HC Deb 07 December 1813 vol 27 cc252-6
Mr. Eden

rose to make his intended motion for Papers relative to the present state of Newgate. It was a duty not enjoined by law, but acted upon by grand juries, to visit gaols, and to report on any faults which they might find in their management. In pursuance of this practice, the grand jury of the city of London last week visited Newgate; and their report stated, that in that part of the gaol in which women were confined, and which was not intended to accommodate more than 60 prisoners, not less than 120 were now contained. In the other, consecrated to the debtors, and where only 100 ought to be, they had not found less than 340. To state, that most of these were in want of clothing and bedding, and that the rain beat upon them, might be sufficient to authorize his motion; but he would add a few facts from the evidence of Mr. Newman himself, given before a committee, at the same time that he would do justice to the exertions of that gentleman to do every thing in his power to render the situation of the pri- soners less miserable than it was. He stated in evidence, that the wards for the women were only built to contain 56; but that, by cramming the hospital and infirmary with prisoners, they might be made to hold 100—at present they inclosed 20 above that number. The dimensions of the principal room for the women, according to his statement, were 70 feet in length and 16 in breadth. In this only 20 women were originally placed, so as to have each three feet six inches in length. Now that number was trebled, and every female prisoner had no more space allotted to her than one foot three inches. They even had less, as many were compelled to keep their children with them for want of a home to send them to. What was the description of the prisoners thus crowded together in that gaol? They were convicts sentenced to transportation, but who were compelled to wait, as the means of conveyance were not ready, or because they were too ill to be removed. They were also prisoners on suspicion of crimes; the hardened were mingled with those who had but just committed a first offence, and who, if they had brought a single seed of virtue into that horrid den, would soon have it choaked in the company of the most abandoned. On the part of the debtors confined, (whose number, he hoped, the Act to be passed this day would greatly diminish, by depriving the creditor of the power of punishing the insolvent debtor) the want of room, and difficulties, were the same. As to the male felons, the grand jury stated nothing; but it was notorious that the same system of mingling the hardened with the first offenders prevailed. These were the facts which induced him to form his present motion. He made it for two additional reasons; because to make an evil public was a great redress; and because he should, after the recess, move for a committee to inquire into the state and regulation of prisons. The paper for which he should move had already been taken into consideration by the city of London, a building was ordered to be prepared, and a remedy proposed to soften the evil. It therefore could not be beneath the notice of parliament to contribute by its attention to the relief which it was now endeavoured to yield to so many unfortunate prisoners. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, that a copy of the papers respecting the state of the gaol of Newgate, lately presented to the judges by the grand jury, be laid before the House.

Sir W. Curtis

seconded the motion; at the same time, he expressed his firm opinion, that however unfortunate the situation of the prisoners in Newgate was, no blame could be laid on Mr. Newman, who had done every thing which his limited means allowed to improve it.

Mr. Alderman Combe

followed the same line of argument.

Sir James Shaw

thought that the more the House should inquire into the management of Newgate, the more it would find that everything was done, consistent with existing means, to accommodate the prisoners. The overfulness of the gaol was the cause of their distressed situation; and this was occasioned by the failure in the operation of the Insolvent Debtors' Act. The number of persons confined for debt in Newgate now amounted to 355. It was the object of the city of London to remove all debtors from that gaol; and for that purpose a building was erecting, which would contain about 500 debtors. Nothing, therefore, was wanting on the part of the city of London, in disposition to accommodate that class of individuals. The room provided in Newgate for felons and convicts was not intended for more than 370, and now contained 479.—This was chiefly occasioned by the necessity in which many convicts were placed of waiting till a sufficient number had accumulated to be sent to New South Wales. The sheriffs of London, with that due attention to every branch of their duty by which they had distinguished themselves, had about three weeks ago represented to the noble lord holding the office of his Majesty's secretary of state, the necessity of procuring shipping to ease Newgate of the number of convicts sentenced to transportation which it contained. The reply which they had received was, that every thing possible should be done by government to procure the necessary shipping. When the debtors should be for ever removed from that gaol, and 200 convicts transported, the number that would remain would not then much exceed 300; and the capacity of Newgate would then allow that separation between hardened and new offenders to be made, the propriety of which everyone must acknowledge, while lamenting its present impracticability. He had thought these explanations necessary, when he found that the motion of the hon. gentleman opposite seemed to imply a charge both against the keeper of the gaol of Newgate, and against the city of London. He trusted he had now satisfactorily shown the origin of the evil, and the prospect of its being remedied.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

vindicated Mr. Newman from any blame which might by implication have been attached to him in consequence of the present motion. Every thing was done to keep Newgate in the best order, and in the most cleanly state. If any member of the House looked at that prison in the morning, he would not be ashamed to compare it with any dairy in the country. Much of its inconveniences were to be attributed to the prisoners themselves, and especially the women, whom it was impossible to keep clean. The great grievance was, the too great number of prisoners.

Mr. Abercromby

expressed his satisfaction that this motion should have been brought before the House, and met in the cheerful manner it had been. It was impossible to speak with too much regard of the attention and humanity of Mr. Newman; but he must own, that having occasion to visit Newgate two years ago, in his capacity as a member of that House, the state in which he found it made him consider it as a disgrace to this metropolis, especially the wards of the women. He agreed with the last speaker, that women might be less disposed to cleanliness, yet the place was not such as humanity required should be provided for them. Comparing the returns of the average number of prisoners with the capacities of the gaol itself, it was evidently impossible to class the prisoners according to their various shades of offence. That could only be effected by a particular provision for that purpose.

Mr. Alderman Smith

spoke generally on the depravity and ill conduct of prisoners, which greatly impeded any exertion made in their behalf.

Mr. Lockhart

thought, that there were two causes of the distresses experienced in Newgate—the one temporary, and the other lasting. The first related to debtors, and he hoped the present Act would remove it. The second, to the hardship of prisoners being compelled to wait till their number was sufficiently considerable to allow of their being transported. To remedy the latter, he thought it would be preferable to select a new place of banishment, and form a new settlement nearer home, which would admit of a more frequent embarkation on the part of the convicts, and at less expence. There was also another method which might lead to a diminution of their numbers. He wished government should investigate their particular offences more deeply; and if they were found, as it might often happen, worthy of pardon, that it should be granted at once, and they should not be left to be entirely corrupted by the company of the abandoned.

The motion was then agreed to, and the papers ordered to be laid before the House.

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