Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Category: prison (page 1 of 3)

Crime and policing museums in the UK and Ireland

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle

I’ve started putting together a map of crime and policing museums from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This is a work in progress, and so will be added to, although do feel free to make your suggestions as to other places I should be listing!

I’ve already been to quite a few of these, and when I’ve got time, hope to put together short reviews or links to my published reviews of these sites.

My first visit to one of these sites was to Inverarary Jail back in 1995, when I was on a family holiday here. My aunt persuaded me to go with her for something to do, and so I have her to thank for getting me interested in criminal history at that point! The photos you can see on the map have all been taken by me; when I can find the ones I’ve taken of other sites, I’ll add those too.

Abandoned lives: concealed births and abandoned babies in Victorian England

There was a movement in the bushes as she walked down the path that led from her house to the road. Why she stopped to look, she wasn’t sure; perhaps because it was not a breezy day – it was simply cold, and still – or perhaps because the movement seemed unusual.

But stop she did, and stoop down to look more closely. It’s just as well she did, for there, lying amongst the foliage, yet not well hidden – as though somebody wanted it found – was a small bundle of cloths. She picked it up, and it moved; for there, well wrapped up against the cold, was a baby.

Lawford's Gate House of Correction, where Elizabeth Pratt was first sent. © Trustees of the British Museum

Lawford’s Gate House of Correction, where Elizabeth Pratt was first sent. © Trustees of the British Museum

The child was just three months old, and had not been there, in the garden in Stapleton, very long. At the Gloucestershire Assizes in February 1888, 21-year-old servant, Elizabeth Pratt, was found guilty of unlawfully abandoning it, but she refused to admit that it was hers, and even the judge in her case stated that he didn’t know whether the child was hers, or belonged to someone else.

Stapleton – now a suburb of Bristol – was only a village at that time, yet it already had a reputation for child related offences. In 1875, for example, a 33-year-old laundress, Charlotte Gingell, had been found guilty of the lesser charge of concealing the birth of her child after a naked baby girl had been found at the bottom of her well in Stapleton.

When questioned about it, she had tried to stab herself. Her case was deemed to be novel; many concealment cases were the result of young single women who had been seduced, and who hid the bodies of their illegitimate children to ‘hide their shame’ – according to the judge at Charlotte’s trial. Her case was seen to be far worse, as she was a married woman with two older children. She had been found guilty and sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour; but she was not found guilty of murder, despite evidence that the child had been born alive, and died due to either asphyxiation or drowning.

Charlotte appears to have been pregnant with a child by a different father to that of her elder children – then aged three and eight – and her brother and sister-in-law, who she lived with, had told her she would have to go and live somewhere else if she was pregnant. She was worried about her situation, and what would happen with regard to her work and her home if she gave birth to another child.

Like Charlotte Gingell’s, Elizabeth Pratt’s was seen to be a ‘very unusual case’. Usually, if a woman like Elizabeth had an illegitimate child and could not or would not take care of it, it might be looked after elsewhere – or she might even kill it, as the numerous infanticide cases in the 19th century show. There was, to some degree, sympathy with mothers in such a plight, and those charged with infanticide were often found guilty of a lesser offence, or reprieved if convicted.

But Elizabeth had not abandoned her child in the hope that the cold might kill it; she had not drowned it; she had not appeared to want it dead. Instead, she had wrapped it up warmly and left it in a woman’s garden, where it would be quickly and easily found. She could not keep her child, but she wanted it to survive and be cared for. This was recognised when her case was heard at the Assizes, the judge stating that ‘she had done nothing but abandon the child, and it was immediately afterwards found and taken care of.’

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Elizabeth was from a labouring family, and poverty may have helped to explain her offence. Her father, William, was a labourer in Cromhall, a village in south Gloucestershire, around 11 miles from Stapleton; his wife, Elizabeth, worked as a washerwoman. Neither were well-paid or secure occupations. The 1871 census shows that at that time, William and Elizabeth were maintaining seven children, aged between two and 13. Cromhall was a rural parish, and work was predominantly agricultural labouring.

By the age of 13, Elizabeth was working away from home as a servant, acting as nurse to a family in Berkeley. At the age of 18, she received her first criminal conviction. At the Coleford Petty Sessions on 8 January 1884, she was found guilty of stealing money, and sentenced to a month in prison.

In 1887, she became pregnant, and gave birth in the September of that year. She appears to have been able to look after her child initially – but what happened three months later to make her abandon her child? Could her parents no longer support her, or had she been in a relationship that ended? The records do not record more than the cursory details; we know that Elizabeth was just 4 feet 11 in height, had dark brown hair and could read and write imperfectly; but we do not know the motive for her abandoning her child after three months of looking after it. The records also fail to record whether the child was male or female, or what happened to it after it was discovered.

What is known is that poverty impacted on the lives of those around her. The record of her conviction is on a page full of petty offences – drunken behaviour, begging, hawking without a licence. They are offences committed by those at the bottom of the social ladder, who are trying to either eke out a living or drink when they have nothing else.

Elizabeth was initially sent to Lawford’s Gate, a House of Correction in Bristol. Then, at the Gloucestershire Assizes, Elizabeth was sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour in prison. She was discharged on 1 March 1888. She then returned to service, and in 1891 was working for the Reverend Gerald N Jackson at Tytherington vicarage (Tytherington being a village near Cromhall), acting as the family’s cook. Did the Jackson family offer her a bit of Christian charity? It seems unlikely that in a small community, near her birthplace and where her family lived, that they would have been unaware of her history and convictions.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

In Tytherington, Elizabeth seems to have made a life for herself. She met a new partner, a labourer named Thomas Creed, four years her junior, and on 5 August 1893, at the parish church in Tytherington, aged 26, she married him. The wedding ceremony was conducted by her employer, vicar Gerald Jackson. She then had three children – Beatrice, born in 1894, Lucinda Emily Maud, born in 1898, and John, born 1900 – before the family relocated to Caldicot, Monmouthshire, where Thomas found work as a fireman. In 1911, the family was living there, seeing their two younger children through school.

What happened to the poor child who was abandoned in a garden in Stapleton? Absent from the censuses, and not referred to by name in either press reports or prison registers, it is hard to tell. However, a William Stevens Pratt was born in the autumn of 1883 in the Thornbury district of Gloucestershire – which included Cromhall – and died there three years later. William was of course Elizabeth’s father’s name; and it was fairly common for illegitimate children to take their natural father’s surname as their middle name. Perhaps Elizabeth had fallen pregnant to a Mr Stevens’ child, and abandoned the baby, only for him to die aged three.

The abandoning of her first child, and her prior conviction for theft, indicate a troubled spell for Elizabeth as a young woman, living in a community with a limited range of options for a girl from a labouring family. It also shows that living in the Gloucestershire countryside was not a rural idyll, but one fraught with hardship, the struggle to find and maintain work, to get money, and to cope when difficult situations arose. The criminal registers and newspaper reports suggest that Elizabeth’s life was not, in this respect, an unusual one.

Based on records from the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry. One of the criminal records for Elizabeth states that she was born in Lydbrook, in the Forest of Dean; although this is feasible, as it is not too far away, I suspect that this is an admin error, for there are no other records relating to a woman of this name being born in that area at the right time, and other records give her birthplace as Cromhall.

Looking into the face of a criminal

Edgar Kilminster, aged 7

Edgar Kilminster, aged 7

This week, Ancestry has put online lots more criminal records – this time relating to prisoners in Gloucestershire. Although the records cover the period from 1728 to 1914, it is the later records that have received the most publicity, and for one key reason. Dating from the late 19th century, after the mandatory introduction of the criminal mugshot, Ancestry’s records include images of the men, women, girls and boys who came before the local police in a largely rural county.

Not only is this of interest to family historians, who might be able to see, for the first time, what their black sheep ancestors actually looked like (for many were from poor families, and might not have been able to afford to have their photograph taken professionally in any other context), it is of interest to the criminal historian, too, putting a face to a name; and a crime to a face.

Some of those detailed are very young at the time of their first surviving conviction; it is also possible to follow the pattern of offending for a repeat offender. One such pattern can be established for Edgar Leopold Kilminster.

Edgar was born in 1863 in Chalford Hill, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. He was the son of bootmaker William Kilminster – who was originally from Cricklade in Wiltshire – and his wife Harriet (nee Gardiner), born and bred in Chalford. William and Harriet had married locally two years prior to Edgar’s birth.

The Kilminsters were a large family; Edgar had several siblings, including older brother Joseph William, who followed his father into bootmaking, and younger siblings Harriet Florence Melinda (known as Florence), Annie Elizabeth, Alexina Laura, George Ernest, Percy Stanley, Amy Nella, Elsie Mabel, Della May and Gertrude*. Harriet Kilminster appears to have been pregnant on a regular basis from the age of 21 to 45.

St Mary's Mill in Chalford, by Chris Allen (used under creative commons)

St Mary’s Mill in Chalford, by Chris Allen (used under creative commons)

Perhaps with such a large family, it was hard to keep an eye on the children all the time. They needed to go to work at an early age – at 9, Joseph Kilminster was working in a silk mill (possibly St Mary’s, a textile mill in Chalford) and also attending school part-time, along with 8-year-old Edgar. It was a lot for two young boys; maybe they were bored in their little rural community, having such a rigid structure at such an early age; or perhaps they simply wanted to be able to get things that their parents couldn’t afford to buy them. Certainly, the two older boys were soon being noticed by the local police.

The first entry relating to the Kilminster family from the Gloucestershire Calendar of Prisoners is for seven-year-old Edgar, who was committed on 17 June 1870 for ‘stealing sweetmeats’, along with his brother Joseph, aged 9. The boys were found guilty and sent to the house of correction for seven days.

Edgar at the time was just 3’10”, an inch shorter than his hare-lipped brother, a brown haired, blue eyed boy with no prior convictions. But it was not his only conviction.

On 7 November 1876, by now aged 14, 4’12” and working as a factory hand near to his home in Chalford Hill, near Stroud, Edgar was again arrested by the police, and in December, appeared before the local magistrates at the local petty sessions. He was accused of having been ‘found on an enclosed garden of William Farmer at Bisley‘ – having been unable to give a good account of being on someone else’s property, Edgar was given the punishment of a month’s hard labour in the house of correction.

His record at this time notes that he had been known to local policeman PC Packer for 11 years, ‘has been here for stealing and once fined for stealing’; he was charged with, and convicted with, a local friend, George Mills.

Edgar’s offending now progressed to a more serious level, and in July 1879, now aged 16, 5’7″, and working as a labourer, he appeared at the Gloucester Assizes, charged with burglary. He was found guilty, and sentenced to nine months’ hard labour. It was noted by this time that he had four prior convictions; he was released on 30 April 1880.

The returns of habitual criminals, showing Edgar Kilminster's first entry on the right hand page, from Ancestry

The returns of habitual criminals, showing Edgar Kilminster’s first entry on the right hand page, from Ancestry

Edgar lived with his family in Chalford Hill until his late 20s, with his brother Joseph, now married and with a family of his own, living next door. In 1892, he married Mary Elizabeth Griffin in Bisley, and had a family of his own. However, a final surviving entry notes that Edgar Kilminster was convicted in 1897 of assaulting his wife of five years, and given 14 days’ hard labour. This was not his only offence between 1879 and 1897, though, as this final entry recorded eight prior convictions for the now strapping 34-year-old six footer.

One might expect Edgar to continue offending, and to continue living near his family in Chalford, working as a labourer. But instead, the next record for Edgar shows that he instead enlisted in the army – the deformed right thumb he now had being no barrier to service. He signed up for two years’ service in the Royal Artillery, at Pembroke Dock, claiming on his attestation papers that he had never been sentenced to imprisonment.

In 1906, Edgar appeared before the magistrates again. Although this appearance is not listed on Ancestry’s records, it survives in a mention in the Gloucester Citizen newspaper. Edgar and Jesse Gardner (possibly a relative on his mother’s side, but with a different spelling of his surname recorded) appeared at Stroud Petty Sessions, charged with having refused to leave the Bell Inn in Chalford one night, after the landlord, George Brown, had repeatedly asked them to.

Edgar had already been drunk when he went to the pub, and so the landlord had refused to serve him. But Edgar refused to leave for over an hour, instead using ‘abusive language’. The following day, the two men had visited the pub to try and get George Brown to settle the case away from the magistrates, but he seems to have refused. At Petty Sessions, each man was fined five shillings, and ordered to pay another 4s costs. (Gloucester Citizen, 7 September 1906)

In World War 1, Edgar served in the Army Service Corps. He was now living in Glamorgan, and had been working as a timberman. He served despite being 50 when he signed up.

Mary Elizabeth Kilminster died in 1921, and two years later, Edgar married again, this time to Gertrude Mary Hirons. She outlived her husband, for 71-year-old Edgar died on 3 September 1934 at the General Hospital in Stroud, having been taken there from his home on the High Street in Bisley. He had had a long and eventful life, but his birth and death both took place in his home area, where the police and the magistrates had known him so well.

All records referred to can be found on Ancestry; the original calendars of prisoners can be found at Gloucestershire Archives. The Gloucester Citizen was accessed via the British Newspaper Archive.

* These children’s names are taken from census records and cross-referenced with FreeBMD information; however, there may have been more Kilminster children, including Thomas William (born and died 1870), and Louisa Minnie (born 1871, died 1875).

 

 

 

Snapshot of a female thief’s life

Kate Stobbs - from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums' collection on Flickr

Kate Stobbs – from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums’ collection on Flickr

Many poorer women came into contact with police and magistrates in the early years of the 20th century, the difficulty of their lives economically being evident in what they were accused, charged, or convicted of. This photo is from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, and shows Kate Stobbs, who was arrested for larceny in June 1903, and who appeared at the North Shields Police Court.

At the time this photograph was taken, Kate was 48 years old. As Kate, or Catharine, Hood, she had married Robert Stobbs in North Shields in early 1874, when she was 19.

Kate was born on 29 December 1854, and baptised on 28 January the following year. She had, by 16, been acting as her mother Charlotte’s housekeeper, and helping care for her three younger siblings at home in Bell Street. Her Scottish father David, a mariner, had been away from home a lot due to his work.

They had had six children, but only one survived – a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1879. Both Kate and Robert were born and bred in North Shields, but moved around the north-east in search, it appears, of work for Robert. In 1881, he was described in the census as a boatbuilder, and the family was living at 24 Linskill Street in North Shields.

By 1891, they had moved to Elswick, in the western part of the city of Newcastle, bordering the river Tyne. This had plenty of opportunity for work, being home to the Elswick manufacturing works, the Elswick Colliery, and a train station, which had opened two years earlier. Robert, two years his wife’s senior, was working as a joiner, and Elizabeth was still living with her parents. The couple seemed settled in Elswick; they were still there in 1901, living at 80 Maria Street. By this time, Elizabeth had moved out of home – she had married, at 17 or 18 years old, in 1897. Robert was still working as a joiner.

A year later, the local paper recorded that Robert Stobbs, ‘described as a tramp’, had been up before the North Shields magistrates, charged with begging in Preston Lane. He was committed to prison for three weeks. Although there are others with the name of Stobbs living in the area at around this time, Robert and Kate may have been having difficulties – reflected in Kate’s own arrest a year later – and so this may be a further indication of economic problems, and perhaps unemployment on Robert’s part.

By June 1903, the couple had taken furnished rooms in a house at 73 Howdon Road, North Shields. Their landlady was a woman named Barbara Bowman. She was not a wealthy woman either – in 1881, she had been described as the wife of a general labourer named John. She was a decade older than her tenants, but also a native of North Shields. Like Kate, she had also lost children; in the 1911 census – by which time she appears to have been a district nurse, visiting the sick – she stated that she had had eight children, of whom five had died.

But Kate appeared to have little solidarity with her landlady; she needed money, she had none, and so she looked to Barbara’s belongings. She stole numerous items, and took them to the pawnshop. When Barbara noticed they were missing, she reported both Kate and Robert to the police, unsure as to who had stolen them, and suspecting that Robert may have stolen them, then given them to Kate to pawn.

Accordingly, both were initially charged with larceny. The goods stolen were fairly extensive, and could not have been carried on foot – at least, not easily. One or both of them had taken a quilt, two blankets, a pair of boots, a plane, saw, vest and other items – valued at nearly £4 in total. Chivalrous Robert denied all knowledge of the thefts, and was cautioned and dismissed. Kate was convicted, and sent to prison for 14 days.

It is hard to believe that Kate could have committed the acts without Robert’s knowledge; had he not noticed the sudden appearance of money where there had been none before, or goods or food bought when there was nothing to buy them with? Perhaps there was a tacit agreement between the pair that Kate should take the blame and leave Robert to try and get work while she was serving her sentence.

After this affair, the couple moved away from their home county, and in 1911, were living in Alum Waters in County Durham, near the village of New Brancepeth. Robert had found work as a bricklayer’s labourer – not on the level of joining or boatbuilding, but a legitimate occupation at least. Robert died in 1915, aged 62; Kate continued to survive, although presumably not far from the breadline, until 1931, dying at the age of 76.

The 1911 census entry for Kate and Robert Stobbs, from Ancestry.

The 1911 census entry for Kate and Robert Stobbs, from Ancestry.

 

Sources: Shields Daily Gazette, 21 October 1901; Shields Daily Gazette, 11 June 1903; BMDs for Durham, vol 10a page 519 and vol 10a page 574.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Top Ten: Descriptions of the female prisoner

The licences of parole for female convicts – which are available to access online with Ancestry – are a great resource, not just for finding out what women were convicted of in the late 19th century and how long they served, but also for finding out facts about their health, and how their appearance and medical state was perceived by the authorities.

A quick trawl through the licences has revealed this motley collection of women – I’ve saved the best (or worst?) until last.

jane-farrell1. JANE FARRELL. 23.

Convicted in Manchester in 1879 of receiving a stolen watch. Her condition on arrival at Millbank Prison was described as ‘fat’.

 

 

elizabeth-armstrong

2. ELIZABETH ARMSTRONG. 46.

Convicted of larceny and receiving stolen goods at Newcastle in 1882. Her general health was described as ‘pretty good’ – despite her being syphilitic and having a ‘pustulent discharge’.

 

sarah-ann-horner3. SARAH ANN HORNER. 45.

Convicted of stealing an iron pot at Leicester in 1884. She had ‘varicose veins, both legs’.

 

 

catherine-brown4. CATHERINE BROWN. 36.

Convicted at Manchester of stealing linen, 1878. She was described as ‘stout and strong’.

 

 

mary-clarke5. MARY ANN CLARKE. 38.

She was convicted of felony at Stafford in 1876, but was ‘in good condition’.

 

 

 

sarah-jane-howlett6. SARAH JANE HOWLETT. 43.

Convicted of stealing 13s at Bradford, 1884. ‘Scarred forehead and both eyebrows; stout and strong.’

 

 

mary-ann-lawrence7. MARY ANN LAWRENCE. 24.

Convicted at the 1878 Middlesex Sessions of stealing from her mistress. She was of spare build, and had dyspepsia. A later medical note records: ‘Pleads that her health is failing through long imprisonment. Her health is not bad, nor is it injured by her imprisonment.’

 

alice-rowlands8. ALICE ROWLANDS. 45.

Convicted of stealing a shirt at the Liverpool Quarter Sessions in 1884. ‘Spare, but muscular. Leprous spots on left buttock.’

 

 

ellen-clarke9. ELLEN CLARKE. 38.

Convicted at Bolton of stealing from John Hesketh. ‘Spare and weak; both lungs unsound from bronchitis; weak heart; phthisical [sic] (tubercular).’ Also had a tattoo of the initials A.S. on her right arm.

 

susan-craggs10. SUSAN CRAGGS. 27.

Convicted at Durham in 1882 of stealing 9s 3d from Elizabeth Winn. She was recorded for posterity as having an ‘abscess of her vulva’.

 

 

All images taken from Ancestry‘s licences of parole for female convicts.

 

Prison Life, 1895

394px-Hombre_con_grilletes_(dibujo_de_Goya)In 1895, it was noted, with concern, that a substantial proportion of the population of Canterbury Prison was made up of repeat offenders. During that year, according to a report from the Prison Commissioners, there had been 1155 men and 167 women imprisoned there; the daily average was 128 prisoners, although at its quietest, the prison had been home to 100, and at its busiest, 171.

Canterbury Prison dated from the beginning of that century, having been established as a county gaol in 1808. Its predecessor had been regarded as inadequate following a rise in the number of prisoners in Kent in the late 18th century, the result both of a rise in crime and the impact of the American War of Independence on transportation.

It was noted that ‘a discouraging feature of prison work is the number of men and women who appear time after time in prison’. At Canterbury, 220 men and 60 women that year had already been in a prison prior to their most recent committal – equating to 19 per cent of male prisoners, and 36 per cent of females.

Of these repeat offenders, 27 men and 12 women had over 10 prior convictions resulting in a committal to prison. 11 men and three women had between eight and ten prior committals, and nine men and seven women six or seven prior committals. It was believed that once men and women had been committed once, they were likely to be embarking on a long criminal career.

When the prison population at Canterbury was analysed on 31 March 1895, it was found that the majority of men there at the time were young – between 21 and 30 years old. One of the relatively few ‘older’ men there at the time was Arthur Funnell, a 34-year-old butcher, who had been sent to the prison whilst on trial for forgery, as he had been unable to find sureties. Whilst in prison, Funnell’s father died; his mother was seriously ill, her health no doubt not helped by her son’s incarceration.

It was recognised that individuals placed within Canterbury’s prison walls were unlikely to behave well either in prison or on being released, and that prison actually increased their chances of repeat offending afterwards – they became, to an extent, institutionalised.

Hendrik_Frans_Schaefels_-_Young_prisoner_in_his_cellIn prison, several individuals, both male and female, were reported to have committed offences, primarily violence, ‘idleness’, or breaches of regulations. Punishments for such offences included flogging, being put in solitary confinement (by the end of the 19th century, known as ‘punishment cells’), being put in ‘short commons’, whereby their diet was restricted, or losing other privileges.

Even when not being punished, the prisoners were subject to hard labour, which in Canterbury primarily meant the treadwheel – although unlike in some prisons, this had a purpose, pumping water for the prison. If not on the treadwheel, prisoners were engaged in making mail-bags and chopping wood.

All male prisoners who had a prison sentence of over four months were visited by a schoolmaster, to ensure that their educational achievement reached the third standard, and the chaplain also visited inmates every three months to encourage ‘moral elevation’. It was noted that ‘the prisoners take great interest in reading, and the cases where they injure the books are happily few and far between.’

Short commons may not have been much of a punishment for some; it was noted that ‘the mere feeding of a prisoner costs little enough’, suggesting that the diet was both cheap and limited. This was in contrast to the money spent in 1895 on new stores and staff quarters at the prison.

Despite the education and religious training, prison was hard on its inmates, and suicide was recognised as a problem – netting had to be put up around staircases and corridors to prevent hangings. It was recognised that poverty and unemployment might be factors in reoffending once prisoners were released, and so the chaplain would recommend particular inmates who could benefit from the services of the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, which aimed to help them find a job.

It was noted that ‘very few cases, really worthy of help, are refused, and then only if the aid asked for is beyond the Society’s scope.’ The society was helped by the Church of England Temperance Society‘s Labour Home, located at Dover, which received and employed ‘men who have no immediate hope of employment’. Women were sent further afield, primarily to Miss Steer’s Bridge of Hope, on the infamous Ratcliff Highway.

So prison life in Kent had the recognised potential of leading to reoffending, through interaction with other prisoners and with resultant poverty once back on the outside, and measures were put in place to try and stop this through education and employment. Yet it was also clear that by restricting prisoners’ diets, by incarceration and hard labour – the economic value of which was reported in financial terms in the prison commissioners’ report – the prisons themselves created an atmosphere of desperation in some that could lead to suicide.

Sources: Canterbury Journal, 19 October 1895, Dover Express, 1 November 1895, Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald, 23 March 1895, Canterbury Journal, 30 December 1895.

 

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