The jurisprudence of the Constitution—Roumanian courts—The Code Napoléon—Complaints of patronage—The penal system—Capital punishment abolished—History and effect of the abolition—Statistics—The prison system—Abuses—Enumeration of prisons—Employment of convicts—Ornamental art amongst them—Objects made by them—Absence of educational measures—Criminal statistics (and note)—Visit to the 'intermediate' prison of Vakareschti—An old monastery—Description of the prison—Scene in the court-yard—Untried prisoners in fetters—Promiscuous intercourse of prisoners—Mischievous effects—Views of a 'juge d'instruction' concerning the system—Various classes of prisoners—Lenient treatment of them—Partial employment—Safeguards against mutiny—Visit to the penal salt mine of Doftana (or Telega)—Former treatment of prisoners—A lingering death—Present treatment—Conditions of penal servitude—Compared with work of our colliers—Abuses—Descent into the mine—Its condition—Unearthly sounds and sights—Enormous salt cave—Floor of the cave—Convicts at work in chains—Mode of excavating and raising salt—Lighting the mine for visitors—Return to the surface—Visit to the penitentiary—Its discreditable condition—Alleged frauds upon convicts—General mild treatment of criminals in Roumania—Utilisation of convict labour—Comparison of cost and results of systems in Roumania and England—Favourable to Roumania.


As in the case of education, so, too, in regard to its judicial and penal system, the Constitution of Roumania contains many admirable provisions (articles 13, 18, 104, 105, &c.) for the maintenance of right and the suppression of wrong-doing. Equal rights, ordinary tribunals, speedy trial by jury, abolition of death punishment, these are the excellent principles upon which the judicial system is based; but neither there, nor for that matter in any country, are they completely put into practice. There is one Court of Cassation with sections, and a Court of Accounts at Bucarest, Courts of Appeal at Bucarest, Jassy, Craiova, and Focsany, and minor tribunals in the chief town of each district. The French Code of Jurisprudence is adopted, with modifications which would not interest our readers; but the penal system is somewhat unique, and is well worthy of a closer study and consideration. Of the miserable accommodation for the exercise of judicial authority in Bucarest we have already spoken in describing the capital. Lawsuits are very tedious; whether more so than in England we are unable to say. Great complaint exists of patronage in the appointment of judges, most of whom are comparatively young men and political partisans. This it is proposed to remedy by what would practically be popular election; whether the cure would be any better than the disease is questionable. The penal system, as we found it carried out in Roumania, is mild, utilitarian, and slovenly; and if all that was told us be true, we fear we must add that it is by no means free from corruption.

The chief points of interest to Englishmen are the absence of capital punishment and the substitution of forced labour for life, or for a long term of years, and the utilisation of penal labour in the salt mines and elsewhere. Capital punishment ceased de facto in 1852; for although it was not legally abolished, neither the then ruler, Prince Stirbey, nor his successor, Prince Couza, who governed the joint Principalities, would sign a death-warrant. It was legally abrogated in 1865, and the Constitution of 1866 declares that it cannot be re-established, excepting for military offences. No increase, but rather a diminution, of capital crimes has taken place since the change was effected; for although the population has doubled in the towns, where homicidal crime is most frequent, the number of offences has not materially increased. The following figures prove this statement:—

Total Committals and Convictions for Homicide.

Year Committals Convictions
1869 248 185
1870 249 154
1871 267 140
1872 327 204
1873 455 258
1874 258 167
1875 236 169
1876 386 250
1877 307 187

The punishment for murder with malice aforethought is now penal servitude for life, other phases of homicide five to twenty years, in both cases mine labour. In cases of infanticide, if the offspring is illegitimate it ranks as manslaughter. The following is a condensed summary, with brief comments of our own in parenthesis, of a report on the prison system which was kindly furnished to us by the Roumanian Inspector of Prisons, a zealous, well-meaning, and most courteous official, as are all Roumanian officials.


The penitentiaries are divided into two classes, 'preventive' and 'central.' In the central prisons three kinds of punishment exist, forced labour, confinement called 'reclusion,' and correction. The men condemned to forced labour work in the mines (in what manner we shall see presently) during the daytime, and at night they sleep above ground in the prison. On Sundays and fête-days they do no work. The product of the labour of the convicts belongs of right to the State, but in order to encourage the prisoners three-tenths is given to them. (We may at once say that this is not faithfully carried into practice, as we know from personal enquiry that many of them are compelled to expend their earning to secure the common necessaries of life.) Aged and feeble persons are transferred to the prison of Cozia, where they weave, &c. The prisoners condemned to 'reclusion' work in tanneries and ropewalks, as for example in the prison of Margineni, and they are entitled to four-tenths of the products of their labour. In the correctional prisons the convicts cultivate the soil, make bricks, &c., and are entitled to half their wages. In all the prisons the convicts are permitted to employ their leisure time in making articles of use or ornament from materials furnished to them by the authorities, which are sold to visitors, and the State gives them a proportion of the fruits of their industry. (These articles we found to be beautifully made. They consist of egg-cups, paper-knives, forks, spoons, &c., carved in wood and resembling similar objects made in Switzerland and the Black Forest. One prisoner had made a tobacco-box of dough, painted and decorated it with artificial flowers of the same material, so that it was not distinguishable from porcelain; another had forged an axe-blade of steel, etched the surface and fixed it upon a polished ebony rod with a terminal spike, forming a miniature ice-axe, and so forth.)

Religious service is provided for the convicts, but so far as we could learn no educational means whatever, although, according to various reports which were handed to us, by far the larger proportion of the prisoners are Roumanians who can neither read nor write.

The total number of persons, men and women, confined in the sixteen State prisons in Roumania in 1880, including untried offenders, was 5,252, or about one per thousand of the whole population. Of these 850 were undergoing forced labour in the mines, and 2,491 were imprisoned for less serious offences. Only 265 were minors, and about 100 or 150 women. A strange contrast to our criminal statistics. Besides the inmates of State prisons there were 1,665 persons confined in the district prisons on January 1, 1881, who had been convicted of minor offences.


One of the most remarkable phenomena in the eyes of a stranger visiting Roumania is the application of monastic edifices to lay uses. The monastery of Sinaïa is, for the present at least, a royal palace; the Coltza Hospital at Bucarest is an old convent. At Brebu (or Bredu), near Campina, is a monastery apportioned to the Asyle Hélène as a holiday residence for the girls; the State archives are deposited in the monastery of Prince Michael in Bucarest, which has been set aside as the residence of the learned philologist Professor Hasdeu, in whose charge they are placed; and so, too, the 'intermediate' prison of Vakareschti is a large monastery close to Bucarest, of which the towers are conspicuously visible as one enters the city by rail from Giurgevo. On approaching this building, which stands upon a considerable eminence, by road from the capital, the only feature which attracts attention, and shows that it is not an ordinary monastery, is the sentinel pacing to and fro outside, but the moment you enter through the portal its real character becomes apparent. You find yourself in a large square curtilage, or, more correctly speaking, an extensive quadrilateral, in the centre of which stands a church of the usual Byzantine order, the four sides of the quadrilateral being the old monastery buildings, two stories high, converted into prisoners' cells and dormitories, kitchen, a workshop for making paper-backed books (cartons), and the quarters of the prison officials. The scene as one enters the place is a strange one indeed, and resembles what the Fleet Prison must have been in its palmy days, with certain very significant modifications. It is the receptacle of various kinds of prisoners, men and women awaiting trial and others undergoing short sentences. All those were, on the occasion of our visit, at large in the court, and some of the first-named who were accused of homicide were chained at the ankles by order of the 'Juge d'Instruction.' There were about a dozen of them so manacled, and before we left (the Chief Inspector of Prisons being our guide) these men complained bitterly of the hardship of being chained when, as they asserted, they were innocent. All classes of prisoners seemed to associate without restraint, and although perfect order prevailed, this freedom of association and conversation must be, and indeed is, most inexpedient and injurious. Young men new to crime herd together with hardened criminals, and we were told by a Juge d'Instruction, to whom we subsequently spoke on the matter, that the free intercourse is greatly provocative of crime. 'Young fellows,' he said, 'who, when they are first arraigned, are disposed to admit their guilt and repent, come before us, after a temporary adjournment of their cases, with quite another story, evidently prompted by some hardened criminal whom they have met in the intermediate prison.'

Every class was represented there, from the comparatively well-dressed swindler and forger to the peasant and half-naked gipsy. The prisoners appear to be leniently treated, and those who are unconvicted are permitted to purchase such food as they please. The cells and dormitories are not very clean, but they are comfortable compared with those in another prison, to be referred to presently; the ventilation within doors is good, and the open court has all the advantages of a healthy convalescent institution. The food appeared very good; certainly the soup was so, and altogether there could be no complaint on the score of harsh treatment, although some men were, on sufficient grounds, placed in solitary confinement. The chief defects are free intercourse amongst the prisoners, want of cleanliness, the absence of educational means, and only partial employment of the prisoners, some of whom are engaged in the book manufactory, whilst the greater proportion lounge about in idleness. Our guide, the Chief Inspector, expressed great anxiety for an improved system, and pleaded, as usual, the want of necessary funds. Although there appeared to be an amount of liberty inconsistent, as it seemed to us, with prison discipline, all attempts at mutiny would be easily suppressed if they should arise; for there are always about ninety soldiers in the barracks, attached to the prison, and the prisoners are well aware that insubordination would be immediately quelled and punished. But we have said enough of this rough and ready mode of dealing with the lighter forms of crime, and must now ask our readers to accompany us on a somewhat unpleasant though interesting excursion to one of the establishments where the worst class of convicts expiate their offences against society—a penal salt mine.


There are five salt mines in Roumania, two of which are worked by convicts, and the one we propose to visit is that of Doftana, generally known as the Telega mine, which is situated at a short distance from Campina, a station on the railway line, about halfway between Ploiesti and Sinaïa. Before descending into the mine, however, a few particulars concerning the treatment of the prisoners maybe of interest. These are men (never women nor young persons) sentenced to penal servitude for a period of ten years or more, and until the year 1848 they lived, or rather died a slow death, entirely in the mine. They were compelled to sleep in their clothes on the floor of rock salt; never saw the light of day after they had once entered the mine; and whatever might have been the nominal term of their sentence, disease and their unnatural surroundings invariably cut short their miserable existence after about four years' confinement. Now they work in the mine from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter, and from 6 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. in summer, and then leaving it, they march to the penitentiary, about a mile distant. They work in gangs of about six or seven, and each man is obliged to raise at least 700 kilogrammes (about 14 cwt.) of salt per day. For that quantity they receive, or at least they are credited with, 30 per cent, of their wages, which are fixed by tariff, and for all above 700 kilos they get half their wages. These are reckoned at fourteen centimes per 100 kilos up to 600, and eighteen centimes per 100 for all above. So far as the actual labour is concerned, we have no hesitation in saying that it is not nearly so exhaustive nor painful as that of thousands of our English colliers, besides being free from the dangers which constantly impend over our poor miners, but there are some serious and quite unnecessary hardships inflicted upon the men. One of these is that they get nothing to eat until noon, and therefore, unless they buy food with their earnings, they must walk to and from their work and labour for several hours upon an empty stomach; another is that the benevolent intentions of the State in regard to the stimulus of remuneration are defeated by the neglect or dishonesty of certain of the officials. The prisoners now rarely work out their term. Either their sentences are shortened for good conduct, or on some special occasions a certain number are pardoned by royal grace, and we were informed that they rarely die in penal servitude. And now let us descend into the mine, a proceeding which will be facilitated in the reader's thoughts if he will kindly take before him our little plan, which is reduced from the engineer's drawing of a section actually in use on the spot.

The descent is effected on foot through a vertical cylindrical shaft used for that purpose only, and divided at intervals by platforms which communicate with one another by good broad wooden staircases. The visitor is provided with a lighted candle attached to the end of a stick, which serves at the same time as an excellent test of the purity or impurity of the air in the mine, for the lower he descends, the more frequently he will find his light to be extinguished by carbonic acid gas, arising chiefly from the exhalations of the convicts. There are no inflammable gases in the mine, and the men work with naked lights. As he descends ladder or staircase after staircase, the visitor becomes conscious of the presence of human beings in the mine, for strange unearthly sounds greet his ear more and more plainly as he approaches the long gallery which traverses the mine at about 110 feet below the surface; and this effect is rendered still more weird through the surrounding darkness, relieved only by the faint light of his candle and those of his companions. From moment to moment he hears hollow echoes of the human voice uttered in snatches and accompanied by a continuous clanking of chains, which makes his blood creep until he has become to some extent accustomed to the sound. The shaft through which he is descending is cut and rounded with great precision, first through a mixture of clay and rock-salt, and then in the solid rock-salt itself. To render it impervious to water he will find the wall here and there lined with buffalo hides.

Arrived at the horizontal gallery the visitor passes along it until he comes to a platform guarded by a fence or railing, and then he finds himself near the roof of an enormous cave which is probably unlike anything to be seen elsewhere.

We have been in a good many strange localities, and have witnessed many impressive scenes both on and under the earth's surface, but we confess that none has ever been comparable to this one. All is dark excepting where our candles cast a faint glimmer about our immediate neighbourhood, and far below we now hear the voices, as well as the rattling of the convicts' chains, more continuously and distinctly, and see numerous lights dancing about fitfully in small clusters. Those are the candles of the convicts who are cutting rock-salt in gangs on the floor of the cave. Continuing our descent down another flight, or rather series of flights, of stairs, we at length arrive at that floor which is about 200 feet from the surface, and there we find ourselves surrounded by homicides, burglars, and the very dregs of the criminal ranks of Roumania. There is no guard with us; and, indeed, of what use would even a small escort be against about two hundred and fifty desperate ruffians armed with pickaxes if they thought fit to unite in an assault upon our little party? They have no such intention, however, and the feeling of the visitor is rather one of pain and sorrow to see so many able-bodied fellows manacled than of fear in their presence. The mode in which they get the salt is by cutting an oblong figure in the floor, deepening this until it resembles a mound, and then cutting the block thus formed transversely into smaller ones and breaking the salt out in lumps.

Their work, which is little if at all impeded by their light chains, is performed with pickaxes; and, as already stated, they raise in this manner from 700 to 1,400 kilos (14 to 28 cwt.) per day, which is conveyed to the surface through a special shaft.

The cave is 80 feet high and 400 feet long, and there is another smaller one at right angles with it, shown by a dotted line upon the plan, and every part of it, floor, roof, and walls, is of solid rock-salt. A curious effect is produced by the officials of the mine causing a mass of lighted tow to be dropped through the shaft used for raising the salt, whilst the visitors stand below; this partially illuminates the cave in its descent, and shows its vast proportions. But there is nothing further to detain us in this great chamber of crime, so we will again mount the ladders and seek the genial air and sunshine above ground. The penitentiary in which the convicts are confined after they leave the mine is about a mile distant, and as we drive thither we pass small bodies of them trudging along in the same direction and manacled at their feet. It is a large barrack-like structure, with dirty dormitories, where the men lie in long rows upon wretched pallets. The air of these dormitories is foul, and burning resin is used to fumigate them. One of our companions, a young Roumanian, remarked that during the day the convicts breathe an atmosphere vitiated by their own exhalations, whilst at night they are suffocated by the fumes of resin. Their food is wholesome enough, consisting of mamaliga and soup. For making the latter the prisoners receive, theoretically, meat at the rate of 100 grammes (3-1/2 ounces) per head; but when we instituted a diligent search for some, bones only were the result, and one of the gentlemen observed that the meat was consumed a mile off, meaning at the quarters of certain officials, whilst the bones fell to the prisoners' share. However this may be, one fact was admitted, namely, that by some process of conversion, known only to the initiated, the convict rarely sees his share of his wages, and certainly receives no more nourishment than is necessary to keep body and soul together. It is said that they spend their earnings in luxuries, and probably some may do so; but that the officials are poorly paid, and that it is difficult to find an honest one, these are statements we heard on authority which it was impossible to discredit.

As we have said, however, the rules of the prison are framed with a view to the welfare of the convicts, with the exception that nothing is done to educate them. But there are no harsh punishments; if a man misbehaves himself, his chains are shortened, and very bad conduct is punished with solitary confinement. The prisoners, we were told, are never whipped nor otherwise ill-treated; and if it be true that men who are sent there for robbery are themselves often the victims of plunder at the hands of officials, the minister who is at the head of the department involved will no doubt take measures to prevent the continuance of such an iniquitous example.

And after all there is another phase of this question which must not be lost sight of when we criticise the institutions of a young nation which has only just achieved its independence, and whose first step was to abolish the vindictive capital sentence of 'a life for a life.' The first law of nature is self-preservation, and Roumania is still obliged to economise in all departments of the State in order to place her national police—her army—on a sound footing. It is wonderful how she is able to conduct her department of justice even as she does. Her convict labour is so well utilised that it leaves her a handsome profit. Her total expenditure on all judicial and penal matters in 1880 was under 170,000l. with a population of 5,000,000, whilst with only seven times that number of inhabitants the Government outlay of Great Britain in the same year amounted to the enormous sum of 5,922,443l., without reckoning the heavy local burdens for the protection of life and property. And yet both life and property are certainly as secure in Roumania as in England, without the halter or the cat, two of the barbarous expedients for the prevention of crime which are still employed in our boasted Western civilisation.

And now
The arena swims around him; he is gone
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.
He heard it, but he heeded not; his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away:
He recked not of the life he lost nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
There were his young barbarians all at play,
There was their Dacian mother—be their sire,
Butchered to make a Roman holiday.
All this rushed with his blood. Shall he expire,
And unavenged? Arise, ye Goths, and glut your ire!
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, iv. 140.
He was more
Than a mere Alexander, and, unstained
With household blood and wine, serenely wore
His sovereign virtues—still we Trajan's name adore.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, iv. 111.