Forty Ninth Report of the Inspectors General on the General State of The Prisons of Ireland, 1870

Meath County Gaol, at Trim; Kells and Navan Bridewells, page 229

In 1870 in the whole of Ireland 3 males and 1 female were sentenced to death, 2 males got penal servitude for life and 1 male penal servitude above 15 years.

County of Meath Gaol at Trim

The Gaol was inspected on the 7 May and 20 December 1870.

There were 23 males and 5 females in custody.

The males were in custody for:

For Further Examination.             1

Felony or Larceny.                       5

Misdemeanours.                          7

Criminal Lunatics.                        1

Larceny.                                      2

In default of bail.                         1

Under Poor Law Act.                     4

Vagrants.                                     1

Other misdemeanours.                  1

Total 23.


Exposing or abandoning children.   3

Under Poor Law Act.                      1

Offence against the person.           1

Total           5.

I made an inspection of this gaol in May of the present year, and afterwards in December.

On my first visit I found in custody 27 males and 5 females in charge.  Thirteen males were under committals for larceny and robbery — 1 sentenced for two years, 4 for eighteen, and 2 for six months; the others were for various short periods.  Amongst the offenders in charge for crimes against the person, 2 were under sentences of eighteen months — one for rape, the second for a grave assault.  One man was in custody for deserting his wife, but all the other male criminal prisoners in the gaol were under committals for having arms in a proclaimed district, firing at, threatening, vagrants, and one for refusing to give evidence in the case of two men, sheep stealers, who had attempted to assassinate a magistrate of the district.  The female prisoners were 2, habitual criminals, for robbery, one the wife of a male prisoner in custody, the others were for loitering for prostitution, assault, and 1 for arson.

When I made my final inspection of the gaol in December, 23 males and 5 females of all classes were inmates of the gaol.  The following were the sentences of the male prisoners in charge: — 6 for eighteen, and 1 for twelve months, 1 for nine, and 2 for six months, 5 were under sentence for three, and 5 for one and two months each.  The female offenders in the gaol were 2, for robbery, sentenced respectively for twelve and six months each.  The others were 2, sentenced for one month for disorderly conduct, and 1 for trial charged with child desertion.

From the preceding schedule of crimes and sentences of prisoners committed to this gaol, it will be seen that some habitual criminals frequent this district, who under an improved prison system would be removed to a central depot, as in Scotland, and cease to be a burthen on the county rates, year after year recommitted to an associated gaol such as this is.

I find that during the past year, 1869, the total number of females of all classes, inmates of this gaol, numbered only 32 individuals.  20 of these were but once in custody, while 12 have 322 committals recorded against them on the registries of the prison, showing how completely the female criminal population of this county is confined to a few individuals who are constantly recurrent to prison.  The preceding schedule of commitments to the gaol also show the large number of persons committed for vagrancy during the present and past years, amounting to 113 males and 4 females in 1869, and 68 males and 6 females during the eleven months which have elapsed since the commencement of 1870.

Another remarkable fact is shown by the police returns of the county, by which it appears that although female criminals are very few in the NORTH district, the number of beggars and destitute persons of that sex is very  large indeed.  The following is the police return of the number of known thieves, suspected persons, prostitutes, and vagrants at large in the county Meath on the night of the 14 September, 1868:

Known thieves, receivers of stolen goods etc. = 13 male and two female of which 2 males are under 16.

Prostitutes = 11 female.

Vagrants, tramps &., = 197 male and 123 female .

The preceding table proves that in this, one of the richest counties in Ireland, an unusually large number of the most destitute class of vagrants and beggars, especially females, is to be found, who, although in the greatest poverty, still abstain from crime.  The females in the county who had been guilty of any offence for which they could be sent to gaol in 1869 numbered only 32 individuals, yet in the return taken by the police in the previous September 123 beggars and vagrants of that sex were wandering through the district, and the entire number of vagrants of both sexes at large in the county amounted to 320 individuals, including 55 children.


Six juveniles (males) were committed to this gaol in 1870. One, whose father had been an old offender, was sent to a reformatory;  2, for assaults, were sentenced to imprisonment for two calendar months each with hard labour.

Juveniles in this gaol are in association with adults, and having regard to the antecedents of many of the offenders who become inmates of this prison, it is evident how disastrous must be the intercourse of the young with persons steeped in crime as many of the offenders committed hero are known to be.  In 1869, 11 males were committed, no female; 2 were sent to reformatories at the end of their gaol sentences.


4 solitary cells.

80 single cells of less than 432 cubic feet.

15 cells to contain three persons.

1 lavatory.

3 baths.

14 privies.

1 fumigating room.

2 pumps.

2 wells.

2 thread wheels.

I found the bedding, blankets, sheets, and rugs in the prison of a good description, and, including 30 new rugs ordered, quite sufficient for the requirements of the gaol.

The prisoners' clothing also were enough for the number of inmates in custody.

I regret, however, to observe that stockings are not given to prisoners of either sex.  They are not specified in the Prisons Act, but are generally considered part of the prison dress, especially for the females, in well regulated gaols.  The trowsers given to the males in winter are of too thin a material.  A warmer description should be supplied.  One man complained to me of the want of warm clothing, and I think with reason.

I found this gaol, on both my inspections, in a sufficient condition of order and cleanliness, the buildings in fair repair, and the roof in good order, except in one place which admits the damp.  The wood-work of a few of the window frames is unsound from age, and all the prison requires to be painted.

No structural alteration or improvement has been made in the buildings since my last inspection; a new kitchen range has however been put up, and a bath in a day room, but there is no means to heat the water when the bath is used during the winter months.

The grounds are well and neatly kept, and the ventilation of the buildings is satisfactory.  The sewerage is on an extensive scale, but not on an improved principle — a large sewer with cesspools passes round the prison, connecting the privies, and passes into the Boyne.

There are two wells on the premises, one outside the prison walls, the water from which is pumped by a handpump into the tank above.  Another well hole under the treadwheel furnishes the supply to the larger cistern, but from its proximity to the cesspool the water cannot be fit for drinking purposes.

This gaol, completed about the year 1832, at an expense of £22,529, is well placed, but built after a most faulty plan, and is wanting in all the requirements indispensable for a prison on an improved system.  The cells are too small for separation, flagged, and not heated — one section has not even window-sashes, merely wooden shutters — supervision is impossible, hence the prison can only be managed at a very great expense; each prisoner cost in 1869 £65 19s. 3d. for maintenance, £53 17s 4d. in 1868, and in 1867 £76 15s 11d.

The buildings are composed of five separate blocks, besides the chapel and hospital.  The male prisoners are divided into four classes and a reception ward.  I found a wardsman in each class and a man as cook in the kitchen; besides, the grounds must be cared and water pumped, thus the labour of the prisoners is completely absorbed in prison duties, and the only profit derived from the work of the inmates for several years amounted to but 6s. 11d. There are 3 female officers to attend an average of 5 female prisoners.  The average number of female prisoners being 4 in 1869 and 5 in 1870.

These particulars show that the expensive management of this gaol is mainly attributed to the faulty construction of the buildings, and from the same cause the prison staff is necessarily large, so that while the entire sum expended for the maintenance of the gaol in 1869 amounted to £1,963 18s. 3d., the salaries of the officers were £1,110  6s. 9d., and all the other expenses, including the support of prisoners, £853 11s. 6d.

Besides the prominent structural defects of the gaol already mentioned, the tread-wheel and laundry are not partitioned, and the drying-room is merely a room with a fireplace and two drying horses.

The accommodation for debtors does not meet the requirements of the Prisons Act.  That for females is merely a small room in the criminal prison.

Pauper debtors are now confined in one of the criminal classes (the untried class).  This is contrary to the provisions of the 6th sec. of the Act 7 Geo. IV., cap. 74, which directs that debtors should be confined in a class separate from criminal prisoners; see also 8th rule of 109th sec.

Hitherto the private clothes of the prisoners were not in a separate store, they will be so in future.

I found a prisoner (Magrane) in punishment.  He had been since the evening of the 17th instant in a solitary cell, flagged, and not heated; this also is in contravention of the 7th rule of the 109th sec.of  the Prisons Act.

A fumigating chest in the store of male prison is used for the purpose of disinfecting the clothes of prisoners and to destroy vermin.

Photography is now applied here for the tracing of the antecedents of strangers supposed to be grave offenders.  A photographic apparatus has been purchased by the Board at an expense of £16 17s. 10d. The photographs are taken by a prison officer.  The cost to the Board is 7s. for each prisoner.

There is no place where juveniles can be kept separate from adult criminals.  Meals are taken by prisoners in their cells.

Gas has been introduced into the day-rooms, the Governor's house, the officers' quarters, on the platforms and outside, but not into the upper corridors or cells of the prison.

Brass padlocks, by Chubb, of a superior description, have been procured for the cells, of which the Governor keeps the keys.  The unlocking and lock up of the prison appears to be carefully attended to, and the telltale clocks are protected from being tampered with.  The prisoner's cells are locked for the night at all seasons of the year at 6 p.m., and unlocked at 7 a.m.  The Governor examines all the locks and cells, and enters in his journal the condition in which he finds them.  The head turnkey afterwards tests the locks, and when the turnkey on duty is relieved by the first night watchman at 9 o'clock, p.m he also examines all parts of the prison, and gives charge to the second watchman at 1 o'clock a.m, who is again relieved by a third turnkey at 5 o'clock in the morning; the latter remains on duty until 7 o'clock.

Prisoners for trial are allowed every facility to receive visits, but convicted prisoners only monthly, and not sooner than one month.

The Governor visited the prison 108 times at late and unexpected hours during the past year.

Gas is extinguished in the classes at 9 o'clock p.m, and in the remainder of the prison at 11, p.m.

The keys are given up to the Governor after the prison is locked for the night, and he keeps them in his bed-room.  It is the duty of the watchman to call the hours and half hours under the windows of the Governor.  Both tell-tale clocks are cased, and are marked by coins which are dropped into the case. There is no internal watch held in the prison after lock-up.

Three punishments were inflicted by a magistrate, a member of the Board of Superintendence, in 1869, and two in 1870.  The other punishments were ordered by the Governor — one man was three times punished during the year, and five others twice.  A prisoner, of low intellect, and ungovernable, was under punishment in December, when I visited.  He had been three days in the solitary cell, which is not heated, and is flagged; and was in handcuffs from the morning of the 18th of the month.  This man during the entire time has been most violent, noisy, and disturbing the prison by his profane language.  Prisoners of this class are most difficult to manage, and often become insane.  Another, sentenced to imprisonment for two years, in custody when I visited in May of the present year, had previously to my second visit in December became a lunatic, and was removed to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Dundrum.

Industrial Labour

Net profit—the produce of prisoners' labour disposed of outside the gaol—for the last three years : — 1867,  nil.  1868,  nil. 1869,  £0 6s. 11d.

The Governor has now introduced mat making, by which the labour of the prisoners may be utilized, and the hitherto excessive cost of this prison diminished by the profits from industrial work.

Artisans when inmates are employed at their trades. The tread wheel is a lumbering unpartitioned machine.

As has already been observed, the labour of the prisoners is altogether absorbed in the discharge of prison duties, pumping water, the care of the grounds, &c.; a small quantity of stones was broken by prisoners in the early part of the present year, but not previously since 17th August, 1868.  The females wash and sew for the establishment.


The charge of the schools is intrusted to John Eagar, who is also third warder and a shoemaker by trade, but each turnkey in his own class instructs under his direction.  Eagar receives £10 additional salary for the extra duties he performs in the school.  He never was trained as a teacher, but is intelligent, and takes the photographs of the prisoners in the gaol.  It is the duty of the Assistant Matron to give educational instruction to the females.  The approved form of registry is in use.


The kitchen range, erected at a cost of £40, with the old materials given in exchange, is stated to be a source of considerable economy, as the old range was most wasteful of fuel.  I questioned all the prisoners in custody; several complaints, which I inquired into, were made to me, but were trifling.  The food for the use of the prisoners, which I tasted on the day of inspection, was of excellent quality, and the Chaplains, who report in the tabular form recommended for their use, seldom take exception to the supply furnished by the contractor.

Books and Accounts

A tell tale clock book is kept, in which the explanation of the officer who defaults is given.

Hitherto only an officers' misconduct book has been kept.  The officers' conduct book is intended as a record of the good as well as the bad conduct of the subordinate staff, and should be used as such.

All the superior officers have journals, and that of the Governor is kept with particular care and attention.  The various incidents which occur in the gaol are entered in it by him, with observations in red ink.  The Local Inspector also notes in his journal various matters which come under his observation.  There is a work ledger for every class, and a daily report sent in duly signed.  The approved forms of discipline and finance are here in use and this department appears to be carefully attended to by the Governor and Deputy-Governor.

The Chaplains enter duty performed only.  The Medical Officer occasionally makes observations in his journal.

Officers and Salaries

Non resident:

Rev. C Burton, Local Inspector.                                   £50-0-0.

Rev. E. F. Berry, Protestant Chaplain.                          £50-0-0.

Rev John Duncan, Roman Catholic Chaplain.               £50-0-0.

Thos. Wallace, esq., Surgeon.                                    £74-0-0.

Do., for compounding medicine.                                 £20-0-0.


Capt. A.C. Knox,Governer,                                         £206-0-0.

Adam Boyd, Deputy Governor,                                   £99-15-0.


James Corry,                                                            £45-0-0.

John Teelin,                                                             £40-0-0.

John Eager, Shoemaker,                                            £37-10-0.

Do.,    Schoolmaster,                                                £10-0-0.

John Smith, Shoemaker,                                           £37-10-0.

Francis Griffith,                                                        £32-10-0.

Wm. Lowe, Tailor, Watchman,                                    £30-5-0.

Michael Comiskey, Watchman,                                   £30-5-0.

Geo. Marshall, Gate Porter,                                        £50-0-0.

James Neeley, Hospital Warder, Matmaker,                  £25-0-0.

Mrs. Jane Gordon, Matron,                                         £45-0-0.

Miss Esther Tormey, Assist. Matron & Hospital Nurse,   £20-0-0.

All the turnkeys, except James Corry, assist the schoolmaster in teaching.


William Lowe appointed watchman, vice John Smith, promoted turnkey, vice Edward Kellett, superannuated.

Michael Comiskey appointed watchman, vice Francis Griffith, promoted turnkey, vice William Byrnell, resigned.

Esther Tormey, hospital nurse, appointed assistant matron, vice Sarah Lemon, resigned; but Esther Tormey is still to retain charge of the female department in hospital.

James Neeley appointed hospital turnkey, vice Esther Tormey, appointed assistant matron.

(“vice” means “as a substitute for”) All duly reported by Local Inspector.

Officers on Gaol Allowance

The intern officers are provided with fuel and gaslight in their apartments.  The male turnkeys are provided with uniform.  No other allowances are given, except to the hospital nurse, who gets first class workhouse rations.

Officers' Visits 1869

Local Inspector,                          115.

Chaplin,Established Church,        141.

Roman Catholic Chaplin,             151.

Surgeon,                                   252.

My colleague, in his report on this gaol for 1869, observed that the cost of the gaol, including salaries, in 1868, averaged £83 for each prisoner in custody during that year; but he adds — "I think it due to the Governor to observe that he has adopted many improvements since his appointment to the prison, and that he appears very desirous of carrying out others.  He has had much to contend with, both owing to structural defects of the prison and the want of system and regularity amongst some of the officers but I hope that through his perseverance and industry there will be soon a visible improvement in every part of the prison."

In this opinion of my colleague I quite agree, but, as I have already observed, the present buildings are too large and expensive for maintenance, and I believe that a small gaol, built on an improved principle, which could be managed by a small and efficient staff of officers, would be more suitable to the requirements of the county.

In August, 1870, a communication was forwarded from the Local Inspector to the Prisons' Office, stating that plans for the alteration of one block of cells in the prison, to accommodate 21 prisoners on the separate system drawn by S. Searancke, esq., c.e., the County Surveyor, were under the consideration of the Board, and asking for the approval of the Lord Lieutenant, but he was informed that under the 8th sec. of Act 19 and 20 Vic, cap. 68, it is necessary that the plans, &c, should in the first instance receive the approval of the Grand Jury of the County before being transmitted to his Excellency.

The plan has since been forwarded to the Prisons' Office — it consists in the alteration of one block of cells — twenty-four one side of the block would be gutted, and cells formed each 5 feet by 13 feet 6 inches; they would be very narrow and inconvenient, but have sufficient area.

During the past year, 1869, the cost of staff was reduced by £28 7s. 7d., in consequence, however, of the increased number of prisoners the average cost for each was £65 19s. 3d., instead of £83 in 1868.

No officer is permitted to leave the precincts of the gaol without a written pass from the Governor, except those who have permission in rotation.


There is a very large hospital building in this gaol, far too extensive for the requirements of the establishment.  The male and female hospitals are under one roof.  There are four good and roomy wards with water closets attached and bathroom with pipes for cold water, but hot water must be carried to the bath when required.  There is also a large surgery, and two small exercising yards, but there is only one staircase for the use of prisoners of both sexes, and the separation between the sexes is insufficient.  The medicines are procured at the Apothecaries' Hall, Dublin.

The roof of the hospital was not in good order at the time of my visit.

When I made my inspection in May, 1870 1 found a very important prisoner by himself in the top ward of the hospital with only a lath and plaster ceiling between him and the roof.  The hospital is situate outside the inner wall of the prison, and if furnished with a rope the man could have had no difficulty in escaping through the roof and into the insulating area of the prison.

Board of Superintendence

Right Hon. Lord Dunsany., N. F. Preston, esq.,  Thomas Fitzherbert, esq.,  William Thompson, esq.,  Robert Fowler, esq.,  Abraham Colles, esq.,  James S. Winter, esq.,  William Tisdall, esq.,  George W. Cuppage, esq.,  G. A. Rotheram, esq.,  Richard Odlum, esq.,  Henry Atkinson, esq.

The Board meets on the second Saturday in each month for the transaction of business, when the salaries of intern officers and other liabilities which have been incurred are paid.  All payments are made by cheque drawn in favour of each creditor, unless where the amounts are inconsiderable, they are included in one cheque and the vouchers of payment produced at the next meeting of the Board.  Extern officers receive their salaries half yearly at assizes.


Navan Bridewell

(This was in Bridge Street where Smith Harrington is today).

It was inspected on the 27 September 1870 and there was no prisoner in custody on the day of inspection.

During the past year the number of committals, all of which was of drunkards, was 112 male and 10 female.

John Lentaigne, Inspector General.

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