HC Deb 22 June 1815 vol 31 cc944-68

On the motion for going into a committee on the Bill to amend the Laws relative to the Transportation of Offenders,

Mr. Holford

rose and said:

Sir;—The Report, which I hold in my hand, presented in 1812, at the close of the last Parliament, and reprinted at my suggestion last year, for the use of the members of this House, was framed by a committee which bestowed a good deal of attention on an inquiry into the Hulk Establishment, and recommended important changes in the system of management then pursued.

I am not aware that any material alteration has since taken place in the manner in which the hulks are conducted; and although my right hon. friend, the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Hiley Addington), when he introduced the present Bill into the House, spoke of this Report in terms of approbation, his Bill is not calculated, in its present shape, to carry into effect the arrangements which the committee of 1812 have suggested for the better management of the convicts.

That committee recommended such a mode of fitting op the vessels used for hulks as should allow of the separation of the persons confined into many divisions, or classes, and as should place them within the reach of inspection at all times; it recommended effective superintendence, by a person to reside at each port or place, in the neighbourhood of which hulks should be stationed; it recommended that an account should be kept of the earnings of the convicts, and that full employment should be found for them; and these recommendations form the basis and groundwork of every material improvement suggested in the Report. In the Bill now before the House there is no provision to secure or facilitate the adoption of any of these suggestions; nor is there to be found in it, from the beginning to the end, any expression which recognizes the expediency of adopting them; the Bill, as it now stands, only establishes by law the system already pursued, changing the names of some of the officers employed.

Under these circumstances I shall take this opportunity of making some observations on the state and condition of the convicts on board the Hulks, and of pointing out, as distinctly as I am able, to the attention of the House, the nature and extent of the evils which appear to me to require a remedy.

On the subject of imprisonment on board the Hulks, considered with reference to the conduct of the persons confined there, and to the effects of such confinement upon the moral character of the prisoner, very different opinions appear to be entertained. Mr. Graham, the late inspector, who, from his respectability, and means of information, would speak upon this subject with a degree of weight and authority that could hardly be resisted, if we did not know how prone men are to look with partial eyes upon the effects of systems and establishments which have been long under their own direction, thinks, that the convicts behave well on board the Hulks, and that their morals are improved there; and, if this opinion has not been adopted to its full extent in the Secretary of State's office, it has, I fear, made such an impression there, as to have created doubts in that quarter of the necessity of any material change in the existing arrangements; and an hon. gentleman, who usually sits on the other side of the House, but whom I do not now see in his place, who does not often err, by attributing too much, merit to any department of his Majesty's government, has taken an opportunity, upon a recent occasion, to give the support of his unqualified approbation to the manner in which the Hulks have been managed of late years. The public believe that these vessels are scenes of disorder, and schools of vice, where every spark of goodness that may yet remain in the breast of the offender, must be extinguished, and many a prisoner has been matured in vicious knowledge, and trained up to deeds of greater outrage, than those which originally brought him under the censure of the law. In conformity to this opinion the committee of 1812, in speaking of the general effects of the existing arrangements, have stated in their Report (a report, be it remembered, not founded upon the testimony of persons complaining of wrongs, and seeking to excite sympathy by exaggerated representations of their own sufferings, but resting upon the evidence of the officers belonging to the Hulk Establishment) that "they cannot but consider the situation of the convicts imprisoned on board the Hulks, upon their present plan, as one from which these persons must be expected to return into society with more depraved habits and dispositions than those with which they went into confinement."

The committee, however, did not recommend that this establishment should be discontinued; on the contrary, they were of opinion that the existing evils might be lessened, if not entirely removed, by alterations, the outline and principles of which are suggested in the Report. They were sensible that these Floating Prisons possess two very great advantages over every other place of confinement First, that of being, beyond all comparison cheaper than any building which can be erected, for the same purpose, on shore; and, secondly, that of being moveable from place to place. A vessel, which would not be worth more than 3,000l. or 4,000l. to break up, may be converted into a suitable abode for some hundreds of prisoners for 5,000l. or 6,000l. more, making, in the whole, 8,000l. or 10,000l. while a place of confinement could not be provided for the same number on land, Under many times that sum. The capability of being transferred, as occasion may require, to any port or place, accessible by water, is a convenience, of which it is hardly possible to calculate the value, with reference to the employment of the convicts, there being always a demand for that description of labour in which these persons can most usefully be employed in the neighbourhood of the navigable rivers and harbours of this country; particularly in the great public works carried on in the Naval and Ordnance Departments.

But in Hulks, as in any other places of confinement, great evils may prevail from defective arrangements, or under an imperfect system of management; and I think I shall be able to satisfy the House, that, owing to these causes, and these causes only, great evils have prevailed in these prisons, from the passing of the 24th Geo. 3, (the Act under which the Hulk Establishment is still regulated) up to the present time.

By this statute the management of the convicts is placed in Overseers appointed by the Crown, who are to feed, clothe, and employ the prisoners in such manner as his Majesty shall direct. There is no mention of any salary in this Act; the overseers first appointed having contracted for the safe custody of the convicts, as well as for their food and clothing, found the vessels in which they were confined, and all the officers and servants connected with the establishment, deriving the whole emolument of their office, as overseers, from the profits of their contract, taken at so much a head for each individual committed to their charge. The consequences of this arrangement, formed in opposition to the most obvious principles and maxims of prison management, were such as ought to have been foreseen; the convicts were ill treated, and a great mortality having taken place on board the Hulks at Portsmouth, in the beginning of 1802, the complaints upon that head became so loud as to force themselves upon the attention of Government, and a commission was sent down to Portsmouth, to inquire into the condition of the convicts at that place, by lord Pelham, then Secretary of State for the Home Department. Many abuses were pointed out, and a strong observation was made on the obvious impropriety of allowing the contractors to manage the prisoners by servants of their own, in a report made by the two gentlemen to whom this inquiry was committed, viz. the late sir Henry Mildmay, and Mr. Neild, also since dead. I cannot mention the name of Mr. Neild, in this House, without remarking how much the public is indebted to that gentleman for many years spent in examining and inspecting the state of the different gaols and places of confinement in this country, in the course of which investigation he corrected, by his suggestion and advice, many evils and abuses, and brought together much useful information, which he has left behind him, to prepare the way for further improvement, in the laborious and valuable publication that bears his name.

A short time after this Report was given, in, viz. in March 1802, Mr. Graham was made Inspector of the Hulks, under a clause in the 42nd of the King, authorizing such an appointment. It is a mistake to suppose that this statute transferred the management of the convicts from the contractors to this new officer; it made no change whatever in the government of the Hulks; it only enabled the Crown to name an Inspector, who was personally to visit each place of confinement, to which his inspection extended, at least once in every quarter, to examine into the behaviour and conduct of the officers, the treatment and condition of the prisoners, the amount of the several earnings in every such place of confinement, and of the expenses attending it. On these particulars he was to report to both Houses of Parliament, at the commencement of every session, and in matters of pressing necessity, he might report specially to the Court of King's bench. These were all the duties imposed or authorized by this Act; and the Inspector was to receive, for the performance of them, a salary not exceeding 350l. per annum for himself, a clerk, his travelling expenses, and all other charges incurred in the execution of his office.

In the instrument by which Mr. Graham was appointed inspector, under this Act, he was directed to send copies of all his reports to the Secretary of State's office; and from this practice has arisen the connexion of that office with the inspector, and the present system of management.

Mr. Graham

concurred in opinion with the gentleman to whom I have alluded, in respect to the inexpediency of permitting the Contractors to find the officers and servants employed on board the Hulks; and having farther recommended that the Government should take upon itself the care of providing the ships required for the confinement of the convicts, and should limit the agreement with, the Contractors to the supply of their food, clothing, and other articles wanted for their use, he was employed by the Secretary of State to superintend the fitting-up of proper vessels, to recommend officers and servants, to draw up rules and regulations for their conduct, and for, the treatment of the prisoners; to keep and audit all the accounts of the establishment, and to exercise, in the fullest manner, all the powers of superintendance and management and all this Mr. Graham continued to do, from the time when his recommendations were adopted, until the Report of the Commitee of 1812 was laid upon the table of this House, without receiving any regular appointment for this purpose, or any other emolument than the small salary which had been assigned to him, under the 42d of the King, in 1802, for the comparatively trifling duties required from the inspector, under that statute. I understand, that, after that Report was printed, a regular appointment was made out to Mr. Graham, as overseer, under the 24th Geo. 3, in lieu of that which he had held as inspector, and I presume a proper salary was then granted to him in his new character. He has now ceased to have any connexion with the Hulk establishment, having very lately resigned the situation of overseer.

I readily admit that many very useful rules were made, for the regulation of the Hulks, by Mr. Graham; and that the system of management, which grew up while they were under his superintendence, is far preferable to that which preceded it.

In respect to the health of the convicts, to their supply of food and clothing, to their protection from acts of cruelty or oppression on the part of those set over them; the arrangements now existing are, as far as I know, satisfactory. In two points only, but they are points of primary importance, is the system still open to censure; in what regards the moral condition of the prisoner, and in the arrangements connected with his employment.

In every Hulk, with the exception of the Edgar, of which I shall have occasion to speak separately, the prisoners on board the vessel are all necessarily distributed into three, or at most four, decks, or divisions of the ship, after the hatches are closed; from this time, till the convicts are let put in the morning, (a period which comprehends in the winter season, in the dark days, near sixteen hours out of the twenty-four) there is not among them any officer or servant belonging to the establishment: and as the decks of the ship are of very unequal sizes, more than two hundred criminals, of different ages and descriptions, are often thus locked in together, during this long period, to follow their own inventions, without inspection or control.

I must be allowed to express my astonishment that any person who has ever bestowed his attention for a moment on this subjects, can have hesitated to reprobate such an arrangement; the secrets indeed of the prison-house none can tell but those who inhabit it, and they are, unfortunately, of a description which renders their testimony of little value. I admit also, that they have frequently a strong inducement to give exaggerated accounts of what passes among them, for the purpose of creating an interest in their favour, and of stimulating their friends and relations to endeavour to procure their removal, by a pardon, from the scenes of vice and profligacy which they describe; but, (to omit all reference to practices which rumour imputes to the convicts, and the existence of which, those who are the most disposed to doubt or disbelieve the charge, can never hope, while the Hulks continue in their present state, to disprove) can any testimony be wanted to convince us of the prevalence, under the circumstances which I have stated, of swearing, gambling, and every kind of vicious conversation, or of the exercise of much oppression and tyranny by those who are most daring and profligate, over the rest?

It appeared by the evidence of the captains of the Hulks, who were all examined by the Committee, that the convicts did not dare to complain of ill-treatment from, each other; the captains acknowledged that they themselves could not venture to disclose the names of individuals from whom they received information of what passed among them; and so strongly was the danger of disclosure felt in one of the Hulks, that it seemed to be the practice on board that Hulk to inflict punishment for offences committed below, without bringing forward the informer in support of the charge. It was also evident that in some of the ships neither officers nor guards (not even the captain, himself) could have gone down with safety among the convicts after the batches were closed.

The captain of the Portland, at Langston Harbour, stated, that the practice of coining, viz. of beating out half-crowns into sixpences, had gone on for many years on board his vessel, and that he had himself taken thirty-nine of these sixpences from one of the convicts, at one time: they now coin copper at Sheerness, and it is some aggravation of the offence that the metal of which the false money is made is stolen from the King's stores. I am also informed, that in some of the Hulks, there is a manufactory of what are called skeleton-keys, made for the purpose of opening locks: and one of the chaplains stated to the Committee, in 1812, from his own knowledge, that, in the Hulk to which he belonged, indecent toys were manufactured from bones for sale.

The Committee examined the three chaplains at that time attached to the Hulks, on the moral conduct of the convicts. The chaplain of the Zealand, then stationed at Sheerness, gave a very unfavourable account of the prisoners on board that vessel. The chaplain of the ship at Woolwich disclaimed all knowledge of individual convicts, or of their general conduct: it appeared that the prisoners in that Hulk behaved in a quiet and orderly manner during the performance of divine service; but this the chaplain very properly attributes, in one of his Reports, to the vigilance of the officers; since he performed the service under circumstances which did not admit of his being either seen or heard by the greater part of his congregation. I should state that this ship, (which had not been fitted up by Mr. Graham, but had been continued from the time of the Contractors, having been purchased from them) is not now used as a Hulk, having been condemned as quite worn out soon after the Report of 1812 was presented.

The chaplain

who had the charge of the Hulks at Portsmouth and Langston Harbour, spoke of the convicts under his care in terms which, if the Committee could have given implicit credit to his representation, would have been very satisfactory; but it was quite clear to all the members of the Committee who heard his examination, (and will be so to every one who will read their report) that the opinions of this gentleman were given in conformity to his wishes, instead of being founded on any knowledge which he possessed of the general conduct or disposition of the convicts; and that, in fact, he could know little more of these men than what he saw when they attended divine service. I believe that this gentleman preached impressive discourses, and I am willing to give credit to what is related in one of the papers attached to the Report on the table, that half his congregation have been seen in tears at one time, at his sermon; but I desire the House to consider how long, if this were the case, these good impressions were likely to have lasted, in the present state of the Hulks, and what must have been the situation and sufferings of the men who were thus seen weeping with contrition in the morning, when they found themselves shut down, without protection, at night among their profligate companions. Are we yet to learn, that it is sport to men, hardened, in a long course of iniquity, to turn the signs of repentance and remorse into ridicule, and to disturb the good resolutions, and wound the feelings of those of their comrades, round whose hearts the callus of vice is not yet completely formed?

The Committee of 1812, feeling strongly the evils to which I have endeavoured to draw the attention of the House, consulted the Commissioners of the Navy on the practicability of fitting up a Hulk in such, a manner as would allow of the separation of the convicts into many companies, or classes, and of their being inspected at all limes. In consequence of the communications which took place between the Committee and the Navy Board on that occasion, the Navy Board furnished the design of a vessel, fitted up for the reception of prisoners, which is annexed to the Report upon the table; and soon after the Report had been printed, the Hulk stationed at Woolwich having been condemned as unfit for further service, a new one was fitted up in conformity to that design, and placed at Sheerness, the Hulk then in use at that place being transferred to Woolwich. This Hulk, the Edgar, has now been occupied by the convicts for more than a year; I saw the vessel at Chatham while it was fitting up; and I have lately (about a month ago) visited it at Sheerness, that I might learn how far it had answered the purpose for which it was intended. It contains forty-two apartments, or cells, for convicts, eighteen on the lower deck, and twelve only in each of the middle and upper decks, (the space required for the chapel being taken out of those decks) and it has a passage along each deck running between the two rows of cells, and divided from the cells by iron railings. There are now from four hundred and thirty to four hundred and forty convicts on board this ship; it would still be a cheap prison, if only half that number were contained in it. In my late visit to Sheerness I examined every part of the vessel, while the convicts were out of their cells; and I afterwards went with the officers, some hours after the hatches had been shut, (between eleven and twelve o'clock at night) through the several passages, and into some of the cells, where the convicts had not yet retired to rest; I found nothing offensive, no closeness on want of air; and, although I will not presume to say, that farther improvements may not be suggested in fitting op the other Hulks, I do not hesitate to assert (and in this I believe I shall be supported by aft who-have-seen the ship) that the Edgar, as now constructed, is liable to no objection, as far as relates to the health or reasonable convenience of the convicts.

If I am asked what advantage has resulted from this new method of fitting up a Hulk, I tam compelled to answer, that very little benefit has been yet derived from it, owing to great mismanagement: on the third night after the convicts were placed on board, those on the lower deck tore down the bars which divided their cells from the inspection passage; and, forcing their way through hatches not properly secured into the upper decks, induced the convicts confined there to join them, and put an end for a time to all separation: there were, when this happened, no guards in the inspection passage; nor does it appear, that any attempt was made to control this violence at the time, or to punish or discover the ringleaders afterwards; on the contrary, the men were told, that they had now done enough, and might as well be quiet; and from that time to this, though the iron bars have been replaced, the cells are left open, unless the prisoners themselves choose to fasten them, which, when they have visited their companions as long as they think fit, and are disposed to retire to rest, they generally do. When I went down, I found most of the cell doors fastened by the convicts, with chains and padlocks of their own. The House will not be surprised, that the convicts should have endeavoured, in this manner, to get rid of the practice of confining them to their cells, or that the attempt should have succeeded, when I mention a fact, connected with the state of discipline on board the ship. Up to the time when I visited Sheerness, beer was sold in the Hulk, by night, as well as by day, to the convicts, with the connivance, I was going to say, but in truth, with the sanction, and by the authority, of the captain; and, if I am not greatly misinformed, for his profit. I also believe, that the means which the convicts possess of purchasing this beer, have been in general derived from the plunder of the duck-yard. The captain of the Hulk endeavoured, when I was at Sheerness, to persuade me, that the convicts did not steal more than to the amount of 30l. or 40l. from the dock-yard in the course of a year; but I have to stat in opposition to this assertion, that, in a search made by the police, on board the Edgar, in February last, stolen articles were actually found in the convicts' boxes to the value of more than 30l., the particulars of which are enumerated in a list, which I hold in my hand, and which was enclosed in a letter of complaint from the Commissioner at Sheerness to the Navy Board. It must be recollected, that the purpose for which these men steal, is not to lay up hoards, as a provision for their future support, but to procure the means of gratifying their present appetite for liquor; and if plunder to the amount of 30l. has been discovered in their possession at one time, it may be fairly presumed, that the annual loss by their depredations should be estimated at a much larger sum.

My right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Bragge Bathurst), who takes the charge of this Bill, in consequence of the illness of my hon. friend who brought it in, will probably tell the House, that the captain of the Hulk alluded to has been dismissed, since I was at Sheerness; and that matters will now go on better than heretofore. I know, that captain Darling has been dismissed, and I do not mean to deny, that this would have been the case, if I had not visited Sheerness; for it happened that the new Inspector, Mr. Capper, arrived at that place, while I was there; and on my mentioning to him the information which I had received, concerning the occurrences which I have stated, and pointing out the parties who could prove the facts, I found that he had a clue to the same discovery; but why are we to believe that matters will go on satisfactorily in future under the same system of management? I should here remark, that these disorders have not arisen during an interregnum between the resignation of Mr. Graham and the appointment of his successor; the disturbances by which the convicts obtained the liberty of keeping their cells open or shut at their pleasure, took place above a year ago; the account of the stolen property found in their possession was transmitted to the Navy Board in the beginning of February, long before Mr. Graham resigned; and the beer was sent into the Hulks, according to my information, upon the day on which he quitted Sheerness. I do not quarrel with the compliments paid to Mr. Graham on both sides of the House; he is a gentleman of known integrity, and great intelligence and ability; he has framed many good regulations for the Hulks; and I really believe, that he has done more, in his occasional visits, towards keeping many parts of that establishment in good order, than most men could hare effected under similar circumstances. I do not complain that Mr. Graham has not been able to see or hear from his residence in London what was going on at Sheerness, at Woolwich, and at Portsmouth; but I lament that, with no sufficient means of information on this subject, he has been nevertheless considered as exercising an effective superintendence over the Hulk establishment. It must be obvious, as the case now stands, that in proportion as the merits of the individual are acknowledged, the efficiency of the system to preserve the establishment in a proper state, must be given up; and I contend that I am fully justified by the circumstances and occurrences which I have stated, in pressing upon my tight hon. friend the necessity of having an assistant, or deputy superintendent, at each place where Hulks shall be stationed.

There are, however, other duties connected with the management of the convicts sent to the Hulks, besides that of inspecting their treatment and condition on board the ship, which might, not in- conveniently, be performed by an officer of the description proposed; and of which the due performance (though they are not now executed at all) will, I think, appear to this House to be of considerable importance; I allude particularly to the propriety of keeping accounts, of the convicts' earnings.

When the 42d of the King was passed authorizing the appointment of an Inspector, who was to report to Parliament (among other particulars) the several earnings and expenses of the places of confinement, to which that statute related, it must, I think, have been in contemplation, that some accounts should be kept in which the amount of those earnings might be found; and many gentlemen will probably be surprised to learn, that, under the system now pursued, there is no account kept of the value of the convicts' labour, nor any valuation taken of the work executed by them. Returns are regularly made, from each Hulk, to the Inspector, of the number of convicts sent on, shore, and of the particular kinds of work in which they are employed, distinguishing the number employed in each; and from these returns, is made the calculation, in the Report, which says, that, if the daily labour, of a convict artificer is, valued at 1s. 6d., and that of a labourer, at 1s., the collective earnings of the men employed from all the Hulks, since the last Report, amount to the sum there stated. This is not an account, but an estimate; and it is an estimate founded on very erroneous principles. It does not enable us to ascertain, whether the profits of the convicts' labour have been duly brought to account, on behalf of the State, in any public department; nor does it furnish, us with the means of instituting any comparison concerning the diligence exerted in keeping employed a greater or less proportion of the convicts belonging to different Hulks, or of forming any judgment in respect to the degree in which the services of these persons are valuable, at the several places where the vessels are stationed. It appeared, from answers returned to questions sent by the Committee of 1812 to the different dock-yards and places where the convicts had usually been employed, that the labour of a convict, compared with that of a labourer working for hire, is considered of much more value, at some places than it is at, others; at Woolwich it is estimated to be nearly equal to that of a paid labourer; at Sheer- ness, the work of a convict is deemed equal to about two-thirds of that of a person labouring for pay; in Portsmouth dock-yard to one-third; and in the Ordnance department at Portsmouth to only one-fourth. If there be any approach to truth in these statements, the calculation in the Report annually presented to this House, which puts an abstract value on the services of the convict, without considering where he is employed, is obviously incorrect: it is impossible not to suspect, that where the labour of the convict is least valued, the arrangements made for employing him are very defective; but it is impossible to draw correct conclusions without actual accounts.

There is another purpose, for which actual accounts are wanted, viz. that a part of the convicts' earnings may be appropriated to their own use, as an incentive to industry and good behaviour; and that a per-centage on the profits of their labour may be assigned to some officer appointed to see that they have employment.

Of the propriety of giving some encouragement of this kind to the convicts (especially during the latter part of their imprisonment), I think little doubt can be entertained. At present they have allowances' of beer and tobacco at all the places where they are employed, except Sheerness, different at the different places, the amount of these allowances being determined by the departments in which they respectively work, and no officer connected with the Hulks having any tiling to do with this arrangement. For these allowances to the convicts, it would be proper to substitute a portion of their earnings upon the condition of good behaviour, retaining a part of what should be so allotted to them, until their imprisonment should expire. It is not particularly desirable to provide for the immediate gratification of these men; it should rather be our object to teach them the advantage to be derived from the accumulation of small daily or weekly grains, and to create in them, if possible, a habit of dwelling with satisfaction upon the gradual increase, from their own industry, of a fund for their future use.

The allotment of a per-centage on the value of the convicts' labour to any of the officers of the establishment has been vehemently objected to, on a supposition, that the convicts would become discontented, if they believed that any person connected with the management of them shared their earnings with the public. If I thought it likely to produce any such effect, I should say, that the regulations made for the treatment of persons in their situation, though framed with a view to their welfare and advantage, are not intended for their pleasure; but if discontent on the part of the convicts is apprehended, and ought to be guarded against, I beg to ask whether there is not now much more cause for feelings of dissatisfaction among these persons upon the subject of their labour, than any which could arise from the measure now proposed. Do not a few tailors and shoemakers, and mechanics, now earn for themselves considerable sums of money on board the ship, while the labourer (who works hard on shore in the service of the public, and returns to the vessel in the evening incapable, from fatigue, of doing any work on his own account, even if he should, possess the necessary skill for that pur-purpose) derives no pecuniary advantage from his labour? There is an instruction in the regulations framed by Mr. Graham for the captains of the Hulks, that all the convicts should be sent on shore to labour in their turn; but it was admitted, when the captains were examined in 1812, that this rule was not observed. I do not assert, that particular convicts are kept on board the ship and allowed to work for themselves, by partiality, or from the influence of money; but I am convinced, that it would be impossible, as the Hulks are now conducted, to satisfy the convicts that this is not the case.

It has been sometimes apprehended, that a per-centage on the earnings of prisoners might induce the persons, to whose charge they were committed, to overwork them, or task their exertions too severely; but I do not believe, that this apprehension will be found justified by experience; there is, indeed, a danger of an opposite nature, against which it maybe necessary to guard, in making arrangements on this head; namely, that an officer having too great an interest in the earnings of those under his care, might fail to pay due attention to moral discipline, upon occasions on which it might be likely to interfere with the profits of labour, and that in such a case partiality might be shown, or undue indulgence granted to a good workman; it would, therefore be unadvisable to make the whole emolument of a person superintending the convicts dependent upon the amount of their earnings, as he might thereby be tempted to walk or look another way, when the convict was swearing or gambling, or committing offences against propriety and decorum, instead of taking a useful hand from employment, in which his labour would be profitable, to punish him by heavier irons or confinement: the principle, however, of giving some stimulus to an officer connected with the management of prisoners to attend to the employment of them, in the shape of a per-centage upon their earnings, (a principle sanctioned, if not introduced, by the 19th of the King, a very high authority on the subject of prison management) has been long acted upon with the best effects in most of the gaols and places of confinement in this country, in which labour is turned to account: there is, moreover, a particular reason for adopting it in respect to the convicts belonging to the Hulks; if actual accounts are to be kept of the earnings of these men in the different departments in which they may be set to work, the persons concerned in framing such accounts must be the officers of these departments, and some officer acting on behalf of the Hulks; the former will have an obvious inducement to put a low value on the labour employed, it being for their credit, that the works done under their direction for Government, should appear to have been executed at the lowest possible charge to the public; it is, therefore, desirable, that this disposition to undervalue should be in some degree corrected by an opposite interest in the party valuing on behalf of the Hulks, which may operate to keep up the valuation to its just amount.

To this assistant superintendent might also be committed the care of seeing, that all the convicts were employed on the public account. It is extraordinary, that it should not hitherto have been the business of any person connected with the Hulk establishment, to find employment for the convicts. The captain of every Hulk is directed by one of the existing regulations, to send all these men on shore to work, when the weather will permit; but it is evident, that this direction cannot properly be obeyed, unless there shall be the means of employing the whole number, when they are landed, which is not always the case. In fact, the captain sends on shore the number specified in a requisition, which he receives daily from the yard in which they work. I conclude, that the officers belonging to the different yards where Hulks are stationed, are instructed to avail themselves of the services of these men; but it can hardly be expected, that those officers should bestow much of their time in looking out for work for this class of labourers, or should consider the employment of them as a primary object of their, attention; it must therefore frequently happen, that a large proportion of the convicts are unemployed.

In the year 1811, (the latter of the two years to which the inquiries of the Committee of 1812, were particularly directed) the number of convicts on board the Hulks at Portsmouth, Sheerness, and Woolwich, was 1564; and the average number employed at those places during, that year (on the days on which convicts worked) was only 831; so that 733 were left in the Hulks without employment; a much larger proportion of the whole number than can be supposed to have been sick, or infirm, or wanted for ship's duty, on board the four Hulks. It should also be observed, that every weekday is not, with the convicts, a working-day; for, as there is no employment found for them under cover, they are prevented from working by bad weather; and from some of the Hulks it is not thought safe to send them on shore in dark and foggy days. The fact, that the most is not made of the labour of the convicts, is put beyond all doubt-by the statements given in the Report of the Committee of 1812, concerning the estimated value of their services during the year 1811, founded on returns, made to that Committee, from the several places where Hulks are stationed. According to these returns, the total value of the earnings of the convicts at Portsmouth, Sheerness, and Woolwich, in that year, was 24,447l., of which sum, the earnings of the convicts at Woolwich alone, (480 only in number) amounted to no less than 14,751l., leaving 9,696l. for the earnings of the 1564 convicts belonging to the four Hulks stationed at Portsmouth and Sheerness. Or, to consider this matter in another point of view, if we take from the aggregate expense of the Hulk estatablishment, in 1811, the value of the earnings of all the convicts in that year, (according to the accounts furnished to the Committee) and divide the remainder by the whole number of convicts, we shall find the charge of each man to be about 18l.; but if we take the expense of the Hulk at Woolwich, for the same year, separately, and deduct its separate earnings, the convicts at that place will have cost only about 21. a head.*

It will of course be asked, how it happens that the earnings of the convicts at Woolwich should have amounted to above 5,000l. more than those of three times their number, employed at Ports mouth and Sheerness. This circumstance was entirely owing to the attention paid to the Woolwich convicts by lieutenant-colonel Pilkington, the officer in command of the Ordnance department at that place, who took great pains to turn the labour of these men to account; for this purpose he gave them increased allowances, and provided additional guards and keepers to look after them while at work. The expense incurred, by lieutenant-colonel Pilkington, on these heads, during the year 1811, amounted to 2,055l.; but it was, even in a pecuniary point of view, money well bestowed. I should observe, that the sum of 14,751l., mentioned above, was not the gross value of the men's earnings, but the net amount, after these out-goings were deducted.

I contend, that Woolwich furnishes an example, upon this occasion, which might be followed with advantage, at other places where Hulks are stationed. It may, perhaps, be said, that we shall not easily find men of equal talents with those of lieutenant-colonel Pilkington, to superintend the employment of convicts; and that, if we had such persons to undertake that duty, we could not give them the advantage of being at the head of the public department, in the yards where the convicts are to be employed; a circumstance which must have greatly facilitated lieutenant-colonel Pilkington's exertion. But, allowing all due weight to this observation, and admitting that, for these reasons, it may not be practicable to *The net charge of the convicts for 1811, is stated in the Report at 41,881l., which, for 2,044 convicts, would be above 20l. per man; but the expense of fitting up a new Hulk in that year (4,250l.) should be deducted, which would leave the net charge 37,631l., reducing the cost per head to between 18l. and 19l. The net charge of the Woolwich Hulk for 1811, is stated in the Report at 974l., which, for 480 men, is a little more than 2l. per head. make the labour of the convicts as productive, generally, as it has proved in this particular instance, I think that what has been done at Woolwich, affords a reasonable ground of expectation, that the burthen of the convicts upon the state might be materially diminished; (while a great improvement would, undoubtedly, be made in their habits) by connecting with their labour the attention of an intelligent person, at each, place where a Hulk is stationed; by making it their interest to be industrious; and by placing over them as many guards as may be necessary to see that they work properly, and to allow of their being divided into as many companies as the nature of their employment may require. The arrangements here alluded to must be made upon the spot; they must be different at different places, where convicts are to be employed, having reference to local circumstances, and to the particular kind of work which the men are to perform; they must be made in concert with the officers of the several yards; and, above all, to have their full effect, they must be executed under the observation of a regular superintending officer, constantly at hand, and competent to see that they are adhered to; and not under the occasional inspection of a person who is to come, four or five limes in each year, from London for that purpose.

The class of persons from which a deputy superintendent might most conveniently and properly be selected, seems to be that of the lieutenants of the navy upon half-pay, among whom may be found many a meritorious individual, rendered unfit for the active pursuit of his profession by the loss of a limb, or by some wound or injury received in the service of his country, but qualified for the superintendence of a concern of this nature, by a clear head, strict principles of honour and integrity, and habits of discipline and command. The commissioner of a dock yard would not think it beneath him to communicate freely, upon all points relative to the convicts, with a person of this description; who would, in that case, be treated, by the other officers of the yard, with a degree of respect and consideration, that would be of great use to him in the execution of his office.

It has been apprehended, by some persons, that any attempt to procure actual accounts of the convicts' earnings will be attended with much inconvenience. It is admitted, that there will be no more difficulty, or trouble, in keeping these accounts, than in the case of common labourers; but it has been surmised, that although the officers of the different yards are willing enough to accept of the work of these men, while it goes for nothing, and the value of it does not enter into the calculation of what is spent in the yard, the employment of them will be disliked, and endeavours will be made (at least in some of the yards) to get rid of them altogether, if their services are to be estimated, and their earnings brought to account. I will not undertake to say, that some practical difficulty may not occur, in framing proper arrangements upon this Lead, from the cause here stated; but the House will, I am sure, agree with me in thinking that difficulties of this nature are not to be submitted to as insuperable, but should be encountered and controlled by the authority of Government; and will be ready to vest powers in any quarter, in which they may be required, for that purpose. I must here remark, that, if there be any ground for such an apprehension as that to which I have now alluded, it strongly fortifies the arguments in favour of the expediency of appointing deputy superintendents at each of the places where there are Hulks, as it constitutes of itself a sufficient reason for the residence, at every such place, of an officer of a higher description than that of a captain of a hulk, or an ordinary clerk, to see that justice is done to the public and to the convicts.

I know that, in the opinion of many gentlemen, there can be nothing less likely to succeed, no project more visionary, than an attempt to produce amendment on board the Hulks. We cannot, indeed, give to the offender, in these prisons, the advantage, which would be afforded to him in a penitentiary, of reflecting, in a separate cell, without interruption, on his past life and future prospects; but with the means of inspection and separation, which experience has shown to be attainable in the vessel, and with due attention to the convict on shore, we shall at least be able to keep him from the commission of fresh offences against law or good order, during his imprisonment; from stealing—from gambling and swearing—from drinking and quarrelling—from the use of indecent or profane language, and from vicious conversation of every kind. Will it be contended, that the prevention or interruption of these practices, for seven or fourteen years of a man's life, will have no influence on his future conduct and character? Can it be supposed, that the evil propensities of men, which are invariably confirmed and nourished by habitual indulgence, will not, on the other hand, be weakened, in some degree, by long restraint? Will not employment, though on compulsion, create a habit of industry? Are not the habits of mankind, in general, formed by a course of discipline and education, not adopted from choice, but imposed, for their benefit, by the will of others? But to lay aside, for a moment, all question of amendment and reform, it will be a great point gained, if we only prevent the offender from becoming worse on board the Hulks, and redeem this establishment, in some measure, from the obloquy which is now attached to it (and justly) in the public mind. The objection now felt, to employ a person who has lately quitted the Hulks, is not that he has been criminal, but that his crime has been punished; it is not that he committed an offence seven or fourteen years ago, but that he has passed seven or fourteen years of his life in the pestilential air of an ill-regulated prison. Let these places of confinement be put upon a proper footing, and the convict will not experience the difficulties, which he now finds, in. procuring an honest livelihood on his discharge; nor can I see any reason why, after this shall have been done, arrangements may not be formed for giving employment to such of the convicts leaving the Hulks, as may be inclined to accept it, not in a separate establishment for that purpose (which might, perhaps, be objectionable, as pointing out these persons too much to the notice of the public), but among the numerous labourers and manufacturers employed in different works by Government. To this point, also, the attention of a deputy superintendent might possibly be directed with advantage.

I am aware that I have extended my observations upon this subject to a considerable length; but it will, I am sure, be felt by the House to be a subject of no ordinary importance. If the system of management, pursued in these great national receptacles for convicted felons, concerned only, in its consequences, the individuals confined in them, it would still deserve the notice of this House; but if the present state of these prisons be among the causes, to which it is owing that the criminals of the present time are not only increasing in number, but are every day becoming more daring and more dexterous, the evil is one which demands the serious consideration of every member of the Legislature, as materially affecting the comfort and happiness of every class of his Majesty's subjects—of every private family in this kingdom. The people of this highly-favoured country, fenced in, and guarded by the sea, and relying, with a confidence warranted by experience, on the exertions of their navy, to protect them against invasion, know comparatively but little of the evils and anxieties of foreign warfare; but the danger of these domestic enemies is ever present—it meets us in the ordinary business and transactions of life—it follows us into our chambers and private retreats—it disquiets the minds of persons of all ranks and conditions, and of the most retired habits—of thousands, by whom the convulsions which agitate the continent of Europe are unheeded, and whose rest the name of Buonaparté, when his power was at its greatest height, never disturbed.

Mr. Bathurst

observed, that as the hon. gentleman's remarks applied rather to the details than to the principle of the Bill, they would be more appropriate in the committee than on the present occasion. But as to the classification of the prisoners on board the Hulks, and securing their due separation, he feared that such a system could never be found so practicable in the Hulks as in those penitentiaries which were justly the subject of the hon. member's panegyric. The utmost effort would, however, be made to improve the arrangements in the Hulks; and with that view it was intended to construct seven or eight different compartments, among which the prisoners would be distributed by the governors, with the approbation of others, according to the degree of their crimes, the actual or probable reform of their morals, and the decency of their manners. Thus he hoped that provision would be made to guard against the general contamination which was justly to be apprehended from the indiscriminate intercourse of different descriptions of prisoners. He could assure the House, that nothing was neglected that promised to benefit the system of imprisonment under consideration. In order to encourage the reformation of prisoners in the Hulks, it had been for some time the established practice to make a quarterly report to the Prince Regent of such prisoners as were thought deserving of royal clemency, which was never refused to proper objects; and the release of such persons must naturally have the best effects on the conduct of other prisoners. Another important improvement, too, was intended, and it formed a part of the Bill before the House, namely, that all prisoners transmitted to the Hulks should bring with them an account of their conduct at the prison from whence they came, also of the offence of which they were convicted, together with their trial and convictions. Thus the governor of the Hulks would be at the outset enabled to form a judgment how to class each prisoner so as more effectually to provide against improper intercourse. The right hon. member, after replying to the observation that prisoners in the Hulks cost the country more than those confined in the penitentiaries, by stating, that the former must have an allowance of beer from the much harder work in which they were employed, added, that such improvements as were in contemplation, he hoped, would be productive of a satisfactory result.

Sir Samuel Romilly

strongly objected, not merely to the details, bat to the principle of the Bill under consideration; because by that Bill it was proposed to perpetuate a system of transportation, which was found utterly ineffective for the purpose it professed. The rational object of all punishments, short of death, was obviously to reform the offender. But those who suffered transportation were generally initiated in new crimes, introduced to worse habits, and in every respect disposed to much more mischief to society; than they were inclined to, or qualified for, before their transportation. The question, then, for the House to consider on this occasion, was, whether a system, found so defective, ought to be continued; for the Bill under discussion referred to transportation as well as to the hulks. With respect to the latter, he saw no reason why any large number of prisoners should be confined together in one vessel; but he objected to the system of the Hulks altogether, whether they were to be used as a place of punishment, or for the temporary confinement of persons meant to be transported. In either case these Hulks were exceptionable, especially as no provision was or could be made in such places to prevent that contaminating intercourse, which served to introduce prisoners to vices with which they were before unacquainted, to teach them new sources of villainy. This was particularly to be deplored with regard to those unfortunate persons of tender years, who were so often confined in the Hulks. There were at the present moment on board the Hulks some children of the age of 14, 13, 12, and even 11 years of age; and it was a fact, that within the last four years no less than 105 children, under 16 years of age, had been transported to Botany Bay; yet it was notorious, that crimes had continued to increase; and did not such increase prove the radical deficiency of our system of police? That system ought, therefore, to be inquired into, and peculiarly deserved the attention of Parliament; for as it was the object of all punishment and criminal law to prevent offences, the system which failed to answer that end ought to be corrected. The House could hardly imagine the extent to which the progressive increase of crimes had gone of late years. But he had to state, from authentic returns, that while the number of committals, in London in the year 1806 amounted only to 849, they reached in 1813 to 1,278; so that in the former year those committals were one-third less than in the latter, and this extraordinary increase of crime had taken place, let it be observed, in a period of war; although whatever calamities belonged to war, it had generally been remarked to have the effect of producing a diminution of crime, from the number of persons which it required for the army and navy. With this statement, then, before the House, he hoped that he should not say in vain that our system of police ought to be inquired into, and especially that a mode of punishment ought not to be tolerated, which, instead of reducing, operared to augment criminality. For what a serious responsibility would the House incur if it overlooked the subject, especially with regard to the poor child, who, probably from want of education, was led into delinquency, and consigned to a species of imprisonment which only served to qualify him for the worst crime, until at last the law exacted his life as the penalty of that contamination which its own injudicious exercise created. Thus, punishment, instead of effecting reform, rendered those who were the objects of it worse than before. He attributed a great part of the existing evil to the defective state of the police of the metropolis. By the present system, the police officers had the strongest interest not to put down young offenders, but to allow them to go on until their crimes became so enormous, as to be very profitable. It was the most serious duty of the House to inquire into all these circumstances, and most especially into the disgraceful fact of the great increase of crimes. He wished that the Bill might be stopped in its progress. If not, he implored the House to do no more in the present session than pass a temporary Bill for a twelvemonth, and in the mean time institute an inquiry into the various circumstances to which it related.

Mr. Bathurst

observed, that the Bill must pass, but that he had no objection to limit its duration.

Mr. Bennet

contended, that the Bill had been introduced in June instead of February, because it was known that the attendance of members would be thin, and that it would thereby escape much discussion. Conceiving that the Report of the Committee on the punishment of transportation to Botany Bay had been miserably defective, he pledged himself in the next session (if no one better qualified should undertake the task) to move for a committee to inquire not only into that subject, but into the state of the Hulks, and the Police of the metropolis.

Mr. W. Smith

regretted that the measure had not been brought forward at an earlier period of the session, but thought that some of the excellent suggestions of his hon. and learned friend might still be introduced into it.

Mr. Wilberforce

expressed a similar opinion; and dwelt on the improvement among the lower orders which the newly-adopted mode of general education was calculated to produce.

The House then resolved itself into the Committee. After some discussion, in which Mr. Holford, Mr. Bathurst, and Mr. Wilberforce participated, a clause proposed by Mr. Holford to limit the duration of the Bill to the 1st of May next was agreed to; and the House having resumed, the Report was ordered to be received to-morrow.