Who’s a naughty boy then? Victorian prisoners, were they really all bad?.

 

The Prison Registers contain many intriguing stories within their yellowed  pages, and the faded elegant script tells us of our ancestors past lives.

They are just a tiny snapshot of their life’s story, but can reveal a great deal about the person or the family.

On the very last day of the year 1872, James Benfield, aged 20, was admitted to Dorchester prison.

The Prisoners admissions book gives us a few inklings of what he looked like, but tells us nothing about the man himself. For that you have to dig a little deeper.

James was a seaman, following in the age old family tradition. his Parents William and Mary Ann lived in Lower Lane at Chiswell, Portland which once lay behind the great Chesil Bank, the constant sounds of waves on pebbles his lullaby at night and wake up call in the mornings.

Image

He was only a young lad, but one who had worked hard throughout his early life.

He first signed up to go to sea at the tender age of 13. On the 28th April 1866 James joined his father and brother on his first ever paid voyage as a ships boy on the vessel Myrtle,

it was owned by Weymouth businessman Henry Attwooll, the ship plied its trade between British ports, Portland, London, Hartlepool, Chatham….it was a good grounding for the young lad to learn the skills necessary to help keep him alive in what could be a dangerous job.

Over the years James worked his way up through the crew, and on many different boats that sailed from Weymouth or Portland. It was a life he knew well and lone he loved. Most of his friends and family in the Chiswell community were sea going folks or earnt their living from the sea. They spent time together on the sea, and most of it when back on dry land.

Image

It was during one of those spells on ‘dry’ land that James and his young pals got themselves into a spot of bother. Their time on land wasn’t quite so ‘dry!’

One Thursday in 1872, James and three of his seagoing friends, John Anthony, Henry Peters and Benjamin Pearce had made their way to the Kings Arms Inn on Portland, they fancied wetting their whistles somewhat…only they didn’t just wet them, they almost drowned them! The four lads were more than slightly inebriated, they were rip roaring drunk, and obnoxious drunks at that.

They were physically picking up and shaking all the tables so that the glasses all fell off and smashed on the floor, they were making so much noise and commotion that the other customers in the pub were leaving in disgust. The landlord wasn’t at all happy, he demonstrated with the lads, and told them in no uncertain terms to leave…but they weren’t having any of it. They were enjoying themselves, no one was going to make them leave.

Then along comes Constable Loader, it was his turn to confront the young Victorian version of todays lager louts, he ordered them away to their homes or he would arrest them. Did they heed his warning, did they as heck! John anthony turned round and swung an almighty blow to the coppers face. Then all four lads literally bundled the poor fellow out of the pub and onto the ground outside, watched by a crowd of astonished and frightened women and children the lads proceeded to viciously assaulted the man, they hit him, kicked him as he lay prone on the ground. When more reinforcements  arrived, the lads took flight, they knew they were outnumbered.

But of course, Portland being such a tight knit community as it was, it didn’t take the police long to find the names of the four   miscreants, and they were fairly swiftly rounded up and removed to the local police station where they were locked up until it was time for them to appear before the magistrate.

boy jail

Hence, the 31st December1872 , James found himself, along with his fellow cell mates incarcerated in Dorchester prison for the vicious assault on the police officer, P.C. Loader, which had left him off work for a long time, he had suffered broken ribs and severe bruising all over his body.

John Anthony had got 4 months hard labour as he was considered the ring leader and the one who had struck the first blow, James and the other two lads fared slightly better, they only received three months hard labour.

As 20-year-old James was officially entered into the Prison Records book, his physical description is recorded for all eternity to witness in the far left hand column of the page.

He was described as 5ft 8 1/2 ins tall, had brown hair, dark grey eyes and a the sea going mans usual ruddy complexion. Distinguishing marks were a cut on the centre of his forehead and mole on the left side of his face near his right ear. It appears that his nose was fairly distinctive too…the tip turned up.

Was this the start of a life of crime for James, would this be the beginning of numerous trips in and out of courts and jail?

Not a bit of it.

He did appear in court again in 1880, but that was to summons another sea going Captain named  Smith of the Kingdon of Sweden barque for monies owed him as a pilot working in the local area.

James went on to become a well respected pilot,  in 1890 he was the Master on the Fox, working along side his brother John. The records show a list of the various vessels he skippered over the following years, eventually going on  to work at a steady job for Trinity House as a pilot.

Image

By 1891 James is living in Queens Row over on Portland with his second wife Elizabeth and a stepdaughter, still doing the job he loved, working out at sea for Trinity house.

Sadly things had changed for James by the 1911 census, by then, aged 59, he has lost his wife and home and is living in the the Union Workhouse on Wyke Road, Weymouth. Far away from the sounds and constant views of his beloved sea that he had adored during his lifetime on Portland, though he is still listed as a pilot and seaman, so maybe he was still  able to work on the waters.

Here he died  on the  11th February 1935 at the ripe old age of 82.

Image

History of Chiswell. http://www.chiswellcommunity.org/ccommunity/page.aspx

*************************************************************************************************************

Some people though took slightly longer to learn the lesson that crime and bad behaviour doesn’t pay.

Such was the case of William John Bilke.

He was the son of William and Mary, a family that lived and worked in Wyke, Dad William was a a boot and shoe mender in the village.

William jnr had opted for a life working on the sea, he was one of the many Wyke  fisherman that plied their trade from the beach.

scattered seed fishermen 2

By the 1871 census William is still living at home with his Mum and sister Mary, his Dad had died and Mum was trying her best to keep the family going by running a carrier business.

But by next year, the  31st Dec 1872, 26-year-old William John Bilke found himself before the courts.

A family row had erupted at home in their little cottage in Wyke, and all over half a crown!

William and his mother had been arguing over the said sum of money, when suddenly William lashed out, hitting his mother. Hearing the awful commotion going on downstairs, his sister Mary raced down to see what was happening and witnessed the blow. Remonstrating with William for such an ungentlemanly act, she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of his wrath when he attacked her, hitting her about the head  with closed fists.

He was taken before the court, but because his family had dropped the charges against him, and it was his first appearance in court, the magistrate only gave him a short sentence, 14 days.

A couple of years later, 1875,  and William was back before the court again, this time for the theft of some bones!

According to the Prisoners Description book, William was a tall lad for the day, 5ft 10 3/4 ins, he had a mop of light brown hair, with dark grey eyes and a fair complexion. On the left side of his lips was an old  scar that looked like a dent, his left hand bore a scar that stretched right across the back of his fingers.

After that he seemed to have managed to keep out of trouble, well, at least from the police and the courts.

In 1881 William finally took the plunge, on the 28th April married  Eliza Hallett, a Somerset lass. But their wedded bliss wasn’t to last long.

wedding q 1877

On the 10th September 1883, aged just 38, Eliza passed away in the Union workhouse, we can only guess why when we look down through the burials for that time. On the opposite page to Eliza is another  death on the 2nd August, Elizabeth Bilke, this was a 4 day old girl, whose sad demise also took place in the Union workhouse.

William tries matrimony again later in 1889, on the  28th April William as a widower aged 46, tied the knot with Mary Frampton, who was also on her second marriage, she was aged 50, and another local born woman of Wyke Regis.

 

Aged just 50, on the 28th april 1893, death struck once more…William.

********************************************************************************************

Age, or lack of,  was no barrier to being thrown into prison in the Victorian era…if you were found guilty, that was that.

raggedy boy

In 1873 a small lad stood in the dock, he could barely peer over the box, he was aged 10, but appeared to be much younger because of his diminutive stature. Maybe poverty had a role to play in that. He was only 3ft 6 ins tall, he had a fair complexion, sandy coloured hair and sad grey eyes that mirrored his wretched life. His body was too young and fresh to have accumulated those scars and markings that many of the older and more worldly wise men wore with such pride, but he was fairly distinctive because he lacked any hair whatsoever on the sides of his head.

Thomas Bartlett was stood before the judge for stealing a pair of boots in Weymouth.

For his sins he was committed to 1 months hard labour to be followed with 5 years in a reformatory school. Ironic as it may be, he more than likely would have had a better start to his life here.

In the Victorian era, Reformatory schools were fairly progressive in their thinking, the lads were taught self sufficiency, a variety of trades, they were educated, many going on the  a  life in the army or military.

boys at exercise

Maybe it just gave Thomas a chance in life……..

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s