The convict obtained his ticket-of-leave, got som decent employment, committed a new crime, was tried and sent to prison again, and after the usual period of probation came out again a free man, and soon committed a new crime, and so on. The literature and the drama of that time run over with allusions to the ticket-of-leave man and his goings-on. In fact, to a certain extent the new system worked badly for some of the unfortunate ticket-of-leave men themselves. Public opinion became so inflamed with horror against the whole system, that the mere fact of a man's having or having had a ticket-of-leave, was assumed to brand him as an irreclaimable scoundrel. A drama, once very popular, and played sometimes on our stage even yet, had for its central idea that of a man originally convicted on false testimony, and who, on his release from prison, was all but hunted out of society because it was discovered or alleged that he held a ticket-of-leave. The whole subject became the great outcry of the day; and Committee after Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into it.
Now, in Ireland, the ticket-of-leave system was worked with the most complete success. It was so worked as to satisfy the most ardent expectations of those who from the first had believed in it. Why was this ? Simply because the Act was interpreted by the authorities in Ireland exactly as almost every reader of this volume would interpret it now if it came before him as a novelty to be put to the test. The Chairman of the Board of Prison Directors in Ireland, a man of positive genius in his sphere of work, construed the Act precisely as the very conditions endorsed on the ticket-of-leave might have told any one that it ought to be construed. In Ireland, the convicts were kept at first in a penal establishment, all to themselves, not far from Dublin. They were put to hard and monotonous work; but they were encouraged from the very first to believe they could gradually obtain some relaxation of their rigid discipline, and later on even some small rewards for good conduct, and that after their term of probation they would get their conditional release, provided that they had satisfied the prison authorities that they had deserved and were fit for freedom. Even when they got their ticket-of-leave, however, they had to report themselves at stated intervals to the police; and they knew very well that if they were found to be falling back to their old associates and their old ways, they would most certainly be sent back to the penal settlement, and have to begin their dreary labour once again.
In fact, they were put through a strictly reformatory system; and the result in most cases was a genuine and enduring reform. The men knew that without such a reform they could not obtain or keep their freedom; but they knew also that with such a reform they had the means of an honourable living once more put within their reach. So well did the system work in Ireland, that a man at large who had Sir Walter Crofton's ticket-of-leave, was known by that very fact to have given substantial proof of good purpose and improved character; and the ticket-of-leave, which was regarded as a badge of scoundrelism in England, was a good character testimonial in Ireland and enabled a man to find decent employment almost as soon as he sought for it. Of course it has to be taken into account that there was far less temptation to a man striving to be reclaimed in a small Irish community than there would be in a vast place like London, where whole districts engendered and maintained their criminal populations. Still the fact remains that the system worked well in Ireland, and worked badly, or for its one especial purpose did not work at all in England. Since that time the authorities have been trying all manner of modifications of the penal servitude system, and as yet the great question, how to reform our criminals, remains unsolved. But we have got many degrees, indeed, nearer to its solution since the days when the convict ship still floated in our harbours to carry off our felons to servitude in the Colonies.
Our punishments have become humanised by education, by the efforts of philanthropy, and by the spread of religion, until, at all events, there is now no longer any excuse left for the kind of morbid sympathy which many were compelled to feel with the condemned criminals of some generations back. The death sentences which used to be passed on men convicted of political offences have become mere forms in our time. Some of us can well remember when Smith O'Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, and other men of the highest personal character, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, for attempting insurrection in 1848. There is at present an Irish Nationalist Member of the House of Commons, as much respected as any man in that House, who was . sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, for the part he took in the Fenian movement of 1867. In the case of Smith O'Brien and Meagher the sentence was mitigated to one of transportation while the transportation system still existed; and Smith O'Brien, before the close of his life, was allowed to return to his native country. In the case of the Irish Member of Parliament of whom we have spoken, and who was the last man ever sentenced to the antiquated and horrible doom of hanging, drawing and quartering, the condemned man was allowed, in consideration of the humanity he had shown towards some captured policemen, to exile himself for a time from his native land, and after that time to return to these countries. Another of the Fenian leaders convicted and sentenced to death was the late John Boyle O'Reilly, who was actually transported in chains to Western Australia, from which he contrived to make his escape to the United States, and who became afterwards one of the most distinguished men in the city of Boston; the friend of such men as Emerson and Longfellow and Wendell Phillips. Another of those convicted at the time of the Fenian movement is Mr. Michael Davitt, who, after having served years and years of imprisonment, is now a member of Parliament, and one of whose speeches received the enthusiastic commendation of Mr. Gladstone.