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Red Newgate: Her Majesty's Prison Syrtis Lapis

A Colonial Prison for Space: 1889

by John Gannon


As the British presence on Mars has grown with each passing year, more and more of their social systems have become established in the Martian Colony. Amongst the first to be implemented was the British Legal System with all of its courts, barristers, juries, and judges. Judges lead to judgements, and in many of these cases, incarceration is called for. In the Crown Colony of Syrtis Lapis, incarceration means prison, and prison means Red Newgate.

The History of Red Newgate

Originally, those individuals who had been convicted of offences and sentenced to periods of confinement, were held in the guardhouses of the various military barracks throughout the colony. However, by late 1881, it was apparent to all that there was a need for a central prison in which to house the growing number of convicted criminals. As Syrtis Major was at the heart of the Crown Colony, it was decided that the new colonial prison should be established there. As the original Syrtis Major Prison had been destroyed during the siege of the city, Colonial Officials approached the Colonial Building Authority for a suitable site that could serve to house Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) Syrtis Lapis.

The site eventually selected was located a few miles Northeast of the city itself. It had originally been a Martian monastery from the time of Seldon VII, but had been abandoned for many years. Once the decision had been made, the structure was renovated by the British so it could be used as a prison. During the renovations, many comparisons were made between HMP Syrtis Lapis and Newgate Prison, a famous British gaol on Earth. During the reconstruction, unknown workmen put up a makeshift sign, naming the site "Red Newgate". The nickname stuck and now, with the exception of official documents and correspondence, HMP Syrtis Lapis is known by one and all as "Red Newgate". As the major Colonial Prison within the Crown Colony, it holds all those felons, both Human and Martian alike, who have run afoul of English justice.

Prison Description

The prison itself is a foreboding, dingy-looking, foul-smelling place, despite the regular cleaning and washing carried out by the inmates under the supervision of the guards. Entrance to the Prison is gained by passing through the Central Gatehouse, the only entrance. The Gatehouse is manned by six guards who control access through the two sets of metal-reinforced Wooden Gates. The exterior wall is some 40 feet high, with a base of almost 25 feet narrowing to 10 feet at the wall's peak. The top of the wall is mounted with a catwalk. This allows the guards in the four corner towers to patrol the length of the North and South Walls. Each corner tower is manned by three guards and is fitted with a 3-barrelled Nordenfelt machine gun in each tower, but the weapon is normally unmounted and unloaded, except during times of crisis. The Western and Eastern Walls each have a smaller guard mount situated midway from where the guards scan the interior of the prison. These tower positions hold two guards each, and have no special weapons mounted in them. The interior of the prison has been segregated into three holding areas for Human and Martian prisoners. The western section is reserved for Martians, with Hill and Canal Martians being housed in separate cell complexes. They do share common access to the Prison Yard, though. A small note here is that, despite the many clashes with High Martians over the years, none of the winged warriors who have been captured ever lived long enough to be sent to Red Newgate, so no facilities exist for them.

Like its' western counterpart, the eastern (Human) compound is divided into two specific areas. The first area contains one cellblock for British citizens and one for non-British citizens. Like the Martians, these two groups share a common Prison Yard. The second area on the eastern side is known as the Inner Blockhouse and is composed of a walled compound with Inner Bailey, a single prison complex and a small exercise yard. Within this compound are held "Special Prisoners" (Fenians, Foreign Military Prisoners, Spies, etc). These prisoners have their own, segregated Prison Yard for exercise, on those occasions when they are even allowed out of their cells. Each of the three compounds is accessed by a single compound gate, which is manned by one guard at all times. There are ten guards on call in the Central Area who patrol the compounds on hourly schedules.

Running along the north wall, there is a special cell block which connects the Human and Martian compounds of the prison. It is known as "Tyburn Block". This is in reference to Tyburn Tree in England, a landmark notorious for its hangings and executions. In Red Newgate, Tyburn Block is death row, and those who have been sentenced to hang, be they Martian or Human, are held in this building. It is accessible to either compound via a one-way door at each end of the block. and located directly in the centre of the building is the Executioner's Dock containing the gallows. Normally unmanned, when there are one or more prisoners on Death row, there will be two guards stationed within the block.

Within the Prison Central Area is the Prison Administrative Office. This building contains the Offices of the Warden, Chief of the Watch, Prison Records Office, Medical Clinic, Staff Kitchen and the Staff Dining Hall. Also located in the Central Area are the Supply Buildings and the Armoury. The security of Red Newgate is a secondary function of the Colonial Police Force, who provide the guards for the facility and handle the prison administration on behalf of the Colony. The guards are basically normal Police Officers and the Prison Warden and other administrators are employees of the Colonial Office. Total guard population is 105 men, but they are employed in three shifts of 35 guards each, so no more than 70-odd guards would ever be in the prison at any one time. The Prison administrative staff numbers only nine people, including the Warden and consists of the Doctor, his assistant, two clerks to assist the Warden, The Chaplain, and the Commissary Officer, and his two cooks/assistants. Rifles and Batons are the normal weapons of the guards, though some shotguns are available. The Warden and his clerks are armed with revolvers (normally not carried but left in their offices), while the remainder of the administrative staff go unarmed, except in emergency situations.

Life in Red Newgate

For those who have been convicted and incarcerated at Red Newgate, life can be a mind-numbing routine of inspections, drudgery, and more inspections, interspersed with church and the occasional visitor. Those sentenced to imprisonment will be taken from the courts to the Colonial Police Force Barracks for transport to Red Newgate. Taken by prison wagon, the convicts are led through the Central Gatehouse to the Prison Administrative Building where they are registered and logged in, medically inspected and certified fit for confinement (Convicts are ALWAYS fit, no matter what the true state of their health), they are then taking to the Prison Quartermaster where they are issued their Prison uniform and kit (grey khaki shirt and pants, slip-on boots, brimless cap, tin eating dish, tin cup, spoon, course towel, small piece of soap and a book of Psalms). After Registration, the prisoners are then taken to the appropriate compound, where the Watch Commander assigns them a cellblock and a cell.

For prisoners in Red Newgate, each begins at 5:30 AM with Prison Muster, followed an hour later by a breakfast of bitter tea and lumpy porridge. From 8:00 AM until 1:00 PM the prisoners are put to work, either cleaning part of the prison, or at make-work tasks such as digging a mountain of sand in one place, moving it to another place, and then being ordered to transport it to it original position. Following Second Muster, lunch at the prison consists of more tea, cold meat broth, and bread. After lunch, the prisoners are returned to their cells, as the heat of the afternoon makes any form of hard labour impractical. During this time, prisoners will be subjected to random personal searches (their cells having been searched during the morning labour period), they will be permitted to report to the Prison Doctor for medical attention, receive visits from family and friends (though such visits are strictly monitored), or other personal activities. At 6:00 PM, all visitors are removed from the prison and the Prison Hospital is closed for the day, followed by Third Muster. Prisoners are then fed supper, which usually consists of some sort of meat (Gashant or Ruumet Breehr being the usual), cooked vegetables, more bread, and of course, tea. Prisoners are returned to their cells after supper, followed by Final Muster, Lock Down, and Lights Out at 9:00 PM. The only variation to this schedule is on Sundays, when the Morning Work Period is replaced by compulsory church services. Sunday supper is also the best meal of the week, as the cook's use this meal to clean out all leftovers from meals gone by. Only executions cause the Prison Staff to deviate from this schedule.

On days when executions are scheduled, Prisoners remain in Lock Down throughout the day, except for Trustees who are used to deliver meals and perform essential chores. Grim experience has found that such measures are necessary to avoid riots and other acts of frustration and despair on the part of the prisoners. Executions occur at 12:00 PM and are performed in Tyburn Block. The method of execution on Mars is hanging.

Prison Personalities

The Warden

Thomas Pendergrast is a career civil servant with the Colonial Civil Service. Pendergrast is a veteran of India and Egypt who transferred to Mars four years ago where he worked in the office responsible for the Colonial Police Force. He was appointed Warden last year and is 18 months from retirement, and plans to finish out his career as Warden. He will remain on Mars after retirement, having acquired a home in Syrtis Lapis. No stranger to rough conditions on the frontiers of the Empire, Pendergrast is a capable administrator and moderately skilled jailer. He is unphased by the nature of his charges, and is fully capable of using the pistol in his office, should the need ever arise.

The Commissary Officer

George Corry came to Mars nine years ago as part of the Army's Commissary Corps. Six years ago, he transferred to the Colonial Civil Service and has been at Red Newgate for the last four years. Capable and efficient, though a bit too meticulous for some. Corry is somewhat intimidated by the prisoners in Red Newgate, and tries to have as little contact with them as possible, preferring to leave such dealings to his assistants. Given a weapon, Corry would probably be as much of a danger to his own side as to any foe.

Commissary Assistant

Harry Bellows is well suited to his employment - he belongs in a prison. Bellows is a sneak, a filcher, and a smuggler of contraband, if the price is right and the risks minimal. Bellows came to Mars three years ago, one step ahead of a London Police investigation into the fencing of stolen goods. He acquired his current job through a friend in the civil service commissary, with whom he has an arrangement for bringing contraband into the prison. Bellows knows criminals both inside and outside of Red Newgate. He's the man the prisoners go to when they want something.

Watch Commander

Alfred Peach is only a slightly better person than some of the men he guards. A former Corporal and Military Provost, Peach is huge, hulking man of poor disposition. He joined the CPF two years ago after the Shastapsh Campaign and volunteered for Prison duty shortly afterwards. His hard, bullying manner with the prisoners is looked upon as a positive trait by his superiors, and have resulted in his elevation to one of the three Watch Commander positions amongst the guards, though in truth Peach is simply a bully. He has beat up several prisoners over the years and a couple of inmates carry scars and grudges.

Old Bill

Old Bill bears a striking resemblance to Ben Gunn from the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Bill has a been a prisoner here since Red Newgate opened, and it is now his home as much as any place ever could be. Beyond the status of Trustee, Old Bill is left alone by guards and inmates alike, and within the regulated limits, has freedom of movement in the prison. Bill keeps to himself and can be heard babbling away to "Arthur", a small Martian Rodent that he keeps in his dirty shirt pocket.

Using Red Newgate

Red Newgate is an unusual, but interesting addition to a SPACE: 1889 campaign setting. With a moment's thought, Game Masters can find a myriad of reasons for their players to interact with the persons and place of the Prison. Players who violate the law and are punished for it can expect to end up in Red Newgate, just as likely though are those who will know someone within it's walls. For characters such as Smugglers, Poachers, Criminals, Fenians, Foreign Agents, Cloud Pirates, etc, Red Newgate is both a warning and an obstacle to their plans. Incarcerated characters will certainly strive to escape, while those on the outside will probe for weaknesses in the prison to allow for the successful rescue of their companions within. Military characters and those with government backgrounds may have worked there previously, or be selected to work there now. For reporters, Red Newgate abounds with potential stories and articles, and it is from the inmates that some of the rumours of stolen payrolls, buried plunder and what-not would first originate. For Martian characters, Red Newgate symbolizes the power of the Human on Mars, be that good or bad. It is one of the places on Mars where Human Law and Human Power are held to be absolute over native Martians. For the various anti-human cults and groups, Red Newgate would be a prime target for retribution, and striking at the prison would indeed be a blow against the Humans themselves.

In whatever manner the Game Master uses it, and however the Players may view it, Red Newgate stands a symbol of the authority and power of British rule on Mars.


Brown, Roger Lee. A History of the Fleet Prison, London : The Anatomy of the Fleet. Edwin Mellen Press; London, 1996. ISBN 0-7734-8762-X

Priestley, Philip. Victorian Prison Lives : English Prison Biography, 1830-1914. Olympic Marketing Corporation. London 1985. ISBN 0-4163-4770-3

Last Updated Monday, 04-May-2009 19:54:19 EDT

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