HC Deb 22 May 1860 vol 158 cc1611-4

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the state of the convict establishment of Bermuda. The case which he had to bring under its notice was so urgent and important that he should offer no apology for trespassing upon its time. Many able and philanthropic men in England had been for many years occupied in endeavouring to improve convict treatment, but there still existed a blot upon her public establishments which reflected the greatest disgrace upon the country. The convict establishment at Bermuda had been in existence a considerable number of years. It was not to be regarded in the light of a transportation colony, but was rather an offshoot of the establishments at home. Convicts had been sent out in very great numbers to Bermuda. There were now 1,200 persons there who were employed in public works, in the naval and engineer department. Parliament had devoted £58,000 a year to this establishment. At the expiration of their sentence the convicts were all returned to England to be discharged, and not less than 360 were sent borne during the past year and liberated in this country. Many of them belonged to the worst description of criminals, being composed of prisoners who were sentenced to ten years' transportation or the longer periods of penal servitude. Hero he might remark that the system was wrong, which sent to a place whore there was the least supervision, offenders who required the strictest discipline and control. Their reformation under such circumstances was impossible and contamination was certain. Yet these men were let loose on society for the most part after four or five years' confinement. On looking over the Official Reports it was hard to say which was the worst managed—the department of public works, or that of the officers who had control over the prisoners. It appeared to him that bad management prevailed in every branch of the establishment. With respect to the department of public works, especially that of the dockyards and naval department, it was enough to refer to the Report of the Comptroller. He said: The principal divisions of works upon which the prisoners have been employed are three:—1st, the naval works under the superintendence of the Naval Department; 2nd, the Boaz Island Works; and 3rdly, the Ordnance Works, both under the superintendence of the Commanding Royal Engineer. A fixed number of 300 prisoners are supposed to be employed upon the Hospital at Boaz Island, a work second to one other only in importance, and the progress of which is not very sensible. Again he said at the end of his Report— I will invite serious attention to the present organization of the Works Department. That it is very defective is evidenced by the remarkably slow progress of the buildings, &c., in course of construction, and by the wasteful expenditure of stores and material which meets the eye in every direction. The works alluded to were of a very extensive and costly nature, and comprised those connected with the prison, with the dockyard and naval department, and with the engineers. In some instances they had not even been commenced, and in others they had been abandoned in a half finished state. Implements were scattered about in every direction, and valuable stores were sometimes landed in the island, and, being taken charge of by nobody, left exposed to the influence of the weather. No one seemed to be responsible for the management of the works, and hence the neglect and extravagance which prevailed. The next point to which he wished to call the attention of the House referred to the condition of the accommodation for the officers, and on this point the comptroller thus reports:— The want of accommodation for the officers is in itself fatal to the attainment of anything like a perfect state of discipline, for officers are thus compelled, in not a few instances, to go six or seven miles, and to cross the Sound to the opposite shore. One necessary consequence of this has been that one-third of the officers have been allowed to absent themselves from duty every night; thus those who remain find the duty rendered extremely arduous, while those who have leave (having a long distance to go) are obliged to leave the works two hours before the day's task is concluded, and for the same reason are unable to return in the morning until two or three hours after the convicts are at work, not to mention the unavoidable fatigue and lassitude consequent in this climate upon so long a walk. For five hours of each day there are not enough officers to take charge of the numerous parties. In short, the evils which result from the want in question are far too numerous to be detailed in my Report, and I would urgently recommend that quarters for the officers should be built at once, for I consider this of far more importance than any of the works in course of construction. The want of a prison wall has hitherto rendered it impossible to prevent communication between the convicts and the country people who are constantly passing and repassing on the public road through the Island, and who also supply fruit, vegetables, poultry, &c., to the private houses. The separation of the prison into places of detention so distant from each other not only makes supervision and reference to the comptroller more difficult, but introduces many delays into the smaller details of daily management. Then with regard to the state of the prisoners on board of the hulks, what did the chaplain say?— The great majority of the convicts are confined on board the hulks, and so long as this is the case it must be prejudicial to any general improvement in the character and conduct of the men. Bermuda is the solitary exception, under the British crown, where these dens of infamy and pollution are permitted to exist. Both on the score of civilization and humanity they have been everywhere else condemned. Few are aware of the extent of suffering to which a prisoner is exposed on board the hulks, or the horrible nature of the associations by which he is surrounded. There is no safety for life, no supervision over the bad, no protection to the good. The hulks are unfit for a tropical climate. Now he did not so much complain of the officers as of the defective nature of the arrangements and accommodation, under which anything like improvement or instruction was impossible. The state of the prison on shore was a source of great evil. The official Report states that— Boaz Island prison does not possess a wall or inclosure of any kind. There is a free communication both with the Ferry-road and with the private houses on the island. By these means the introduction of spirituous liquor prevails to a great extent, and drunkenness is a common offence among the prisoners. Before anything else is undertaken a wall of separation should be put up, without which the place does not deserve the name of a prison, so that when passing through the gates both prisoners and hired workmen might be searched, and all prohibited articles stopped. At present every prisoner on the island manages to have money in his possession, to gamble, to get rum, and to correspond with parties outside—practices which are strictly forbidden by the rules. He believed that the erection of prison walls was recommended two years ago, but nothing had been done. More than half the convicts were punished during last year, and some were tried for serious offences. With the exception that the convicts were healthy, there was hardly a single evil connected with the worst system of prison management which did not exist at Bermuda. It was idle to say that the evils could not be remedied. If they contrasted the system which prevailed in Bermuda with the system which existed in Ireland they would find that, while one was the worst imaginable, the other was most successful. Since 1854 Ireland had absorbed all her convicts, amounting in number to no less than 5,063. During the four years 1,250 had been liberated conditionally, of whom only seventy-seven had had their licences recalled, and 854 had been liberated unconditionally, of whom four only had been re-consigned to prison. It might be said that he ought to have brought the subject before the attention of the House upon going into Committee of Supply, but in the present state of public business it was impossible to say when they would arrive at the consideration of the miscellaneous estimates, and he felt that something ought immediately to be done. He hoped he should receive some assurance from the Government that inquiry would be made, and that no convicts would be sent to Bermuda as long as the system of hulks existed there.