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Stories and Mugshots of Victorian Child and Teenage Criminals who faced Cruel Punishment for Petty Crimes, 1870s

The haunting mugshots here depict Victorian child criminals, some as young as 12, who faced harsh punishments for minor crimes. The photographs were taken in the 1870s at Oxford Gaol, a prison that later became HMP Oxford. Despite their age, children were often imprisoned for minor offenses during this period. While most of these teenage criminals stole seemingly insignificant items, they faced tough punishments. Jim Westbury was given six months of hard labor and five years at a reformatory school for stealing corn and hay. A 13-year-old girl was sentenced to seven days of hard labor for stealing an umbrella. A 17-year-old man was arrested for stealing a handkerchief, and a 12-year-old girl was jailed for ten days for ‘pretenses. The other images are brothers John and Thomas Williams, ages 13 and 14, who were arrested for house looting and jailed for six months.

One of the significant issues of Victorian Britain was a crime and how to deal with it. During the first half of the 19th century, juvenile crime was a serious problem, as evidenced by court records and newspaper articles. Pocket picking was particularly troublesome, especially when silk handkerchiefs were stolen, which had a very high resale value and could easily be sold. Young thieves were especially profitable in crowded places like fairs, marketplaces, and public executions. A 15-year-old boy, Joseph Mee, was charged with picking pockets at a public execution at the Old Bailey in 1824. The magistrate described him as ‘hardened and unconcerned’. In 1835, a policeman caught 13-year-old Robert Spencer drawing a handkerchief from a gentleman’s pocket at Greenwich Fair, while another constable told the court in 1840 that 11-year-old Martin Gavan and another boy had ‘tried several pockets’ before stealing a gentleman’s handkerchief from a crowd around a traffic accident.

A step toward treating children differently was the Juvenile Offenses Act of 1847, which established a special court for young people under 14 (soon raised to 16). In 1854, the first Reformatory Schools were established. The Reformatory School held young people for long periods. Long sentences were intended to break the child away from the “bad influences” of home and environment. During most of the 19th century, reformatories were the extent of the government’s willingness to treat children differently. In the early 20th century, attitudes started to shift towards reform. From 1899 children were no longer sent to adult prisons.

#1 Ellen Woodman: 11. Ellen was ordered to do 7 days of hard labor after being convicted of stealing iron.

Ellen Woodman: 11. Ellen was ordered to do 7 days of hard labor after being convicted of stealing iron.

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#2 Jane Farrell: 12. Jane stole two boots and was sentenced to do 10 hard days of labor.

Jane Farrell: 12. Jane stole two boots and was sentenced to do 10 hard days of labor.

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#3 Henry Leonard Stephenson. 12. Henry was convicted of breaking into houses and was sentenced to 2 months in prison in 1873.

Henry Leonard Stephenson. 12. Henry was convicted of breaking into houses and was sentenced to 2 months in prison in 1873.

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#4 Rosanna Watson: 13. Rosanna was sentenced to 7 days of hard labor after being caught stealing iron.

Rosanna Watson: 13. Rosanna was sentenced to 7 days of hard labor after being caught stealing iron.

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#5 Mary Hinnigan: 13. Mary was caught stealing iron and was sentenced to do 7 days of hard labor.

Mary Hinnigan: 13. Mary was caught stealing iron and was sentenced to do 7 days of hard labor.

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#6 James Scullion: 13. James Scullion was sentenced to 14 days of hard labor at Newcastle City Gaol for stealing clothes. After this, he was sent to Market Weighton Reformatory School for 3 years.

James Scullion: 13. James Scullion was sentenced to 14 days of hard labor at Newcastle City Gaol for stealing clothes. After this, he was sent to Market Weighton Reformatory School for 3 years.

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#7 Michael Clement Fisher: 13. Michael was an accomplice of Henry Leonard Stephenson, charged with breaking into houses and sentenced to 2 months in prison.

Michael Clement Fisher: 13. Michael was an accomplice of Henry Leonard Stephenson, charged with breaking into houses and sentenced to 2 months in prison.

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#8 Stephen Monaghan: 14. Stephen Monaghan was convicted of stealing money on July 25, 1873, and was sentenced to 10 days of hard labor and 3 years in Market Weighton Reformatory.

Stephen Monaghan: 14. Stephen Monaghan was convicted of stealing money on July 25, 1873, and was sentenced to 10 days of hard labor and 3 years in Market Weighton Reformatory.

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#9 Henry Miller: 14. Henry was charged with the theft of clothing and sentenced to 14 days of hard labor.

Henry Miller: 14. Henry was charged with the theft of clothing and sentenced to 14 days of hard labor.

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#10 Mary Catherine Docherty: 14. Mary was sentenced to 7 days of hard labor after being convicted of stealing iron along with her accomplices: Mary Hinnigan, Ellen Woodman, and Rosanna Watson.

Mary Catherine Docherty: 14. Mary was sentenced to 7 days of hard labor after being convicted of stealing iron along with her accomplices: Mary Hinnigan, Ellen Woodman, and Rosanna Watson.

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#11 John Reed: 15. John was sentenced to do 14 days of hard labor and 5 years of reformation for stealing money in 1873.

John Reed: 15. John was sentenced to do 14 days of hard labor and 5 years of reformation for stealing money in 1873.

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#12 Edward Fenn: 15. Edward was convicted of stealing clothes on March 31, 1873, and served 1 month with hard labor.

Edward Fenn: 15. Edward was convicted of stealing clothes on March 31, 1873, and served 1 month with hard labor.

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#13 Robert Charlton: 16. Robert Charlton was a laborer from Newcastle and was imprisoned for 4 months for stealing 2 pairs of boots.

Robert Charlton: 16. Robert Charlton was a laborer from Newcastle and was imprisoned for 4 months for stealing 2 pairs of boots.

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#14 John Duffy: 16. John was found guilty of assault and theft. He was imprisoned for 6 months.

John Duffy: 16. John was found guilty of assault and theft. He was imprisoned for 6 months.

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#15 James Donneley: 16. Also known as James Darley, at the age of just 16, this young man had been in and out of prison, but on this occasion, he was sentenced to 2 months for stealing some shirts.

James Donneley: 16. Also known as James Darley, at the age of just 16, this young man had been in and out of prison, but on this occasion, he was sentenced to 2 months for stealing some shirts.

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#16 George Lamb: 17. Accomplice of John Duffy, George Lamb was sentenced to 4 months in prison after stealing money.

George Lamb: 17. Accomplice of John Duffy, George Lamb was sentenced to 4 months in prison after stealing money.

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#17 Martha Herbert, 12, was sentenced to 42 days of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing half a shilling and six pence, on February 23, 1871.

Martha Herbert, 12, was sentenced to 42 days of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing half a shilling and six pence, on February 23, 1871.

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#18 William Clarke, 17, was locked up and made to carry out 21 days hard labor for stealing a handkerchief on October 26, 1870.

William Clarke, 17, was locked up and made to carry out 21 days hard labor for stealing a handkerchief on October 26, 1870.

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#19 Seven-year-old Julie-Ann Crumpling was jailed at Oxford Castle Prison for stealing a pram, and sentenced to seven days of hard labor.

Seven-year-old Julie-Ann Crumpling was jailed at Oxford Castle Prison for stealing a pram, and sentenced to seven days of hard labor.

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#20 James Freeman, 17, was sentenced to 21 days hard labor for stealing bread with his friend on July 7, 1870.

James Freeman, 17, was sentenced to 21 days hard labor for stealing bread with his friend on July 7, 1870.

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#21 Rosa Halliday was just 12 years old when she was sentenced to ten days hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for the crime of ‘false pretences’ on February 9, 1871.

Rosa Halliday was just 12 years old when she was sentenced to ten days hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for the crime of ‘false pretences’ on February 9, 1871.

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#22 Seventeen-year-old Thomas Carter was made to carry out 21 days of hard labor for stealing bread with a friend, James Freeman, on July 7, 1870.

Seventeen-year-old Thomas Carter was made to carry out 21 days of hard labor for stealing bread with a friend, James Freeman, on July 7, 1870.

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#23 Sophia Noreutt, 14, was ordered to carry out two days hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing wood on May 4, 1872.

Sophia Noreutt, 14, was ordered to carry out two days hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing wood on May 4, 1872.

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#24 Robert Woodley, 18, was sentenced to 21 days hard labor for stealing hay on 17th November, 1870.

Robert Woodley, 18, was sentenced to 21 days hard labor for stealing hay on 17th November, 1870.

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#25 One of the more serious criminals in the mugshot archive, John Conor, 19, was sentenced to six months hard labour at Oxford Castle prison for assault and robbery, on December 18, 1865.

One of the more serious criminals in the mugshot archive, John Conor, 19, was sentenced to six months hard labour at Oxford Castle prison for assault and robbery, on December 18, 1865.

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#26 James Logan, 20, was handed a month of hard labor for stealing a coat, on October 12, 1870.

James Logan, 20, was handed a month of hard labor for stealing a coat, on October 12, 1870.

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#27 John Davis, 19, was sentenced to one-month of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing trousers, June 16, 1870.

John Davis, 19, was sentenced to one-month of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for stealing trousers, June 16, 1870.

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#28 John Brooks, 17, was given a 42-day stretch of hard labour for embezzling 14 shillings and six pence, October 10, 1870.

John Brooks, 17, was given a 42-day stretch of hard labour for embezzling 14 shillings and six pence, October 10, 1870.

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#29 Brothers John and Thomas Williams (below), aged 13 and 14 respectively, were sentenced to six months of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for house looting in 1870.

Brothers John and Thomas Williams (below), aged 13 and 14 respectively, were sentenced to six months of hard labor at Oxford Castle prison for house looting in 1870.

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#30 Thomas Williams.

Thomas Williams.

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#31 Robert Hall, 13, was sentenced to 14 days of hard labor in Oxford Castle prison for stealing a leather strap, June 17 1870.

Robert Hall, 13, was sentenced to 14 days of hard labor in Oxford Castle prison for stealing a leather strap, June 17 1870.

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#32 Samuel Currey, 16, was handed 21 days of hard labor along, with his friend George Sucknott, for stealing trousers on April 9, 1870.

Samuel Currey, 16, was handed 21 days of hard labor along, with his friend George Sucknott, for stealing trousers on April 9, 1870.

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#33 George Sucknott, 18, sentenced to 21 days of hard labor for stealing trousers, April 9, 1870.

George Sucknott, 18, sentenced to 21 days of hard labor for stealing trousers, April 9, 1870.

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#34 Henry Cox, 19, sentenced to two months of hard labor at Oxford Castle Prison for stealing, March 10 1870.

Henry Cox, 19, sentenced to two months of hard labor at Oxford Castle Prison for stealing, March 10 1870.

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#35 Ellen Hayes stole two studs and a waistcoat in May 1873 and had to complete 21 days of hard labor.

Ellen Hayes stole two studs and a waistcoat in May 1873 and had to complete 21 days of hard labor.

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#36 Alfred Blackwell, 16, was sentenced to three months of hard labor at Oxford Gaol for stealing 6lbs of Australian meat.

Alfred Blackwell, 16, was sentenced to three months of hard labor at Oxford Gaol for stealing 6lbs of Australian meat.

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#37 Alice Dawson, 13, nicked an umbrella in July 1872.

Alice Dawson, 13, nicked an umbrella in July 1872.

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#38 Amy Foy stole a bodice and had to complete 21 days of hard graft.

Amy Foy stole a bodice and had to complete 21 days of hard graft.

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#39 John Wheeler was guilty of stealing 100lb of coal in October 1872.

John Wheeler was guilty of stealing 100lb of coal in October 1872.

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#40 George Green spent four years in the reformatory school for stealing a bag containing bread and butter.

George Green spent four years in the reformatory school for stealing a bag containing bread and butter.

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#41 Joseph Green helped his brother nick the bread and butter and was given the same brutal punishment.

Joseph Green helped his brother nick the bread and butter and was given the same brutal punishment.

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#42 Charles Lovefry,15, was sentenced to three months of hard labor at Oxford Gaol for stealing a rabbit.

Charles Lovefry,15, was sentenced to three months of hard labor at Oxford Gaol for stealing a rabbit.

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Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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