John Davis 
Chaplain of the Episcopal Floating Church, then Ordinary (= Chaplain) of Newgate Prison

On his appointment to the Episcopal Floating Church, 1830

The Christian Guardian and Church of England Magazine

We are happy to hear that the Rev. JOHN DAVIS, late Curate of Chesterfield, is appointed Chaplain of the London Episcopal Floating Church. It is, we understand, this gentleman's intention to devote himself entirely to what may justly be termed the work of a Missionary amongst Seamen; a work obviously requiring great zeal, patience, fortitude, and Christian affection; since he will be called, not merely to preach to those who may attend the Floating Church, but to endeavour, by a regular system of visiting the vessels in the river, in all weathers, to excite attention, overcome diffidence, and secure the confidence and affection of many who have been long neglected and degraded, and for whose souls no man hath cared. To enable this clergyman thus unreservedly to devote himself to the arduous work, it is proposed to allow him a salary of £200 per annum: and as the other unavoidable expenses of the ship, &c.* amount to about £150 per annum; and the present annual subscriptions barely amount to £100, the Committee are compelled to solicit the assistance of the Christian friends of seamen, that this important undertaking may not fail for want of adequate funds. We are happy to observe that the undertaking is patronized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishops of London, Lichfield, Winchester, &c. Subscriptions are received by Messrs. Drummonds, Williams ; Hatchards, Seeleys, Nisbet, &c. and at 32, Sackville Street, Piccadilly.

* These expenses include the necessary repairs, painting, &c. of the ship, the offices of clerk and ship-keeper, a boat and boatmen, for the constant use of the chaplain, &c. On this last article it may be proper to observe, that as the sailors must be sought out and visited on board their own vessels, in all the neighbouring parts of the river, the chaplain will need a boat continually, and must be very much exposed to cold and fatigue, during the cold winds of autumn, and the inclement season of winter.

At Newgate: involvement in a case of 'moral insanity', 1847
In 1847 a twelve-year old boy, William Newton Allnutt, was tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of his grandfather Samuel Nelme, by sprinking arsenic on the sugar bowl from which he sprinkled his fruit, in order to steal his gold watch, eyeglass and sovereigns. It was widely reported in the press, and with full summaries in the medical journals, not because of the boy's age (even now the age of criminal responsibility is ten years) but because of the defence offered by his counsel, and of some of the specialist witnesses (one of them for the prosecution) of  'insanity of deranged morals': that he was unable to distinguish wrong from right because he knew, but did not feel, his actions to be wrong, and had no sense of remorse. (This defence had been attempted for Edward Oxford, who several years previously had shot at Queen Victoria, and said when questioned 'Oh, I might as well shoot her as anybody else'.)

Davis was involved because he had told the boy that a coroner's warrant for wilful murder had been issued, and instructed him on his religious duty. As a result the boy wrote to his mother
My dearest Mother.....I know I have sinned against God, and I deserve to be cast into hell; but what is my only comfort is the Bible, for our Lord says, "if ye repent I will forgive you." .... Mr Davis preached a beautiful sermon on Sunday; he took it from Proverbs xvi. If I had only attended to what you were teaching me I should not have come into such a place, but Satan had got so much power over me .... I now confess that I have done what I am accused of. How I got the poison was this: on the 20th of October Grandfather went to his desk for the key to the wine cellar to get some wine up and to look over his accounts, and whilst he was gone I took the poison out, and emptied some of it into another piece of paper, and put the other back; and then after dinner I put it in the sugar basin; and why I did it was I had made grandfather angry with something I had done and he knocked me down in the passage ... and he said next time I did it, he would almost kill me; but in future I will say the truth and nothing but the truth. [I]f I am transported I know it will be the death of me therefore I hope they will pardon me. With kindest love to you and all at home, believe me, ever your affectionate son, W.N.A.

Davis was cross-examined:
  The boy in this letter attributes to you to say, that if he did not confess, God would not forgive him.

Davis: No doubt. I told him that unless he confessed his sin to God he could not expect forgiveness from God - I said confessed his sin to God.
  Taking the greatest possible care that he should not imagine any other confession?

Davis: No other allusion was made - I did not tell him I was sure he had done it ... his mother's name was not mentioned in the interview - what he stated is the imagination of his brain altogether ... he has been guilty of telling a vast variety of falsehoods; they have been denials of his guilt, which he afterwards confessed.
Specialist witnesses followed, and after a summing-up in which the judge was scathing about the defence of 'moral insanity', the jury took 15 minutes to find the boy guilty; he was sentenced to death, with an appeal to the Crown for mercy.

The case is discussed in Joel Peter Eigen
Unconscious Crime: Mental Absence and Criminal Responsibility in Victorian England (Johns Hopkins UP 2003), chapter 5 'An Unconscious Poisoning'.

Davis' 1847 evidence to the House of Lord's Select Committee on the Execution of the Criminal Law, especially respecting Juvenile Offenders and Transportation can be read here (pages 44-48 and 336-414)

In his annual report for 1848-49 he observed The gaol of Newgate, beyond all doubt, has great defects compared with more modern erections; but results from these more perfect prisons do not surpass the metropolitan gaol in this respect, that seven out of eight do not return to us again.

In his annual report for 1858-59 he wrote in support of the shift towards separate (as distinct from solitary) confinement:
I entertain a hope, not the result of theory, but founded on many facts, that good prisons are places where a considerable number of criminals are not only punished for their offences, but reformed in their sentiments and manner of life. Out of all committed to Newgate, more than one half, at the least, never return to any prison; and it is among this large class that the good I speak of is done. Many receive a real, sound, religious impression, which endures, and keeps them out of harm. It does not do to make such persons known ; but, as far as words can express right feelings, or letters describe the state of mind, and a consistent lite confirm the truth of both, hundreds and, thousands demonstrate the happy effects of religious teachings in prisons.

The public notion that a prison is ruin, destruction, demoralization, and hopeless misery, is true only to a certain extent—certainly not true of the majority. I am not unaware that many are kept honest by the shame, disgrace, and irksome-ness of prison-life, perhaps as many as by the real renewal of the mind. Society is satisfied if men keep out of prison: they look no further. But, making large deductions for all these causes, there are many left who receive in the time of adversity instructions of which they thought little or nothing in the day of prosperity; and it is on these our hopes are built of the good done in prisons.

When men begin to think of the responsibilities they are under to another Master, to whom one day they must give a solemn account, there is hope of good. A mere balancing the advantages of right and wrong doing is not a motive sufficiently powerful to effect a thorough reformation. The true reforming thought is the responsibility to heaven. Now, it is not in man's power to create this purity and correctness of thought: we can teach it, encourage, foster, and promote it; and under no circumstances, as far as our efforts are concerned, can this be done for the criminal so well and so effectually as when he is in separate confinement: time and opportunity for reflection are not merely afforded, but almost forced upon him.

The custom practised for many years in Newgate, of having a small portion of scripture read and explained, for the prisoners to meditate upon, was always attended with good results; but, since the prisoners have been kept separately, I find the influence of it far greater. They express themselves with greater indications of thought and reflection ; and, by giving them a good basis for thought, all is done that it is possible to do to lead them to right sentiments. How far such impressions are permanent and sincere must be left to the Searcher of hearts. Ministrations in prisons must in almost all cases be left with a certain misgiving, which shows that, while duty is ours, the result is with the Almighty himself. If, then, the benefits of separate discipline be so great, how strongly does it urge every consistently-benevolent mind to hope that the day is not distant when these advantages will be extended to the female side of the prison, and the unhappy fallen members of so many families will be afforded the opportunity of escaping, while in Newgate, the polluting conversation of old offenders, and have the means of reformation within their reach, if they should be really sincere.

In 1859 he published The Agony of Murder, verses written by a prisoner describing his feelings when under sentence of death and in most imminent danger of execution.

In a letter of 1860 in connection with mail theft he wrote there cannot be less than one hundred servants of the post-office now suffering penal servitude, but this is much under the truth. This resulted in attempts to establish missionary work among letter-carriers and other postal workers.

In 1864-65 he gave evidence to the Capital Punishment Commission. A report summarised his evidence. He had been in office for 22 years and had witnessed 24 executions, and on the basis of his knowledge of incorrigibles was quite sure that it is impossible to avoid capital executions. He said, The Scriptures say, 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed'; that is a law to us, and we should obey it.  When asked by the Commission, 'Apart from Scriptural considerations, can a murderer be adequately punished except by death, and will any other punishment deter from the crime of murder?' he said no, and 'stuck to it under every ingenuity of suggestion and interrogation'.

The report continues: He was quite clear that you must hang murderers, if you don't want your prison-warders to be murdered; and he thought it better not to talk much about impending executions to other prisoners, so he had little to say about how they regard the matter. He thought private executions might be tried with advantage
[pointing out that they now had curtains at Newgate executions] - an experiment or two would test public opinion. Such experiments would be painful for the gentlemen obliged to witness them. A new sheriff generally faints, and the witness himself was ill for three days after the first execution which he attended. He thought the mob behave well, generally, at the moment of execution ... and he had never known a man unjustly executed; all criminals within his knowledge who had been hanged at Newgate, having confessed their guilt ...

Mr. Davis made some curious statements, respecting the religious condition of the murderers whom he had known. He had never known an Englishman to die in a state of unbelief, or avowed impenitence; but he had known a Frenchman to do so .... He did not believe that public executions injure the reverence for human life, though he thought it very likely the following story may be true. A young man named Wicks shot his master in Drury-lane, and was hanged at Newgate; shortly before the murder he had seen an execution, and on the very day of its perpetration he had run as hard as he could to be in time for 'a hanging'. He stated that after he had seen it, he snapped his fingers and said, 'It's nothing—it's only a trick'. Then he went home and shot his master.  'Yes, he was a great execution seer', remarked Mr. Davis, who was, on the whole, a very cool, dry kind of witness, with his mind very absolutely made up.

Samuel Smiles Thrift (1875)

The  apostle of 'self-help' (who incidentally was the great-great-grandfather of Bear Grylls) included these observations from Davis in a work published after Davis' death, on the causes of crime among young convicts:
I knew a youth, the child of an officer in the navy, who had served his country with distinction, but whose premature death rendered his widow thankful to receive an official appointment for her delicate boy in a Government office. His income from the office was given faithfully to his mother; and it was a pleasure and a pride to him to gladden her heart by the thought that he was helping her. She had other children--two little girls, just rising from the cradle to womanhood. Her scanty pension and his salary made every one happy. But over this youth came a love of dress. He had not strength of mind to see how much more truly beautiful a pure mind is, than a finely decorated exterior. He took pleasure in helping his mother and sisters, but did not take greater pleasure in thinking that to do this kindness to them he must be contented for a time to dress a little worse than his fellow-clerks; his clothes might appear a little worn, but they were like the spot on the dress of a soldier arising from the discharge of duty; they were no marks of undue carelessness; necessity had wrought them; and while they indicated necessity, they marked also the path of honour, and without such spots duty must have been neglected. But this youth did not think of such great thoughts as these. He felt ashamed at his threadbare but clean coat. The smart, new-shining dress of other clerks mortified him ... He wanted to appear finer. In an evil hour he ordered a suit of clothes from a fashionable tailor. His situation and connections procured him a short credit. But tradesmen must be paid, and he was again and again importuned to defray his debt. To relieve himself of his creditor he stole a letter containing a £10 note. His tailor was paid, but the injured party knew the number of the note. It was traced to the tailor, by him to the thief, with the means and opportunity of stealing it, and in a few days he was transported. His handsome dress was exchanged for the dress of a convict. Better by far would it have been for him to have worn his poorer garb, with the marks of honest labour upon it. He formed only another example of the intense folly of love of dress, which, exists quite as much amongst foolish young men as amongst foolish young women.

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