The Gaols Committee of the House of Commons, 1729
About this picture
by William Hogarth, oil on canvas, circa 1729. National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 926
About the subject
The committee that investigated the conditions of London main gaols during the 1729 and 1730 sessions was one of the first great ‘social’ inquiries by the House of Commons. It was long remembered for its pioneering and humanitarian concern for the plight of thousands of respectable people who found themselves imprisoned for nothing more than being unable to pay off debts to their creditors. The committee’s exposure both of the horrors of the prison underworld and the ill-treatment of debtors by the judicial system won widespread public acclaim. To the discomfiture of the ministry, the inquiries’ findings were exploited by opposition journalists as a metaphor for the corruption on which Walpole’s ministry appeared to thrive. The painting by William Hogarth shows the Committee at work. Read more...