Author Archives: Lucy Williams

Australia’s Convict Sites: Shared past, their present, our future?

Our recent trip to Australia for the Digital Panopticon conference was an invaluable opportunity for so many reasons. We were able to connect and learn from our colleagues across the globe, share our work and develop new ideas and, perhaps most rewarding of all, we had the opportunity to visit some of the remaining places and spaces of convict-era Australia.

Australia has a network of eleven convict sites, designated as UNESCO world heritage sites, in which the buildings and areas of land of Australia’s first penal system are preserved and open to the public. These sites are places of both education and tourism. Australia’s convict heritage sites achieve on a much larger scale the kinds of entertainment and education we can find at home in places like the Galleries of Justice, and Dartmoor Prison Museum. Yet Australia’s transformation from British colony to independent state has allowed it to own and present its convict history in a more frank and reflective way than many of our home grown sites of dark tourism. Australia had been able to separate the historic injustices of the system of transportation from the modern Australian state. Something which seems to inspire a readiness to display their convict past in a more open and critical way than perhaps we do for similar in the UK.

I was lucky enough to visit four of the eleven Australian UNESCO convict sites, which gave a great sense for how the convict past can be preserved and presented. Below I share a few thoughts – and pictures – for each of the sites.

Hyde Park Barracks

The old convict barracks at Hyde Park are one of the earliest of Australia’s Convict heritage sites. Opened in 1819 and used for convicts until 1848 the barracks housed the male convicts who arrived at Sydney Cove (very little remains of the first settlement at Botany Bay). While women were sent out to work for private persons, male convicts were required to undertake public works. Thus, during the day they would labour on the roads and building sites of Australia’s first European settlement and at night they would report back to lodgings at Hyde Park Barracks to be counted, fed, and sheltered.

Hyde Park BarracksThe front of Hyde Park Barracks – central Sydney

The barracks now operate as a ‘living history museum’ which members of the public can tour with or without a free audio guide. There are three levels of the building to visit. The first of which gives not only an overview of the history of convict transportation and the development of Sydney, but also insight into how conservation and interpretation work has been carried out. Two further floors explore the residence of Australia’s first convicts (and other uses to which the building was put in the post-convict era). The majority of the rooms inside the barracks are sparsely decorated and furnished. Boards provide information on the uses of each room, but visitors are left to take in the space and imagine how convicts used it.

HPB 3

One exception to this on the middle floor is the ‘bunk room’. A simple timber frame suspend dozens of tightly packed canvas hammocks, the likes of which early convicts would have slept on. Visitors have the option to try a hammock to get a sense of sleeping arrangements for early convicts.

Bunk room

As a museum, Hyde Park Barracks are probably the least atmospheric of the convict sites– and most familiar in format for UK visitors. However they still provided information of genuine interest and importance, and had used some really thoughtful interpretation to encourage visitors to engage with the space and the experiences of convicts who previously inhabited it.

Port Arthur

The beauty and serenity of Port Arthur’s grounds makes it difficult as a visitor to truly comprehend the brutality of life at Australia’s most famous ‘site of secondary punishment’. A place where the worst reoffending convicts were sent. The complex also includes several other sites such as the cemetery island, and Point Puer a site used for juveniles, both of which visitors are able to ‘cruise’ to.

PA ruins PA scenery

Port Arthur Historic Convict Site

For the main part, the buildings at Port Arthur are derelict. Shells of former buildings, in some cases little more than ruins. Surprisingly, this does not detract from the atmosphere or effect of the place, rather it enhances it. While visitors are free to take group tours or special more fun-focussed events like ‘ghost walks’, Port Arthur is also a place where visitors are free to walk round, explore the buildings, and reflect on the history of the site. Interpretation and reconstruction has been left to a minimum.

Port Arthur PennitentiaryPort Arthur Penitentiary from the outside

Port Arthur cell-space

The inside of the penitentiary showing the location of now absent cells

Port Arthur cellsPort Arthur Pennitentiary Cell

Remnants of penitentiary cells

Of all the buildings on Port Arthur, it is the visitor’s centre, and the separate prison which resemble most closely sites like the Hyde Park Barracks. Beneath the visitors centre a –soon to be reinterpreted- exhibition gives the feel for the story and process of transportation to Tasmania (and contains the odd familiar face too).Hamish Maxwell StewartThe DP’s Hamish Maxwell-Stewart was instrumental in the creation of Port Arthur’s current visitor centre exhibition.

The well-preserved separate prison provides corridors of cells for visitors to see and a separate and silent chapel to explore. With the audio and visual effects kept to a minimum, the eerie quietness of this site gives a fantastic sense for the isolation and tension prisoners must have lived with on a daily basis.

    Port Arthur Seperate Cell Port Arthur seperate cells corridoorThe separate cells
Port Arthur seperate Chapel

Port Arthur’s separate chapel

Cascades Female Factory

Cascades female factory (to the south and west of central Hobart) is one of the smaller of Australia’s convict sites. Much like the interpretation at Port Arthur, reconstruction has been kept to a minimum. Information is available but the ruins of the site are left to speak for themselves. The site at which female convicts were detained when they arrived in Tasmania before being sent out to work, for punishment of a secondary offence, or in case of pregnancy under sentence, sits unassuming and barely noticeable at the side of a road, with little outside signage to indicate the significance of its former years.

Cff front entranceThe outside of Cascades Female Factory

Very litter remains of the factory grounds – barely more than the outside walls. Again, like at Port Arthur, rather than chose reconstructive buildings that let visitors experience the space ‘as it would have been’, at Cascades Female Factory subtle markings and a few information boards tell the story while allowing visitors to take in the size of the plot, the oppressive presence of the steep hills to the rear, and the full force of the elements outside.

Cff yard plan Cff yard remains

The plan of the former yard, and the physical space

Wandering through the remains of three of the original five yards on a cold and drizzling day provided a sense of the bleak, claustrophobic, and isolated existence prisoners would have experienced at the factory.

Fremantle Prison:

The most recent of Australia’s convict sites, Fremantle prison is unique in that its penal history stretches from its convict origin in the 1850s until 1991 when it ceased to operate as a state prison. In that time the prison has become so much more than a convict site. Something reflected in how its heritage is presented to visitors.

FP wing outside Fremantle Prison main entrance

Visitors can only access Fremantle prison by one of three guided tours, only one of which is a general guide to the history of the prison, and not themed like the ‘‘great escapes’ tour. However, due to the nature of the site it is the most complete and ‘authentic’ experience of a convict-era prison as the majority of buildings have been preserved completely.

FP inner wing  FP wing division 2

Fremantle Prison’s ‘Division 2’ Wing

Built by Western Australian convicts in the 1850s and used to detain them until the last convicts to WA in 1868 were freed, the history of the convict experience is intermingled with the history of imprisonment. Distinctions between what facets of prison life belong to the convict era, and which developed later are not always clear. However, the prison provides a fantastic opportunity see original convict cells fitted with replica hammocks and furniture  next to larger, later, cells showing how conditions for prisoners improved in the post-transportation era.

FP condemned cell FP Convict cell 3 FP reconstructed convict cell

The condemned cell, and two examples of convict-era cells at Fremantle Prison

Some other elements including the chapel are also preserved as they would have been in the convict era.

FP convict chapel

Yet due to the prison’s use throughout the twentieth century – a later history still very much preoccupying former prison staff who now act as guides and in other roles around the site – modernisation of exercise yards, kitchens, bathrooms means that unlike other convict sites, Freemantle prison has inevitably lost some of its convict-era identity.

Australia’s convict sites provide some of the best preserved and most fascinating physical reminders of the transportation era. Ultimately, all of the sites are undertaking a difficult balancing act. First and foremost they preserve some of (white) Australia’s most important heritage, and educate visitors about the history of crime, punishment, and convicts in a surprisingly sympathetic way. Yet these sites also succeed in encouraging entertainment-driven tourism so important to funding heritage projects and future preservation.

A chance to see the buildings and surroundings, so important in the lives of the individuals we study, was a real privilege. Each visit was a moving – and thought provoking – experience, the likes of which are still largely out of reach in the U.K. What seems to make convict sites so unique is that, East, West, and South, Australia’s convict heritage is presented as an unpleasant feature of the British past – something modern Australia has come to terms with and learnt from while remaining wholly separate to– in terms of both justice and human experience. An important factor which hasn’t been fully achieved in many UK sites of crime and justice heritage. After all, while Australia is preserving its convict sites as places of history, heritage and education, some of the most famous remnants of our own convict era, prisons like Brixton, Pentonville, and Wormwood Scrubs, function not as tools for learning and reflection, but still in their original capacity.

Criminal Records: Prison Licences

Introduction

Home Office and Prison Commission Licences are one of the core sources being used by the Digital Panopticon to trace the lives of nineteenth century convicts sentenced to imprisonment in England.  Licences began to be issued in 1853 when the 1853 Penal Servitude Act officially substituted terms of transportation for terms of imprisonment. Licences granted convicts undertaking penal servitude freedom before the expiration of their sentence in a system closely modelled on the Australian ‘Ticket-of-Leave’. The licence system remained in place well into the twentieth century.

The licences are split into two collections, the PCOM 3 licences for male convicts and PCOM 4 for female convicts. However, only a proportion of the total licences issued between the 1850s and 1940s have survived and are accessible to the public. For women only licences issued between 1853-1871 and 1882-1887 are available, and for men licences issued between 1853-1887.

What are the licences?

A licence document was issued for each convict on release, detailing the conditions of their freedom. However, the prison ‘licences’ can actually refer to a much larger collection of documents covering an individual’s entire time in penal servitude. The PCOM licences can contain items such as a penal record detailing criminal history, medical evaluation form, prison punishment records, and notes of applications by the prisoner to the Secretary of State. From the 1870s onwards, licence bundles also contain photographs of offenders and records relating to their correspondence in prison and, on occasion, police intelligence about their associates and former lives.

This example shows the licence issued for Caroline Jones when she was released in 1866, and her reception form at Newgate Gaol from when her sentence began.

Caroline Jones Licence       Caroline Jones Newgate form

These collections of documents were created by a number of officials over the course of an individual’s incarceration. Various legislation over the second half of the nineteenth century, such as the 1869 Habitual Criminals Act, made provision for the collection of an increasing volume of data about offenders. Some forms, like the penal record, were completed as a convict was processed into prison, others were produced over time as a convict served their sentence. Medical records, record of punishment, and applications and letters travelled with a convict to each institution they spent time in where it became the duty of different administrators to keep them up to date.

This left hand example shows the medical record of Elizabeth Davis, partially completed on her admission to prison, but updated with details of her weight every time she moved to a new institution. The right hand example shows the punishment record of Elizabeth Davis as she served a sentence of penal servitude in Woking prison between 1873 and 1875. Further entries were added each time she committed a prison offence.

Frances Reece medical record      Frances Reece prison offences record

Why are they important to historians?

How, when and, most importantly, why such extensive information relating to convicts was collected over the course of the nineteenth century is currently being explored as part of the Digital Panopticon’s Epistemologies theme.

The PCOM prison licences give historians an unparalleled insight into the imprisonment of thousands of ordinary nineteenth century convicts. The multifaceted remit of these records means that they are useful for studying the personal details of individual convicts and following their journey to and through the convict prison system. Documents within the licence bundles offer us the chance to amass details such as aliases and criminal histories, names and addresses of family members, police intelligence about a convicts ‘character’ and previous life all of which can be used to find the same individual in other sources. These records are also useful for developing a more comprehensive understanding of the prison regime during the mid and late nineteenth century imprisonment came to define penal experience after the end of transportation. Institutional paper-work shows how the system of labour, diet, and marks for gratuity operated on a daily basis. Lastly, any of these records allow us to examine in more detail individual facets of the convict prison system. Whether that be the development of medical provision for prisoners over time, or the punitive measures taken to control the prison population.

This example shows the penal record of Elizabeth Davis, stating her full conviction record and several aliases which can be used to trace her in other records.

Frances Reece penal record

Problems with the licences

Despite the potential of these records there are issues and limitations that researchers should be aware of. There is a lack of consistency in the content of licences. Some of the earliest examples have little more than the paper licence issued for prisoner release, and later licences (from the 1870 and 1880s in particular) can have vast amounts of material. The style and content of recorded information also changes over time. Whilst this can be useful for epistemological questions and examining the development of the administrative prison system, it does present a challenge when creating research questions relating to inmate experience across time. Whilst offering a great amount of detail about individuals and their lives inside (and often outside) prison, the documents were written from the perspective of the prison system. The emotional lives of inmates, their motivations, and experiences are not often explored. For example, the licences can help historians investigate the difficult and dangerous environment in which prisoners lived. Instances of prisoner violence and distress are very commonly recorded on prison offence forms. However, the forms do not record contextual exploration of why and how such behaviours occurred. Likewise, information relating to key issues such as mental illness are largely absent from these documents.

Nonetheless, the diverse range of documents available through the PCOM prison licence collection remain one of the best and most important sources for researching the men and women confined in Victorian convict institutions. The PCOM licences give us a rare insight into the minutia of daily prison life. Most importantly, these sources provide otherwise unavailable information about thousands of individuals serving time in prison between the 1850s and 1880s. Licence documents can prove essential for understanding the lives of prisoners and for collecting information which lets us trace how they arrived in prison, and what happened after their release.

What’s in a Name?: Details and Data Linkage

A year in to the Digital Panopticon project we have begun record linkage with some of our key sources relating to Transportation. With several innovative iterations of initial linkage completed, thanks to Jamie McLaughlin, we have been able to trace more than three quarters of those sent for transportation from the Old Bailey, linking them to their voyage details in the British Transportation Registers. For some, we have also been able to link onwards to the Convict Indents compiled for them on board convict ships and once they arrived in Australia. This iterative process has taught us much about the nature of our different record sets, and about the complex job of connecting them together.

One of the biggest challenges in the linking process has been differentiating between the multiple cases of identical names and trials in the Old Bailey. However, with a schedule of record linkage due to connect not just our transportation datasets, but also imprisonment data and eventually civil data, such as the census and birth marriage and death information, in the coming months, the certainty of what to link and how becomes increasingly difficult.

When confronted with a sea of names, and no consistency in the recording of other contextual information between our diverse datasets, how are we to make the right choices and make sure that the correct history is connected to the right offender?

Between 1780, and 1900 there was only one Mary Ann Dring convicted at the Old Bailey she was sentenced to five years penal servitude in 1865 for feloniously uttering counterfeit coin. She had appeared in the old Bailey once previously in 1863 as a witness in the coining trial of another Woman, and twenty years later in 1885 might well have acted as a witness in a manslaughter case.

From a linkage perspective we are fortunate. In all of our criminal datasets there should only be one Old Bailey Mary Ann Dring. Indeed, this is very lucky because owing to just two lines of text for her own trial, the information we start off with in order to trace her is minimal:

Name: Mary Ann Dring

Approximate year of birth: 1817

Location: London.

Step one, is to link to the next big dataset for those who stayed in England to be imprisoned. In this case that is the PCOM 4 female licences for parole. By searching with the available information from Mary Ann Dring we took from the Old Bailey data, there is no problem in locating her licence. Those familiar with the licences will know that these documents give us the opportunity to, collect a vast amount more information on her. Confident that the right link has been made we can collect some key contextual detail that will allow us to identify Mary Ann Dring in further datasets.

Licence fields

The future datasets we link to will not, of course, contain the majority of this information. So we must utilise a few key details that will help us link to new records. For civil data we could certainly use information such as the fact that Mary Ann Drink was recorded as married with two children in 1865. She worked as a Charwoman, and had been resident in London, under her married name, since at least 1863 when she had her first conviction.

In the nearest census to Mary Ann’s Old Bailey conviction in 1865 (1861) there are 183 returns for a Mary Ann Dring born on or around 1817. If we make the not unreasonable assumption that our Mary Ann Dring was living in London for the five years prior to her Old Bailey appearance, we can rather luckily reduce that to four viable matches.  To most academic researchers or family historians, this is a small and manageable selection of information in which to choose.

MAD census entries

Yet even though we know she was married with two children, we are faced with four married women, two with two children, two with three, all living in London (and none with any occupation listed which is not unusual for a census entry with a male head of household). Given the parameters of most automated systems that might be required to make such a match, any of these census entries could be considered a valid match. Manually, it is possible for an individual researcher to reduce the choices to two viable matches. They are, from a linkage point of view, almost indistinguishable. The dates of birth for the two most likely candidates fall one year either side of 1817. Both are married, both have two children. Both are residents of London. Both have identical names.

In the 1871 census, six years from Mary Ann’s conviction and four years after her release from Prison, there are no records that would directly match to either of the entries for the 1861 census. Instead there is a choice of five women who all fall within five years of the original Mary Ann Dring’s birth year, but have notable differences in their personal information. Furthermore, depending on which links are made to census data, and what extra contextual information is added to May Ann’s case, there is the potential for relevant death records from London and the surrounding counties, spanning a fifteen year period.

The choices we would be faced with if we just looked for Mary Dring, without the middle name Ann would be several times the volume. If we looked for a Mary Smith with the same level of contextual detail we could well be faced with exploring hundreds of potential matches with no way to choose between them.

Each individual record linked to a convict has ramifications for future links. On the micro level this is the dilemma faced by every genealogist or family historian. The difficult decisions that have to be made in matching records to individuals. However, the Digital Panopticon’s task of linking almost 90,000 convicts across multiple datasets is not a micro history, nor a task that can be managed manually. The design of an automated system that can navigate and discern between multiple similar (or even identical) entries in a given dataset is essential. Or perhaps it is a question of ranking and displaying the multiple possible links in case of conflict?

It would seem that our challenge now is that of developing a suitably complex data linkage system, that can simultaneously maintain a high rate of matches that we can be confident in, and one that at the same time allow us to incorporate possible, contradictory, and conflicting data. Those with common names will no doubt prove our greatest challenge, but even someone as seemingly unique as Mary Ann Dring poses challenges about how we match, what we match, what we keep, and how to store and rank conflicting information across such a wide variety of datasets.

 

Bound for Botany Bay? Old Bailey penal sentences and their implementation

The opportunity to connect each Old Bailey convict from their trial, to the ship they sailed on, to the records of their lives in Australia is only one of the benefits of the huge data -linkage efforts currently being undertaken by the Digital Panopticon. However, as this process develops we are presented with a second opportunity – to see where data is missing, and to follow those who seem to disappear between datasets. So far, this has been most apparent in the case of those sentenced to transportation but who are absent from records of convict vessels, or convict arrivals.

Leading historians of transportation, such as Digital Panopticon partner Deborah Oxley have estimated that anywhere between one quarter and two thirds of those sentenced to transportation were never actually sent to Australia. Initial investigations indicate that between1782-1800 3,801 men, women, and children, were sentenced to transportation at the Old Bailey. Yet just over two-thirds of these convicts (2468) do not appear in the next relevant data set – the British Transportation Registers.

It seems clear that the road from arrest to Australia was rarely so straight forward as suggested by many contemporary and later popular accounts. Testimonies given by the officials who ran the transportation system tell us that it was predominantly those below the age of 50 years (45 years for women), and those convicted of the most severe crimes that were selected for transportation.  Historians have also provided evidence to suggest that it was not only the young, but also the practically skilled that were preferred for transportation to Australia. Yet the disparity between sentencing and implementation of transportation suggests that, at present, histories focussing on those transported tell only half of the story. For a fuller picture of how this penal process worked we now have the chance to start tracing those that were left behind.

Preliminary findings suggest that the missing convicts can be traced to three main groups.

The first group of convicts did not even make it to the secondary phase of transportation – that is detainment on the hulks or in holding prisons. Instead their ill health saw them detained in Newgate hospital ward until eventual death a few weeks or a few months after their trial. In the cramped and insanitary conditions of Newgate Gaol, fever was rife and infection spread quickly. Most of those who died were only recorded as having very generalised ailments. Coroners would regularly record a death with little detail, listing simply fever, decline, despondency or ‘natural causes.’

Inside Newgate Gaol

There are of course some exceptions that give us a little more detail. For example, forty-year old Thomas Kennedy was tried at the Old Bailey on 12 July 1797 for the theft of a silver watch. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. He died in Newgate in April 1799.

Most of those who died in these vague circumstances were the elderly, at least in transportation terms.  These generic fevers, fits, and decline listed as causes of death for those in Newgate could be a myriad of infections that could be found in any of the densely populated areas of London. Sickness such as typhus, typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia, and tuberculosis spread quickly and fatally in the confines of the gaol. Those without strong immunity – especially the elderly or very young were especially at risk.

There were also other convicts who died in gaol as the result of pre-existing illness such as venereal disease, heart problems, and jaundice. Robert Fosgate was sentenced to seven years transportation in October 1787 for the theft of a large amount of clothing. After a year waiting in the gaol suffering from venereal disease, he died of its effects in November 1788. Similarly Peter Rock whilst awaiting transportation in Newgate but three months after of trial he succumbed to the effects of jaundice, and dropsy – a common symptom of heart failure.

A second group of missing prisoners were delivered on board the floating prison ships, the hulks. Some died after accidents on board the ships, others drowned after falling overboard or during escape attempts. Both occurrences could be common upon such vessels. Other men could have remained on the hulk either until the expiration of their sentence – the collection of new data regarding the hulks will allow us to more fully understand why this might have been – or some would have died from illness or infection in the hulks which were described as ‘the most brutalizing, the most demoralizing, and the most horrible’ of British penal history, and where the death rate was estimated to be twice as high as that of the English population in general. [1]

Inside Hulk

The third and final group that our initial linkage has shed light on are those who received pardons. At present our understanding of this process is limited. For women, pardons were complete, dissolving the woman’s conviction and setting her at liberty. However a pardon could come a substantial time into the sentence. Those awaiting transportation could wait years before their sentence was commuted or their crime pardoned. Hannah Findall was sentenced to seven years’ transportation in 1793.   It was not, however until September 1797 that she was pardoned. For male convicts, a partial pardon was more common than a full one. There could be several conditions attached to such freedom. Commonly this might be service in the army or on the high seas. On the level of individual cases it is impossible to say with any certainty what the criteria for pardons or commutation might have been. However, when the data linkage process is more complete, it will be possible to analyse these convicts in aggregate, and view the commonalities in their ages, crimes, sentences, and skills.

Making it from the courtroom to Australia, then, was not just about being young and healthy. It seems to have actually been about not already being sick, vulnerable to illness via age or an existing condition, and perhaps about not being useful to the state for something else. As the work of the Digital Panopticon continues, there will doubtlessly be other disposals we discover which will again change how we think of the transportation process. As the data-linkage on these records progresses we are hoping to produce more accurate proportions of sentence implementation – or failure – and will be able to visualise whether this changed over the convict period. We have the opportunity to gain some new perspectives on transportation that don’t just note numbers of those not eligible for transportation, but also give more of an idea about who they were and what fate awaited them.

 

[1] T. Forbes ‘Coroners’ Inquisitions on the deaths of Prisoners in the Hulks at Portsmouth England in 1817-1827’ in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (1978), 33, 3, p.358. See also B. Webb and S. Webb,  English Prison’s Under Local Government (Longmans,Green, and CO.: London), pp. 45-46.

 

Visualising Life-Grids and Narrating the Lives of Convicts

One of the great opportunities presented by the Digital Panopticon project (and one of the most exciting in my opinion) is in uncovering more about the processes of crime and punishment by placing thousands of offenders, and their offences, back within the context of their own lives.

Tracing offenders through the records has been a preoccupation of several groups of historians and criminologists (for example Barry Godfrey, Heather Shore, Pam Cox, David Cox, Helen Johnston, Zoe Alker, Joanne Turner, and Stephen Farrall) in the last decade. On account of the laborious nature of record linkage those studies which have focussed on tracing groups offenders through civil as well as criminal datasets have been able to examine a few hundred offenders at a time. Those pioneering this methodology have taken the collected information and sorted it into ‘lifegrids’ which chart life events and changes for each individual. Lifegrids might typically include details of birth marriage and death, family evolution, employment and residential addresses, and offending and punishment history. Of course, the depth and breadth of documents and information available on different groups of, or individual offenders, dictates how much material can be recorded in each life grid.

Other than life-grid format, there are a number of ways that this information can be presented and communicated. Even the simplest visualisations are able to show the role that offending had in any one person’s life. This might be through indicating what proportion of an individual’s life was spent in custody, or how many offences were recorded against them at what stage of their life. It is possible to chart how someone’s offending accelerated and decelerated. From an institutional perspective it is possible to indicate how an individual’s weight and health changed over time, or how their behaviour and privileges impacted upon their experience of punishment. The myriad of ways in which this fascinating and complex data can be presented has some exciting potential for how others see, interrogate, and engage with this fantastically rich data.

To begin to explore these possibilities, we have been working with an example offender: Patrick Madden (one of a number of offenders included in Johnston, Godfrey and Cox’s ESRC funded research on ‘The costs of imprisonment’).

P Madden

Born and raised in Sheffield, Patrick began offending around the age of sixteen. Although often motivated by property, Patrick’s offences were primarily violent in nature. Madden had 15 offences recorded against him over an almost thirty year period. Each of these was committed either in Sheffield or other close-by northern towns such as Wakefield and Doncaster. It was in these locations that he was incarcerated, accept for one occasion of penal servitude when he served seven years of penal servitude in London, and the south of England. It does not appear as if Patrick ever married or had children, nor that he managed to establish a life for himself that did not involve repeat offending for long before dying at the age of 52.

 

Patrick Maddens lifegrid, of course, contains much more information than this brief overview might suggest. Patrick’s civil and penal records allow us to know about many elements of Patrick’s life right down to his familial relationships and sexual preferences. However, even if we take the most ‘bare bones’ approach to Patrick’s life narrative, it is possible to start creating some interesting visualisations based on his experiences and offending history.

DataHero Patrick Madden years of imprisonment in life course (1) DataHero Patrick Madden type of offending over life course

 

DataHero Weight over period of imprisonment line DataHero Penal class over time of imprisonment

 

Yet the size and scale of the research being undertaken by the Digital Panopticon means that we are faced not just with presenting Patrick Madden’s life, but instead the lives of all of the ‘Patricks’ that went through the old bailey between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. This poses two distinct challenges which we will face in presenting the mass of information traditionally held in lifegrids.  First is that the range of records being linked together for each offender is unprecedented. Some records are well known to our researchers and relatively straightforward to visualise, such as criminal registers that allow us to examine date, place and type of offence. Others such as the changing picture of family life that might evolve from three successive census entries, or the seemingly random personal or professional information that can be carried in a newspaper report, are far more difficult to quantify and visualise. This first problem will become clearer and hopefully less significant as more records are collected and linked. It should be fairly straightforward to identify the information which can be presented easily, and to adapt that which cannot. The second challenges we must meet is that of potentially presenting to other researchers and the public tens of thousands of individual life and offending histories. What we need to work on is finding a way of presenting a range of different information about our offenders both individually and in aggregate so that it is possible for users to access information about an individual they are interested in, but also to see how such an individual compares and contrasts with others in the study – something which enables researchers to identify how typical an individual’s experience was.

BG offered some initial ideas of how we might best achieve this when we met in Oxford. By creating ‘strand’ visualisations which present a mass of offenders by a few ‘key values’ –  for example the year of their first recorded offence, nature of offence, or length of offending career – and then allowing users to further restrict what strands are shown to them by other values – for example sex and location- it would be possible to access information about a single individual, whilst getting a sense of how they match up to their contemporaries.

BG visualisation

We hope that this will prove an excellent starting point as we work to develop future visualisations and methods of presentation which will allow the Digital Panopticon team, fellow researchers, and members of the public to explore, understand, and get the most from the fantastic wealth of data at our fingertips.