This drawing is one of a group of works by Romney pitting the heroic valour of the philanthropist and social reformer John Howard (1726-90) against the disease and desperation that was rife in prisons during the 18th century.

Howard exposed the horrific conditions experienced during prison and hospital visits in his book 'The Lazarettos of Europe', published 1789, one year before the author himself succumbed to jail fever in the Ukraine. Howard is shown emerging from a dark arch, his hands held up in horror, as the jailer (far left) recoils in fear of his accuser. At the right a woman dies in the arms of a fellow prisoner; and, in the centre, others appear shackled and seemingly deranged as a result of their ordeals. The impassioned style of the drawing is typical of Romney's later works but it is unclear as to whether the sketch was intended as a study for a painting.

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