THE SIX-MONTH STRETCH THAT TURNED INTO A LIFE SENTENCE
DEATH IN THE BOROUGH GAOL
BUCKINGHAM 26, 1864 (transcribed by EG)
On Saturday last death paid a visit to the Borough Gaol and released a prisoner lying there under sentence of six months' imprisonment for stealing fruit from the rear of the Rev. E. A. Uthwatt, in August last.
This man’s name was Jesse Robarts, a character well known in the neighbourhood. During the first few weeks of his incarceration he gave the Governor a great deal of trouble, and amused himself in endeavouring to make his escape. One trial he made was cutting at the bottom corner of the panel in the gaol door, which he doubtless hoped to remove. His attempt was however discovered, and led to his being more closely watched, and having his liberty somewhat curtailed. He had a wandering mode of talking, which impressed Mr. Giles with the idea that his prisoner was not quite sane.
On Jesse’s death becoming known in the town various stories were soon in circulation as to his having been ill-used and harshly treated. An inquest was held, when sufficient information was laid before a highly respectable jury to convince them that the reports in circulation were mere idle rumours, having not the least foundation. In fact, so far from Jesse having been ill-treated, it was learnt that he had been indulged in many things by his keeper, which added to his comfort.
Thinking that his mind might be injuriously affected if he was confined too closely to oakum picking, Mr. Giles humanely allowed the deceased to pick any quantity he was able, and many days he did not pick any at all. We give below the evidence given at the inquest, which will, we think, convince every one who carefully reads it that the unfortunate deceased died, the jury said, from Natural Causes.
William Giles, Governor of the Gaol: [The] deceased was at the time a prisoner in the Borough Gaol, under a summary conviction. He was given into custody on the 20th August last. Whilst he was in prison he threatened to kill me. and also policeman Holland. He tried to get out of the Gaol by cutting the door. In consequence of these misdemeanours I locked him up in his Cell. Before he misconducted himself he had more than four hours’ exercise during the day at different intervals. After he had misconducted himself had but one hour. After he was locked up he had a better diet than before. The Gaol allowance was a pound and a half of bread per day, and three-quarters of a pound of meat twice a week after the first six weeks.
I am sure that what food [the] deceased had was sufficient to maintain him. Last Thursday I noticed a change in his appearance. His head looked very rough, and his voice seemed changed. I had doubts about his sanity when he first came in, but he afterwards appeared to get better. He picked oakum. About 4 o’clock on Thursday, he was locked up. About 6 o’clock the Vicar came down to see deceased. Myself and the Vicar went to the cell. When the Vicar came from the cell he said he could not make anything of him. I saw [the] deceased again about 10 o’clock on Thursday night, and he told me he felt all right. He was in bed then.
He got out of bed to adjust his bedclothes, and he then staggered and fell on his hands and knees.
He got into bed again, and seemed all right. I fetched Mr. Haslop [the Surgeon] the same evening to see him. Just before 1 o’clock I saw him again, and I considered him better. [The] deceased said he was all right. I saw him again at 7 o’clock on Friday morning, and it being dark I noticed something white under the bedstead, some bed clothes lying on the bed, and some on the ground. There was a utensil in the cell, which had been used during the night. The bedclothes were stained with human excrement. I went up to the white object under the bed, and found it was the body of Roberts. The body was quite warm. I could not tell whether he was breathing. His head was against the wall. I got assistance and put him on the bed. He was then alive, and breathed quite freely. His face was covered with blood. He was then removed into another cell.
He lingered till 3.35 on Saturday, when he died. He was not sensible, and had not been so since Thursday. He was 35 years of age.
He did not complain of the coldness of the cell. Four years ago a man died in the Gaol. I dare not put [the] deceased in a cell where there was a fire for fear of accident. He did complain of his arm being cold on Thursday, but it afterwards got warm. When prisoners take exercise no one attends them. [The] deceased never complained of the dampness of the cell or of his dietary. The upper cells are driest and females are put in them. [The] deceased had various illusions about having money left him. I gave [the] deceased some brandy and water after I found him, but he swallowed a very little.
Charles Sabin: I was called to the Gaol on Saturday morning about 7 o’clock to sit with Roberts. I found him with a rattling in the throat. I was there when he died. The rattling in the throat continued all day till about two minutest before death. He did not struggle just before death. I washed him after he died. There was blood on his face, which I washed off. His wife came to see him twice whilst I was he was quite insensible.
William Mills: On Friday morning I was called into the Gaol, and found the body of Jesse Roberts under his bed in the cell. His head was against the wall. I laid hold of one of his legs to help get him up. They were cold. This was about a quarter before eight. His face appeared very dirty. After he was laid on the bed he turned his head away. He had only his shirt on, and that was rolled up. The cell struck me as very cold.
Dr. Haslop: I was requested to visit Jesse Roberts Tuesday last, with a view to his release from Gaol on a plea of ill-health or insanity. I could not give a certificate. He told me that he was quite well and happy, and that he had gained a stone in weight. On Friday Giles came to me and said he thought Jesse was not quite right. I went down and found Jesse in bed. He said he was all right. I felt of him, and he had a nice, warm glow. I thought he would rally and soon be himself again. On Friday morning I was sent for again, as Giles thought Jesse was dying. I immediately got up and went to see him. He was quite insensible. He was on the bed and breathing with difficulty and mucous rattling in his throat. I sent down a blister to be applied to the back of his head. I saw him again on Friday afternoon, when he was about the same. I also saw him again on Saturday morning, and considered he was quite past recovery, and beyond medical aid. The blood on his face was not from haemorrhage, but probably from his biting his lips.
I saw him twice on Saturday. My opinion is that death was caused by rupture of a vessel at the base of the brain, there probably being an effusion of blood on the brain. I have examined the body since death, and find no marks indicating suspicion- I did not think on Friday evening it was necessary to give directions for anyone to sit up with deceased.
Verdict: Natural Causes.