Remedial Measures

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Bolton Hall

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"O SIR," cried one of the prisoners in the "Black Hole of Calcutta" to the Maharaja, as he came to visit the gaol, "pray let us out of this. We are in great distress, and dying by the dozen."

"Dying?" replied the prince. "Then something must be done. We must first find the extent, and then the cause of your distress. "

So he sent a friendly visitor, who took the measure and the weight of each one in the hole, and figured out how many feet of air he breathed. He made a scientific study of the case, and noted the following valuable and interesting sociologic conclusions—the friendly visitor had a large family:—

"First. Competition is at the root of all this suffering. Had the prisoners taken turns at the peep-hole in the door of the cell, all could have lived till now.

"Second. Underlying this is human greed; for the stronger ones stopped up the breathing-space with their heads, and so the weaker perished.

"Third. There is a maladjustment of the social force. If, instead of breathing in the air and returning it from their lungs into the cell, the prisoners would discharge it on the outside, a large number would survive.

"Fourth. Those poor people are prodigal of their water. They drink whole cupfuls at a time: whereas, were they persistently to breathe through the nose, the desire for water would be greatly lessened.

"Fifth. There is no real scarcity of water, as the Ganges and the Mississippi hold an abundant supply, which is practically free. The heat is an unavoidable incident of human life, though aggravated by the vices and fever of the poor prisoners. To open the door as a panacea is a fascinating theory; but I am constrained to say (else I should lose my job) that the only immediate and practical remedy is to mitigate their thirst by giving the lower strata rags to chew. Much might be done, also, by blowing through the key-hole. But the only real specifics are: first, education, so that they may make the best of their opportunities, but not any education that could make them discontented; and, second and mainly, moral elevation." When the Maharaja read the report, he sent to the prisoners a teacher of theology and a book upon "The Pleasures of Content." And he raised the visitor's salary.


  • Bolton Hall, “Remedial Measures,” The Public 1, no. 51 (March 25, 1899): 12.