A prostitute with 40 convictions, the youngest woman behind bars and a thief kicked out by her husband: Fascinating mugshots bring Victorian era’s criminal women to life
Striking mugshots of women criminals from the late 1800s and early 1900s have emerged, including teenage prostitutes and females who stole to survive.
The fascinating lives of the women who hit hard times have been unravelled in a new book, investigating the stories behind the faces in the incredible images.
Among them are Elizabeth Dillons who began working as a prostitute at age 16 and was convicted more than forty times.
She racked up for charges for riotous behaviour, drunkenness and disorderly conduct, obscene language, vagrancy, wilful damage, prostitution, theft, and assault.
Other stunning photographs show teenager Maria Adams who was revealed as the youngest woman in convict prison, in the 1881 census.
Mary Hardyman’s mugshot is also in the book. The mother was repeatedly convicted of theft – but it was often for a piece of beef or other meat to feed herself and her family.
The remarkable insight into the lives of female criminals is showcased in Lucy Williams and Barry Godfrey’s new book, Criminal Women 1850-1920, published by Pen and Sword.
‘Female offenders can be amongst the hardest characters of all to find. Not only were they, like male offenders, keen to escape the eye of the authorities, but by virtue of being women, their identities were more changeable and their lives were less consistently recorded,’ they write.
Maria Adams was the youngest woman in a convict prison in 1881. The 17-year-old had been sentenced to five years penal service in 1879 for stealing clothes. That was her fifth conviction, having first been convicted at Birmingham for a similar theft, aged 15
Images of Victorian street-sellers in Covent Garden, London in the late 1800s show how hard women had it when they did not have enough money to support themselves and their families
Mary Fitzpatrick was convicted at Leeds Police Court of being ‘riotous’ and sentenced to seven days in prison, in March 1879. Later that same year, Mary was re-convicted in York for stealing flannel and she was sentenced to four months imprisonment. A few months later she was convicted of stealing handkerchiefs and given another two months behind bars
Poverty in Victorian Britain: Women turned to prostitution out of desperation while others stole to feed their families – often receiving harsh punishments
Maria Allen launched a significant criminal career relatively late in her life. She was first convicted of larceny in 1852 when she was 44. She went into custody for six months followed by a twelve month stretch in 1854. Almost as soon as she got out, she was convicted of larceny again, and sentenced to four years penal servitude. She received another five years for stealing sheets in 1861 and was released on licence in 1865. In 1880 she stole another sheet, and at the age of 72 she received a ten-year sentence. In English law larceny was replaced as a statutory crime by theft in 1968
Maria Dibsdale was drinking so heavily she was attracting the attention of the authorities in the early 1900s. In July 1903 Maria, now in her late thirties, was taken to Holloway Prison for three days on a charge of criminally neglecting her children. Though the charge was for a single incident on 17 July, it was noted that several similar instances had already occurred
Elizabeth Dillons who began working as a prostitute at age 16 and was convicted more than forty times for charges including riotous behaviour, drunkenness and disorderly conduct, obscene language, vagrancy, wilful damage, prostitution, theft, and assault. Her sentences were usually between one week and two months in length, and she had spent a combined total of more than five years in prison
In 1873 Ellen Risden stole a pair of boots and was given one month in prison with hard labour, the following year she again stole boots and received two months of hard labour. Ellen’s offences were infrequent, rather than perpetual, taking place less than once a year. This would suggest that her thefts were not closely related to financial hardship or destitution. Ellen offended again in 1874, 1876 and 1879, receiving two, four and six months of hard labour respectively
Sarah Tuff who was convicted of larceny multiple times was not permitted to return to her marital home by her husband upon her release from one of her prison stints. She also used an alias – Sarah Poole
Matilda Bramble went by the name Sarah Davies. By the age of 15, Sarah was already frequenting the streets and working as a prostitute. However, her first conviction was not for prostitution or disorderly behaviour, but for theft. She was prosecuted for stealing a gown and sentenced to six weeks in Swansea Prison with hard labour. In fact, Sarah was never convicted for prostitution-related offences, or for drunkenness or disorderly and violent behaviour like so many other young women in her position. In 1867 she was in court again, this time for the theft of a duck. Sarah maintained her innocence and the case was eventually dismissed
Mary Hardyman was repeatedly convicted of theft but it was often for a piece of beef or other meat to feed herself and her family as Britain’s criminal women found themselves in tragic circumstances
Amelia Layton sought out the workhouse on many occasions as a way to fight against her poverty but later began dealing with her financial problems by committing theft and receiving a 12-month sentence.