Front Page Titles (by Subject) 22.: ATROCITIES OF THE TREAD WHEEL GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 3 OCT., 1823, P. 3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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22.: ATROCITIES OF THE TREAD WHEEL GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 3 OCT., 1823, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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ATROCITIES OF THE TREAD WHEEL
This article is based on Bentham’s ideas as developed in James Mill’s “Prisons and Prison Discipline” (1823), written for the Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. VI, pp. 385-95. Both the quotation from and reference to the ideas in Prison Labour, Etc.: Correspondence and Communications Addressed to His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, Concerning the Introduction of Tread-Mills into Prisons (London: Nicol, 1823) by John Coxe Hippisley (1748-1825), M.P. for Sudbury, magistrate, actually derive from a letter to Hippisley of 7 June, 1823 (on pp. 23-66 of the work) from Dr. John Mason Good (1764-1867), physician and medical writer. The tread wheel (or treadmill) had been introduced to prisons only five years earlier, in 1818. Headed “Tread Wheel. [From a Correspondent.],” the unsigned article is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article on the atrocities of the Tread Wheel which appeared in the Globe & Traveller of 4th [sic] October 1823”
(MacMinn, p. 4).
by the publication of Sir J.C. Hippisley’s work on Prison Discipline, the public attention has been called to the mischievous effects of a punishment which has been hailed as the great modern improvement in penal legislation—the Tread Wheel.
There are strong objections to the employment of labour, in any case, as a punishment. If we consider from what causes men are induced to commit that species of crimes which are most common—petty violations of property—it will be found that in the great majority of cases, it is aversion to labour which has been the operating motive. To prevent crime, means ought to be taken to counteract the painful associations which give rise to this aversion. For such a purpose no contrivance can be worse chosen than that of forcing labour, and that of the severest kind, upon the offender as a punishment.
When a poor man is at large, earning his bread by his exertions, unless his labour be excessive, there are many circumstances which tend to make it agreeable to him. It is to labour that he owes all the comforts and enjoyments of existence. By labour alone can he hope to advance himself in life and raise the prospects of his family. All this has not been sufficient to counteract his habits of indolence, for those habits have prevailed, and instead of labouring he has turned thief; and yet in order to cure him of his aversion to labour, he is placed in a situation where, instead of being the source of his enjoyments, it becomes an engine of unrequited misery to him, and of misery of the most intense description.
This objection applies strongly to all kinds of labour, when considered merely as a punishment; but most of all, to the tread-mill, the horrors of which, as described by Sir John Cox Hippisley, appear unequalled in the modern annals of legalized torture.
I inspected the men as they descended in rotation from the wheel, at the end of the quarter of an hour’s task-work, and made room for fresh relays. Every one of them was perspiring—some in a dripping sweat. On asking them separately, and at a distance from each other, where was the chief stress of labour, they stated, in succession, and without the least variation, that they suffered great pain in the calf of the leg and in the ham; while most of them, though not all, complained of distress also in the instep. On examining the bottom of their shoes, it was manifest that the line of tread had not extended farther than from the extremity of the toes to about one-third of the bottom of the foot; for in several instances the shoes were new, and between this line and the heel altogether unsoiled—a fact, however, that was as obvious from the position of the foot while at work, as from the appearance of the shoe at rest. Several of the workers seemed to aim at supporting their weight by bringing the heel into action, the feet being twisted outwards; and on inquiring why this was not oftener accomplished, the reply was, that though they could gain a little in this way, it was with so painful a stress of the knees that they could only try it occasionally. The palms of their hands, in consequence of holding tight to the rail, were in every instance hardened, in many horny, in some blistered, and discharging water. The keeper, who accompanied us, admitted the truth of all these statements, and added that it was the ordinary result of the labour; and that use did not seem to render it less severe; for those who had been confined long appeared to suffer nearly or altogether as much as those who were new to the work.
Sir J.C. Hippisley also states on good medical authority, that this kind of labour has a strong tendency to produce varicose tumours and ruptures, also, that the tortuous attitude and uneasy motion totally deprive the prisoner of the healthful advantage of athletic exercise.
On the female prisoners the effects are of a still more serious and distressing nature, in as much, that in the greater number of counties where tread-wheel labour exists, it has not been deemed safe to extend it to females. Nor are these evils chimerical. Sir J. C. Hippisley mentions the particular prisons in which they have been experienced, and gives various details concerning the Cold-bath Fields House of Correction, for which we refer our readers to the work itself. [Pp. 33-7.]
It is true that the communications received from the Governors of the various prisons in which the tread-wheel is in use, in answer to the official circular of Mr. Peel, have not been in any great degree unfavourable to the tread-mill.1 The admissions, however, which they have made, and which are stated by Sir J.C. Hippisley, are fully sufficient to justify the inferences which Sir J. has drawn from them. And were it otherwise, Ilchester gaol has taught us not to judge of prison arrangements on the word of the prison authorities2 —more especially of arrangements so well calculated as the tread-mill to be instruments of oppression in the hands of those authorities themselves.
Among other circumstances which essentially unfit the tread-mill to be a good engine of punishment is the extreme inequality of the labour; which, it is plain, does not admit of being proportioned with any exactness to the constitution and previous habits of the prisoner, nor can it be proportioned at all, without leaving much to the discretion of the gaoler. “A man who has been accustomed to running up stairs all his life, with good lungs and muscular legs, will scarcely suffer by it, while an asthmatic tailor, weaver, or other sedentary artisan, will be half killed by the exercise.”*
As if it had been endeavoured to devise a mode of punishment which should unite the fewest possible advantages, the tread-mill discipline, besides its cruelty, its inequality, and its injurious effects upon health, has not even the advantage of being an efficient kind of labour. There are many ways of turning a mill more advantageously than by human labour. Moreover, it does not, like the hand crank-mill, exercise the muscles which are of use in ordinary labour. It does not give those bodily habits which will render labour less irksome after release, while, as we have shown, it strongly tends to give such habits of mind as will render it more so. Nor is the tread-wheel labour efficient in the way of example. To be so, it should be visible to every eye. But it is unavoidably shut up within the walls of a prison, and can operate directly upon the minds of none but the prisoners.
Let it not be inferred, however, that we are adverse to the employment of labour in prison discipline. Labour, not tread-wheel labour, but mild, and at the same time efficient and productive labour, though highly unfit for purposes of punishment, is the best of all engines of reformation. But these two kinds of discipline must be kept entirely separate. The object of punishment is to inflict pain—pain sufficient to counteract the motives to vice. The object of reformatory discipline is to break pernicious habits, and to substitute useful ones. If, as has been observed, the habit which brings criminals to gaol is usually an aversion to labour, the grand object of reformatory discipline should be to destroy that aversion. The mode of destroying it is not by making labour an engine of torture. It is by making it a source of pleasure; by suffering the labourer to partake of the fruits of his labour, and that in sufficient quantity to make him think of labour with some degree of pleasure. It is evident, then, that if punishment, which is intended merely as an infliction of pain, be mixed up with reformatory discipline, which can be made effectual only by rendering the condition of the prisoner a state of pleasure, either the one of these two objects must be entirely sacrificed to the other, or the ends of both must be incompletely and inefficiently attained. In fact, we think that nearly all the failures which have taken place in the organization of prison arrangements, may be attributed to an ignorance of this fundamental rule, that punishment and reformation are two different objects, and as such, should be kept distinct: a position which appears to have occurred to no writer antecedent to the publication of the article “Prisons” in the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to which, for farther illustrations we beg to refer our readers.
[1 ]“Copy of a Letter, Addressed, by Mr. Secretary Peel’s Directions, to the Visiting Magistrates of the Several Gaols and Houses of Correction, Where Tread Wheels Have Been Established” (18 Jan., 1823), PP, 1823, XV, 308.
[2 ]See “Report from the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the State of Ilchester Gaol” (8 Feb., 1822), PP, 1822, XI, 277-311, for an account of the abuses and misrepresentations by William Bridle, the Governor from 1808 to 1821.
[* ]Medical Jurisprudence, by Dr. [John Ayrton] Paris and Mr. [John Samuel Martin de Grenier] Fonblanque, [3 vols. (London: Phillips, 1823),] Vol. III, p. 131.