According to Scotch law, the jailer and magistrates who committed the debtor became responsible for the debt, supposing the prisoner to have effected his escape. Self-interest, therefore, prompted the adoption of cruel measures to ensure the detention of the unfortunate debtor; while helpless lunatics were wholly at the mercy of brutalized keepers who were responsible to hardly any tribunal. Of the horrors of that dark, terrible time within those prison-walls, few records appear; few cared to probe the evil, or to propose a remedy. The archives of Eternity alone contain the captive’s cries, and the lamentations of tortured lunatics. Only one Eye penetrated the dungeons; one Ear heard. Was not Elizabeth Fry and her coadjutors doing a god-like work? And when she raised the clarion cry that Reformation, not Revenge, was the object of punishment, she shook these old castles of Giant Despair to their foundations.
THE GALLOWS AND ENGLISH LAWS.
About this period the subject of Capital Punishment largely attracted Mrs. Fry’s attention. The attitude of Quakers generally towards the punishment of death, except for murder in the highest degree, was hostile; but Mrs. Fry’s constant intercourse with inmates in the condemned cell fixed her attention in a very painful manner upon the subject. For venial crimes, men and women, clinging fondly to life, were swung off into eternity; and neither the white lips of the philanthropist, nor the official ones of the appointed chaplain, could comfort the dying. Among these dying ones were many women, who were executed for simply passing forged Bank of England notes; but as the bank had plenary powers to arrange to screen certain persons who were not to die, these were allowed to get off with a lighter punishment by pleading “Guilty to the minor count.” The condemned cell was never, however, without its occupant, nor the gallows destitute of its prey. So Draconian were the laws of humane and Christian England, at this date, that had they been strictly carried out, at least four executions daily, exclusive of Sundays, would have taken place in this realm.
According to Hepworth Dixon, and contemporary authorities, the sanguinary measures of the English Government for the punishment of crimes dated from about the time of the Jacobite rebellion, in 1745. Prior to that time, adventurers of every grade, the idle, vicious, and unemployed, had found an outlet for their turbulence and their energies in warfare—engaging on behalf of the Jacobites, or the Government, according as it suited their fancy. But when the House of Hanover conquered, and the trade of war became spoiled within the limits of Great Britain, troops of these discharged soldiers took to a marauding life; the high roads became infested with robbers, and crimes of violence were frequent. Alarmed at the license displayed by these Ishmaelites, the Government of the day arrayed its might against them, enacting such sanguinary measures that at first sight it seemed as if the deliberate intent were to literally cut them off and root them out from the land. That era was indeed a bloodthirsty one in English jurisprudence.