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Whipped for stealing celery: The young faces of Victorian crime

Young people have run into trouble with the law for hundreds of years although before Victorian times, no distinction was made between criminals of any age.

Children were often sent to an adult prison and there are even records of children as young as 12 being hanged.

But by 1854, Reformatory Schools were set up for offenders under 16 years old. These were very tough places, with austere discipline enforced by frequent beatings.

They were sent there for long sentences – usually several years - but a young offender would usually begin their sentence with a brief spell in an adult prison.

These black and white photographs, which originate from Wandsworth Prison in London, were taken between December 1872 and January 1873 when the concept of photography was still relatively new.

Most of these glum-looking child criminals were arrested or brutally punished for stealing seemingly petty items.

The haunting images show George Davey and William Jowers - aged 10 and 12 respectively - stealing two rabbits.

Also pictured is James Leadbetter, 11, who was whipped and given four days hard labour for stealing celery.

Other striking shots show 14-year-old Thomas Goodstone who was given 14 days hard labour for stealing seven pounds of pork over the Christmas period.

Meanwhile Thomas Savage, 11, was given four days hard labour and 10 strokes of a birch cane for stealing some iron.

In the United Kingdom, birching was a judicial penalty in both juvenile and adult cases until 1948.

The 145-year-old collection also includes a mugshot of 15-year-old John Garmin who was arrested for stealing a blanket on a freezing January day, and 14-year-old Tammy Puplett who was jailed for 10 days for stealing a bottle of gin amongst other items.

The earliest photos taken for use by law enforcement may have been taken in Belgium in 1843 and 1844 - but in the UK, police in Liverpool and Birmingham were photographing criminals by 1848.

The man photographed for Britain's first recorded mugshot was thief Isaac Ellery who was convicted in March 1853 and banished to Australia for stealing cushions.

The criminal justice system was dubbed the “Bloody Code” in the 18th and early 19th centuries owing to soaring death penalty figures - even for crimes considered minor by today's society.

But in 1823 the Judgement of Death Act 1823 made the death penalty discretionary for all crimes except treason and murder – bringing the capital punishment toll back down.

Photo credit: News Dog Media

Published 21 Aug 2018

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