From the woman who steals a cloak, to the highwayman and the middle-class forger, this book allows us a glimpse of the rich mix of criminals, their crimes and sentences, in early 19th Century Britain. With no statutory right of appeal against either the verdict or sentence at this time, the prisoner's only hope for relief was to petition the Crown for mercy via the Home Office, and with sentences including death and transportation, the stakes were high. The petitioner's objective was to prove the prisoner worthy of mercy, usually by establishing their respectability, and it is upon these petitions this book draws.
Many of the thousands of petitions, held by the National Archives in Kew, reveal fascinating incidental information about the prisoner's personal life or circumstances which cannot be found in other records. The supporting documentation, witness depositions or character references, often give us rare details of everyday routines, working conditions, illnesses, relationships, and life in a locality. As cases are followed in this book, some far beyond the Home Secretary's decision, the criminals, supporters, prosecutors and judiciary are brought to life, occasionally with surprising results. Read as individual cases, each subject is fascinating; viewed together, the collection reveals a unique, intimate and vivid insight in to life in 1820's and 1830's Britain.