In contrast to the 1863 Carnarvon Committee, Gladstone’s Departmental Committee on Prisons 1 was not a child of panic, scandal or institutional breakdown. It grew instead out of a political mood and the well-timed campaigns and fortuitous interventions of several well-placed individuals. Administrative maladroitness and mishap played their part in the unfolding of events, as did accident. There is irony in the haphazard combination of circumstances which laid low Sir Edmund Du Cane’s official reputation and marked the end of his autocracy. He had constructed and finely tuned a machine based on a rationalistic philosophy. The mechanism had been designed to mesh, to be a system, immune to criticisms of superfluity or arbitrariness. But the attack which Du Cane had to face, and from which he ignominiously fled, was successful because of the randomness of its targets and the disparate motives of those who mounted it. Not all the accusations were accurate or valid; some of the attackers’ inferences were insupportable; some of their methods were ham-fisted and unfair; and the motives of leading figures were far from pristine. There were further ironies in the amateur and inefficient way in which the departmental inquiry was conducted. Finally, some of the most important issues of policy and administration went unexplored, and a major portion of Du Cane’s heritage, repackaged for Edwardian consumption, was passed to posterity. Much of the superstructure of imprisonment in England a hundred years later followed the outline of the foundations laid by Carnarvon and Du Cane, left surprisingly undisturbed by successive generations of politicians, administrators and reformers.