Crime, Cle­mency and Con­se­quence in Bri­tain 1821–1839: A Slice of Crim­i­nal Life

Pen & Sword, £12.99, 169 pages

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE - by Alison Eatwell

Crim­i­nal pe­ti­tions are fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ments that of­fer a glimpse into life in the past, as well as pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion about crim­i­nals, crimes and sen­tenc­ing. How­ever, these in­valu­able records can be eas­ily over­looked in fam­ily his­tory re­search. In Crime, Cle­mency & Con­se­quence, Alison Eatwell brings to life the sto­ries be­hind some of these des­per­ate pleas for mercy.

This well-re­searched book re­veals the de­tails of a se­lec­tion of pe­ti­tions from the 1820s and 1830s. Taken from the Home Of­fice se­ries 17 and 18 at The Na­tional Ar­chives at Kew, the records re­call the cases of con­victed crim­i­nals who ap­pealed against their sen­tence or their pun­ish­ment.

Crime, Cle­mency & Con­se­quence opens with an in­tro­duc­tion to life in the early 19th cen­tury, set­ting the con­text for the case stud­ies and in­clud­ing an over­view of dif­fer­ent types of crime typ­i­cal of the pe­riod. Each chap­ter fo­cuses on a theme: ei­ther a spe­cific of­fence, such as bigamy, theft and mur­der, or a closely-re­lated topic such as the ex­pe­ri­ence of those con­fined on the in­fa­mous prison hulks, and a forger’s in­struc­tions on how to make fake coins. Through­out the chap­ters, the in­di­vid­u­als’ voices are heard, as their unique sto­ries are re­told for the first time in al­most two cen­turies.

The book ex­plores the ex­pe­ri­ences of a wide range of in­di­vid­u­als who all fell foul of the law. Some case stud­ies have been ex­tended to in­clude the plain­tiff ’s back­ground and cir­cum­stances, which of­fers an in­sight into their daily lives and their crim­i­nal acts. The book would have ben­e­fited from clearer and more de­tailed con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion in each chap­ter, as well as in the in­tro­duc­tion, and more anal­y­sis of each case. Crim­i­nal pe­ti­tions are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble on­line at find­my­, and the book serves as a good re­minder that these in­ter­est­ing and in­for­ma­tive doc­u­ments are well worth re­search­ing. An­gela Buck­ley writes about Vic­to­rian crime and is chair of the So­ci­ety of Ge­neal­o­gists

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