Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

of license must not be avoided as indelibly stained with guilt; he must be assisted-not crushed; encouraged-not repelled. Time will, no doubt, be required to create and cultivate such sentiments in the public mind, but every obstacle will yield to the persevering efforts of an enlightened public opinion.

[ocr errors]

Will then the experiment succeed? "Earnestly do I wish that experiment success," writes Mr. Hill the Recorder of Birmingham, but adds, "no one I am certain, who is acquainted with the criminal class, can contemplate its possible results without the deepest anxiety."* We too share in that anxiety; but, nevertheless, we do not hesitate to express the confidence we feel, that success is destined to attend this important measure, and reward the efforts of its sponsors. With the class of prisoners who we have styled "accidental offenders,' we anticipate the happiest results from the judicious exercise of the provisions of the act of parliament. They will be received by their friends, their single offence will be expiated, forgiven, and forgotten, and they will gradually become absorbed in the masses of society: from the class of "habitual offenders," we must not expect great results or form the same sanguine expectations. The importance of reformatory discipline has been increased ten-fold. If a vast number of criminals are to issue from our convict prisons uninstructed and unreformed, if the opportunity once afforded be lost or disregarded, the consequences may indeed be appalling. Mr. Hill states, "that he cannot contemplate with a steady mind the evil results of a stream of unreformed criminals issuing from the gates of our prisons ;" and in truth, the responsibility attaching itself to all engaged in the administration of prison and convict discipline, whatever may be the position occupied by each, cannot be overrated or too highly estimated.

The time which has, as yet, elapsed is too short to enable us to speak fully of the practical working of the statute; we may, however mention that the number of letter-of-license men who have relapsed into crime, is comparatively small when compared with the number of licenses which have been granted.

Mr. Field, whose character and abilities are so well known, in his Fifteenth Annual Report submitted to the Grand Jury at

See Charge delivered by Matthew Davenport Hill, Recorder of Birmingham, to the Grand Jury of the Borough, 1853.

the Abdington Sessions last October, which he has kindly forwarded to us, makes the following observations which certainly merit deep consideration. Mr. Field points out the necessity of adhering to "the discipline and plans proposed for the correction of convicts," ere they are released from punishment, and left to struggle with the almost insurmount able difficulties which await them on their liberation. We will, however, let Mr. Field speak for himself, calling the attention of our readers to the fact, that in the two instances to which he refers, the treatment to which the convicts were subjected, immediately previous to their discharge, was in the one case, the contaminating discipline of a hulk, and in the other, the equally injurious system of associated labor in operation at Bermuda :

"The substitution of a term of penal servitude in this country for the transportation of convicts, which before prevailed, has not unreasonably occasioned many fearful forebodings. The recent perpetration of some atrocious crimes by men who, having been transported, had returned, induced me in my last report to observe, that unless the discipline and plans proposed for the previous correction of convicts were adhered to, and some employment ensured for them when liberated, disastrous consequences would result from the change. The experience of every week proves that my apprehensions were not unfounded; and although the number sentenced to be transported from this county, since you adopted a corrective prison discipline, has been very limited, yet the released convicts who re-appear in our calendars, afford proof of the danger to which I have adverted. I do not now particularly refer to those amongst them, who, under the old vicious system of penal treatment, were only preparing during the execution of their sentence, for the perpetration of more heinous crimes when it should be completed; but there have been during the last twelve months two felons liberated, and again committed for felony, who were sentenced to be transported, one for seven, and the other for ten years, as recently as the year 1850. The former of those, after seven imprisonments for various crimes, was sent from your gaol described as the worst of characters. After spending nine months at Wakefield, and two years and eight months on board a hulk at Woolwich, he was liberated, and returned to his former wretched home and vicious associates, without any prospect of employment. On my first interview with him on his recommittal, he told me that he thought it excuse enough for his crime that nobody would employ him.' The second was a more painful case. The man had been previously four times convicted, and upon his being in 1850 again convicted of two distinct felonies, he was sentenced to be transported for ten years. Illness prevented the separate confinement of this criminal for longer than about three months Having recovered, he was sent to Bermuda, but his health again failing (according to his statement,

[ocr errors]

which is confirmed by circumstances,) he returned to this country, and when again recovered, received pardon. He then came back to his former haunts, when in about a month he committed another felony, for which he was sentenced to penal servitude, and I grieve to add, died of cholera a fortnight since in Millbank prison. It is with reluctance, but constrained by a sense of duty, that I refer to these melancholy instances of mistaken clemency. I have always deprecated uncertainty in the execution of our criminal laws, as both cruel towards offenders, and calamitous to the community. As respects the former, if hope be allowed that a penalty may be mitigated by professions of penitence, or propriety of conduct, hypocrisy is the certain consequence; a man then behaves well, but becomes no better; and when influenced by mere selfishness, he has restrained vicious propensities long enough to obtain his purpose, he is again allured to violate the law by the expectation that, if detected, he need but repeat his deceitful practices to procure the same result. On the contrary, if, instead of thus fostering crime, and however undesignedly, yet too surely, promoting the temporal and eternal ruin of the wretched victims of such miscalled mercy, it be determined and well-understood that a certain I say not a severepunishment, unchangeable through any conduct of the criminal, will be inflicted, the convict then submits with patience to that punishment; he attends to instruction, and his character improves ; having no temptation to dissemble, he is sincere in his endeavours to amend, and in the peace of mind which accompanies this very process of improvement, he finds a recompence. Such a man, when liberated, has learned the wisdom of leading an honest life; higher and holier motives influence his conduct, and he has sought for, and secured that power which alone can prevent a relapse. You will kindly pardon this apparent digression, but a desire to be faithful, and a deep feeling of compassion towards those, for whose welfare, as God's minister, I am appointed to watch, compel me, humbly, but earnestly, to protest against that uncertainty in the execution of the law, which proves both preventive of correction and an incentive to crime."*

Whatever may be the result; it is, however, a consolation to reflect that one benefit must, at all events, accrue from the enactment we have been just considering: the benefit we refer to, is so ably put forward in the following extract from the Times, † that we need offer no apology to our readers for inserting it

"Thus much, however, is certain, that by removing the punishment of our crime from distant and unknown countries, and placing it in the very centre of our social system, we shall bring home to the minds of the people of this country that which they have never had before-a thorough sense of the responsibility of the community for

See "Reading Mercury, Oxford Gazette, Newbury Herald, and Berks County Paper," Saturday, October 21, 1854.

† See "Times," October 20th, 1853.

the crime it brings up, and for the necessity of dealing, not only with the disease itself when fully developed, but with what have been well called its premonitory symptoms. The more difficult, the more distressing, the more humiliating we find it to punish the full-grown criminal, the more sensible we are of the contamination which he carries with him, and the sacrifice at which any attempt at his refor mation must be carried out, the more anxious shall we be to diminish the numbers of this formidable and unmanageable class, by counteracting the first incentives to vice, and breaking up those seminaries and nurseries where it is inculcated and instilled. The effect of bringing secondary punishments nearer home will be, to make that attention to the subject earnest and incessant, which now is languid und intermitting. It is the intention of Providence that every community should bear the weight of the crime that it produces, and, if we have hitherto contrived to evade that intention, we have paid the penalty of it in another shape, by the encouragement of a spirit of remissness which has made us the prey of successive generations of criminals, whom we have brought up to plunder us, that we in our turn may, at a vast expense and with much trouble, send them to perpetrate the same outrages on our remote dependencies. We are now to bear our own burden, and the result will be, if we mis. take not, a very serious determination on the part of the community to make that burden as light as possible."

We have now brought our task to a conclusion:

[blocks in formation]

We have endeavoured to communicate to our readers information on a very important social question, in an attractive form, and have therefore avoided unnecessary details. The subject is one of great extent, embracing interests of vast importance, and affording a sphere for unlimited benevolence and philanthropy. We are persuaded also, that it is upon public opinion we must chiefly rely for its speedy and satisfactory solution. Government can do much to hasten such a result, but it requires to be supported as well as urged, and the reflection that we shall have contributed, in ever so small a degree, to the furtherance of so desirable an object, will afford us no little satisfaction.

We will now take leave of the subject, expressing our hope-indeed we may say our confidence, that at no distant period, Prison Discipline and the management of our Convict Establishments will be placed upon a basis "worthy of the greatness, the wisdom and the benevolence of England"—a result, in our minds, as deserving of the admiration of posterity, as the most glorious victory or the noblest feat of arms.


Minules of Evidence taken before Select Committee appointed to inquire into the Operation of the Act 8 & 9 Vict. c. 117, relating to the Removal from England of Chargeable Poor Persons Born in Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scilly, Jersey, or Guernsey; and also into the Operation of the Act 8 & 9 Vict. c. 83, relating to the Removal from Scotland of Chargeable Poor Persons Born in England, Ireland, or the Isle of Man. 1854.

The Irish reader who has witnessed the arrival of an English or Scotch steamer at any of the seaports on the eastern shore of this island, and has had the curiosity to wait until the entire of her living freight had been poured out on the quay or wharf, must have beheld a spectacle painful to his feelings as a man, and galling to his pride as an Irishman. At all times, the arrival of a large steamer from an English or Scotch port at our quays, is certain to present a scene of much bustle, and no small excitement. Long ere her paddles cease to revolve, loving eyes are strained to catch the first glimpse of some dear object; and as the gangway links the vessel to the land, how eager is the rush of the wife to the arms of a husband, of the child to the embrace of a parent! At such a moment friend greets friend with unusual ardour, and even distant acquaintances lose much of their conventional reserve. Nor is the stranger who visits Ireland for the first time, whether from motives of profit or a love of the picturesque, without a welcome: vigilant representatives of rival hotels contend for his preference, and eagerly endeavour to appropriate his luggage and himself.

But there is one class whom no anxious eyes seek out, to whom no ready hand is extended, to whose arms no fond relative rushes, to whom all are alike indifferent. They modestly wait back till the other passengers have left the ship, when they slowly pass over the gangway, weather-beaten and dejected. In number, they may be twenty, fifty, or even one hundred. Their eyes are dull and bleared, their steps faltering, their whole appearance indicative of misery and despair. Perhaps the last night's storm found them on the open sea, crouching beneath a scanty bit of tarpawlin, or clustering under the windward bulwarks, exposed to the keen

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »