Tag Archives: PhD students

PhD Work in Progress: The Prosecution of Fraud in the Metropolis, 1760-1820

My PhD research focuses on the prosecution of fraud at the Old Bailey from 1760 to 1820. Having previously worked for a number of prosecuting agencies, including the Serious Fraud Office, I became well-acquainted with the great number of difficulties that prosecuting fraud poses in the 21st century. My interest in 18th and 19th century fraud is therefore derived from a concern with whether such difficulties have always been associated with tackling fraudulent behaviour, as well as a wider interest in 19th century criminal trial procedure.

In order to explore the offences of fraud and how these offences were addressed and disposed of within the criminal justice system during the 18th and 19th centuries, I have identified three specific research questions: (i) what was ‘fraud’ in the 18th century and how were these laws treated by the criminal justice system?; (ii) who prosecuted fraud and why?; and (iii) how did the treatment of fraud in the summary courts impact upon fraud at the assize level?

Figure 1: Chart of fraud verdicts at the Old Bailey between 1794 and 1853

How these questions will be answered

These questions will be answered through consideration of a number of historical sources and archives. The first research question will be answered partly through methodologies arising from legal history. The laws have been traced through looking at a series of legal treatises and texts in order to comprehensively lay out the substantive laws relating to fraud[1]. Having located this substantive law, I then address how this law translated into practice.

The main source material of my research in any question of law in practice will be the Old Bailey Proceedings. This is not solely because these records have been digitised, but because they are the most detailed record of criminal trials available from the 18th and 19th centuries.[2]

Bow Street

Figure 2: An edition of the Old Bailey Proceedings

Having conducted extensive research of legal sources it is apparent that there existed a raft of laws under which to prosecute for financial and deceptive misbehaviour. However, the Old Bailey records have suggested that the majority of cases which could have fallen under these laws were in fact prosecuted under larceny or forgery. This is, in itself, a research finding of significance and goes a long way to illustrating why fraud causes so many problems for both the modern practitioner and the historical researcher.

My second research question relates to the prosecutors of these offences and will answer wider questions surrounding the end users of the criminal justice system.  What can be concluded about the types of people prosecuting for fraud offences at the Old Bailey? Does this cohort of prosecutors tell us how the upper levels of the criminal justice system were used and by whom?

My final question is related to the administration and prosecution of fraud offences at the lowest level, and the most common point of entry into the criminal justice system, the magistrates’ court. By comparing how magistrates in the City of London disposed of fraud cases with how Middlesex and Westminster magistrates handled fraud cases, a lot can be revealed about perceptions of fraud as well as about the wider workings of the summary courts.

Figure 3: Thomas Rowlandson, Bow Street Office, from The Microcosm of London, 1808. ©London Lives.

There has been very little research dedicated to the historical treatment and prosecution of fraud. What work has been done has focused upon offenders and has resulted in studies of middle-class criminality[3]. This ‘offender-focused’ approach is certainly an important line of research as there is limited work on the crimes of the middle-classes. In contrast, however, my research is ostensibly ‘offence-focused’, thereby seeking to question who was committing different types of fraud, rather than questioning the crimes of the middle-classes per se.

Another strand of research that has emerged in the last 15 years has been a renewed interest in the history of the company, particular in the work of Freeman, Pearson and Taylor under their ESRC funded project, ‘Shareholder Democracies’. Such work has naturally included research into company-related fraud and provided new data regarding the development of companies, which will be of wider significance outside of the study of economic history[4]. However, company fraud is only one form of fraud and by focusing upon this specific misbehaviour, we again see a skewed view of fraud, one in which only the middle and upper classes are perpetrators.

The study of fraud, whilst raising its own ontological and practical difficulties, may shed some much needed light on the process of prosecutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a system so reliant on the discretion of particular actors such as the prosecutor, the magistrates clerk, and the magistrate themselves, fraud is the perfect subject matter through which to assess how these actors influenced the day-to-day operations of the criminal justice system. It is hoped that some significant conclusions will be drawn regarding the structural changes to the criminal justice system, and wider life, in the Metropolis during the Industrial Revolution.


[1] In particular, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Fitzjames Stephen’s General View of the Criminal Law of England, Chitty’s A Practical Treatise of the English Law and a number of Justice of the Peace records from the 18th and 19th centuries.

[2] http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

[3] See in particular R. Sindall ‘Middle Class Crime in Nineteenth-Century England.’ Criminal Justice History (1983) pp23-40 and G. Robb White-Collar Crime in Modern England. Financial Fraud and Business Morality, 1845-1929 (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

[4] See for example James Taylor, Creating Capitalism: Joint-stock enterprise in British politics and culture, 1800-1870. (The Royal Historical Society, 2006), Freeman, Pearson and Taylor ‘“A Doe in the City”: Women shareholders in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain’. Accounting, Business and Financial History, 16:2, pp.265-291.

PhD Work in Progress: Policing and the Identification of Offenders in Metropolitan London, 1780-1850

My PhD research explores changing policing strategies, and how these affected who was arrested, and why. The period between 1780 and 1850 witnessed extensive changes to the English criminal justice system, and London was at the forefront. The Metropolitan Police force was established in 1829, and is viewed by many as the first recognisably ‘modern’ police force. However, the older local policing systems such as the night watch, parish constables, the Bow Street Runners and magistrates changed considerably over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in response to the needs of the communities that they served. This is why I repeatedly refer to ‘policing agents’, a term which encompasses not only the new Metropolitan police officers, but also watchmen, constables, marshals, patrols, and the officers attached to magistrates’ courts.

I am also particularly interested in those who were arrested by these policing agents. The idea that a subset of society was responsible for the majority of criminal activity; a ‘criminal class’, was emerging as a powerful contemporary perception in late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century London. Historians have examined how contemporary commentators expressed and shaped this idea, but there has been little focus on the roles that policing agents played by choosing who to arrest and re-arrest. My research examines the relationships between policing agents and the communities that they policed, and how these changed according to different policing agents and strategies.

As a case study, I have been using the Old Bailey Proceedings Online to examine ‘proactive’ arrests made by policing agents. The majority of trials at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1850 did not feature policing agents at all, and of those that did, policing agents were mainly responding to information given to them. Proactive arrests were those made based upon the suspicion that an offender had, or was about to commit a crime. I developed a searching strategy to find a collection of these cases, searching terms for policing agents in combination with terms relating to the reasons for arrest. So far, I have identified a collection of 680 cases featuring policing agents in proactive roles; I am continually adding to this collection as I find more cases.

Fig. 1 Rowlandson the Old Bailey

Fig. 1: Thomas Rowlandson, The Old Bailey, from Microcosm of London (1808) © London Lives

The vast majority of offenders in the dataset are male – (90%), higher than the proportion of males in all the Old Bailey trials in this period (78%) (see fig. 2). This confirms my supposition that those who were viewed as ‘suspicious’ by those who policed the streets of London were disproportionately male.

Fig. 2 Gender in my dataset and OBP overall

Fig. 2: bar chart showing proportions of male and female defendants in the Old Bailey Proceedings overall, 1780-1850, and in my collection of cases

The age profile of my set of offenders is broadly similar to the age profile of defendants in the Old Bailey Proceedings overall, with the majority aged 18, and the next most commonly-occurring ages clustered around that (16, 17, 19 and 20). Comparing the recorded ages in my cases with the recorded ages of defendants for all Old Bailey cases, it is clear my collection of cases contains a disproportionate number of offenders aged between about 15 and 21 (see fig. 3). Young men, therefore, were disproportionately viewed as suspicious by policing agents.

Fig. 3 updated defendant ages OBP overall and my dataset

Fig. 3: bar chart showing the ages of defendants (grouped at 3-year intervals) in my dataset, compared with the ages in all cases in the Old Bailey Proceedings (number of cases divided by 100 to scale)

The vast majority of cases in my set are trials for theft, since theft was probably the most straightforward crime for policing agents to detect and notice on the streets. For example, the policeman who arrested Lazarus Hart in 1830 stated ‘the prisoner had got a bundle, and I thought it my duty to see what he had’.[1] Merely carrying a large or unusual-looking object was sufficient grounds for a policing agent to stop and question a suspect, and often to make an arrest. Offenders were stopped for carrying stoves, firkins of butter, sides of bacon, and even a tart stolen from a pastry shop.[2] However, clearly not all goods being carried were stolen; so other factors contributed to the suspicious appearance of these individuals. Not only were young men disproportionately suspicious, but their behaviour, or the circumstances they were found in, could arouse suspicion.

Policing agents were generally expected to know the residents of the area that they policed, and knowledge of a defendant was often used to explain the arrest. Metropolitan Police Constable John White stated at the trial of Lydia Prior, Martha Eldridge and Mary Davis in 1846 that ‘I have seen the prisoners associating together before’, and so ‘suspected’ and watched them until Eldridge came away from a shop with a print concealed under her apron.[3] Policing agents often explained they knew defendants because of their bad character; in the trial of Robert Ransom in 1813, a constable stated that ‘knowing the prisoner to be a reputed thief, I followed him’.[4]

Even if the policing agent did not know the prisoner, they often made arrests because they saw them behaving ‘suspiciously’. This was often either because they believed that the offender had recently, or was just about to commit a crime. For example, John Christmas was arrested by Henry Crocker, a Bow Street patrol in 1794, who stated that ‘if I see a man lurking in the fields, I always go to him’.[5] He discovered some iron next to the prisoner, and took him into custody to investigate.

Suspicious behaviour was sometimes exacerbated by the time of day at which it took place. A constable saw Edward Lowe and William Jobbins in a passage at an ‘unseemly hour’ in 1790, and explained that ‘it would have been decent in the day, but at night there was no such necessity’ for them to be there; he took them into custody and they were later found guilty of arson. Loitering, running, or carrying objects late at night was viewed as more suspicious than if these activities were carried out during the day, when they could be part of legitimate working practices.

Fig. 4 Rowlandson Arrest of a Woman at night

Fig. 4: Thomas Rowlandson, Arrest of a woman at night, ©The Courthauld Gallery

Policing agents who proactively arrested those whom they recognised and saw behaving suspiciously, fostered and shaped the emerging contemporary perception of a criminal class. Although it was not explicitly expressed in such terms until the mid-nineteenth century, the young men whom policing agents arrested and re-arrested were clearly viewed by them as a distinctive and ‘suspicious’ group. The majority of policing agents’ work involved investigating and arresting offenders based on information provided to them by witnesses or victims, but proactive policing of ‘suspicious’ persons, albeit a small proportion of the total number of arrests, had important implications for policing, criminal justice, and individual offenders. In the rest of my PhD research, I will examine these themes in different sources, including newspaper reports, and use case studies of particular repeat offenders to explore their relationships with policing agents over time.


[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 10 June 2016), May 1830, trial of LAZARUS HART (t18300527-6).

[2]OBPO, December 1827, trial of JOHN ALDGATE HENRY JOHNSON (t18271206-76); OBPO, October 1796, trial of JEREMIAH VANDESPUNCH, alias VANDERPUMP (t17961026-27); OBPO, September 1836, trial of RICHARD HARDY (t18360919-2134); OBPO, April 1830, trial of JAMES JONES CORNELIUS HAYES (t18300415-50).

[3] OBPO, May 1846, trial of LYDIA PRIOR MARTHA ELDRIDGE MARY DAVIS (t18460511-1175).

[4] OBPO, January 1813, trial of ROBERT RANSOM (t18130113-52).

[5] OBPO, January 1794, trial of JOHN CHRISTMAS (t17940115-32).

Short bibliography:   

John Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750- 1840 (Oxford; New York, 2012)

Gregory J Durston, Burglars and Bobbies: Crime and Policing in Victorian London (Newcastle, 2012)

Andrew T Harris, Policing the City: Crime and Legal Authority in London, 1780-1840 (Columbus, 2004)

Elaine Reynolds, Before the Bobbies: the Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720-1830 (Basingstoke, 1998)

Heather Shore, London’s Criminal Underworlds, c. 1720-c.1930: A Social and Cultural History (Basingstoke, 2015)

The Social and Spatial Worlds of Old Bailey Convicts

For my PhD I am investigating the social and spatial worlds of impoverished Old Bailey convicts to determine to what extent poverty was a cause of crime. Part of this research involves investigating whether convicts were engaging in criminal activity because they were unable to, or unwilling to obtain parish poor relief, or because parish relief was insufficient. Although the Old Poor Law (1601) declared that parishes must relieve their poor, there are various reasons why people may have been outside of that system. The provisions of the Settlement Act (1662), and the Workhouse Test Act (1723) might have excluded people from parish support, or discouraged their applications. Though the law stated that the poor must be relieved in their parish, there was no legal basis to determine who would be relieved and by how much. This too could prevent access to official relief systems, or when relief was obtained it might not be enough to support individuals and families in need. If relief was unobtainable, undesirable, or insufficient then crime might have become a means of support for poorer members of society.

LHuggins Blog 1 image 1

Image via NY Times

  Historians have concluded that official parish relief was only one strategy which individuals and families used for support. This concept was encapsulated as an ‘economy of makeshifts’. This describes the network of informal sources of support accessed by the poor, which included casual labour, borrowing and small loans, and critically, crime.[1] This phrase provides a conceptual bridge between the history of crime and the history of the poor but there is much work to be done before the relationship between poverty and crime can be fully established.

       Until recently the methodological techniques to enable this type of research within a reasonable timeframe were simply not available. Judicial sources are extensive collections and poor law records for the metropolis are intimidatingly vast but the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, as well as the growing number of digitised parish records (an excellent collection can be found at London Lives), alongside the development of modern record linkage techniques means that this work can now be done. It is important to determine whether the poor – who were never a homogenous group but rather a disparate section of society who might move in and out of poverty throughout their lifetimes – were committing crimes, and whether poverty was the cause.

     At present I have more questions than I do answers but preliminary source analyses reveal that some people were stating in their trials at the Old Bailey that they committed theft because they were unable to obtain parish relief.  Mary Johnson, a spinster from Bishopsgate was found guilty of stealing a silver spoon, worth 10 shillings from a public house in Old Bedlam in 1751. During her trial, Mary admitted the theft but claimed that the parish officers in Bishopsgate would give her no relief. She declared that when she asked for relief, an officer told her that he did not care how she ‘got her bread’ and that she could go whoring or thieving. This story was either not believed, or it was not considered to be a mitigating circumstance so Mary was sentenced to be transported for seven years.[2] In 1792 John Shaw was tried for grand larceny. He stood accused of stealing a length of oak timber from Thomas Winkworth in Cripplegate. Shaw admitted that he stole the timber and claimed it was ‘real distress and want’ which prompted him to do it. The clerk of the court recorded him saying ‘I had not a farthing in the world nor could I get any relief from the parish where I belong to; I took a piece of wood whether it is the same or no I cannot tell’. In this case the jury was more sympathetic. Although Shaw admitted to the theft, he was found not guilty of stealing that particular length of timber and acquitted.[3]

Lhuggins Blog 1 image 2

Image: Thomas Rowlandson, A Select Vestry, 1806. Lewis Walpole Library, 806.0.49. © The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

     These two cases illustrate how convicts sometimes blamed their crime on having been denied parish relief, however, it is crucial that these statements are not taken at face value. Claims of poverty in the Old Bailey proceedings must be treated with caution. Defendants might cite poverty in court in the hope of soliciting clemency from judge and jury, or they might claim poverty when apprehended to dissuade victims from prosecuting them. However, if defendants were poor, and were settled in a parish, this could be corroborated by exploring poor law records. The poor law records for Bishopsgate are undigitised but they are held at London Metropolitan Archive and so, the next step would be to locate Mary Johnson in the archives and attempt to verify the claims she made in court. However, as her application for relief was allegedly denied, we might not find her in those records, but this absence might also be revealing.

       Explicit claims of poor relief being denied, such as those made my Mary Johnson and John Shaw are only one line of enquiry which will be followed. Of course, not all convicts made a defence in their trials, (using poverty as a defence would involve admitting to the crime, after all) and not all defences were recorded in the trial proceedings. Other strategies for determining the socio-economic status of Old Bailey convicts must be devised. The occupations of prisoners are often recorded and these can be illuminating. The type of crime and, particularly in petty larceny cases, the types of items which were stolen can also provide vital contextual clues.

     This research is a natural step forward for me as prior to joining the Digital Panopticon project I completed a Master of Research degree which analysed the provisions of the Old Poor Law and the agency of parish officials – within the framework of social discipline theories – to determine whether poor citizens were criminalised, stigmatised or controlled by the Old Poor Law. I have an abiding interest in the experiences of working class people in the past and am keen to understand to what extent criminality was part of that experience.

Lucy Huggins, University of Sheffield

[1] Olwen H. Hufton, The Poor of Eighteenth-Century France, 1750-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974).

[2] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011), October 1751, trial of Mary Johnson (t17511016-12).

[3] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011), December 1792, trial of John Shaw (t17921215-92).

PhD Work in Progress- Emma Watkins &The Case of George Fenby

The Case of George Fenby

You can see a video of Emma’s slides here: The Case of George Fenby

Euryalus Wash room

(Image courtesy of National Archives)

My PhD research explores the lives and criminal careers of convicts in the nineteenth century, specifically juveniles aged 7-14 – who were sentenced at the Old Bailey to either transportation to Australia or Penal servitude at home – in the period of 1816-1850.

After transcribing all juvenile criminals fitting my criteria a sample will be traced using data-linkage between different digital resources.[1] Then through utilising both a quantitative and qualitative approach, the common factors and experiences present in the lives of juvenile offenders will be identified, and biographies of individuals created.

This will allow for a rounded understanding of the context of these offenders, and enable me to approach the broader questions such as: (i) what part did social, economic, environmental and familiar factors play in criminal juvenile lives? And (ii) by comparing both those who were transported and those who served a penal sentence, which route led to greater criminal desistance and why?

Centred on transportation, this blog will use a case study interspersed with some initial trends of the whole transportation dataset. Notwithstanding the estimated 72, 500 convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land alone, in my period there were 1411 juveniles sentenced to transportation to Australia as a whole.[2]


(Image courtesy of photolibrary.com)

Firstly, it is important to point out the disparity in numbers between male and females. There were only 77 females sentenced to transportation, compared with 1333 male. This disparity is clearly seen in this graph comparing age and gender of transportees (shown in Figure 1.0). This graph also shows the proportional increase of transportee sentences and age. But, the key word here is sentence as not all were sent.

Number and Age of Juveniles Sentenced to Transportation

     EW Fig 1.0 EW Fig 1.0 p2

Figure 1.0

The youngest transportee in the sample is George Fenby. According to some historians, juveniles were not usually transported until “they were a suitable age” – 14 or 15 years old.[3] If they were younger upon conviction they would spend this period of limbo in local gaols or on the Hulks (moored prison ships). Clearly, however, there were exceptions and juveniles were transported under the age of 14. George Fenby is an example.

 Description List CON18/1/15

EW Fig 1.2

Figure 1.1

Parish Birth Records

EW Fig 1.3

Figure 1.2

Fenby’s trip on-board the Manlius took four months. While his transportation records suggest that he was 10 years old, it would seem that he was in fact 12 years old when he first stepped foot in Van Diemen’s Land (see figure 1.1 and figure 1.2). Interestingly, whereas transportation officials believed the youngest male transported was 10, the youngest female in my sample – Mary Ann Oseman – was described as 14 when she arrived in Australia. Four years older than the youngest male.

Born in 1818, one of Hannah Fenby’s five children, George Fenby was convicted and sentenced for stealing two pairs of shoes from a shop, with his mother. The court believing him to be 9 years old.[4] Fenby’s mother, age 43, was also transported on board the Eliza for her part in the offence.

Subcategory of Offences

EW Fig 1.4EW Fig 1.4 p 2

Figure 1.3

Except the odd coining or fraud offence, all offences were theft. As we can see in the graph above (see Figure 1.3), the most common offences were Grand and Simple Larceny. Grand Larceny involved the theft to the value of at least 1 shilling in the absence of aggravating circumstances. But, in 1827, this offence was replaced by the new offence of Simple Larceny, which also did away with Petty Larceny and the complication of minimum values. Pickpocketing was also prevalent but this is skewed by male offenders, which is highlighted when we break down offences by gender (see Figure 1.4).

Male Offence Subcategory

EW Fig 1.5 m

Female Offence Subcategory

EW Fig 1.5 f

Figure 1.4

Still, even after breaking down offences by gender the most common offences in both sex remain Grand and Simple Larceny – if taken together. However, as well as some differences between genders it is noteworthy that the offence, shoplifting, is not prevalent in either sex. Yet, if we take into account the ‘spatial environment of the crime’, the most common place to steal from, in both genders, was the shop (see Figure 1.5). The Fenby’s are an example this.

 EW Fig 1.6

Figure 1.5

The question is: why was Fenby selected from the Euryalus Hulk for actual transportation at such a young age – when others were not? Perhaps his Conduct and Appropriation Records may shed some light (see Figure 1.6). After being with his first mistress, Mrs. Humphrey’s for less than two years, Fenby was re-assigned to a John Kerr. There Fenby began his misconduct relatively unremarkably, for example, he received twelve lashes for being absent in December 1833. However, just a year later his misconduct took on a new form. It was reported that Fenby took “liberties” with his master’s 6 year old daughter, himself only being approximately 14. As a result he was removed to Port Arthur, and placed in the worst class of boys at Point Puer (a juvenile penal settlement 1834-1849). This event even made the Colonial Times (see figure 1.7). At Point Puer Fenby received a further twelve lashes for “most riotous and improper conduct in the cells”. This was followed by more absenteeism. It is possible that Fenby’s behaviour in the colony is indicative of his behaviour while imprisoned before transportation, resulting in his early selection.

  EW Fig 1.7

Figure 1.6

 EW Fig 1.8

Figure 1.7

After receiving a certificate of freedom in 1836, he at some point made his way to Victoria, living for period in Geelong where he worked as a sawyer. There he again appeared in the papers in August 1842 having been charged with attempted highway robbery (see Figure 1.8). Unfortunately as yet I have no details of this charge other than a newspaper clipping and so do not know the outcome. However, we can be relatively confident that it was him, because it states his alias was Timms. There is a connection with Fenby and the name Timms. Not only was the name on his mother’s death certificate, but the connection is also shown in a newspaper notice addressed to George Fenby by his mother Hannah Timms (see Figure 1.9).

 EW Fig 1.9

Figure 1.8

 EW Fig 2.0

Figure 1.9

While there are unknowns in periods of this convict’s life, what is clear is that George Fenby lived an eventful 75 years, living 15 years longer than the average life span. Marrying three times and having children with his first and second wife. Fenby died in 1893 in Corryong, Victoria.

While George Fenby was badly behaved, he was not a repeat offender before he was transported. Notably, only 26% of male juveniles had former indictments or convictions acknowledged at court, compared with 49% of females. This suggests a greater reluctance to sentence girls to transportation unless they were known to be repeat offenders. For males there is a sudden recording of previous convictions just before 1830. While this is probably more of a change in recording, rather than boys suddenly deciding to commit more than one offence – it is of interest both because of its sudden importance – and because when we look at females we can see there is more of a correlation (see Figure 2.0).

 ew Fig 2.2

Figure 2.0

This all raises more questions than it answers. On what basis were juveniles sentenced to imprisonment or transportation? And of those sentenced to transportation, how many were actually sent? And how were they selected?

This idea that bad behaviour and previous offences led to a greater chance of those sentenced to seven years transportation actually being transported, is supported by the 1812 Parliamentary Paper. However, in the same paper, while the superintendent of hulks claimed that “probable utility” to the colony was not considered, he then goes on to say he would not send men over 50, and would probably not send women over 42, and definitely not over 45 – because they would be a “great burthen to the colony.”[5] Notwithstanding the fact that Hannah Fenby was 44 on her arrival.

At the other end of the scale, Captain Williams, government inspector of prisoners, believed many juveniles were too “diminutive” to be sent. So, did they base selection on the size and strength of the juveniles, implying utility was considered? Or was it those they perceived as “hardened” that were selected? Or were other factors, such as practicality, influential? Meaning whether ships were available.

Through tracing how many juveniles sentenced to transportation in my sample were actually transported, and using prosopography, I hope to approach these questions of selection.


[1] Examples of online sources that will be utilised; The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//; State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /; Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/

[2] James Bradley et al, “Research note: The founders and survivors project”, The History of the Family, 15:4 (2010), p. 467

[3] Jeannie Duckworth, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (2002), pp.86-87

[4] Follow link to original Court Proceeding of George and Hannah Fenby; http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18290716-103-defend808&div=t18290716-103#highlight

[5] Report from the Select committee on Transportation 1812 (314), pp. 77-78. (p.16 index)


Duckworth, Jeannie, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (London, 2002)

Godfrey, Barry. S., Cox, David J., and Farral, Stephen, D, Criminal Lives: Family life, Employment, and Offending, (2007, Oxford)

James Bradley et al, “Research note: The founders and survivors project”, The History of the Family, 15:4 (2010)

Jeannie Duckworth, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (2002)

K.S.B Keats-Rohan (ed.) Prosopography Approaches and Applications. A Handbook (Oxford, 2007)

Report from the Select committee on Transportation 1812 (314)

Shore, Heather, Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in early 19th-century London, (Suffolk, 1999)

Digital Resources

 State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /

 Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/

 The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//

Digital Panopticon PhD Work in Progress- Aoife O’Connor

A previous blog post outlined how crime records are among the ‘most extensively digitised’ source sets.  My PhD will explore the impact of this digitisation on the study of crime history.

What do I expect to measure?  What is impact?  Simon Tanner tells us it is not recognition, neither is it outcomes.  It is change.  In his Balanced Value Impact Model he describes a model for assessing a digital resource through a number of criteria.  It sets a high bar for impact.  As does The Research Excellence Framework, which defines impact as ‘any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’.   How do you prove an increase in cultural capital, in appreciation, in a fundamental shift in thought process owing to your research in the humanities?  How many historical studies are likely to influence government policy?  If impact is not successful dissemination of research to a wider public, what is it?

The focus of my study will be on the digitisation, dissemination and impact of UK, Irish, and Australian and Tasmania records.  I will use a number of core sites in my research: Old Bailey Online, London Lives, Founders & Survivors, Findmypast and Ancestry.  Other sources that I will examine include online newspapers such as Trove and British Library Newspapers Online, specialist popular sites such as blacksheepancestors.com, those that host databases of convict records such as records.nsw.gov.au and sites that include broader popular material of interest to crime historians such as Harvard Law Library’s broadside collection. My thesis is also interested in the ways in which crime historians communicate their research in popular ways and looks to online communities such as Flickr, Twitter and Pinterest.

In each case I will assess the accessibility of the resource and the effect that may have on impact.  Are paywalls a bar to impact, or is the requirement for an institutional log in to an otherwise free resource preventing that material from being used?  Are websites being designed for impact?  Are they being designed for particular users?

Impact takes time to manifest.  Change is not seen overnight in the humanities, the reality is even dissemination beyond scholarly publications and the assimilation of research by the wider public can take years.  As a part-time student, who will not be writing up until 2021, I am able to devote more time than usual to gathering my evidence, I expect to begin that process later this year and continue it throughout the coming four years, 2016-2020 via my website www.acriminalrecord.org (at the time of writing this site is still very much bare bones).

It is easier, then, to talk of potential impacts: the ability to do truly longitudinal studies, the requirement on students to use ever larger sample sizes, the potential for data linkage on a large scale.  But the actual impacts have yet to be revealed.  I will argue that digitisation is change to dissemination, among other things, and that the REF model of ‘proving worth’ should not overly burden researchers or overwhelm our concept of ‘impact’.  I will look at a broad range of impacts to gain a sense of what impact means to different stakeholders.  The impacts of digitisation on access, use, dissemination, research methodologies, teaching, publishing, public history; and the impacts of research utilising digital resources on cultural capital, and users sense of history and self.

One of my key questions will be if digitisation has fundamentally altered the ways in which crime records are utilised.  Has digitisation changed the user demographic?  My data will come from the users.  Their uses of the records produced by the justice and penal institutions will inform the direction of my research and I aim to visualise these in quantitative and qualitative ways.

One area of examination will be how users are using online crime records- either in research, teaching or in popular culture. The use of The Old Bailey Online to engage literature students in a critical discourse about crime and entertainment in the nineteenth century is a particularly imaginative use of these resources.  Social historians are also utilising these sources as evidence of daily life such as Tim Hitchcock’s recent work with Anne Helmreich and William J. Turkel on the portable possessions Londoners as recorded in the Old Bailey trials.  Yet one area which has so far been overlooked has been the ways that popular writers use these resources, and I aim to consider this as part of my work.

In particular, I am hoping to reach out to family historians.  I expect to see both continuity and change.  Family historians have likely always appreciated the value of ‘crime records’, and I want to explore the impact of digitisation on their research process. Previously many would have soughtå out a criminal ancestor based on family lore, but with the advent of digitisation, more are discovering ‘criminal’ ancestors serendipitously.

As an employee of Findmypast I have first-hand, albeit anecdotal at this stage, evidence of the range of reactions these types of users have when confronted with a criminal ancestor- from amusement to horror.  I also see a potential pattern emerging related to level of kinship, and family’s attempts to distance themselves from their criminal associations. In all I have witnessed descendants shrug off, laugh, be embarrassed by, and take pride in their criminal forbearers.

It is this strand of research that, in these very early stages, is dominating my plans. I am beginning to steer away from the ways that traditional crime historians use digitised source sets and am looking to the ways that other users are using digital resources. What has been the impact on their histories and, crucially, how are they being used?