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Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain. Law as integral to constitution and liberty.

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Presentation on theme: "Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain. Law as integral to constitution and liberty."— Presentation transcript:

1 Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain

2 Law as integral to constitution and liberty

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4 Impartial justice, applying equally to mutineers and a governor of Goree who committed murder

5 Historiography 1970s Marxist or neo-Marxist perspective of E.P.Thompson, Douglas Hay and others [Whigs and Hunters; Albion’s Fatal Tree]: law as an instrument of social or even political control; some crime regarded as illegitimate by authorities but legitimate by perpetrators eg poaching, rioting, wrecking. [So what is ‘crime’? John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728) contrasted fuss over a few pounds stolen by a highwayman and the wholesale corruption of Walpole’s regime; what are the causes of crime?] John Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800 (1986), focusing on assize records

6 The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834 Contains 101,102 trials, from April 1674 to October 1834 http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ Robert Shoemaker, Tim Hitchcock, See also Frank McLynn, Peter Linebaugh

7 Criminal law Tremendous growth in litigation, from C16th. Almost 30,000 cases in Court of common pleas and King’s bench in 1640; by 1820s an average of 72,00 actions a year were started. Problem of delay. 1824 commission to investigate Chancery found one case with took 16yrs of preliminary work before a barrister had even been briefed, with costs of £3719 Growth in legal profession. 1739 Society of Gentlemen practitioners in the courts of Law and Equity; with provincial societies eg Bristol 1770, York 1786

8 treason 200 prosecutions in the decade 1795-1805 Seditious libel, seditious words Riot and breaking the peace: 3 or more assembled to do an unlawful acts constituted riot; 1715 riot act required groups of 12 or more to disperse within an hour of the reading of the proclamation

9 Property and game Informal resolution Extension of the death penalty [the Bloody Code] –Number of capital offences increased from just over 50 in 1688 to 160 in 1765 and 225 by 1815 –Many of these related to game: there were 24 acts 1671-1832 regulating the hunting of game. 1752 Association for the Preservation of Game – pressure groups. –1723 Black Act created 50 capital offences and responded to poaching by those who ‘blackened’ their faces (response to 1722 Atterbury Plot – jacobite - repealed 1823); 1741 and 1742 theft of sheep and cattle became capital offences –For theft of monetary notes, deeds, bills [1742, 1751, 1767, 1795, 1797] –Shoplifting [1699, for goods worth 5s]

10 –But There were four times as many executions in the early C17th as there were in 1750 50-60% of those sentenced to death were pardoned (except in years of crisis eg high rate of executions in 1780s); 90% by early C19th There were only about 20 people a year hung in London and Middlesex at end of century; about 60 for rest of country Benefit of clergy (1706 reading test abolished; though many crimes specifically exempt eg murder, rape) Influence of Enlightenment ideas. Jeremy Bentham: punishment should fit crime in a scientific manner Informal resolution, discretionary system via JPs, who part of a community; jury leniency Does the flexibility in the system give the elite more power – discretion was empowering? [Frank McLynn]

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12 Trends Shift from public to private (pillory infrequently used after 1775, abolished 1837; public whipping of women abolished 1817 after being infrequently used after 1775, but private whippings increased; hanging transferred after 1782 to Newgate) and from physical punishments such as whipping, branding and hanging to reform through imprisonment and transportation eg last branding 1789; burning at stake abolished 1790; 1718 Transportation Act allowed those guilty of capital offences to be transported (30,000 were from england, 13,000 from Ireland); disrupted by American war; prison hulk ships on Thames to house gangs used to dredge the river; resumed 1787 to Australia

13 After 1752 those convicted of murder were sentenced to death with dissection or to be hung in chains

14 Policing No police force Parish officials eg constable; watch; unpaid JPs – numbers increased (more than doubled in Sussex 1680-1760) but many not active; informers could sometimes lead to self- surveillance eg £40 for information leading to capture of a highwayman 1740s Henry and John Fielding appointed magistrate at Bow Street, London – innovators. 1750 appointed a select force from existing parish constables to curb criminal gang; But anxiety about a professional police force (french!) in hands of government 1811, after a series of horrific murders in wapping, one contemporary said that ‘they have an admirable police force at Paris, but they pay for it dear enough. I had rather half a dozen men’s throats should be cut in Radcliffe highway every three or four years than be subject to the domicilary visits, spies and all the rest of Fouchés contrivances’ 1829 Metropolitan Police Act introduced by Peel, replacing parish constable with a professional force, unarmed but uniformed. Still encountered resistance – in 1833 a jury returned a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ on a policeman who had been killed breaking up a political meeting.

15 courts London courts (King’s Bench, chancery, exchequer, common pleas) Local courts (ecclesiastical – in decline); manorial (local estate matters); borough (market but also social); quarter sessions (roads, poor relief, social); assizes (twice a year, conducted by judges, with local grand jury; social event with assize sermon; heard serious crime eg murder, rape, burglary)

16 Imprisonment Usually seen as means of holding men prior to trial Jails were private enterprises, with fees New attitudes esp after 1770s eg 1771 John Howard investigated prisons and found many abuses: deficient food, poor sanitation, overcrowding, disease-ridden; no segregation of sexes 1791 Bentham’s Panopticon as blue print for ideal prison - surveillance Houses of correction: idea of rehabilitation or punishment for petty offence; workhouse and prison. 1779 act recommended building of more 1794 Coldbath Fields House of Correction used solitary confinement; 1817 similar Millbank Penitentiary

17 Execution as public spectacle

18 ‘Popular’ attitudes to crime Popular ‘Entertainment’ and public theatre Criminal was allowed to dress up for the occasion Procession to Tyburn, often stopping to drink along the way Samuel Richardson: ‘The face of everyone spoke a kind of mirth, as if the spectacle afforded pleasure in stead of pain, which I am wholly unable to account for ….every street and lane I passed through bearing rather the face of a holiday that of that sorrow which I expected to see’ James Boswell: ‘I must confess that I myself am never absent from a public execution … when I first attended them I was shocked to the greatest degree. I was in a manner convulsed with pity and terror, and for several days, but especially the night after, I was in a very dismal situation. Still, however I persisted in attending them and by degrees my sensibility abated; so that I can now see one with great composure …the curiosity which impels people to be present at such affecting scenes is certainly a proof of sensibility, not callousness. For it is observed that the greatest proportion of spectators is composed of women’

19 Celebrated criminals The criminal biography. Capt Alexander Smith’s Compleat History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious highwaymen, foot-pads, shop-lifts and Cheats (1719); Capt Charles Johnson’s General history of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-robbers and …Pyrates (1734); The Tyburn Chronicle (1768) John Rann, Sixteen String Jack because of the silk strings he tied to the knee of his breaches; he robbed only the rich. Jonathan Wild, b. 1682, hanged 1725. instructed thieves to steal from people they could identify since they would pay for return of goods. Highwaymen eg Dick Turpin, who operated in early C18th Epping Forest; hung 1739

20 The Newgate Calendar RICHARD TURPIN A famous Highway Robber, who shot dead one of his own Comrades and was executed at York On 7th of April, 1739 This notorious character was for a long time the dread of travellers on the Essex road, on account of the daring robberies which he daily committed; was also a noted house-breaker, and was for a considerable time remarkably successful in his desperate course, but was at length brought to an ignominious end, in consequence of circumstances which, in themselves, may appear trifling. He was apprehended in consequence of shooting a fowl, and his brother refusing to pay sixpence for the postage of his letter occasioned his conviction. He was the son of a farmer at Thackstead in Essex; and, having received a common school education, was apprenticed to a butcher in Whitechapel; but was distinguished from his early youth for the impropriety of his behaviour, and the brutality of his manners. On the expiration of his apprenticeship, be married a young woman of East Ham, in Essex, named Palmer: but he had not been long married before he took to the practice of stealing his neighbours' cattle, which he used to kill and cut up for sale. Having stolen two oxen belonging to Mr. Giles, of Plaistow, he drove them to his own house; but two of Giles's servants, suspecting who was the robber, went to Turpin's where they saw two beasts of such size as had been lost: but as the hides were stripped from them, it was impossible to say that they were the same: but learning that Turpin used to dispose of his hides at Waltham-Abbey, they went thither, and saw the hides of the individual beasts that had been stolen. No doubt now remaining who was the robber, a warrant was procured for the apprehension of Turpin; but, learning that the peace-officers were in search of him, he made his escape from the back window of his house, at the very moment that the others were entering at the door. Having retreated to a place of security, he found means to inform his wife where he was concealed; on which she furnished him with money, with which he travelled into the hundreds of Essex, where he joined a gang of smugglers, with whom he was for some time successful; till a set of the Custom house officers, by one successful stroke, deprived him of all his ill-acquired gains.

21 JACK COLLET ALIAS COLE Highwayman, who robbed in the Habit of a Bishop. Executed at Tyburn, 5th of July, 1691, for Sacrilegious Burglary THIS unfortunate person was the son of a grocer in the borough of Southwark, where he was born, and from whence, at fifteen years of age, he was put out apprentice to an upholsterer in Cheapside. He did not serve above four years of his time before he ran away from his master and took to the highway. We have not an account of abundance of his robberies, though it is said he committed a great many; but there is this remarkable particular recorded of him, that he frequently robbed in the habit of a bishop, with four or five of his companions at his heels in the quality of servants, who were ready to assist him on occasion. Collet had once the ill fortune to lose his canonical habit at dice, so that he was forced to take a turn or two on the road to supply his present necessities in unsanctifying garments. But it was not long before he met with a good opportunity of taking orders again and becoming as holy as ever. Riding from London down into Surrey, a little on this side of Farnham, he met with Dr Mew, Bishop of Winchester, and commanded his coachman to stop. The Bishop was not at all surprised at being asked for his money, because when he saw his coach stopped he expected that would follow. But when Collet told him he must have his robes too, his lordship thought him a madman. There was no resisting, however; the old doctor was obliged to strip into his waistcoat, besides giving him about fifty guineas, which Collet told him he had now a right to demand, by having the sacerdotal habit in his possession. Collet followed this trade till he was about thirty-two years of age, and, as if he had been determined to live by the Church, he was at last apprehended for sacrilege and burglary, in breaking open the vestry of Great St Bartholomew's, in London, in company with one Christopher Ashley, alias Brown, and stealing from thence the pulpit cloth and all the communion plate. For this fact he received sentence of death, and was executed at Tyburn on Friday, the 5th of July, in the year 1691. This Brown and Collet had before robbed St Saviour's Church, in Southwark.

22 smuggling ‘wrecking’ seen as a customary right Often tea, though reduction in tax in 1784 reduced levels 1746 it became a capital offence to smuggle or prevent capture of smugglers; 1784 act make it a capital offence not to surrender goods to a revenue officer

23 Was there a rise in crime? Contemporary perceptions – Henry Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the late Increase of Robbers, and some Proposals for Remedying this Growing Evil (1751). Patrick Colquoun estimated in early C19th that of pop of 10.5m, 1.3m were indigent and criminal. Role of the press? but problem of evidence – does increasing number of indictments reflect actual rise or better prosecution? Regional variation. London was a special case – 0.5m in late C17th but 1m by early C19th, 1/10 th of population. Anonymity. Gangs and footpads (armed robbers on foot) eg Jumping Joe Lorrison, executed 1792, had cat- like ability to jump into carts and rob them. Pickpockets – around the theatres. Duke of Cumberland had is sword stolen on way in to theatre; George III had his watch stolen in Kensington palace gardens. The Thames as source of smuggled goods. Regional studies suggest violent crime was falling. Beattie found that in Surrey and Sussex murder and manslaughter cases fell from 2.5% per 100,000 in 1660-1679, to 0.3% per 100,000 in 1780-1802. Property offences increased after a dip in mid C18th; blips after demobilisation. Study of crime in North East [Morgan and Rushton] showed peak of property offences in 1750s and then 1780s and 1790s; but also high incidence of female involvement [a third of accused in Durham and Northumberland were women, half in Newcastle]; and increasingly urban phenomenon

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26 Gin Lane. 1736 act attempted to regulate it; 1751 act most successful, and this print from that year (when consumption was about 11m gallons; one in every 15 houses sold alcohol; excessive drinking thought to be cause of death for about one in eight adults c. 1800

27 Sexual crime petty treason was a servant killing a master or a wife killing a husband (1351 act) Sexual offences including bigamy [1753 Hardwicke Marriage act clarified what constituted a marriage] 1782 comments by one judge on beating wives

28 Judge Buller and the rule of thumb

29 Prostitution – c.40-50,000 in early C19th London; Defoe, Moll Flanders (based on Moll King, executed 1720); Hogarth’s Harlot’s progress depicted decline of country girl into a poxed whore

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31 Campaigns for moral reform Impact of religious toleration? Two major campaigns: 1689-1720 (75,000 prosecutions0; 1780s (crisis after war with America), 1787 proclamation vs vice and 1787 Proclamation Society, had strong Pittite support but never really a popular movement; 1802 Society for the Suppression of Vice did have greater lower social appeal, to bring about prosecutions. Drew on religious zeal and fear of immorality but also idea of moral failings of criminals and political loss of virtue/public spirit Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge founded 1699 1702 Society for Propagation of the Gospel Overseas 1783-4 Sunday school movement, 1785 Sunday School Society; evangelical movement;

32 What is the purpose of punishment? Deterrent? Retribution? Rehabilitation?


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