COUNTY OF LINCOLN.
[TRANSPORTATION] Lincoln Gaol Magistrates’ Order Book, 1799-1816.
Late eighteenth century journal. Square octavo, 195 x 155 mm, quarter calf over marbled papered boards (recently rebacked, endpapers replaced); pp , manuscript in ink in several hands on unruled laid paper, the majority of entries on rectos only; clean and legible throughout.
This unique, unpublished manuscript provides a fascinating “view from the inside” of the British penal system around the turn of the nineteenth century, during the early phase of convict transportation to the Australian colonies (New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land).
Lincoln Gaol was situated inside Lincoln Castle. Up until 1805 the prisoners incarcerated within its walls, including those sentenced to transportation to the colonies, were held in appalling conditions that had remained largely unchanged since 1777, when the prison had achieved notoriety through the reformer John Howard’s description of it in his Report: “One large room upstairs for men debtors, one smaller for women. The rooms for criminals are two dungeons down three steps with bedsteads that they may not sleep on the damp earth floor. There is no courtyard, no water accessible to prisoners, no straw.” Construction of new prison buildings was begun in 1805 and completed in 1809, leading to a slight improvement in the prisoners’ living circumstances. However, as the numerous records of complaints and building inspections contained in this manuscript Magistrates’ book testify, what were essentially inhumane conditions prevailed in the Gaol right through to 1816 (and probably beyond).
The Order Book contains the responses of the magistrates to the requests of the Gaoler at Lincoln for repairs and alterations to the prison buildings; replacement of broken equipment; additional sheets and bedding; standard issue convict clothing, and orders of basic provisions. It also records punishments meted out to prisoners for attempted escape or for other misdemeanours such as drunken and agressive behaviour (the abuse of smuggled alcohol was a recurrent problem) or indecent exposure. This sometimes took the form of solitary confinement and/or withholding rations of bread and water for a prescribed period.
‘The following Articles of Cloathing, being wanted for the use of the Convicts under sentence of Transportation, the Gaoler is hereby ordered to get them immediately viz; 10 suits of Blue & Drab Coloured Cloathing; 12 Linnen Shirts; 6 pr Stockings; 6 pr New Shoes, and several [pairs of] old ones [for] repairing’.
Also officially recorded are the complaints made to the magistrates by prisoners concerning harsh treatment by gaolers and a variety of deprivations they have been forced to suffer:
‘Sir, owing to the cruel & barbarous treatment of a merciless Keeper, I am urg’d to solicit your kind interference, not only in behalf of myself but for the rest of my fellow Debtors [who are] treated worse than a Felon, I may even say worse than the Beasts of the Field ….’