John Daly, James F. Egan, and myself during all those dark and hopeless years had each other’s confidence and gave each other support and encouragement. The utmost endeavour of the authorities to crush us failed because we met it in a spirit of defiance, and stood loyally by each other with friendship – aye, with love and sympathy. Every precaution that the prison officers could think of was taken to prevent us “special men” from communicating with each other. The closest surveillance, the utmost vigilance, and savagely severe punishments were awarded us if we were detected. Yet all their vigilance was set at nought, Daly, Egan, and myself right along were in constant communication with each other. We had our code of signals for communicating to each other by sight – these we owed to Egan; we had our post office, authorised, not by the Postmaster-General, but by John Daly. Through our post office thousands of notes passed. We had our telephones and our cell telegraph, which latter was introduced by myself very early in our imprisonment.
A couple of months after Gallagher, Whitehead, Curtin and I arrived in Chatham, sitting in my cell one day racking my brains to find a way to defeat the gaoler’s sleepless vigilance the idea of telegraphing suggested itself. All that I could remember about the subject was that the Morse system was based upon two sounds – which were represented on paper by a dot and a dash. The problem was to produce two different kinds of knocks on the wall of the cell and to combine the two sounds into a workable alphabet. After trying different kinds of knocks on my cell table I was satisfied that the dull knock made by the knuckles could not be mistaken for the sharp knock made by a button or slate pencil. I got my slate, and soon had an alphabet worked out.
The next question was how to pass the new code to Gallagher. The lead with which we had so often written notes I had left behind in Millbank, and there was none to be found in Chatham. Even with lead to write a note it was a matter of great difficulty, so closely were we watched, to pass it on. For months I never spoke to a living soul except to my comrades a few times, and each time it brought me a term of bread and water punishment. However, I was determined to establish the telegraph system. I was working at tailoring at the time, and with a needle and a sheet of brown paper I proceeded to write out the code for Gallagher. Placing the paper on my pillow the letters were formed, perforating the paper with the needle dot by dot each letter with its corresponding dot and dash. In the same way on other sheets of paper I gave the necessary instructions dot by dot – with the point of the needle. It was slow work, especially as the vigilant eye of the officer peeping every now and then into my cell obliged me to conceal the paper when I heard him approaching.
It took nearly two days to write that note, but when it was finished it was plain and readable. On the Saturday following I concealed it in my stocking when going out for the weekly bath, and in the bath house managed to get into the next compartment to Gallagher and threw the note over the partition to him. He got it safely, and within a week we were able to converse freely through the wall dividing our cells. On the following Saturday I had another note ready for another of my comrades, and so on week by week till we were able to send telegrams along through six or seven cells.
Being thus closely in touch with Gallagher and Whitehead, as time went on I noticed them change and get queer, and I knew that step by step their reason was giving way. When they were released they were pronounced by the experts who examined them to be hopelessly insane, yet they were no worse then than they had been for the last seven or eight years of their imprisonment. Everyone inside the prison walls – officers and prisoners – priest, parson, and doctor knew right along that they were insane. The English Home Office knew it, but their vengeance had to be sated whether the victims went mad under the torture or not. For seven or eight years, knowing well that they were insane, the authorities continued to punish them in the most cruel manner for their little irrational acts, for which they were in no sense accountable.
Daly, Egan and myself, although getting it as hard as, and perhaps harder than, our companions, did all we could to have attention drawn to the monstrous inhumanity of their treatment. Governor Harris and his warders simply laughed at us. Many and many a letter that we got to write to our friends outside was filled with denunciations of the way these insane prisoners were treated. Gallagher, Whitehead, Duff, McCabe, Devany, Flanagan, and Casey were all out of their minds at this time. Our letters were, of course, suppressed, and never got farther than the Governor of the prison. I still have a copy of a letter I wrote to Mr. John E. Redmond, who paid me many a visit in prison, and whose kindness on those occasions I can never forget. When this letter was written I managed to make a shorthand copy of it, and this copy, with some other documents, I managed to smuggle out of prison when I was released. The letter was dated June 18th, 1895, but was, of course, suppressed, and never reached its destination. I will quote one part of this letter in order to show the pitiable condition of the insane prisoners and the brutality of the Government in keeping men in such a condition in penal servitude:
“It is nothing directly concerning myself or my case that causes me to take the unusual course of sending you a letter. What I wish to bring under your notice has reference to one of my fellow-prisoners here, J 463, Albert Whitehead… Whitehead is, as you are doubtless aware, one of the unfortunate Irish prisoners whose mind has been shattered by the villainous treatment to which we have been subject. It is now some seven or eight years since he first broke down, and at no time since has he recovered… His fellow-prisoners – or those of them that are not so far gone as himself – are to a man convinced of his insanity, convinced many times over, and you will find all the lately released Irish prisoners, without a single exception, are of the same opinion… It is true he is not what is called outrageous – the nearest approach to that are the times when he has kept us awake all night long raving at the top of his voice. But although for so far not dangerous to others, he certainly is dangerous to himself, and it is upon this point what I am about to narrate bears.
One day, a couple of weeks ago, while at work in the carpenter’s shop, where he and I are employed, happening to glance round in his direction (the officer was away at the other end of the shop) I saw Whitehead kneeling on the floor gathering something like salt off a board and putting the stuff into his mouth. The stuff was crushed glass. I went over to him, and dropping on my knee beside him caught him by the shoulder and asked him what he was eating glass for. He looked at me with the pitiful, dazed stare that is habitual to him now, and said, ‘What, what’ I picked up some of the fragments that he had dropped, and again asked him, ‘What do you mean by eating this glass; don’t you know it will kill you?’ He replied in a dull, listless way, ‘A pound of it would do you no harm,’ and then kept repeating in answer to all my questions, ‘A pound of it would do you no harm.’ With my handkerchief I dusted away the fragments before him and searched round his bench for more glass.
Finding some more I threw it out of the window. All this only occupied a few minutes, and, luckily ‘for me, my flagrant violation of the prison rules’ was unobserved by the officer. Had I been seen I would have been visited with a term of bread and water punishment. Just think of it – a whispered word of sympathy to this poor fellow – a single word spoken with a view to prevent him killing himself, and I would receive as severe a punishment as the authorities here inflict on habitual criminals for thieving. And yet here in England they go into hysterics over the horrors and brutality of Siberia and ring the changes on the humanity of the English prison system… The truth is that as far as a refined system of cruelty is concerned there is nothing on God’s earth to-day to compare with the treatment which we Irish prisoners have been receiving at the hands of the English Government.”
I then went on to ask Mr. Redmond to endeavour to have an impartial and competent man sent down to examine into Whitehead’s mental state and put a stop to the monstrous cruelty that had been carried on for so many years. As I said before, the letter was suppressed, and is now in the English Home Office, preserved along with my prison record and dozens of other letters I wrote that were likewise never delivered by the authorities.
On the Saturday after I had seen Whitehead swallow the glass I made application to see the prison Catholic chaplain in order to lay the facts before him with a view to try and induce him to move in the matter and try to put a stop to the inhuman treatment of Whitehead. I was taken out of my cell and brought into the chapel, and after a time was ushered into the Sacristy, where I found Father Matthews sitting on a chair with his surplice and stole on ready to hear confessions. I asked him would he allow me to speak to him outside the confessional, he consented, and I told him my business concerned Whitehead, who, as he must know, was quite insane.
He said he knew very well that he was, that as a matter of fact Whitehead had numbers of times came out there to him to make his confession, but knowing he was out of his mind he (Father Matthews) never gave him absolution, knowing the poor fellow was as incapable of committing sin as a baby. “Sometimes,” said he, “Whitehead has come up to the altar rails on Sunday morning to receive Holy Communion without even coming out at all to confession. When he does I administer the Holy Sacrament to him. Were I to refuse him, there might be a scene, and the scandal that would ensue would, I think, be worse than my giving it to him.” I then told him about Whitehead swallowing the glass, and asked him to bring the matter before the authorities. He told me he couldn’t do that. “Why not?” I inquired. “Were I to tell the Governor this about Whitehead he would at once ask me how I knew all that, and I would have to mention your name, and he would conclude that you and I had been hobnobbing.” “Well,” said I, “what matter – let him.” He replied, “Oh, you don’t know the attitude of those people to me: they would be only too glad to get an opportunity to send me back to my bishop.” I must confess I felt very indignant with the priest, and said to him, “Well, if you are afraid to bring this to their attention in order to try and put a stop to such barbarous inhumanity, I am not, and I will do it.” He asked, “How” I replied, “That’s my business,” and left him, and was taken back to my cell. Later on the letter to Mr. Redmond was written.
In due course I was notified by the authorities of the suppression of my letter. I was expecting a visit from Mr. Redmond about this time, and he came to see me soon after. I told him all about the Whitehead affair, and about the letter I had written to himself which had been suppressed. I asked him on his return to London to see the Home Secretary if possible and put the facts before him concerning Whitehead, and suggest to the Home Secretary to have that suppressed letter of mine sent for, and by every means urge him to have an independent alienist sent down to examine Whitehead’s mental condition. I have every reason to believe that Mr. Redmond did this. At all events, very shortly after Mr. Redmond’s visit a couple of experts came to Portland Prison and examined Whitehead and Gallagher, and in the course of some weeks after they and some others of the Irish prisoners were released.
The prison officials tried to make out that Whitehead was feigning insanity all along. In fact, up to the time he and Gallagher were released the doctors maintained that both of them, as well as the others, were perfectly sane, and merely shamming insanity, and they kept on punishing these poor lunatics for shamming insanity. I have a copy of a prison report on Gallagher’s case submitted to the Home Secretary by the prison’s visitors. Such documents are painful reading, but the truth about English methods has got to be told, and so I will give their own official report, taken from their Blue Book, and let it speak for itself: –
“As to Gallagher’s treatment, we find in September 1887 he, according to the report of the medical inspector and medical officer, commenced feigning insanity, and since that time he has been constantly under medical observation, and he has also incurred 16 punishments for refusing to go out to labour and using improper language to officers. In October 1888 he commenced vomiting his food, and continued to do so until February 1889, and thus managed to reduce himself into a very low state. He was admitted to the infirmary, and the vomiting ceased, and shortly afterwards – in March 1889 – was discharged from the infirmary… He was re-admitted in September 1889, and has continued under medical treatment till the present time (that is, 19th April, 1890, when the report was sent in) for debility caused by persistent vomiting, which the medical officer believes to be voluntary, and pretended insanity. Dr. Blandford describes him as subdued and reticent in manner, with a downcast eye full of suspicion, and said that his manner appeared to indicate that he felt that he had been foiled in his attempt to deceive, but that he was still playing a part, and he thinks he is a dangerous man, who will require very careful watching and management.”
This was the sort of reports the English Home Office wanted, and they got them, and meanwhile the torture of the insane prisoners went on.
When Dr. Gallagher was finally released Dr. Ferris, the New York specialist who examined him, pronounced his recovery hopeless, and attributed his insanity solely to the treatment he had received in prison. Dr. Ferris said in his report: –
“I see his companion, Whitehead, is also demented. The prison officials must have treated these men cruelly. Gallagher’s condition is worse than death. The torture we are told he received during the first five years – now that we know he is insane for eight years – must have been very severe. The punishing of this man for shamming was cruel in the extreme. No one who sees Gallagher two or three times could for a moment doubt the reality of his insanity. To mistake his acts for shamming is inexplicable.”
ARTHUR WARREN FERRIS.
Savoy Hotel, New York City,
September 7th, 1896.
Dr. Gallagher is still living. He has been in a lunatic asylum on Long Island, New York, since his release in 1896. Whitehead, on his arrival in America, was also examined by experts, and likewise pronounced to be hopelessly insane and placed in an asylum. Such is the “humanity” of England’s prison system where Irish political prisoners are concerned!