Continuing the tour of inside Cork City Gaol this week makes for a very sombre Thursday Doors post. However, the first room we ventured into wasn’t too daunting – it even had the warm glow of a fire and a kindly looking governor seated at his desk. Queen Victoria herself kept a watchful eye over him from her position over the mantelpiece.
John Barry Murphy was governor between 1856 and 1873 and was considered to be a humane and just man, liked by all the prisoners. He abolished the silence laws when it was found that many prisoners were going insane because of it and ending up in the city asylum. He was the first Catholic governor to get the job at a time when the British government appointed Irish Catholics to important positions as an act of appeasement. The governor’s salary in those days was £250 a year (equivalent to £27,000 today) plus house and fuel.
On arrival, all prisoners were deloused and then brought to the governor’s office. The first inmate we encountered was Mary Sullivan. She was a seamstress by trade but had a habit of stealing the cloth she worked on. In 1865 she received a seven year sentence for her eighth conviction of theft.
In one of the cells we found Mary McDonnell fast asleep. She was lying on a canvass mattress which had replaced the less healthy straw ones used before 1860. This woman had been imprisoned for neglecting her children, beating one of them and being drunk and accosting a gentleman. Her unfortunate children were taken to the workhouse in Cork while their mother served her sentence of one month with hard labour.
If you think the person being flogged is a young man you’d be wrong. It’s a nine year old boy, who had seven previous convictions for petty theft.
This was the saddest story for me. Edward O’Brien was a child prisoner and a well known pickpocket. On this occasion he had been sentenced to three weeks in prison with whippings twice weekly. After serving his time in Cork City Gaol, Edward was sent to a reformatory school for five years.
Some of those incarcerated were extremely young, like Mary-Ann Twohig’s infant son.
Sixteen year old Mary-Ann was heavily pregnant and stole a cloth cap and kitchen utensils, intent on pawning them for some badly needed cash. She was arrested but sentenced to only two months imprisonment, without hard labour, because of her advanced pregnancy. Her baby was born in the prison hospital and Mary-Ann, along with her son, was returned to her cell just two days later. Speaking of babies, what is one of the main concerns with a newborn? Their weight gain – which reminds me of last week’s question about the strange looking chair.
This is a replica of the weighing scales that was used to record the inmates’ weight, which was checked periodically to ensure that they were receiving their full ration of food. A prisoner would sit in the chair while weights were added to the back. Once the two sides were level, the weight would be recorded.
Part three of this tour will be continued next week but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with another photograph to ponder over.
Why do you think this prisoner’s clothes have been left outside his cell door?
If you head on over to Norm’s blog you’ll find some interesting Thursday Doors.