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This Day in Georgia History

February 27, 1729

Oglethorpe Visited Fleet Prison

James Oglethorpe and the Gaols [Jails] Committee visited Fleet Prison, where they questioned warden Thomas Bambridge. They also examined Sir William Rich, a baronet who had been imprisoned at Fleet and placed in a neck iron. The committee order that Bambridge have the 15-pound irons removed from Rich. The warden complied, but as soon as the committee left, he not only had the irons replaced but added two extra sets. Famous British artist William Hogarth accompanied the Gaols Committee during its Fleet investigation and sketched the committee at work. In his oil on paper rendering, a standing prisoner is shown testifying. James Oglethorpe is shown seated at the far left and has turned to question warden Bambridge. Hogarth subsequently decided to produce an oil on canvas. A number of differences between the initial sketch and subsequent canvas are immediately noticeable. The sketch shows the committee in a well-lighted room, while the canvas shows them in bowels of Fleet Prison. It is known that the committee did visit the dungeons of Fleet, but in February it would have been quite cold. Also, as one committee member wrote, the stench was so bad that members had to hold their noses. So, Hogarth apparently used artistic license to portray the Gaols Committee investigation. In any event, his final canvas, which shows Oglethorpe at far left and a prisoner in neck iron on his knees answering committee questions, has become an icon of Georgia history. Later, Hogarth’s painting was engraved for publication.