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Home > Crime and Punishment in Durham > Punishments > People and Punishments, 1786

 People and Punishments, 1786

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Your task
We can find out a lot about the nature of punishments in the period between 1750 and 1900 by using original documents. The following document is a printed handbill entitled A Calendar of the Prisoners that are to be tried at the Assizes, 1786. In some ways the title is misleading. It was obviously reprinted after the Assizes had taken place as the sentences of the prisoners are included. This makes it a very useful source of evidence. Read the source carefully (you might need to use the enlarged version which can be downloaded by clicking on the image) and then follow the instructions to see what it tells you about 18th century punishment. You might find it useful to use the worksheet to record your thoughts.

Printed Calendar of Prisoners tried at the Assizes, 1786. Click on image to enlarge.

1. For each of the following people record the following details - (a) what crime they committed and (b) what punishment you predict they will receive.

  • Jane Scott
  • Robert Bell
  • John Hall
  • John Didsbury
  • William Stonehouse
  • Thomas Hay
  • Edward Perkin
  • Richard Fairley
  • John Reed
  • John Sutcliffe

2. Now record what punishment they actually received.

3. How many did you get right?

4. On your list, make a note of all the crimes connected to property and another note of all the crimes against people. Which gets treated most seriously by the courts?

5. Why should this be the case? (Think about the law makers and law enforcers being from the well-off and business classes whilst the law breakers were often the poorest in society.)

6. Have a look at your findings. Do you think that the crime fitted the punishment give? Were people punished according to the crime they committed?

7. 'No Bill' prisoners were those for whom not enough evidence could be found to put them on trial. There was no organised police force at this time. What might this suggest about law and order in 1786?

8. For what crime was capital punishment (death) given? How many were imprisoned as a punishment? What other punishments were given out by the court?

9. A lot of these punishments were carried out in public? Why?

10. Now that you have looked in detail at this source, what do you think the purpose of punishment was at this time?


Finished? Then take a look at a similar Calendar from 1836 to see how the nature of punishment changed over time.


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