Crime & Punishment

By Bethany Smyth

(Image courtesy of Google Images)
(Image courtesy of Google Images)

To add to this website I wanted to research into some local crimes and then later compare it with those taken place in London, to compare the differences in the justice system. It is something that has always been questioned dependent on who was on trial and where the crimes took place, particularly hundreds of years ago.

First of all I am going to briefly describe some crimes that were found on the microfilm in Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS), which took place in local areas, such as Hatfield. I initially looked at Thefts and Rapes to see the punishments for some of the more extreme crimes. I did not find many results for murder or rioting. The first crime (rape) in 1827 sentenced the man in question to death – no detail was spoken of due to the nature of the situation. He raped the daughter of his own wife from another marriage. With regards to the time frame I felt that this was a fair trial. The second case I looked into was assault with intent to rape, also in 1827. The man again, was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and hard labour. Looking into details of the case, he clearly intended to cause the girl more harm, and I feel that these all seem to be fair trials if you take into account that it was hard for a woman of this time to show the man as a rapist or villain, due to the inequality.

The next 2 cases I examined were thefts. The first taking place in 1823 and the sentence was seven years transportation. First off it seems a bit excessive when its compared to an assault with the intent to to rape got only 2 years imprisonment. It also seems excessive purely due to the crime itself anyway. The theft was of shoes, so I think I may need more detail to see who the shoes belonged to and their status within the community. Also the previous offences the criminal apparently had, may have added to the severity of the sentence. The second theft, taking place in 1825 had an even more extreme consequence. The criminal plead guilty, which lead to death. It is even more severe than the previous theft despite not mentioning any previous convictions of a similar nature. Perhaps this is because sheep were stolen, and livestock was of high importance then, as it is now, but it could be guessed that it had even more importance to someone’s livelihood during those times as opposed to today.

I then took these cases found from the HALS, so essentially crimes that have been committed in Hatfield, and compared them to a search I made on which shows crimes in London. My first search was “Rape,” within the time frame 1823-1832 to match those of the crimes in Hatfield. Initially on my search I found that on the first 20 results only 1 of the cases found the man to be guilty. On the one guilty case absolutely no details were offered other than the crime, name of the criminal, the sentence and the judge who gave the sentence. This seems very suspicious as to the integrity of the old bailey court and whether these punishments were just or fair. Upon further investigation I find that the majority of the cases (in the first 20 results) followed the same format, offering no detail, which furthers my suspicion of the fairness of the justice system in the old bailey towards women in London during the early 1800s. There is quite a contrast in the two justice systems, which seem to be shifting from one extreme to the other; from the death penalty, to no punishment being given out at all.

To reinforce further the fact that women may have been mistreated in the justice system in London I then picked 2 different theft cases to compare to the 2 from HALS. Immediately I noticed a huge difference, being that there is much more detail and information compared to the rape cases, with the full witnesses verdicts and the defence (if there were any). The lack of defence in some cases also suggests how there may have been ill justice within the courts. However it was not uncommon for some defendants, dependent on status, to not be able to have any defence. In one case, involving all men, ended with the verdict being not guilty, despite at the end of the transcript, it saying ” John Green , William Taylor , and Thomas Hiller [the defendants] were brought before me, and admitted, before me, that they had committed the above mentioned theft.

T. T. CLARKE.” Whether the verdict had changed or not, I am unsure. The next theft case ,too, has witnesses statements and, also, the witness defence. The verdict for this theft case was guilty of theft of “fourteen umbrella covers, value 16 s.; twenty-one rings, value 1 s.; a flat iron, value 1 s., and an apron, value 6 d. , the goods of James White,” and the sentence was six months confinement and whipping, which seems extreme to the modern day, however compared to the other sentences given to the theft cases in HALS they don’t seem to drastic. This once again leads me to believe that crime and punishment towards women in the Old Bailey was unjust in the 1800s, as the cases where women were the victims held no detail and very rarely was the man prosecuted, let alone punished. The justice system was a much more fair process in HALS and surrounding areas, including Hatfield. From this we can be proud that Our Hatfield has always been a fair and just place to live.

This page was added on 12/01/2012.

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