Saturday, 5 December 2015

Life After Crime and Punishment?

"Trace & Explore Convict Lives" -  From (very) petty larceny to high treason...

Further to previous posts looking at aspects of prison history - specifically in London's NewgateMillbank and Pentonville (combined in online pamphlet) - SmothPubs welcomes news of "The Digital Panopticon" which "follows the stories of the 90,000 people sentenced at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875" and invites interested people, no previous experience or qualification necessary, to "help us trace them through historical records, determining what impact crime and punishment had on their lives." Searching on the website is free, as is registering in order to add links to an individual's "life archive"(or to remove false links).

Starting with a name, the sort of information that can be found, with luck, may include:
Old Bailey Proceedings: Date of trial; offence; verdict; sentence, offence location; offence report; sentence report.
Criminal Register: Date of trial; age, year of birth; height; sentence; description (physical); sentence report; other notes.
Coroner's Inquest: Date of inquest on death in prison; location; verdict.
Transportation Register: Date registered; colony, usually Van Diemen's Land; ship; place and date of trial; term of transportation; register text (transcribed quotation). 
Criminal Indent (details recorded when convicts arrived in Australia): Date recorded; age, year of birth; colony, term, ship; height; religion; place of trial; place of birth; offence report.
Founders & Survivors: Date recorded, arrival date (normally the same, and as for Criminal Indent); age, year of birth; colony, term, ship; offence report; previous convictions; gaol report; hulk (prison ship) report.

(Other data sets searchable at the same time or separately are Prison Licences and Bridewell Court of Governors.)

The range of information accessible in this way is more extensive than may appear at first, for example the core records being from the Old Bailey may seem to exclude prisoners tried in Scotland, but in fact many of these will turn up somewhere. There are dozens of 'Mac' or more often 'Mc' surnames. For example, two women called Margaret McRae/Macrae were convicted of stealing in Edinburgh and transported (on the same ship) in successive years, 1847-48 and 1848-49, so that each has 3 linked records. (Apart from the logistics making it impossible that they could be the same person, their ages - 21 and 18 -.heights and birth places - Jamaica and Edinburgh - are different.) Another couple of Scots' records recently linked are:  

  • Transportation
    Register 

     11th March
    1837



    colony
    Van Diemen's Land
    term
    7
    years
    ship
    Blenheim
    tried
    Edinburgh Court of Justiciary
    register text
    "Convicted at Edinburgh Court of Justiciary for a term of 7 years."


    Founders &
    Survivors 

    16th July
    1837

    term
    7
    years
    tried
    Court of Justiciary
    trial date
    14th December 1835
    vdl departure date
    15th March 1837
    vdl arrival date
    16th July 1837
    ship vdl
    Blenheim
    offence report
    "Assault"
    gaol report
    "convicted before connexions <[…]>"
    hulk report
    "good"

  • Founders &
    Survivors 

    16th July
    1837

    term
    7
    years
    tried
    Court of Justiciary
    trial date
    23rd April 1836
    vdl departure date
    15th March 1837
    vdl arrival date
    16th July 1837
    ship vdl
    Blenheim
    offence report
    "Theft by House breaking"
    gaol report
    "convicted before 6 months good temper and sober"
    hulk report
    "very b<[ad]>"

    Transportation
    Register 

    11th March
    1837

    colony
    Van Diemen's Land
    term
    7
    years
    ship
    Blenheim
    tried
    Inverness Court of Justiciary
    register text
    "Convicted at Inverness Court of Justiciary for a term of 7 years."
(This John Flett is no relation, as far as is known, to any other Flett mentioned on this blog). 

Incidentally, occasional blips may occur, for example in two of the records for Lord George Gordon (see also Newgate link above) where his age is given as 11 in 1788, born 1777 (actually born 1751) although he is described as being 5'11" tall and having a beard at the same time. He is one of the minority of prisoners whose names were generally known to history - celebrities, the notorious, causes célèbres, the rich and powerful - and whose stories may now be amplified. 
More importantly, those of tens of thousands of hitherto anonymous transgressors and/or dissidents will be accessible to researchers. For example: Radicals of the 1790s, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, participants in the Newport Rising of 1839, Suffragette militants, and no doubt many more. Writers of historical fiction, too, could come across multiple sources of inspiration here for authentic original story-lines.

An example of the sort of gem that can turn up;
Criminal Indent 1845 Daniel Mcaulay
age 30; b 1815; colony V[an] D[iemen's] L[and]; term 10 years; ship Stratheden
height 62.5; religion catholic; tried edinburgh; place of birth "county donegal"
offence report "rioting and an assault; it was a strike for wages among the colliers; the men who came to do our work we assaulted & turned them off the works; 800 of us struck from the workes & 1 man was killed; it was at ayr, we struck for wages , had 20d per diem"


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