11 Jul 2012


The Victorian era saw a huge rise in the crime rate with offences going up from approximately 5,000 per year in 1800 to around 20,000 in 1840. 

To combat this a modern-style police force was introduced in 1856 which completely revolutionised the way in which people were caught, arrested and charged with many criminals convicted of serious crimes sentenced to transportation to Australia where they served out their sentence with minimal cost to the state.

From the donkey thief to the drunk who wouldn't leave the pub, the criminal records (including many photographs) of some 67,000 Victorian villains has been published online for the first time courtesy of Family history website ANCESTRY.CO

Frank Trevis, 51, received eight months hard labour and two years police supervision for stealing nine bushels of wheaten dust in 1884.

Sarah Rose Edith Westwood who used three known aliases, was jailed for five years for crimes including unlawfully obtaining by a false pretence a bottle of sherry, six imperial bottles of stout and a pound of biscuits in 1870 More.

And it wasn't just the adults either as these mugshots of Victorian children show .....

Staring into the camera, some with defiance and others in child-like wonder, these scruffy boys and girls look like any other group of Victorian urchins but they are in fact children, some as young as 11, who were accused of being thieves and pickpockets.

Ellen Woodman (11) was given a week's hard labour for staling iron. However a newspaper article from the time suggests it was not clear whether she was actually stealing or just playing in the ship yard.

A choir boy from a middle-class background Henry Leonard Stephenson (12) were jailed for 2 months for breaking into three houses in 1873. The media at the time blaming his crime on his penchant for the 'wrong sort of books' based on characters like notorious 18th century highway man Jack Sheppard.

Featuring children from Newcastle (my home town) the petty criminality detailed in the charges may be similar to those in Britain today but the mixture of scruffy clothing and more formal Victorian street attire worn by the children is a world away from the hoodies, trainers and sportswear of many of today's lawless youths.

Geared towards punishment as opposed to rehabilitation, with no remission for good behaviour and with girls as well as boys expected to carry out the back-breaking tasks, hard labour would have included walking on a wooden treadwheel, a large slatted wheel which sometimes drove a mill, or breaking up stones in the prison yard and saw many children packed off to reform 'schools' following their sentences. More


NRIGirl said...

From such intolerence to where we are now - worlds apart!

That's so unique Tracey! How is it that only you always come across such interesting tidbits, I wonder...

Patti said...

That's interesting. I hopped over to the website to see more pictures. You always wonder what the story is behind those pictures.

DMS said...

It is amazing to see the harsh punishments for some of the small crimes. Wow! I guess things have loosened up a bit. So interesting to see the pictures and read about the crimes and punishments. These could spark a story for sure. :)

Suko said...

Intriguing post! The photos are especially haunting.

John McElveen said...

Great History Lesson Tracy!!! Thanks,


Shooting Stars Mag said...

How fascinating. Hard labour in general is crazy, but even more difficult to imagine for these young kids! It is intriguing how they are dressed as opposed to "criminals" today.


anilkurup said...

A penal system or call it criminal jurisprudence that is based on eternal damnation and closure of avenues of rehabilitation can be found only among human beings . And Hell is a creation of fantasy by such sick minds- eternal damnation.

Reminds me of the film "Papillion".

Dizzy C said...

Interesting article, Tracy.

We were looking thru some local history books for our town. It was a coaching inn town and at one time had 52 pubs.

What I found amazing was that inquests into deaths were held in public houses in the town.

How times change. Mind u we are still a town of many pubs, horses and betting shops


Jenners said...

I found the mug shots so interesting … with their hands held up. I loved looking at the photos!

Nikki-ann said...

I saw the news article about these pictures. I love stuff like this and find it very interesting. I liked how early photographers used a mirror to catch both the profile and side view of a prisoner at the same time.