Crawford, William (1788-1847) (DNB00)

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CRAWFORD, WILLIAM (1788–1847), philanthropist, was the son of Robert Crawford, one of the old race of Crawfords in Fifeshire, a captain in the army, who late in life settled in London as a wine-merchant, and who had grounds for claiming to be the heir of the earldom of Balcarres, although he did not take any legal steps for the recognition of his rights. The father married Mary Haw of Yarmouth in Norfolk, and of that marriage the youngest son, William Crawford, was born in London on 30 May 1788, and received in his early years a mercantile education.

In 1804 Crawford obtained an appointment in the Naval Transport Office, London, and remained in it till 1815, when the office was broken up at the peace. In 1810 he had become an active member of the committee of the British and Foreign School Society, and had already begun to interest himself in such questions as the abolition of the slave trade and the reform of the penal laws. He soon became secretary to the London Prison Discipline Society, of which Samuel Hoare was chairman, and Thomas Buxton and Samuel Gurney were zealous members. He edited the annual ‘reports’ of that society, which grew into large volumes.

In 1833 Crawford was sent as commissioner to the United States, in order to examine the working of the American prison and penitentiary system. On his return he made a most valuable report on the subject to his official chief, which was printed by order of the House of Commons on 11 Aug. 1834. This report demonstrated the advantages of the Pennsylvanian system of separate cells, which had been in force at the great prison of Philadelphia for about five years, and had previously been in use in the prisons of some other American states. It was soon afterwards introduced into the United Kingdom, and found its way into other European countries. The first result of Crawford's inquiries was that in 1835 the act 5 & 6 Will. IV, cap. 38, was passed, authorising the appointment of inspectors of prisons in England and Scotland. Ireland had already had such inspectors since 1810. Great Britain was now divided into four districts. Crawford and Whitworth Russell (formerly chaplain at Millbank penitentiary) were appointed inspectors of the most important, that for the home and midland counties, including London. The eleven volumes of ‘Prison Reports’ from 1836 to 1847 show a part of the activity of these two inspectors, who were, in fact, the framers of the laws (2 & 3 Vict. cap. 42, 46, and 3 & 4 Vict. cap. 44) which legally established the separate cell system in the three kingdoms, and also of the regulations for the management of the new Parkhurst Reformatory, of which Crawford was really the originator. From 1841 Crawford was made solely responsible for the reports of the important prison of Pentonville, and he also had a large share in the reforms which our government was at that period beginning to apply to the prison systems of the British colonies.

The heavy official work with which Crawford was burdened told upon his health. He had suffered as a youth from an affection of the heart, and in 1841 he had a serious attack of illness, from which he never entirely recovered, although he continued to perform his official duties as usual until 22 April 1847, when he died suddenly in Pentonville prison, while attending a meeting of the managing committee of that institution. Crawford's private character was one of remarkable gentleness and amiability. He was unmarried.

[Personal knowledge.]

J. W.