Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Month: April 2016

Criminal Love, Criminal Life

The Love Tokens website

The Convict Love Tokens website

The National Museum of Australia has the world’s largest collection of ‘love tokens’ made by convicts, dating from 1762 to 1856, and is displaying them online at http://love-tokens.nma.gov.au. The website has images of the collection of 314 tokens, organised by date, and showing biographical details of the individuals where they have been traced.

These tokens were made by convicts at around the time of sentencing, and given to their friends or relations as mementos. Many feared that they would never return from being transported, and so giving something of theirs to those left behind ensured that they would not be forgotten. Often, they were coins that were engraved by the convict, but they show the emotional ties a convict had to others, and bring these men and women to life.

Most of the tokens were bought by the National Museum of Australia from a British dealer. The identity of convicts associated with around 80 of its tokens is known; in some cases, a life story can be constructed by combining a variety of sources, as one case in particular shows.

One of the tokens on the website was inscribed by a 19 year old man named David Freeman. He engraved a coin for ‘Sarah’, marking it:

Dear Sarah, when this you see Rem[em]b[e]r me when In Some foreign Country.

And on the back, he recorded his own details:

David Freeman Born the year 1798 Banished 17th June 1818

Why did David feel that he was being ‘banished’ from his homeland, and his native London? To fid out, we go to the trial records on the Old Bailey Online. David, and his friend John Clark, had been tried at the Old Bailey on 17 June 1818, accused of pickpocketing. The charge was that on 24 May that year, at 9.30pm, they took a handkerchief from the pocket of merchant’s clerk John Baker while he was walking past St Clement’s Church on the Strand in London. Baker grabbed the men and gave them into the custody of a passing officer, William Bond.

Taking leave of loved ones prior to transportation...

Taking leave of loved ones prior to transportation…

The handkerchief was said to be worth five shillings – making it a case of grand larceny, subject to capital punishment (grand larceny was abolished in 1827, with grand and petty larceny being replaced by the offence of simple larceny). Transportation was an alternative to this for less ‘serious’ cases, though transportation for life was harsh enough (seven or ten years’ trasnsportation seem mild in comparison!). At their trial, Clark argued that he had never touched the handkerchief; Freeman’s defence was not the greatest – he argued that ‘it was thrown into my hand’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both men – Clark, who was 27, and 19-year-old Freeman – were quickly found guilty and sentenced to transportation for life.

On 30 September 1818, David set off on the Lord Sidmouth convict ship, bound for New South Wales. He arrived there on 11 March 1819. The 1828 census recorded him as a labourer working for Captain Richard Brooks at his farm at Denham Court, Lower Minto (now a suburb of Sydney).  David may not have forgotten ‘Sarah’, but he got on with his new life in Australia, knowing that he could never see her. In 1830, he applied to get married to Mary A Morrison, two years his junior, who was a free settler. His application was approved and the couple married at St Luke’s Church in Liverpool, New South Wales, on 16 June 1830.

An extract from the Goulburn Gaol Description and Entrance Books, from Ancestry

An extract from the Goulburn Gaol Description and Entrance Books, from Ancestry

He was pardoned nearly 22 years later, on 1 January 1841, but never returned to his home. In 1870, now aged 72, he was a prisoner in Goulburn Gaol in New South Wales.  Although he was still not ‘free’, the gaol description and entrance books enable us to build a physical picture of this transported man. He was just half an inch over five feet tall; of ‘feeble’ build, grey eyes and hair, with a heart tattoo on his left arm and missing two teeth from his lower jaw. This builds a picture of a seasoned prisoner, a transported convict who, though small, had survived a long and eventful life.

But two years after this record detailing David’s looks and build were made, he died. A full half century after he engraved his Sarah a pitiful message on a coin, he died on the other side of the world – presumably having never seen her again.

There is a news item on these love tokens in the latest issue of Your Family History.

On the trail of Amelia Dyer

I’m delighted to welcome Angela Buckley back to Criminal Historian, for a guest post about the subject of her new book…

Amelia Dyer, photographed on arrest in April 1896 (Credit: Thames Valley Police Museum)

Amelia Dyer, photographed on arrest in April 1896 (Credit: Thames Valley Police Museum)

After living in Manchester and London, I finally settled for a quieter life in the leafy village of Caversham, on the edge of Reading. However, little did I know that I was living close to the spot where a Victorian serial killer had disposed of the bodies of her tiny victims in the river Thames. The story of infamous baby farmer Amelia Dyer is tightly woven into Reading’s history and so I set out to piece together the details of her gruesome crimes.

I began my investigation from the first shocking discovery on this tranquil stretch of the Thames in the spring of 1896. On 30 March, a bargeman was towing a boat of ballast up the river when he spotted a brown paper parcel near to King’s Meadow, a recreation ground near to the Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory. He and his mate dragged the package towards the shore. They unravelled the damp parcel and cut through layers of flannel to reveal a child’s foot. The victim was a baby girl aged between six months and one year. She had been strangled with a piece of white tape that was tied around her neck and knotted under her left ear. Faint writing on the sodden package led the Reading Borough Police to local baby farmer, Amelia Dyer. I followed the story through the sensational headlines and graphic descriptions in the Berkshire Chronicle, just as the horrified Victorian residents would have done.

After running her baby farming business for some 30 years in Bristol, Amelia Dyer moved to Reading in 1895. Advertising in the local papers, she offered to look after children for a fee, usually five shillings a week, or £10 for a one-off adoption. Throughout her time in Reading she received a number of infants and older children into her household, which she shared with Jane ‘Granny’ Smith, an elderly woman whom she had met in the workhouse.

Nurse children were often neglected, drugged with laudanum and even starved to death, but Dyer was an even more heartless practitioner. When the bodies of babies Doris Marmon and Harry Simmons were found strangled in a submerged carpet bag, Chief Constable Tewsley of the Reading Police had enough evidence to build a case against her.

The Clappers Bridge, near Caversham weir, where the infants’ bodies were found.

The Clappers Bridge, near Caversham weir, where the infants’ bodies were found.

It has been an emotional experience following the trail of one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers. I have re-traced her steps along the pathways of the Thames, which have barely changed in just over a century. Overgrown with bushes and with dark, shady spots, it’s easy to imagine Dyer making her way after dark to the Clappers bridge to drop the babies’ bodies in the weir.

I have passed the two houses where she lived and I’ve been into Reading Prison, where she was held during her trials at the police court. I have discovered new information about the police officers investigating the case, including the invention of a special telescope that they used to scour the riverbed for bodies.

I have read some of Dyer’s original letters, in which she paints a picture of a cosy home waiting to receive a much-wanted adopted child. And even more chillingly, I have seen the photographs taken in 1896 of Dyer and her accomplice, son-in-law Arthur Ernest Palmer, as well as the images of the two fragile corpses of Doris Marmon and Harry Simmons.

This case, together with the convictions of other Victorian baby farmers, contributed to the gradual implementation of child protection legislation for fostered and adopted children. It is not known how many infants perished at Dyer’s hands, but it is likely to have been hundreds. Despite the tragic aspects of this dark story, I have been grateful for an opportunity to shine some light into the sinister world of Victorian baby farming and the plight of its tragic victims.

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Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley is available in ebook and paperback via Amazon and other online retail outlets.

You can find out more about Angela’s work on her website, angelabuckleywriter.com.

My review of Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders will be published in the June issue of Your Family History magazine (on sale 10 May).

Minding the lunatics: life for female prisoners

'Minders' would have slept with lunatic prisoners in their cells

‘Minders’ would have slept with lunatic prisoners in their cells

Prisoners at Wicklow Gaol in the mid 19th century had a range of jobs allocated to them. Men were recorded as making shoes and clothes. They were also painting, whitewashing, and pumping water. Women sewed or spun wool, washed bedding and clothing, and ironed. The painting and whitewashing was undertaken twice a year, with the latter being used on internal gaol walls because of its antibacterial properties.

Although cooking was seen largely as a task for female prisoners, in 1866, men were also recorded as cooking for the prison. Both genders were recorded as ‘attending lunatics’, but it appears that it was largely female prisoners who did this job.

There were different types of prisoner who were regarded as being ‘lunatic’. Some may have had been mentally ill, whereas others were epileptic.

A view of Wicklow town today - not the view that its prisoners would have had...

A view of Wicklow town today – not the view that its prisoners would have had…

Attending the lunatic inmates meant that other female prisoners had to undertake a daily routine including feeding them, washing them, and ‘keeping them calm and making sure they didn’t self-harm’. They also had to accompany these ‘lunatics’ around the prison at all times, even having to sleep with them in the same cell. In 1866, eight lunatics were recorded as being incarcerated in Wicklow Gaol – six men and two female. A report by the Inspectors-General at this time noted that these eight “presented a sad spectacle” in the prison:

“one of the former being very violent, and disgusting in his habits; and another, an epileptic idiot of the most brutish aspect.”

The task – or collection of tasks – involved in looking after these particular prisoners could be so onerous that women could miss out on important opportunities in terms of education, despite the increasing recognition of the importance of education on the rehabilitation of prisoners. Although the other jobs that women were made to do, such as spinning and weaving, had a use that women could employ when they were released from gaol; but the care of lunatics was more to save gaolers an unpleasant job than to serve a useful purpose for other prisoners.

Torture and the ‘Travelling Hangman’

Photo 28-03-2016, 12 46 41In the 1730s, an inventory of items in the care of gaolers Richard Hoey and Thomas Manning was taken at Wicklow Gaol. Amongst the items recorded were 11 pairs of handcuffs, two neck yokes, five yoke shackles, and six pairs of manacles (source: Lane Poole Collection, National Library of Ireland). These items do not fully illustrate the extent to which torture was employed at the gaol, however.

Wicklow Historic Gaol records that the torture of its prisoners was ‘very common’ in the 18th century, and included flogging, mutilation, ironing, the stocks and branding. Men and women, adults and children, were all subject to torture.

Another grotesque method of torture was ‘half-hanging’, whereby a rope would be tightened around a victim’s neck and then, when the individual lost consciousness, the rope would be loosened. Once the prisoner had regained consciousness, the rope would again be tightened. Anne Devlin, the housekeeper of rebel leader Robert Emmet, was subject to this in 1803.

Wicklow also employed a notorious character known as ‘The Walking Gallows’ or ‘The Travelling Hangman’. This was Lieutenant Hempenstall, a seven foot tall militiaman who was employed by various gaols as an executioner. However, he was also a torturer – he was famed for taking an instant dislike to certain members of the local poor, and would put a noose around their necks and ‘merely fling them over his shoulder and hang them across his back until they were dead’.

Photo 28-03-2016, 12 49 02Hempenstall was particularly feared as he refused to accept bribes  – so condemned prisoners knew that he was their executioner, they had no chance of bribing him to avoid their deaths.

Torture was considered so much a part of prison life at Wicklow that today, one cell has been recreated as a torture cell; here, visitors can ‘watch’ a prisoner being flogged, whilst blood splatters across the walls both inside and outside the cell. In a neighbouring cell, instruments of torture are laid out, making it clear how barbaric the treatment of prisoners in the past could really be.

The third of my blog posts on Wicklow Gaol, on life for female prisoners, will be published on Friday. For more information on the Gaol, see its website here.

 

 

A very dark tourism: Torture, incarceration and execution in Wicklow

Photo 28-03-2016, 12 14 08As part of a recent research trip to Ireland, I visited the 18th century gaol in Wicklow town, to look at how prisoners were treated here. This week, I’ll be publishing a series of posts on aspects of prison life here, but I thought I’d start with a general review of the site as a tourist attraction.

The ‘Historic Gaol’ as it has been termed is packaged as a bit of a themed day out with costumed interpreters – always a bit of a concern for me, as these ‘interpretations’ can be a bit hit or miss (and I’ve even heard interpreters give completely erroneous information out to visitors). It also means it has a completely different approach to Kilmainham Gaol in nearby Dublin, which only lets you round as part of a guided tour, but takes these (uncostumed!) tours very seriously, concentrating on the prison’s political history and leaving the cells and so on as they would have been – giving you the shudders as you go round.

But in reality, the costumed ‘warder’ only gives you, in effect, an introduction to the site before letting you loose on the rest of the gaol (although you have to follow a set path round). The first stop is the exercise yard, where there is a treadwheel in situ. The ‘prisoners’ depicted on this really showed how mind-numbing the treadwheel was, and how dangerous – it was stressed to visitors that the ‘windows’ at the top of the treadwheel were not for prisoners to look through, but for the spotting of bodies, as particularly younger, smaller prisoners may have slipped between the steps and fallen to their deaths.

After the exercise yard, you are taken back into the main building, where, on the ground floor, each cell has been fitted with something to look at – either a recreation of a cell scene, or a video screen telling the story of an individual or a type of offence, or an audio track again telling a story. The history of transportation is covered here in detail. Downstairs, the dungeons can be viewed; upstairs are more cells looking at different aspects of the criminal justice system and incarceration, including the treatment of lunatic prisoners and the jobs that prisoners undertook.

The multimedia elements are both good and creative; although I dislike the use of waxworks to show prisoners in their cells, they are at least used here for a distinct purpose (the torture cell, which I will cover in a separate post, is particularly fascinating). There is a recreation of a transportation ship, which offers something different to the usual prison experience, and the obligatory cafe and (small) gift shop.

Although the gaol’s website and Facebook page suggest that a visit will be more theme park than serious learning experience, they actually give the wrong impression. There is plenty of serious history here, informative and well presented; it’s well worth a visit.

Wicklow Historic Gaol is on Kilmantin Hill in Wicklow Town, and is open every day. See the website for more details.

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The next in my short series of blog posts on Wicklow Gaol, looking at torture and one particular torturer at the site, will be published on Wednesday.

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