, in advocating this measure, says truly:
The people have made enormous strides in all that tends to civilize and soften mankind, while the laws have contracted a ferocity which did not belong to them in the most savage period of our history; and, to such extremes of distress have they proceeded that I do believe there never was a law so harsh as British law, or so merciful and humane a people as the British people. And yet to this mild and merciful people is left the execution of that rigid and cruel law.
This measure was defeated, but the numbers of votes were so nearly equal, that the defeat was actually a victory.
Time went on. In 1831, Sir Robert Peel took up the gauntlet against capital punishment, and endeavored to induce Parliament to abolish the death-penalty for forgery; the House of Commons voted its abolition, but the Lords restored the clauses retaining the penalty. One thousand bankers signed a petition praying that the vote of the Commons might be sustained, but in vain; still, in deference to public opinion, after this the death-penalty was not inflicted upon a forger. Nevertheless, there remained plenty of food for the gallows. An incendiary, as well as a sheep-stealer, was liable to capital punishment; and so severely was the law strained upon these points, that he who set fire to a rick in a field, as well as he who found a half-dead sheep and carried it home, was condemned without mercy. But the advocates of mercy continued their good work until, finally, the gallows became the penalty for only those offenses which concerned human life and high treason.
CONVICT SHIPS AND CONVICT SETTLEMENTS.
More work opened before the indefatigable worker. Frequently batches of female convicts were despatched to New South Wales, and, according to the custom at Newgate, departure was preceded by total disregard of order. Windows, furniture, clothing, all were wantonly destroyed; while the procession from the prison to the convict ship was one of brutal, debasing riot. The convicts were conveyed to Deptford, in open wagons, accompanied by the rabble and scum of the populace. These crowds followed the wagons, shouting to the prisoners, defying all regulations, and inciting them to more defiance of rules. Some of the convicts were laden with irons; others were chained together by twos. Mrs. Fry addressed herself first to the manner of departure, and, rightly judging that the open wagons conduced to much disorder, prevailed on the governor of Newgate to engage hackney-coaches for the occasion. Further, she promised the women that, provided they would behave in an orderly manner, she, together with a few other ladies, would accompany them to the ship. Faithful to her promise, her carriage closed the line of hackney-coaches; three or four ladies were with her, and thus, in a fashion at once strangely quiet and novel, the transports reached the place of embarkation.
There were one hundred and twenty-eight convicts that day; no small number upon which to experimentalize. As soon as they reached the ship they were herded together below decks like so many cattle, with nothing to do but to curse, swear, fight, recount past crimes, relate foul stories, or plot future evil. True, there was some attempt at order and classification, for they were divided into messes of six each, and Mrs. Fry eagerly seized upon this arrangement to form a basis of control. She proposed to the convicts that they should be arranged in classes of twelve, according to ages and criminality; to this they assented. A class thus furnished two messes, while over each class was placed one of the most steady convicts, in order to enforce the rules as much as possible. She provided in this way for superintendence.
The next arrangement concerned work for the women, and instruction for the children. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do;" accordingly the ladies looked about for plans and methods whereby the enforced weariness of a long voyage should be counteracted. They had heard that patch-work and fancy-work found a ready sale in New South Wales, so they hit upon a scheme which should ensure success in more ways than one. Having made known their dilemma, and their desires, they were cheered by receiving from some wholesale houses in London sufficient remnants of cotton print and materials for knitting to furnish all the convicts with work. There was ample time to perfect all arrangements, seeing that the ship lay at Deptford about five weeks; as the result of Mrs. Fry's journeys to and fro, every woman had given to her the chance of benefiting herself. In this way they were informed that if they chose to devote the leisure of the voyage to making up the materials thus placed in their hands, they would be allowed upon arrival at the colony to dispose of the articles for their own profit.
There was thus a new stimulus to exertion as well as a collateral good. Hitherto, no refuge, home, or building of any description had existed for the housing of the women when landed at the port of disembarkation. There was "not so much as a hut in which they could take refuge, so that they were literally driven to vice, or left to lie in the streets." The system of convict-management at that date was one of compulsory labor, or mostly so. This plan tended to produce tyranny, insubordination, deception, vice, and "the social evil." In the case of men, Captain Mackonochie testified that they were sullen, lazy, insubordinate and vicious; the women, if not engaged quickly in respectable domestic service, and desirous of being kept respectable, become curses to the colony. But by the means adopted by Mrs. Fry each woman was enabled to earn sufficient money to provide for board and lodging until some opening for a decent maintenance presented itself. They thus obtained a fair start.
Provision was also made for instruction of both women and children on board ship. It may be asked how children came there? Generally they were of tender years and the offspring of vice; the authorities could do nothing with them; so, perforce, they were allowed to accompany their mothers. Out of the batch on board this transport-vessel, fourteen were found to be of an age capable of instruction. A small space was, therefore, set apart in the stern of the vessel for a school-room, and there, daily, under the tuition of one of the women better taught than the rest, these waifs of humanity learned to read, knit and sew. This slender stock of learning was better than none, wherewith to commence life at the Antipodes.
Almost daily, for five weeks, Mrs. Fry and her coadjutors visited the vessel, laboring to these good ends. Ultimately, however, the Maria had to sail, and many were the doubts and fears as to whether the good work begun would be carried on when away from English shores. No matron was there to superintend and to direct the women: if they continued in the path marked out for them, their poor human nature could not be so fallen after all. Mrs. Fry had a kind of religious service with the convicts the last time she visited them. She occupied a position near the door of the cabin, with the women facing her, and ranged on the quarter-deck, while the sailors occupied different positions in the rigging and on other vantage points. As Mrs. Fry read in a solemn voice some passages from her pocket-Bible, the sailors on board the other ships leaned over to hear the sacred words. After the reading was done, she knelt down, and commended the party of soon-to-be exiles to God's mercy, while those for whom she prayed sobbed bitterly that they should see her face no more. Does it not recall the parting of Paul with the elders at Miletus? Doubtless the memory of that simple service was in after days often the only link between some of these women and goodness.
As time went on, many anxious remembrances and hopes were cast after the convicts who had been shipped to New South Wales. To her sorrow, she found, from the most reliable testimony, that once the poor lost wretches were landed in the colony, they were placed in circumstances that absolutely nullified all the benevolent work which had gone before, and were literally driven by force of circumstances to their destruction. The female convicts, from the time of their landing, were "without shelter, without resources, and without protection. Rations, or a small amount of provision, sufficient to maintain life, they certainly had allotted to them daily; but a place to sleep in, or money to obtain shelter or necessary clothing for themselves, and, when mothers, for their children, they were absolutely without." An interesting but sad letter was received by Mrs. Fry from the Rev. Samuel Marsden, chaplain at Paramatta, New South Wales, and although long, it affords so much information on this question, that no apology is required for introducing it here. As the testimony of an eyewitness it is valuable:—
Having learned from the public papers, as well as from my friends in England, the lively interest you have taken in promoting the temporal and eternal welfare of those unhappy females who fall under the sentence of the law, I am induced to address a few lines to you respecting such as visit our distant shores. It may be gratifying to you, Madam, to hear that I meet with those wretched exiles, who have shared your attentions, and who mention your maternal care with gratitude and affection. From the measures you have adopted, and the lively interest you have excited in the public feeling, on the behalf of these miserable victims of vice and woe, I now hope the period is not very distant when their miseries will be in some degree alleviated. I have been striving for more than twenty years to obtain for them some relief, but hitherto have done them little good. It has not been in my power to move those in authority to pay much attention to their wants and miseries. I have often been urged in my own mind, to make an appeal to the British nation, and to lay their case before the public.
In the year 1807, I returned to Europe. Shortly after my arrival in London, I stated in a memorial to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury the miserable situation of the female convicts, to His Majesty's Government at the Colonial Office, and to several members of the House of Commons. From the assurances that were then made, that barracks should be built for the accommodation of the female convicts, I entertained no doubt but that the Government would have given instructions to the Governor to make some provisions for them. On my return to the colony, in 1810, I found things in the same state I left them; five years after my again arriving in the colony, I took the liberty to speak to the Governor, as opportunity afforded, on the subject in question, and was surprised to learn that no instructions had been communicated to His Excellency from His Majesty's Government, after what had passed between me and those in authority at home, relative to the state of the female convicts. At length I resolved to make an official statement of their miserable situation to the Governor, and, if the Governor did not feel himself authorized to build a barrack for them, to transmit my memorial to my friends in England, with His Excellency's answer, as a ground for them to renew my former application to Government for some relief. Accordingly, I forwarded my memorial, with a copy of the Governor's answer, home to more than one of my friends. I have never been convinced that no instructions were given by His Majesty's Government to provide barracks for the female convicts; on the contrary, my mind is strongly impressed in that instructions were given; if they were not, I can only say that this was a great omission, after the promises that were made. I was not ignorant that the sending home of my letter to the Governor and his answer, would subject me to the censure as well as the displeasure of my superiors. I informed some of my friends in England, as well as in the colony, that if no attention was paid to the female convicts, I was determined to lay their case before the British nation; and then I was certain, from the moral and religious feeling which pervades all ranks, that redress would be obtained. However, nothing has been done yet to remedy the evils of which I complain. For the last five and twenty years many of the convict women have been driven to vice to obtain a loaf of bread, or a bed to lie upon. To this day there never has been a place to put the female convicts in when they land from the ships. Many of the women have told me with tears their distress of mind on this account; some would have been glad to have returned to the paths of virtue if they could have found a hut to live in without forming improper connections. Some of these women, when they have been brought before the magistrate, and I have remonstrated with them for their crime, have replied, "I have no other means of living; I am compelled to give my weekly allowance of provisions for my lodgings, and I must starve or live in vice." I was well aware that this statement was correct, and was often at a loss what to answer. It is not only the calamities that these wretched women and their children suffer that are to be regretted, but the general corruption of morals that such a system establishes in this rising colony, and the ruin their example spreads through all the settlements. The male convicts in the service of the Crown, or in that of individuals, are tempted to rob and plunder continually, to supply the urgent necessities of those women.
All the female convicts have not run the same lengths in vice. All are not equally hardened in crime, and it is most dreadful that all should alike, on their arrival here, be liable and exposed to the same dangerous temptations, without any remedy. I rejoice, Madam, that you reside near the seat of Government, and may have it in your power to call the attention of His Majesty's Ministers to this important subject—a subject in which the entire welfare of these settlements is involved. If proper care be taken of the women, the colony will prosper, and the expenses of the mother-country will be reduced. On the contrary, if the morals of the female convicts are wholly neglected, as they have been hitherto, the colony will be only a nursery for crime....
Your good intentions and benevolent labors will all be abortive if the exiled females, on their arrival in the colony, are plunged into every ruinous temptation and sort of vice—which will ever be the case till some barrack is provided for them. Great evils in a state cannot soon be remedied.... I believe the Governor has got instructions from home to provide accommodation for the female convicts, and I hope in two or three years to see them lodged in a comfortable barrack; so that none shall be lost for want of a hut to lie in. If a communication be kept up on a regular plan between this colony and London, much good may be done for the poor female convicts. It was the custom for some years, when a ship with female convicts arrived, soldiers, convicts, and settlers were allowed to go on board and take their choice; this custom does not now openly obtain countenance and sanction, but when they are landed they have no friend, nor any accommodation, and therefore are glad to live with anyone who can give them protection; so the real moral state of these females is little improved from what it always has been, nor will it be the least improved till they can be provided with a barrack. The neglect of the female convicts in this country is a disgrace to our national character, as well as a national sin. Many do not live out half their days, from their habits of vice. When I am called to visit them on their dying beds, my mind is greatly pained, my mouth is shut; I know not what to say to them.... To tell them of their crimes is to upbraid them with misfortune; they will say, "Sir, you know how I was situated. I do not wish to lead the life I have done; I know and lament my sins, but necessity compelled me to do what my conscience condemned."... Many, again, I meet with who think these things no crime, because they believe their necessities compel them to live in their sins. Hence their consciences are so hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, that death itself gives them little concern....
I have the honor to be, Madam, Your most obedient humble servant, SAMUEL MARSDEN.
This appeal was not disregarded: in due time official apathy and inertness fled before the national cry for reform. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fry continued her efforts on behalf of the convicts on board the transports, ever urging upon those in power the imperative necessity for placing the women under the charge of matrons. They still continued on the old plan, and were wholly in the power of the sailors, except for such supervision as the Naval Surgeon Superintendent could afford. Some little improvements had taken place, since that first trip to the Maria convict-ship, but very much still remained to be done. To these floating prisons, frequently detained for weeks in the Thames, Mrs. Fry paid numerous visits, arranging for the instruction, employment, and cleanliness of the women. A worthy fellow-helper, Mrs. Pryor, was her companion, on most of these journeys, frequently enduring exposure to weather, rough seas, and accidents. On one occasion the two sisters of mercy ran the risk of drowning, but were fortunately rescued by a passing vessel. Very fortunate, indeed, was it, that a deliverer was at hand, or the little boat, toiling up the river, contending against tide, wind and weather, might have been lost. That voyage to Gravesend was only one among many destined to work a revolution in female convict life.
Alterations, which were not always improvements, began to take place in the manner of receiving these women on board ship. The vessels were moored at Woolwich, and group by group the miserable complement of passengers arrived; in each case, however, controlled by male warders. Sometimes, a turnkey would bring his party on the outside of a stage-coach; another might bring a contingent in a smack, or coasting vessel; while yet a third marched up a band of heavily-ironed women, whose dialects told from which districts they came. Sometimes their infants were left behind, and, in such a case, one of the ladies would go to Whitehall to obtain the necessary order to enable the unfortunate nursling to accompany its mother; but generally speaking, the children accompanied and shared the parents' fortunes.
Cruelties were inseparable from the customs which prevailed. In 1822, Mrs. Pryor discovered that prisoners from Lancaster Castle arrived, not merely handcuffed, but with heavy irons on their legs, which had occasioned considerable swelling, and in one instance serious inflammation. The Brothers sailed in 1823, with its freight of human misery on board, and the suffering which resulted from the mode of ironing, was so great, that Mrs. Fry took down the names id particulars, in order to make representations to the Government. Twelve women arrived on board the vessel, handcuffed; eleven others had iron hoops round their legs and arms, and were chained to each other. The complaints of these women were mournful; they were not allowed to get up or down from the coach, without the whole party being dragged together; some of them had children to carry, but they received no help, no alleviation to their sufferings. One woman from Wales must have had a bitter experience of irons. She came to the ship with a hoop around her ankle, and when the sub-matron insisted on having it removed, the operation was so painful that the poor wretch fainted. She told Mrs. Fry that she had worn, for some time, an iron hoop around her waist; from that, a chain connected with hoops round her legs above the knee; from these, another chain was fastened to irons round her ankles. Not content with this, her hands were confined every night to the hoop which went round her waist, while she lay like a log on her bed of straw. Such tales remind one of the tortures of the Inquisition.
The "Newgate women" were especially noticeable for good conduct on the voyage out. Their conduct was reported to be "exemplary" by the Surgeon Superintendent, and their industry was most pleasing. Their patchwork was highly prized by many, and indeed treasured up by some of them for many years after. Officers in the British navy assisted in the good work by word and deed; in fact, Captain Young, of Deptford Dockyard, first suggested the making of patchwork as an employment on board ship. From some correspondence which passed between Mrs. Fry and the Controller of the Navy, in 1820, we find that the building for the women in New South Wales was begun; while in a letter written about this time to a member of the Government, she explains her desires and plans relative to the female convicts after their arrival at Hobart Town, Tasmania.
This letter is full of interesting points. After noticing the fact of the building at Hobart Town being imperatively needed, she goes on to suggest that a respectable and judicious matron should be stationed in that building, responsible, under the Governor and magistrates, for the order of the inmates; that part of the building should be devoted to school purposes; that immediately on the arrival of a ship, a Government Inspector should visit the vessel and report; that the Surgeon Superintendent should have a description of each woman's offense, character, and capability, so that her disposal in the colony might be made in a little less hap-hazard fashion than hitherto; that the best behaved should be taken into domestic service by such of the residents of the colony as chose to cooeperate, while the others should remain at the Home, under prison rules, until they have earned the privilege of going to service; and that a sufficient supply of serviceable clothing should be provided. She further recommended the adoption of a uniform dress for the convicts, as conducive to order and discipline, and, as a last and indispensable condition, the appointment of a matron, in order to enforce needful regulations. This epistle was sent with the prayer that Earl Bathurst would peruse it, and grant the requests of the writer. It is refreshing to be able to add that red tapeism did not interfere with the adoption of these suggestions, but that they met with prompt consideration.
Every year, four, five, or six convict-ships went out to the colonies of Australia with their burdens of sin, sorrow and guilt. Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales received annually fresh consignments of the outcast iniquity of the Old World. Mrs. Fry made a point of visiting each ship before it sailed, as many times as her numerous duties permitted, and bade the convicts most affectionate and anxious farewells. These good-bye visits were always semi-religious ones; without her Bible and the teaching which pointed to a better life beyond, Mrs. Fry would have been helpless to cope with the vice and misery which surged up before her. As it was, her heart sometimes grew faint and weary in the work, though not by any means weary of it. As an apostle of mercy to the well-nigh lost, she moved in and out among those sin-stricken companies.
Captain (afterwards Admiral) Young, Principal Resident Agent of Transports on the river Thames, forwarded the good work by every possible means. From the pen of one of the members of his family, we have a vivid picture of one of these leave-takings. It occurred on board a vessel lying off Woolwich, in 1826. William Wilberforce, of anti-slavery fame, and several other friends, accompanied the party. This chronicler writes:—
On board one of them [there were two convict ships lying in the river] between two and three hundred women were assembled, in order to listen to the exhortations and prayers of perhaps the two brightest personifications of Christian philanthropy that the age could boast. Scarcely could two voices even so distinguished for beauty and power be imagined united in a more touching engagement; as, indeed, was testified by the breathless attention, the tears and suppressed sobs of the gathered listeners. No lapse of time can ever efface the impression of the 107th Psalm, as read by Mrs. Fry with such extraordinary emphasis and intonation, that it seemed to make the simple reading a commentary.
We find in the annals of her life the particulars of another visit to the George Hibbert convict-ship, in 1734. She had, about this time, pleaded earnestly with Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary, for the appointment of matrons to these vessels. She records gratefully the fact, that both his lordship and Mr. Spring Rice received her "in the handsomest manner," giving her a most patient and appreciative hearing. She succeeded at this time in obtaining a part of the boon which she craved. Mrs. Saunders, the wife of a missionary returning to the colony, was permitted by the Government to fill the office of matron to the convicts. For this service, Government gave the lady a free passage. There was double advantage in this, because, when by reason of sea-sickness, Mrs. Saunders felt ill, Mr. Saunders occupied her place as far as possible, and performed the duties of chaplain and school-master. The Ladies' British Society, formed by Mrs. Fry, for the superintendence of this and other good works relating to convicts and prisons, united in promoting the appointment of this worthy couple, and were highly gratified at the result of the experiment; as appears by extracts from the books of the Convict Ship Committee. Finally, when the voyage was ended, the Surgeon Superintendent gave good-conduct tickets to all whose behavior had been satisfactory, and secured them engagements in respectable situations. Better than all, there was a proper building which ensured shelter, classification, and restraint. The horrors of the outcast life, so vividly described by Mr. Marsden in his letter from Paramatta, no longer existed. The work of these ladies, uphill though it had been, was now bearing manifold fruit. And the results of this more humane and rational system of treatment upon the future of the colonies themselves could not but appear in time. There were on board this very vessel, the George Hibbert, 150 female convicts, with forty-one children; also nine free women, carrying with them twenty-three young children, who were going out to their husbands who had been transported previously. When it is remembered that these people were laying the foundations of new colonies, and peopling them with their descendants, it must be conceded that in her efforts to humanize and christianize them, Mrs. Fry's far-reaching philanthropy became a great national benefit. With modest thankfulness, she herself records, after an interview with Queen Adelaide and some of the royal family, "Surely, the result of our labors has hitherto been beyond our most sanguine expectations, as to the improved state of our prisons, female convict-ships, and the convicts in New South Wales."