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Broth Boys – The Evils of Gaol Government

October 17, 2010

The evils of Gaol Government, however are to be attributed to those with whom they originate; for they are accountable for their acts, and if they neglect the exercise of a necessary control over their subordinate officers they are justly chargeable with the misconduct of the latter. Hence I was induced to commence a series of letters on this subject with a view to the amelioration of the wretched convicts. Of these I shall here subjoin the first:-

To the Magistracy of the City and County of Bristol.

I beg leave, with all due respect, to entreat your attention to a subject of vital moment to the convicts now confined in this prison, as of all who may by possibility be brought into the like unfortunate situation.

His Majesty’s Gaol for this City and County is under your management, subject to your control, and governed by your rules and regulations. I feel assured, that, neither our beloved Sovereign, nor his able Secretary of State for the Home Department, would approve the rules and regulations now in force, and I am therefore disposed to hope that you will deign their revision and to believe that in such case you will amend such as may appear to bear with undue harshness (to use a mild term) on the unfortunate whom they may affect.

The first subject, with reference to which I will venture to obtrude my observations on your notice, is that of “diet.”

At a recent investigation before the Coroner, on occasion of the death of a convict, the Governor of this Gaol, being sworn, stated that most of the convicts were weighed as they came in and as they went out, and that it very rarely occurred that they had lost weight during their imprisonment. Now, gentlemen, I beg leave to protest against this principle, as establishing a fair criterion for an them by the “diet” allowed. The scales will not give an inference as to the health. Men are not the more sound in constitution, because heavier in the scale. Whatever the quality of their blood it will weigh its weight. A scorbutic complaint will not make a man the lighter in the scale. The poor convicts are neither beeves nor swine. I am of spare habit, your Governor is not; yet I should have the best chance in the long run, with a fair start. Hence gentlemen, I would have you to conclude that your scales are not those of justice in this instance, for I shall not require that you should fatten your convicts.

Your weekly allowance to a convict in this Gaol is as follows:-

Bread 10.1/2 lbs
Soup -peas, barley and vegetables 2 quarts
Soup -beef, liquor and peas 3 quarts
Oatmeal gruel 7 quarts.
Beef 2.1/2 lbs
Cheese 1/4 lb.
Potatoes 8 lbs.

Look, gentlemen, on the statements, and say which of the two be more just. On the comparison, I have no hesitation in asserting, that either the Magistracy of the County of Gloucester are shamelessly profligate of the public money, or that of the City and County of Bristol, disgracefully unfeeling and inhuman. May I be permitted to indulge in the argumentum ad hominum and to ask you, whether, if any of you were in the situation of one of your poor convicts, you would not be of my opinion? But I leave it to such of you as are equally worshipful in both Counties to adjust the quantum meruit as equitably as may be convenient. I do not believe the Magistrates of Gloucestershire have any desire, unnecessarily, to pamper the appetites of their convicts, and I have endeavoured to persuade myself, that those of Bristol are not altogether indisposed to give the prisoners in their Gaol a fair chance of life and health. The latter, however, I find a matter of no small difficulty; for the prison diet is, in the opinion of all medical men whom I have consulted (and they are neither few nor inexperienced nor prejudiced) insufficient, either for the preservation of health, or the prevention of disease.

You will be pleased to recollect, that this is the “working” allowance, for your regulations enforce the exaction of active and laborious exertion, to which, indeed, I only object, in so far as it presents a claim to sufficient nutriment, and which claim is unheeded, or unacknowledged by you. I would ask you, if you so treat your horse? If you work him, is he not entitled to his corn? Or, will your unjust economy induce you to send him after his day’s labour to pick up a scanty mouthful in the pasture?Such, at least, is your treatment of your fellow-creatures! Nor have you the excuse of inability, for you have ample pecuniary means, and are in the exercise of extra-judicial powers, and are certainly invested with a legal authority to enforce a sufficient provision for the prisoners in his Majesty’s Gaol for this City and County. Yet, you do not accord them a quantum of nutriment beyond that which shall barely keep body and soul together for the time being.

Can you fail to perceive the dire effects in which this treatment must assuredly result? It must reduce the strength, and undermine the constitution of the poor convict, from whom you continue your extraction of labour, until nature sinks into the arms of disease, an unresisting, and scarcely an unwilling victim! And is not this STARVATION? By what other means would you designate it? A man enters the prison in robust health; he is put on the tread wheel, and receives the prison allowance of a pound and a half of bread daily, and a pint and a half of meatless broth four days a week. He is well worked every day, and all day, with the exception of Sunday. In the course of time, his pre-acquired strength fails him, for he must not look to your diet for his sustenance. Still he must labour; he becomes weak; yet still he must take his place on the wheel. A predisposition to disease is thus created; he becomes ill; is taken from the mill, put in his cell, drinks doctor’s stuff, and dies. Yet this is not STARVATION !

Your worships ought not to excuse yourselves, or to think others will hold you excused, on the ground that the friends of the convicts may supply them with beef or with butter. They may, or they may not. The convicts may be friendless. Some of them are so. The poor boy who died on Sunday was so. But, whether or not you have to support them, and what support is there in your worshipful allowance of bread and broth? None: for I refer you to Dr. Johnson for the meaning of that term, and you will find that it is maintenance, not as applicable to life merely, for the legislature never supposed you would imagine the right or privilege of destroying your convicts by acts of open violence, but as applicable to bodily health and strength, and to which object your bread and broth are inefficient agents, if they be not, as I am disposed to think them, in their process, antidotes.

Now, there are many things which operate as of necessity on the conduct of one in straightened circumstances, but which conduct, in the affluent would be regarded, and justly, as evidence of inhumanity or meanness. I have treated your Worships hitherto as rich men individually, and as having collectively, the custody of the immense income of the Bristol Corporation. But, I may be told, that you are not so rich as others think you; suppose not:- you will be still rich enough to act justly, although it cost you a portion of your superfluity. Yet, after all, my argument, in its reference to your wealth, extends, in fairness, but thus far as wealthy men, you should entertain liberal feelings, and cherish generous sentiments, whilst, as men without a surplus of means over the demands of necessity and comfort, you should, at least, manifest a disposition to benefit the wretched, whenever you could indulge in the luxury of doing good without any personal expense or inconvenience Take them, I beseech you, which character you will, and the duties will be nearly tantamount, for should it, on this occasion, be your pleasure to be rich, you owe it to yourselves, that you support and maintain the poor captive in health and strength; whilst, on the other hand, should it be your fancy to plead poverty, you ought not to let him die of starvation, if, without any expenditure of your money, you can feed and nourish him.

I humbly beg permission of your worships, therefore, to discard my assumption of your wealth, and, with as many apologies as it may be need your sanction of my new ground of argument, your imagined poverty.

Well then gentlemen, I solicit your attentive consideration of the subjoined commercial calculation, of the comparative expense of provisioning fifty convicts for one year in the two Gaols of Gloucester and Bristol.

BRISTOL                                          £.       s.        d.
Bread, 27385 lbs at 1.1/2d         171 –     3 –     1.1/2
Barley Broth, 2600 qrts at 1d     32 –     10 –       0

Support of 50 men for 1 year      203 –     13 –     1.1/2
Yearly support of each convict        4 –     1 –     5.1/2
Weekly Support of each convict                1 –     4.1/2

Or about two-pence farthing per man, per diem

GLOUCESTER                                       £.       s.       d.
Bread, 27385 lbs at 1.1/2d           171 –     3 –     1.1/2
Peas soup, 2600 qrts at 1.1/2d   48  –     15 –     0
Gruel, 18200 quarts at 1/2d        37  –     18 –     4
Meat, 5850 lbs at 6d                      146  –     5 –     0
Cheese, 650 lbs at 4d                     10  –     16 –     8
Potatoes, 69 cwt 2q.16 lbs at 1s       3  –     9 –     7

Support of 50 men for 1 year         £418 –     7 –     8.1/

Yearly support of each convict         8 –     7 –     0.1/2

Weekly Support of each convict             3 –     2.1/2

Or about five-pence halfpenny per man, per diem

A poor man may be honest, and although poor may render himself serviceable to his fellow creatures, and if it will be any consolation to your Worships, I will tell you that I am also poor, as the world goes; so poor fellows all, let us jog on together along the road of good fellowship with the City of Utility in our view until I am obliged to branch off to for the Borough of Tenterden, or you feel disposed to turn sail and back out of the bargain.

Why really, gentlemen, you could scarcely keep a cur for the money, and thrice the amount would not fatten a pig to a profit! This is truly the way to become wealthy, if you could only persuade people into the somewhat novel method of living on two-pence farthing per day, and at the same time acquiring, as it were gratuitously and into the bargain, that respectability rotundity which shall make them weigh heavier than ever an Alderman of the first water! Command me to your bread and broth say I, for it is high time I put off my spareness and pull on my rotundity! Eh? your Worships, why his Majesty might here recruit for his Beef-eaters or Yeomen of the Guard, as they then should be called with the term of Broth-Boys, as the denomination, seeing that they eat no beef, yet grow portly and royal Shame on your worships of Gloucester, whose convicts at this rate must over-run the County like so many living skeletons, consumers of beef and potatoes, themselves graduating towards consumption!

Well, but let us return to the pounds, shillings and pence, that I may show to your Worships how to be more just towards the poor convicts without additional charge of a single farthing, in short, how to find them better at a less cost.

Need I inform you that the more prisoners there are in Gloucester Gaol the less its expense to the County? It is necessary that I remind you, that they there earn more than they cost Any surplus is applied first, in reduction of the general charges, and next in the bestowal of a bonus to discharge convicts, for subsequent good conduct? You surely cannot be ignorant of the moral influence as well as pecuniary advantage of such a system of Gaol Government, the system of the philanthropic Howard, worthy your own beneficent Colston, deserving adoption (although late) by the hundreds who so very recently commemorated by their eating and, far better, by their charitable donations, the anniversary of that immortal Bristolian.

You have a treadmill, but you grind no corn; you keep it constantly at work, but for the greater portion of the time the men are at the labour-in-vain job of working against added weight, for the mere purpose of punishment! I know, I may be told that you have not a sufficient number of convicts to tread the wheel so that it should give action to the mill-stones; but why not have the stones of different dimensions, that by shifting the impetus you might at all times have worked productively in proportion to the strength of the gang.

Gentlemen, you need but declare that you have no objection to our convicts being fed as well as those at Gloucester, provided it cost you no more money, and I will engage they shall have precisely the Gloucester allowance, without the charge to you or your fellow-citizens of a single shilling per annum for their support, without working them more than they should be worked, or punishing them more than they should be punished, without interfering in the remotest degree with their safe custody under the existing regulations on that head, in short, without effecting other alterations than these; that they should be better fed, that their spirits shall not be broken by labour-in-vain, and that their health shall be preserved by exercise and nutriment.

Gentlemen, I pledge my consistency, and there is not a pawnbroker in Bristol who will deny that it is worth something (perhaps, something better than a prison) that I will enable you to do all this for the sake of the poor half-starved convicts and the approbation of my own conscience. Is it a bargain your Worships? All bubbles barred, and without affecting your persistency in the King’s Bench concern – for, and as it may be of some consideration with you, the philanthropic plan will not lack its momentum in Bristol, whenever it may be my lot to endure incarceration at your Worshipful hands. I subscribe myself, Worshipful Gentlemen, (because I can’t help it) Your poor Prisoner,


Bristol Gaol 21st November 1828.


Death of a Convict (The sad case of James Blake)

April 7, 2010

ABOUT a month after I had been in Bristol Gaol, a poor convict boy died. This event took place on a Sunday morning, whilst the prisoners where at chapel. One of the other convicts was left in the cell with his dying companion, and the door was fastened on the outside; so that, when the moment of dissolution arrived, and the attendant would have sought assistance, it was out of his power; he could neither leave his cell, nor make himself heard. It is unnecessary for me to detail circumstances which I embodied in the correspondence, and which I subjoin. I will therefore only promise, that I acted on the impulse of the moment, from the heart, and as I think any man of feeling and nerve ought to have done, and would have done in a like situation.

Bristol Gaol, Debtors Side.
Ward 1
16th November, 1828
As one of the coroners of the city and county of Bristol, you will probably receive official intimation of the death of a boy, who died somewhat unexpectedly this morning, in one of the convict wards of this Gaol. Without presuming to dictate to you, Sir, and without wishing to impute or insinuate censure to or against any particular individual, I yet feel justified in my present interference, by these considerations:

1st. – The deceased (who- was, I understand, about 15 years of age, and had been in this Gaol nine or ten months) was absolutely friendless, no person having visited or inquired about him since his commitment.

2ndly. – The prison regulations are a disgrace to a civilised country, as they are repugnant to Christianity, and have been, as it appears to me, the more or less proximate cause of the friendless child’s untimely death.

Permit me to suggest, that you have now a duty to perform, embracing an enquiry of vital importance to the poor and unfortunate, and although, in the course of the necessary investigation, you may be impelled by your duty into unpleasant collision with the authorities of this City, I will not for a moment doubt your sacrifice of all personal feelings, rather than of your independence as a man, your humanity as a Christian, and your responsibility as a Coroner.

I take leave to inform you, that I have addressed a letter on this subject to the visiting Magistrates of this Gaol, of which I have entered somewhat more into detail. I have expressed my desire to be present at the inquisition, in order to adduce such evidence as I may be able to offer to the consideration of the Jury and yourself, touching the death of the poor lad, and affecting the health of other convicts in this Gaol.

I trust, Sir, you will not be disposed to refuse such my request, especially as the deceased has no friend in Bristol. Requesting, therefore, an early acknowledgement of this communication, I subscribe myself,

Yours, with respect,

To: MR. J. B. GRINDON, Coroner.
Bristol Gaol, Debtors Side.
Ward l
16th November, l828

I take the liberty of addressing you as one of the visiting Magistrates of this Gaol, relative to the death (this morning) of a poor and friendless boy, in one of the Convict Wards – and to express a hope that under the proceedings of the Inquest to be held by the Coroner on the body, a strict and necessary investigation will be made, whether or not the death of the lad was caused or accelerated by the (as they appear to me) anti-Christian regulations of those who control the management of this, His Majesty’s Gaol.

I am prepared, Sir, to encounter the sneers of the weak and the censure of the heartless, in thus stepping forward to prefer a charge of gross neglect as the cause of this boy’s death. To whom such neglect may be attributable the result of the enquiry will show. It is not my object to charge any man, or body of men with so serious a dereliction of duty, but it is imperative on me thus openly and fearlessly to avow my conviction that the poor boy has not been treated, with even common humanity: light such charge where it may.

Sir, I am aware that no investigation can resuscitate the inanimate corpse, but it may promote the health and preserve the lives of other unfortunate beings in the like situation with the deceased, by reforming abuses, if they exist, and by removing the opprobrium of humanity from the party to whom such suspicion may now attach.

Lest, however, you should suppose I prefer this serious charge without sufficient data, or that I lack courtesy in my manner of advancing such charge, I have no objection to enter on a statement of some of the particulars from which my conviction of gross neglect somewhere has resulted.

1. The deceased, having no friends from whom he could obtain occasional supplies of food, lived entirely on the Gaol allowance, viz. a pound and a half of bread daily, and three quarts of barley broth per week. I think it must be admitted that this allowance is, generally speaking, insufficient, and in particular instances of constitution or habit of body, altogether short of the quantum of nutriment it affords. On these facts I submit, Sir, that it should be ascertained whether an insufficiency of nutritive food did not predispose disease in the deceased?

2. The deceased complained frequently of a pain in his side, as produced by exertion on the tread mill; a description of labour which is certain death under particular circumstances. On this fact I would respectfully suggest the enquiry, whether the death of this poor boy was not accelerated by an excessive exaction of labour on the mill.

3. The cells of the convicts have stone floors; and are without a fireplace; the windows are unglazed; the shutters in so disgraceful a state as to be pervious to the wind and rain; no fuel is allowed for firing, and the quantity of bed-clothes is but one sheet and two blankets. Sir, is it is not possible, that these hardships may have affected the health of a child, perhaps of a delicate constitution.

4. The deceased has been ill for about three weeks, yet, instead of being removed to the Gaol infirmary was inhumanely suffered to lie exposed to the pitiless blasts of the two or three severe nights immediately preceding the morning of his death. I ask, Sir, was not this a most culpable neglect in some quarter? and in which?

I humbly trust that I have now stated sufficient to induce your worship to accede to my request, that as one of the visiting Magistrates of this Gaol you will render your effective assistance towards promoting a rigidly impartial enquiry into the cause of this poor boy’s death; and to which end I feel it due to justice, that I offer and beg you will accept such assistance in the furtherance of the investigation as I may be able to afford. I take leave further to suggest to your worship, that an examination of the body, by other medical gentlemen than the Gaol Surgeon appears to me desirable, and with which view I tender the evidence of practitioners of known character for experience and probity.

I subscribe myself, Worshipful Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

Mr. Alderman BARROW.
Mr. Alderman G. HILLHOUSE. [a copy sent to each]

I received the following reply from the Coroner :

Nov. 17th, 1828.

SIR – Your note of the 16th. reached me this morning. I am obliged by your suggestions as to the enquiries proper to be made, but, perhaps you were not aware, that the first and most important reason for holding legal inquisitions in all cases of death in prisons, is to ascertain that the death was not occasioned by undue severity, or as it is technically expressed, per dure garde.

If the rules of the prison permit your attendance at the inquisition, it will certainly not be objected to by me; but, (though I blush to make anything like a reflection on a person in distress, yet your request demands it,) you must be aware, that after the inconvenience occasioned by your conduct on some former occasions, no public officer is likely to covet your presence at his inquiries. If you can give any evidence relative to the death of James Blake, your presence will be necessary at the inquest.

I am Sir,
Your obedient humble servant,

The inquest was accordingly held, and the Coroner expressed every disposition to receive my evidence; but on stating that my confinement in Ward 1 prevented me from personally witnessing the transactions in another, and that being so, I was therefore unable to give what might strictly be considered evidence. I was desirous of submitting to him such points for enquiry, as appeared to me necessary for the attainment of justice, he intimated that such course was irregular, and informed me that he was ready to examine any witness I wished to have called. Now this was not what I wished, because I was desirous to avoid subjecting any individual to the more rigid surveillance of those in authority; but, on a moments re-consideration, I stated that, believing the Governor to be a humane and just man, I had no reason to fear he would manifest any ill-will against those who only desire to act right, I would request that Joseph Llewellin the convict servant to the debtors ward should be examined. He was accordingly sworn, but his evidence was worth but little, for the Coroner was tied by rules, and those rules would not admit the course of investigation which appeared to me necessary. So, on the evidence of the Surgeon, who did not remove his patient to the Infirmary, (and who deposed, that he died of an inflammation of the lungs, and that it was unnecessary to remove him to the Infirmary,) the Jury found that the poor boy died a natural death.

That the governor of the Gaol, and Mrs. Humphries his wife, and the attendants did all they could for an invalid, whom it was not considered necessary to remove from a cold cell to the Infirmary, I am quite satisfied; but whether the death of the deceased did not result from an illness predisposed by the regulations of the Magistrates and not understood by the Surgeon of the Gaol, I was not quite convinced; for I thought the Coroner should have called for other medical opinion than that of the Gaol Surgeon, and that the nutriment of the Gaol allowance might have weakened, as the exertion of the treadmill might have injured, the constitution of a lad of the age of the unfortunate James Blake.

The visiting Magistrates, (Alderman G. Hillhouse and Barrow) called on me the day following that on which the Inquest was held, and we accordingly, entered into a conversation, arising out of the communications I had made with them. It is due to those gentlemen, that I state, they manifested no feeling of displeasure at my interference, professed an anxiety that, whatever abuses existed, they should be remedied – admitted that the corporation, was rich enough to mend the windows of the convict’s cells, (when the Governor assured me that the shutter of the deceased cell, as all other shutters were sound) and declared that, although there was no magisterial regulation, to that effect, yet the Governor knew, that if he afforded nutriment, to a person for whom the Gaol food was not considered sufficiently nutritious, he would not be permitted to be a loser by his humanity.

Having with pleasure heard these sentiments, from the worthy Magistrates I asked if they were prepared to enter, on a serious investigation of the complaints detailed in my letter; to which, it was replied, that they were not, and that the universally admitted kindness, and humanity, of Mr. Humphries, placed him and his officers above suspicion. With this expression of feeling, I most warmly, and sincerely, concluded, but, I stated that I regretted I could not entertain a similar feeling, as it regarded the conduct of the Surgeon, or as it affected, the regulations of the Magistrates. So ended that interview, which was marked by an urbanity, which becomes the Magistrate, not less than it becomes the gentleman.

After the departure of these gentlemen, I sat down in my cell, and on mature reflection, resolved that on completion of my duty on this occasion, it would be necessary, that I should address the general body of Magistrates, on the rules which no divisional part of that body could be expected to alter, and the Surgeon of the Gaol, on the duties connected with his official situation.

That evening I opened a hamper from a kind supporter of my plight, a Mr. Day. It contained some wine and walnuts. During a moments rest from the preparation for the next issue of The Bristolian, it occurred to me that, as my enforced friends relished with Mr. Day’s very acceptable gift, that there are other hard nuts to crack, of the magisterial kind !

In furtherance of the claims of the Convicts on the consideration of those in authority over them, I therefore, with haste, forwarded the following letter:-

Bristol Gaol,
Debtors’ Side. Ward 1
November 21, 1828.

SIR, – If I offer no apology for thus addressing you, it is because I think such act imperative on me under the circumstances which brought me before the Coroner on Monday last. On that occasion, you gave your evidence as to the death of James Blake, and stated that he died from an inflammation of the lungs, that you did not think it necessary to remove him to the Gaol Infirmary, and that you thought his cell as warm and comfortable as was desirable for a person in his situation.

Permit me to ask, Sir, whether you are quite certain as to the nature of his decease? Was the immediate cause of his death an inflammation of the lungs? Do you merely think so, or have you such knowledge on physical demonstration? You will, of course excuse my bluntness; it is my way, and I am not answerable for such infirmity, if it be one; besides, I am desirous you should clearly understand me, especially, as I am impressed with an idea that either you were in this case professionally ignorant, or professionally negligent. Nor can you shirk my question, for you are a servant of the public, and derive a sufficient salary from the pocket of the public, whether you do much or little. And is it not of moment, aye! and of the first moment, that a professional gentleman in your capacity, should stand above suspicion of either ignorance or negligence? Sir, I thus afford you the opportunity of doing so and assure you I entertain no malignity towards one whose name I never knew until this week, although my candour prompt the confession that I had before heard, of your rudeness of manner, and ill temper towards some poor woman in the adjoining ward, who was unfortunately under your care. I know, Sir, that it is the fashion of some members of the profession to effect the manners of Abernethie, under the shallow supposition, that the world may thence conclude they have his talent, but the prickly stem of the thistle does not convey the fragrance of the moss-rose to its flower, neither is the blunt manner of a Surgeon, evidence, of an Abernethian mastery of his sublime science.

But to the principal subject of my letter:- either James Blake died from an inflammation on the lungs, or you are not qualified for the situation you hold; for you certainly had ample opportunity of ascertaining that fact.

I am therefore justified by your oath, in assuming such disease to have been the cause of this poor boy’s death, and on such assumption, I proceed to show by argument, that you have been grossly negligent of your duty, or rather perhaps I should say, why I conceive you to have been so.

Sir, it was given in evidence before the Coroner, that the symptoms of the disease, in this case, were a cough and a pain in the side, and it was on account of these complaints by the poor boy, that he was removed from the tread-wheel. On the propriety of working a boy, of 14 or 15 years of age at the mill, I shall address others, as I conceive that, under the regulations of this Gaol, your duty commences only on a manifestation of indisposition, or, in other words, that your efforts are to be directed to the prevention of death, and not to the prevention of disease.

But, Sir, if James Blake died from inflammation of the lungs, do you not think that when first he was placed under your care, you ought to have directed that he should have been taken to the Infirmary? You knew the nature and construction of his cell; that its floor and walls were of stone; that its window was unglazed, and that the shutters, however well they may have been constructed, and however sound they may be at this moment, cannot effectually exclude the night air. You knew too, that there was no fire-place in the cell, and I am bound to suppose, you knew the deceased to have been afflicted with a cough, and a pain in the side, when on the mill.

On your acquaintance of these facts, and on your professional knowledge (for I put personal feelings out of the question) I ask you as a Surgeon, duly licensed, and taking upon you the surgical duties of one of his Majesty’s gaols, and I ask you before your professional brethren, do you think yourself justified in permitting a poor patient to die in such a cell, when by a word, you might have had him removed to a place, where he would have received the attention of a nurse, where the atmosphere might have been regulated to any required temperature, and where he would not have suffered to leave his bed without your concurrence, as he appears to have done by your evidence before the Coroner.

I know, Sir, that on this question I have staked your professional character, but when the interest of the public is affected, I am justified in having done so. Nor can I forget, nor should you forget, that your Gaol patients claim even more attention and care on your part, than those who select their professional attendant, and if they have, or imagine they have, ground of complaint, can discard him and elect another.

Sir, your appointment to this public situation, implies, on the part of those who appointed you, a confidence in your talent and integrating the latter quality, in other cases than those of gratuitous patients, is insured by your immediate interest, but here you receive no personal fee, here your patient cannot relieve himself from your visits – here you receive an annual salary for much or little service, as it may happen, and for attention or neglect, as it may be. Here, therefore, your integrity is necessarily assumed; you are appointed to your responsible office, in the confidence of its existence; and if you possess not that integrity, it only costs a few convict patients the termination of their lives, and dead men and prison walls tell no tales.

Sir, if you have the feelings of which I will not believe you destitute, you must admit, that the case is a strong one, of claim, first on your attention and vigilance, and secondly, on your jealousy. Lest you should be thought deficient either in professional talent, or professional integrity.

Perhaps you have the virtue of ambition, for there are many incentives to its beneficial indulgence in this City; and if, Sir, you aspire to any of the many lucrative appointments, in order to which you must primarily attain the favourable opinion of your fellow citizens, seek that available testimonial to your professional integrity, the faithful discharge of your duties to those upon whom your attendance is compulsory , and whose best interests are entrusted in your hands, by those who appoint you to the office you fill.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,


April 6, 2010

On Saturday, 17th October 1828, I had retired to bed, together with my wife and child. That evening between the hours of 11 and 12, the bedroom door was forced with great and sudden violence, without previous demand being made or any warning being given, and I was taken from my bed by two of the Corporation officers, on the bail warrant dated nearly two months previously and put into the custody of the Sheriff’s officer named Morgan.

I had been a day and two nights in the house of this officer, when, I was taken before Mr. Gabriel Golding, the new Mayor of Bristol. That gentleman was pleased most pointedly to disown being one of my prosecutors, and to express his regret that he should be called upon to sign the instrument of my committal to prison” The right worshipful gentleman did himself honour in such avowal and declaration; but it was a matter of course that he should sign the warrant, and he did so. Morgan then escorted me to the Gaol.

On arrival at the Bristol Gaol and after a short wait for the appearance of its governor, the Sheriff’s officer took his departure. He took with him my sincere acknowledgement in that I was a breakfast and a plate of hashed beef in his debt – unless indeed some one had made, or had promised to make that account square with the gentleman? Be that as it may, a very few shillings will settle the business, and rub this weighty obligation.

I found governor Humphries a very obliging gentleman, albeit somewhat blunt in his manner. But rough or smooth, a diamond is a diamond, and it is said, ‘time and a little rubbing will bring out its brilliancy.’ He directed a portly page, one James Vowles; (man enough, I think to eat me at a meal), to introduce me to the society of suspected debtors of the first class, and in a little time I found myself quite as much at home as a man could be who knew he was all abroad, and that his wife and child were at home without him. What was worse still, and proved a severe trial for my philosophy, without that, which, as the world goes, is more indispensable than husband or father; the bread and cheese or the means of getting it for my family. But a friend, Henry Phillips gave help in the most practical of ways and so none of us died of starvation, although we all were continually frightened to death by the fear of not living!

My new lodgings are well worth describing, for it is not every reader that has been in a Gaol, nor every Gaol-bird that publishes his life and correspondence.

The day-room or kitchen is about 25 feet by 16 and is common to all the prisoners of the ward, of whom there were nine when I entered. In this room those who pleased, cooked, ate and smoked; many canvassed sections of the Insolvent Act, cursed their hard- hearted creditors, and complained of their many and more deceitful friends, who had deserted them in their hour of need. Besides the ward-room, each prisoner has an upstairs cell to himself; these are of two sizes, the smaller is about 9 feet by 7, the larger 13 feet by 9.

There is one feature I must add about this place, and which says much for the governor, his lady and their factotum Mr. James Vowles. Every room is as perfectly clean as soap and white-wash can make it. I verily believe that were a premium of fifty pounds to have been offered for a flea or a bug, not one could have been produced for love or money, in our ward at least, and I have no doubt all the wards are alike in that important qualification, cleanliness.

It was not long before I acquired a knowledge of the magisterial regulations on which I shall hereafter have occasion to remark, and which I shall here insert.

The prisoners are locked in their cells at ten o’clock at night, their door being unlocked at about seven in the morning; they have then access to their cell, the day-room and the ward-yard until dusk, when they are locked in the house, and at ten o’clock are warned from the day room to their respective chambers.

As I do not intend to offer any observations on the internal arrangements of the prison in this chapter, I shall proceed briefly to state the rules applicable to visitors.

I. No male visitors are admitted either into the building or yard, not even a father, son, or brother.

II. Wives, mothers, or daughters, are admitted to the building on Monday’s, Wednesdays, and Friday’s, from 10 to 1, leaving it between 3 and 4 in the afternoon.

III. On the other four days of the week the rules apply to all. visitors equally, whether male or female, stranger or relation.

IV. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, visitors are admitted from 10 to 1 and remain until 3, but their communication with the prisoners is restricted to such as can be carried on through the iron-grating running across the narrow end of the ward-yard, or that across the passage leading to the day-room. It may be as well to observe in this place, that the yard is an imperfect square, its length being about 120 feet on one side, and 90 feet on the other, and its breadth 60 feet at the lower, and 12 feet at the upper extremity.

V. On Sundays no visitors are admitted.

If the anxieties of a prison existence can be disposed of, a man, that is, a single man, may live comfortably enough on an income of a pound a week; and this only so long he is a sociable sort of being, and philosophical enough to make every man his companion, who is forced into this society, if he can, when locked in his cell, forget that he can’t leave it, and if he can go to sleep as soon as he stretches himself out at night. And, after all, a Gaol is of infinitely lighter restraint on the body, than the diseased, and weak, and the fragile body, on the aspiring and immortal spirit, which it enchains and encumbers!

The subjoined anecdote, will render these otherwise indistinct allusions somewhat mere intelligible.

Shortly after my commitment, a friend took an advertisement to Mr. Gutch (the proprietor of “Felix Farley’s Journal,” published in Bristol, and part proprietor of the “Morning Journal” (ci devant “New Times”) daily London Newspaper). The object of the advertisement was to raise the pecuniary means for obtaining a Habeas that I might move for a new trial in the Court of King’s Bench. The terms of the advertisement had reference to my brutal and illegal caption. Mr. Gutch, therefore, refused to insert it (and very properly) until he had ascertained that the charge against those officers of the corporation was correctly advanced. Messrs. Brice and Burges, the solicitors for the prosecution, were therefore applied to on the subject, when they admitted, as then could not deny, the facts set forth in the advertisement. “But” said they, ” did not Mr. Acland say anything of the liberal treatment he received from Mr. Morgan at the lock-up house? Did not he tell you of the tea and toast he had for breakfast. Did he say nothing of the plate of hashed beef sent up to him from Mr. Morgan’s own table? In consequence of this conversation, Mr. Gutch refused (very improperly) the insertion of the advertisement unless a paragraph acknowledging the liberality of Mr. Morgan, was introduced. The friend, in question, gave way to the sine quo non of the independent editor of Felix Farley, paid his demand and the advertisement was inserted.

In order to prepare a room for the reception of a successor, it is well scrubbed and thoroughly white-washed on the departure of the occupant, Only the most decent of the convicts are allowed to attend the ward for the purpose of keeping it clean. They act as a servant in every respect, receiving a shilling a week and all their victuals from the members of the ward. Need it be said that this office is considered a most enviable one, for two reasons; it takes the poor fellows from the tread-wheel, and gives them better grub than they could have otherwise obtained.

My Imprisonment for Libel

April 5, 2010

“For having dared to write and publish severe truths of very bad functionaries when truth was held by servile judges as libellous, and greater the truth the greater the libel.”

On the 20th of August 1828 at the Summer Assizes, I was tried before Mr. Justice Parke at the Guildhall of the City and County of Bristol, for the publication of certain libels in my Bristolian publication during April 1828 on the Corporation of Bristol. I was then and there convicted of such offence with the sentence being deferred until some future time.

The following inclusion being an example of just one small part of the evidence given in support against me:

(The Bristolian Friday Evening, 4th April 1828)


In our animated versions on the condition and conduct of this notable body, we are unable at all times to draw such distinction between its different members as a difference of character, talent or other qualifications, might claim or justify. None, we should have thought, could suppose that our general observations were intended as equally applicable to each individual Magistrate; and we therefore devote an article to the desirable purpose of explaining ourselves on this point.

Our objection to the constitution of the magistracy of our City, cannot bear the subdivision of apportionment. Each member of the firm, whatever his private resources, must, however reluctantly, submit to the inconvenience of exposure, as connected with his less solvent associates in the business. And if there be in this ill-reputed body, as we hope there are, some in whose estimation public opinion is desirable, and public contempt objectionable, we would suggest that the line of proceeding alone compatible with present honour and posthumous character is, immediate secession from bad company; for the experience of each successive day but adds fresh and varied evidence to the truth of the aphorism, that by the company a man keeps his disposition and habits may be best ascertained.

There are circumstances, indeed, which might justify a course directly at variance with that to which we have alluded; such, for instance, with a needy man, as the necessity of availing himself of the ways and means derivable by Corporators from the abundance in the corporation coffers or with a patriotic man, as the rational expectation of converting his brethren from the error of their ways. But we fear any hope of the latter can only be attributed to an ignorance of the world, or to a too sanguine temperament. As to needy men, members of the Bristol corporation, the supposition was incredible, or would be so esteemed by a vast majority of our readers. It is not very easy, neither indeed is it very desirable, to fathom the pecuniary depth of an Alderman’s purse, and the public opinion on such a question can only he formed on the precise quantum of information which the individual may please to amalgamate with his conduct. But if we were to form our opinion on this standard, we might be led into error by the profundity of an Aldermanic manoeuvre. It is not at all uncommon for a gentleman of straightened means to give alms in an inverse ratio to his just ability, in order that he may be thought richer than he is. So also, under the operation of the Property Tax, when it was an every day occurrence for tradesmen, with insolvency staring them in the face, to seek the establishment of a commercial credit by the sacrifice of an increased contribution to the revenue. And may not some equally weak men be as desirous that their riches should be unknown, as with the others that their poverty should be cloaked? But to explain these ideas we will illustrate our argument by a case in point:-

Mr. Camplin – the late Mayor of the second City in the kingdom – is a gentleman of whom it were impossible to suspect anything in the shape of poverty. That an individual who has so recently occupied so eminent a situation and station in the civilised world as Mayor of the second City in the first kingdom on the face of the earth, could be supposed a needy man, were, we repeat it, an instance of the most presumptuous folly. Well then, as we soar above the region of fools, we of course conceive this right worshipful ex-Mayor a man of unbounded wealth. And yet he may be one of those whose modesty is father to the thought, that a suspicion of wealth is prejudicial, and should be counteracted by the occasional semblance of poverty. Such we suspect he is, and to this feeling and an ingenious talent at throwing dust into the eyes of other people, we attribute his apparently singular behaviour some time since. The story we shall here relate, as we received it, for the edification of the many, and the instruction of those who may feel desirous of the following the example of the worthy ex-Mayor.

Mr. Camplin (so runs the tale) being somewhat interested in ascertaining how far a certain quantity of small coal might be made to diffuse sufficient warmth among the right worshipful household, directed his coachman to buy a savage dog for the purpose of guarding the said coal from the intending shovels of the un-experimental cooks. A savage dog was accordingly sought and found a sufficient collar, duly engraved, was ordered, made and delivered; – all the preliminaries for the master effort of economical ingenuity were well established, when, the unreasonable dog took it into his head that the cook deserved a warm return of his gratitude for the skin and gristle she had so plentifully supplied, and slipping his collar bolted. The dog seller sent in his bill. “Now” thought Mr. Camplin, “If I pay for the dog, the dog seller will think I have more money than I know what to do with, so I won’t pay for the dog.” And he would not pay for the dog – and he did not pay for the dog, or the dog collar, until during his Mayoralty he was summoned to the Court of Conscience, of which he was ex-officio chief, when, notwithstanding much show of resistance, that independent Magistrate, Alderman Haythorne, persuaded him to dub up by the observation, “It should have been paid when it was first demanded, and really you have no ground for hesitating to do so.” Accordingly, Mr. Camplin paid for the dog, consoling himself with the reflection that the dog seller could not now suppose he had more money than he knew what to do with.

But not to forget that the tale is but an illustration of our argument, we return to the point from which we have wandered, and assert, that however suspicious of poverty the assumed economy of some Aldermen may be, it cannot be supposed that any worshipful gentleman could desire to wear his gown merely for the sake of the good things to be got by so doing. There is therefore little excuse for remaining in a corporation one moment longer than the connection shall be conducive to, or consistent with, the personal honour of the individual.

But when we write of the conduct of the magistracy, we intend and desire to be understood as intending a personal reference to the particular Magistrate. And this too, in justice to others; for the saddle should be girthed on the right horse, or the unfortunate locum tenens might be severely galled by the unwise misfit.


Gabriel Goldney,Esq.
Wicked – Opposed to the people; and seeking the destruction of their rights.

Thomas Daniel, Esq.
Unfaithful – In misapplying the talents entrusted to his care.

Sir. R Vaughan, Knt.
Wicked – Aiding in the subversion of popular privileges.

William Fripp, Esq.
Unfortunate – As the father of an unjust Magistrate.

John Haythorne, Esq.
Worthy – The friend of the people. A just judge.

Henry Brook, Esq.
Weak – Not daring to be for us.

James Fowler, Esq.
Weak – therefore against us.

W. Fripp, Jun. Esq.

Vicious  – The unjust advocate of private trial in a free country.

G. Hillhouse, Esq.
Weak –  Not daring to be for us.

J. George, Esq.
Weak – therefore against us.

John Barrow, Esq.
On his probation.

Now, it appears to us that the worshipful members of our magisterial conclave may be thus classed: some WORTHY, others WEAK, and others again WICKED. Within our experience we have seen enough of these Corporators to be enabled duly to appreciate the distinctive merits and demerits of several, whilst of the rest we have naturally concluded that their indisposition to manifest an inclination on one side or the other, is unquestionable evidence of a pitiable degree of weakness.

The requisites of a Magistrate are, 1st, a due reverence for the people; 2nd, the determination, in the discharge of his duty, to be just and to fear not! On this test we have tried them, and the result of our investigation justifies the subjoined tabular arrangement.

Desirous that much appreciation may not be taken as merely founded on our opinion of desert, we are therefore free to confess that this estimation of character is the result of a solemn trial of the parties in question in The Bristolian Court of Enquiry, minutes of which we subjoin for the perusal of our readers and the furtherance of the ends of justice.

Distribution of The Bristolian newspaper…

April 5, 2010


A few Boys to take out The Bristolian Publication.
Apply at the Printing Office, Union Place,
Ship Lane, Cathay; or Mr. Honywill’s,
100 Temple Street.

There had been a number of complaints sent to the Bristolian office concerning the antics of my Bristolian Boys disturbing the quiet of the City whilst selling and distributing The Bristolian newspaper. They are said to be blowing their horns continually and very loudly, and on occasions blowing their horn under some ladies bonnets.

On WEDNESDAY NEXT, the boy’s, instead of proceeding on their rounds with The Bristolian publication, will occupy certain fixed Situations from Eight o’clock in the Morning until Eight o’clock in the Evening, and I have endeavoured so to arrange the Stations, as that they shall be as centrally and conveniently placed as possible. I thus relieve the Public from the annoyance of the horns, which I have long been desirous of doing, and should have long since have done, had I known that it was certain folks intention to compel me to such a course. The Boys will remain on their stations only the Wednesdays and Saturdays. On the Thursday and Monday they will be sent through their respective districts.


1. – Exchange

2. – Bottom of Park Street.

3. – Drawbridge

4. – Corner of King Street & Prince’s Street.

5. – Bristol Bridge

6. – Bedminster Bridge.

7. – Bath Parade.

8. – St. Peter’ s Hospital.

9. – Corner of Broadmead & Old King Street.

10. – Prison, Gloucester Road.

Right of Access to Police Courts.

April 4, 2010

On many occasions during the next few months I visited all the Courts of justice in the City of Bristol. The pages of The Bristolian were filled with the details of offences that I felt worthy of reporting; but this act and my constant persistence had the result that on the way I gathered a reputation which put on guard many of the residing Magistrates. It is clear that some were very good at their task but most could only be considered grossly incompetent. At Lawford Gate I was violently ejected by an officer named Atkins. It is a sober thought that illustrates the task I had set myself that later at the Bristol Sessions where he appeared on the charge of assaulting me, the residing chairman of the bench on being told that I was the editor of The Bristolian; read to the jury some carefully selected, and out of context comments that I made on the Bristol magistracy,and he then openly expressed the opinion that “a man who held such views deserved to be ejected.” The wheels within wheels with each looking after its own kind was most evident. This made me more determined to battle to open all Court proceedings to public scrutiny. During the months of June and July 1827, I was ejected and assaulted on numerous occasions by officers of the Court. Things got so bad that for a time I felt it prudent to avoid making my presence at some courts and obtain my newspaper copy by other means. To this end I opened my Bristolian Office to the Public as a ‘Justice Room.’ and was known as the ‘Bristolian Court of Enquiry.’ At this pseudo Court, I and members of the public, attended each day between 12 noon and 4 p.m. for the purpose of recording the details of cases dealt with earlier at the Council House. All those present in the Court were invited to report what had transpired, with any evidence given on oath.

To gain as wide a publicity as possible on this matter I inserted the following letter in the Bristol Morning Chronicle:-


SIR — At the Bristol Sessions yesterday, I again originated a case, on which the right of the public to access to Police Courts may be tried, by preferring a Bill of Indictment against the Mayor of this City, and Wm. Barrell, an officer attached to the River Police, for an assault; the former having ordered my ejection from the Justice Room on the 14th June last, pending a case of final adjudication: and the latter in having grasped my arm in execution of such illegal order. The grand Jury was composed of a body of highly respectable and intelligent gentlemen; and although the determined opposition of a few of its members protracted their decision for nearly two hours, they eventually returned to the Crown with a true bill. Immediately afterwards I applied, as a matter of course, to the Clerk of the Arraigns, for warrants against the parties — compliance with which having been refused by that Officer, I addressed the Court in complaint of such dereliction of his duty. In pursuing such a course, I regretted having been compelled to do so by absurd partiality of an underling of office, who on a former occasion had procured me the warrant without the slightest hesitation. I admitted that then, indeed the defendant was but a poor constable, and the instrument of the Magistrate; whilst in the present indictment, the Worshipful delinquent had been connected with his less Worshipful, and somewhat less culpable associate.

I express my hope that the Court would not sanction a distinction in the quality, rank or wealth of delinquents brought before it, and that the obstruction to the due course of justice created by the Clerk of Arraigns would be forthwith removed by the Court itself. The Town Clerk (Serjeant Ludlow) commented with wholesome severity on the conduct of the Clerk of Arraigns, and decided that I was entitled to the warrant as of course.

I stated that, out of respect to the feelings of his brother Magistrates, I would willingly waive my right to a warrant against Alderman Fripp, if any other course could be suggested by the Worshipful Gentlemen on the Bench which should be calculated for the attainment of the legal object of my application — the subsequent pleading of the parties to charges preferred against them by me, and sanctioned by the finding of the Grand Jury.

The Mayor decided, that there could not possibly be a distinction made, and regretting the circumstances of any impediment having been thrown in my way, ordered the Clerk of Arraigns to prepare the warrants forthwith, which having been done, they were delivered to me.

I regret to add, that I in a vain attempt to call the attention of the Court to another difficulty with which I had to contend, through the determined obstinacy of the officer to whom I have before referred, I allude to his former refusal to prepare the indictment on my written instructions — on which subject I thought it would have been well to have elicited the opinion of his superiors,

I am, Sir, you obliged servant,


The eventual outcome of this endeavour was nil – the Jury quitting the defendants as no case to answer.

In due course I subsequently learnt that the Corporation solicitors, Messes. Brice and Burges, were consulting and giving advice to the Magistrates as to the propriety and legality of their ordering me to be excluded from the Justice Room in consequence of my gross misconduct(!!!) on the occasion of my attending to take notes of the proceedings.

It is now clear that in conference that they decided I had no right to be present at examinations in cases of felony, but that as to my right to attend the meetings for the public business there was much doubt, but that at all events unless I conducted myself with decency and propriety at the latter meeting it would be right to order me to quit the room. All points that I fully concur with, but continue to insist that it is customary to permit the public their attendance during any final adjudication.


April 2, 2010

On the 12th of August 1823, I shipped on board The Revenge, and we shortly afterwards proceeded to Lisbon, in the cause of the old King, who died a short time back. We had for our Captain, a very good man and a thoroughbred sailor; Sir Charles Burrard.

Whilst lying in the Tagus, our Captain invited his Portuguese Majesty to a public breakfast, and well I remember it, and so do many others, for that day we got no breakfast, seeing how we were forbid to light any fires, that no unpleasant smell might reach the nose of royalty. The preparations had been going on for several days, and when we were ready for our visitor, not an inch of wood was to be seen, for the masts were covered with flowers, and draperies, and things.

So at length the old gentleman came in a thirty-oared barge, and nearly a hundred rowers, for there were three to each oar, and were all dressed in a fine scarlet livery, looking vastly gay. Now there had come on board of us the day before, three of His Majesty’s carpenters, who had employed themselves in making a ladder, and fixing it according to their own fancy, it being, as they said, a thing unheard of that the old Don should trust his neck to any other King’s ladder.

Well, of course we receive the noble party with due honour, but surely there never was a more ill-favoured King in any Christian land, he would have made a glorious monarch of the Ugly Island, and must have borne down all opposition.

It was on the 12th of July 1824, when we sailed for Algiers, to settle a little account with the black-bearded pirates of the African coast. Our people had been somewhat insulted by the Algerines; I think the quarrel began about an affront offered to the Hon. Robert Spencer, of The Naiade; so it was determined to bring them to their senses by mild or forcible means, as might be necessary. Our Commodore had collected a pretty little fleet from the Mediterranean, and we were plenty in numbers and strength to knock the nest of these robbers about their ears. We had scarcely cast anchor in the Bay, before a French frigate of 36 guns attempted to pass athwart our bows without asking with your leave or by your leave of us; so our Captain brought her to, and told the Commodore to proceed at his peril, as the British fleet was on blockade service, and would not allow communications. Monsieur told us he had dispatches on board for the French Consul. So we made him ship his dispatches in a cock boat, and without suffering the frigate to anchor, started her homewards.

Now comes the speechifying between us and the Algerines, and we use to meet them half-way, their folks coming out of their hiding place in one boat, and we going towards them in another, until they were near enough for conversation. I was on every trip of this kind, because I had scraped up a little Arabic, which however was of little service to any body. We were very careful not to touch the Algerines boat, as that must have put us under quarantine; but the longbeards were very polite in handing us a pinch of their snuff, in their large gold boxes, and some of us thought what a pretty list of prize money these would be in a storm of the town.

Well, as our speechifyer could make no hand at it, for the Algerines are a stubborn set, we began  to prepare for beating a little sense into them from our port holes. The ships were formed in a crescent line; the Revenge in the centre. We had The Lightning steam packet from Portsmouth as a despatch boat, and The Racer cutter for the same purpose. The latter was inshore and becalmed one morning, when a parcel of the enemy’s gun boats made an attempt to carry her to port. She had nothing but a few pop-guns with which to fight the devils, and sure enough they would have her if The Naiade had not tumbled a few shots about their ears from the quarter deck guns, which sinking two of their boats, drove the rest to harbour.

There seemed no chance of settling things in a peaceable manner, so we got ready in earnest. Our Captain had four of our big guns lugged up to the quarter deck, which had been supported by strong iron stanchions. The weight of each of them was 7.4 cwt., and two being placed on each side they would have done much havoc, from their elevated position, if they had been used. We were at our quarters all night, and in the morning, the Hon. Robert Spencer was sent on shore with a white flag for the last time. The Algerines came to terms; they were very sorry for what they had done; very free of promises for what they meant to do, and it all ended in a bottle and a smoke.

That morning, our Admiral, in his iron-bound coat and hat, landed, and was very well received – and all that. We each fired a salute, and the minister of the Bay came on board and shook hands with our officers, and everything went off very smoothly, until we had left Algiers and got into the rough water and the rough weather which followed.