Marshalsea prison used to be a neighbor of The Church of St. George, but it is gone when this tale is told—and not at all missed. It was a debtor’s prison. The cells were not sturdy, and smugglers were able to sneak in.
One debtor figures into this tale. He didn’t believe, as most do, that he would be there for long. He didn’t unpack his portmanteau. He was a shy, helpless, amiable man. He worried about his wife. He didn’t know if she could find her way there, and he worried how she would react. They have two children—a boy of three and a girl of two.
The debtor had invested in a business he knew nothing about as far as its dealings. Thre was an investigation concerning the disappearance of property. He found himself bankrupted.
Five or six months after arriving at the prison and settling down, the man’s wife goes into labor. The other prisoners help care for their children and give them supplies from their own scanty possessions. The inside of the cell is hot and swarming with flies. Mrs. Bangham, a former prisoner who is now a charwoman and messenger, is swatting flies and tending to the patient.
Dr. Haggage soon arrives, the doctor of Marshalsea. He orders Mrs. Bangham to get some brandy for herself. She argues with him that she is fine. The patient gives birth to a little girl.
The debtor is upset that his child was born inside a prison, but the doctor tells him it is peaceful here. They aren’t harassed by creditors as they would be if they had their freedom. You can’t fall once you’ve reached the bottom. The debtor has found a relief and type of peace in prison. He has unpacked his things. The children play in the yard, and the other prisoners help with the baby.
The turnkey is impressed with the debtor, who had been an educated gentleman. He could speak several languages and play the piano.
The debtor eventually is named the Father of the Marshalsea when the turnkey dies. He is proud of it. He is the oldest inhabitant with the turnkey’s death. He welcomes newcomers. He often receives gifts from those that leave.
One of the prisoners who left gave him copper coins and promised to come back and see him.