Richard Frith Quinton.

Crime and criminals, 1876-1910 online

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ing to his cell, he promptly placed the
offending finger in the hinges of his table
which was attached to the cell wall, and
violently raised the leaf, with the result
that the finger was absolutely shattered,
and had to be removed.

Irritating, or " faking," any breach of
surface was a common practice amongst
the work-shy class. A versifying prisoner
alludes to it thus : —

" It happens now and then that in the ' farm '
A fellow works a ' fake ' with copper wire.
And thus a wound, which did not much alarm
Becomes inflamed, and looks as red as fire."

No region of the body was held sacred
by malingerers of this type, such delicate
parts as the ear and eye often sustaining
permanent damage.


A fatal case of this kind, which occurred
in my early experience, made a great im-
pression on me, as it brought me in
contact with what was to me then a
new type, although I met with many
similar afterwards. The prisoner was a
man of middle age. He bore the scars
of many " faked " sores, and his record
showed almost as many sentences. His
whole working life apparently had been
spent in prison, but his main object in
life had been to avoid work in any shape
or form. He was ignorant with the
ignorance of the savage, and so devoid
was he of anything resembling moral
sense, that the rights of property, and
the raison cVHre of the penal laws were
to him dark mysteries, and they remained
so to the end. " VV^hat 'ave I got this
'ere laggin' for ? and why can't they let
an honest bloke be ? " This was the
constant burden of his song. His lan-
guage, which was generally unfit for
repetition, was a kind of blank prose,
and even on his death-bed it was shock-


ing to listen to his expletives, I remon-
strated with him, and told him of his
serious condition. His reply was, " Yes,

I think I am nearly ready for the box

now." He was a thief, but apparently
he did not know it. He had in the
first instance made the sore which led
to his death, and had then kept up the
necessary irritation so as to secure hos-
pital treatment. All this he frankly
confessed to me.

Another hero of many scars, though
he was not a malingerer, that I came
across at this time gave a curious history
of himself. He had been a prize-fighter
in the palmy days of the " noble art,"
in the pre-Heenan-and-Sayers period.
He had, in confirmation of his story, a
broken nose, rupture of one tympanic
membrane, and a generally battered look
about his face, but he had, further,
dozens of tiny cicatrices like the pitting
of small'pox, only more irregular, on
both cheeks. These were caused b}^
killing rats with his teeth against time,


an occupation which he had recourse to
in his dechning years, and out of which
he made "a good bit." He deplored the
decadence of the prize-ring, and gave me
the usual invitation to have a turn up
with him in his cell, which, however, I

A remarkable example of the persist-
ency with which a malingering career
could be carried on was afforded by the
case of the notorious American criminal
Bidwell, who was sentenced to penal
servitude for life in connection with the
Bank of England forgeries. He was in
good health on conviction, but never did
any active work in prison. Feigning loss
of power in his legs, he lay in bed from
day to day, and from year to year, defying
all efforts of persuasion, and resisting all
unpleasant coercive measures devised to
make him work. When I saw him at
Dartmoor at the end of eight or nine
years of his sentence, long disuse of his
legs had rendered him almost a cripple.
The muscles were extremely wasted, and


both hip and knee joints were contracted
in a state of semi-flexion, so that he lay
doubled up in a bundle. Though he
was examined time after time by experts,
no one succeeded in discovering any
organic disease, or any cause for his
condition other than his own firmly-
expressed determination never to do a
day's work for the British Government
— a threat which I believe he ultimately
carried out.

Shamming on a minor scale, of course,
was constantly in evidence, and refusals
to work were of daily occurrence. The
unpleasant duty of certifying fit for
labour the very idle ones, to whom work
of any kind was objectionable, frequently
brought the doctor into odium with his
patients, and led to threats of personal
violence. My Chief at this time, who
was as kind-hearted as he was conscien-
tious and skilful, and who was, more-
over, very popular with the convicts
themselves, was assaulted by one of the
lazy malcontents, and had a narrow


escape of serious injury. Every day the
sick list amounted to almost 10 per
cent, of the population, although the
men were all supposed to be able-bodied
and fit for a Public Works Prison. Out
of a hundred of these daily applicants,
not more than a dozen really needed
medical treatment of any kind. Some
came down in the hope of meeting a
pal employed in another working party,
others to relieve monotony, others to
get a dose of medicine of any kind, no
matter how nasty — brimstone and treacle,
owing to its semi-solidity I suppose, being
the most popular on the menu. As
about a hundred had to be seen in a
space of three-quarters of an hour, it
was essential to be quick in diagnosis
and ready with the treatment, which
was accordingly administered on the spot
from the compounder's tray. Happily
in most cases tliere was no doubt about
the symptoms, but when any doubt did
arise, the prisoner got the benefit of at
least half a day's rest in hospital for


observation. I copied the following com-
mentary on this subject from a letter
written by an educated prisoner to his

"The Medical Staff here wish to do
good, but they are so frightfully imposed
upon that, except in cases of organic
disease, where mysterious tappings and
listenings at the mouth of the stetho-
scope verify the patient's statements,
tliey have, in self-defence, to turn a
deaf ear to complaints. The practical
outcome of this is that an organic disease
is quite as valuable to a man in prison
as an annuity is to him out of it. At
the same time it is but fair to tell you
that the functional derangement set, if
I may so term them, sometimes get an
innings, but they are always looked upon
as half impostors."

It was well known to all prisoners that
additions to, or alterations of, the ordi-
nary scale of diet were granted on medical
grounds only. Applications accordingly
on this subject were addressed in the


first instance to myself or my colleague.
They came in shoals, and were pressed
with much persistency. The diet was
fairly liberal in quantity, and in a
physiological sense should have sufficed
for all but a small percentage of excep-
tional cases. Some of the ingredients of
the scale, however, such as the oatmeal
parts, were very distasteful to several
convicts, especially when they were con-
tinued over the years of a long sentence.
Added to this, the air of the dockyard
extension works, where the men were
employed, tended to impart keenness to
the appetite.

If all requests had been granted, every
man in the prison would have been on
extra diet in a month — those who could
not consume the whole of it either reject-
ing the part they did not like, and eating
the rest, or passing on their surplus to
others who could consume it, in considera-
tion for some value received at the time,
or to be received later, so that an Ex-
change and Mart on a promising scale


would very soon have been established.
It was necessary, therefore, to exercise
some discrimination as to the grounds on
which applications were based, and much
weighing and medical overhauling of the
men had to be carried out before de-
cisions were given. If a prisoner were
unsuccessful with me, he generally took
his case to the higher courts in succes-
sion, applying next to the senior medical
officer at his special weekly interview —
often telling him incidentally how little
he thought of me personally — then to
the Governor and Visiting Director, and
finally to the Secretary of State in a
formal petition, in which he occasionally
described the inhumanity of the others
also. Here is an appeal written on a
prisoner's slate —

" Six feet in height, and nine stone four !
Two facts which no logic can ever ignore.
And so, without fear of disputation,
I may say such a physical conformation,
So lean, and so long, and so unique
Must belong to a fellow most shockingly weak.
With muscles quite flabby, and sunken in cheek


As if from some churchyard deserted.
To describe myself with a due precision,
ril borrow the words of the definition
Which mathematicians give of a line —
' Length without breadth or thickness.'
And this, at the age of forty-nine.
Strikes off at a touch this body of mine."

The petitioner in this instance was an
" old hand " who was undergoing a long
sentence at the time for stealing, and,
although his record out of prison was
not creditable to him, in prison he was
quite an exemplary character, and he
knew every strand of the ropes of the
establishment. I found, however, on
submitting him to examination by scale
and measure, that the picture he had
drawn of himself was not lacking in
colouring, and that his figures were in-
correct. He then explained to me that
some allowance was due to poet's license,
so 1 gave him an extra loaf to help the
muse, and sent him away smiling. How
any one with his shrewdness and in-
telliii'ence could have so conducted his


private life as to have found himself in
prison at all w^ould seem a mystery to
many people, but he was, in truth, a
specimen of a moral invertebrate not
uncommonly met with in the criminal
classes. Had the weak part in his char-
acter been capable of renewal or repair —
which might perhaps have been effected
in his earlier years — one felt that he might
have become an estimable member of
society, for (pace Lombroso) he had
about him no stigmata of degeneracy
to suggest any hereditary tendency to
crime. He had, on the contrary, a pre-
possessing face, manner, and general bear-
ing, which should have been very helpful
to him in the exercise of almost any
honest calling.

Almost every second man who was
getting to the end of his sentence seemed
to think that he was entitled to " a spell
in the farm " for the last month to recruit
his energies, and even if it were as near
a certainty as possible that he would
return to prison in a few months, either


*' to finish his ticket," or on a fresh sen-
tence, this consideration appeared to him
to emphasise his claim. One such apph-
cant went so far as to base the merits of
his case on the fact that he was coming
back soon. On my teUing him that he
was in good form generally, he said that
was all right, but " a spell in the farm "
was what he wanted, and he was looking
to the future to save us " trouble and
expense." He was, he said, coming
back to us before long, but that in the
meantime the police would see that
he did not get much peace or much
" tommy " (food) outside, and that he
would be such a wreck on his return,
that it would take " six months in
'ospital, with plenty of nourishment, and
a pint of Guinness's cocoa a day, to pull
me rahnd."


Dietary punishment — AV"ork — Assaults and insubordina-
tion — Punishments and offences — Elementary Educa-
tion and Summary Jurisdiction Acts — Female
prisoners — Change of views as to the aim of a
sentence — Prevention of Crime Act, 1908 — The New
Authority and the Progressive Stage System.

I HAVE touched on these points of the
food question as it was a stock griev-
ance with many of the prisoners, who
regarded their diet as the most objection-
able part of their sentence, just as the
work at which they were employed was
the pet aversion of several others. The
food question was, further, constantly and
prominently brought before the medical
officer, to whom prisoners naturally
looked — and not ungratefully, I think,
in most instances — for protection from
the severity of its incidence in any
special case of hardship calling for an
extra allowance, as well as in those


cases, which were too numerous, of
prisoners who, through their own idle-
ness or misconduct, had rendered them-
selves liable to dietary punishment.
This latter method of correction, though
it has always seemed to me a more or
less barbarous and senseless proceeding
to apply to human beings, was never-
theless very necessary with unruly
prisoners. 1 know of nothing approach-
ing a scientific excuse for its use, except
the principle on which a horse has his
oats reduced in order to tame his spirit.
As a matter of fact, however, it is
often found to be the only way of
appealing to the feelings of an idle or
insubordinate person, short of the inflic-
tion of corporal punishment. Prisoners
will light-heartedly submit to loss of
remission marks, loss of stage privileges,
loss of gratuity, or even to cellular con-
finement, if their diet is not reduced.
For these reasons dietary punishment is
retained, though the extent to which it
can be given has been nmch curtailed


of late years, and governors now resort
to it with reluctance only when all else

Prisoners who made complaints in
reference to their work were also a
fairly numerous class, ranging from
those who merely sought a change of
working party (to get near a companion
maybe, or to get away from a strict
officer) to those who objected to any
kind of work whatever on principle, or
lack of principle, and who resisted, by
every means known to them, all the
efforts of their officers to get a day's
work out of them. Such men were con-
stantly falling off parade to see the
doctor before marching out to work,
or coming in off the works under sick
report, or living in the punishment
cells for days together. The great
majority of the men worked well, but
the idlers gave constant trouble and
employment to the staff generally, from
the governor downwards. Fancy jobs,
such as the cook-house and the bakery,


were in much request with appHcants
for change of work, but as these billets
were looked on in the light of staff
appointments, and were tenable only
during good conduct, they were, of
course, reserved for those only with a
good record for work and conduct, which
but few of the petitioners could show.
Another much coveted post was that
of hospital orderly, which attracted some
of the most unpromising and unsuitable
aspirants. One such applicant, who
begged of me to recommend him, was
a chronic malingerer who rarely missed
a day with the casual sick, and would
take a dose of any medicine in the
compounder's tray with relish. He
looked on this daily visit as a recrea-
tion. On my delicately hinting to him
that his qualifications for the post were
doubtful, he replied that he " knew the
business from start to finish " ; he had
picked it up at Portland, and knew it
all from " Miss Sinnico to post-mortem "
(Mist. Sennoe Co.). I had given an


unfavourable reply, and he was moving
off, when he turned quickly, saying :
" Well, then, will you give me a dose
of brimstone and treacle ? " I gave it
to him as a solatium. The hardest kind
of outdoor labour consisted of digging
clay at the docks, and wheeling it in
barrows up inclined planks to the higher
ground, an operation known to convicts
as " pugging-up." It was not really
very hard work for navvies, or for men
of good physique, when they had got
into the swing of it, but to those who
were unaccustomed to much manual
labour, it was sufficiently stiff to cause
many to fall out and see the doctor.
In order to make it as easy for them-
selves as possible, a very deliberate pace
was adopted, so that they did not show
the alertness of men on piecework.
Looking on at it, one could not but
be struck with the slow rate of pro-
gress. The whole party, liowever,
appeared to move with a certain rhyth-
mical precision, in slow time, and in


a machine-like manner, as if the regu-
larity of their prison life were stamped
on the proceedings, and official routine
had entered into their bones and muscles.

Other kinds of outdoor work, such
as building operations, were not so
much disliked, but, generally speaking,
indoor employment was more in re-
quest, such as cleaning, and work in
the various shops at carpentering, fitting,
shoemaking, &c., for which posts many
candidates, ineligible as well as eligible,
made application. Laundry work, on
the other hand, was not in favour.

I have already said that the whole
body of workers on the average worked
fairly well, but there was always a con-
siderable "tail" of shirkers who gave
their officers more troul)le than ten
times their number of the industrious
workers. These shirkers were constantly
changing from one party to anotlier in
the hopeless pursuit of a " soft job,"
and were the despair of the deputy
governors who made up tlie lists of


working parties with the lielp of the
chief warder. After varying vicissitudes
of fortune, including often periods of
medical observation for alleged illness
which was non-existent, and frequent
sojourns in the punishment cells, they
eventually found a haven in a light
labour party under some long-suffering
officer who wasted his life in lamenting
the output, and who, at last, found it
his best policy to let them go as they
pleased at work, so long as their con-
duct was passable enough to escape
report. More food, less work, no
punishment— these appeared to be the
guiding principles of their scheme of
life, though they were very unsuccessful
in regard to the avoidance of punish-
ment. To see one of these parties
playing at work was an object lesson
in ergophobia.

From what I have said it will be seen
that a convict prison was not a restful
place for officers any more than it was
for prisoners. The incessant grumblings


and clamouring of prisoners for indul-
gences in work and diet, combined with
their impatience of discipline, frequently
led to friction with the staff, as well as
to acts of violence and destruction of
clothing and other prison property ; and
warders who tried to carry out discipline
were often brutally and murderously
assaulted, the conditions of work, and
the implements of labour which the
convicts had at hand, rendering such
attacks perfectly easy to a determined
man. I saw the results of several assaults
of this kind, many of a very serious char-
acter. Heavy punishments of course fol-
lowed, as the sternest measures only had
any effect on this kind of insubordination.
I had not been many weeks in office
when I had to witness a flogging which
resulted from one of these acts of
violence. It was to me, by the way,
a very disagreeable experience, and an
onlooker informed me after it was over
that I looked much worse than tlie
victim. On a subsequent occasion I


saw four men flogged in one morning,
all of whose oifences had been com-
mitted in the space of one month. At
this time a knotted cat was in use which
made the punishment very severe. Knots
are now abolished.

Happily for us the type of violent and
reckless prisoners who malinger them-
selves to death, or wilfully sacrifice an
arm or a leg in order to evade labour,
or make unprovoked ferocious attacks
on warders, is, if not extinct, at least
much more uncommon now than it was
at the time of which I am writing. A
prisoner of such a type was indeed of a
hardened and dangerous character which
it was well-nigh impossible to improve
or reform. He was, however, to a large
extent a product of his age, and of the
time when compulsory education was un-
known. Uneducated and undisciplined
he had little self-control, and in prison
his criminal passions ran riot. The
greater his ignorance, the greater was
the violence of his outbreaks. Beside


him in the same working parties were
men with more knowledge and self-re-
straint, who had profited by some school
discipline, and who, guilty probably of
more serious offences, could nevertheless
submit to authority, whereas he was
constantly in trouble. Tactless officers
may have — as he frequently complained
— goaded him into insubordination occa-
sionally, but the main cause of his
irritation and unrest was the very long
sentence which was then in vogue for the
habitual criminal. There were hundreds
of habituals who were undergoing sen-
tences of seven years — and five years —
penal servitude, with long periods of
police supervision to follow, for offences
that would hardly call for twelve and six
months' imprisonment respectively at
the present time. The prisoners were
absolutely incapable of comprehending
the justice of these sentences which,
from their point of view, were out of
all proportion to their offences, or of
seeing the reason for their predatory


habits being checked in this way by
prolonged periods of isolation, when they
might be — as they euphemistically put
it — " earning their own living." " What
have I got this stretch for ? " "I got
this lagging for nothing." These were
the constant excuses offered for refractory

One of them was brought in from the
works one day in shirt and drawers with
his face bleeding and bruised. His be-
setting sin was destroying clothing, and
he was accordingly dressed in a canvas
suit of very stiff untearable material.
He was a thick-set powerful man, who
was looked upon as a " bruiser " in his
party, and who was very proud of his
skill as a boxer. He was a bully, and
so — unpopular. It appeared that he had
started a quarrel with a small man who
had recently been drafted into the party,
and who was quite an unknown quantity.
They were soon at fisticuffs, and the small
man gave him unexpected sport, and a
regular hammering — the officer in charge.


I inferred, not intervening prematurely
when he saw how things were going.
When the fight was stopped, he managed,
when left to himself for a few moments,
to divest himself of, and make away with,
the canvas suit. A¥hen I saw him under
report I asked why he had made away
with it. I knew it was a most unsuitable
costume for fighting, and thought he
might plead that he wanted to be ready
for a renewal of hostilities, but he said
at once that he was doing this " pennal "
servitude for nothing (I think he men-
tioned a pair of boots) and that he was
taking it out of the "guvvimint." The
excitement of the fight, which he looked
on as a mere passing incident in the day's
work, appeared to have resuscitated his
rankling grievance in regard to the length
of his sentence.

I have ascribed the heavy list of prison
offences and consequent punishments at
this time partly to the uncivilised state
of the criminal himself, and partly to the
state of the law which awarded him a


sentence that he, rightly or wrongly,
considered to be vindictive, and more
than he deserved. Two influences, how-
ever, were soon at work which were
destined to exercise beneficial effects on
the state of the criminal, as well as on
the state of the law. These were the
Elementary Education Act and the
Summary Jurisdiction Act (1879). The
former of them, enacted in 1870, with
compulsory clauses added in 1876, at
once began to , sweep off the streets
hundreds of neglected waifs and strays
who were criminals-in-the-making, and
brought them under the training, educa-
tion, and discipline of the schools. A
most effective blow was thus struck at
criminal recruiting, and the results were
not long in showing themselves in a
reduced prison population. Meantime,
however, one anomalous and immediate
effect of the Act of 1876 was to add
enormous numbers to the statistics of
minor crime. Thousands of convictions
began to be recorded against recalcitrant


parents for refusing to send their children
to school. These convictions went on
increasing till in 1889 they amounted to
78,091, or more than one-eighth of the
total convictions from all causes com-
bined. At the same time, and despite

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Online LibraryRichard Frith QuintonCrime and criminals, 1876-1910 → online text (page 2 of 11)