Monday, October 21, 2013
Proceedings Of The Old Bailey
Irishmen and women have been migrating to England for employment and other reasons for centuries. They have been finding themselves in the custody of English officialdom for centuries also. Offenses that today would perhaps merit a small fine, in the 17th century could earn one detention, transportation or even a penalty of death. I found this interesting website this morning, Proceedings of the Old Bailey. This site contains the accounts of nearly 200,000 trials dating from 1647 to 1913, all searchable.
Though the Old Bailey is located in London, using the word Irish for a search term brings up hundreds of records pertaining to Irish prisoners. For instance, on April 21, 1680:
Daniel Macarty an Irish man being Indicted upon the Statute of 27 Eliz. for having taken Order from the See of Rome, and coming over into England being Impeached by one Alice Turner who had formerly been his proselyte. And upon Information one Mr. Stiff a Constable in St. Giles's taking with him some other Neighbours, went to Apprehend him, and having entred the House where he was said to lodg, They found him Confessing a Sick Woman, who no sooner seeing them begin roughly to handle her Priest but cryed out, O what will you rob me of my Salvation, upon search of him, They found about him... a Purple Ribon with three Crosses upon it, with which all Popish Priests do usually give the Secrameot with in private wearing it about his Neck with a large Chrystal Crucifix; a Letter in Order to the more efficacious carrying on the Plot; as likewise saying Mass and giving the Sacrament was proved by the said Alice Turner , not only at the Venetian Embassadnrs, but at Wild House, and confessing likewise to Dr. Oats the same, he was found Guilty of the said High Treason as a Popish Priest or Jesuit.
In case you were wondering, Father Macarty was executed for the high crime of being a priest.
On the historical background page you will find information about the history of the court along with topics like gender in the proceedings and types of offenses heard there. Petty Treason was an interesting one, it was the crime of a servant killing his master, or a wife her husband (you see the connection, no doubt) and it was punishable by death. In the case of men, hanging and quartering, convicted women were burned at the stake...alive. If they were fortunate their executioner might strangle them before lighting the straw. Of course, these are very early records, things gradually became a bit more civilized as the years progressed.
A valuable section for family historians is one called the Ordinary's Accounts. Condemned prisoners were taken to Newgate Prison to await their executions. While there, their spiritual needs were attended to by the ordinary or prison chaplain. The Ordinary recorded accounts of the prisoners--their last speeches, how they acted on the scaffold, information about their lives and crimes, basically a short biography such as this one from 1736:
Thomas Dwyer, 28 Years of Age, of honest Parents in the County of Tipperary in Ireland, who gave him good Education at School, in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick, to fit him for Business, and had him instructed in Religion in their way. When of Age, he was not put to a Trade, but did Husbandry-work about the Country. Eight or nine Years ago, the Officers of the Irish Regiments in France, who are always a recruiting in Ireland, as they often do in Britain, though in both Kingdoms in an underhand-way, seeing young Dwyer, who was of a roving, unsettled Disposition, fit for their Purpose, and he ready to comply with their Proposals, though his Father could have provided for him pretty well at Home; yet by their Promises of Preferment, which possibly they never thought of after, they persuaded him to take on, and go along with them to France, where he serv'd in that Regiment, now General Buckley's, eight Years. He was in the French Army commanded by the late Duke of Berwick, on the Rhine, at the Siege of Fort Keil and Philipsburg He continued in the Service some Time longer, but... he at last deserted, and went to Ireland to his Father, who kept him, and would have got him provided for, had he been patient, and taken right Methods. But he having a young Wife, and not any Business, came to England without the Knowledge of his Friends; and being at London, met with his Countryman, James O Neal, and agreed to go out on the Higway with him; and on the 31st of July, they met with Mr. Maintrew, in the Evening, not far from Kensington, whom they robb'd...
To earn a little extra cash, the Ordinary would sell these accounts to the public. The condemned were most often people of the classes who did not get mentioned in newspapers. Nameless faces in the crowds of London and environs who generally lived and died in obscurity, making these accounts an important resource. If you have a little time to spare, I think you'd enjoy reading through this site.