HC Deb 09 March 1821 vol 4 cc1170-2
Mr. Alderman Wood

presented a petition from Charles Hill, a person 74 years of age, who had been confined in Ilchester gaol for 15 years. Having been appointed a. collector and assessor of taxes in 1796, he went on in that capacity until 1804. In 1806, he was charged with a deficiency of. 719l. He then sold property of his own to, the amount of 467l., and afterwards collected taxes that were due to the amount of 217l.;—there was then a balance against him of 34l., and, for that sum, he had been imprisoned for 15 years. He had, in vain, petitioned the judges, the Treasury, and the House of Commons, for relief. After his petition to the House had been presented, his boxes were opened, his papers taken away and never returned, and he himself had been put on what was called the county side of the gaol and kept there ever since. He begged, the House to contrast the case of this unfortunate individual with that of defaulters of 100, 200, perhaps 300,000l., who nevertheless continued to receive the patronage of government. He would not then go into any statement with respect to Ilchester gaol itself, except to state one or two facts. One was, that the prisoners were locked up at five in the evening, and not let out till seven in the morning. Among the debtors was a female quaker, imprisoned for a debt incurred by giving security for her brother. Mr. Hunt also was one of the inmates of that prison. It was his intention, in a few days, to move for a committee to inquire into the state of Ilchester gaol.

Mr. Creevey

requested that gentlemen would attend to this fact, that Charles Hill, 74 years old, had been confined 15 years for owing 31l. to the Crown, while Mr. George Villiers, a debtor to the state to the extent of 100,000l., was allowed to ride and walk about just like other people. There certainly ought not to be one law for the poor and another for the rich.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the Treasury had nothing to do with the case; the Crown had merely instituted the process for the benefit of the parish that had been defrauded. It was for the parish therefore, and not the Treasury, to show mercy.

Mr. Dickinson

said, he bad often heard that Hill might have been liberated, if he would give up certain property. He had driven the trade of an attorney in the gaol, and had made considerable profits by his practice. There were two visit-ring magistrates to the gaol, and before every quarter session a number of gentry surveyed the prison; and if any man had a complaint to make, it was heard by them. He had heard that it was once a part of the worthy alderman's duty to go down to Ilchester gaol to examine it, but that, instead of going into the prison, he had made his report to the city of London from a printed book put into his hands.

Sir T. Lethbridge

was satisfied that if the state of the gaol were inquired into, it would be found to be conducted in a most perfect manner.

Dr. Lushington

said, that as one of the members for Ilchester, he had investigated the case, and found, that though many of the facts stated in the petition were true, they assumed a different colour when accompanied by the explanation. It was true that this unhappy man had been confined ever since 1806, for only S4A; and that if he had executed certain deeds, he would have been discharged long ago. Four years had, however, elapsed since he had consented to execute those deeds. If he had been originally to blame, surely he had expiated Ids offence. The prison being below the bed of the river, was necessarily damp and unwholesome. The greatest pains were nevertheless taken to obviate these evils. The gaoler had been highly successful in introducing a variety of beneficial reforms.

Sir I Coffin,

knowing perfectly well the character of the gaoler, bore testimony to his humanity and good conduct.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that with another magistrate of London, the town clerk, and a surveyor, he had visited the prison, and had remained in it for some hours. At the time that the petitioner was treated in the way described, a person charged with fraud, Mr. Kinnear, was living in the house of the gaoler.

Mr. Baring

said, he had received a statement from one of the magistrates of Somerset upon this subject. It appeared that the city of London sent out a sort of pilgrimage to inspect the gaols of the kingdom—that a city deputation, consisting of two aldermen and the town Clerk, visited the town of Ilchester; they stopt at the principal inn, and, like, a true city deputation, they had: an excellent dinner; but, unfortunately, they remained so long at dinner, that, being in a great hurry to go away, they actually left the town without visiting the gaol. This did not, however, prevent them from making a report, describing the internal state of the building, the situation of the pump, &c, all of which, unluckily for their statement, had been altered about a year before, and it was thus that a discovery was made of the manner in which they had exercised their inquisitorial functions. [Hear! and a laugh.]

Mr. Dickinson

said, he had received a statement of particulars confirming what had just fallen from the hon. gentleman.

Mr. Wilmot

asked the hon. alderman, whether he had in fact visited the interior of the prison?

Mr. Bernal

objected to this mode of interrogation.

Mr. F. Buxton

observed, that the information he had received from the gaoler was that he had been sent for by the hon. alderman and his colleague, who made inquiries of him relative to the state and system of the prison. As far as his own experience went, he had never seen any place of confinement under such excellent regulation. The gaoler had introduced a system of labour, by which the prison discipline was aided and enforced to a degree which did honour to the country.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that the hon. member (Mr. Baring) should not have harshly contradicted a member of that House who stated that he had been in the gaol for two hours. One hon. member had said, that the gaoler had been sent for to the inn; he denied it. He had been appointed, with others, to inspect the different gaols in the kingdom, under the authority of lord Sidmouth. The inspectors did not feel that they were bound to find fault: their principal object was to state the size of the rooms, the conduct of the prisoners, the hours of locking up the gaol, &c.

Ordered to he on the table.