No. 645: Cheapside, EC2
Cheapside, London, EC2. Photo © Roger Dean 2012
The Leisure Hour: An Illustrated Magazine for Home Reading - 1896:
There has been lying for the last few weeks in the East India Docks, close to Blackwall Station, a remarkable vessel. This is the ‘dark-cell drill ship’ Success, an old East Indiaman, built of teak at Moulrnein in 1790, and of the massive bluff-bowed type characteristic of her age and class. [...] On her second voyage to Melbourne, in 1851, her crew deserted and hurried up to the goldfields, and she was sold to the Victorian Government, who converted her into a prison hulk of unusual strength. [...] She looks a horrible object by the side of the smart clippers amidst which she is moored, but she is one of the most interesting things ever seen in London. Here is prison discipline as it existed forty years ago in all its glory, and one cannot look upon it without a shudder. She is just as she was left, with cells, instruments, and records complete, and wax figures doing duty for the convicts. Among these figures there is one of Power, the bushranger, who was sentenced to fifteen years’ confinement on hoard; and there is another, somewhat humorously represented as a reformed character and decent member of society, silk hat, and so on, after he had ‘done his time’ and been engaged by the purchasers of the hulk ‘to be of interest to visitors.’ Another figure is that of a black man who served his time and a very rough time – and is now flourishing as a restaurant keeper. There are a few others who seem to have been reformed, but how such treatment could reform any man is a mystery. There are sixty-eight cells in the ship, built along the sides on the main and lower decks, and on each deck is a ‘tigers’ den,’ a sort of heavily barred loose box, in which the worst characters were herded together. The dangerous prisoners were on the lower deck, chained in their cells so that they could only just reach the door, the plank near the doorway being in many cases worn into by the prisoner’s feet as he waited for the warder to hand him in his bread and water. In some of the cells there is a ring about a yard from the deck, through which the prisoner’s arm was passed, so that with the big figure of eight handcuffs on he had to kneel or rest against the ship’s side, it being impossible for him to stand upright. In the open corridor are the bilboes, in which the prisoner’s neck was fastened to an iron bar, while his feet were secured in a kind of stirrups so as to keep him in a stooping posture. The iron work is all appallingly heavy – some of the men had to drag eighty pounds weight about with them – and one of the noteworthy fittings of the ship is a wheel aloft, by means of which a sort of cage was hauled up with the men in it to take an airing, the fetters and manacles being too heavy for them to walk up the stairs with. Another peculiar feature on the upper deck is the bath, or ‘coffin,’ in which the prisoners – two or three at a time – were soaked and pumped on and scrubbed by the warders with long-handled brushes. In the bows, just behind the figure-head, are the two sentry-boxes, in which warders or police were on duty day and night. Among the wax figures of notorious residents in this terrible ship, most of whom seem to have been Irishmen, there is a group representing the murder of the superintendent, who, after years of tyranny, was done to death by one of the shore gangs with spades and pickaxes, the man who struck the first blow having been here nearly seventeen years, and having only two months to serve to gain his liberty. The death of this superintendent [...] led to a general overhauling of the system and great amelioration in the punishments. Another of the groups is the Kelly gang of bushrangers, and hanging on the upper deck is Ned Kelly’s armour, helmet, breastplate, back plate, and skirt complete, made of eight of an inch iron plate, and weighing 92 lbs. A man who could wear such a weight as that for the love of plunder would hardly be inconvenienced by small chain cables such as his predecessors had to drag about with them.