John Howard Esq. F.R.S.

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John Howard Esq. F.R.S.
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A large, very rare portrait of the philanthropist, traveller and prison reformer John Howard (1726-90). He sits in an armchair, smiling and facing slightly to the right, holding a Plan of a Lazaretto in his left hand. He wears a neat, powdered tie wig and a dark coat. In the background is a looped, tasselled curtain. The son of a prosperous merchant, Howard was left a modest fortune upon his father’s death. He travelled extensively on the continent and his interest in prison reform seems to have resulted from his capture and subsequent confinement by a French privateer. He travelled to England to arrange an exchange, detailing to the Admiralty the sufferings of the sick and wounded seamen, whose release was successfully negotiated with the French government. Howard now busied himself in erecting model cottages on his Cardington property in Bedfordshire, providing elementary education for the children of all sects, and encouraging the individual industry of the villagers. In 1773 Howard commenced his career as a prison reformer. The defective arrangements of the prisons and the intolerable distress of the prisoners were brought immediately under his notice. Shocked at discovering that persons who had been declared not guilty, or against whom the grand jury had failed to find a true bill, or even those whose prosecutors had failed to appear, were confined in gaol until certain fees were paid to the gaoler, Howard suggested to the Bedfordshire justices that the gaoler should be paid by a salary in lieu of fees. The justices replied by asking for a precedent for charging the county with the expense. Howard accordingly rode into the neighbouring counties in order to find one, but failed to discover a single case in which a gaoler was paid by a fixed salary. The many abuses which he unearthed determined him to continue his investigations, and he left few of the county gaols unvisited. He then resolved to inspect the bridewells, and for that purpose travelled again over the country, examining the houses of correction, the city and town gaols, and paying particular attention to the ravages made among the prisoners by gaol fever and small-pox Introduction to The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. On 4 March 1774 he gave evidence before the House of Commons in committee, and was afterwards called to the bar to receive the thanks of the house for ‘the humanity and zeal which have led him to visit the several gaols of this kingdom, and to communicate to the house the interesting observations he has made on that subject’. Subsequently, in the same session, two bills were passed, one for the abolition of gaolers' fees and the other for improving the sanitary state of prisons and the better preservation of the health of the prisoners. Though copies of these acts were printed at Howard's expense, and sent by him to the keeper of every county gaol in England, their provisions were for the most part evaded. Meanwhile Howard continued to visit prisons and lazarettos both in England and on the Continent. In July 1789 Howard set out on his last journey, and visited Holland, Germany, Prussia, Livonia, and Russia. The defective state of the Russian military hospitals attracted a great deal of his attention, and hearing at Moscow of the sickly state of the Russian army on the confines of Turkey, he proceeded to Kherson in Southern Russia, where he died, on 20 Jan. 1790, of camp fever caught while in attendance on a young lady who had been stricken down with the complaint. Howard was buried in a walled field at Dophinovka (now known as Stepanovka), six versts north of Kherson. His funeral was attended by a large concourse of people. A brick pyramid was built over his grave and a handsome cenotaph of white freestone, with a Russian inscription, was erected to his memory at Kherson. His death was announced in the ‘London Gazette’ a unique honour for a civilian, and his statue, executed by Bacon, was erected by public subscription in St. Paul's. It stands on the left side of the choir, and was the first statue admitted to the cathedral. The inscription on the pedestal was written by his friend Samuel Whitbread.