Wish I hadn't read it now...though it's a bit like rubber-necking an accident I suppose...One of my distant relatives appeared at the Old Bailey on a charge of fraud...he was found not guilty though. There aren't any details in the records so I've no idea what it was all about...but I kept reading and turning over to the next page and shuddering in horror at the punishments meted out in 1829.

So many people were transported that you'd think Australia would be full to bursting in no time at all...I was only looking at the month of July in 1829...the court sat every day and at least three-quarters of those found guilty were transported...

The sentences often appeared to pay little heed to the crime...one person convicted of larceny was sentenced to six months in prison and another transported for seven years...servants convicted of larceny were always, as far as I could see, treated more harshly than those who stole from a person. It seems it was an automatic sentence of fourteen years transportation for a servant...perhaps it was because they'd been in a position of trust.

But there were some sentences which were truly terribly harsh...Henry Jubilee Conway was found guilty of producing a forged testimony and was sentenced to death...and the sentence was carried out a week after he appeared in court. Ann Chapman, who was accused of 'trying to murder her infant' was also executed...and a William Carr was found guilty of 'uttering a forged note for payment of money'...he ended his life on the scaffold as well. Another William...William Carr, was found guilty of robbery...sentenced to death.

Sometimes the death sentence was commuted to transportation for life...I was sliding the cursor over the page really quickly in the hope the death sentence had been commuted and aghast when it wasn't.

A relatively short prison sentence was usually accompanied by whipping...sometimes the number of strokes are mentioned...two strokes was the norm. But that was for men...women were sentenced to be 'switched'...I suppose a milder form of being whipped.

There didn't appear to be much rhyme or reason behind the sentence...a John Bacon and a John Brocks were both found guilty of 'stealing dead bodies'...they'd have been grave snatchers then...and they both recieved three months in prison with no extras in the way of whipping...but Samuel Clark, who was convicted of 'attempting to steal a dead body'...he got six months in prison and a whipping!

A man convicted of begging in the streets was fined one Shilling which was a bit silly 'cos he'd probably have to go begging again in order to pay his fine...and yet another William...William Cranley...was found not guilty of highway robbery...just as well 'cos I think that carried a death sentence.

Three men were charged with 'piracy on the high seas'...they were all found not guilty.

Most of the crimes involved robbery of one sort of another...if it wasn't dead bodies then it was robbery from a person or housebreaking with intent to rob. As I've already mentioned there are no details of the crimes themselves so you can't pass your own judgement from reading the absolute bare bones...it's simply the name of the accused and their suspected crime and then the sentence. Several people were known by other names...so I wonder if they'd been before the courts before. Some had their sentences doubled up if they committed another crime before coming before the court. So if a woman was accused of larceny it would say she was sentenced to seven years times two...for a crime she'd committed while she was awaiting her trial. They were several of those.

And all this happened almost two hundred years ago and maybe it really doesn't matter much now...all the people on those few pages I looked at have long gone. I think it makes those times seem much closer when you look at your relatives who were alive then...the three times gt Grandfather who was a Hatter...he was a middle-aged man with eleven children when people were hung for forging a reference for themselves or transported to the other side of the world for pick-pocketing...I can find out where my three times Gt Grandfather lived and died...find out about all his children and who they married and what they did for a living...it's then that 1829 doesn't seem quite so long ago at all.

What does seem patently clear was that the harsh sentences didn't act as a deterrent...there are just over three hundred pages in that one book of court records that I was reading...and on the pages I actually read there were...on average...twenty people appearing before the court charged with everything from larceny to house robbery to stealing dead bodies and piracy on the high seas...with sentences ranging from a couple of months in prison with two strokes of the lash to transportaion for life to hanging...it didn't seem to put those people off committing the crimes though.