ページの画像
PDF
ePub

THE RISE AND FALL OF

MILLBANK PRISON.

M ILLBANK PRISON is down, and in the heaps of bricks, iron,

IV and heterogeneous materials scattered about in all directions we can scarcely recognise the once populous prison, a building replete with so many memories of mismanagement, of lavish and futile expenditure, and often the subject of parliamentary questions in days now happily gone by. Now, it is no panegyric on this fallen building, no regrets, that we are about to utter, but rather shall we endeavour to briefly outline a few salient points in the chequered career, and lifehistory, and inhabitants of Millbank. Could any one doubt on a first glance at this leviathan pile that it was a prison? Look at the sullen blocks, pentagons as they are called, six in number, with the repulsivelooking turrets and capped towers, monuments of the entombed misery to be found within, and trophies of the dulled, almost lifeless beings who have lived and died there, their resting-place the prison graveyard. And even this, the last halting-place of many a stumbling life, is guarded by walls, as though the prison routine should extend even beyond the grave, and grimly say, “Still do I keep thee.” And we pass on to the prosaic portion of our paper, for the present, and leave the reverie into which we had fallen behind us. Millbank was commenced in the year 1812 and finished in 1822, the total cost being £458,000. It does not seem to have been held very long in favour, as we find it declared "a complete failure" by the Home Secretary in office May 5, 1843. And from this time, with a few exceptions, it has given trouble to many politicians, exasperated architects, and driven preventive medicine almost desperate, if hygienists existed at all in those days. We see it, as a penitentiary, a failure; as a modern penal establishment, a failure; we know that many pestilences thrived within, and that many a prisoner destined to sail across the seas rested instead within its walls; that mutinies were frequent, and that disorder was triumphant, at those periods of ebb and flow of transportees; and later on, when modern legislation stepped in and repealed the hulk system, still a failure. Look at this prison as it has been during the

past twenty years, and we shall find profitable materials for reflection. The novice to penal servitude has been taken there, and the prisoner with a few days to serve has been left there, for discharge. Compare the two cases, the recent sentence, and the man counting the hours and minutes of his liberty. The Judge has passed sentence, say, at the Central Criminal Court, and the convict soon finds himself at Millbank, after a brief journey in the prison van, a dark and hearselike procession, a living funeral, warders acting as mutes, and the prison yard the cemetery. The handcuffs are removed from his wrists, and he is unchained from his neighbour; no longer is he bound to him, and possibly several others, by adamant, but he is once more a separate unit of the penal army, his membership and enrolment commencing when leaving the dock. All seems strange to him, and he thinks like one who dreams; but it is no phantasm of the night, it is stern reality; and the voice of the warder in charge of the party directs him to enter the cell allotted, in which, after perchance reading over the rules hanging upon the wall, he sinks into a stupor of despair. He is soon told the methods of communication with the officer in charge of the landing, a parti-coloured staff being thrust through a cleft in the cell wall, attracting the official's attention. This relic of Millbank routine served in place of the electric call, with which all modern prisons are fitted, each cell having a tell-tale flap corresponding with the specific number of the same.

He is told to make up his bed and turn in, and to sleep. Here is the rub. To sleep, with all the novelty of locks rattling and cell doors slamming, the echoes answering the dreary waste of stone and brick. To sleep, with the awful sense of the impending doom, so lately hanging over his horizon like a thick dark cloud, now descending, even enveloping hin, embracing his plank bed, till he feels that the shadow of death must be even brighter than this impenetrable gloom, a darkness that can be felt. And thus the night slowly drags on, interrupted by the quarterly chimes and solemn music of the Westminster Clock, hourly proclaiming in its rich voice the instability of man, and the mockery of fate. The distant rattle of cabs increases, and in the still night air he pictures to himself the retirement of members from the House, the comfortable homes which await them, late though it be, and he wonders how he, a convict, can bear to think of freedom, and he envies keenly the cab driver, who is in the open air, calculating the probable amount of the overcharge obtainable from his fare. Thus passes his first night as a convicted prisoner, though it is possible that some of the strangeness of the cell may have been worn off by a prolonged detention on remand if bail has been refused. And with the morning there comes a series of duties to be

performed, under the guidance of his warder, and with the setting sun, the second night has to be passed as best may be. The chimes interest him in a manner previously unheeded, and he notes any imaginary irregularity in the beats of Big Ben, and he marvels how a bell, so often heard in past days, could have afforded him so little food for speculation when a free man.

Amidst these shadows, ghosts of his former life, continually appearing and assuming diverse shapes, he passes the first nine months of his sentence, in solitary labour, alone in his cell, hearing the outside din of life, and the hoarse steam whistles of the passing steamer, and the sight of his fellow-prisoners in the exercise yard, and the enforced worship in chapel; he, who may not have attended a church for years, though his speculations on 'Change seemed to prosper, and money was easily turned over. But now he is to leave Millbank and Big Ben, and, in company with some twenty or more prisoners, the public works are his destination, and there we leave him. Turn to the man awaiting his discharge, and consider his position. Back once more to the old-fashioned cells, and the rattle of cabs, and the clock bells, fresh from the dockyard or the stone quarries of Portland. Six years have elapsed since he first entered Millbank, and listened to the sounds of outside life, and wondered whether he should ever see himself free, with the sentence in front of him to undergo, and the almost countless hours making up the sum total of his future life. This man recalls his exit from the prison, and his journey to Chatham, and his dread of the platform observation, and the remarks of passengers as they gaze curiously on the strange garb and manacled wrists of the party, and he wonders whether any one would recognise the quondam gentleman, attired so strangely, and in such company. And on the journey to Chatham he almost longs for a railway disaster that might perchance set him free, or so injure him that a free pardon might be granted. Yet, he is to be released to-morrow morning, and his last night of bondage has to be passed in the same prison which covered in his gloom and despair on the first night of his sentence. Of what account to him, on this the eve of his release, are the locks and doors and the prison dress, for he would not leave the prison now, unless carried out, before the time had duly arrived when he can claim his ticket of leave, and walk up to Scotland Yard and there get the license? He recalls certain scenes of which he has been a witness, and rapidly adds them up and wonders that he can now calmly think of them all. His habits of writing letters have strangely altered during the past six years, and he reckons each letter, not as a company promoter and capitalist,

when he wrote perhaps a hundred or more weekly, but as a convict, and he is not sure as to whether the figures are twenty or twenty-one, or even nineteen. How strange to receive a letter which is unopened by any one, or without erasions made by the prison officials. When he reaches home, will he find the habit of ringing his communicator still with him when he wishes to leave his room, and will he wonder and pause, as he leaves his front door, at his free egress? To-morrow he will be able to answer these queries and solve his doubts. A sudden thought strikes him as he thinks of the large and frequented railway station at which he had so often met his City friends, and eagerly scanned the evening posters, and hovered over the book-stall. Would any one recognise him? would perchance some stranger stop to look at him and note the wandering, hesitating step of the licensee, as he roams about the platform, free yet mentally bound, chained to his old surroundings by force of habit, and marvelling that he cannot feel at home, amidst the laughter and din of the buffet, so near? He will enter and play the free man, and he turns towards the folding doors, hesitates, and hurriedly walks out of the station towards the Grosvenor Hotel, leaving the importunate cries of “Cab, sir?” behind him. He must return, however, and re-learn his old habits, and, full of a gathered strength, which he now knows he must foster, again passes through on to the platform, when a L. B. & S. C. R. guard greets him with the following salutation: “How are you, sir? lost sight of you for many a year; been abroad, sir? looking well, though; going with my train, I suppose; ten minutes yet, sir !” Here we leave him.

A few words now as to escapes, adding a few introductory remarks on escapes as a whole. It may be stated as a maxim, that a man sentenced to penal servitude will, in 9,999 cases out of every 10,000, complete his term, which is equivalent to the postulate that an evasion of a sentence is almost impossible. It is true that one or two have been consummated, and this in recent years ; but it is an incident of extreme rarity for a prisoner to get clear away out of the country

Some years back a convict confined at Millbank managed to break out of his cell, get up a chimney, carefully covering himself with soot so as to resemble a chimney-sweep, and finally scale the walls, though he seriously hurt his hand in the process. He sauntered up Whitehall, past Scotland Yard, in a very cool

manner, and looked up some friends who provided him with clothes suitable to his newly-acquired dignity. But he was captured near Euston Station, after a sharp struggle, by detectives who were waiting for him, and handed over to the prison officials, who provided him with a yellow and drab dress and some exhilarating leg-irons as a memento

performed, under the guidance of his warder, and with the setting sun, the second night has to be passed as best may be. The chimes interest him in a manner previously unheeded, and he notes any imaginary irregularity in the beats of Big Ben, and he marvels how a bell, so often heard in past days, could have afforded him so little food for speculation when a free man.

Amidst these shadows, ghosts of his former life, continually appearing and assuming diverse shapes, he passes the first nine months of his sentence, in solitary labour, alone in his cell, hearing the outside din of life, and the hoarse steam whistles of the passing steamer, and the sight of his fellow-prisoners in the exercise yard, and the enforced worship in chapel; he, who may not have attended a church for years, though his speculations on 'Change seemed to prosper, and money was easily turned over. But now he is to leave Millbank and Big Ben, and, in company with some twenty or more prisoners, the public works are his destination, and there we leave him. Turn to the man awaiting his discharge, and consider his position. Back once more to the old-fashioned cells, and the rattle of cabs, and the clock bells, fresh from the dockyard or the stone quarries of Portland. Six years have elapsed since he first entered Millbank, and listened to the sounds of outside life, and wondered whether he should ever see himself free, with the sentence in front of him to undergo, and the almost countless hours making up the sum total of his future life. This man recalls his exit from the prison, and his journey to Chatham, and his dread of the platform observation, and the remarks of passengers as they gaze curiously on the strange garb and manacled wrists of the party, and he wonders whether any one would recognise the quondam gentleman, attired so strangely, and in such company. And on the journey to Chatham he almost longs for a railway disaster that might perchance set him free, or so injure him that a free pardon might be granted. Yet, he is to be released to-morrow morning, and his last night of bondage has to be passed in the same prison which covered in his gloom and despair on the first night of his sentence. Of what account to him, on this the eve of his release, are the locks and doors and the prison dress, for he would not leave the prison now, unless carried out, before the time had duly arrived when he can claim his ticket of leave, and walk up to Scotland Yard and there get the license? He recalls certain scenes of which he has been a witness, and rapidly adds them up and wonders that he can now calmly think of them all. His habits of writing letters have strangely altered during the past six years, and he reckons each letter, not as a company promoter and capitalist,

« 前へ次へ »