Crime, Clemency and Consequence in Britain 1821–1839: A Slice of Criminal Life
Pen & Sword, £12.99, 169 pages
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 findmypast.co.uk, 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