A superb photo archive of Victorian prisoners gives us an insight of crimes committed one hundred and fifty years ago, their culprits, and their punishments. It is clear that age was not an issue when children as young as seven served hard labor for petty crimes, while mature robbers were hanged for their unlawful actions. Ancestry has shared more than 235,000 records of Gloucestershire criminals during the last one hundred and eighty years, allowing us to get a better understanding of 19th-century offenders.
Victorian England saw a significant part of its population impoverished by the advances of the Industrial Revolution; a time when laborers were replaced by machines, and many families lost their daily income, leading individuals to rely on desperate measures to survive – including children. A seven-year-old boy named of Edgar Kilminster was imprisoned in 1870 for stealing sweetmeats to feed his nine-year-old brother, Joseph. They were sentenced seven days of hard labor and each given twelve birch strokes. While another set of brothers – Samuel (18) and Alfred Taylor (14) – also served hard labor for stealing rabbits to survive.
Things weren’t easier for low-class workers, either. From the age of seven, girls were sent to do complete domestic work for affluent families. In many cases, the girls were the only employed member of their families, working seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, and earning as little as thirteen pounds a year. At the age of fourteen, Elizabeth Crowder from Cheltenham was punished for stealing a purse from her “Master” to provide for her family.
William Lord was well-known by the police. Over the course of twenty years, he was charged multiple times for minor offenses. At the age of seventy-nine, Mr. Lord appears on the Gloucestershire Gaol records for stealing timber, receiving a sentence of six months of hard labor and seven years of police supervision. He fell ill, presumably as a result of his age, and he was therefore pardoned by Her Majesty, the Queen.