Victorian justice records which show how the harsh punishments were given to women criminals – such as five years in jail for stealing one rasher of bacon – have been published online for the first time.
More than 4,400 parole records and 500 mug shots of Victorian criminals have been made available by Ancestry.co.uk
They provide an astonishing insight into the way justice was imposed during the late 1800s.
Those convicted of lesser crimes such as theft, and ‘domestic housebreaking’ often felt the full force of law.
Examples include Elizabeth Murphy, a19-year-old Elizabeth was sentenced to five years of hard labour in prison and seven years of police supervision for stealing an umbrella. She served three years of her sentence before receiving parole in 1887.
Dorcas Mary Snell, 45, was sentenced to five years of imprisonment with hard labour in 1883 for the theft of a single piece of bacon. She was paroled two years later.
Mary Richards was sentenced to five years in 1880 at age 59 for stealing 130 oysters valued at eight shillings, which were the property of John Tyacke. Mary served almost all of sentence, receiving parole in 1885.
The records also detail the lengthy, unforgiving sentences given to women who procured abortions, including Mary Billingham who was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment and hard labour in 1875.
It would appear that age was not necessarily taken into consideration when sentences were passed.
The youngest female in the records, 11-year-old Ann McQuillan, was convicted in Perth and sentenced to four years in prison for ‘theft by housebreaking’.
Ann is just one of 115 girls under the age of 18 who feature in the collection.
In contrast, the oldest convict in the records is 76-year-old Ann Dalton who was convicted for stealing ‘two sheets’ in 1863.
She was sentenced to five years imprisonment and served three of those before receiving parole in 1866.
Meanwhile, the records detail a number of violent crimes which women were convicted of.
Mary Morrison, a 40-year-old servant, threw sulphuric acid over her estranged husband for not paying her weekly allowance, shouting ‘take that – I’ll make you worse than you are’. She received five years in 1883 but served only three.
Elizabeth Ann Staunton, 29, was convicted of the murder of Harriet Staunton in 1877. Elizabeth was spared the death penalty and instead sentenced to life. She was granted parole six years later.
While early criminals were often sentenced to transportation, later records, predominately those post-1860, indicate a prison sentence had become the preferred punishment.
This was because Australian free settlers had become increasingly angry about having to compete with convicts for jobs.
Those who did receive transportation often saw their sentences overturned and were instead jailed and subsequently paroled.
This was the case for Mary Daly, who was sentenced to 15 years transportation for theft in 1855 but was instead incarcerated in Brixton prison until her parole in 1862.
In a world-first, Ancestry.co.uk, the family history website, today published the UK, Licences of Parole for Female Convicts, 1853-1887 online.
The original records are held by The National Archives.
Dan Jones, International Content Director at Ancestry.co.uk, said: “Crime is more often associated with men however these intriguing records shed light on some rather colourful female lawbreakers of their day.
“Given the petty nature of many of their crimes, it also serves as a reminder of how harsh our judicial system was not so very long ago.”
“With so many historical records – including criminal records – now available online, it has never been a better time to start exploring your family’s history.”
The collection was unveiled today at ‘Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE’ – the world’s largest family history event, which is being held at London’s Olympia from the February 25 – 27.