GEM FROM THE AR­CHIVE

Michèle Leer­son of the Jersey Ar­chive tells Liz Palmer about a fas­ci­nat­ing early 20th cen­tury pho­to­graph al­bum of of­fend­ers.

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Jersey Po­lice photo al­bum, 1901-1920

At the end of the 19th and in the early 20th cen­tury, it was a com­mon prac­tice for lo­cal po­lice forces to keep a pho­to­graphic record of of­fend­ers. If you have any crim­i­nal an­ces­tors, it is al­ways worth check­ing your lo­cal record of­fice to see if it holds such a record. These al­bums may pro­vide the only pho­to­graphic im­age of an in­di­vid­ual that was ever taken, and of­fer much in­ter­est­ing de­tail about their of­fences and per­sonal cir­cum­stances.

Archivist Michèle Leer­son tells us all about one such al­bum in the Jersey Ar­chive and high­lights the role of the ‘cen­te­nier’, which is unique to the Jersey po­lice sys­tem.

Which doc­u­ment have you cho­sen?

Our gem is a Jersey Po­lice pho­to­graph al­bum of crim­i­nals dated 1909 to 1920. The im­ages alone are of great in­ter­est, but it also gives very use­ful de­tails of the of­fender’s name, place of birth, age, crime, sen­tence and pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions. It’s one of only two po­lice pho­to­graph al­bums in Jersey and was of­fi­cially trans­ferred to the Jersey Ar­chive by the States of Jersey Po­lice back in 2009.

What does it re­veal about the lives of our an­ces­tors?

The in­for­ma­tion on each record can help us to un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances in which these peo­ple were liv­ing – and what hap­pened to them fol­low­ing their con­vic­tion. The four of­fend­ers in this par­tic­u­lar pho­to­graph have all been ar­rested for in­tem­per­ance and dis­turb­ing the peace, which were com­mon of­fences at this time, par­tic­u­larly in the poorer ar­eas of St He­lier. Tav­ern­ers’ Li­cense records show that there was an abun­dance of li­censed houses in the town sell­ing al­co­hol, as well as many un­li­censed premises and there­fore cider, wine and spir­its were read­ily avail­able and – with no im­port tax – also very cheap. All four of­fend­ers re­ceived sen­tences of hard labour, which would have been served in the is­land’s prison on New­gate Street.

The ma­jor­ity of crim­i­nals in the al­bum have been con­victed for rob­bery; how­ever other of­fences in­clude forgery, as­sault, bigamy, pros­ti­tu­tion and the keep­ing of ‘ dis­or­derly houses’. The sen­tences re­ceived were mostly days, months and even years of hard labour and a few of the younger of­fend­ers aged be­tween 13 and 16 are recorded as be­ing sent to re­form schools. Some of the peo­ple are listed with var­i­ous aliases, which would seem to in­di­cate they have been in trou­ble with the law be­fore, of­ten in other cities or coun­tries.

Many of the crim­i­nals in this vol­ume were born in Jersey, but there are also a large num­ber whose place of birth was north­ern France, par­tic­u­larly Brit­tany. From the mid-19th cen­tury a grow­ing agri­cul­tural labour force made the reg­u­lar jour­ney across the English Chan­nel from France to work on is­land farms dur­ing the potato har­vest. Some stayed for the sea­son and later re­turned to France, but many stayed and made Jersey their per­ma­nent home. These work­ers were gen­er­ally very poor and of­ten par­tially paid in cider, which meant that drunk­en­ness was ex­tremely com­mon and was of­ten the cat­a­lyst for them be­ing

These al­bums may pro­vide the only pho­to­graphic im­age of an in­di­vid­ual that was ever taken

ar­rested for mis­de­meanors. Like the other crim­i­nals, they re­ceived sen­tences of hard labour, but they were given an ad­di­tional pun­ish­ment of be­ing ban­ished from the is­land, usu­ally for a pe­riod of five years. This was to en­sure that the is­land was not re­spon­si­ble for their wel­fare or that of their fam­i­lies and their pas­sage back home to France was of­ten paid for by the Jersey au­thor­i­ties.

Why did you choose this doc­u­ment?

This al­bum is spe­cial be­cause it con­tains pho­to­graphs of peo­ple who would not nor­mally have been pho­tographed – had they not been ar­rested for a crime and

taken to the Jersey Po­lice Sta­tion. Dur­ing this pe­riod, it was gen­er­ally only the wealthy who could af­ford to pay to have pho­to­graphs taken and the poorer sec­tion of so­ci­ety, such as the ma­jor­ity of the in­di­vid­u­als in the al­bum, would not have such a record.

The other thing that makes this vol­ume unique to Jersey is that all the ar­rests recorded in the vol­ume were made by ‘cen­te­niers’, who are vol­un­teers in the is­land’s hon­orary po­lice sys­tem, which dates back over 500 years. The cen­te­niers serve as un­paid of­fi­cers for each of the is­land’s 12 parishes and main­tain law and or­der with the pow­ers of a po­lice of­fi­cer. A cen­te­nier can still ar­rest and charge an in­di­vid­ual, who is then brought be­fore the is­land’s Mag­is­trates’ Court to have their case heard.

In the case of this record (pic­tured above), Arthur Luxon is recorded as one of the cen­te­niers for the par­ish of St He­lier, which is where the of­fence took place.

Tell uss more about your col­lec ctions…

Jersey ArchiveA is the is­land’s na­tion­alal repos­i­tory hold­ing archival ma­te­ri­al­te­rial from pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions as well as pri­vate busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als. Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1993, Jersey Ar­chive has col­lected over 350,000 records from the States of Jersey, States Com­mit­tees and De­part­ments, the Royal Court, HE Lieu­tenant-Gov­er­nor, parishes, churches, busi­nesses, so­ci­eties and in­di­vid­u­als re­lat­ing to the is­land.

Many of the most pop­u­lar records held at Jersey Ar­chive have now been digi­tised and are avail­able to down­load on­line at cat­a­logue.jer­sey­her­itage.org. Col­lec­tions av avail­able for down­load in­clude tran­scrip­tionsi tions of early church reg­is­ters, wills and tes­ta­ments from circa 1660 to 1948 and the unique col­lec­tion of Oc­cu­pa­tion Regis­tra­tion Cards which give de­tails and pho­to­graphs of all in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing on the is­land dur­ing the Ger­man Oc­cu­pa­tion, 1940 to 1945.

MICHÈLE LEER­SON is an archivist based in Jersey

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