The other day I came across an interesting book concerning the reform of the women’s wards at Newgate Prison as started by the Quaker reformer Elizabeth Fry and the Ladies’ Prison Association. This book led me on an interesting thread through various publications. For this post, I have excerpted from Sketch of the Origin and Results of Ladies’ Prison Associations to show the reforms that were enacted in the prison, sections concerning the women’s wards from a 1812 book describing English prisons, and then a few examples of what happened to some of the female prisoners helped by the Ladies’ Prison Association.
Picture from Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London, J. Weale, 1838
From Sketch of the Origin and Results of Ladies’ Prison Associations
In the year 1813, in consequence of the representations of several individuals of the Society of Friends, Mrs. Joseph Fry first visited the Prison of Newgate.
In two wards and two cells, comprising about 190 superficial square yards, 300 females were at that time confined—those who had not been tried, and who are, therefore, by our laws presumed innocent,—those who had been convicted, whatever might have been the magnitude of their offence, (even though they had received sentence of death,) were associated together without distinction or classification; and saw their friends, took charge of their children, cooked, washed, ate, drank, and slept within this limited space.
It is not possible, neither would it be desirable, accurately to represent the consequences which ensued; the atmosphere of the rooms, the ferocious manners and expressions of the women toward each other, and the abandoned conduct of all around, were wholly indescribable. The Governor himself felt it necessary to request Mrs. Fry to leave her watch before she entered amongst these wretched beings, observing, that even his presence would not prevent its being violently torn from her.
In consequence of this visit clothes were procured for some of the poor children by means of private benevolence, and the Bible was occasionally read to the prisoners; but it was not until Christmas, 1816, that Mrs. Fry’s visits became regular; and in the mean time, the Gaol Committee made several arrangements to mitigate the horrors which had previously prevailed.
It was, however, with great pain that Mrs. Fry found many of the women playing at cards—others reading improper books; others again begging at the grating and fighting for the money; in short, that vice, and its attendant—misery, were still triumphant throughout the gaol.
The prisoners complained, and daily renewed their complaint, that they wanted employment; and it soon became evident that this was the most serious evil and predisposing cause of every vice; the habits of those individuals who were disposed to idleness, became confirmed, and the industrious were soon contaminated; there was nothing good appointed to be done, and the mind therefore turned naturally to that which was bad: many who entered Newgate comparatively innocent, left it depraved and profligate, and whilst society, in theory, appeared to be punishing individuals for past offences, they were in fact not only providing leisure and opportunity to learn, but even masters to teach, the mode of committing more extensive and injurious crimes.
As at that period there was not any hope of procuring proper employment for the women, the exertions were originally confined to about thirty children, who, surrounded by every thing that could contaminate the mind and destroy the morals, appeared at the same time to suffer greatly in bodily health from the pestilential state of the atmosphere, and the want of proper food, clothing, and exercise.
A few of these Children had been committed for offences, but the greater part were under seven years of age, and according to the rules of the prison admitted to be with the convicts; abandoned as their parents were, it was still hoped they would be found alive to the feelings of natural affection. After one or two visits, Mrs. Fry was, at her own request, admitted alone in the wards, and on this occasion she made her proposal for the establishment of a School for the Children of the Prisoners—a proposal which was received even by the most hardened with gratitude and with tears of joy; they themselves selected a very fit prisoner to act as school-mistress: in a few days, through the kindness of the Sheriffs, a separate cell was obtained, and the school proceeded most rapidly, interrupted only by the anxious entreaties of young women, and even of aged prisoners; to be taught and employed.
Mrs. Fry, and a few of her friends, who had associated with her for this purpose, continued their attendance at the school daily, and it pleased God to bless their efforts with the happiest success; it was these daily visits which brought them more and more intimately acquainted with the state of the Female Prisoners in general, and excited in their minds the strongest wish to become instrumental in procuring instruction and employment, for all those women who had been sentenced.
Their proposals were objected to by all who dread any novelty, and were not warmly supported even by those who had made the amelioration of the condition of our species a leading object of attention; so little did the reformation of a London female thief, who had passed through every gradation of vice, and been hardened in iniquity by associates the most profligate and abandoned, appear to them within the sober bounds of probability. A continued intercourse with these wretched beings however, the feeling they had shewn as mothers, and the conviction that the grace of God is open to all who really seek it, disposed Mrs. Fry and her companions to persevere, and they determined, if a Female Committee could be obtained to share their labour, and a Matron be appointed to remain night and day in the prison, they would at least make the experiment. Several other Ladies soon came forward, who were willing to devote their time to this labour as a Committee; a Matron, competent to the office, was appointed; application was at the same time made to the Ordinary and Governor of Newgate, and subsequently to the Sheriffs: these gentlemen, though they despaired of success, yet evinced the most favourable dispositions towards the experiment, provided the consent of the female prisoners could be obtained. This condition was cheerfully acceded to by the Ladies’ Committee; the prisoners were in consequence assembled, the object was explained to them, and their determination was unanimously expressed to support the plan, and to abide by whatever rules might be established.
Messrs. Richard Dixon and Co., Contractors for the clothing sent to Botany Bay, undertook, with the most liberal kindness, to provide work; a School-room was obtained, and in a few days the Ladies’ Committee, and all the tried female prisoners, were assembled. At their first meeting, the comforts to be derived from sobriety and industry—the pleasure and profit of doing right, and obtaining knowledge—the happiness and peace of a life devoted to religion and virtue, were dwelt upon by one of the Ladies at considerable length, and the prisoners were at the same time told, that the Committee did not come with any positive authority— that it was not intended that they alone should command and the prisoners obey; but that every regulation should be made, and every monitor appointed, with their own entire concurrence.
Some rules which had been previously sketched by a Member of the Committee, were then read, separately considered, and put to the vote, and it was most gratifying to see every hand held up in testimony of approval.
[These Rules provided] for employment, the appointment of a Matron, reading the Holy Scriptures, division into classes, choosing monitors for the superintendence of conduct, the abandonment of gaming, begging, evil-speaking, improper books, &c.
When the Rules were approved, a sufficient number of monitors (one for every twelve prisoners) was appointed in a similar manner.
One of the Visitors then read aloud the 15th chapter of St. Luke—the parable of the Prodigal Son appearing peculiarly applicable to the state of the audience,—and after a period of strict silence, the monitors withdrew with their respective classes in the most orderly manner to the wards or places of confinement; in this manner employment and instruction were daily afforded—the change was almost instantaneous—sanguine as some Members of the Committee had been, even they had not calculated on the effect which confinement has been almost invariably found to produce on minds accustomed to receive their principal impressions from outward objects, and to whom, therefore, reflection, new and disagreeable as in their circumstances it must be, affords no substitute for frequent change of place, and the rapid current of passing events. The unfortunate beings confined in Newgate had sought, in the indulgence of every vice, that stimulus, to which when at large, they had been daily accustomed; and it had so far failed them, that it is not improbable they would have been prepared to receive with satisfaction an alteration, even less beneficial than the one proposed to their adoption. So rapid and complete was the success of the plan, that, after a lapse of a fortnight, the Governor candidly admitted he hardly knew this part of the prison again, and at the end of a month, the Committee were so fully satisfied, as to feel anxious to give permanence to the measure, and they therefore applied to the Corporation of London, that it might be made a part of the prison regulations.
In consequence of this application, the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, and several of the Aldermen, attended at the prison, and were equally astonished and pleased with the orderly and sober deportment of the prisoners; their attention during the time a portion of the scriptures was read; the obedience and respect shewn to the Visitors and Monitors: the cheerful attention visible in their countenances and manner, and the absence of everything like noise, tumult, or contention.
Many of these gentlemen had known Newgate before, and had witnessed scenes exhibiting perhaps the utmost extent of guilt and misery—they now found riot, licentiousness and filth, exchanged for order, sobriety, and regularity. And to shew that the importance of the change was felt and appreciated, the Magistrates at once adopted the whole plan as part of the system of Newgate; undertook to defray a portion of the expense of the Matron; and gave the Ladies’ Committee, in case it should at any time become necessary, power to punish the refractory by a short confinement.
Thus aided and supported, the Committee continued their labours: the deviations from the rules prescribed were few, and by no means important, notwithstanding Newgate contained at this period, as indeed it must at all times contain, the very refuse of London: Women who have been again and again the inmates of prisons, and to whom thieving has, for a long period, been the only means of support; the Visitors found themselves invariably treated with respect and gratitude: no article of dress was lost or stolen, though, during the first year alone, 20,000 articles were made up. Many prisoners received the rudiments of education, and heard, for the first time, the leading truths of Christianity; others left the prison who are now filling their stations in life uprightly and respectably, and the number of re-commitments became sensibly lessened.
After the Newgate Association had been established six months, a very urgent petition was presented from the women waiting their trial, for similar means of improvement to those afforded the tried prisoners.
It was not possible to refuse such a request; arrangements were in consequence made, and the necessary rules prepared. There was, however, a difficulty in procuring sufficient work ; it was found also, that the minds of the prisoners, dwelling on the probability of a speedy release, either from the nature of the evidence against them, or the general uncertainty of the law, and frequently employed likewise in the preparations for trial, were less open to instruction and improvement; there was not that feeling of certainty and fixedness, which formed so material a feature -with the tried prisoners. An anxious desire of improvement indeed, existed in some cases, but as there was not space in the prison to attempt a classification, the feeling was soon injured, or altogether destroyed; the experiment therefore neither did nor could be expected to answer to the same extent. Still good was done—some who laboured diligently were greatly improved; gross vice was much checked, and each individual had an opportunity at least of doing good rather than evil. The Ladies’ Association still continue to instruct all of this class who are willing to learn, and the scriptures are daily read among them, either by one of the Visitors or the Sub-Matron.
To return to the tried prisoners, each succeeding month brought additional and most gratifying evidence of success.
The Governor, the Matron, and the Chaplain of the Penitentiary at Millbank, concurred in opinion, that the female prisoners from Newgate were far more correct and decent than those from any other prison. It had, from time immemorial, been the practice of prisoners sentenced to transportation, on the night previous to their departure for Botany Bay, to pull down and break every thing within their reach, and to go off shouting with the most hardened and shameless effrontery. After these regulations had been established however, to the surprise of the oldest Turnkeys and other inmates of the prison, no noise was heard, and not a window intentionally broken. The Prisoners took an affectionate leave of their companions, and expressed the utmost gratitude to their benefactors; entered their conveyances without tumult, and so orderly was their behaviour, that only one half the usual escort was deemed necessary.
To the individuals who had thus conducted themselves, the Committee felt bound to continue their good offices, even after they had left the walls of the prison; and it soon therefore became a part and though a laborious, by no means an unpleasing part of their duty, to visit the Female Convict Ships; to provide copies of the Holy Scriptures, and suitable books, both for children and adults; to furnish any extra articles of clothing that were essential, and to make arrangements for the occupation and instruction of the convicts during their long voyage.
State of the female prisoners before Ladies’ Prison Associations from State of the Prisons in England, Scotland and Wales, James Neild, 1812
No. 2. The Women-Debtors’ court-yard, about 49 feet long by 16 feet wide, leads to two Wards; one of which is 36 feet long by 15 feet wide, and the other 18 feet long by 15 wide; and these are calculated to contain about 22 persons.
All the before-mentioned Wards are about 11 feet high. These yards are separated from each other by a stone wall 15 feet high, and both well supplied with water. The Debtors, who are enabled, all find their own beds and bedding; but the poor, as well Debtors as Criminals, are sometimes supplied with rugs by the City.
No. 7. The Women Felons’ two court-yards, laid into one, adjoin each other at right angles; the one 40 feet, the other 20 feet long; and both about 10 feet wide. These lead to nine wards, three of which are about 30 feet by 15; the other six about 15 feet by 10; and all fitted up with barrack-bedsteads laid on the floor, except one large ward on the attick story, which is set apart for the Female Infirmary. This capacious apartment has four casement windows, and two fire-places; and, like all the other wards, is about 11 feet high. It is furnished with ten iron bedsteads, sacking bottoms, flock bed, bolster, &c. to each, exactly the same as in the Men Felons’ Infirmary, already described under No. 3. The other eight wards can accommodate about 90 persons; and in this range all sorts of Female Criminals are confined, there being no other suitable means of keeping them distinct in their respective classes.
The Women’s wards are generally, indeed, so crowded, as not to admit a space of twenty inches for each to sleep, on the bare boards, and without any bedding whatever!
This Prison, though comparatively vast, is generally crowded. Newgate will conveniently accommodate ninety-four Men, and sixteen Women Debtors; also three hundred Men, and eighty Women Criminals; making a total of 490 persons. It might be rendered capable of containing about 750 persons in the whole, allowing a space of 7 feet 6inches by 3 feet for every Criminal, and rather more for every Debtor, according to the size and shape of the room. The greatest number of Debtors ever confined here at one time, has been 285 Men, and 40 Women: and, astonishing as it may appear, I have been informed that there have been in it nearty nine hundred Criminals at the same time; making, in all, upwards of twelve hundred Prisoners!
From the frequency of my visits to this much-interesting Gaol, I have so often witnessed the very distressful state of apparel, and filthy appearance of the poorer Females, particularly Convicts, crowded together in few rooms, like sheep in a pen, that it was matter of surprize there should be, comparatively, so small a number on the sick list, or that the Gaol-Fever did not prevail! One half of the Prisoners, especially the Women, are miserably poor; and, having pawned or sold their apparel, are covered, and scarcely covered, with rags. To prevent a circumstance so very offensive, every Criminal, at least, should be clad in some Uniform, that could not be disposed of; and their own clothes tied up in a bundle, laid aside during their stay, and then exchanged, upon their quitting the Prison. This, also, might be very beneficial to the more indigent Debtors, who, in any Prison, are with great difficulty to be kept in a state of cleanliness.
There were already two rooms set apart for the sick Felons, Male and Female: and lately a room, on the attick story, with four iron bedsteads and bedding, has been fitted up for the use of the Debtors; who, before, had no such accommodation, and were therefore necessarily obliged to be put into the Felons’ Infirmary. There was something shocking in the idea; and upon this subject I had a conference with that truly philanthropic character, Dr. Lettsom. He accordingly accompanied me several times to Newgate; humanely visited the sick; examined every part of the Gaol; and gave it as his opinion, that an additional convalescent-room was absolutely necessary.
The Chapel is plain and neat; the Prisoners silently attentive: No noise in the court-yard; nor devotion interrupted or destroyed by opening and shutting the door during Divine Service, as too often happens in the King’s Bench Prison.
Below is a pew belonging to the Chaplain; and adjoining to it a larger one for Men Criminals; opposite to which are three benches, enclosed with an iron railing, set apart also for men of that class,—Capital Convicts excepted, who sit in a pew about the middle of the Chapel, with a large table in it; whereon a coffin is placed, whenever any persons but Murderers are ordered for execution. Those sentenced for murder are always kept on bread and water, within their cells, where the Ordinary or other Minister attends them.
Facing the Communion Table are the reading-desk and pulpit. On the South side is a gallery for Debtors: on the North side another for Female Criminals; in which last-mentioned gallery, at the West end, and over the Chaplain’s pew, is an enclosed seat for the Sheriff’s.
The Chapel not being large enough to contain all the Prisoners in the Gaol, they are often left to their own option: those, however, who do not attend Divine Service on Sunday, are generally detained in their several Wards, to avoid hindering the edification of such as are sincerely and better disposed.
The danger, in point of Health, to the Prisoners, and to the City, has at times been very imminent, from the great number of persons crowded together in a space comparatively small. The number of Prisoners here in May 1802, was eight hundred and sixty seven ; and the average number of some years previous, had been from six to seven hundred.
The number of deaths, between the first of January and the first of May, in the year 1803, was forty-nine; many of whom we may reasonably suppose to have died of putrid disorders, as I have been informed that some very hale and robust men, who had been removed from the Poultry Compter in a perfect state of health, but a few days before, were among the number just mentioned. Since, however, a more frequent removal of Convicts has taken place, the deaths have happened more amongst the Debtors than the Criminals; possibly, because the average number of their description has not been so much reduced (except immediately after the passing of an Insolvent Act) as that of the Felons; whose average has been reduced by nearly one half, and of whom two only appear to have died within the last two years; and of the whole Gaol-List, whether Debtors or Felons, not one died of putrid or infectious fever within the same period. Let me here also observe, that if all the Sheriff’s Debtors in the vicinity of London were taken (as formerly) by habeas corpus, before a Judge, to be charged in execution, their average number in the common Gaols would be much reduced; as there would then remain none but those upon Mesne-Process, together with the Court of Conscience Debtors; and a still greater security from the danger of contagion might be expected.
Heretofore, the Gaol was not sufficiently supplied with soft water, to cleanse the court-yards, and the well of the pump frequently became dry: But the City have now (1807) caused the supply of water to be daily renewed, instead of three times a week; and have also erected an Engine, by which the water can easily be forced, through leaden hose, into every part of the Prison.
The Act and Clauses are conspicuously hung up; and the Gaoler is intelligent and humane.
Prisoners discharged from hence by Proclamation, are liberated in a morning, and have one shilling each given them. Others are dismissed as acquitted on Trial, in the day-time, or in the evening, without any money being given. This is the more to be regretted, as I am credibly informed that an instance has occurred, of a Woman’s having been discharged penniless on one day, and brought in again on the next!
The number of Prisoners on Mesne-Process, for want of Bail, in Newgate, on the 4th May, 1807, for Debts under 20l. was forty-eight, having 85 Children.
The number, of the same description, for Debts above 20l. was, at the same time twenty-five, having 57 Children.
And the number for Debts above 30l. and under 40l. at the same period, was thirteen, having 25 Children.
The number of Prisoners on Mesne-Process for want of Bail in Newgate, on the 28th June, 1809, for Debts under 20l. was 66, having 43 Wives, and 127 Children.
The number of the same description, for Debts above 20l. and under 30l. was at the same time forty-four, having 27 Wives and 69 Children.
And the number, for Debts above 30l. and under 40l. at the same period, thirty-two, having 21 Wives, and 63 Children.
Some notable cases from the prison.
from Notes on a visit made to some of the prisons in Scotland and the north of England, in company with Elizabeth Fry, Joseph John Gurney, 1819
E. C. was committed on the charge of murdering her infant: she was brought into Newgate out of her lying-in, and in a state of such excessive reduction that the nurse of the prison hourly expected her decease : she however struggled through her danger. A more pitiable object cannot be imagined; she was almost entirely naked, and her bones were nearly protruding through her skin; and with regard to her mind, her ignorance, hardness, and depravity could scarcely be exceeded. Much labour was bestowed upon her during her continuance in Newgate. In the depth of her misery she found a door of hope opened for her, and she eagerly availed herself of the good thus offered to her. She was acquitted of the crime imputed to her, and has since been placed in the London Female Penitentiary. There, she has conducted herself with so much propriety, and has evinced such strong proofs of true repentance, that we cannot but cherish the hope of her yet becoming, through the blessing of her great Redeemer, a valuable member of society.
J. W.’s case was very similar to that of E. C, but she was a woman of superior powers, and of rather better education than most of the other prisoners. She continued under the care of the committee for three months, during which period she displayed evident marks of penitence and amendment. On her discharge from prison, a gentleman, who had frequently visited her in Newgate, recommended her to a respectable family as a servant. In this capacity she still continues, and bore when we last heard of her, the character of honesty and sobriety. Some time since a letter was received from her, addressed to one of the visitors, and enclosing a two pound note. The letter, which on inquiry appeared, with the exception of some slight grammatical corrections, to be all her own, was as follows:
June 16, 1818.
Dear and Honoured Madam,
Mr. B. the bearer of this will deposit in your hands the sum of 2l., which I beg to add to the subscription for defraying the expences incurred in carrying on your benevolent exertions for the reform and instruction of those unhappy persons confined within that dreary receptacle of misery and woe, the prison of Newgate, where I first learned, by the kind exertions of Christian and benevolent friends, to flee the downward road that leads to hell, and to look up for pardon and deliverance to Christ my Saviour and my God, through whose atoning blood I now seek remission of all my sins.—But as the doctrine I then learned teaches me to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, permit me, my dear Madam, to say that the above sum, the produce of my honest labour in servitude, has been appropriated with an intent to restore some property, I had in an unguarded moment been tempted unlawfully to take.—My fall, I trust, has humbled me in the dust of self-abasement; and after having exerted myself, by the aid of a public advertisement and the assistance of Mr. B , to restore the property alluded to to the right owner without effect, I feel it my duty thus to relinquish all participation in my former wages of iniquity; and though it is confessedly an unworthy offering, yet may God accept this my willing sacrifice, and bless and crown your kind exertions with increasing and abundant success, is the sincere prayer of,
Your most humble and grateful servant,
This letter displays not only a feeling of the consolations of religion, but that nice and accurate integrity, which bespeaks in language not to be mistaken, the prevalence of a good principle.
Mary Connor was the daughter of respectable parents, and received some valuable impressions of a religious nature during her early years. Whilst still very young, she was seduced by a wretch, who soon afterwards abandoned her. Her friends refused to give her any countenance; and being totally destitute and reduced to the greatest misery, she joined those bands of loose and wicked women, by whom the streets of London are nightly infested. Sinking lower and lower in the scale of depravity, she gave herself up to drunkenness and other degrading vices, and was committed to Newgate at the commencement of the year 1817 for stealing a watch. There, she was amongst the foremost in submitting herself to the controul of the committee, and was selected by her companions as the fittest person amongst them to fill the office of schoolmistress. Encouraged and instructed by those, who had now the care over her, she abstained in a most remarkable manner from her former evil habits, and for fifteen – months, during which time she acted as schoolmistress, she was very assiduous in her duties, and was never known, on any occasion, to infringe any one of the rules established in the prison by the committee. In the spring of 1818 she was attacked by a cough which terminated in a consumption. A free pardon was obtained for her, and she was removed to a situation in the country under the care of one of the visitors. She was however so deeply sensible of her own unworthiness, and so uneasy at being the means of any expense to the Association, that she insisted on being placed in the workhouse of her own parish. There she evinced much patience, humility and quietness of spirit; and placing her whole reliance on the merits of her Saviour, she soon afterwards died in the hope full of immortality.
Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land: with a description of the present condition of that interesting colony: including facts and observations relative to the state and management of convicts of both sexes. Also reflections on seduction and its general consequences, Thomas Reid, 1822
The assertion, however, on which so much stress is laid , that the women from Newgate behave worse than those from other prisons, — is deserving of some examination. If we reflect on the state of society in London, and how infinitely more numerous are the opportunities to crime and its consequences than elsewhere ; the dissoluteness which always exists in a crowded metropolis; and the daring depravity that there marks the gradations of offence; if we carefully survey the life of “a regular London female thief who has passed through every stage of guilt, who has spent her youth in prostitution, and her maturer age in theft and knavery; whose every friend and connection are accomplices; one of those who are the refuse of the capital; that is, the very worst description of criminals, committed for the very worst excesses of crime; women who had been frequent inmates of a prison, and with whom thieving was ‘ their daily bread:’ if these circumstances, I say, are duly considered, they must be admitted, by every unprejudiced individual, to form grounds of difficulty in the endeavours to reclaim offenders from their wickedness in such a society, beyond, greatly beyond the less hardened habits of provincial iniquity; and should it even appear that the former behave much worse than the latter on board a ship, it can afford very little cause for ill-judging malignity to triumph. Could aught else, even then, be shown, but that the time those unfortunate women were under the guidance of the Ladies’ Committee was too short for the completion of their benevolent purpose? Is it reasonable. to expect that long-rooted habits of idleness and vice, impressed on the mind from the first dawning of perception, can be broken through, and the salutary work of reformation perfected in the few weeks or months they may have been favoured with those pious attentions? But should it be proved that the conduct of the women from Newgate is at least as good, if not better than what is exhibited by those from the country prisons, to what cause shall be ascribed an alteration so rapid, and so little to be expected;—an alteration amounting to almost an entire change of natural disposition? It is impossible for skepticism, or prejudice itself, to assign any other cause than the influence of moral precept so kindly and unceasingly inculcated by the Committee.
The women from Newgate formed one third of the entire number sent out in the Morley; and I can declare conscientiously that their conduct was not worse than that of an equal number of the others: on the contrary, the effects of exhortation were more observable in their manner, in a very remarkable degree; and during the voyage, whenever it was found necessary to rebuke any of them, the mere mention of any of the Ladies of the Committee had the effect of bringing them to a sense of their error, which in almost every instance was attended with profound sorrow, a circumstance certainly not always observable in their companions. I can further assert that there was infinitely more riot, wickedness, and abandonment, amongst seven women who were permitted to accompany the soldiers that formed the guard in the Neptune in 1817, than amongst all the female convicts in the Morley put together: nay, in stating this fact, I eel that the latter are injured by being brought into such a comparison.
In a conversation on this subject at Van Diemen’s Land with Doctor Bromley, who was Surgeon Superintendent in the Lord Wellington, he assured me that he had less trouble in that ship with the women who came from Newgatethan all the rest. Three of these very women on their arrival were received into the service of Mrs. Governor Macgiuarie, where their conduct was so uniformly correct as to merit that lady’s approbation; a circumstance so uncommon, that she felt it a duty to acquaint Mrs. Fry of the happy change. Mrs. Macquarie was prevented from writing by ill health at the time I left the colony, but desired me to communicate the fact as she had herself intended. That several of those who went out in the Lord Wellington behaved very ill after their arrival, does not militate against the system of reform adopted by the Ladies’ Committee; nor would my opinion of its invaluable efficacy be altered in the least, were I told that every one of those who were under my care has been ruined in the colony, because I know what a state of depravity prevails there. Minds much stronger than theirs have yielded to temptation; and in no country is that evil more concentrated and destructive than in New South Wales.
9 Replies to “Ladies’ Prison Associations – Women in Newgate Prison 1812 – 1827”
Great post! Thanks.
The era is later, but there is a gripping novel set largely in a women’s prison in London in 1870, after some progress in reform, that I would recommend to any readers interested in a fictional visit to this world. It’s by Sarah Waters and is titled “Affinity.”
Oh, cool! Thanks for the recommendation! I love reading books set in the Victorian Era.
This is particularly facinating to read through modern eyes and understanding….
Only one paragraph referred to the life these women lead and how it made them what they were. Still blame is assigned.
@Abigail, It’s all so very sad. I think James Neild was the least judgmental in his account of the prison. Those poor women…
Fascinating! Pat Gaffney wrote a wonderful Victorian-set romance with a former convict heroine — TO HAVE AND TO HOLD. Heroine had been sentenced for killing her sexually abusive husband. It’s raw and very beautifully written. I think it’s one of her best.
@Hope. Thanks! I will definitely download a sample chapter. Love reading books set in Victorian London. Adore Dickens.
You’re right it’s sad. Have we learned anything in 200 years?
@Grace Those women having to take their children to prison. I think many were separated from their older children when they were sent to Australia.
Thank you, Susanna, for this fascinating post. I’ve just started looking at Elizabeth Fry today and you’ve given me so much to think about.
My own great-great-great grandmother was transported to New South Wales in 1817. I wonder if she ever saw Elizabeth Fry?