Inside The Penal Establishment at Pentridge in 1867

Originally published in the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers 20th August, 1867.

The Pentridge Stockade derives its name of Pentridge from the village in which it is situated, which lies about four miles distant from the city. It is an immense prison, covering several acres of ground surrounded with massive stone walls, and externally presenting an appearance of great security. It is capable of holding between 800 and 900 convicts.

The prisoners are divided into three classes, A. B. and C. There are subdivisions of those letters indicating the graduation of punishment and the character of the prisoner who, as he ascends in the alphabetical scale, becomes entitled to certain privileges, which are dependent upon his good behaviour. The prisoners, after receiving sentence, are in due time transmitted to the Stockade, and without distinction placed in Class A. The building they occupy is termed a panopticon, which, as its name indicates, consists of a number of cells radiating from a centre which commands a complete supervision of the whole. This building, however, is not yet completed, the plan admitting of future extension as the increasing requirements of the prison renders additional accommodation necessary.

The discipline in this division is similar in many respects to that adopted in the model prison, Clerkenwell, London. The prisoner on his entrance undergoes a minute inspection, is taken to the bath house, and after his ablutions is clothed in the prison dress, consisting of a dark gray frieze jacket and trousers and a blue shirt. The clothing is conspicuously worked on the back and front, thus: — P. D. over broad arrow, 111 under. He has then to undergo a period of probation, according to the length and character of his sentences, under what is termed the silent system. This very rarely exceeds twelve months. During his term the prisoner only quits his cell for exercise, or to attend chapel, and is not suffered to converse with anyone but the prison officials. His meals are handed to him by the warders, and he is subjected to a most rigid surveillance during the whole term of his probation. For only one hour out of the twenty-four is he permitted to take exercise.

Our engraving represents the prisoners proceeding to the yard for that purpose. On leaving the cell they put on a cap having a long peak which falls down before the face, in which there are two eyelet holes, enabling them to see before them, but effectually hiding their features from recognition by other prisoners who for the time take exercise with them. Opinions are divided as to the effect this system of solitary confinement has upon the criminal. It requires, to be tempered with great judgment. It has one good effect, namely, that it impresses upon the mind the blessings of liberty and of communion with fellow men, and prepares the prisoner to enjoy more fully the advantages to which his good conduct entitle him.

The cells are well ventilated, and the prison furniture just sufficient for the purpose; and from the prison library books may be obtained, as the clergyman deems fitting. Communication with the warder is effected by the prisoner, who is provided with a bell-pull, which sounds a gong, and at the same time indicates the number of the cell in which the prisoner is placed; and it is the duty of the warder of the division to answer the prisoner’s summons and attend to his requirements, if of a necessary character. By this means, also, the warder can be called at night should the prisoner be taken suddenly ill. There are in this class about one hundred and eighty criminals.

From Class A the prisoners pass to Class B, which is also a panopticon. There are divisions in this class, such as B 1; B 2, and so on; and though with some prisoners the silent and solitary system is still continued, others are permitted to associate together; and others again are employed in labour. The trades in which they are chiefly occupied are straw hat making and mat making. Their employments are carried on by the prisoners in their respective cells, under the supervision of trade instructors, who provide them with the raw material and initiate them in the mysteries of the respective branches of trade. In other respects the bulk of the prisoners in this panopticon are treated like those in Class A.

As the prisoners’ character improves, and their period of sentence advances, they are moved to other divisions of Class B and C, in which previous restrictions are laid aside, and they mix together, eat and sleep together, and work in one common workshop at different kinds of labour. There is the tailors’ shop, and bootmakers’ shop, long buildings in which from 40 to 80 persons may be found seated, working assiduously under an instructor who has one or two assistants chosen from amongst the best workmen in the prison.

Our engraving shows the tailors room, in which a number of men are at work seated on long benches, in their shirts and trousers with their geese and lapping boards. The apparatus for heating the irons and the little division occupied by the instructor in charge of the workshop are not shown.

The prisoners are supplied with clothing made by the tailors, and nearly all the requirements of the prison are provided for within its walls. At the Intercolonial Exhibition there were fine specimens of work turned out from the Pentridge Stockade. Many skilled workmen, no doubt, are found amongst the criminals, and advantage is very properly taken of their handicraft, and the department is to some extent recouped for the cost of their maintenance.

We show, in the engraving, an apparatus, turned by manual labour, for spinning woollen yarn. There is within the prison a complete apparatus for manufacturing woollen fabrics of a coarse kind. A steam-engine drives a number of teasing and carding machines, which in addition to the spinning jennies worked by the prisoners, furnish material for the manufacture of blankets and rugs which supply the hospitals and lunatic asylums.

We may expect, before long, to have a woollen manufactory in operation in the city by a private company, but it is worthy of note that the first machine was erected, in the Pentridge Stockade, and has been in operation for some years. There are also bookbinders’ shops, carpenters’ and smiths’ shops in full operation, and always profitably employed. A great deal of the work done is for orders taken outside the prison, and much of the workmanship will compare favourably with free labour.

The prisoners who are permitted to work together in gangs, also take their meals together, and at night occupy dormitories capable of containing some thirty or forty beds arranged in tiers of bunks. The dining room represented in the engraving shows the prisoners at mess. Their food is well cooked and of a liberal kind.

In the evening the men assemble at school. As many as 200 may be seen together, receiving instruction under a system of classification and tuition. Precautions are taken to prevent any combined efforts at escape, by posting Warders, properly armed for an emergency, but the prisoners have not of late attempted to take advantage of their association, and have been orderly and well-conducted. The efficiency of the prison is highly creditable to all connected with it. It is controlled by an Inspector-general, Lieut.-Col. Champ, who resides within the grounds, and about 112 officers, including military and Wardsmen.

Source: The Penal Establishment at Pentridge (1867, August 20). Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 – 1875), p. 6. 

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