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Memoirs of Jane Cameron, Female Convict
By Frederick William Robinson in two volumes (1864)


It has become my task to attempt the history of a female convict— of a woman who for many years was well known to prisoners and prison matrons. Such a life as I will attempt to describe, if honestly and simply written, I think may have the power to teach its moral, even with that weak and erring class of which Jane Cameron stands a sad representative. The story—at least a truthful picture of a misspent life—has not been set about hastily, or with the intention of producing a sensation work. It is a story full of shadow, the evil side largely predominant, and yet the elements of good putting forth a feeble shoot or two, even in the dark estate to which neglect and ignorance had reduced Jane Cameron.

For much that will appear in these pages, it is needless to say that I have had but this woman’s word; although, from past knowledge of her character, I do not hesitate to assert my own belief in the authenticity of her narrative. Jane Cameron (or rather the woman whom T designate by that name throughout these pages) was at least one whose word could be trusted, and who had no motive to exaggerate her statements. Her story, as related in a fragmentary fashion, let me hasten to add, has not been followed in its entirety. Here and there details have been slightly modified and abridged ; and for the purpose of disguising the identity of my guilty ((heroine,” and of certain prison characters connected with her, I have not scrupled to change the scene of action, or alter entirely the nature of those sentences which it was her lot to receive from the laws of her country. This excepted, I claim the story to be considered as a true relation of a criminal career—a story that makes no attempt to render “things pleasant,” but, with a useful purpose ever in view, unsparingly exhibits the truth, and aims to be a faithful chronicle of a woman’s fall and rescue.

I may add that I have sought, in every instance, and wherever practicable, to compare notes with those who were personally acquainted with Jane Cameron; to visit, or in some instances cause to be visited, those places wherein her early days were spent, those haunts of vice still extant, and where lives similar to Cameron’s are beginning in the same way, to end after the same awful fashion. During the progress of this work I shall allude to many well-known “Guilt Gardens.” There will always be one satisfaction connected with the writing of this book, that I shall have directed attention anew to the one gigantic evil, which it is possible by a united effort of good men to ameliorate—the evil of neglect.

I have been assisted in my search for truth by the principal public functionaries of Edinburgh and Glasgow, gentlemen who, ’ partly ignorant of the object which took me and a valuable co-operator to Scotland, were yet most anxious, by every means in their power, to show me the interior of their prisons, the working of their criminal law, the darkest secrets of their streets. From all sides and from all parties I have experienced the greatest kindness ; and I am anxious to testify, in this place, to the courtesy and attention which have rendered me ever a debtor to the North. From the members of prison boards, prison governors, chief constables and superintendents, to the active detective officer and his attendant constable, I have been met with that desire to afford me the fullest information, which has enabled me to track, almost step by step, the early progress—that sad progress ever downwards—of her whose life I now attempt to write. To the Honorary Secretary of the Prisoner’s Aid Society, also to the Secretary of that admirable institution, I desire to tender my hearty thanks ; and I must not forget those good Christians and kind friends who have helped to throw a light upon the after and better life of Cameron.

The reader will perceive that I have spared no pains to make these memoirs truthful. They are sad memoirs enough, relieved only in the latter portion by a gleam or two of brightness.

I believe I offer for the first time an authentic record of a female criminal’s career—that tracing it, and even attempting the analysis of it, step by step, I offer to those more learned and more powerful than I, a clue to the mystery of temptation, and demonstrate to those philanthropists, whose numbers are not few, where the first effort should be made to turn the weak and erring from the danger. Much of goodly effort has been wasted through not beginning at the proper time, or in the proper place. If the story offer a picture of how the poor and ignorant are led to crime, and are in innumerable instances taught to regard it as simply a business, the evil nature of which is, to them, not apparent, the vantage ground on which to work and pray may be rendered more secure. In a great degree it is a Scotch story, but for the difference in the nature of the temptation, or in the causes which lead a human being on the downward road, it might be a story of our own city, and of our helpless castaways. The same reasons which brought Jane Cameron to ruin in the streets of Glasgow have brought many hundreds to the same sad end in Whitechapel and Drury Lane. There is not much variation to the rule which governs those shut out from the teaching of God’s Word, and keeps the unenlightened soul for ever in the darkness.

It is the life of one neglected from the cradleside—a life not devoid of interest, I hope, and the plain recital of which may lead the way, God willing, to an earnest effort, here and there, to counsel, help, and save!

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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