Sunday, February 15, 2009

Notorious or not? John Campbell, Staff Surgeon at Woking Invalid Convict Prison

John Campbell spent thirty years as a medical officer in the English Convict Service. Many of those years were spent on the prison hulks (see image above), travelling between the UK and Australia.

Later on in his life, he worked at Woking Invalid Convict Prison. Reports vary on what type of character John Campbell was. I imagine it would have been very hard to remain sympathetic to prisoners after 30 years in the industry!!

The Australian Autobiographical Narratives suggests he was a humanitarian 'advocating humanity but not mistaken sympathy ...' In addition, 'Campbell recommends order, cleanliness and regularity as a basis for prison discipline.'

However, in a book entitled Victorian Prison Lives by Philip Priestley we discover a less humanitarian attitude towards the prisoners:

On a more personal level, says Dr Campbell, 'it was my invariable practice, in prescribing for the patients, to treat them with as much consideration as if they had been delicate ladies - at the same time enjoining a kindly treatment on the part of the attendants.'

One of the patients on the receiving end of this 'consideration', during the Campbell reign at Woking hospital prison, was George Bidwell: 'the doctor wound up the interview with the clincher, in his high squeaking tones: "Well, my man, you know you were sent here to die, so you must not make any trouble, for there is nothing I can do for you."

This was his stereotyped reply, no matter what the case of the nature of the disease, which had usually been aggravated or brought on by the hard work with insufficient food.' His summary of the doctor's long career is in similar vein. 'Dr Campbell,' he writes, 'resigned from the service and retired to private life with a pension and the inexpressible hatred and contempt of all prisoners who ever had the misfortune to come under his treatment.'

Like many prison doctors of the age, Campbell regularly used the battery on convicts, stating that galvanism was not brought into play until all other remedies had failed:

Patients suffering from the real disease gladly submit to this or any other remedy likely to benefit them; but malingerers show a great deal of reugnance to it.' Victorian Prison Lives

Towards the end of his career, John Campbell wrote a book entitled: THIRTY YEARS' SERVICE OF A MEDICAL OFFICER IN THE ENGLISH CONVICT SERVICE (first published in 1884). The book describes Campbell's own experiences and views on the treatment of prisoners. He also makes suggestions for the future. Chapters include The Convict Ship; Dartmoor Convict Prison; Woolwich, the Convict Hulks; Woking Invalid Prison; Lunatic and Imbecile Convicts, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Corrinne

    I came to your site from my blog 'No bread is an island'. Not sure if you're the 'Fiend' who's just become a follower?

    Anyway, I found your blog absolutely fascinating - I read it with great interest! We've certainly come a long way in the last 150 years!

    While I'm writing to you I thought I'd point out a typo in one of your articles - hope you don't mind.

    "Patients suffering from the real disease gladly submit to this or any other remedy likely to benefit them; but malingerers show a great deal of reugnance to it."

    Best wishes, Paul