What prisons looked like in the victorian era

In fairness it has to be said that in Victorian England there were only a few children under the age of 10 in prison, though the number of young criminals in jail aged more than 10 rises steeply.

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In the early years of the century all criminals were more or less thrown together in the common jail regardless of crime or age. But change was in the air and concern was rising over the rapid increase of petty crime. The first significant move came in , when laws were introduced that provided separate lock-ups for those awaiting trial and the convicted and hardened criminals. Then it was recognized that a distinction should be made between the habitual and the casual criminal.

Separate prisons were designated.

Pentonville Prison - Victorian prison reform. Separate system. Silent system. Robert Peel: Mr Prior

We must assume that Thomas spent his month in the company of other casual criminals awaiting trial and not with the hardened convicts. Two years later an order was published fixing the eastern coast of Australia as the future penal colonies. Within 50 years , had been transported to Australia — some a year.


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Thomas was never sent to Australia. His sentence was commuted to 3 more months in prison.

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For the next four years he was in and out of prison, avoiding deportation twice and spending many months behind bars in the company of hardened criminals. He is now only 12 years of age, and not more than 4 feet 2 inches in height. For the distance of time it is hard to imagine the state of London in the nineteenth century, before the motorcar or the railways, before the sewage system was built, before national health and guaranteed pensions, before the minimum wage.

It was the poverty, filth and squalour that drove many to crime — crime to brighten the darkness of life and to provide the means to survive.


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  4. Many among the poor knew no other profession and the skills were handed down from father to son. And society responded with a severity that often failed to discern the root of the problem — locking away the luckless criminals or deporting them to a far away land. This is undoubtedly the most affecting sight which a prison reveals.

    The writer has visited the prisoner awaiting execution, under sentence of death for murder, and he has visited the female wards of a prison. Both these are very pitiable sights to behold, but the swarms of juvenile prisoners are a still more pitiable sight.

    Pity The poor Prisoners

    In conversing with this class, the feeling of pity increases… They are older when young than any other class. Lord Romilly, a distinguished reformer at the beginning of the 19th century, recorded his impressions of a visit to jail. I had never before seen a dark cell, and therefore had no idea of the horrible place it was. A cell within a cell. The interior of the first is so black that when the governor entered it I speedily lost sight of him, and I was only made aware of his opening an inner door by hearing the key clicking in the lock.

    History KS2/KS3: Life in prison for young Victorian offenders - BBC Teach

    The lad came out, looming like a small and ragged patch of twilight in utter blackness until he gradually appeared before us. He was not a big lad, not more than thirteen years old, I should say, with a short-cropped bullet-head, and with an old hard face with twice thirteen years of vice in it. For the poor there was little mercy in the eyes of the law.

    Edward Joghill at the age of 10 had been convicted eight times and spent many days in prison. His crimes? Sergeant Adams stated before a Committee of the House of Commons that 30 to 40 children, of ages from 10 to 13, were often brought before him to be tried and sentenced at the Sessions; and that he had tried a child as young as 7 years of age, and a vast number of 8 and 9,sometimes for offences as small as stealing a penny tart.

    I saw a little urchin about 10 years of age, and I said, "Who is that boy? Punishments were invariably harsh and not aimed at reforming the criminal or providing for their future. At the beginning of the century, children were punished in the same way as adults — sent to the same prisons, sometimes transported to Australia, whipped or sentenced to death.

    HARD LABOUR IN VICTORIAN PRISONS

    In five child criminals under the age of 14 were hanged at the Old Bailey, the youngest being only eight years old. Until pick-pocketing was punishable by death, along with different crimes, from forgery to letter-stealing. Petty crime especially among children had increased sharply at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The use of treadwheels was abolished in Britain in by the Prison Act America adopted the treadwheel in , installing one in Bellevue County penitentiary in New York City.

    But only four were built, three of which were quickly abandoned. Popular culture: On their album Storm Force Ten , folk-rock band Steeleye Span included an English folk song called "The Treadmill Song" describing a prisoner's lot at hard labour, including the treadmill. The prison treadwheel was a long wooden cylinder with metal framing. It was originally about 6 feet 1. On the exterior of the cylinder were wooden steps about 7. As the prisoner put his weight on the step it depressed the wheel, and he was forced to step onto the step above, it was an "everlasting staircase".

    There would be 18 to 25 positions on the wheel, each separated by a wooden partition so each prisoner had no contact with the adjacent prisoner and saw only the wall in front. They walked in silence for six hours a day, taking 15 minutes on the wheel followed by a 5-minute break. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Victorian Web. Retrieved 19 September Vol III. William Hone, London: p