Peel's Gaol Act of 1823 did not set out a governor's duties in detail, but merely stipulated that he was to visit each cell at least once every twenty-four hours, and that he was to keep a journal.' His primary task, at common law, was to maintain the safe custody of the prison. It was largely as a guarantee of diligence in this respect (although indemnification of loss by embezzlement may also have had something to do with it) that a governor provided sureties to the sheriff (and often to the magistrates as well). The history of imprisonment is liberally studded with corruptly assisted 'escapes', and very naturally the first to be suspected in the circumstances were the staff. By the 1830s a successful bid for freedom seems almost invariably to have been carefully scrutinised by the visiting justices, with a view to taking disciplinary or even court action against the governor and his staff.2 George Chesterton
1 4 Geo. IV, c.64, s.l 0. 2 At Bedford in the 1820s, for example, the justices were not entirely satisfied
with the governor's explanation of how two prisoners had made a daylight escape. Whilst they carried on their investigations the governor was directed to distribute hue-and-cry handbills offering a reward of £20. As the prisoners were recaptured within a short time the incident was closed without the governor being censured. There were further escape attempts, however, and the justices, in an expression of dissatisfaction, issued new directions: the governor was, on such future occasions, to have handbills printed, inform the nearest visiting justice and to offer a reward
proportionate to the nature of the case - all such expenses to be borne by the gaoler, in addition to such fine or other punishment as may be awarded, if it shall appear that he has been negligent or inattentive in any respect, as to have given or allowed any facility to temptation to such escape-but ... all such expense shall be borne by the County, when it
remarked in his memoirs that the possibility of an escape had been a source of 'ceaseless discomfort' to him - a feeling probably shared by most governors?