A Town Gaol existed in Bedford prior to 1589 at the corner of the Guildhall, then from that date was established on Bedford Bridge. This building, converted from the former chapel of St. Thomas, in spite of being deemed in a bad state of disrepair and being washed away and rebuilt, was used until 1795, when a new Town Gaol was built in St. Loyes, using materials from the old gaol. Eventually a new County Gaol and House of Correction were built on a site originally owned by Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford in Dovehouse Close.
Portland Gaol was a penal service institution on the south coast, established in 1848 to house one thousand, five hundred convicts generally serving the second stage of their sentence on public works, having spent the first stage at a prison specially modelled for solitary confinement. Portland Island on which the gaol was built was not an island at all, but a peninsula joined to the mainland by a mound of treacherous shingle. It gained its term from the fact that travel to the island was by ferry from Weymouth across the stretch of water known as Portland Roads. The majority of the prisoners were employed in quarrying stone for the new breakwater below.
The original prison at Princetown on Dartmoor was built to house prisoners of war, but following the departure of French and American prisoners in the early nineteenth century, it was closed and had fallen into disrepair. However, when available prisons became so overcrowded and there were problems with the transportation of convicts, after several feasibility studies it was finally agreed in 1850 to re-open Dartmoor Prison. By September of that year, part of the prison had been made ready to house warders and military guards and on 1st November these arrived, followed by a small consignment of convicts. The latter were detailed to repair and fit the remainder of the war prisons and by December sufficient work had been done for the permanent occupation of convicts. Dartmoor Prison was expected to be able to hold one thousand, three hundred convicts.
Portland Gaol
Dartmoor Prison
Bedford Gaol
Millbank Prison
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Victorian Punishment
Formerly named the Penitentiary, Millbank was a gloomy forbidding place built on the bank of the River Thames where the Tate Gallery now stands, the ground on which it stood raised just a little above the river. The prison building was based on the work of Jeremy Bentham who had in 1791 produced his ideas for prison management, a round prison with cells on the circumference facing a core at the centre where guards would sit and view all cells, thereby creating the appearance of constant surveillance. Bentham had been unable to secure funding for the prison, and the government took over the contract, completing it in 1821. This modified version was shaped like a six pointed star, the external walls built like a fortress enclosing more than sixteen acres of low, marshy land, seven of which was covered by the prison building itself. Despite enormous sums of money being spent to improve the drainage and improving the soil, and although it was kept scrupulously clean and well ventilated, the prison was still very damp and very unhealthy, due both to its locality and poor diet. It was the largest prison in England, with three miles of labyrinthine passages and winding staircases.
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The Hulks
Gibraltar - Penal Colony
Western Australia - Penal Colony
The Mermaid - Convict Ship
In 1776 Parliament authorized the use of old ships as prisons for a temporary period of two years. The masts were cut off, and the hulks were anchored along the banks of the Thames at Woolwich, and in harbours such as Portsmouth. During the day, the convicts incarcerated there were ferried out to work on hard labour along the river and back at night, when they were chained to their bunks to prevent them from escaping ashore. Conditions in prisons might have been bad, but the hulks were worse. On these, they were terrible, badly ventilated, cold, damp and even more crowded. During outbreaks of disease such as cholera, large numbers of prisoners died because of the insanitary conditions and the use of water for all purposes from the polluted Thames. Despite the fact that the hulks were meant to be for temporary use for two years they were to last eighty-two.
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The Mermaid was a fine looking vessel built in Calcutta in 1817, of teak and yellow sheathed metal. On 20th December, 1850 under the command of Captain J.P. Anderson and with Alexander Kilroy as Surgeon Superintendant, she set sail from Woolwich bound for Fremantle in Western Australia. Her human consignment consisted of 208 convicts and 91 passengers, the latter all pensioner guards and their families.
The penal establishment on Gibraltar was founded in 1842, and by 1845 some 500 prisoners were held there. In March 1847 a hulk arrived, capable of accommodating an additional 300 men. Gibraltar, along with Bermuda, was regarded to be the second or penal stage whereby convicts spent one to three years on public works, after which they would be sent on to Australia.
By1848, the small colony of Western Australia was in a bad economic state, desperately requiring more labour to survive. In February 1849, a public meeting was held in Perth where it was agreed that, should the British Government wish to establish another penal settlement, then the settlers of Western Australia would be glad for their colony to be considered. With other colonies objecting to the arrival of more convicts and with the transportation system near to collapse, the British Government was only too happy to agree to the transportation of convicts to the Swan River Colony. It was declared by an order-in-Council as a penal colony on 1st May 1849.
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