The Game Laws
Gamekeepers had the unenviable task of helping to enforce the Game Laws which protected the increasing numbers of game preserves from poachers. During the mid-18th century, poachers started using firearms to kill game and the laws were consequently tightened up to punish them with tougher sentences. From 1770, nighttime poachers could be sentenced to six months in prison, and from 1803, any poacher who resisted arrest with arms faced the death sentence. Under a further Act of 1816, even unarmed men caught trespassing with a net could be transported. By 1827, poaching crimes accounted for one-seventh of all criminal convictions in England.
From 1831, the daytime killing of game (not rabbits) without a certificate was punishable by a £5 fine. Anyone trespassing during the day in search of game, rabbits, snipe, woodcock, quail or landrail could be fined £2. The Game Laws were extremely unpopular with labourers, particularly the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862. This controversial legislation gave the police greater powers to search anyone suspected of poaching or of having a gun, snares or a net to kill game; these could be confiscated from convicted poachers. The law was also used to prosecute people for minor thefts such as taking firewood or turnips from land. As late as 1915, the penalty for night poaching was three months’ imprisonment for a first offence and seven years for a third. In 2011, the Poaching Prevention Act was repealed in Scotland, but is still on the statute book in England and Wales.