In the Victorian Era theft was rife on the streets of the cities and towns. Children would often pick pocket and take food and goods from the street markets. Men and women would also be found shoplifting in the same way people do today. Gangs of thieves would be formed to make the thefts from shops, warehouses and homes easier and the spoils would be shared amongst them or sold on. As with today, theft was linked to poverty and with so many adults and children either on the streets or struggling to make ends meet, theft was one of the top crimes found in the built up areas.
Much of the violence was associated with the thefts and waves of crime that was happening throughout the built up areas. Garrotting was wide spread and causing public fear in the mid-19th century. People would be strangled by one gang member while the other would rob them of all their possessions from behind. Some robbers would use chloroform to carry out attacks or pull clothing over the fact of the victim.
There were many attacks being carried out which could easily extend to murder. Many of the higher class women would fear walking outside at any times after dark due to the attacks and the terrifying media reports on murderers such as Jack the Ripper who was never caught. Some of the violence would even drive away the police, with attackers throwing acid in their face or in the late 1880s even being armed with guns.
One of the best ways for Victorians to deal with the struggles of day to day life was through alcohol abuse. Life was very hard for the average Victorian and many people used drink as a way of making life easier to deal with. This in turn caused high levels of disorder in the streets and homes of Victorian Britain, with drink causing fights and accidents.
Adults and Children were sent to Prison in the Victorian Era. It was thought that prisons would reform the criminals no matter what age and that once their term was carried out they would leave as better citizens. The authorities of the time passed sentences in an effort to reduce the number or minor crimes happening in the cities and towns, so people of all ages could find themselves in prison for petty acts of crime.
Around 1830-1840 many prisoners found themselves in isolation with just a Bible and their thoughts to keep them company. Often they would receive visits from a Chaplin who was sent into the prisons to try and help or “cure” the individuals as crime was seen as a moral problem and it was thought that the criminals could have the way they thought corrected.
In an effort to place children in special schools instead of prisons, reformatory schools were set up in 1854 to house criminals under the age of 16. Discipline was extremely strict with beatings a common site throughout the schools. The children were often sentenced to many years and although many of these schools were set up some children would still find themselves incarcerated in adult prisons.
Transportation of Criminals
Many offenders were sent to live and work in British Colonies such as Australia. This was a way of ridding Britain of unwanted criminals while making use of them as free labour in the Colonies around the world. This was put to a stop in the 1850s due to the Australians becoming rather hostile to the large growth of British being sent over.
Death was a punishment used for only the worst of Victorian Criminals and was used only for murderers and traitors under the rule of Queen Victoria. A huge effort was being made in the 19th century to use imprisonment as a punishment wherever possible rather than capital punishment. Although this punishment was held for the worst of all crimes it didn’t discriminate against age and there are records of children as young as 12 being hanged!