Bad Children, Bad Parents

poorladChildren are expensive; in the early Victorian period parents would go to extreme measures to get them off their hands.

In May 1836 John Mitchell brought his 14 year old stepson, Frederick Payne, before the Surrey magistrates, alleging the boy had stolen three pairs of his shoes.

Though the evidence against him was enough to send him to Brixton for two weeks, the chairman of the magistrates, Robert Hedger, questioned Mitchell’s motives in bringing the prosecution:

“How long have you been married to his mother?” asked Hedger.
“18 months,” replied Mitchell.
“I am told he is a very intelligent boy; is it so?”
“Yes he is, and his mother and I wish to get him off to sea.”
“You have both adopted a pretty expedient of getting him off to sea by prosecuting him for felony: you wish to get him a free passage by sending him to Botany Bay, I suppose.”
“He has some bad companions, and he has pilfered things from us.”

It was not unusual for parents to testify against their children in the hope of having them jailed or transported.  The mother of William Revels, a ‘genteel-looking youth’, told the court at Union Hall in January 1840 that her son had ‘evinced the most evil propensities almost since his very childhood.’  Revels had been charged with ‘being concealed in a lady’s bedroom for an unlawful purpose’, but claimed he was only seeking refuge from the harsh conduct of his stepfather.  He was sent to Brixton for a month.

In the same year a boy by the name of George Phillips was charged with stealing a pistol, and attempting to discharge it at a gentleman driving in a gig on the Clapham Road.

The prisoner’s father said that the boy was incorrigible, and that every means had been tried to break him of his vicious ways.  He had endeavoured to admit the boy into the Philanthropic Asylum.  The owner of the pistol said he could get a ship for the boy and get him off to sea, which the father readily agreed to.  He was committed to Brixton for fourteen days, after which a ship was provided for his departure.

Some though appeared to deserve their parents’ disapproval.  William Rowney, a boy between thirteen and fourteen had already been sent to Brixton three times, and once publicly and twice privately whipped for theft.  The magistrate was disposed to send him to Brixton again, but the boy’s father told the court that neither prison or the floggings had any effect on him.  ‘The boy himself, although seeing his father and mother in a state of affliction on his account, ridiculed their pity, and every now and then thrust out his tongue at them.’  The magistrate sent him for trial, from where he would likely be shipped to Australia.

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