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The inside story on Victorian prisoners
ON New Year’s Eve we featured an article about how the Victorian prison service turned to photography to catalogue felons and make people aware of them once they were released.
The story was part of an essay written by Maddy Duke for the Proceedings of the Dorset History and Archaeological Society and here we have a second excerpt with the stories of five Dorset prisoners, four of which are accompanied by photographs.
The gradual introduction of routine photographing of prisoners from the 1860s onwards was initially designed to identify habitual offenders (Select Committee of the House of Lords,1863).
However, it also serves an archival purpose, giving us a direct sense of connection with the individuals who populated the mid to late Victorian prison system.
This paper has drawn on two sets of photographs which survive in Dorset, relating in particular to Dorset County Gaol.
The case studies drawn out in the paper illustrate many facets of life in and out of the penal system of the period.
For example, the case of Augustus Gaulton shows that the rigid code of conduct and emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation did not allow much room for encouraging the ex-convict or helping him reform once his sentence was served. Years of separation and silence must also have affected his ability to return to civilian life.
In contrast to Augustus Gaulton’s experience, the case of Isaac Bealing shows how the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum could genuinely offer its inmates asylum from the severe punishments meted out in the penal system and give them the opportunity to live in a protected environment with medical assistance.
Isaac Bealing was never rehabilitated, he ceased being violent and having epileptic fits but the admission document for Three Counties Asylum describes him as: “Irrational and incoherent. Memory is defective. Has a way of repeating any question asked him. He cannot collect his ideas readily and takes a long time to answer. He is fairly cheerful but is very quiet and seldom speaks.”
• THE CRIMINAL LUNATIC: Isaac Bealing
Isaac Bealing, the illegitimate son of Mary Ann Bealing, was baptised at Gillingham, Dorset on December 26, 1847.
He lived with his mother and grandparents in Gillingham until he was ten.
By 1861 his mother had married Mark Green and Isaac was living with them and his half brother, George, at Forestside, Gillingham.
Soon after this Isaac moved to Buckhorn Weston and lived with a Mrs Downs and assisted in the dairy. After a couple of years he returned to live with his mother and stepfather.
The family moved several times over the next few years, both in Gillingham and in Mere, Wiltshire. In 1871 he was living with them in Southbrook, Mere, and working as a labourer.
The following year Isaac, then aged 24, was committed to Dorch-ester Gaol for the first time.
He was photo-graphed on June 12 1872 and the description given in the register is as follows: “5’4½” tall, brown hair, light hazel eyes, sallow complexion. Subject to epileptic fits, slight cut over right eyebrow, cut across right nostril, high nose, wart left side neck, little finger right hand slightly crooked. Simple in manner.”
He was sent to prison on June 26 for stealing one cloth coat valued at 2s 6d and sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment which he spent in the infirmary.
According to the prison records he was able to read and was discharged on August 5, 1872.
On December 10 the same year he had a second photograph taken; this time he was on a charge of stealing oak sticks worth 6d. He was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment with hard labour and was discharged on January 20 1873.
Between May 1, 1873, and early 1877 Isaac Bealing was in Dorset County Gaol on five separate occasions with convictions ranged from poaching to striking a pauper in the workhouse and stealing and for each he served sentences of hard labour.
On February 21, 1877, a note on the prison register states that he was remanded to the next Sessions being now an inmate of the County Lunatic Asylum.
He was brought up before the Quarter Sessions and taken to Dorchester by the Asylum Superintendent; his sentence was to be: “Remitted to the Charminster Lunatic Asylum until the pleasure of the Crown be known.”(Prison Record, 1877) The first Dorset County Lunatic Asylum was situated at Forston near Charminster and had opened in 1832.
By the 1860s, this facility was too small, and a new asylum was opened at Herrison in 1863.
In December 1877 J G Symes, the Medical Superintendent of the County Lunatic Asylum, wrote to John Floyer MP, the Chairman of the Visitors Committee, noting that Isaac Bealing was suffering from mania with delusions and accompanied with severe and frequent epileptic fits.
He was sent to Broadmoor Asylum in Crowthorne, Berkshire where the routine of work, leisure, regular meals and rest was intended to aid the rehabilitation of the inmates: “The diet is good and liberal, including for dinner, daily, beef or mutton, roast or boiled, or meat pies” (Accounts and Papers 1868).
“Underclothes were changed three times a week and the rooms were described as ‘well furnished and free from offensive odour’.”
It was further reported that concerts and occasional dramatic performances were put on for the male patients; all a far cry from the severe regime in the county gaol.
Reports suggest that he possibly re-offended to get away from his abusive stepfather who beat him around the head. His mother was keen for him to come home, but Isaac was still subject to severe epileptic fits accompanied and followed by maniacal attacks and therefore was seen as unfit to be discharged.
He was transferred to Three Counties Lunatic Asylum, Bedfordshire, on December 7, 1911, after 34 years in Broadmoor.
He remained there for only eighteen months before being sent back to Dorset County Asylum on August 11 1913.
His death is recorded in Dorchester in 1915.
•THE FEMALE OFFENDER: Thirza Jefford
Thirza Jefford was the sixth of nine children born to Henry and Sarah Jefford, in Uplyme.
She was born in 1854 and the Census return of 1861 shows her living with her family in New Buildings, Uplyme.
Ten years later the family has fragmented and Thirza is in Axminster Union Workhouse with no occupation noted.
The following year she is brought to Dorset County Gaol on a charge of entering the house of Ann Gush, at Lyme Regis on October 22, 1872, with intent to steal.
It was her first offence.
She pleaded guilty and, on January 1, 1873, was sentenced to one month hard labour.
The Prison Register lists her occupation as prostitute and notes she is illiterate.
Hard labour for women at Dorset County Gaol mostly consisted of working in the laundry or at sewing; there was no treadmill labour for the female inmates.
On January 30, 1873, Thirza was released from the gaol and sent to a Female Refuge at 85 Queen Street, Cheapside, London.
This was run by the Society for the Rescue of Young Women and Children whose general object was to give protection to ‘fallen’ women and either help them to emigrate or train them for domestic service.
Discharged prisoners were generally offered the chance to receive help from charitable institutions such as this, so it seems likely that Thirza asked to be sent there rather than return to her family in Uplyme.
• THE JUVENILE OFFENDER: Luther Gosney Luther, or Lowther, Gosney was born in 1866 in Sherborne, the second of eight children born to James and Augusta Gosney.
On October 10, 1876, at 10 years old he was committed to Dorset County Gaol charged with stealing two tin horns valued at 8d.
He was described as a schoolboy, 3’11½ tall with light brown hair, very dark hazel eyes, sallow complexion, a large scar on the right corner of the right eye, a mole over the left eyebrow, a scar on back of the right wrist and thick lips.
He was sentenced to 21 days in gaol followed by five years in Reformatory, where he remained until after the census of 1881, at which date there were 39 inmates aged between 13 and 18 years.
The next record available shows that by 1890 Luther was in Winchester Prison.
He had been convicted of stealing from a dwelling house above the value of £5, and his prison record mentions that he had two previous convictions.
He was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment and was still in prison when the 1891 census was taken.
•THE JUVENILE OFFENDER: Priscilla Penfold
Priscilla Penfold was the child of Robert and Priscilla, licensed hawkers.
She was baptised at Bridport, Dorset, on March 30, 1862.
She was remanded in prison on October 30, 1874, on a charge of stealing a cloak valued at 25s in Whitchurch Canonicorum, the property of William Atkins.
Her mother was remanded at the same time on the same charge and on a second charge of stealing a print dress valued at 8s in Allington.
Priscilla Penfold senior was convicted on both charges and given a total of eight months’ hard labour.
Her daughter was convicted and sentenced to one month in gaol and five years in reformatory for her first offence.
She was taken from Dorchester Gaol on February 5, 1875, and sent to Devon and Exeter Reformatory for Girls, an institution for the industrial training of girls up to the age of 16 years, who had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment.
The inmates were allowed to see their father or mother in the presence of the matron once every three months or by another female friend of known good character once every six months.
No correspondence was permitted either inward or outward unless it had been approved by the matron.
The girls received schooling and learned the duties of a servant: cleaning, laundry, needlework and cooking.
When they were considered ready they were sent out to work in service.
Priscilla stayed at the institution until March 9, 1880, when she was given 5s 7d for travelling expenses to get home.
In the 1881 cencus Priscilla had left the Reform-atory and was living with her uncle and aunt, John and Sarah Orchard in Killing Lane, Chapel Allerton, Somerset.
Thirteen family members were living in the lane, amongst them Henry Orchard, Priscilla’s cousin.
Later that year they married and, over the next few years, had at least four children together.
In 1907 Henry died, aged 55, in Axbridge, Somerset and three years later Priscilla married James Thompson aged 38, a general labourer.
Priscilla died in 1938 in Weston-super-Mare aged 79.
•THE HABITUAL OFFENDER: Augustus Gaulton
Augustus Gaulton was born in Dewlish in 1837 and spent nearly half his life in prison.
He first came to the attention of the criminal establishment when, at 17, he was convicted of assault with several others.
This was the beginning of a career that would last until at least 1896 when he was 61.
None of his crimes would be considered particularly serious today – he stole boots, two tame rabbits and three ducks, but because he was a serial offender meant that his punishments became harsher and harsher.
On December 18, 1861, Augustus Gaulton stole a spade belonging to William Lane and a cross axe belonging to Joseph Cox at Charlton Marshall.
It was his fourth offence and he was sentenced to four months’ hard labour at Dorset County Gaol.
The daily timetable in Dorset County Gaol was as follows: “The first bell rings in summer at six and in winter at seven in the morning for the prisoners to rise.
“Half an hour is allowed for dressing and washing, at half past six the bell rings for treadwheel labour which continues until breakfast time at eight.
“They return to the wheel at half past eight and remain there until prayer time at nine. Resume their labour at half past nine until twelve. One hour is allowed for dinner. Return to the wheel at one and continue there until supper time at half past five, and are locked up at seven in the summer and five in winter. During the intervals of rest from labour in the wheel they sit in rooms under the inspection of officers and are employed with their books.
“On Sundays the prisoners rise and take their meals at the same time and take exercise in the yards during the intervals of chapel service.”
Augustus Gaulton entered four months of hard labour on the treadmill, having minimal contact with his fellow prisoners.
Sadly this did not deter him; two years later he was incarcerated for three years for stealing two tame rabbits.
On his release he stole money and was sentenced to seven years penal servitude.
Still not reformed, he stole three ducks in 1873 and was sentenced to ten years penal servitude with a seven-year police supervision order to follow.
Presumably he was released slightly early because he next appears in the Prison Register in 1882 having stolen property valued at 14s. He was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude followed by seven years police supervision. He had by the end of this sentence spent almost 36 years in prison.
It is likely that, despite the possible assistance from charities established to help discharged prisoners, he was unable to support himself. As an habitual offender it would have been very difficult for him to get employment and if his family were unable or unwilling to help him he would receive very little support.
It is possible that life inside prison, harsh though it was, was preferable to starving outside.