A Real Rogues’ Gallery, Victorian-style…

Some of the mugshots shown on the ancestry.co.uk website

At risk of sounding somewhat the old codger, it must be said that the Justice system didn’t mess about back in the day. I refer to the 19th century and the news that family history website Ancestry.co.uk has published the records of more than 67,000 Victorian criminals, detailing crimes ranging from petty theft and drunkenness to arson and murder.

Two of the archives – those of the Dorset, England Prison Admission and Discharge Registers 1782-1901 andDorset,England, Calendar of Prisoners 1854-1904 – also include mug shots of 19th century convicts.

I found these, in particular, to be most useful. If you’re struggling to put a face to that character in your novel, then look no further than here….it’s a great resource in itself.

What struck me from the records was the level of punishment meted out for some very innocuous offences.

Take one Samuel Baker (73) as an example. He was sentenced to nine months hard labour after breaking into a house to steal two brushes, some vests, and a pair of stockings in 1893. Bit harsh, if you ask me…

Then there is 18-year-old George Pill, who stole a donkey from a neighbour in 1894, resulting in a punishment of six weeks hard labour.

Of course, they were the lucky ones. Many thousands of criminals convicted of serious crimes during Victorian times were actually transported to the colonies, primarilyAustralia, where they would serve out their prison sentences at minimal cost to the state. Travelling conditions were so bad that many died on the six-month voyage.

For a quick snapshot of the Victorian criminal class you won’t find anything better than this.

Check out http://www.ancestry.co.uk

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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5 Responses to A Real Rogues’ Gallery, Victorian-style…

  1. dubmantalks says:

    Any truth in the rumor that some of this type of sentencing is being brought back in Ireland for those found guilty of Banking irregularities and for errant Politicians? Might be just the medicine.

    • Where would you export them to though dubmantalks? Australia won’t want any more Irish…and that chances of getting ‘hard labour’ out of the big-wigs in banking is unlikely…more likely they’d try con their jailers out of their lunch money to ‘invest’ it for them.

  2. Do people still have spare cash to invest?

  3. It’s the hands that fascinate. Andrew Thompson hasn’t got a full set, and James Smith looks like he’s had his fingers sharpened. Wouldn’t want to meet any in a light alley let alone a dark one.

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