Friday, June 20, 2008
2008 - Friday Fun - Crime and punishment
Crime and punishment are not new issues. As this piece from The Black Country Bugle shows.
Unfortunately, crime has always played a part in the society we live in. Ever since our ancestors began to settled down in villages and townships and establish laws, there have been individuals intent on breaking them, either through enforced circumstances, or plain ill-will. But what may have been adjudged as a crime fit for severe punishment by one generation, was perhaps dealt with more leniently by another.
The death penalty for murder and treason was still available for courts to administer just a couple of generations ago, but now such a severe punishment has been abolished in this country, and frowned upon by the majority of other nations in the world. The measure of punishment for each crime is always a hotly contested debate, with so called soft options often endgendering exasperation in many. These days, more than at any time in history, there is a widespread feeling that in too many cases criminals 'get away with murder'.
How then would the criminals of the 21st century have been dealt with during the reign of Victoria, when life was a darned sight harder than it is today? The misty, rather romanticised view of life in the Black Country 150 years ago, is brought into stark reality when you read about misdemeanours that probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow today, but back then were dealt with severely in the local courts; for instance, a month's imprisonment for throwing stones. On the 28th November, 1857, the Brierley Hill Advertiser had its usual gamut of court appearances to report. Weigh up the evidence put forward for each case in the following article, and see if you agree with the punishment dished out on these petty criminals of the 19th century:
"James Beddard and Joseph Shore, two rather rough-looking men, were indicted for damaging a quantity of clover on land owned by Mr John Slater at Kingswinford.
John Handbury, the parish constable, was in court to prove the case. In evidence he stated that he had been appointed to watch a field belonging to Mr Slater which contained some clover. On Tuesday 17th November, whilst there, he observed Beddard and Shore walking through the field with a partridge net which was opened. He did not observe them catch anything with it, but they had nevertheless damaged some of the clover. They had no business in the field, as there was no public road through it. On being further questioned, the constable stated that the damage done to the clover wasn't much more than about 2d.
Both defendants, in an impudent manner, asked the constable several questions, and, to a certain extent, denied his statement. Members at the Bench said they could not tell what the defendants wanted with the net, but it looked rather suspicious. There was, however, no doubt that they had damaged the clover, and had also been in a place where they had no business. They were summarily ordered to pay for the damage to the clover, with costs, or spend 21 days in prison with hard labour if the fine wasn't forthcoming."
Drunkenness was probably an everyday occurrence in the Black Country of the 19th century, when hard graft was forgotten for a few brief hours, anaesthetised by a few jugs of ale. But woe betide the inebriated fellow who was unable to just drink and be merry:
"A slovenly looking young man named Thomas Yardley, and Benjamin Bournes, who appeared under warrant, were fined 5s each for being drunk and disorderly in Rowley Regis, or in default of payment, spend six hours in the stocks. The same applied to Thomas Welch, a wretched looking man without either coat or waistcoat, who was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Brierley Hill."
Canals during the mid 19th century were still a vital component of the country's transportation system, although the introduction of the railways a few years previously would soon have the inland waterways system on the wane. Roads were virtually useless in transporting the vast quantities of raw materials and finished products from A to B, so any violations of the Canal Act were acted upon immediately with stiff punishments for those miscreants responsible:
"William Bycott, a youth, was charged by Mr James Caddick, with throwing stones into the canal contrary to the Canal Act, which subjects parties committing that offence to a penalty of £10. The boy said in his defence that some people on the opposite side of the canal had been throwing horse manure at him, and, for the purpose of protecting himself, he threw a stone at them which accidentally fell into the canal, having failed to reach the other side. The bench had some sympathy for the youth but still fined him 5s with costs, or on default, a month in prison.
"James Bradley, a boatman, was indicted for an offence of this nature. From the evidence for the prosecution, it appeared that on the morning of Friday 9th November, at Kinver, he brought his boat into one of the canal locks. After the usual arrangements he took his boat out but neglected to close the top gate, thereby causing a considerable waste of water and thus violating the Canal Act. One of the canal company's agents stated that it was a very serious case, and a positive breach of the Act relating to these matters. The defendant, James Bradley, was fined 20s., the lowest fine possible, with costs. Another boatman, James Lock, was indicted for allowing a boat of his to travel on the canal from Kidderminster to Kinver without a rudder, circumstances of which rendered several parts of the canal liable to be damaged. He too was fined 20s. with costs."
Damaging other people's property has always been a criminal act, but not quite so heinous a crime as was apparent 150 years ago:
"A female named Ann Farrell, was indicted for damaging a fence belonging to a Mr Harper, in Kinver on Tuesday 10th November. From the evidence for the plaintiff, it appeared she had broken the fence whilst going to a place for water-cress. She had frequently been found on the land and had been cautioned several times before. The damage she had caused amounted to about 1d, for which she was fined with costs, or told to serve 14 days' imprisonment with hard labour."
"A kind neighbour, Ann Goodwin, wife of William Goodwin of Brierley Hill, was present on a charge of wilfully damaging a quantity of children's clothes belonging to Jonathan Williams of the same place on Wednesday November 10th.
"Harriet Williams, the wife of the plaintiff, stated that on the day in question she had a quantity of clothes out on a line close to her house. Whilst the clothes were in this position, Mrs Goodwin, who was a neighbour, went down with some "wash" for her pigs. She had to pass the clothes to get to the sties. On coming back, and when near the clothes, she put her hand into her pocket, immediately drew it out again, then appeared to throw something at the clothes. She could not then perceive what had either been thrown, or done at the clothes, but upon going to the place a short while afterwards, she found out, to her astonishment, that several of the articles were in holes - that the defendant must have sent vitriol at them. The damage amounted to about 10s.
"Mary Ann Wood, for the plaintiff, said that after the clothes had been damaged, she went to look at them. On her way back from the place, Ann Goodwin called after her and commenced talking about the clothes. She had in her hands at the time an apron, which was all eaten in holes similar to the clothes. The witness told her of this, at which she turned white, denied having committed the offence and went away. In her defence, Mrs Goodwin, in a lingo which proved her connection with "the green isle," said she knew nothing of the matter and was as innocent as anyone in court. The reason why her apron was in holes was because it had caught fire on the day in question whilst she was boiling some parsnips for the pigs, before a great fire.
"If they (the Bench) knew as much about the matter as she did, they would give her (plaintiff's wife) three months instead of taking her part. After a few further remarks by the Bench, Mrs Goodwin was ordered to pay damages of 10s. plus costs, or face imprisonment for 21 days with hard labour."
The worst crimes have always been those involving violence to a fellow human being, and thus was the case in the Black Country during these times. Wife beating was as abhorrent then as it is now, and while many got away with it and some do to this day, the court showed no mercy when sentencing labourer George Haywood:
"The defendant, Haywood, from Spring's Mire, was charged with unlawfully and maliciously wounded his wife Elizabeth Haywood, who it seemed he was living apart from. On the day of the offence, a quarrel took place between the parties, and the husband, taking up a broom stale, struck her a blow on her right arm and broke it. She was attended by Mr A. G. Mainwaring, surgeon, who described her injuries as being of a serious nature. Haywood said his wife took up the broom stale in the first instance and was about to strike him when he took it from her. The Magistrates commented on the defendant's unmanly conduct, and had no hesitation in committing him to three months hard labour. Haywood remonstrated with the Bench for leniency and to pay a fine instead of going to prison, but the Magistrates determined a fine would not meet the case and sent him down."
Story First Published: 02/12/2004