Confinement ends evolution of punishment
Apr 16 2010 By Paul Wilkins
Family historian Paul Wilkins continues to look at crime records.
This week we will be looking at the punishment records of the criminals of the past.
If you look at the history of crime and especially punishment you will see that different types of punishments have been used throughout history.
In medieval times, punishments were meted out by several courts, fines for petty crimes, the death penalty for serious offences such as murder, arson, forgery and the method of execution was normally hanging, which was only abolished in 1965.
The stocks were used for those who were perceived to have offended the public as was the ducking stool, these were viewed as shaming punishments.
As time went on new laws were passed to control vagrants, Houses of Correction were built in most areas, (one was built in Warwick and was first mentioned in 1625).
They were like prisons in many ways, but the inmates had to work.
In the late 17th and early 18th century, fines, prison and a new solution to the problem of how to punish was favoured, that of transportation. From the Transportation Act of 1717, convicts were first sent to America, then after independence in 1776, convicts were then sent to Australia. Transportation as a punishment was abolished in 1857.
Prisons had been around for hundreds of years, but they are now at the centre of the British criminal justice system.
A massive prison-building programme began in the 19the century, with 90 prisons built between 1840 and 1877, (Winson Green was built in 1849). In terms of where to look for the records of punishment, these will be with the criminal records themselves.
Last week I wrote about the criminal registers available online at Ancestry.co.uk. These records include 10,300 executions, 97,000 sentences of transportation and 900,000 of imprisonment.
Some records for Winson Green prison are held at Birmingham City Archives. Be aware that some records are subject to closure rules and are therefore not available for general public inspection.
For those looking for people who were transported to Australia, the State Library of Queensland has compiled a very useful British Convict Transportation Registers Database, from 1787 – 1867.
The database has the details of more than 123,000 of the estimated 160,000 convicts who were transported to Australia. It lists name, sentence details, ship, departure date, arrival date and place for those convicted in England, Wales and Scotland, not Ireland. http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/info/fh/convicts