Criminal Lives, 1780-1925

Earlier in December I went to the launch of Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts, a new exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

Criminal Lives poster

If you’ve visited this blog before (hello! Thanks for coming back!) you’ll know that I write a lot about crime and convicts. A lot.

That’s partly because I’m descended from four convicts transported to Australia: Nicholas Delaney, Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards.

I’m also fascinated by the story of Celestina Sommer, nee Christmas, the notorious ‘Islington Murderer‘.

So when I got the chance to meet some of the people behind the Criminal Lives exhibition as well as seeing it, how could I resist?

It’s a smallish exhibition, but full of objects and information that you could spend a long time over. I’m definitely going to go back again to spend more time with my favourites.

I was delighted to see the focus on individual convicts’ lives and on material culture, though there was plenty of explanatory text as well. You’ll get a feel from these photos (please excuse the less-than brilliant quality – the lights sometimes caused unavoidable shadows and flares).

Letter applying for the job of executioner

Letter applying for the job of executioner

It’s cleverly laid out, telling the stories of policing and arrest, Old Bailey trials, punishment, the prison crisis, transportation to Australia and more by using themed walls and cases.

I found it sometimes poignant, sometimes horrifying and sometimes amusing (see the executioner’s job application letter. Yes, I’ve got a darkish sense of humour, but what a CV!)

Transcription of the executioner job application

Transcription of the executioner job application

If you’re interested in the history of crime, policing, London, prisons, convicts’ lives or transportation, go if you can. It would probably suit you if you’re missing Ripper Street, Taboo or (sob!) Garrow’s Law, too.

It was great to have a chat with some of the exhibition’s organisers, as well as to talk to Louise Falcini and Jasmine Losasso and to meet Sharon Howard, whose work I’ve been a fan of for quite a while.

Thanks to Laurence Ward, Robert Shoemaker, Tim Hitchcock, Larissa Allwork and to the people from the Digital Panopticon, LMA and the other organisations and people who put this exhibition together.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story. All images are by kind permission of LMA.

UPDATE: The Digital Panoptican team has put together a free public engagement programme to complement the Criminal Lives exhibition.

Held at LMA, the season of talks and workshops range from convict art to convict genealogy, and from standing trial at the Old Bailey to the alternatives to hanging.

MORE: To mark the 200th anniversary of the arrival in New South Wales of my ancestors John Simpson and Sarah Marshall in January 1818, I’m writing a series of posts about their trials, transportation and later lives, starting with John Simpson. He sailed to Port Jackson from Spithead on the convict ship Ocean II.

Policeman's truncheon, with handcuffs behind

Policeman’s truncheon, with handcuffs behind

Criminal Lives truncheon info

Prisoner's waist belt and cuffs

Prisoner’s waist belt and cuffs

Convict Lives Newgate interior yard

Millbank Prison, view down main corridor

Millbank Prison, view down main corridor

Millbank Prison - main passageway

Millbank Prison – main passageway

Oakum made from hemp

Prisoners had to ‘pick oakum’ from hemp ropes to make padding or stuffing

Criminal Lives: Charlotte Walker's story

Charlotte Walker’s story

Convict uniform in blue and yellow

Convict uniform (replica)

Convict love token, 1818

Convict love token, 1818

Drawing of Convicts writing letters at Cockatoo Island

Convicts writing letters at Cockatoo Island

Australians wearing convict bonnets

Wear a Bonnet, living art installation by Christina Henri

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
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3 Responses to Criminal Lives, 1780-1925

  1. Pingback: Sarah Marshall 200: a floating brothel | A Rebel Hand

  2. GeniAus says:

    Oh bother. The exhibition closes in May and I’m coming over in July. Thanks you for such an informative post for my virtual visit.


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