Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Category: 18th century (page 1 of 4)

New crime and punishment records online

The Findmypast search page for its crime collection

Findmypast added a final 68,000 records to its collection of England and Wales Crime, Prisons and Punishments records last Friday, with its collection now being the largest set of English and Welsh crime records available online.

All these new records have come from The National Archives at Kew, and are taken from five separate series:

  • Home Office (HO 8) – convict hulks, convict prisons and criminal lunatic asylums, quarterly returns of prisoners
  • Central Criminal Court (CRIM 9) – after-trial calendars of prisoners
  • Home Office (HO 140) – calendar of prisoners
  • Home Office/Prison Commission (PCOM 2) – prison records
  • Home Office/Prison Commission (PCOM 3) – male licences, 1853-1887

This image is from Findmypast’s collection, and originated in the HO8 files (HO 8/161). Part of the ‘Convict Hulks, Convict Prisons and Criminal Lunatic Asylums: Quarterly Returns of Prisoners’, it records names, ages, offences, where and when convicted, the sentence, and the convict’s health and behaviour during the quarter of the year in which the returns were compiled. So here, we can see that William Jeffs, a 22-year-old burglar, had displayed ‘bad’ behaviour, whereas another convict had shown ‘exemplary’ behaviour despite being a convicted rapist.

As you might be able to tell from this image, not all the names are written out in full – several are just initials and a surname – and the location and year are not evident from this simple search result, so you may need to do a bit of cross-referencing or scrolling back through images to give you more information.

FMP’s records have come from The National Archives at Kew

Also, do not assume that the place listed at the front of the entire document is the only one mentioned – for example, with this image, some prior pages are from the Attested List of the Convict Department, Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Broadmoor, and for the quarter ending on 30 September 1864 – but the last entries in the original book are for the Invalid Convict Prison at Woking.

But if you suspect you have a criminal ancestor, these online records may help you track them – and their crimes – down; and even if you don’t have a convict in your family tree, they make for fascinating reading!

You can access the Crime and Punishment collection on Findmypast here – a subscription is needed for full access.

Female felons and controlling the community

Yarn spinning: an example of a spinning wheel from Hereford.

Yarn spinning: an example of a spinning wheel from Hereford.

As one of my particular interests is gender and crime, looking at how women have been represented in the criminal justice system both as victims and perpetrators of crime, as well as being vital witnesses in many case, I like to seek out other research in this area.

So with this in mind, and following on the footsteps of Findmypast’s recent blog post on finding 18th and 19th century ‘Wayward Women’, it’s good to see the British Library publish a post this week on Female Felons in the 18th Century. This post focuses on the women who can be found in the Calendars of Prisoners, and the cases the blog post cites include women accused of false reeling, being bastard-bearers, and of being idle and disorderly.

These offences were common ones for women in the late 18th century. Spinning was a job that women could do from home, whilst looking after their children – and in many cases, children could also help with the job.

However, some women took short-cuts, claiming to have spun a certain amount but actually doing less and taking extra yarn to others to be sold on. Yarn was supposed to comprise a certain number of threads; women convicted of false reeling had spun fewer threads onto a standard reel. For a fuller account of how yarn spinners were regulated in law, John Styles‘ paper ‘Spinners and the Law: Regulating Yarn Standards in the Worsted Industries, 1550-1800’ (Textile History, 44(2), 145-170 (2013) is highly recommended, and can be downloaded here.

Being accused of being ‘lewd’ by having illegitimate children was a form of social control aimed at the mothers, not the fathers, of children. Although theoretically any woman who had given birth to an illegitimate child could face a charge of lewdness, in practice, it tended to be particular women who were deemed to be troublesome, or who had had more than one illegitimate child, who were targeted.

'Une Savoyarde' by Noël Hallé

‘Une Savoyarde’ by Noël Hallé

Women who had several children were perceived to be ignoring the social and moral conventions of society, and therefore had to be ‘punished’ for their repeated transgressions. This appears to be the case with the woman noted in the British Library‘s post; Mary Parker served a year in prison in Wakefield in 1778 after being found to have had three ‘bastard’ children.

And idle and disorderly? This was a term that could be applied to an increasing number of actions under the vagrancy legislation of the 18th and early 19th centuries. It could apply to those begging, or singing for money; but also for a wide range of other occupations or types of behaviour, and was an opportunity to ‘remove’ poorer members of society from the community in which they had been living, thus obviating the need of that particular parish to give them poor relief by shipping them off to their ‘home’ parish. To hear a podcast on ‘Loose, idle and disorderly: Vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex’ by Tim Hitchcock, Adam Crymble and Louise Falcini, see the Institute of Historical Research website here.

Again a form of social control, the cases and offences detailed in the British Library’s blog post show how English society was preoccupied with both restricted the ways in which women could make a bit of money, and the way they tried to live their lives.

 

Joking is a hanging offence

It’s nice when two of my research interests – theatre and crime* – come together, so it tickled me to find the following short article in an Australian newspaper from 1907. Although our ancestors’ jokes can sometimes appear a bit opaque – or simply unfunny – to us, with the passing of time, this one is still clear.

 

David Garrick - what a wag

David Garrick – what a wag

Once, when David Garrick was passing Tyburn, he saw a crowd assembled to witness the execution of a criminal.

 

“Who is he?” asked the actor of a friend who was with him.

 

“I believe his name is Vowel,” was the reply.

 

“Ah,” said Garrick, “I wonder which of the vowels he is, for there are seven! At all events, it is certain that it is neither U or I.”

And that is your crime-related humour for the week. 🙂

 

*My next book, which fuses these two interests, will be published by Pen & Sword in 2017.  

Top Five: Historical Crime Books

I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, but have often shunned novels set in the past. My antenna is tuned in for anachronisms or generalisations, for a poor understanding of period or simply for an unbelievable story.

However, over the years, there have been a few books that have had me unable to turn the pages quickly enough. They have been quite different both in the periods they cover and how they approach history – some cover events which happened only a few years before the books were written; others fictionalise events or characters far more than others.

Historical crime fiction is currently undergoing something of a renaissance with three of my chosen books here being recent examples of the genre. I’m really pleased, in particular, to see the 18th and early 19th centuries being the focus of some great research and writing – I’ve always sung the praises of the 18th century, despite one publisher once telling me that “the 18th century doesn’t sell” and “it’s not sexy”. I’d beg to differ.

But anyway – here’s my list.

512qXgnErSL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

(Penguin, 2000)

It might be a bit of a cheat, as it was written less than a decade after the events it depicts – but it’s too good not to include it here. This book has had, and continues to have, much controversy over how fictionalised the iconic American writer made this tale, which details the horrific murders of the Clutter family in their Kansas home in 1959. Certainly, Capote writes a blend of fact and fiction, but in doing so, creates an incredibly powerful narrative both about murder and the motives of those who commit it. He shows the mundanity and hopelessness of the lives of the two men who carried out the offences – the bleakness of their lives set against the optimism of teenager Nancy Clutter, one of the victims.

 

 

libraLibra by Don DeLillo

(Penguin, 2011)

Those who follow me on Twitter will probably know what a *huge* fan of this contemporary American author I am. DeLillo is particularly interested in the media, and shares some similarities with the likes of Thomas Pynchon, but this is probably one of his most accessible books. It recreates the story of Lee Harvey Oswald – the assassin (lone or otherwise!) of JFK in 1963 – from his own perspective, creating a form of language that makes Oswald a real, if complex, character in a novelisation of his life. Norman Mailer’s Oswald’s Tale is another good ‘faction’ book of the same iconic American historical event.

 

 

UnknownThe Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin

(Simon & Schuster, 2014)

This is just a beautiful book. It features as it’s main character a woman – yay! – and is a gently unfolding, yet gripping, murder mystery and love story in one. Set in 18th century London, it opens with the murder of the eponymous silversmith, but it is fundamentally about his wife – her reaction to his death and how she lives in its aftermath. It is full of factual detail that is never overpowering (I dislike books that shove their research and their historical accuracy in your face – “Look at me! Look how clever I am!” – as much as I hate inaccuracies. Yes, I’m difficult to please). The story here is what takes precedence over the period; it’s simply a good story that happens to be set in the past.

 

 

51poQlQzpXL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

(Hodder, 2014)

I am so jealous of Hodgson for this book. The precursor of her latest book, The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, it is a meticulously researched book set largely in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison – where Thomas Hawkins is sent. A murder occurs, and Hawkins has to work out what has happened. As I say, the research is so detailed here, and it really brings 18th century London, and life in the debtors’ prisons, to life. It makes you feel both grim and dirty, angry and disbelieving, when you read of the way the impoverished were treated in the past, and the inherent inequality in how different debtors were treated even when they were all being kept in one place.

 

51bT9yipSwL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Detective and the Devil by Lloyd Shepherd

(Simon & Schuster, 2016)

Lloyd has been quietly developing a new genre, with his historical crime books that blend fact and fiction, natural and supernatural. This is the latest instalment, the third since The English Monster, which I really enjoyed until near the end, when the reveal about the murderer made me raise an eyebrow, I’m afraid. But I enjoyed this latest instalment right to the finish. Lloyd uses real people and events from the past 500 years, but particularly the early 19th century. His hero is Charles Horton, from the Thames Marine Police; his elderly boss is the equally real magistrate John Harriott, and even Charles Lamb makes an appearance.  Lloyd is equally at home with depicting the grimness of Georgian Wapping as he is with depicting the island of St Helena; and his main female character is a spirited woman who strives to shake off the limitations society has placed on her gender.

 

 

 

 

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.

Ancestry puts notices of wanted criminals online

A copy of the Police Gazette from 1831

A copy of the Police Gazette from 1831

Today, Ancestry has published more criminal records online. They are notices taken from The Police Gazette, which was used to pass on details of suspected criminals across the UK, and offered rewards for information.

The records include details of wanted suspected criminals, offenders in custody, and missing persons, and cover the periods 1812-1902 and 1921-1927. They can be searched by name, age, type, date and location of crime and will be of interest to anyone wanting to find out about a particular offender or even a victim of crime. Some also include police sketches.

The Police Gazette started publication in 1772, its full name being The Police Gazette; or, Hue and Cry. It dropped the last part of its title in 1839. The publication was produced by the Home Office and the Met Police until 1883, when the Met took on full responsibility for it. It was eagerly read, with cases used as the sources of newspaper reports. As far back as 1828, one regional paper noted that:

“The Police Gazette, or Hue and Cry, is absolutely entertaining.”

Michael Ostrog

Michael Ostrog

One of the offenders listed in The Police Gazette records released by Ancestry is Michael Ostrog (c.1833-1904), who was one of the suspects in the Whitechapel Murders – also known as the Jack the Ripper murders.

It was not surprising that Ostrog came under suspicion. He was a Russian-born con man, a thief who had claimed to have had surgical training and worked in the Russian Navy.

Ostrog had been charged with larceny, but failed to report to the police after being released from the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1888. The record noted his use of aliases – which included Bertrand Ashley and Claude Clayton – and described him as ‘a dangerous man’. His physical description is also given, noting moles on his shoulder and neck and ‘corporal punishment marks’.

Doubt has since been case on Ostrog’s involvement in the Whitechapel murders, as he may have been in jail in France during the period when the five supposed victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ were killed. He continued to commit crime long after his description appeared in The Police Gazette, and in 1894, when he was charged with obtaining jewellery under false pretences in Eton, he was described in the press as:

“a sinister-looking elderly man.”

Ostrog’s defence when he appeared before the Buckinghamshire magistrates was that he could not have committed the crime, as ‘he was in Banstead lunatic asylum’ at the time.

An 1829 edition of The Police Gazette (via the British Newspaper Archive)

An 1829 edition of The Police Gazette (via the British Newspaper Archive)

The Police Gazette for certain periods can already be searched via the British Newspaper Archive (the majority of its records come within the period 1850-1899, as far as I can see); this Ancestry release gives researchers a wider time period to search, and will also be useful for cross-referencing, as sometimes a search engine on one site can fail to find something but a different site’s search will get a result. In addition, if you have an Ancestry subscription but not a BNA one, you will now be able to access these fascinating records for the first time.

Sources: Nottingham Evening Post, 14 June 1894; Sheffield Independent, 9 February 1828

 

 

 

Calico Sarah, a thief who refused to die

William_Hogarth_-_Gin_Lane Sarah Wells was a woman from the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate in London. Not much is known of her life today, apart from the fact that she was a thief and a mother – but the criminal records of the early 18th century show that she was a strong woman who could hold her own against London’s men.

In January 1720, she appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with pick-pocketing. She was alleged to have stolen a silver watch from Robert Hoe on 16 December 1719.

The court heard that Hoe had spent some time drinking on board a ship on the Thames, and that afterwards, he made his way back into the city. On reaching Rosemary Lane, he asked someone the way to the Exchange; Sarah came up to him and said, “I am going that way and will show you”.

But instead, she led him a different, wrong, way – the way that led back towards her own lodgings. “I’ll put you right,” she told him, but he then felt for his watch, realised it was missing, and promptly accused her of stealing it, together with some money.

Sarah, realising that she had been rumbled, tried to put the watch back into his hand, but Hoe was having none of it. He tried to drag her towards a Justice’s house, but she cried out, “Everett! Everett!” This man, Everett, came over and started to beat poor, drunken Hoe. The high constable tried to get near, but somehow, Sarah managed to stop him helping for a whole hour, and was heard to say,

“Damn him for a son of a bitch! I wish I had not gave him his watch, it would have served to maintain me in Newgate. I would not have given him it again but that I did not know how to convey it off.”

In her defence, Sarah said she had been going to see her child, who was with a wet nurse, but Hoe had followed her and struck her several times, causing her to call “Murder!” He had then tried to run away, but she managed to hold him till a crowd of onlookers gathered.

The Old Bailey a century later

The Old Bailey a century later

The problem was that Sarah was unable to call any witnesses – not even Everett, who she claimed had only beaten Hoe out of self-defence. Because of this, and her poor reputation – being known as Calico Sarah hints at Sarah’s reputation for the theft of fabric* – she was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

But this was not the end of Sarah’s life – or not quite just yet. Exactly three years after her conviction, she was again brought before the Old Bailey. It appears that her death sentence was commuted to transportation.

One would think that might be regarded as a lucky escape, if one survived the journey to the American colonies, but not Sarah. She was now charged with having returned to England before the expiration of the time of transportation. She was now, again, sentenced to death.

This time, Sarah attempted to plead her belly – to claim that she was pregnant and should therefore not be hanged. On 8 February 1723, at the Justice Hall in the Old Bailey, she was declared quick with child, and avoided being executed with four less fortunate men. She was granted a conditional pardon in May that year.

Sarah was proactive as a thief, able to take advantage of those rendered virtually incapable through drink, and willing to take on men. She used language on the same terms, and gave as good as she got. Yet she was also willing to use her position as a woman, able to plead her belly and turn the insecurity of pregnancy into a means of prolonging her own life.

Sources: Old Bailey Online, t17200115-47 and t17230116-2; The National Archives, ref SP 44/81, f.285

*There is a brief mention of Sarah’s nickname in Lois A Chaber’s “Matriarchal Mirror: Women and Capital in Moll Flanders” (PMLA, 97:2 (1982), 212-226).

Killing off the pirates – ‘dead, dead, dead’

I’ve written before about pirates – and posted a short video-slideshow thingy on Vimeo about them. I’m fascinated by piracy, and by the history of Execution Dock in Wapping and its association with piracy. For anyone wanting to know about about this area of history, I’d heartily recommend the Museum of London Docklands‘ exhibition (complete with gibbet); but here’s another fascinating piece of history on Twitter today:

Naval and maritime historian Sam Willis posted this 18th century death warrant – dated 5 April 1722 – that condemns eight men to be ‘hanged by the neck till you are Dead, Dead, Dead’.

Black Bart's memorial stone, photographed by John Baiden.

Black Bart’s memorial stone, photographed by John Baiden.

These men were Bartholomew Roberts‘ crew members. Roberts (1682-1722) was a Welsh pirate who, after his death, became known as Black Bart.

Roberts died in a battle between two ships – HMS Swallow and the pirates’ ship, the Royal Fortune. His men were still drunk from an earlier victory over the Neptune ship, and may not have been much help to the Welshman. Whilst stood on deck, he was killed by grapeshot, and thrown overboard by his crew – Bart had wanted to be buried at sea.

As a result of the battle, 54 men were condemned to death – two were reprieved, but the other 52 were hanged. One crew member, John Philips (not the pirate John Phillips, who was hanged in Boston two years later), had tried to blow the pirates’  ship up by lighting the magazine with a match, but was prevented by two other men.

The warrant pictured was signed at Cape Coast Castle, a Swedish-built castle in Ghana. It was a commercial fort, which became capital of British possessions on the Gold Coast in the late 17th century. However, it was also a ‘slave castle, used for slave trading. Of the men captured by the Royal Navy after Black Bart’s death, 65 were black and sold into slavery.

However, the death of the ‘unbeatable’ Black Bart was seen as the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. Although pirates continued to be hanged, it could be argued that none captured the imagination in quite the same way as Black Bart.

Sam Willis’s new series, Britain’s Outlaws: Highwaymen, Pirates and Rogues, continues on BBC Four tonight.

 

London Lives: Talking about poverty and crime in the capital

UnknownI’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker’s new book, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (CUP, 2015) – and interviewing Tim about it – for the November issue of Your Family Tree. I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of crime or the history of London.

Here are the authors themselves talking about the publication, from outside the London Metropolitan Archives (thanks to @ourcriminalpast for the hat-tip!):

 

The November issue of Your Family Tree will be out at the end of October.

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