Mugshots and stories of Victorian child criminals who were jailed for petty crimes, 1870s


The photographs were taken in the 1870s and are from Oxford Gaul, a prison that later became HMP Oxford. During this time, children were often imprisoned for petty crimes and no distinction was made regardless of their age.

Most of these juvenile offenders were arrested for stealing petty items, but still faced severe punishment. Jim Westbury, age, was given six months of hard labor and five years in a reform school for stealing corn and hay. Alice Dawson, 13, was sentenced to seven days' hard labor for stealing an umbrella.

Other images showed brothers John and Thomas Williams, 13 and 14, respectively, who were arrested for six months on house robbing charges.

Amy Foy, 16, was handed 21 days' labor for stealing a bodice. 17-year-old William Clark, who was arrested for stealing handkerchiefs, and twelve-year-old Rose Holiday, who was put behind bars for ten days for 'false pretense'.

Crime, and how to deal with it, was one of the great issues of Victorian Britain. Evidence from courts and newspaper articles during the first half of the 19th century suggests that juvenile delinquency was indeed a real problem.

Picking pockets was particularly troublesome, especially the theft of silk handkerchiefs, which had a relatively high resale value and were thus easily sold.

Crowded places such as fairs, markets and public executions were particularly profitable for young thieves. For example, in 1824 a 15-year-old boy, Joseph Mee, was accused of pocketing at a public execution in the Old Bailey; A youth described by the magistrate as a 'harsh and uncompromising' offender.

At the Greenwich Fair in 1835, 13-year-old Robert Spencer was caught by a policeman pulling a handkerchief out of a gentleman's pocket in the crowd, while later in 1840 another constable told court how he had killed 11-year-old Martin Gavan and another boy. 'Try several pockets' before stealing a gentleman's handkerchief amidst a crowd that has gathered around a traffic accident.

A step towards treating children differently was the Juvenile Offenses Act of 1847, which mandated that youth below 14 years of age (soon to be under 16) should be tried in a special court, Not in an adult court.

The first reform schools, established in 1854, were more far-reaching. Young people were sent to a correctional school for a long time - for several years.

The long sentences were designed to distance the child from the "bad influences" of the home and environment.

As far as the government was willing to go in the direction of treating children differently for much of the 19th century, there were correctional institutions.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a trend towards reform. From 1899, children were no longer sent to adult prisons.

1 comment:

  1. Hang 'em all. Like they should do today. They will get some serious "reform" then.


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