WaywardWomen

Victorian England's Female Offenders

Archive for the tag “Convict”

Convicts in the Colonies

After four fantastic years losing myself in records, archives, and histories of convicts transported to Australia,  I’m thrilled to finally be able to announce the publication of my new book, Convicts in the Colonies. Whether you’ve enjoyed following the progress of the Digital Panopticon project and hearing about the stories those facing British Justice on both sides of the world, or whether you’re totally new to the world of convict transportation, this is the book for you!

Convicts in the Colonies cover

In the eighty years between 1787 and 1868 more than 160,000 men, women and children convicted of everything from picking pockets to murder were sentenced to be transported across the world. These convicts were destined to serve out their sentences – anywhere from seven years to life – in the British empire’s newest and most remote colony: Australia. Through vivid real-life case studies and famous tales of the exceptional and extraordinary, Convicts in the Colonies narrates the history of convict transportation to Australia from the first fleet to the final ship. Using the latest original research, Convicts in the Colonies reveals a fascinating century-long history of British convicts unlike any other. Covering everything from crime and sentencing in Britain and the perilous voyage to Australia, to life in each of the three main Australian penal colonies, this book charts the lives and experiences of convicts who crossed the world and underwent one of the most extraordinary punishments in history.

Amongst the most captivating things about the history of transportation to Australia is just how diverse convicts, and their experiences, could be. From famous ‘celebrity’ convicts like Isaac Solomon (widely held to be the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ Fagin in Oliver Twist) who ended their days thousands of miles from home, to the multitudes who were sentenced to transportation but never left England’s shores, no two tales of transportation are ever the same.  Convicts in the Colonies provides a collection of these tales, following men, women, and children on personal and penal journeys from court to port, prison, or beyond. Read one of them here. Convicts in the Colonies is now available via Amazon or at an introductory rate via the publisher’s site.

 

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The Journey of Julia Rigby

Julia Rigby was born at sea in 1829 and grew up in Lambeth, South London. Julia would next step foot on a boat twenty years after her birth when, once again, a new life would begin. Little is known about Julia’s early years. She was likely from a poor family, and while her mother, Ellen, and brothers, William, James, and Edward, are all listed as her next of kin on official records, there is no mention of Julia’s father. There is no record of Julia’s employment, only of the living she made by picking pockets, or stealing from shops. Julia was only a young woman when she pleaded guilty to stealing a watch from the person of Frederick Armytage at the Old Bailey in August of 1850.

Julia was seen by several people clinging to her victim before the robbery, asking if he wanted to buy her a drink (a common tactic of both prostitutes and thieves, looking for easy prey in the evenings). Although Julia was only twenty-one, she had reason to be fearful of facing a severe punishment at a trial, which would almost certainly go against her. There were other convictions known by the court against her. Cumulatively, Julia had served several years in prison. She spent ten days in prison for her first offence as a teenager after stealing gingham (fabric). Then she served fifteen months for stealing a watch and chain, another two years for stealing another watch, and three months with hard labour in Brixton prison in 1848 for the theft of twenty shillings’ worth of flannel. Prior to her latest offence, Julia had been convicted just months before, in March 1850, for receiving stolen goods, for which she served another three months.

Julia’s criminal career stretched back to her mid-teens and she had only been out of prison two months when indicted for the theft from Fred Armytage. To the court there would have been little doubt as to her ‘bad’ character, and she could probably have expected to be punished with the full force the law would allow. Julia chose not to go to trial and pleaded guilty to the offence. Saving the court the time and money of a trial in this way often meant an offender could expect a more favourable sentence. Julia may have been hoping for this. There is also evidence to suggest that she pleaded guilty in an attempt to save her lover, William, who was accused alongside her.

By pleading guilty and avoiding a trial, Julia took responsibility for the theft and was dealt with swiftly. She was sentenced to be transported for seven years. William Jones, with whom she lived ‘as man and wife’, had been with her that evening, likely picking out victims for her to target and receiving the stolen items when she was done. In court he denied all knowledge of the crime, and even association with Julia. He was found guilty in taking part in the robbery, but given just twelve months imprisonment for his role. The two would never see each other again.

Four months later, Julia sailed for Van Diemen’s Land aboard the Emma Eugenia. By the time she arrived in the colony in March 1851, her accomplice had less than six months of his sentence left to serve. On arrival in Australia, Julia claimed to be a housemaid, although this was unlikely to be true, due to her repeated spells in prison throughout her working-age life. She was five feet tall, fresh faced, with dark brown eyes, and a string of letters and numbers tattooed on her left forearm, commemorating the initials of loved ones, and her criminal history. The most recent were two characters ‘7 Y’ denoting the journey she had just begun.

After bad behaviour throughout the journey, Julia was taken to Cascades Female Factory, where she spent three months under supervision. She was assigned labour in the summer of 1851, but returned to the factory to undertake three months of hard labour later that year for insolence. After being re-assigned following her punishment, Julia was relatively well behaved during her time in the convict system. She was returned to hard labour for a month on just one occasion, in 1852, after being found to have money concealed on her person.

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Cascades Female Factory

While on work assignment, Julia met Joseph Lodge, a fellow convict, and the pair were granted permission to marry in 1853. Joseph, a Yorkshireman, had been transported to the colony in 1842 aboard the Marquis of Hastings for a term of fifteen years for murder. Joseph had a wife and children back in Yorkshire, whose fate at the time he married Julia is not known. Julia was granted her Ticket-of-Leave in 1854, three years before the expiration of her sentence. Her Conditional Pardon followed in 1856 (Joseph had received his in 1851). The pair went on to have seven children in the next fourteen years, and eventually settled on land they were granted in Tunbridge, roughly sixty miles each way between the major settlements of Hobart and Launceston.

Julia’s record read like that of a convict who would easily slip back into reoffending after the expiration of her sentence. She had a significant record of offending before transportation, had exhibited troublesome behaviour under sentence and had married a fellow convict, a murderer and a bigamist. Yet despite their criminal pasts, Julia and Joseph built good lives together. Tunbridge was a busy coaching town, providing accommodation and supplies for those travelling between two major settlements. The Lodges were a testament to the penal ideals of transportation; that by displacing convicts from their former lives, rather than just disciplining them and turning them loose at home, they were given the chance for a new start. An opportunity to build new, law-abiding lives.

It certainly seems that Julia and Joseph seized this chance. They were, by all accounts, respected members of their community. Joseph’s testimony on the drunk misconduct of a local police officer was key in his removal from post, Julia acted as witness in a case for theft, and Joseph was well known in the district as a fair employer and a reliable workman. They created lives simply out of reach of many British convicts rebuilding their lives on home soil.

Julia only ever came to the attention of the authorities again once, in 1870, when she visited an old friend from her convict days, Ann Reed, back in Hobart. Reed, like Julia, was now an innkeeper. After a couple of drinks together at Reed’s establishment, the Tasmania Arms, a fight took place between the two women in a dispute over money, which Julia said that Ann Reed and her husband had stolen. The case dragged on in court for over a week, with Reed prosecuting Julia for assault, and Julia bringing a counter-suit. The case was quickly and mysteriously settled when Reed agreed to pay Julia compensation to the sum of sixteen pounds. Julia returned to Tunbridge, her business, her family, and her law-abiding life.

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Julia Rigby in later life

Julia lived the last years of her life in peace and obscurity. She died at the age of forty-seven at her inn in Tunbridge in 1878, after a short illness. She was respectably buried in Tunbridge and mourned by family and friends.

Julia’s life was a story of two halves, each beginning at sea. She had been a thief and pickpocket, a fallen woman living with a man outside the bonds of marriage, and would have undoubtedly been seen as part of the feared ‘criminal class’ at home in England. Julia would have seemed like a prime candidate for recidivism and a disorderly life in the colonies. Yet after her transportation Julia formed a family, became a property holder, a businesswoman, and pillar of her community. Julia’s penal, physical, and personal journey was remarkable, but not in its length or hardship nor particularly its impact on history. Her journey was remarkable because she travelled from poverty to prosperity, and from ruin to lasting respectability – much more than many of the girls raised in London’s slums could ever have expected.

You can read more about convicts like Julia and the journeys that took men, women, and children from the streets of Britain to the other side of the world in my new book Convicts in the Colonies.

Prison: A punishment for the mind . . . and the body?

Convict prisons kept some of the best records about prisoners in the nineteenth century. They tell us where prisoners came from, what they did for a living and their record of previous convictions. But more than this, they detail how men and women spent months and years of their lives in prisons. The work assignments they undertook, who they wrote to and who wrote to them, the infractions they made against prison rules and the punishments they received. As well as their behaviour, prisoner’s bodies were strictly regulated and recorded during their time under sentence. Not only do prison dietaries show us what prisoners ate on a daily basis (even allowing us to calculate, down to the calorie, how much energy they imbibed and expended each day), they also show us the common health problems –and solutions- prisoners experienced.

Prison Dietary Berwick 1849Example of  prison dietary from Berwick Prison, 1849

Prison medical records are particularly fascinating in the case of female offenders because they constitute some of the only surviving health and medical data for working-class women until the formation of the National Health Service. I’ve blogged before on how some of the discipline records kept by convict prisons can hold the key to understanding how women’s mental health fared in prison, and how mental illness was dealt with by penal regimes. However, recently, my work with height and weight data has made me think about how women fared during imprisonment from a physical perspective too.

Medical history sheets give us a great ‘snapshot’ of women’s health and bodies as they entered prisons. We know  if they had suffered from common ailments such as smallpox, syphilis, or rheumatism. These records not only contextualise incidence of illness and care inside prison, they also give us fascinating context for women’s lives outside prison. For example, ‘descriptions’ of prisoners taken for identification purposes often detail missing body parts – such as teeth, fingers, and even eyes. They recorded the scars that women’s bodies bore, from burns, accidents, and incidence of interpersonal violence.

Physical descriptionPhysical description of  Mary Lynch, 1872. Text reads: ‘Nose Broken, Ears Pierced. Slight mark over right eye. Lost one top tooth.

Prisons also began to record the height and weight of their inmates which offers historians the potential to think about women’s nutrition and health inside and outside of the institution. Taking a random sample of fifty London offenders from the Digital Panopticon project (imprisoned between 1880-1885) we can measure that on average the women began a term in convict prison weighing 123.5 lbs, whereas they left prison weighing 129lbs, gaining around six pounds each over the course of their imprisonment. Of course, most women spent years in prison and while under sentence their weight could fluctuate hugely. How much weight a woman lost or gained was not only due to the diet and work requirements at a particular institution, but instances of illness too, so more comprehensive conclusions are a way off. Yet even having the opportunity to identify a general trend for weight gain (or, indeed, weight loss) is important evidence which helps us understand how women’s lives led them to prison, how penal regimes affected women. Those that left prison weighing more than they did on reception may have experienced poor nutrition or illness prior to their convictions. Essential pieces of information for contextualising women’s crimes within their broader lives and well-being.

Mary Lynch’s weight record 1872-1885

The relatively young age of female prisoners means that the few years they spent in prison was often fairly uneventful – from both a disciplinary and medical perspective. But prison records contain enough instances in which women did see the prison medical officer so that we can begin to see patterns in the common health problems they experienced.

Common medical problems amongst women at this time included Catarrh (bronchitis) which while sometimes caused by viruses could also be caused by exposure to irritating substances, such as tobacco smoke, fumes, and fibres, many of which were common place in the factories, furriers, and residential areas in which poor women lived and worked.  Women also suffered from ‘debility and diarrhoea’ – periods of weakness as their bodies adjusted to the change in diet and regime. One of the most interesting and widely spread complaints specific to women was dymenorrhoea (a blanket terms used for heavy or painful menstruation). Of course, its important not to make too many generalisations with limited information on this condition. However the commonness with which women reported dymenorrhoea, combined with a general trend for weight gain, might suggest that, for younger women especially, long terms of imprisonment were some of the first instances in life in which they were well-nourished enough to regularly menstruate – causing them to report unexpected instances of painful and ‘heavy’ bleeding.

Medical records also give us the opportunity to see how medical professionals treated the complaints of convict women. For many offenders, imprisonment was the first regular access to medical care they had every had experienced. Prison medical records contain evidence of both care for patients, and the dismissal of many women’s complaints as medical officers attempted to treat the sick and maintain the punitive element of their incarceration.

Medical record in prisonRecord of prisoner complaints and medical officer’s evaluation and action.

Information about prisoner’s health and medical treatment opens up so many opportunities to think about the experience of imprisonment, the impact prison had on women’s bodies, and the health of working class women outside of institutions. In what I hope is the first of several posts, I want to pose some questions, rather than offer any conclusions. We know that long terms of imprisonment could have detrimental effects on the mental health of prisoners, and we know that Victorian convict prisons made very little provision to deal with mental illness, or to protect the mental health of patients. Prisons broke the spirit, ground men good, and hoped to psychologically reform criminal characters. But what did they do to, and for, body? Was imprisonment more gruelling on women’s bodies than their lives outside prison, or did incarceration offer an opportunity for women’s health to improve? Was prison a punishment for the body as well as the mind?

Like the blog? Buy the book!

I’m thrilled to announce that my first book, Wayward Women, inspired by this blog, has been published by Pen and Sword books.

Wayward Women was inspired by my PhD, but it doesn’t draw directly from it. You don’t need to be an academic to enjoy this book. If you are interested in the history of women and crime, if you’ve like the content of this blog, then this book is for you!

Cover

From child-strippers, land-sharks and hocussers to brawlers, traffickers and sneaks Wayward Women takes a closer look at the fascinating world of female offending in Victorian England. Whether it was everyday crimes of violence, theft, and disorder that filled busy police courts or the sensationalised acts of deviance that dominated newspaper headlines nationwide, Wayward Women follows the stories of women navigating poverty and opportunity in a world where life was hard and the law was unforgiving. Looking beyond the crinolines and stereotypes so often associated with Victorian female offenders, this book reveals a rich history of diverse crimes, and the ordinary and exceptional women responsible for them.

Its been fantastic fun having the opportunity to write up so many cases of nineteenth century female offenders and their crimes of property, violence and public order all over England. You can now buy Wayward Women direct from Pen and Sword, or on Amazon. The support and encouragement I’ve received for WaywardWomen the blog has been amazing, I hope you’ll all like Wayward Women the book just as much – if not more. May it be as enjoyable for you to read as it was for me to write!

All Aboard the Amphitrite

Penal transportation to Australia is a fascinating subject for anyone interested in England’s history of crime and punishment. What we should make of transportation, and how we should perceive it as both a system of punishment and a human experience is something that divides historians. Few accounts of transportation to Australia would deny the horrors undergone by convicts who awaited transportation in hulks or prisons, or the terrifying and treacherous journeys facing those who sailed to Australia. When they arrived in Australia convicts could face back-breaking labour and a brutal system of secondary punishments which kept them under control.

However, some have also highlighted the benefits that transportation offered convicts. Prisoners under sentence could marry, they could take employment and earn money. Once a convict was issued their ‘ticket-of-leave’ they were essentially free to take advantage of the opportunities that the colony had to offer.  They could find work, acquire land, and prosper. Freedom in Australia could bring a life *and climate* the likes of which many English convicts had never known. Digital Panopticon Ph.D student Emma Watkins recently spoke about the success of Mary Reiby, transported to New South Wales at the age of fourteen, who built a family and a successful business after the expiration of her seven year sentence. So remarkable was Mary’s contribution to the colony that since 1994 her face has graced the Australian $20 Bill.

Australian $20

Of course, not every convict story was as happy as Mary’s. It would only be too easy to view transportation through the rose-tinted lens of history, forgetting the immense psychological damage that could be done to those forcefully separated from everything and everyone they knew, transported across the world in bondage, never to return. Or the physical dangers that awaited those who sailed to Australia and toiled on its unfamiliar shores. Nonetheless, we have enough evidence to suggest that not all convicts looked to the colonies with terror. Some viewed the opportunities available to convicts in Australia as preferable to undergoing English punishment. Particularly in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s when the horrors of initial settlement were largely over and two successful colonies in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land were established. Some have even suggested that the end of penal transportation in 1868 was due, at least in part, to it no longer providing sufficient deterrent to convicts. Not all offenders were as opposed to life in Australia as we might expect.

Much of the history of transportation continues to interrogate these ideas. What was life really like for convicts in Australia? Who was selected for transportation and how? Did transportation offer a better prospect of reform, a better chance of offenders going on to have a ‘successful’ life? Did transportation work better than imprisonment? These are just some of the questions being considered by the Digital Panopticon’s Penal Outcomes theme.

In our haste to measure and chart the lives of convicts landing in Australia, we can often lose sight of the individual human journeys that were taking place. The great injustice befalling those sent unwillingly miles from home as property of the state, or the hopes and heartbreak of those who begged to go but never began a new life in Australia. Sometimes a single voyage, like that of the Amphitrite, gives us pause to think about the people behind the penal outcomes, and the multiple tragedies revealed by transportation.

In late August 1833 the convict ship Amphitrite set out from Woolwich, bound for New South Wales. Officially on board were 101 female convicts (historical accounts also suggest that there were seven other convict women, and twelve of the convict’s children between the age of two and twelve). The female convicts came predominantly from London and Scotland although there were a scattering of women from other areas of the UK. Unlike many of their peers who could wait upwards of two years to board a convict ship, all of those on the Amphitrite had been tried in 1833 and waited just a few months before departure. The women aboard the Amphitrite were in many ways indistinguishable from the majority of other nineteenth century female convicts. All were between the ages of sixteen and forty. Those from Scotland were reportedly notorious recidivists, and from the details available of the women sentenced at London’s Old Bailey, a good proportion of them were prostitutes. Women like Mary Stuart and Charlotte Rogers convicted of picking their customer’s pockets and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. We know some by their own admission were guilty, and others like Mary Hamilton, sentenced to a term of fourteen years, may have been innocent. In Hamilton’s case even the victim of a robbery, Williams Carter, admitted ‘I cannot say the prisoner is the person’.

As a rule, female convicts on ships like the Amphitrite tend to leave very little in the way of evidence about how they felt about the sentences they were given. All we can do is imagine. Did women like Mary Brown, who ran a ‘house of ill fame’, and Charlotte Smith, a prostitute, who worked with her to rob a customer feel relief when their death sentences were commuted to life in Australia? Were the women terrified and devastated, or like Caroline Ellis, seemingly indifferent. Ellis was overheard by a policeman speaking to a fellow inmate at the local lockup, herself a returned transported, stating matter-of-factly that she supposed she ‘should be transported this time’.

There were others like Maria Hoskins, aged twenty-eight, who admitted in court that she wanted to be sent to Australia. Hoskins stole a watch from her land lady and pawned it. The landlady discovered the theft and asked for the pawn ticket so she might retrieve the property. Hoskins replied, ‘No. I will not do that; I did it with the intention of being transported’ Hoskins refused to say were the watch was pledged until her landlady fetched a police officer to arrest her. She told the arresting officer, ‘If you have any compassion on a female you will take me up – if you do not, I will do murder.’ Hoskins, impoverished and desperate, saw the potential for a better life in Australia. Police constable Richard Broderick testified, ‘I took the prisoner; she said if she was not transported for this, she would commit something more heinous that would send her out of the country – that she had applied to Covent-garden parish for relief, and had been refused, and if she came across Mr. Farmer, she would drive a knife into him, and hang for him.

Hoskins was given the desired sentence – seven years transportation. Hoskins even appealed to the authorities that she and her fellow convicts be granted new clothes for their fresh start in Australia, in which she stated she was ‘anxious to alter her way of living.’

Dublin Morning Register

Tragically, like the other 100 known convicts on the Amphitrite, she never reached her destination.

The Amphitrite was caught in a severe storm off the coast of France on August 31. The ship was completely destroyed, and every convict woman, every child, and all but three of the crew were drowned. The Amphitrite was the first convict vessel to be lost since the start of transportation to Australia, and the first loss of a female convict transport.

A Disaster at Sea ?c.1835 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
A Disaster at Sea ?c.1835 

The tragedy of the Amphitrite became scandal when it was revealed by observers and the three survivors that the captain had refused help offered by those close by on shore because there were female convicts aboard. The captain considered releasing the crew and children and leaving the convict women to their fate, and ultimately refused the help of rescuers lest the convicts made a bid for freedom.

LES 1833

The Amphitrite, subject of ballads and paintings for the rest of the nineteenth century has largely disappeared from modern histories of transportation. As has the convict vessel Neva, carrying 150 Irish female convicts and thirty three of their children, which sank of the coast of Australia less than two years later. However, their stories are a microcosm of transportation through which we can think about the very human experience – and cost of punishment. What did transportation mean for female convicts and the lives they left behind?  Was the prospect of a new beginning never entirely separated from the stain of conviction, or did the status of a convict follow some until their final moments? Voyages like the Amphitrite also remind us of the danger faced by convicts at every stage of the journey. As they waited in appalling conditions to sail, as they faced childbirth, disease, and rough seas, an as they worked through the convict system in Australia in the hope of freedom and a fresh start. There is something to learn from every voyage, every ship, and every convict –women like Mary Hoskins who was willing to go to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of a future that would never arrive.

 

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