To many, the word rogue conjures the idea of a mischievous individual or someone who exists outside of the traditional scope of social values and norms, but is inherently likable. However, this idea is a relatively modern one. In the Victorian era in Britain, to become known as a rogue was not a good thing for your reputation. Under Victorian law, you could be imprisoned on the charge of being an incorrigible rogue, as was the case for an ancestor of a new member of the Findmypast team.

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My Ancestor The Incorrigible Rogue

Arthur Calfe, an ancestor of mine, was an incorrigible rogue. To earn this rather dubious charge, he deserted his family twice, once in 1910 and again in 1911, leaving them to the care of the Parish of St Pancras. This charge meant he, according to the Victorian penal system (which still largely in effect), was unlikely to be reformed from his villainous ways, and that he was an undesirable person best avoided.

An offense under the Vagrancy Act of 1824, you could be charged with being incorrigible if you had previous convictions for ‘idle or disorderly conduct’, claimed to be a fortune teller, lodged in a barn, had no means of subsistence, or didn't 'give a good account of yourself’. You could also be charged as a rogue and vagabond for indecent exposure, begging or encouraging children to do so (Fagin would be considered an incorrigible rogue under Victorian law), vagrancy or resisting arrest.  It would even cover you if you escaped from prison or assisted another to do so.

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There was no definitive offense that could get you a criminal charge of incorrigible rogue, as the legal definition in the act was effectively a repeat offender regarding any of the above. Indeed, incorrigible, means someone who is ‘not to be corrected’ or ‘unable to be reformed’. You had to be a rogue and vagabond first, and were ‘raised’ to incorrigible status based on repeat offending. William Fordy, below, was labelled ‘incorrigible’ for loitering!

As demonstrated above, my relative was not alone in being labelled with this charge. A quick look in our new crime and punishment records reveals quite a number of incorrigible rogues, given this unfortunate status for various reasons. If you look, you’ll see most of them have pre-existing criminal records. Take, for example, William Checkley below, convicted of being ‘incorrigible’ due to a previous conviction for the same offense as my ancestor, abandoning his family.

One, Thomas Osborne, has more than 6 convictions as an Incorrigible Rogue, proving the belief that those charged were considered unable to reform.

In an interesting quirk of fate, ‘being an incorrigible rogue’ was taken off the statute books in 2013, as a lot of the offenses that could earn you a charge of being an incorrigible rogue are now instead dealt with by direct charge. This allows a larger scope for the law to operate rather than the narrow ‘incorrigible’ framework of imprisonment or nothing. So, take a look through our new crime records your family members. You’ll be surprised by what you find!