The million-peopled city
Their extreme Youth, and sometimes Childhood.
The age of this " dangerous class" in itself is enough to move even a hard heart to tender pity on its behalf. In entering prisons, the benevolent mind is oppressed with concern; but no circumstance, on such visits, has so filled the mind of the writer with concern as the vast proportion of almost children who are immured within their walls. This, with him, has always predominated over every other feeling, and he imagines it must have been the same with others. On a first visit to a gaol, he apprehends every one must have been startled at the youth of the great mass of the inmates. The collecting of the prisoners for Divine service almost resembles the collecting of children to their school. This is undoubtedly the most affecting sight which a prison reveals. The writer has visited the prisoner awaiting execu- tion, under sentence of death for murder, and he has visited the female wards of a prison. Both these are very pitiable sights to behold, but the swarms of juvenile prisoners are a still more pitiable sight; for the murderer is a rare charac- ter; there is seldom more than a single prisoner of that description,-not very often even that. And the female wards of a prison are a mere fraction of the wards in general; so that, sad as it is to behold females there, some relief is given, and even thankfulness felt, ordinarily, in discovering how exceedingly small is the number of female, as com- pared with male prisoners. But it is surely equally pitiable to behold a mere child as to behold a woman wearing a prison-dress, while the discovery that such juvenile offenders
|are the rule rather than the exception, literally overwhelms the thoughtful mind with concern. , Inspector of prisons for the Home Department, very truly remarked, in evidence given by him before a select Committee of the House of Commons, "I do not know any fact that can strike any person more sadly than seeing a child under 9 or 10 years of age in a prison." In conversing with this class, the feeling of pity increases; for, as the Captain adds, "these boys are singularly acute. They have a degree of precociousness about them which is quite surprising. Therefore they are older, when young, than any other class."|
Yet the number of sentences to imprisonment in England and Wales, under 17 years of age, in 1849, was 10,460; and in 1850, 9,187. The number of sentences to trans- portation, of the same class, was in 1849, 214; and in 1850, 167.
It appears, from a return of , that of 10,600 offenders under 16 years of age, two-sevenths were children under 13.
1,987 boys, under 17 years of age, were committed to in the year ending Michaelmas, 1851; 198 to Giltspur-street Prison; 130 to the City Bridewell; and 538 to the Brixton House of Correction.
To illustrate the mere infancy at which children are trained to thieve by their parents, a case may be mentioned which occurred to a this year. He observed a child under 7 years of age being led away by a policeman, for picking the pocket of a lady. As he was, happily, just too young to be sent to prison (although had he been but a few months older he would not thus have escaped), the missionary got possession of him. He traced out his mother, who lived in , and found that this child
|and his brother, aged 14, were both sent out by her to obtain money how they could, to support her in vice. The elder boy had been often in prison. And the younger boy stated that he could always take home eighteen-pence a-day. He, therefore, earned half-a-guinea a week, although not 7 years old. Child as he was, he had become so habituated to theft, that the missionary had the utmost difficulty to restrain him from his old habits. After a few days he made his escape with a new pair of boots; and on the day follow- ing the missionary, after some search, found him at a two- penny lodging-house for boys and girls, in Seven Dials, where he had been taken in as a lodger, and the pair of new boots purchased of him by the landlady for the small sum of fourpence. Since this rescue, he is proceeding more favour- ably, and will probably, by God's blessing, be reclaimed from ruin.|
Is it not worthy of consideration, how far Infant Ragged Schools may not be important? They appear not yet to have been tried. Children of this class are extremely pre- cocious, and an immense amount of misery and crime might be prevented by early instruction.