Criminal Lives: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts 1780–1925 is part of the AHRC Digital Panopticon project, which aims to integrate millions of records from around 50 datasets relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey.
This is a compact exhibition, displayed in a small space (a staircase and the lobby area outside the main research rooms), but it is dense with information and case studies on the changing ways people convicted at the Old Bailey were punished. It starts with the punishment of the body (hanging, branding and whipping) and moves on to transportation to Australia, finishing with incarceration in reformatory prisons at home. The displays include Policing and Arrest, Trials at the Old Bailey, Corporal Punishment, the Gordon riots of the 178os, the destruction of Newgate Prison in the Gordon Riots, Transportation, the Hulks and the Unreformed Prison, Victorian Executions and the Reformed Prison.
Although much of the information was familiar to me, as I have spent a long time researching the crimes and fates of women who were hanged in the early 19th century, I also learned a great deal. For instance, although I was aware of the island of Gorée as the location of slave trade, I did not know that convicts were shipped there.
There is a fascinating panel on the notorious fence Ikey Solomon, who was famous for his dramatic escape from custody, high-profile recapture and trial – and for being the possible model for Dickens’ Oliver Twist character Fagin.
One of the most poignant items is a page of the female register of Millbank Penitentiary which stands approximately Tate Britain is now. The entry for Sarah Moss, who was from Oldham in Lancashire and arrived at the prison in April 1827, shows that she was convicted at York Castle for stealing women’s clothes and was not due for release until 1832. She was 12.
The exhibition runs to 16 May 2018 so you have plenty of time to get to the LMA to see it for yourself.
Afternoon workshops Victims and Rogues in the Family? Findmypast Family History Session on 23 March and The Newgate Dead on 14 April; Crime and Punishment guided walk on 27 March (£10). Booking essential for all events (Eventbrite).
Criminal Lives: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts 1780–1925
Ends 16 May 2018
London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
London EC1R 0HB