The broadside shown here details the case of a 12 year old boy prosecuted for attempted burglary in 1829. Though young defendants were frequently found guilty and sentenced to death, by the late 18th century juveniles rarely perished on the gallows in Britain (though one boy of 14 years was executed for murder in Maidstone, Kent, as late as 1831). In general young boys and girls found guilty of committing felonies received sentences of transportation to Australia and other far-flung colonies.
Concerns with levels of juvenile crime grew rapidly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, particularly after several pamphlets were published detailing the activities of organized gangs. London magistrate Patrick Colquhoun for example produced several pamphlets in the 1790s detailing the specific activities of the gangs of boys active along the Thames river front, which he believed cost merchants nearly £1 million each year in stolen property. Such prejudices against poor young boys were widely held in the first half of the 19th century and were reproduced in popular literature, most famously in Fagin’s gang of pickpocketing youths depicted by Charles Dickens’ in Oliver Twist.
With horror we attempt to relate the progress of evil, generally prevailing among children through the corrupt example of wicked parents: though we are constrained to confess that many a child through bad company, wickedly follow the dictates of their own will and often bring the hoary heads of honest parents with sorrow to the grave. The errors of a guilty conscience crieth to heaven for vengeance against such wretched parents as belonged to T. King who after eloping from their native place took obscure lodgings in East Smithfield, where they harboured the vilest characters and wickedly encouraged their only son in lying, stealing &c. At the age of seven years the parish humanely bound him an apprentice but his wickedness soon caused his master to discharge him – he was afterwards bound to a chimney-sweeper in the borough, who soon repented having taken him, for he plundered every place that he was sent to work at, for which not only correction but imprisonment ensued. His master being an honest man brought him twice back with some property he had stolen which obtained him pardon, and prevented him from being transported.
Lastly, his parents made him desert from his master, and bound him to a gang of thieves who sent him down the chimney of a jeweller in Swallow street, where he artfully unbolted the shop window, out of which his companions cut a pane of glass, and he handed a considerable quantity of articles to them; but the noise he made alarmed the family, and he was taken into custody, but the others escaped.
He was tried at last Old Bailey Sessions, found Guilty, and sentenced to die in the 12th year of his age. After his sentence the confession he made struck those around him with horror, stating the particulars of several murders and robberies. We hope the dreadful example of this wretched youth may produce a lasting warning to the world at large.
- Full title:
- The Dreadful Life and Confession of a Boy Aged Twelve Years, Who was Condemn'd to Die at last Old Bailey Sessions
- estimated 1829, Spitalfields, London
- Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
- Held by:
- British Library
- Usage terms:
- Public Domain
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Poverty and the working classes, Crime and crime fiction, Childhood and children's literature
Novels such as Oliver Twist have made Victorian child-thieves familiar to us, but to what extent did juvenile crime actually exist in the 19th century? Drawing on contemporary accounts and printed ephemera, Dr Matthew White uncovers the facts behind the fiction.
- Article by:
- Liza Picard
Victorian citizens were worried about the rising crime rate. Liza Picard considers how this concern brought about changes in the way people were caught, arrested and imprisoned.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
From gruesome, public executions to Georgian Britain’s adoration of the ‘heroic’ highwayman, Matthew White investigates attitudes to crime and punishment in Georgian Britain.