Bound for Australia
It was recently reported that a man in America had committed a bank robbery for one dollar in order to be sent to prison so that he might benefit from the free health care given to prisoners. Our documents this month show that this is far from being a new phenomenon.
At the 1839 Epiphany Quarter Sessions for Bedfordshire William Mann and James Skipper, both residents of London, were convicted of stealing mutton and were sentence to 7 years transportation to Australia. In his evidence Samuel Lamb, constable of Bedford, stated that after the two men were put into his charge they said "that's what we wanted - we want to get transported":
Ref.QSR1839/1/5/2-3 Evidence of Samuel Lamb
They got their wish. After spending a year on the Hulk Fortitude at Chatham they were sent to New South Wales on the Maitland on the 19th March 1840.(http://www.sellingsparrows.com/index.htm).
William and James obviously thought that transportation was going to provide them with a better life in the end and magistrates were worried that prison and transportation could be seen as better options than life on the streets or in the workhouse. In 1851 the magistrates of the County of Bedford wrote to the Secretary of State that ‘the fact of the dietary for short times of imprisonment being higher than that of any workhouse in the County has and continues to have a most demoralising effect upon the lower order through the county…they feel no doubt that as the more depraved characters in the county become more and more aware of the high diet they receive in the prison the evil will greatly increase and that it will completely prevent the separate system lately introduced into the prison from having a fair trial.’
Ref.QSR1851/2/2/5 Draft letter from the Bedfordshire magistrates to the secretary of state.
The Bedford Borough Quarter Session Rolls, which can be found in the Bedford Borough Archives, also show that this was a consideration. In 1833 Vincent Blunt told the magistrate "I had not had anything to eat for two or three days and I thought I might as well do something. I thought if I got to prison I should have some victuals there. I thought I might as well be transported as die with hunger ...' [BorBF4/78/161].
Following character references from the inhabitants of Northampton [BorBF4/78/164 - below] Vincent was sentenced to 4 months hard labour in the House of Correction during which time he found his own bread part of the time (BorBF4/78/242).
BorBF4/78/164 Character reference from the inhabitants of Northamptonshire who were worried about Vincent Blunt’s father.
BorBF4/78/242 bill for bread for the Bedford town prisoners held in the gaol with a note at the bottom regarding Vincent Blunt.