HC Deb 25 August 1848 vol 101 cc523-8

presented a petition complaining of the treatment to which the Chartist prisoners lately convicted as misdemeanants at the Old Bailey were subjected at the house of correction, and said he had presented upon a former occasion a petition of the same kind. The petitioners stated their belief that the Secretary for the Home Department had issued special orders for the coercive treatment of the prisoners in the house of correction, and they thought it quite useless to petition the Home Office on the subject, and consequently now appealed to that House. He (Mr. Wakley) believed that the statement was altogether unfounded; and in his opinion nothing could be more unreasonable or unjust than to entertain such a belief with regard to the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever his politics might be, yet with reference to these offenders, he believed that the right hon. Gentleman was utterly incapable of doing that which he was said to have done; and seeing the hon. Member for Maidstone in his place, who was one of the visiting magistrates of the prison, he begged leave to inquire whether there was any truth in the allegations of the petition that special instructions had been issued from the Home Office for the treatment of these prisoners with undue or unreasonable severity; whether instructions had been issued from the Home Office for treating them as felons; whether, in fact, the statements in the petition were generally correct; and also to state what was the actual condition of the prisoners, and whether at the present moment they were making any complaints to the visiting justices as to the treatment they received?


said, before he answered the question of the hon. Gentleman, he might be allowed to advert to that part of the petition which had reference to himself. He should, however, state, that although the petition was written in the plural number, it was signed by one individual only, as the chairman of a meeting, without any reference to any meeting in that petition. [MR. WAKLEY said it was agreed to at a public meeting.] With respect, however, to himself, as having sent special instructions for the treatment of these prisoners, he begged to give his most unqualified contradiction to that statement. He had no power to give any such special instructions, and the magistrates would not be performing their duty if they observed them. The prisoners were classed by the magistrates, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, under Act of Parliament, and he had no authority to alter those regulations. As to another statement in the petition, that it was useless to address the Home Office, he could state that that was not the fact; for two of the prisoners had addressed him, and he had referred it to the justices, with an intimation that every statement that was made by the prisoners should have every reasonable consideration.


could fully corroborate the statement of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that he had not interfered in any way with the regulations of the house of correction. The memorials sent to the Home Office by two of the Chartist prisoners were referred to the visiting magistrates by the right hon. Baronet, who had stated to him that he hoped no unnecessary restrictions would he imposed. The sentences on the prisoners implied that they were to be subjected to certain rules framed for all houses of correction when Lord Normanby was in office, and had not since been departed from. The question put by the hon. Member for Finsbury showed that considerable misrepresentation had gone abroad with respect to the five Chartist prisoners now undergoing sentence of imprisonment. As a visiting magistrate, he had seen these persons each week, and they all expressed themselves grateful to the magistrates, and more particularly to the governor, Lieutenant Tracy, for the lenient manner in which the regulations had been carried out. It was said that the prisoners' hair had been cut close immediately on their entering the prison. This was not the case. Ernest Jones's hair was cut about a week after his entrance at his own request, and by the advice of the surgeon, owing to the weakness of his eyes. The others were cropped about the same time, except Vernon's, whose hair was not cut for a fortnight, and then not after the Dover crop, but trimmed in the same manner as any Gentleman in the House would have had his done. The prisoners all stated they had no complaint to make with respect to their food. The dietary of the house was a loaf of white bread weighing nearly a pound and a half, with a pint of cocoa, for breakfast, and a similar loaf and a pint of gruel at supper. Four days in the week they had for dinner six ounces of meat and eight ounces of potatoes, making on these days thirty-one ounces of solid food; on the other three days, a pint and a half of good soup in lieu of meat. Fussell and Sharpe both said, that if every working man lived nearly as well, there would not be discontent in the country. They were permitted to have books sent them (subject to the approval of the chaplain), and when he called that morning Vernon was reading a scientific hook, and Jones working a mathematical problem. In fact, every indulgence had been given. Vernon stated to the governor that he was accustomed to take baths, and the governor immediately ordered he should have them two or three times a week. The sentence on these pri- soners made it requisite that they should be put in prison dress, and everything furnished to them was new. The dress they were was that of misdemeanants, blue, different from that of felons, which was of gray cloth with a number on the shoulder. He hoped he had given such explanation respecting their treatment as would satisfy the House; and if the hon. Member for Finsbury wished for more information he should be happy to give it.