Victorian criminal records show female convicts got harsh punishments

February 25th, 2011 - 5:24 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 25 (ANI): The harsh punishments handed out to female convicts in Victorian times have been revealed through thousands of criminal records.

Family history website, Ancestry.co.uk will for the first time publish more than 4,400 criminal records and 500 mugshots in its collection online.

The collection includes one woman who was sentenced to five years in prison and seven years police supervision for stealing an umbrella.

Women and young girls featured in the records include Mary Richards, who was jailed for five years in 1880 at the age 59 for stealing 130 oysters valued at eight shillings.

Another tells of Dorcas Mary Snell, 45, who was sentenced to five years of imprisonment with hard labour in 1883 for the theft of a single piece of bacon, although she was paroled two years later.

Elizabeth Murphy, who stole the umbrella, received a five years of hard labour in 1884 and seven years of police supervision. She served three years of her sentence before receiving parole in 1887.

The records also detail the lengthy, unforgiving sentences given to women who procured abortions, including Mary Billingham who was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment and hard labour in 1875.

The youngest girl in the records, named Ann McQuillan, is aged just 11, and among 115 girls under 18 who feature in the collection.

By contrast, 76-year-old Ann Dalton who was convicted for stealing “two sheets” in 1863 is the oldest convict in the records. She received five years, serving three of them.

Meanwhile, the records detail a number of violent crimes which women were convicted of.

Mary Morrison, a 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”. She received five years in 1883 but served only three.

Elizabeth Ann Staunton, 29, was convicted of the murder of Harriet Staunton in 1877. Elizabeth was spared the death penalty and instead sentenced to life. She was granted parole six years later.

Ancestry.co.uk said the records, the originals of which are held by the National Archives, provide a picture of the “harsh” British judicial system at the time.

“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,” the Daily Mail quoted Ancestry.co.uk international content director Dan Jones as saying.

The collection was unveiled at ‘Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE’ - the world’s largest family history event, which is being held at London’s Olympia this weekend. (ANI)

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