19th Century Scottish Custody Records Reveal Bizarre Sentences for Petty Crimes

19th Century Scottish Custody Records Reveal Bizarre Sentences for Petty Crimes

...By Enitan Thompson for TDPel Media.

Fascinating 19th-century custody records from Scotland have been released, including crimes such as grave-robbing and a man imprisoned for “annoying his mother”.


The new records, compiled by National Records of Scotland, provide an insight into sentences handed down during the period from 1798 to 1853.

The records document various crimes, including the imprisonment of a 12-year-old boy for playing marbles, a beggar for using a pet porcupine to solicit money, and a bigamist for three months.

A 15-year-old boy was sentenced to two months in prison for stealing two apples.

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Some of the more serious crimes documented in the records include the case of a group of body snatchers who were charged with “violating the sepulchres of the dead” and sentenced to six months of hard labour, with one man serving nine months.

They had “resurrected” the corpses of two adults and a child from Lasswade Kirkyard in Midlothian in 1829 to sell to scientists.

Archivists trawled through prison records to compile the bizarre insight into historic sentences, and the log for Bridewell Prison in Edinburgh spanned 40 years and 40,000 entries.

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Archivist Stefanie Dempster from National Records of Scotland said that the records provide researchers with “a glimpse at the grittier side of life in early 19th-century Scotland”.

Analysis and commentary

The records document both petty thefts and incidents of drunken behaviour, alongside crimes such as grave-robbing for the purpose of selling bodies to surgeons.

They also provide insights into the harsh lives lived by many, with cases such as that of a woman who requested the magistrate send her to prison, stating her reason as “being lame”.

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The new records released by National Records of Scotland provide an interesting and at times bizarre insight into the history of custody records in Scotland.

The records offer an insight into the lives of people living in early 19th-century Scotland and the harsh punishments they faced for crimes both major and minor.

The records provide a valuable resource for social researchers and those researching their own family tree.


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