Thursday, 8 December 2011

Punishment in the 1840s

Punishments handed out at the Quarter Sessions ranged from transportation for life to a fine or being bound over to keep the peace. The main source for finding out what sentences were imposed by the justices is the 'Return of all persons committed, or bailed to appear for trial, or indicted' at the Quarter Sessions. This document lists the defendants for the quarter, gives their name, age (sometimes omitted), a very brief summary of the crime (often just 'simple larceny') and a note of the sentence or acquittal if the case came to trial, or a brief explanation of the reason if it did not. This return can be found in the file category 'Prisoners', with a reference in the form QSR1841/1/3/10, where 1841 is the year, 1 is the quarter, 3 is the file (prisoners), and 10 is the item number.

In the early 1840s transportation was still being used quite frequently for more serious crimes or repeat offenders, and most Quarters would see at least one offender transported. The most common sentence was a term of imprisonment in the House of Correction with hard labour. Young offenders aged under 18 were usually ordered to receive one or more whippings during their term of imprisonment, with this to be carried out in private. Some offenders were sentenced to spend specified periods of their sentence in solitary confinement, for example in October 1841 John Houghton was to 'be imprisoned and kept at hard labour in the House of Correction for this county four calendar months, two weeks of the said term to be solitary at different intervals'. Prison sentences ranged in length from a couple of days to one year. Where an offender was sentenced to a prison term further information about the individual may be found in the Gaol Database for Bedfordshire. Further records for Bedford Gaol and House of Correction are found under collection references QGE, QGR and QGV, for which more information can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment