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Prisoner Contraband

Prisoner contraband

The prison regulations were clear: It was a punishable offence for any prisoner to ‘manufacture, or conceal, or be in possession of, any tool, key, or implement, intended to effect the escape of any prisoner, or for any unlawful purpose’. Additionally, ‘all games… are strictly prohibited’.

The prisoners on St Helena were searched each day to ensure that no one was in possession of illegal items. The authorities were ever on the alert.

Some men secreted weapons for possible use against other prisoners or warders, or keys and tools for use as instruments of escape, or material for subversive activity, or even food and other items which could provide some little pleasure in their drab lives as inmates of the island prison.

Gambling chips, dice and dominoes, often ‘home-made’, were used at illicit games of chance. Pipes and tobacco were regularly confiscated too, as were matches which the authorities feared could be used, accidentally or intentionally, to destroy the wooden prison buildings at night.

Newspapers and similar printed matter were banned.

And then there were belts and ropes with which some prisoners attempted to hang themselves in their cells. Some were successful.

Warders needed to be ever on the alert.

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