« הקודםהמשך »
presence would not prevent its being torn from her. She saw enough to convince ber that every thing bad was going on. In short, in giving me this account, she repeatedly said: “AU I tell thee is a faint picture of the reality: the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the ferocious manners and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness which every thing bespoke, are quite indescribable." One act, which I received from another quarter, marks the degree of wretchedness to which they were reduced at that time. Two women were seen in the act of stripping a dead child, for the purpose of clothing a living one.
At that time she clothed many of the children, and some of the women, and read to them some passages in the Bible; and the willing and grateful manner with which, even then, they attended to her admonitions, left upon her mind a strong desire to do more for their advantage, and a conviction that much might be done.
Circumstances, however, rendered any efforts, on her part, impossible, for the long period of three years.
About Christmas, 1816, she resumed her visits, and sbe found that many, and very essential, improvements had been made by the Jail Committee; especially, the females were less crowded, as they occupied, in addition to their former rooms, the state apartment, consisting of six wards and three cells, and the yard attached to them; they were provided with mats, and two gratings were erected to prevent close communication between prisoners and their visiters. With all these improvements, however, the prison was a dreadful scene.
She found, she believes, all the women playing at cards, or reading improper books, or begging at the grates, or fighting for the division of the inoney thus acquired, or engaged in the mysteries of fortune-telling; for there was one amongst them who pretended to look into futurity, and the rest, who believed nothing else, were eager
and implicit believers in the truth of her divinations. Want of employment was the subject of their continual lamentation. They complained that they were compelled to be idle; and that having nothing else to do, they were obliged to pass away the time in doing wrong. I cannot better describe their state than in the words of Mrs. Fry : “ I soon found that nothing could be done, or was worth attempting for the reformation of the women, without constant employment; as it was, those who were idle were confirmed in idleness, and those who were disposed to be industrious lost their good habits. In short, they went there to have the work of corruption completed; and subsequent examination has discovered to me the cases of many, who before this period had come to Newgate almost innocent, and who left it depraved and profligate in the last degree." As she had then no hopes of any provision of labour, her design was confined to about thirty children, whose miserable condition much affected her. They were almost naked, and seemed pining away for want of food, air, and exercise : but their personal sufferings was the least part of their wretchedness. What but certain ruin must be the consequence of education in this scene of depravity? At her 'second visit she requested to be admitted alone, and was locked up with the women, without any turnkey, for several hours. When she mentioned to those who had families, how grievous and deplorable she considered the situation of their offspring, and her desire to concur with them in establishing a school, the proposal was received, even by the most abandoned, with tears of joy. They said they knew too well the misery of sin to wish to have their children brought up in it; that they were ready to do any thing which she might direct; for it was horrible, even to them, to hear their infants utter oaths and filthy expressions amongst the first words they learned to articulate. She desired them maturely to consider the plan; for that she would not 'undertake it without their full and steady co-operation : but that if they were determined to persevere in doing their part, she would do hers, and that the first step would be to appoint a governess. This she left entirely to them, and they were to consider who was the most proper person for that appointment.
Consideration served only to confirm their desire for the instruction of their children. At her next visit they bad selected a young woman as school-mistress, and her conduct does credit to their discernment; for she has behaved throughout with signal propriety, and in no instance has she been known to transgress any rule. The elder women repeated their promises of entire obedience, if the trial might but be made; and several of the younger came to ber, and intreated to be admitted to the intended school, saying, how thankful they should be for any chance of reformation.
Having thus obtained the consent of the females, her next object was to secure the concurrence of the Governor. She went to his house, and there met both the Sheriffs and the ordinary.' She told them ber views; which they received with the most cordial approbation, but at the same time unreservedly confessed their apprehensions that her labours would be fruitless. At the next interview they stated, that they bad thoroughly examined the prison, and were truly sorry to say they could not find any vacant spot suitable for her purpose, and therefore feared the design must be relinquished. Conclusive as this intelligence appeared, her heart was then too deeply engaged in the work, and her judgment too entirely convinced of its importance, to allow her to resign it, while one possibility of success remained. She again requested to be admitted alone amongst the women, that she might see for herself; and if her search then failed, she should be content to abandon her project. She soon discovered a cell which was unused, and this cell is the present school-room. Upon this she returned to the Sheriffs, who told her she might take it if she liked, and try the benevolent, but almost hopeless experiment.
The next day she commenced the school, in company with a young lady, who then visited a prison for the first time, and who
since gave me a very interesting description of her feelings upon that occasion. The railing was crowded with half naked women struggling together for the front situations with the most boisterous violence, and begging with the utmost vociferation. She felt as if she was going into a den of wild beasts; and she well recollects quite shuddering when the door closed upon her, and she was locked in with such a horde of novel and desperate companions. This day, however, the school surpassed their utmost expectations : their only pain arose from the numerous and pressing applications made by young women, who longed to be taught and employed. The narrowness of the room rendered it impossible to yield to these requests, whilst a denial seemed a sentence of destruction, excluding every hope, and almost every possibility of reformation.
These ladies, with some others, continued labouring together for some time, and the school became their regular and daily occupation; but their visits brought them so acquainted with the dissipation and gross licentiousness prevalent in the prison, arising, as they conceived, partly from want of certain regulations, but principally from want of work, that they could not but feel earnest and increasing solicitude to extend their institution, and to comprehend within its range the tried prisoners. This desire was confirmed by the solicitations of the women themselves, who intreated that they might not be excluded. Their zeal for improvement, and their assurances of good behaviour, were powerful motives; and they tempted these ladies to project a school for the employment of the tried women, for teaching them to read and to work.
When this intention was mentioned to the friends of these ladies, it appeared at first so visionary and unpromising, that it met with very slender encouragement. They were told that the certain consequence of introducing work, would be, that it would be stolen; that though such an experiment might be reasonable enough if made in the country, among women who had been accustomed to hard labour, yet that it was quite destitute of hope, when tried upon those who had been so long habituated to vice and idleness. It was strongly represented that their materials were of the very worst description; that a regular London female thief, who had passed through every stage and every scene of guilt; who had spent her youth in prostitution, and her maturer age in theft and knavery, whose every friend and connexion are accomplices and criminal associates, is of all characters the most irreclaimable.
Novelty indeed, might for a time engage their attention, and produce a transient observance of the rules of the school ; but this novelty could not last for ever: the time would come when employment would be irksome, subordination would irritate their unruly feelings; deep rooted habits, modes of thinking and acting imbibed in their cradles, and confirmed by the whole tenor of their lives, would resume their ascendency; violent passions would again burst out, and the first offence that was given would annihilate the controul of their powerless and self-appointed mistresses. In short, it was predicted, and by many too, whose wisdom and benevolence added weight to their opinions, that those who had set at defiance the law of the land, with all its terrors, would very speedily revolt from an authority which had nothing to enforce it, and nothing more to recommend it than its simplicity and gentleness.
That these ladies were enabled to resist the cogency of these reasons, and to embark and persevere in so forlorn and desperate an enterprise, in despite of many a warning without, and many an apprehension within, is not the least remarkable circumstance in their proceedings; but intercourse with the prisoners had inspired them with a confidence which was not easily to be shaken; and feeling that their design was intended for the good and the happiness of others, they trusted that it would receive the guidance and protection of Him, who often is pleased to accomplish the highest purposes by the most feeble instruments.
With these impressions, they had the boldness to declare that if a committee could be found, who would share the labour, and a matron, who would engage never to leave the prison day or night, they would undertake to try the experiment; that is, they would find employment for the women, procure the necessary money, till the city could be induced to relieve them from the expense, and be answerable for the safety of the property committed into the lands of the prisoners.
This Committee immediately presented itself: it consisted of the wife of a clergyman, and eleven members of tbe Society of Friends. They professed their willingness to suspend every other engagement and avocation, to devote themselves to Newgate : and in truth, they have performed their promise. With no interval of relaxation, and with but few intermissions from the call of other and more imperious duties, they have lived amongst the prisoners. At first, every day in the week, and every hour in the day, some of them were to be found at their post, joining in the employments, or engaged in the instruction of their pupils; and at this very period, when the necessity of such close attendance is much abated, the matron assures me that, with only one short exception, she does not recollect the day on which some of the ladies have inot visited the prison, that very often they have been with her by the time the prisoners were dressed; have spent the whole day with them, sharing her meals, or passing on without any; and have only left the school long after the close of day.
Having provided the committee, the next requisite was a matron. It so happened, that a gentleman who knew nothing of the objects in contemplation, called upon one of the Committee, to ask her assistance in procuring a situation for a respectable elderly woman, whom he had long known. She was in every way competent to the office of matron, was willing to undertake it, and has discharged its duties with exemplary fidelity.
It became then necessary to apply to those in authority, by whose patronage and agency alone the design could be accomplished. Mr. Cotton, the ordinary, and Mr. Newman, the Governor, were invited to meet Mrs. Fry at her husband's house. She represented to them fully her views—the plans she proposed to adopt—the difficulties with which she saw herself surrounded -her sense of the importance of the object, and her confidence in superior direction. Mr. Cotton fairly told her that this, like many other useful and benevolent designs for the improvement of Newgate, would inevitably fail. Mr. Newman bade her not to despair : but he has since confessed, that when he came to reflect upon the subject, and especially upon the character of the prisoners, he could not see even the possibility of success. Both, however, promised their warmest co-operation.
She next had an interview with Mr. Bridges, the sheriff; and having communicated to him her intentions, told him that they could not be carried into execution without the cordial support of himself and his colleague ; or without the approbation of the City Magistrates, from whom she asked nothing more at this time, than a salary for the matron, a comfortable room for her, and one for the Committee. He expressed the most kind disposition to assist her, and told her that his concurrence, or that of the city, would avail ber but little ; that the concurrence of the women themselves was indispensable; and that it was in vain to expect that such untamed and turbulent spirits would submit to the regulations of a woman, armed with no legal authority, and unable to inflict any punishment. She replied, “Let the experiment be tried, let the women be assembled in your presence, and if they will not consent to the strict observance of our rules, let the project be dropped.' On the following Sunday the two sheriffs, with Mr. Cotton and Mr. Newman, met the ladies at Newgate. Upwards of seventy women were collected together. One of the Committee explained their views to them; she told them that the only practicable mode of accomplishing an object, so interesting to her and so important to them, was by the establishment of certain rules.
They were then asked if they were willing to abide by the rules which it might be advisable to establish; and each gave the most positive assurances of her determination to obey them in all points. Having succeeded so far, the next business was to provide employment.
It struck one of the ladies, that Botany Bay might be supplied with stockings, and indeed all articles of clothing, of their manufacture.--She therefore called upon Messrs. Richard, Dixon, & Co. of Fenchurch street, and candidly told them, that she was desirous of depriving them of this branch of their trade, and stating her views, begged their advice. They said at once, that they would not in any way obstruct such laudable designs, and that no further trouble need be taken to provide work, for they would engage to do it,