Parkhurst Prison

(from Illustrated London News, 13 March 1847)

uniforms.JPG (47347 bytes) One of the earliest measure contemplated by the Government, in consequence of the discontinuance of the System of Transportation, will be certain alternations on Millbank, Pentonville, and Parkhurst Prisons. The paramount effect will be to substitute for Transportation, imprisonment in the three national prisons above named, or in the county prisons already constructed, which, it is asserted, will meet the exigencies of the case. Pending the consideration of this important change in the Convict System, it may be interesting to introduce to our readers the present discipline at Parkhurst -- the Reformatory, or Juvenile Prison, as it has been termed.

The Establishment at Parkhurst was commenced in the year 1838: it is situated nearly in the centre of the Isle of Wight, and presents altogether an imposing appearance; a portion of the buildings placed upon a rising ground, it is visible for several miles around. The original building formed the Hospital to the adjacent Barracks, and was altered for occupation as a prison in 1838. In 1843 were commenced some extensive additions, viz., a ward in the rear, a Chapel, a Probationary Ward, Schools, &c.: together with the entire Junior Ward. There were also built at this time residences for the Surgeon, Assistant-Chaplain, Steward, Schoolmasters &c.; houses for Warders; besides two Lodges and an Infirmary: and there were then completed road and other works connected therewith. These additions were executed at a cost of about 30,000.



The several buildings are of brick, with cement dressings; and the portions appropriated to the Prisoners are surrounded with walls fifteen feet high. The principle entrance is through a rusticated archway, of Isle of Wight stone; flanking which are two lodges, that on the left for the Porter; and on the right are the office of the Clerk of Works, the Surgery, and the Receiving-room; in the latter are slipper baths, supply of hot water, and fumigating apparatus. Here each Prisoner, previous to admission, is examined by the Surgeon; is next washed, and clothed in Probationary Ward dress, entirely new. The Officers of the Prison wear military undress -- blue frock -coats, cloth caps, and leather belt and strap holding keys. Each Prisoner wears a leather cap (made in the Shoemaker's shop) and bearing on its front the Boy's No. in brass figures; the trousers and jacket are of grey cloth; on the left breast of the latter are sewn P.P. and the No.; and P.P. on the left thigh. The rest of the clothing is striped shirt, leather stock, waistcoat for winter wear, worsted stockings and boots, all of which are made in the Prison. On the right breast is worn a brass medal with No. The Penal Class is denoted by yellow collars and cuffs, and letters of the same colour.

corridor.JPG (72838 bytes)

THE PROBATIONARY WARD is a great improvement upon the original system for the reception of Boys on their first arrival. This division of the building consists of THE CORRIDOR, with three tiers of cells, 137 in all; each being 11 feet by 7 feet, and 8 feet 6 inches high, brick arched, and provided with a hammock, of coca-nut fibre, shown in the engraving of THE CELL, rolled up and laid on a shelf in the corner, to the right of the door; at night it is stretched with straps from wall to wall and fastened with cleats, 15 inches from the floor. Each Cell is furnished with a small table, stool, and writing-desk; a Bible, Prayer-book and Hymn-book, for Chapel use; school books, slate and pencil; and upon the wall of the Cell are placed the Morning and Evening Hymn cards with prayers, and copies for writing; by the side of which is an iron holdfast candlestick, to receive a "Palmer's candle". immediately over the door-way, is an iron plate for the admission of fresh air, from the Corridor; and in each door is an inspection-plate, of glass and iron wire-gauze, 4 inches by 3. There is, also, a spring-bell, which the Prisoner is to sound when he requires the attendance of an officer; there being affixed to each bell an iron plate inscribed with the number of the Cell, indicated, as the bell rings, to the officer in the Corridor.

The Prisoners in this Ward take their meals in the separate Cells, from which they are only allowed to absent each day, 1 1/2 hours for exercise; 2 1/2 hours in school; half an hour cleaning; and half an hour in the morning, in chapel for prayers..THE CORRIDOR as shown in the Engraving, is surrounded with galleries and flights of steps leading to the upper tiers. In the basement are tow Dark Cells for punishment, and two Baths for the Ward. There are washing-rooms to each gallery , with separate compartments, so that the Prisoners cannot communicate with each other. There are, also, two water-closets on each floor, for night use.

Instruction is given in each Cell according to the knowledge possessed by the Prisoner on entering; when not otherwise employed, he is to work at tailoring, shoemaking, or other occupations; so that he is not allowed to be a moment idle.


In the PROBATIONARY WARD, the course of instruction is two hours and a half, on alternate days, of elementary instruction, chiefly religious and moral. By good conduct, the Boys are admitted to the senior division of the School, and instructed at open desks, of which the School Room is provided with 8, as well as fitted with 50 compartments: each of the latter holds but one Prisoner, and is so planned, that the Schoolmaster can inspect and instruct without the possibility of the Boys communicating with or seeing each other.

When a School Class is occupied in Cells, the Boys are regularly visited several times a day by the Schoolmaster of the Class for scholastic instruction; as well as by the Chaplain and Principal Schoolmaster, for the purpose of religious and moral instruction. To afford to each Prisoner an occasional opportunity of quiet consideration of his condition and prospects, as well as reflection on the admonition and instructions which he has received, the several School classes are placed for one day in the week in separate cells, and there furnished with light employment, which, while it has afforded manual occupation, has yet allowed time and opportunity for thought.

A visit to Parkhurst Prison -- there to witness the exertions of philanthropic enlightenment to reclaim the juvenile offender from the ways of error to the paths of virtue and peace -- is one of the most gratifying scenes of philanthropy to be enjoyed in this great Christian country. In the summer of 1845, the Queen visited the Prison, with her suite; and her Majesty was graciously pleased to pardon, in person, two of the Prisoners, one from each Division of the Establishment.

school.JPG (90861 bytes)



  1. This article is taken from the Illustrated London News of 13 Mar 1847.
  2. The spelling used is that of the original article; at that time many nouns were capitalized. It is interesting to note the capitalization of 'Boys' and 'Prisoner', while the word 'officer' is not so capitalized.