by Dick Hunter

This article examines petitions arising from convictions at Yorkshire courts in the mind-nineteenth century, with a case study of events surrounding and following the conviction of Sarah Ann Hill who, in December 1851, was sentenced to death for the murder of her new-born child.

The principle of petitioning for clemency or redress was well established, sometimes to reduce a death sentence to transportation, or to lessen the term of transportation, or to allow a convict to serve a term in Britain rather than overseas.

The article draws attention to neglect of this topic by local historians even though uniquely detailed evidence may be given. The circumstances in Yorkshire are then analysed, with tables showing conviction rates at York Assizes and the nature of the sentences handed out (death, transportation for life, transportation for differing lesser terms, and imprisonment in any one of seven penal establishments in the county). There is analysis of the impact of petitioning, which ranged from free or conditional pardons to other mitigation (though it is noted that 79 per cent of petitions were unsuccessful).

The case study of Sarah Ann Hill recounts her tragic case in detail, with analysis of how and why her death sentence was commuted to transportation. The final section of the article places this in the context of the increasingly vigorous campaign against the death penalty, or at least in favour of its much-reduced use.

 

Dick Hunter is a member of the outreach committee of the British Association for Local History and coordinated its First World War centennial activity. He is reviews editor of the journalΒ Family & Community History, and chair of Clements Hall Local History Group in York.Β His interest in criminal petitions arose from a realisation of their valuable as an under-used source for voices that may not otherwise be found in the historical record.


Read the full article

Latest Updates on Twitter

The Prison Cell is out now! Answer 1/2 questions to win a free e-book:

2. The β€˜Prison Escape’ game uses the cells of which former prison in The Netherlands?
A Norgerhaven
B Breda
C Gevangenpoort

Winning comment picked at random July 17th #prisons https://bit.ly/322OiMP (2/2)

The Prison Cell is out now! Answer 1/2 questions to win a free e-book:

1. In C19th, housing prisoners in individual cells was called the..?

A Separate System
B Silent System
C Lonely System

Winning comment picked at random July 17th #prisons https://bit.ly/322OiMP (1/2)

@OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing We'd confirm - seems to be wearing an indoor tailcoat and unlikely for a Runner to be armed with a sword in this scenario. @blackpoppies14 has researched the earliest known Met mixed-race officer, Robert Branford, with us 1838-1866:
https://twitter.com/Southwark_News/status/1263560495598129153

@earlypolicing @OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @BritPoliceHist @colpolicemuseum Thomas Latham is noted here. However dates do not coincide.

https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-firsts/john-kent-britains-first-black-policeman/

@northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing I don't think he's drawn in there as a Runner -- he's getting up from his chair. So it looks like PC Kent of Carlisle Police remains the earliest confirmed (1830s) black constable. There could well be others out there though.

I'm spending today back in the murder files, reading through trial depositions and looking for evidence of detective practice and early CSI techniques. Great to have finally got round to sorting out the data from my last archival visit! I shall report backβ€¦πŸ˜€πŸ”Ž #detectives #PhD

The 1810 Bastards Act placed the responsibility for the maintenance of an illegitimate child on the putative father rather than the Parish. Mary Bilham of Carbrooke, Norfolk named Stephen Beeks as the father of her child. Her daughter was baptised in January 1812. #101Documents

2

@victoriansleuth @ourcriminalpast Shouldn't be too difficult to knock up some stocks from a few wooden pallets and some scrap timber, attach some wheels, we're mobile. πŸ€”πŸ˜‚

I have several 'criminals' in my family tree, who were convicted of theft, poaching, swearing on the highway (!), and keeping a disorderly house 😱 Have you found any criminal ancestors? #AncestryHour

@TheRothOfKhan @PlymCSecResp @CrownhillPolice @PlymASecResp @plymspecial999 @PlymPoliceBSec @PlymouthVPC @CustodyPlymouth @MPSSouthwark @MPSGreenwich @DevonHeritage @HMNBDevonport @NatMuseumRN @theboxplymouth @britainsocean @PlymouthUK2020 @oneplymouth @sarewaddington Fortunately we also have a digitised copy of his divisional ledger entry on M, where he was M341. He'd switched from carman for a haulage company (1911) to labourer by the time he joined the Met, making the transfer to No. 3 (Devonport) Division on 4 July 1917.