Thursday 9 February 2012

The Gaol

They used to say "Jail ain't make to ripen fig", meaning that if you went to jail don't expect to be idle. You had to work. The original cost of the gaol, built in 1812 on what is now Frederick Street, according to the accounts laid before the Council on 16th August 1813, was £29, 853 sterling (one pound sterling was $4.80).
Writing in 1866, Daniel Hart, Commissioner of Prisons, observed that crime in the island was much less than in other countries in proportion to its population, and that the natives of the island formed but a small proportion of the total commitments.
By the profitable employment of the prisoners, the prison department was made self-supporting. The original building was 208 ft in length an 59 ft in width. This prison was capable of containing 98 prisoners in separate cells, and 294 when more than one prisoner sleeps in one cell. There were separate quarters for females and debtors. There was also an infirmary, a store room, work shop and bakery. The baths were separated for different classes of prisoners, it would appear that felons did not bathe with debtors. There were three airing yards.
None of the subordinate officers, except the night watch and matrons, remained in the prison at night, there being no quarters for them. During the administration of Lord Harris (1845 - 1854), some thirty five years after the original construction, the gaol was enlarged to 312 ft in length and 251ft in width, with the height of the walls being 25 ft.
The prisoners earned their keep in those days. The greatest number of prisoners kept in confinement at any one period was 315 males and 22 females.
Besides the principal prison at Port of Spain, there were five liscenced prisons in different parts of the island and one penal settlement at Irois. Prisoners convicted for not more than 35 days were committed to the licensed prisons and were employed by the wardens in the cleaning, making and repairing of roads. Prisoners convicted of serious crimes and those who had to serve long periods of time were taken to Irois. These were employed in the felling, squaring and hauling out of timber. They were also employed in the replanting of the forests.
The timber taken out was cut into boards, planks and beams of various proportions. Prisoners were also employed in the cleaning of the streets in Port of Spain and San Fernando. Education in gaol in 1866 saw 31 prisoners learning writing, 42 reading, 31 arithmatic, 31 scripture reading and 45 spelling. During that  year, 1410 persons were convicted and passed through the gaol. The cosmopolitan nature of the prison population in that year gives an idea to the extent of the people coming to Trinidad from all over the world. The gaol in the "Experimental Colony" reflects this:
America - 9
Antigua - 17
Anguilla - 7
Africa - 117
Barbados - 79
China - 81
Dominica - 10
Demerara - 7
England - 5
France - 6
Guadelupe - 2
India - 688
Jamiaca - 2
Madeira - 6
Martinique - 3
Montserrat - 21
Nevis - 27
Ireland - 7
Saba - 3
Tortola - 2
Tobago - 16
Trinidad - 201
Scotland - 4
St. Vincent - 22
St. Kitts - 19
St. Thomas - 4
St. Lucia - 6
Cape de Verde - 1
Amongst the various charges laid were 23 for selling rum without a license; 5 for setting fire without giving notice; 2 for shooting with intent; 5 for robbery with violence; 1 for riotous behaviour; 10 for resisting police; 2 for riding on the shaft of a cart; 22 for obstructing the street; 69 for obscene language; 6 for murder; 314 for larceny; 12 for furious riding; 27 for exposure of person; 150 for debt; 14 for cutting and wounding; 1 for cruelty to animals; 495 for breach of contract (indentured Indians); 1 for arson; 124 for assault and battery.
Some of the professions of those convicted: 19 washers; 3 wheelwrights; 18 tailors; 2 tinsmiths; 10 seamstress; 2 schoolmasters; 9 shoemakers; 4 saddlers; 4 sawyers; 1 sailmaker; 2 solicitors; 4 professors of music; 1,118 labourers; 1 auctioneer; 3 boatmen; 3 butchers; 1 coach painter; 9 coopers; 1 coachsmith; 1 cigarmaker; 1 distiller; 3 interpretors.
These selected at random show a range of trades and professions, some no longer in existance. In those days there was one first-class turnkey who received £100 per year (a pound was $4.80). £100 was also given to the inspector of prisons, and the superintendent got £350. There was one clerk who got £150, an assistant clerk who got £75 and one overseer getting £120. The teacher was given £50. There were four second-class turnkeys who recieved £80, seven third-class got £70 and nine fouth-class who recieved £50 a year. The matron got £40 per year.
There were seven executions in 1866. There were 3 convicted for arson; 18 for cutting and wounding; 10 for murder; 7 for killing and slaying; 6 attempts to commit murder; 6 for assault to commit rape; 6 for rape; 11 for robbery with violence; 8 for assault; 6 for assault and battery; 7 for shooting with intent; 1 for malicious injury to person.
The old instruments of torture left over from the Spanish times remained in the gaol on Frederick Street for many years. One wonders whether they're still around.

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