England Criminal Punishments for Young Offenders (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Young Offenders

It was not until the early 19th century that a few enlightened individuals questioned the placing of juveniles in prison with adult criminals, which only enhanced their criminal skills, debauchery and violence. The efforts of Howard, Bedford, Buxton, Fry, Hill and Carpenter are detailed by David T. Hawkings (Criminal Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England and Wales. Sutton Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1996) and Michelle Cale’s Law and Society: An Introduction to Sources for Criminal and Legal History from 1800. Slowly things began to change for destitute and delinquent children, however juvenile offenders were still given about two weeks imprisonment before entering a juvenile facility until 1899. It should be noted that after 1854 some youths were still given sentences in adult prisons. Some examples of training and guidance for such neglected and formerly harshly-treated youth are now discussed.

Marine Society

The Marine Society commenced in 1756 for training poor distressed boys for service at sea, either with the Royal Navy or the East India Company. Cheney has an interesting account of such a boy, and records for this private charitable society are at NMM (National Maritime Museum).

Philanthropic Society

In 1788 the Philanthropic Society created an institution for the admission of the offspring of convicts and the reformation of criminal poor children. The children were housed, clothed, fed, schooled and apprenticed so that they could become useful members of society. Most were from London and Cheshire, many absconded, but the records of those that stayed are extremely detailed, some with photographs. Excerpts from early girls’ records are shown below. Youths out of training were encouraged to emigrate, with dates, ships’ names and letters home being included in the records, and an example is also shown here . Records are at Surrey Record Office and on film, for example those for 1788-1890 are on four films starting at FHL film 1470975.

Chart: Excerpts from Royal Philanthropic Society Records of Girls
Charlotte NORMAN complete report

This girl and her sister are natural children deserted by their parents and
real objects for this institution. Age 12 [born 1777-78]
1792 22 Sep
Apprenticed to the Matron.
1794 26 May
Was by the Orders of the Committee placed on liking with Mrs Kupor(?)
who lives in the Kent road upon liking.
1794 20 Jun
Was removed back to the Reform, the Matron having some intelligence
respecting this girl’s mistress which made it necessary to take
her from this situation.
1794 29 Nov
Placed by the Committee’s orders with Mrs Lindsay, but returned on the Monday, Mrs Kuper(?) her former Mistress having reported to Mrs Lindsay some circumstance which
occasioned Mrs Lindsay to part with her.
1794 10 Dec
Was by the recommendation of Mr Hooper placed as Servant with Mrs Frith,
No 35 Norton Faldgate at Wages of four guineas per annum.
1795 22 Jun
Mrs Firth having no further occasion for her services, she was removed to Mrs Rigby
a widow Lady, who resides in Grafton Street, Clerkenwell.
1795 13 Aug
Returned to the Reform. On account of her so suddenly leaving her situation,
the Superintendent waited on her Mistress to inquire the cause – was made acquainted that she had given her Mistress warning and behaved very insolent and improperly.
On my return placed her in solitary confinement, and reported her Conduct to the
General Committee who were pleased to order her still remaining in this situation by a Minute thereon.
1795 5 Sep
Was by order released from confinement on promise of amendment.
1795 10 Sep
Sent on trial to Mrs Baker, Salisbury St., Strand.
1795 7 Oct
Mrs Baker having no further occasion for her; she returned.
1795 16 Nov
5 Dec
Mrs Cade who keeps a Boarding School for young Ladies at Blackheath was desirous
of taking her on trial as an apprentice – which, meeting with the Committee’s
approbation – she was sent on trial and having remained there to Dec 5th she was apprenticed with the consent of all parties
1799 mid-Jun 1800

About the middle of June last [Charlotte] called on Mr Hooper to enquire after her
sister, who is now in the Reform and also to return Thanks to the Members of the
Philanthropic Society for their Care and attention to her when in the Reform, and
at the same time informed Mr Hooper that after living in two or three places of
Servitude, she accompanied one of her Mistresses to Deal, where she was married
to a respectable Man, by trade a Taylor two years back [1797]. And from her
very decent appearance she promises to be a Useful Member of the Community
as well as to do credit to those who protected her in her early years.

Sarah NORMAN complete report

Sister to the foregoing. Age 7 [born 1782-3]
1792 22 Sep
Apprenticed to the Matron.
1806 3 Oct
Placed out in service with Mrs Durand, No 3 James Place, Hackney road at the usual Wages of Five Guineas.
1807 7 Feb
Not approving of her, she was removed and was placed Servant with Mrs Leeson, Vauxhall Walk.

Mary KING extracts

Admitted 1789 aged 10. “The father is dead and the mother left with four helpless children. Her father was executed for a Robbery recommended by Revd Dr. Grindley”. [Doesn’t sound quite right, does it!].
She was placed out in 1797 and after 2 years of good conduct received a reward of two guineas!

Mary MITCHELL extracts

Admitted 1789 aged 8. “Her mother a drunken idle woman her father incapable of bringing her up through the mother’s imprudent conduct.”

Placed out in 1800 but returned as unsuitable in 1801. Placed out again in 1803, received a gratuity of one guinea after one year’s good conduct there. In 1819 was rewarded with two guineas for having served at the same place for nearly 16 years.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.