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’.





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.