Friday, July 29, 2016


Findmypast announced the addition of 2.5 million new records today. I have to say it's the most fascinating press release I've
ever read! It is also one of the longest:

2.5 Million Historic Criminal Records Released Online
- reveal merciless sentencing of petty crooks and the crimes of Victorian Britains most notorious killers

Over 2.5 million new records from shed light on the lives of our felonious forebears
Available online for the first time, the records provide fascinating insights into the history of crime and punishment in 18th, 19th and early 20th century England and Wales
Spanning 1779-1936, the records allow you to discover villains and victims in your family tree and piece together their journey through the criminal system

London, UK, 29th July, 2016  Leading family history website has today released the records of over 2.5 million historic criminals in association with The National Archives. The release marks the final instalment of their Crime, Prisons and Punishment collection, the largest searchable database of English and Welsh crime and punishment records available online, containing over 5.5 million records.

The collection covers 157 years of criminal history (1779-1936) and records the intimate details of millions of victims and villains, beginning with judges' recommendations for or against pardons, petitions through which criminals and their families could offer mitigating circumstances and grounds for mercy, and later, licences containing everything from previous convictions to the state of a prisoner's health.

They reveal many ordinary and extraordinary stories of criminals, victims and law enforcers from the Georgian highway robber, the Victorian murderer and the Edwardian thief, to the common rural poacher, unemployed petty food thief and the early trade unionist.

The collection includes mugshots and coloured images of historical records, as well as detailed accounts of infamous serial killers, notorious executioners, and the only successful assassination of a British Prime Minister.

Tough Justice
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the criminal Justice systems chief concern was the defence of property. Crimes against property” tended to be taken more seriously than crimes against the person and, until 1823, the theft of goods worth more than 12 pence (about one-twentieth of the weekly wage for a skilled worker) had been punishable by death. Records often reveal how those convicted of larceny frequently received harsher sentences than those convicted of violent offences. Examples include;

11-year-old London street child, Mary Wade, who was sentenced to death by hanging at the Old Bailey in 1788 for stealing clothes from another child.

18 year old Thomas Abdey who was sentenced to transportation for life in 1823 for the theft of a handkerchief.

22 year old Charles Biggs who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the theft of trousers.

14 year old Richard Cooper who was transported for life after stealing a piece of ribbon.

Thirty-five year old artist Edward Ball from Eastbourne who was given the death sentence with no mercy for attempting to use a forged £5 note in 1808.

This trend continued until the beginning of the 20th century. One bizarre list of court cases in Essex dating from 1896 shows how a Mr. Charles Norton was sentenced to nine months in Pentonville Prison for stealing five cases of brandy while an errand boy named George Roker was jailed for only four months for manslaughter.

The history of British crime
The collection also shows the evolution of the criminal justice system in the 19th century as the Britain dealt with the impact of industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth. Crime rates exploded as more and more desperate people crowded into industrial cities in search of work, rising from roughly 5,000 cases a year in 1800 to around 20,000 in 1840.

Crimes against property were by far the most common offences committed during the 18th and 19th centuries, with larceny, theft and burglary continuously topping the charts. Receiving stolen goods and forgery were also common offences while violent or destructive crimes such as arson, murder and shootings were less frequent.

The majority of offenders were young males convicted of petty thefts. The most common offences committed by women were linked to prostitution and were, essentially, 'victimless' crimes - soliciting, drunkenness, drunk and disorderly, vagrancy.

Domestic violence rarely came before the courts as it tended to be committed in the private sphere of the home and was largely tolerated in working-class communities. Amongst other classes, the publicising of such behaviour would have been regarded as bringing a family's reputation into disrepute and offences were rarely reported.

Notable figures found within the collection include:

John Bellingham, the assassin of British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, the only Prime Minister in British history to be assassinated. Bellingham was executed on 18 May 1812. Many people were sympathetic to his cause and viewed him as a martyr who died to teach ministers that they should do justice, and grant audience when it is asked of them.

Michael Barrett (1841  26 May 1868) was the last man to be publicly hanged in England, for his part in the Clerkenwell bombing in December 1867. The bombing killed 12 bystanders and severely injured many more. Barrett had positioned the bomb in a wheelbarrow outside the external wall of Coldbath Fields Prison in the belief that it would bring down the prison wall and allow Fenian prisoners to escape. Barrett was executed outside the walls of Newgate Prison on 26 May 1868 before a crowd of 2,000 who booed, jeered and sang Rule Britannia and Champagne Charlie as his body dropped.

Catherine Murphy - The last woman to be burned at the stake. Catherine was convicted for counterfeiting and found guilty on 10 September 1788 alongside her husband, Hugh, who was sentence to death by hanging. The difference in the method of executions was a matter of law. At the time, the law allowed for a woman to be burned at the stake. On the day of her execution, eight men were hanged and Catherine was required to walk out in front of them to be secured to the stake.

Frances Kidder (c. 1843  2 April 1868) was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Britain. Twenty-five-year-old Kidder was executed in front of Maidstone Gaol at 12 noon on 2 April 1868 after it was alleged that she had drowned her 11-year-old stepdaughter in a ditch. The jury returned their verdict in only 12 minutes. Around 2,000 people, including Kidder's husband, are reported to have witnessed the execution. She could not stand and had to be held up by two wardens.

Numerous victims of William Calcraft, the notorious executioner who is believed to have been one of the most active executioners in British history having conducted over 450 hangings across his 45 year career.

Baby farmer, Amelia Dyer, who is believed to have murdered 400 babies between 1880 and 1896.

Serial killer George Joseph Smith, who killed three wives by drowning them in the bath before being convicted in 1915. The case was significant in the history of forensic detection and became known as the "Brides in the Bath Murders".

Franz Muller - a German tailor who was hanged for the murder of Thomas Briggs in 1864, the first person murdered on a British train . The case caught the imagination of the public due to increasing safety fears about rail travel, and the pursuit of Müller across the Atlantic Ocean to New York by Scotland Yard. The case was the subject of the successful book “Mr Briggs' Hat”.

Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, an American homeopath, ear and eye specialist and medicine dispenser who was hanged in Pentonville Prison for the murder of his wife Cora. Crippen was the first criminal caught with wireless telegraphy and was arrested at sea after attempting to flee to the United States with his mistress.

Constance Kent – 16 year old Constance killed her infant half-brother, Saville Kent, in what became known as the Road Hill House murder and formed the basis for the novel The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”.

Maria and Frederick Manning  the first husband and wife to be executed together in England since 1700. The Mannings were hanged in 1849 for the murder of Marias lover. Maria was a Swiss domestic servant who was different from the standard Victorian femme. The case became known as the "Bermondsey Horror" as the couples execution was witnessed by Charles Dickens who based a character in “Bleak House” on Maria and generally changed his view of executions as a result.

Thomas Griffiths Wainwright - an English artist, author and journalist who is widely believed to have been a serial killer and poisoner. He was transported to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) for forgery, where he became a portraitist for Hobart's elite.

James Bloomfield Rush – the Stanfield Hall murderer. Rush, a delinquent tenant-farmer, gunned down landowner Isaac Jermy and his son after conducting a complex, devious scheme to defraud them of their property. Rush was hanged at Norwich Castle on 21 April 1849 and was a popular figure in Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horror till the 1970s.

Few can resist the allure of a black sheep in the family, those rogues who have a real story to tell. Now we can tell these stories at the touch of a button and with original photographs too, perhaps even look into the eyes of someone who makes us a part of who we are. said Myko Clelland, historian at

 Dr Paul Carter at The National Archives said: “Criminal records are perhaps some of the most detailed and intimate records for the family historian. Those criminal records held by The National Archives, and now available through Find My Past, are a genealogical treasure trove. The various returns from convict hulks, calendars of prisoners, petitions for clemency, licenses and registers, allow the researcher to track the criminal careers of their ancestors and the evolution of the criminal justice system from the 18th to the early part of the 20th century. For the first time online researchers can chart their ancestors often from their first brush with the law, through imprisonment, appeal, transportation or execution to commutation of sentence, release from imprisonment and in many cases acquittal.

This final phase of the Crime, Prisons and Punishment collection includes over a million criminal registers listing the names of prisoners, offences, sentences and dates of conviction as well as licences to male and female convicts. Licences include full physical descriptions of inmates along with a photograph (from 1871 onwards), details related to their offence and conviction, and reports of their behaviour, or misbehaviour, in prison. Also included are trial calendars, records of prisoners in lunatic asylums, petitions submitted by family and friends and judges reports.

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