Soldiers were widely acknowledged as by far the most troublesome of all the categories of prisoner in the house of correction at Brixton. At times they made up to a fifth of the prison’s population. They were delivered from their barracks following courts martial and kept separate from the other inmates, with their own accommodation and treadwheel.
In March 1833, a group of 38 soldiers – mostly from the Guards – began to show signs of insubordination. It had started with a refusal by some to work on the treadwheel, who only complied when threatened with solitary confinement.
Later in the day a large stone was thrown over the wall of the soldiers’ yard and through one of the windows of the governor’s house. As evening approached, their spirit became more ‘clamorous’ – and many used ‘oaths and exclamations’ that they would not suffer further imprisonment.
The governor, Lieutenant John Sibley, who had been in the post less than a year, addressed the men, pointing out the consequences of their conduct and the folly of resisting the prison regulations. They responded by pulling down brickwork to use as missiles against the prison staff.
All now refused to go to their cells and even the threat of firearms would not move them. With only fourteen officers available, Sibley called in the police, who arrived in number and with staffs and were soon able to quell the protest.
The subsequent report by the Surrey magistrates expressed their frustration at Brixton being forced to take such numbers of insubordinate soldiers, and who resolved to write to the secretary of state to complain.