Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Du Cane, Edmund Frederick
DU CANE, Sir EDMUND FREDERICK (1830–1903), major-general, R.E., and prison reformer, born at Colchester, Essex, on 23 March 1830, was youngest child in a family of four sons and two daughters of Major Richard Du Cane (1788–1832), 20th light dragoons, of Huguenot descent, who served in the Peninsular war. His mother was Eliza, daughter of Thomas Ware of Woodfort, Mallow, co. Cork.
Du Cane, after education at the grammar school, Dedham, Essex, until 1843, and at a private coaching establishment at Wimbledon (1843-6), entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in November 1846, and passed out at the head of his batch at the end of 1848, having taken first place in mathematics and fortification, and receiving a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 19 Dec. 1848. He joined at Chatham, and in December 1850 was posted to a company of royal sappers and miners commanded by Captain Henry Charles Cunliffe-Owen [q. v.] at Woolwich. Du Cane was assistant superintendent of the foreign side of the International Exhibition of 1851 and assistant secretary to the juries of awards, and with the rest of the staff was the guest in Paris of the prince president, Louis Napoleon. From 1851 to 1856 Du Cane was employed in organising convict labour on public works in the colony of Swan River or Western Australia, which was then first devoted to penal purposes under the command of Captain (afterwards Sir) Edmund Henderson [q. v. Suppl. I]. Promoted first lieutenant on 17 Feb. 1854, he was stationed at Guildford in charge of the works in the eastern district of the colony. He was made a magistrate of the colony and a visiting magistrate of convict stations. Although recalled early in 1856 by the requirements of the Crimean war, Du Cane arrived home on 21 June to find the war at an end, and joined for duty at the war office, under the inspector- general of fortification, in August 1856. He was soon employed upon the designs and estimates for the new defences proposed for the dockyards and naval bases of the United Kingdom. Promoted second captain on 16 April 1858, he during the next five years designed most of the new land works at Dover, and the chain of land forts at Plymouth extending for five miles from Fort Staddon, in the east, across the Plym, by Laira, to Ernsettle on the Tamar.
In 1863, on the recommendation of Lieutenant-colonel Henderson, who had become chairman of the board of directors of convict prisons, Du Cane was appointed director of convict prisons, as well as an inspector of military prisons. He administered the system of penal servitude as it was reformed by the Prisons Act of 1865, and made the arrangements for additional prison accommodation consequent on the abolition of transportation in 1867. In 1869 Du Cane succeeded Henderson as chairman of the board of directors of convict prisons, surveyor-general of prisons, and inspector-general of military prisons. On 5 Feb. 1864 he was promoted first captain in his corps; on 5 July 1872 major; on 11 Dec. 1873 lieut.-colonel; and four years later brevet-colonel. He was placed on the supernumerary list in August 1877.
The charge of the colonial convict prisons was transferred to Du Cane in 1869. A strong advocate of the devotion of prison labour to works of national utility, on which he read a paper before the Society of Arts in 1871, Du Cane provided for the carrying out by convicts of the breakwater and works of defence at Portland, the docks at Portsmouth and Chatham, and additional prison accommodation. At the International Prison Congress in London in 1872 Du Cane fully described the British system of penal servitude. Du Cane's main triumph as prison administrator was the reorganisation of county and borough prisons, which had long been mismanaged by some 2000 local justices and largely maintained by local funds. Du Cane in 1873 submitted to the secretary of state a comprehensive scheme for the transfer to the government of all local prisons and the whole cost of their maintenance. The much needed reform was legalised by the Prison Act of July 1877, when Du Cane, who had been made C.B., civil division, on 27 March 1873, was promoted K.C.B., civil division, and became chairman of the (three) prison commissioners under the new act to reorganise and administer the county and borough prisons. On 1 April 1878 these prisons came under government control. Their number was soon reduced by one-half, the rules made uniform, the progressive system of discipline adopted, the staff co-ordinated into a single service with a regular system of promotion, structural and other improvements introduced, and the cost of maintenance largely reduced. Useful employment of prisoners was developed and the discharged prisoner was assisted to earn his living honestly.
Du Cane also successfully inaugurated the registration of criminals. In 1877 he produced the first 'Black Book' list, printed by convict labour, of over 12,000 habitual criminals with their aliases and full descriptions. A register followed of criminals having distinctive marks on their bodies. Du Cane's suggestion to Sir Francis Galton that types of feature in different kinds of criminality were worthy of scientific study first prompted Galton to attempt composite portraiture (Memories of My Life, 1908). Du Cane encouraged the use of Galton's finger-print system in the identification of criminals. He retired from the army with the honorary rank of major-general on 31 Dec. 1887, and from the civil service on 23 March 1895. An accomplished man of wide interests, embracing archaeology, architecture, and Napoleonic literature, he was a clever painter in water-colours. A set of his sketches of Peninsular battlefields was exhibited at the Royal Military Exhibition at Chelsea in 1890. He died at his residence, 10 Portman Square, London, on 7 June 1903, and was buried in Great Braxted churchyard, Essex.
He was twice married: (1) at St. John's Church, Fremantle, Western Australia, on 18 July 1855, to Mary Dorothea, daughter of Lieut.-colonel John Molloy, a Peninsula and Waterloo veteran of the rifle brigade, of Fairlawn, The Vasse, Western Australia; she died on 13 May 1881; (2) at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 2 Jan. 1883, to Florence Victoria, widow of Colonel M. J. Grimston, of Grimston Garth and Kilnwick, Yorkshire, and daughter of Colonel Hardress Robert Saunderson. By his first wife Sir Edmund had a family of three sons and five daughters. A crayon drawing, done in 1851, is in Lady Du Cane's possession at 10 Portman Square.
Sir Edmund contributed largely to periodical literature, chiefly on penology, and frequently wrote to 'The Times' on military and other subjects. To the 'Royal Engineers Journal' he sent memoirs of several of his brother officers. In 1885 he published in Macmillan's 'Citizen' series The Punishment and Prevention of Crime,' an historical sketch of British prisons and the treatment of crime up to that date.
[War Office Records; R.E. Records; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Biograph, 1883; The Times, 8 June 1903; Porter, History of the Royal Engineers, 1889, 2 vols.; private information.]