FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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Hunger Strikes in British Prisons, 1913-1940
Hunger Strike in British Prisons 1913-1940

A Digital Map of Hunger Strikes in British Prisons, 1913-1940

This digital exhibition seeks new ways of presenting research in the humanities.  It provides data on forcible feedings of hunger strikers in British prisons between the years 1913 and 1940.  The main source of this information is the “Register of Criminal Prisoner ‘Hunger Striking’ Other than Suffragists” located in the British National Archives.  Beginning on August 20, 1913, the Prison Commission of the Home Office began to require prison officials to report their hunger striking prisoners.  Of the 1,239 instances of prisoner “abstention[s] from food” it records, most occurred as hunger strikes with defined goals.  If prisoners were convicted of a crime and they refused to eat, the prison’s medical doctors and staff would forcibly feed the prisoners as a matter of routine to keep them alive.  On occasion the prisoners were not force-fed, however.  And, at times, the forcible feedings created new health problems for the prisoners, which were occasionally serious and, in at least one instance, fatal. 

Although refusing food in prisons has long occurred across the world, the hunger strike became particularly prominent and widespread following the hunger strike of Marion Wallace-Dunlop, a women’s suffrage activist, in London’s Holloway Gaol in July of 1909.  Then, following James Connolly’s September 1913  hunger strike in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, waves of Irish nationalists employed the hunger strike, and created another sphere of influence for the protest in His Majesty’s Prison Service.  Following the women’s suffrage movement and Irish nationalists, Conscientious Objectors imprisoned during the Great War began hunger striking in March of 1916.  Yet, as the “Register” these were only a portion of the 1,239 hunger-strikes.  

Prison officials were required to report information on the hunger strikes in the following categories:

Name and age.
Particulars of commitment.
Date of refusal to take food.
Dates when forcible feeding is resorted to, and number of times so fed.
Mode of forcible feeding.
Date when prisoner resumes taking food naturally.
Reason, if any, given by the prisoner for refusing food.

Our goal is to present a layered visualization of the recorded reasons for the strikes, the outcomes of the strikes, the methods and duration of the force feedings, as well as some details of the sentences of the prisoners and a focus on defined political hunger-strike campaigns.

In particular, hunger strikes by the Connaught Rangers and Sinn Fein soldiers, both in 1921, will be digitally mapped and presented alongside hunger strikes by Conscientious Objectors of the Great War, Russian protesters, smaller protest movements, mentally ill prisoners, and other groups.  The goal of the project is to examine how the hunger strike evolved as a practice following the women’s suffrage use of it—and to situate Irish hunger strikes within a greater context.  The project is also part of a larger book project, “Marion Wallace-Dunlop and the Modern Hunger Strike, 1878-1929” by Joseph Lennon, which traces the advent of the modern hunger strike.