Before participating in the module, my knowledge surrounding crime and punishment throughout the Victorian era was considerably limited. However, I was very intrigued by the concept as a whole, especially in the area of female prisoners. Throughout the module, I have been able to gain a significant amount of insight into these areas, using a variety of primary and secondary sources in order to achieve this. For example, reading convict memoirs and studying personal love tokens has allowed my perspective to broaden considerably. I have found studying very individual stories one of the most interesting aspects of the module, as focusing on specific people has made it much easier to become invested in the topic and be motivated to construe their experiences in the most accurate way possible. Reading different narratives has provided me with a wider range of skills for analysing the use of language and the intended audience, as both dominant and marginal voices can offer knowledge of both individual experiences and society overall.
Prior to the module, I did not know how to access online digital archives or where to look for such detailed information. Being able to access such specific factual records of crime, along with collections of crime broadsides has provided me with the ability to produce well-structured blog posts that include a range of sources with different qualities. Utilizing these collections has also allowed me to learn far more about individual circumstances and the patterns that can be identified between the outcomes of trials. Furthermore, the collection of crime broadsides that I have studied has greatly enhanced my knowledge of Victorian society’s attitude towards crime as a topic and literature. It has become evident throughout the module that working-class people in particular were highly intrigued by the short and entertaining descriptions of crimes that they could read. Coinciding with this, the interdisciplinary research involved in the module has allowed me to enhance my ability to analyse sources and interweave them into my writing.
I have always enjoyed writing small blog posts in my spare time yet have found writing for a specific public audience a very rewarding task, as I have been able to use my research and reading in a creative way, while also learning to maintain a structure and tone of voice that will suit and engage the intended audience. I have been able to adapt my writing style and find a balance between informal and formal writing techniques in order to produce factual research that is interwoven with thoughts of scholars and my personal opinions, while also aiming to evoke more thought from the readers. I have been able to enhance my blogging skills considerably, as I have learnt the small yet important ways to use the website, such as including categories and elements such as hyper links throughout blog posts to enhance the overall experience for potential readers. Similarly, I have been able to use social media websites such as twitter from a different angle, finding it very useful for promoting blog posts and finding the work of people with a similar interest in the Victorian period. It is interesting to see how history can be construed in a modern way through social media, while remaining factual and professional.
I have found taking part in a collaborative research project a great way of pushing myself to find the best sources to suit my blog posts and to write in a way that reflects the aims of the Prison Voices website. Through my work for the website, I hope to have contributed to public history by highlighting the experiences of convicts and the value of their voices in society, particularly their memoirs. Producing blog posts on these topics has hopefully created a very accessible option for people to read around the subject in an enjoyable and informal way.
I feel that the skills learnt and enhanced throughout the Prison Voices module are skills that will be highly relevant in future job options and daily life. As I hope to work in an area that includes writing and social media, I feel I have gained very worthwhile experience and have enjoyed having a wide range of topics to read around in order to be able to write about them confidently in a short amount of time.
Oscar Wilde experienced life within a Victorian prison himself after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1985. It is interesting to acknowledge that Wilde ‘contributed to mounting public conversation exposing the inhuman treatment of inmates and demanding penal reform as a means of anticolonial mobilization; they ultimately reclaimed the prison as a viable site of communication and aesthetic production’ (1) Although Wilde moved around several prisons, including Newgate, it seems that his time at Reading is perhaps one of the most significant periods of his life in terms of the way it influenced his writing, as ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ is based on both his personal feelings towards prison while also significantlydraws upon the execution of Charles Thomas Wooldridge (executed at age 30) who the poem is written in memoriam of. It is suggested that ‘The Ballad is an indictment of the death penalty and the whole penal system, but it is much more than a protest poem. It is a revelation, and its structure is part of that revelation’ while it is also highlighted that ‘It was first published simply under his prisoner identification number, C.3-3’ (2)
Wilde subtly describes both Wooldridge and questions the penal system throughout the poem.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by. (stanza 3)
This stanza depicts Wilde's personal observation of Wooldridge leading up to his execution, as he had accepted his fate. The phrase 'wistful eye' insinuates the sense that Wooldridge was noticeably nostalgic and perhaps more calm than some prisoners may have been in his situation. Wilde uses the scenic, pleasant imagery of a 'drifting cloud' to reinforce these thoughts, ultimately shifting the focus from Wooldridge's crime itself to the sentimental value of human life. Perhaps one of the most striking sections of the poem is the stanza:
I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
'THAT FELLOW'S GOT TO SWING.'
This appears to be Wilde's direct approach of challenging the penal system and arguably the death penalty. The spiritual language such as 'other souls' similarly evokes an emotional reaction from readers, reminding them that prisoners should not be dehumanised despite their crimes. Wilde questions whether Wooldridge is guilty or not, yet is reminded that the execution will take place regardless of his thoughts. The use of 'whispered low' creates the sense of an echoing voice, perhaps reflecting the continuation of the penal system process, which does not prioritise individual emotions over laws. The phrase 'that fellows got to swing' sounds shockingly casual in this context, yet this may be for dramatic effect, as creating this juxtaposition with the rest of the language used highlights again to us that the execution is simply a legal process that overlooks the value of human life.
A. Jarrin, C (2008) 'You Have the Right to Refuse Silence: Oscar Wilde's Prison Letters and Tom Clarke's Glimpses of an Irish Felon's Prison Life' p.85-87
Rumens, C (2009) 'Poem of the Week: The Ballad of Reading Gaol',The Guardian
For this blog post, I will be focusing on the novel Affinity written by Sarah Waters, which revolves around the life of the protagonist, Margaret Prior. Margaret chooses to try and escape from her depression and overbearing mother by visiting female prisoners at Millbank Prison.
Margaret is fascinated by a prisoner called Selina Dawes, with their bond leading to the idea that Selina is Margaret’s ‘affinity’. The beginnings of this can be seen in the line ‘I have been imagining her – when I have been thinking of her at all – as the Crivelli portrait, lean and stern and sombre’ (p.64). The use of a diary as a form of narrative is very effective for readers, as we are provided with a stream of consciousness structure at times, allowing the descriptions of events and people to seem far more natural and personal in comparison to a third person description.
Waters utilizes Margaret’s narrative to fully depict the characterisation of Selina, as shortly after the previous description, Margaret writes:
But today, with her delicate throat working beneath the ribbons of her prison bonnet, her bitten lips moving, her eyes cast down, the smart lady teacher looking on, she seemed only young, and powerless and sad, and underfed, and I was sorry for her (p.64).
This juxtaposition highlights the realities of life within prison, while also managing to romanticise prisoners and present them as likeable characters rather than dehumanizing them. The use of phrases such as ‘her eyes cast down’ and language such as ‘powerless’ effectively evokes sympathy from readers, as we are firstly presented with a description of a strong and powerful female, yet we can see from the second description that life within Millbank has stripped Selina of her natural power and strong character. Perhaps this echoes memoirs of female prisoners such as suffragettes, who were evidently very headstrong and capable women yet found their dignity challenged within prison.
Although the narrator throughout is mostly Margaret, there are pieces from Selina’s diaries included, highlighting the differences in perspectives of a visitor and a prisoner. Selina’s sections add to the spiritual, gothic atmosphere of the novel, differentiating Waters’ story from real prison memoirs that can often focus on the mundane days prisoners spent within cells. Selina documents encounters with spirits so naturally and vividly that as readers it is easy to feel compelled to accept her descriptions as the truth. One spirit is described as ‘quite a lady, with hands that were very white and neat, & very handsome though old-fashioned rings’. This could allude to Selina’s own fantasies within prison, as the environment she experienced at Millbank was far from luxurious or fancy. Furthermore, she writes:
when I looked at the lady’s face I saw a pain in it, but behind the pain, a happiness (p.93)
Perhaps this mirrors Miss Dawes’ own self-reflection within prison, suggesting that there are elements of happiness and hope that have remained in her throughout her imprisonment.
After focusing on a murder for my criminal broadsides blog post, I have decided to analyse a murder recorded on the Old Bailey online. The Old Bailey online provides us with knowledge surrounding the origins of their recordings being published, writing that: ‘By the early eighteenth century, the Proceedings were an established periodical, read enthusiastically by Londoners seeking news, moral instruction, or entertainment. Louis de Muralt, a French visitor, reported in a letter published in 1726 but written up to thirty years earlier, that “the printed accounts… are in the opinion of many people one of the most diverting things a man can read in London’
The trial I have chosen is that of William Hughes (34) who was indicted for and charged on the Coroner’s Inquisition with the wilful murder of Mary Ann Hughes.
Here readers can see John Bowra’s account of the murder, with Bowra recalling the specific conversation he had with William Hughes. Such personal accounts being made available to the public evidently placed ‘crime’ in a position of ‘entertainment’ within society. The trial itself is shocking and gruesome, which may perhaps intrigue readers more as the events are so out of the ordinary. It is also interesting to consider that the narrative of an ordinary working man is being presented as an important voice within the trial, which could have appealed to the working-classes more than reading literature written by wealthy authors of fiction.
The outcome of the trail was penal servitude, whereas the case I previously focused on of Charlotte Lawson resulted in execution. This could highlight the limitations of such sources to an extent, as we are never truly able to see all of the information surrounding trials and the reasoning behind such decisions. Nevertheless, the publishing of such trials is highly valuable as a source for studying crime.
WILLIAM HUGHES, Killing > murder, 25th June, The Old Bailey online 1883http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//browse.jsp?id=t18830625-680-offence-1&div=t18830625-680#highlight
Crime Broadsides are a valuable form of source that can be utilized for us to gain significant insight into the ways in which crime was dealt with by society and the ways in which convicts were punished. They are also useful for comparing different forms of crime, ultimately revealing which trails resulted in more severe punishments than others.
The Harvard Law School Library website states that ‘These ephemeral publications were intended for the middle or lower classes, and most sold for a penny or less’, while it is suggested ‘broadsides dealing with violent crime gave their predominantly working-class readers a means to express and cope with the harsh realities and intolerable conditions of their own lives during a period of intense social change’ (1) It is interesting to consider the target audience of these publications, as this provides us with insight into the reasoning behind the layout, general presentation and content of crime broadsides.
This crime broadside documenting the murder of Charlotte Lawson’s mistress is particularly intriguing, as it construes a very extreme and gruesome murder in such a quick and detailed way. The headline instantly grabs the attention of readers, displaying ‘A MOST SHOCKING MURDER’ in large, bold and capital letters. This could indicate that audiences were likely to be very intrigued by more serious crimes involving murder, ultimately viewing them as a form of entertainment to an extent. It is interesting to consider that society throughout the Victorian era developed a fascination for reading about crime and murder, as such topics are evidently very popular within more modern literature and films. Coinciding with these thoughts, it is argued that ‘it is this fascination with the minutiae of violent crime and punishment that has led nineteenth century broadsides themselves to become the focus of much academic deliberation and debate with regard to their form and function’. (1)
The opening line of the broadside is striking, as it states: ‘The chambermaid of a lady, who kept no other servant, lately committed the following most horrid crime!’. The use of ‘horrid’ and an exclamation mark creates a far more informal tone to the whole piece of writing, in comparison to newspaper articles. Perhaps this insinuates that crime broadsides were to an extent, similar to modern tabloid articles, which usually focus more on entertaining an audience than delivering news in a sophisticated way.
The narrator describes the events in third person, utilizing language such as ‘diabolical’ creating a sense of personal judgement from the author, rather than presenting the news in an objective way. It seems far more likely that crime broadsides written in this way would be very likely to influence the opinions of audiences in many circumstances, without actually researching into alternative perspectives of the crime. Again, this seems very similar to tabloid articles that are likely to influence the views of masses of readers.
(1) Bates, K (2014), ‘EMPATHY OR ENTERTAINMENT? THE FORM AND FUNCTION OF VIOLENT CRIME NARRATIVES IN EARLY-NINETEENTH CENTURY BROADSIDES’, Law, Crime & History p.2-3
Love Tokens, which are also referred to as ‘leaden hearts’, were engraved for British convicts before they were transported to Australia. Christopher Pearson  (2008) writes that ‘When convicts received a sentence of transportation to NSW, usually the alternative was being hanged. Some prisoners even expressed a preference for the gallows, because in the 1790s most people assumed that it was a one-way trip to Port Jackson and they’d never be seen again’. Therefore, love tokens were a small yet sentimental way in which convicts were able to provide their loved ones with something to remember them by. Pearson highlights that ‘quite a lot of the tokens were stippled or engraved by a professional, or at least a trained hand – there were plenty of penny forgers in the jails’.
Although many of the tokens included the names of both a convict and their significant other, I have chosen to focus on a token associated with John Frost, a Chartist, who was married with eight children.
From searching the Index to Tasmania Convicts, State Archives of Tasmania, I was able to identify Frost through the ship (the Mandarin) which he travelled upon. Here I found a hand-written document recording small details of Frost’s physical features, such as his height and grey eye colour. Being able to read such a personal description of Frost may help us to relate to him as an individual rather than just one of many convicts. In addition to this, a picture of Frost is inserted below.
Frost was a respected figure within the Chartist movement and played a central part in the Newport Rising, which took place on 4 November 1839. Harry Browne describes how the movement aimed to challenge the structure of the hierarchical, class-based Victorian society and those who wielded social and political power due to class.  Browne (p, 47) also adds that ‘Newport’s growing importance as a Chartist centre was reflected in the election of John Frost, a local draper and JP, as its delegate to the National Convention’. The Newport Rising resulted in at least 22 Chartist deaths and Frost was originally sentenced to hang, yet after public outcry, his sentence was commuted to transportation for life. The intentions of the rising have been debated, yet it is ultimately suggested that ‘the driving force, was to obtain the political rights which were denied them’. (Browne, p.47)
This particular love token captured my attention as it is one of a minority of tokens which construe a political statement rather than a sentimental message for a significant other. From my research I have gathered the impression that Frost’s actions during the Newport Rising have been romanticized as a chivalrous sense of duty and an act on behalf of the masses.  Frost is described as ‘respectable’, ‘worthy’ and ‘quiet’ by fellow chartist, W.J Linton, which allows us to warm to the idea of Frost’s ‘heroic’ persona and empathize with his conviction.
The design of the actual token itself also signifies these ideas; the embossed writing suggests that Chartists associated Frost with martyrdom. Linton reminds us of these good intentions, stating that ‘he had been mayor of Newport, too, so hardly of seditious tendencies’  Since it was decided that the front of the token would simply read ‘Frost’, it seems as though the intended emphasis was firstly on Frost himself, rather than the whole movement. This may have been because Frost was thought of so highly that his public identity and name were so strongly associated with Chartism that who he was or what he stood for didn’t need to be clarified. Scholars such as Simon Morgan suggest that ‘the study of material artefacts allows us to situate popular politicians within a nascent culture of celebrity in the early Victorian period, a culture stimulated by the growth of a mass-market for images of, and information about, public figures of all kinds’.  We can apply this statement to this token, as it suggests that the object held significant political value while also reaffirming the sense that Frost had become almost a ‘celebrity’ to the working-class. Alternatively, Davis argues that ‘In many cases there is only a fine line to be drawn between celebrity and notoriety and it is difficult to say on which side of this line John Frost stands’  Davis suggests throughout the article that Frost has only become one of Newport’s most historic figures due to the deaths he may have ‘caused’. However, when considering the intensity of the public response to Frost’s trial it seems that his popularity is undeniable.
One of the main controversies found through my research is that it seems many convicts initially would have preferred to have been sentenced to death rather than be granted a pardon and ultimately face transportation. For example, one convict, William Davis, exclaimed “Death is more welcome to me than this pardon”  It is interesting to consider whether these forms of resistance were purely based upon making a political statement of rebellion or whether some convicts actually saw transportation as such a traumatic option. A noticeable contrast to this dramatic opposition, is the response of the Chartist movement to Frost’s original sentence. Frost’s trial evoked huge nation-wide protest meetings and petitioning in favour of saving his life, along with the lives of his fellow convicted Chartists. (Browne, p48) This ultimately displays the loyalty, friendship and empathy within the movement, portraying not only the political message but also the sentiment behind the love token.
Despite the seemingly common view of transportation as a negative experience, we can see from research that Frost’s personal experience wasn’t as dismal as many may have thought. One letter written by Frost  in 1840 states “I am acting as a clerk, and hitherto the labour has not been heavy. I am in excellent health – I never was better, and my spirits are very good, considering all things – much better than I could possibly have anticipated.” The up-beat tone and positive language used by Frost strongly conveys that he didn’t appear to be suffering after being transported.
An interesting point of Frost’s life after conviction is that he received a conditional discharge in 1854, allowing him to travel to New York and eventually lecture in England on the negative experiences many convicts went through. Although returning to England after transportation proved to be a distressing experience for some, who were in some cases searched for until they were caught,  the response to Frost’s return was far more positive. An article from the Monmouthshire Merlin encourages his return, using the phrase ‘praying that Mr Frost might be permitted to return to Newport’.  The use of religious language here also depicts the sense of martyrdom surrounding Frost. His return was used for publicizing the movement and was therefore well received. Although his experience during transportation did not appear to be particularly traumatic, Linton reassures us that Frost remained loyal to the movement, describing how at an old age, he was a ‘hale, hearty-looking old man of ninety-three, unchanged in his opinions’.  It seems from this description and the fact that Frost chose to continue his opposition through lecturing, that the love token was therefore an accurate representation of his life as a loyal political figure.
 Pearson, C (2008), ‘Every Token Tells A Story’, The Australian
 Browne, H (1999), ‘Chartism’, Hodder Education p44-49
 Linton, W.J (1881) ‘Who were the Chartists?’ The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine
 Morgan, S (2012) ‘Material Culture and Politics of Personality in Early Victorian England’, Journal of Victorian Culture p127-146
 Davis, H (2011) ‘Newport’s Historic Celebrities’, Newport Past
 Devereaux, S (2007) ‘Imposing the Royal Pardon: Execution, Transportation and Convict Resistance in London, 1789’, Law and History Review p101-138
 Durston, G (2005) ‘Magwitch’s Forbears: Returning from Transportation in Eighteenth-Century London’, Australian Journal of Legal History’ pp. 137–58.
 Frost, J (1840) ‘Letter from John Frost’ Merlin
For this blog post, I have chosen to focus on an extract from Chapter 8 of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I found this section of the novel particularly interesting as we can gain some insight into the intended portrayal of childhood throughout the novel. In addition, it also relates well to my previous blog post, which briefly discussed the ways in which Oliver and the Artful Dodger are characterised and compared by Dickens.
The line ‘Some few stopped to gaze at Oliver for a moment or two, or turned round to stare at him as they hurried by; but none relived him, or troubled themselves to inquire how he came there’ (1) is particularly striking, as we can see the extreme difference between current attitudes towards children compared to Victorian attitudes. It seems odd that nobody was phased by a young boy sitting unaccompanied in the street, highlighting the significance of the context of this novel when considering child crime. It is evident from Victorian child labour as a whole that the concept of ‘childhood’ was not valued in the same way it is today. It is suggested that 1830’s activism which aimed to protect the ‘innocence’ of children was partly fuelled by sentimental portrayals of children in literature (2). Therefore, it seems undeniable that Dickens contributed to this.
Comparisons between Oliver and the Artful Dodger (Jack Dawkins) are immediately made. Oliver firstly notices that he looks a similar age to himself, yet notes that ‘He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man’ (Dickens, p123) The tone of this description appears to be light-hearted and humorous, creating a sense of youthful quirkiness and likeability for this character. However, the phrase ‘he had about him all the airs and manners of a man’ juxtaposes with this, subtly emphasising the adult world of street crime and danger that he has experienced, despite sharing a similar age to Oliver.
Coinciding with this, Dickens comments on his clothing, noting that ‘He wore a man’s coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves’. The literal over-sized clothing worn by the Artful also seems to symbolise that he is too young to be involved with characters such as Fagin, who have corrupted the innocence of children in poverty.
Another interesting section of the extract is the Artful’s question ‘Was you ever on the Mill?’. (p123) This appears to be a reference to Victorian treadmills in prisons, such as the one pictured below. It is suggested that ‘In some prisons, such as Bedford in the earlier part of the 19th century, the treadmill provided flour to make money for the gaol, from which the prisoners earned enough to pay for their keep. However, in later times, there was no end product and the treadmill was walked just for punishment. It became loathed by the prisoners’ (3)
We can sense the personal dissatisfaction felt by Dickens towards Victorian attitudes towards childhood throughout the extract. Ultimately the comparisons between Oliver and the Artful Dodger allow us to empathise with the life of crime that children in poverty were often driven to.
(1) Dickens, C (1839) ‘Oliver Twist’, London: Richard Bentley New Burlington Street Section 8? pp122-125
(2) Gubar, M ‘The Victorian Child, c.1837-1901‘ University of Pittsburgh