This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
To the twenty-first-century reader, the laboured humour in this article only succeeds in being is what Victorians called ‘arch’ or affectedly roguish. Prisoners portrayed in Victorian drama are typified by Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon and the numerous paintings of him, and by Dickens’s Doctor Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. Samuel’s assumption that many charges were trumped up by the police runs through several of his articles. He always protests at the lenient punishments handed down for wife-beating. — David Skilton
How did Samuel get in? is the question you will first ask, sir, and all those to whom you propound this conundrum will promptly give it up, for it is a ‘teaser.’ Did I get a peremptory order from her Majesty, or did I supplicate the governor of Cardiff gaol to let me in? that is the question. Deep, deep beneath my paper front shall I keep that secret locked for ever (copyright)! Perhaps I lived by systematic and deliberate forgery and fraud for years in order to entitle myself to temporary retirement for seven days or so. If I had stolen a loaf of bread, and said I was starving, I should have got three months or so, and that would have been longer than I should have cared about, even to gain experience for the benefit of your readers, sir. If I had indulged in an elaborate clog dance in about forty ‘beats’ on my prostrate wife, I shouldn't have been sent to gaol at all probably, but should have had to come to you to get ‘subbed,’ sir, eh, in order that I might pay the small fine usually levied in such cases. Perhaps I threw books at the head of one of the newspaper critics or engaged in a stand up fight in the streets with a policeman who wanted a case, and tried to bully me. Never mind, I got into Cardiff Gaol. I didn't walk there either. I went in a lovely carriage with a man in uniform in front, and a man behind, and I was most hospitably received. I was taken into a room and my name was entered in the visitors' book. Indeed, so anxious were the officials that they should remember so distinguished an individual that they took a very minute description of me. And they were so careful lest any of the naughty pilfering people in the gaol should rob me that they took all the contents of my pockets from me.
I must admit that although I submitted myself to all these little acts of consideration with a good grace, I felt rather dubious about the suggestion that I should have a bath. But it appears that they are almost like Mussulmans (ought it to be Mussulmen, I wonder?) in this respect, and treat bathing as a kind of religion. I did not enjoy the bath particularly, for the water was pea-soupy, and by no means hot enough, the soap was yellow and hard, and the brush with which I was provided was about the bristliest brush I ever remember to have seen. I have an impression that it was constructed out of pinwire. But it didn't equal the towel, for that was like sand paper – coarse variety – and rubbed one down with a vengeance. My companions of the bath objected even more strongly to their ablutions than I did – indeed, I should say that they have had an antipathy to bathing all their lives. I was subsequently introduced to some of the inmates of the large house I was visiting. I found no opportunity of speaking to them at first, but they made several gestures of welcome to me by means of their noses, fingers, and thumbs. I believe the visitors are called the governor's Bevy of Beauties, and a nice lot they are, too. The gentleman in the picture was one of the most prominent of them. Although they do not dress after the manner of ordinary male society dons (they might almost be called ‘out of society beauties’, they have a style peculiarly their own, the fashion in this instance not being dictated capriciously by some chance leader, but by Government itself. It is highly ornamental, and, if not strictly adapted for outdoor wear, it is at least very effective for such purposes as it is required. And the sombre colours of the dress of ordinary wear are scouted utterly. Stripes are the order of the day, and, indeed, some of the visitors at various times have had more stripes on their backs than they actually cared for.
Nearly all the visitors in this sweet spot of retirement wear a decoration of some kind or another. If they haven't got the Victoria Cross they have got another medal provided by the Queen, and with a number on it. But they never wear their numbers when they leave here, for they are not a bit proud. They have broad arrows marked upon their garments, too. This is to show that they are free-masons – well, scarcely free masons, except when they get out, when they are very free masons indeed, and go in most extensively for ‘chiselling.’ Some of them, it is said, have a most unaccountable dislike for the broad arrow, and say that to look upon it 'arrows their feelings. With them, do you know, liberty most frequently degenerates into licence – the licence from her Majesty. If you don't care about having this licence you can either ticket or leave it– which you like, as I am informed.
The prisoners — I suppose I must call them so — are not a bit like the prisoners of the drama, the poet, and the novelist – not a bit like the bearded and Rip-Van Winkle[-]like old parties who used to be represented as living, loaded with chains, in the deepest dungeon 'neath the workhouse – I mean castle – moat for half a century or so. You will remember them – the individuals who were shut up by what in dramas is called a ‘teeirant’ in a ‘noisome dungeon,’ the said tyrant having taken a particular fancy to the same girl as themselves some fifty years previously. On the stage, sir, they always carry their manacles, which when rattled produce a delightfully ‘creepy’ feeling amongst the audience, in their hands, instead of fastened to their wrists. This enables them to cast off their ‘bonds’ quickly and effectively when the trying scene of the play comes. They affect, of course, to part them with a rusty nail, but it is all a pretence, sir; instead of using the nail they go upon a different, tack altogether. There was no prisoner like this in Cardiff Gaol; no prisoner of romance; no prisoner-of-Chillon-like personage, though I must confess that there was a good deal of chill on some of them. No, they were not romantic.
I went round their cells, and ‘sells’ indeed they were if you expected any comfort in them. I went round because I am rather particular about my apartments, and wanted to see which I should care to occupy. I decided that the Governor's own were the best, but I didn't like to be selfish and ask him to give them up. I had several conversations with interesting inmates of this large private hotel. One of them said to me in a hoarse whisper, ‘Say, Cully [= cockney ‘mate’], what you here for?’ ‘Oh, I only came to see if I should like the place,’ said I airily; ‘thought I should buy it if I did.’ And then I asked, ‘What are you in for?’ ‘l'm in for six bloomin' months,’ said he. ‘What did you do to procure for yourself the honour of residing here for that period?’ asked I. ‘I pinched a clock [watch] and some sugar [money] out of a bloke's pocket, an' I got lagged. Are you in for doin' some mak' of a flash fake?’ [swindling a showy, fashionable person] Really, sir, I do not know what species of horrible criminality he referred to, so I was pretty safe in assuring him that he was mistaken, wasn't I?Of course you know how at great fashionable hotels all the rooms open out of corridors. So they do at Cardiff gaol, only they are not quite so luxuriously furnished. But the rooms have one great advantage in Cardiff GaoI. The waiters can look in upon you without your seeing them, and they frequently do, just to see that you are well tucked up, and have not fallen out of bed. These waiters seem very well fed, and by no means unpleasant-looking persons as a rule. They are not allowed by the Governor to receive gratuities from those who are staying in the house – and, indeed, such are seldom offered, so well is the custom known and understood. So fatherly is the Governor's regard for the inmates of his extensive establishment that he will neither allow them to smoke nor drink; indeed, so far as the latter goes, most of them had quite enough of the bar immediately before they came there. The food the Governor gives them is not very attractive stuff – he doesn’t believe in pampering folks – nor is there a very great deal of it, but it is essentially wholesome. The article called ‘skilly’ – a gruel, or rather cruel, dish –- is particularly in vogue. It is not particularly palatable, but it is what I may call very filling at the price. But you want to know how I got out, don't you? you want to know the number of blankets I tore up to slide down, and the number of walls I scaled by means of my hands and teeth; you want to know how many iron bars I filed through with a hair pin and a fish bone; well, truly and plainly, my escape was the most simple thing: in the world. I did none of these things I have spoken of above – I simply walked out, that’s how I got out.
Last modified 27 January 2022