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Mugshots And Petty Crimes Victorian Children Were Jailed For In The 1870s

These pictures were taken in the 1870s and originate from Oxford Gaol, a prison that later became HMP Oxford. During this time, children were often imprisoned for minor offenses and no distinction was made despite their ages.

Most of these teenage criminals were arrested for stealing seemingly trivial items but still faced tough punishments. Jim Westbury, age, was given six months of hard labor and five years at a reformatory school for stealing corn and hay. Alice Dawson, age 13, was sentenced to seven days of hard labor for stealing an umbrella.

Other images show brothers John and Thomas Williams, aged 13 and 14 respectively, who were arrested for six months for house looting.

Amy Foy, age 16, was handed 21 days of labor for stealing a bodice. William Clarke, 17, who was arrested for stealing a handkerchief, and twelve-year-old Rose Halliday who was thrown behind bars for ten days for ‘false pretenses’.

Ellen Woodman: 11. Ellen was ordered to do 7 days of hard labour after being convicted of stealing iron.

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

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

Crowded places such as fairs, marketplaces, and public executions were particularly profitable for young thieves. In 1824 for example a 15-year-old boy, Joseph Mee, was charged with picking pockets at a public execution taking place at the Old Bailey; a youth described by the magistrate as a ‘hardened and unconcerned’ offender.

At Greenwich Fair in 1835 13-year-old Robert Spencer was caught by a policeman drawing a handkerchief from the pocket of a gentleman in the crowd, while later in 1840 another constable stated in court how he witnessed 11-year-old Martin Gavan and another boy ‘try several pockets’ before stealing a gentleman’s handkerchief among a crowd that had gathered around a traffic accident.

Jane Farrell: 12. Jane stole two boots and was sentenced to do 10 hard days of labour.

A step towards treating children differently was the Juvenile Offences Act of 1847, which said that young people under 14 (soon raised to 16) should be tried in a special court, not an adult court.

More far-reaching were the first Reformatory Schools, set up in 1854. Young people were sent to a Reformatory School for long periods – several years.

The long sentences were designed to break the child away from the “bad influences” of home and environment.

Reformatories were as far as the government was prepared to go towards treating children differently for most of the 19th century.

Attitudes began to swing towards reform in the early 20th century. From 1899 children were no longer sent to adult prisons.

Henry Leonard Stephenson. 12. Henry was convicted of breaking into houses and was sentenced to 2 months in prison in 1873.

Rosanna Watson: 13. Rosanna was sentenced to 7 days of hard labour after being caught stealing iron.

James Scullion: 13. James Scullion was sentenced to 14 days of hard labour at Newcastle City Gaol for stealing clothes. After this, he was sent to Market Weighton Reformatory School for 3 years.

Michael Clement Fisher: 13. Michael was an accomplice of Henry Leonard Stephenson, charged with breaking into houses and sentenced to 2 months in prison.

Seven-year-old Julie-Ann Crumpling was jailed at Oxford Castle Prison for stealing a pram, and sentenced to seven days of hard labour

Stephen Monaghan: 14. Stephen Monaghan was convicted of stealing money on July 25, 1873, and was sentenced to 10 days of hard labour and 3 years in Market Weighton Reformatory.

Henry Miller: 14. Henry was charged with the theft of clothing and sentenced to 14 days of hard labour.

Mary Catherine Docherty: 14. Mary was sentenced to 7 days of hard labour after being convicted of stealing iron along with her accomplices: Mary Hinnigan, Ellen Woodman, and Rosanna Watson.

John Reed: 15. John was sentenced to do 14 days of hard labour and 5 years of reformation for stealing money in 1873.

Martha Herbert, 12, was sentenced to 42 days of hard labour at Oxford Castle prison for stealing half a shilling and six pence, on February 23, 1871.

Edward Fenn: 15. Edward was convicted of stealing clothes on March 31, 1873, and served 1 month with hard labour.

Robert Charlton: 16. Robert Charlton was a labourer from Newcastle and was imprisoned for 4 months for stealing 2 pairs of boots.

John Duffy: 16. John was found guilty of assault and theft. He was imprisoned for 6 months.

Rosa Halliday was just 12 years old when she was sentenced to ten days hard labour at Oxford Castle prison for the crime of ‘false pretences’ on February 9, 1871.

James Donneley: 16. Also known as James Darley, at the age of just 16, this young man had been in and out of prison, but on this occasion, he was sentenced to 2 months for stealing some shirts.

George Lamb: 17. Accomplice of John Duffy, George Lamb was sentenced to 4 months in prison after stealing money.

George Green spent four years in the reformatory school for stealing a bag containing bread and butter.

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