The quarries on Portland are world renown.
They are of a strange type of brutal beauty, the glare from the white stone is blinding in the bright sunshine, the heat reflects mercilessly from the calcified remains that makes up the huge slabs that tumble and totter precariously all around. Ultimately, their beauty belies the ever present danger that resides within, no more so than for those who toiled in them.
The prison on Portland opened in 1848, it was constructed to hold the convicts that were deliberately brought into the area to work as labour in the quarries and on the new breakwaters that the government were constructing for Palmerston’s safe harbour. This was extremely dangerous work, both for the prisoners who toiled in the government quarries, and the freemen who worked long side them.
One young man, 34-year-old Frederick Goody was about to discover just how dangerous they were.
Frederick was a good old Essex lad with a very troubled past and was no stranger to the law. Most of his crimes were around the theft of food, so we can only surmise that this was the sole way he could eat Maybe his family were poverty stricken and it was a way of life for them… survival.
His crime spree started at a very young age. On the 18th May 1847 Frederick was hauled before the courts charged with theft, he was lucky that time as he was found not guilty. Already at the tender age of 12 Frederick was marked boy.
By the year 1850, aged 15, Frederick was stood before the courts again. The 9th April saw him in the dock along side two other lads, William Drury and Charles Deson. This time their crime was of a more serious nature, the three of them were convicted of breaking and entering a house. The 3 lads had broken into a bakers and stolen a bag of flour…then proceeded to leave an incriminating trail as they made their way back to their lodgings! Once the police were involved, it didn’t take them long to find and follow the betraying track of grey powder, which led straight to the removed railing… that led them to their house, and the flour that smothered their clothing…they didn’t seem to be the most competent of criminals.
The magistrate decided that the eldest boy William was the ring leader and he got the longest sentence, Frederick and his accomplice were given 6 months.
Frederick was before the courts again in 1856, this time convicted of the theft of items from a house in Halstead. Convicted of Burglary, and having had fallen foul of the law before this time he received 4 Years Penal Servitude.
The year 1863 was to be Frederick’s date with fate. In October he was again up in court, having been found guilty of stealing 4 ducks and a hen from Mr Green, a farmer in Halstead. Frederick had been caught literally red handed. As he had stealthily made his way across the fields in the dark, he had the misfortune to stumble across the local bobby, who spotting something unusual about his shape, asked to see what was under his smock… no surprises there, 5 limp, warm bodies of the feathered variety appeared, throats cut.
For his umpteenth crime Frederick received 7 years penal servitude…and a one way ticket to Portland.
Frederick’s description taken from his arrival at the prison was of an uneducated, illiterate man who knew no scriptures or passages from the bible. Portland was a fairly modern prison for its time, and as part of the mens stay during their term, they received one afternoon a weeks lessons in a classroom. Ironic as it may seem, for many of these boys and men this was their only chance of an education that they had ever had in their harsh lives.
The lad was soon put to work in the quarries. The work was hard, though most prisoners tended to take their toil at a more leisurely pace much to the Portland quarrymen’s disgust, who had to slave away non-stop to make enough money to live on.
That didn’t stop Frederick from falling foul of fickle fate though.
As a large 2 ton slab of stone was being slowly tipped by a gang of men, Frederick for some unknown reason walked right under the slab just as it started its downward path of its descent…that was that…squashed flat as a proverbial pancake! With numerous broken bones and a head shattered like a battered pumpkin there was no hope of survival for this newly educated lad.
Frederick Goodey was buried on the 3rd April 1867 on Portland.
If you enjoy reading stories of Weymouth and Portland of old, why not buy a copy of my book Nothe Fort and Beyond. Enough gossip in there to fill your evenings.
Available at the Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum bookshops or on Amazon at
- 1862; Portland prison, The Pleasantness of Penal Servitude. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)