THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

58 posts categorized "Crime"

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

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How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

08 August 2017

Duncan Campbell: the Private Contractor and the Prison Hulk

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In 1776 Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) became the first superintendent of prison hulks stationed at Woolwich.  After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Britain was barred from transporting its felons to the colonies, where they had previously served sentences carrying out non-plantation labour.  The war with America caused a prison housing crisis; gaols in Britain could not cope with the volume of unexpected inmates and so in 1776 the Criminal Law Act, also known as the Hulks Act, was passed.

The act stated that convicts awaiting transportation would be employed in hard labour for ‘the benefit of the navigation of the Thames’.  At Woolwich, major dredging was needed to correct a drift in the river, and convicts provided a cheap workforce.  While their employment had been decided, the matter of housing hundreds of convicts was unresolved.  The state was unwilling to invest in new prisons as they were under economic strain from ongoing wars with both America and France.  A cheap and mobile solution was proposed; disused and dismantled warships, known as ‘hulks’ were to be used to house convicts along the banks of the Thames.

Engraving of Discovery Add MS 32360
Engraving of the Discovery, a prison hulk moored at Deptford. George Cooke after Samuel  Prout, 1826. British Library Add MS 32360; Item number: f. 112-B.

Duncan Campbell, who previously held the contract for transporting felons to Virginia, was successful in lobbying for the management of the hulk establishment. He proposed to use his ships, the Justitia and Censor, to house convicts at Woolwich.  Campbell’s attention was divided during the twenty-year period of his tenure; his niece was married to Captain William Bligh, commander of the HMS Bounty, the family’s estate Saltspring in Jamaica brought in returns of sugar and rum, and he was involved in lobbying for repayment of debts owed by America to British merchants, culminating in a meeting with Thomas Jefferson in 1786.

As a private contractor, Campbell’s management was subject to little regulation; quality of food was poor on the hulks, gaol fever -which became known as hulk fever- periodically ripped through the decks, and few medical or religious services were provided. Prison hulks drew the attention -and criticism- of prison reformers John Howard and Jeremy Bentham and after two years at Woolwich, a committee of inquiry headed by Sir Charles Bunbury in 1778 revealed appalling death rates; men were dying at a rate of one in four.  Despite these shocking figures, the system was allowed to continue, with some small improvements.

The hulk system under Campbell was not stable. He employed deputies and overseers who patrolled the decks of the hulks and the shores of the riverbank but escape and outbursts of violence occurred regularly.  Overseers were said to be afraid to descend the decks at night when lights were extinguished and portholes were shut.  Lacking clear instruction from the Home Office, Campbell was frustrated. In letters to officials, he asked if more could be done for men after they had served their sentences to stop them re-offending but few solutions were provided.  In 1802, Campbell’s contract was not renewed.  The system moved to more direct government control but the temporary measure of housing convicts on prison hulks continued for another fifty-five years, up until 1857.

Anna McKay
Collaborative Doctoral Student at the National Maritime Museum and the University of Leicester
Twitter: @AnnaLoisMcKay

Further reading:

Charles Campbell, The intolerable hulks: British shipboard confinement, 1776-1857, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1994.
Criminal Law Act, 1776: 16 Geo. III, c.59.
Convict transportation & the Metropolis: the letterbooks and papers of Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) from the State Library of New South Wales. Marlborough: Adam Matthew Publications, 2005. Available on Microfilm at the British Library.

Victorian prisons and punishments
1862 Hulk
A Phantom Burglar and the Hulk

18 July 2017

A Court Martial in India

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Here’s a second instalment in the life of John Thompson born in Antwerp on the tenth day of Floreal, Year Twelve.

Thompson was appointed as ensign in the East India Company’s Bombay Army on 27 March 1821 and arrived in India in August that year.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the European Regiment on 10 June 1822.  An uneventful spell of ten years’ service passed.

Bombay Noc
'Bombay on the Malabar Coast belonging to the East India Company of England.' Reduced version of the engraving by Jan Van Ryne of 1754. Online Gallery 

However on 22 April 1831 the commanding officer of the regiment suddenly ordered an immediate inspection of the money bags and account books of each company.  Thompson was paymaster of his company but was unable to attend the audit as he was unwell.  He ordered his Pay Sergeant to make out the men’s accounts and to insert a debt of 707 rupees owed by Thompson. 

Later that day, Thompson was arrested. He tendered money to pay the debt but this was refused.  On 9 June 1831 he appeared at a Court Martial held in camp near Deesa charged with embezzlement.

Thompson was charged for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman in having embezzled monies entrusted to him for the payment of the men of the 6th Company under his charge. The Court found Thompson guilty of embezzlement but without intent to defraud.  It acquitted him of ungentlemanlike conduct.  He was sentenced to be dismissed from East India Company service and was ordered to make good the deficiency.  The verdict was accompanied by a unanimous appeal for mercy as the members of the Court felt that the punishment they were compelled to award was disproportionate to the degree of offence committed.

Major General J S Barns, Commander of the Forces, confirmed the punishment but put on record his marked disapprobation of the Court’s finding that the embezzlement of public money was not conduct unbecoming the character of a gentleman.  Thompson was struck off the strength and ordered to take passage to England.

In November 1832 Thompson wrote to the Company Directors in London asking to be restored to the service.  On 29 January 1833 his request was rejected.  But the Company decided to grant him an annual allowance of £50 because of the Court Martial recommendation for mercy, the strength of testimonials produced by Thompson, and his distressed situation.

  IOR D 87 p318
IOR/D/87 p.318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case Noc

When John Thompson’s father William made his will on 8 December 1832, he directed his trustees to apply funds from his estate to support and maintain his son John for life.  John’s share of another bequest in the will was to be held in trust for him, rather then paid directly as was the case with his three brothers.  William Thompson was clearly concerned to protect his son from further financial mishaps.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/12/69 no. 31 - Record of service for John Thompson
IOR/L/MIL/17/4/401 pp.68-69 Bombay General Orders – Court Martial of Lt John Thompson
IOR/D/87 pp.316-318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case
IOR/B/185 pp. 128, 392 Court of Directors minutes about Thompson's case

East India Company records series IOR/B and IOR/D are now available as a digital resource.

 

24 March 2017

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours

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The East India Company knew that it was dangerous to employ overseas servants who were xenophobic, lazy, or dishonest.  Indeed the Company was so concerned that it created a ‘Black Book’ to record errors and misdemeanours. 

  Black Book IOR/H/29 Noc

The book which survives in the India Office Records covers the years 1624-1698.  It copies in complaints made in letters received from Company servants in Asia.  Most reports of wrongdoing relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

Company servants had to be careful that in obeying rules set by the directors in London they did not risk alienating the local society hosting them.  Merchants were generally keen to avoid giving offence and tried to discover local protocol before trying to gain access to powerful men. The reports tell us where things went wrong.

Here are a few examples of reported misconduct which affected the Company’s relations with local people in Asia:
• In January 1626/27 Robert Hackwell, master of the Charles,  put two black men to death at Jambi and was discharged from East India Company service for ever.
• Nathaniel Mountney and Thomas Joyce were involved in a fight in 1632: ‘theire heads full fraught with wyne fell out with the Moors & in the fray a moore was slaine’.  Joyce was put in irons for ten days for the offence and only released after a large sum was paid.
• Thomas Nelson, gunner of the Swan, was charged 500 rupees in 1635 for killing a man at Macassar by a bullet carelessly shot into the town.
• In 1642 Humphrey Weston left all the Company’s property at Japara and ran away in fear of his life because he had been consorting with a Javan married woman.
• Richard Hudson’s ‘ill behaviour’ at Masulipatam aroused the local people’s hatred, especially the ‘great ones’.  Hudson had dealt in their grains and taken government duties upon himself.

  IOR H 29IOR/H/29 Noc

Here is the entry in the ‘Black Book’ taken from a letter from Surat in 1686 concerning the conduct of Roger Davis, Captain of the ship East India Merchant. Davis had arrived in Bombay at the time of Richard Keigwin’s rebellion against the Company and had established friendly relations with the rebels. He then fell ill and died, thus removing the problem: ‘Had that naughty man Davis lived, we had for certain protested against him, and should have used the East India Merchant worse than we did’.  Death often did solve disciplinary difficulties for the Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/H/29 East India Company book of servants’ errors and misdemeanours.

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

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Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

16 October 2016

A Cornish smuggler

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For those of you eagerly awaiting the next episode of Poldark, here is the story of a real Cornish smuggler.

 

  Smugglers

'Smugglers' from Clara L Matéaux, Round and about Old England (London,1876) BL flickr

 

In June 1801 the Revenue gun-ship Hecate had taken possession of a smuggling lugger laden with spirits which had been run ashore at Mullions in Mounts Bay on the coast of Cornwall.  A boat crew belonging to Hecate was on the lugger when a large party of men began firing muskets at them from the cliff.  Fearing for their lives, the sailors were forced to leave the lugger and take to their boat. The armed men continued to fire, in particular one William Richards alias Payow.  Richards, thought to be part-owner of the lugger or her cargo, absconded afterwards.

The Admiralty in Whitehall issued a notice on 27 October 1801 offering £100 to anyone apprehending or informing against Richard and his accomplices.  The reward was payable on the conviction of the offenders. If any of the smugglers informed against their fellows, they were to be given a royal pardon.  This offer was not extended to Richards, a notorious offender.

A description of Richards’ appearance was circulated to aid his capture. 

‘The said Richards, alias Payow, is about 52 years of age, five feet seven inches high, stout made, dark hair, straight and short; dark complexion, dark grey full eyes, with reddish eye lashes and eye brows: his beard also red, and remarkably thick and large, large mouth, and teeth discoloured; voice sharp and shrill.’

Nothing to rival the charms of Ross Poldark there then.


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive Royal Cornwall Gazette 21 November 1801

 

06 September 2016

Female Felons in the 18th Century

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Calendars of prisoners are ephemeral broadsides that tell us something about individual convicts within the criminal justice system, and we’ve just acquired two fascinating examples from the 18th century.  Essentially these calendars are lists of prisoners who were awaiting regional trials, with a description of the charges against them.  Some were also printed after the trial, recording the sentences given.  The earliest calendars are manuscript records in a mix of Latin and English.  They were printed from the 1730s onwards in English to satisfy local public interest, prevent clandestine imprisonments and forewarn judges of the workload awaiting them at each trial. They continued to be printed until the 1970s.

The first calendar lists prisoners held at Wakefield House of Correction, which was essentially a workhouse.  At the time of printing, these prisoners were awaiting trial at the quarterly sessions (court for petty crimes) in January 1779.  Amongst the men charged with various thefts, assaults, desertions and, memorably, the sale of unstamped almanacs in the case of one Thomas Mosley, the few female convicts stand out.

 
IMG_5899
Hannah Pagett had a one month sentence for “false reeling”.  She produced yarn with a deficient number of threads.  Mary Parker was committed in July 1778.   She served a one year sentence as a “lewd woman, having had three bastard children”.  Ann Ainley was accused of being “an idle and disorderly woman”.  These roughly defined offences were common charges against women in the 18th century.  At least the names of these women have survived; there are two on the list who are, sadly, identified only as “an unknown woman”.  One “cannot give any account of herself” and the other is accused of being “a vagrant, and an idiot”.  It is possible that up to two thirds of prisoners in houses of correction like the one at Wakefield were female.  Beating hemp was the usual form of hard labour.  Whippings and beatings were also commonplace, particularly for those convicted of vagrancy, lewd conduct and night walking (prostitution). 

The second calendar records prisoners in the Castle of York who were trialled at the assizes (court for more serious crimes) in March 1736.  One entry in particular caught my eye.  It says “Walker Margaret, Sutton Katharin, otherwise Mason Katharin, to be transported for seven years”.  The Transportation Act, passed in 1717, established a seven year convict bond service and penal transportation to North America as punishment for minor crimes.  Approximately 50,000 convicts (men, women and children) were transported to North America, an influx that was only plugged by the American Revolution beginning in 1765.  From then on, convicts were transported to Australia.

IMG_5896

The Atlantic crossing was perilous; the convicts endured cramped conditions on merchant ships, often in chains.  As on slave ships disease was rife.  If they survived the crossing, and many didn’t, they were forced into hard labour on the tobacco fields.  After serving their sentence some returned to England but many established a new life for themselves in the vast anonymity of North America.  Did Margaret Walker and Katharin Sutton stay in, or even reach, America?  As with the fate of all these women, we’ll probably never know.

These new items will join the three other 18th century calendars of prisoners in the British Library.  We acquire ephemera like these to represent regional printing, the historical experience of the lower and criminal classes, and the diversity of English culture as a whole. 

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
18th century crime and punishment

 

21 June 2016

‘A Violent Pauper’

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Today we continue our sad story of poverty and destitution in Victorian London by focusing on the Chivers family of Marylebone.

Robert Chivers was working as a painter when he married Elizabeth Moulder at Christ Church Marylebone on 20 August 1865. They lived in Duke Street, a small turning off Lisson Grove in a poor area.  Their son Robert was born in October 1865 and they went on to have three more children: Ann/Annie, William/Willie, and Thomas.

On 21 July 1868 Robert and Elizabeth were admitted to Marylebone Workhouse with Robert aged 3 and Ann aged 9 months. Little Robert was moved to the workhouse school at Southall in Middlesex on 14 August 1868.

 

  Dore London poor 075459
Inhabitants of London. Image taken from London :a pilgrimage, illustrations by G. Dore Images Online

 

In January 1869 newspaper articles about Robert Chivers appeared under the headlines ‘A Violent Pauper’ and, with more than a hint of sarcasm, ‘A Model Pauper’.  Robert been taken to court for assaulting workhouse officer James Lockwood who had reprimanded him for not picking oakum properly. Robert complained that he had been insulted when he asked for an additional quantity of oakum to pick.  He had wanted to increase his earnings from 6d for a day’s work in order to support his wife and three small children. Having been unemployed since July 1868, he had asked the parish officers to grant him a few clothes to make him decent to apply for work outside.  His request was turned down because the Chivers family had been in and out of the workhouse for a long time and the overseer thought Robert lazy and sullen.  The jury found Robert guilty but recommended him to mercy because of his family.  He was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction.

Elizabeth Chivers also came into conflict with the workhouse authorities on more than one occasion  In April 1871 she was imprisoned for 21 days for disorderly conduct and using threatening language in the workhouse. The 1871 census shows Robert, Annie and William living at the workhouse school in Southall, and Elizabeth in the workhouse with four-month-old Thomas.  Robert senior seems to have disappeared and I have been unable to discover his whereabouts.

In July 1874 Elizabeth and her children were discharged from the workhouse so they could emigrate to Australia. Their ‘most distressing case of poverty’ was heard before the Melbourne City Bench in December 1874. Elizabeth said her husband had deserted her about four years earlier.  Her sister’s husband had been helping, but he could no longer afford to do so. Elizabeth applied to have her children admitted to the industrial schools but the bench was sympathetic and keen to keep the family together. Thomas was suffering from spinal disease and so he was remanded to the industrial schools for a month for medical treatment.  Elizabeth received £1 for her immediate wants, a charitable subscription was started with a £5 donation by the magistrate, and she was promised that ‘benevolent ladies’ would help her obtain a livelihood.

Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending. Robert, William and Thomas were all living in the industrial schools by April 1875 when Elizabeth was summoned to pay towards their upkeep. The case was dismissed as it was shown that she was unable to contribute anything.  Thomas died in 1878 aged seven.


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Post 19 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 19 January 1869; Bell’s Weekly Messenger 23 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 8 April 1871.
TroveThe Age (Melbourne) 18 December 1874.

Poverty and destitution in Victorian London