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'The Gaols Committee of the House of Commons'

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'The Gaols Committee of the House of Commons'

by William Hogarth
oil on canvas, circa 1729
20 3/8 in. x 27 1/8 in. (519 mm x 688 mm)
Given by George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, 1892
Primary Collection
NPG 926

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  • William Hogarth (1697-1764), Painter and engraver. Artist or producer associated with 128 portraits, Sitter associated with 19 portraits.

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In the early eighteenth century, Britain's prisons were notorious for their brutality and unsanitary conditions. In 1729, after news of the corruption and abuses at London's Fleet Prison, the House of Commons established a Committee 'to enquire into the state of Gaols in this Kingdom'. In this painting, William Hogarth imagines members of the Committee meeting in a dungeon-like space at the Fleet Prison to be presented with a prisoner. The kneeling prisoner is meant to be Jacob Mendes da Sola, a Portuguese Jew, whose testimony recorded that he had been kept manacled and shackled for two months in the 'strong room' at the Fleet. Members of the Committee who hear his plight include the humanitarian MP, James Ogelthorpe confronting the Warden of the Fleet, Thomas Bambridge who was noted for his cruelty. Other members of the Committee including Lord Onslow, Lord Egmont and Sir Archibald Grant are commemorated in Hogarth's composition.

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Current affairs

Committee of the House of Commons appointed to enquire into the state of Britain's gaols.
Opening of the first Putney Bridge; the only fixed crossing of the River Thames between London Bridge and Kingston Bridge at the time.
Tornado destroys buildings in Sussex and Kent

Art and science

Chiswick House in London, a pioneering example of English Palladian revival architecture, is designed by its owner Richard Boyle with the help of the architect William Kent.
Jonathan Swift publishes A Modest Proposal; a satirical attack on attitudes towards the poor and Irish policy more generally.


Benjamin Franklin prints, publishes and largely writes the weekly Pennsylvania Gazette, which soon becomes the most successful newspaper in the colonies.
Treaty of Seville seals peace between Britain and Spain.
King Frederick IV of Denmark charters the Danish East India Company.

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