Sometimes the surviving records of an organization give us tantalizing glimpses of the materials that were not so carefully preserved. A recent addition to the Community Archives is one such example.
Added to our collections as Accession 2017-07 last week were a collection of By-Laws from Hastings County. Most of these were the official final by-laws, which carried the dates they were read at Hastings County Council meetings, as well as the seal of the County and the signatures of the Warden and the Clerk.
Here’s an example from 1912, of By-Law Number 715. The back has the dates the by-law was read (in later years by-laws tended to be read three times on the same day, but in 1912 they were read on consecutive days):
The front has the date on which the by-law was passed, together with the seal and the signatures of the Clerk (Arthur M. Chapman in this example) and the Warden (Denis Hanley).
For some of the earliest by-laws, only drafts survive, and this is the case for the earliest one in this accession: By-Law Number 5 of the County of Hastings, which was passed in 1850. This was passed with the aim of putting offenders to work, and it entered the record books as a by-law “To provide for the opening of a House of Correction.” Incidentally, the draft shows that there was some indecision about the name of the institution: in the drafting process it was changed to House of Industry and then back to House of Correction.
By Law to provide for the opening of a House of Correction
Whereas it is expedient and proper to provide for the Correction of persons committed to Gaol for minor offences; and whereas this cannot be accomplished by permitting offenders to spend their time in idleness during the period of their confinement.
1 Be it therefore enacted by the Municipal Council of the County of Hastings, and it is hereby enacted by the same. That a part of the present Gaol of this County shall be set apart and used as a House of Correction for all person convicted for any offences either against the Statute Law or against the By Law or By Laws of any Municipality within this County, and who shall be put to Labour, according to the Provisions of this By-Law hereinafter provided.
2 That any mechanic who shall be convicted and sentenced shall during the period of his confinement, work at this own proper trade the County furnishing materials, and the produce of the labour shall be disposed of for the benefit of the County and the funds paid into the hands of the County Treasurer.
3 That any person not a mechanic who shall be convicted and sentenced shall during the period of his or her confinement be set at such work as the Guardian of the House of Correction shall deem advisable, and the produce of their labour shall be disposed of in like manner and for the same purpose as set for the in the second section of this By-Law.
4 That it shall and may be lawful for the Guardian of said House of Correction to contract with any municipality for the labour within the Walls of the House of Correction of any number of the persons sentenced to hard labour, at all times submitting his contracts for the sanction and approval of the Warden of the County.
5 That it shall be lawful for the Guardian to confine any prisoner to solitary confinement in any cell, who shall refuse to labour or work as required by the provisions of this By-Law and pending such solitary confinement the fare of such prisoner shall be bread and water.
6 That the Treasurer shall keep a separate account of the costs and charges incidental upon the establishment and maintaining of the House of Correction and of the receipts of the same, and shall submit annually a separate account of the same to the Municipal Council of this County.
7 That the Gaoler of the County shall discharge the duties of Guardian and shall be given the annual sum of fifty pounds in compensation for said duties
8 That it shall be the duty of said Guardian to enter upon a Book the value and proceeds of each person’s labour, and when discharged shall close the account against said person. He shall keep a report Book in which he shall make daily entries of the conduct of prisoners. He shall call in the aid of the County Surgeon upon the sickness of any prisoners confined in the House of Correction and shall at all times carry out the instructions of the Surgeon with reference to the sick or ailing.
9 That an estimate shall be given by the County Surveyor of the costs of erecting a stone wall 12 feet high in lieu of the present Board enclosure and so soon as this shall be handed in the Warden shall advertise for tenders for building the said wall, to be paid for by debentures at two and three years.
The terms of the by-law seem harsh to a twenty-first century reader, but from a recordkeeping perspective it is section 8 which is the most intriguing. How interesting it would be to read the Guardian’s log book, to gauge the success of this enterprise by seeing how much money each individual generated while they were in the House of Correction, and to read his reports on the behaviour of the prisoners. Sadly, none of these records has survived to satisfy our curiosity.