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Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline - J.A. Gardner, Bristol Goal
1863, 24 April
Published in "The Sessional Papers Printed by Order of The House of Lords", Session 1863, 26 & 27 Victoria, Vol.XXXIII, Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline, 24th April 1863, Paragraphs: 3582-3595
The person being examined by the Select Committee was James Anthony Gardner, Esq. who when governor of the Bristol City and County Goal in Great Britain was one of the first to take portraits of prisoners.
3582. Chairman.] Are you aware of the difficulty which very often arises in law courts in identifying a previously convicted prisoner?
3583. Have you ever considered, or have you ever adopted, any scheme by which previously convicted prisoners may be more completely identified ?
I introduced some years ago (indeed I was the first who introduced them) the daguerreotype portraits of the prisoners, and from having succeeded in one or two cases, we introduced it more freely; we now take a large number of portraits, and I think it would be very difficult for a man to escape detection in our gaol. I take a stereoscopic picture, instead of a plain portrait, and I request the parties to whom I send it to put it into the stereoscope; they have a better opportunity of seeing the man before them standing out in relief.
3584. Do you take a portrait of every prisoner who is committed to your gaol?
We do not. I do it myself, and I have no time to take so many. We merely take portraits of those whom we do not know railway thieves, and strangers to the city, who are taken up for picking pockets at the railway stations and in railway carriages.
3585. Have you found the practical advantages of that system?
Yes, I have found out a great many by that means. On one occasion I recollect an officer of mine being offered a large sum of money by the wife of a prisoner to release him. He was offered 100l. This was reported to me; and I thought that as the man had only three months more to serve, he certainly must be wanting somewhere else. I took his portrait directly, and sent it round to perhaps 40 or 50 different gaols, and he was recognised at last at Dover. I had an order from the Secretary of State to remove him, instead of discharging him. I removed him on a Friday, and on the following Friday he was sentenced to 15 years' transportation for highway robbery.
3586. Have you had other instances of the same sort?
3587. Did the judge who presided at the trial make any comment upon that?
I do not know. I was not there at the time; but it was entirely through the portrait that he was recognised.
3588. Are you of opinion that if the system were more extensively carried out, of taking photographic portraits of all the different prisoners in the different prisons, and if communication took place between the governors of the different gaols, that would lead to the identification of a vast number of previously convicted prisoners ?
Yes; and, if it was well carried out, I think it would be almost impossible for a man to escape.
3589. Would there be any practical difficulty in carrying it out?
3590. Will you put in evidence a return of the form which you use in forwarding the photograph of a prisoner?
Yes. This was the form (producing the same) which I introduced at the time when I commenced the system of taking photographs of the prisoners. I was the first who introduced it, and I have got it introduced into perhaps 20 or 25 gaols, and they all adopt this plan. A portrait is the best part of a man's description; and if it is well taken, and particularly one this size, it is almost impossible to mistake the features of the man.
3591. Earl of Dudley.] You say lhat there is no difficulty about taking the photographs of the men. I presume you mean that, practically, they have not refused to let them be taken?
They have not. But I have taken them walking, unknown to them.
3592. A prisoner, by closing his eyes and distorting his features, and moving during the seconds of time that the portrait is being taken, would destroy the likeness, would he not?
I have never met with but one who did that, and I took that man's portrait when he was walking. In order to try the experiment, I took out one of my domestic servants into the garden, who was placed at a certain point of the path where it was not possible to see the camera, and at a long distance. I found after some time that I succeeded very well; and I told the officer to come to me with the man; the moment he came there I pulled out the slide, and succeeded in a second; it was quite good enough to catch the man by.
3593. Supposing there is any opposition to your doing it, you have the means of carrying it out?
Yes. I could take a man through a small aperture; I do not think there would be very much difficulty in getting him to sit. You may now and then meet with a man like the one I have referred to, but you might catch an opportunity, or you might build a place for the purpose.
3594. Chairman.] Do the prisoners themselves dread being photographed?
They have frequently said to me, " I know what you are at; I have been in gaol; I will tell you all about it"; and I have told them that they need not tell me, as it might be used against them; and upon that I have taken the portrait.
3595. Is not the cost of the apparatus very trifling?
It is a very trifling sum; but it would be quite as well to have a good one.