HC Deb 10 August 1842 vol 65 cc1215-23
Sir J. Graham

moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Insolvent Debtors Bill.

Mr. T. Duncombe

rose, pursuant to no- tice, to call the attention of the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department to the contents of a petition which he had presented last week, complaining that great and unusual mortality prevailed in the Millbank Penitentiary during the present year. William Gellen, the petitioner, had been considerably above two years a warder of the Penitentiary, and spoke only of that which he had himself witnessed. He knew that whenever an individual came and made a complaint to that House against any person, it was customary to blacken the petitioner's character, and to impute improper motives to him, particularly if the party complained of held any high official situation. He, therefore, to meet any allegation of that nature against Mr. Gellen, would read the character which he had received on the 30th of June last from the governor and the chaplain of the Millbank Penitentiary. It appeared, that Mr. Gellen had been a warder since February, 1840; but in consequence of a dispute with some of the officers of the establishment, he had resigned his situation. In the certificate of character, the governor said,— Mr. Gellen is a man of much intelligence. His honesty and sobriety are unquestioned. I cannot, however, commend him on' the ground of subordination. Thus, he was admitted to be intelligent, honest, and sober, but inclined at times to assert his own opinion. It appeared from the petitioner's statement, that since January, 1842, fourteen deaths had occurred in the Penitentiary, that twenty-eight persons had been removed on medical certificates to other places, and that five or six had been sent to different asylums in a state' of hopeless insanity. It appeared, that in 1839, the deaths in the Penitentiary were five; in 1840, five; and in 1841, seven. In 1840, the cases of insanity were' five; and in 1841, nine. Looking, therefore, to the half-year ending in June last, it was evident that an alarming increase of mortality and of in- sanity had occurred. No doubt, the situation of the Penitentiary was extremely unhealthy; that was admitted by medical men; and to that source it was but fair to attribute a part of the illness. But great complaints were made against the system which was adopted in the prison, especially with reference to the want of a resident medical practitioner. Two cases were pointed out in the petition as having occurred this year, the one of a woman who expired in a fit, the other of a man who had been taken ill suddenly and died, no medical person having been present in either case. Further, it appeared, that a number of persons in a dreadful state of debility, brought on by the discipline of the prison, were removed, in the last stage of existence, to St. Bartholomew's and other hospitals, where they soon after wards died. Those deaths did not appear on the books of the Penitentiary. If they had, they would have greatly increased the number of deaths connected with the establishment. It appeared, that these removals took place too late to be of any benefit. In one instance it was stated, that Dr. Bayley, the medical gentleman attached to the Penitentiary, had paid the funeral expenses of a man who had been removed from that prison, and had died in the hospital. The inference drawn from this was, that Dr. Bayley felt that this person ought to have been removed before, and that the funeral expenses were paid as a sort of compensation to the friends and relatives of the deceased. The petitioner referred to the case of a man of the name of Evan Evans, who was found in his cell in a state of stupor. He had been treated for some time for consumption; stimulants and several leeches were applied to his temples for the purpose of restoring him but without effect. He was after. wards visited by the governor and Dr. Bayley. They declared that he was an impostor, and ordered him to be drenched with cold water. A case more outrageous than this could not be found in the annals of cruelty. The order was executed by the infirmary assistants. One held his head, while another poured three or four buckets of water over him. The governor called him an old fool,—asked him was he not ashamed of himself? and said, " Give him another bucket full," which was accordingly done. He was ultimately carried away still insensible, blood streaming from his temples. This man died two days afterwards. Surely, when such things were declared to have taken place, inquiry into the facts should be instituted by that House or by the Government. He was the more anxious to bring the subject before the House, because a bill had recently passed without discussion for the establishment of what was called a model prison. In the early part of this Session he had asked the House for a committee of in - quiry into the state of our prisons; the House would not grant that inquiry, but left the matter to the Secretary of State for the Tome Department and the Inspectors of Prisons. Now, when they considered what had occurred in the Millbank Penitentiary, and when they called to mind that the model prison was to be established if possible on a more severe principle, it was proper that the House should be put in possession of these facts, and that the Government should be warned as to what might take place in the model prison when it was opened. He had read the names of the noblemen and gentlemen who were to superintend this new model prison: in private life no men could be found more excellent or amiable; but, as practical men, or men who could command time to superintend an establishment of this kind, he certainly thought that a more judicious selection might have been made. It was impossible, he conceived, considering who these parties were, that they could give up their time to such an occupation. He found, in the first place, the Duke of Richmond, the Earl of Chichester, the Earl of Devon, Lord Wharncliffe, Lord J. Russell, and the Speaker of the House of Commons. Now, he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman (the Speaker) whether his time was not at present sufficiently occupied, without being called on to visit the model prison? Then he saw the names of Sir B. Brodie and Dr. Fergusson. He would ask, was not the time of these Gentlemen fully occupied by their professional duties? Dr. Fergusson was, he believed, a very eminent practitioner in his line—that of an accoucheur; but, as this was to be a prison for males, he did not see that the services of Dr. Fergusson were likely to be required. Next, he observed the names of Major Jebb, the Rev. Wriothesley Russell, and Mr. Crawford. Now, these persons, acting as commissioners, might make what rules and orders they pleased; and lie objected to their reporting to Parliament on their own acts and proceedings. Some of them were advocates of the most stringent solitary and silent confinement. Captain Williams, another of the commissioners, differed from them on this point, as he preferred the separate system with associated labour. Government were now about to make a very dreadful and alarming experiment, with respect to the solitary system. An attempt. had been made to draw a nice distinction between the separate and solitary system — just as if separation was not solitude. By the solitary system, a man was placed by him. self in a dark hole; by the separate system, he was kept by himself in a light room. That was all the difference. Mr. Chester, the governor of the Coldbathfields' prison, an observant and most intelligent man, declared it to be his opinion, that the separate and solitary systems were calculated to produce sickness and insanity. He approved of the silent system, connected with proper labour. The hon. Member also adverted to the case of Samuel Holberry, the severity of whose treatment in Northallerton House of Correction brought on illness, which soon afterwards occasioned his death in York Castle, whither he had been removed by order of the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department; and also referred to the pitiable situation of a man named Morgan Jenkins, one of the persons who was engaged in the riots at Newport, who was now confined in the Millbank Penitentiary, and who, he understood, was dying by inches, in consequence of the miserable diet of the prison. The hon. Member concluded by asking whether the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had made any inquiry as to the allegations contained in Mr. Gellen's petition? whether, if he had not, he intended to make such an inquiry? and whether it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to recommend to the commissioners of the model prison, and to recommend also with respect to the Millbank Penitentiary, that a medical man should be constantly resident within the walls?

Sir J. Graham

said, he was prepared for the motion of the hon. Gentleman, by the inquiries he had made when the petition was first presented. But the hon. Member had now taken a much wider range, and had indulged himself in a sort of roving commission through all the prisons. The model prison, as he had before stated was an experiment, and an experiment well worth making. With regard to the committee of management, lie thought, it was well qualified to conduct the inquiry, having conducted one in the House of Lords; and the same might be said of Lord Chichester. He might add, that the propositions of the Duke of Richmond, as to the separate and silent system, were very much in unison with those of the hon. Gentleman. He, had asked Lord John Russell to be so obliging as to consent to suffer his name to be placed on the commission appointed to superintend the experiment, and the noble Lord had been so kind as to promise that he would undertake to devote a considerable portion of his leisure time to the superintendence of the experiment. He had also requested the Speaker to be so kind as to suffer his name to be joined to the other commissioners, and the Speaker had been kind enough to say, that he would devote his leisure time to his duties as a commissioner. He had also appointed Sir Benjamin Brodie, a high medical authority, and Dr. Burnett, who also held a high rank in the medical profession, as commissioners. Major Jebb, an officer of engineers, who had devoted considerable attention to the subject of building prisons, was also a commissioner. These were all checks upon the prejudices of other persons. Knowing that Mr. Gordon had devoted his attention to the subject of prison discipline; that he had visited almost all the gaols of Europe and America, and that he had introduced the separate system of prison discipline, he thought that he ought to be appointed to superintend the experiment. If he had appointed Mr. Gordon alone to superintend the experiment, he should have been to blame, but he certainly ought not to be excluded from the commission. With reference to the case of Holberry, he was bound to say that that case had given him great pain. He had been informed last autumn that the health of Holberry was suffering, and he had directed that he should be removed from Northallerton to York Castle, where the discipline was less severe, and he had directed, that report should be made to him as to the state of Holberry health, He had not for some time received those reports, until shortly before Holberry's death, when he had received information, that unless he were liberated, his health would suffer so severely that he could not recover. He had directed his liberation within forty-eight hours of the time he had received that information. Now, with regard to the Penitentiary, it should be recollected, that the hon. Gentleman was impugning the discipline of that establishment on the testimony of a discarded servant. [Mr. T. Duncombe : No.] He had been permitted to resign, at least suck was the report of the governor. He would admit, that during the course of the last spring an epidemic had prevailed in the 'Penitentiary, and many deaths had ensued, hut that had not been occasioned either by the diet or discipline; for a more generous diet had been adopted, and a relaxation of the severity of the discipline had taken place, on the recommendation of Dr. Bailey, before the epidemic had made its appearance. That epidemic had been attributed to various causes, some persons imagining that the situation was unhealthy; he did not agree in that opinion. but he had directed Dr. Bailey to institute inquiry into the health of prisons similarly situated, and to report on the subject. He was also happy to state, that cases of insanity in that prison were less frequent than formerly. With respect to the man who died in Bartholomew's Hospital, and whose funeral expenses it had been said Dr. Bailey had undertaken to pay before they would admit. him, he begged to say, that they invariably refused to admit a patient unless some person was answerable for his funeral expenses. With respect to the other case to which allusion had been made, there could be no doubt that the man had simulated stupor, but lie could not altogether approve of the treatment to which that man had been subjected. With respect to the general superintendence of the prison it was under a commission, the members of which were above suspicion'; and he heard a short time since from a person who had attended a man who had been a prisoner in that institution, and who in his dying moments stated that the Penitentiary was the best institution in the world, and in his dying moments had directed his thanks to be returned to the officers of that establishment for the kindness with which he had been treated.

Mr. Hume

objected to the intervention of commissioners to screen the governors of prisons and the Secretary of State from responsibility.The experiment of the Penitentiary had completely failed. It was situated in a bog, and must be unhealthy. He objected still more to the management; it ought to be under the management of a responsible governor, and subjected to vigilant inspection, the Secretary of State being responsible for the general management of all cases. A plan of that sort had been adopted on the Continent, and found to answer. And until some such plan had been adopted in this country, all attempts at prison discipline would be failures. They had prisons in the Isle of Wight, prisons in Pentonville —the whole country was full of prisons; and yet they could not agree to any efficient system. He had called the attention of the Secretary of State to the case of William Penny, whose health was suffering from imprisonment in Northallerton gaol. No attention had been paid to it, and he opposed, that not until the man was within twenty-four hours of his death would any order be issued for his release.

Mr. Hawes

defended the appointment of the commissioners. If these commissioners had not been appointed, an outcry would have been raised against centralisation, and it would have been said that the people would have been excluded front the management of their own concerns, and all local authority overthrown. lie did not think that there had been a case of abuse established. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Montrose, said, that the Chartists had been treated by the late Government with cruelty. Of course that applied to certain men, and of course came down to the late Secretary of State. 'Yell, he (Mr. Hawes) would say, there never was a more unjust charge. In the first place, the law was not violated by that Government. With respect to the wisdom of that prosecution he gave no opinion; that was no part of the charge. He had his own opinion upon it. The charge was, that they were treated with cruelty. There was certainly a hardship done in placing the political offenders with those persons who had committed felony; but the moment the subject was brought under the consideration of the House, an act was introduced, providing that political offenders should not be placed with persons charged with felony. He should say, that taking the present prison system altogether, although, perhaps, not the best, it was one that would improve, and would obtain additional confidence from the public, and additional power to repress crime.

Mr. Greene,

as one of the commissioners of the Millbank Penitentiary, wished to say a few words in reply to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Montrose. The hon. Gentleman had said, that the whole weight and responsibility ought to rest with the Secretary of State for the time being. The Secretary of State was responsible now, and was also responsible for the appointments made while he was in office.

Mr. Ewart

entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Lambeth, that the present system of prison discipline was improving, and had been for some time, and he felt convinced would continue to do so; but be agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose, that the responsibility of the Secretary of State was not at all defined, but was in a state of uncertainty.

Mr. Aglionby

said, that so far from the political offenders in the time of the late Government having been treated with humanity, they had been treated with so much harshness that the subject forced itself on the attention of the House. He would refer to the case of the prisoners in Warwick Castle. Where could there be a case of greater hardship. That case was brought before the House by the hon. Member for Finsbury, and the mitigation of the punishment was not obtained from the Home-office of that day until the subject was brought under the consideration of the House.

Sir J. Graham

rose to order. The hon. Member had made his motion upon an Order of the Day, to which it in no way referred, and that was contrary to a recent motion of the House. This discussion might take five or six hours, and as it was interrupting the business of the House, he thought he had a right to rise to order.

The Speaker

said, he was exceedingly glad that the right hon. Baronet had called the attention of the House to this point. It was his (the Speaker's intention to have done so previous to putting the motion that the bill before the House be read a third time. The Order of the Day for the third reading of the Insolvent Debtors Bill had been read; the question was that he bill be read a third time. Therefore, according to a rule of the House, no hon. Member could move an amendment not strictly relevant to the matter before the House. He hoped that in another Session that rule would be more strictly adhered to.

Bill read a third time.

Further proceedings postponed till a later period, when the bill with additional clauses was passed.