Five years of prison for stealing a bacon rasher – Mid-Victorian female crime records now online
Records of 19th century female criminals unveiled today at Who Do You Think You Are? Live – Ancestry.co.uk
In a world-first,Ancestry.co.uk, the UK’s favourite family history website1, today launched online the UK, Licences of Parole for Female Convicts, 1853-18872, detailing more than 4,400 criminal records and including 500 mug shots of mid-Victorian female convicts.
The collection will be unveiled today at Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE – the world's largest family history event, which is being held at London's Olympia from the 25th - 27th of February.2
The parole records, the originals of which are held by The National Archives, provide a vivid glimpse into the world of Victorian crime. Individual records contain information such as the criminal’s name, alias, place and date of conviction, sentence, letters or notes from the prisoner, medical history, reports of misconduct and details of previous crimes. In some cases, the revocation of the parole licence is also included.
The women and young girls included in this collection were convicted for a variety of violent and non-violent offences. Examples of violent criminalssuch as assault, murder and arson are:
- Mary Morrison – The 40-year-old servant threw sulphuric acid over her estranged husband for not paying her weekly allowance, shouting: ‘take that – I’ll make you worse than you are’. Mary received five years in 1883 but served only three
- Elizabeth Ann Staunton – Convicted for the murder of Harriet Staunton in 1877 at age 29, Elizabeth was spared the death penalty and instead sentenced to life but was granted parole just six years later
Those convicted of lesser crimes such as theft, larceny and domestic housebreaking could still feel the full force of the 19th century British judicial service. Examples include:
- Mary Richards–Sentenced to five years in 1880 at age 59 for stealing 130 oysters valued at eight shillings, which were the property of John Tyacke. Mary served almost all of sentence, receiving parole in 1885
- Elizabeth Murphy –In 1884, 19-year-old Elizabeth was sentenced to five years of hard labour and seven years of police supervision for stealing an umbrella. She served three years of her sentence before receiving parole in 1887
- Dorcas Mary Snell– Dorcas, aged 45, was sentenced to five years of hard labour in 1883 for the theft of a single piece of bacon, but was paroled two years later
The records also detail the lengthy, unforgiving sentences given to women who procured abortions, including Mary Billingham who was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour (historically known as 'penal servitude') in 1875.
It would appear age also wasn’t taken into consideration when sentence was passed. The youngest female in the records, 11-year-old Ann McQuillan, was convicted in Perth and sentenced to four years in prison for 'theft by housebreaking'. Ann is just one of 115 girls under the age of 18 who feature in the collection.
In contrast, the oldest convict in the records is 76-year-old Ann Dalton who was convicted for stealing ‘two sheets’ in 1863, for which she was sentenced to five years imprisonment – but served just three before parole in 1866. The average age of female convicts in the collection was just 31.
While early criminals were often sentenced to transportation, later records, predominately those post-1860, indicate that a prison sentence had become the preferred punishment as Australian free settlers became increasingly angry about having to compete with convicts for jobs.
Those who did receive transportation often saw their sentences overturned and were instead jailed and subsequently paroled. This was the case for Mary Daly, who was sentenced to 15 years transportation for theft in 1855 but was instead incarcerated in Brixton prison until her parole in 1862.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “Crime is more often associated with men however these intriguing records shed light on some rather colourful female lawbreakers of their day, and given the petty nature of many of their crimes, also serves as a reminder of how harsh our judicial system was not so very long ago.
“With so many historical records - including criminal records - now available online, it has never been a better time to start exploring your family’s history.”
The new collection complements the 2.3 million criminal records already available at Ancestry.co.uk, including 1.4 million criminal trials in the England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 and the Convict Transportation Registers: 1788-1868.
Click here to search the UK, Licences of Parole for Female Convicts, 1853-1887 on Ancestry.co.uk.
Note to Editors:
1.Source: Based on market share of visits among all UK websites in the Hitwise Lifestyle - Family industry, 2009.
2. For more information visit www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk.
3. Research conducted by ICM in January 2011. Sample was 2,000 UK adults, weighted to be nationally representative.
For further information, please contact our press office on:
+44 208 846 3190
or email firstname.lastname@example.org