Findmypast expert user Anne Courtney sent in this fantastic story about her criminal ancestor to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any incredible finds that you'd like to share, email us, and you may see it featured on the blog!
My grandfather the thief
I discovered that my great-great-grandfather Thomas Parkin was a criminal when I first started researching my family history in about 2001.
My first clue was in the 1881 Census, when Thomas was in Dartmoor Prison, but that was by no means his first brush with the law! The earliest conviction I've found so far was in 1863, when he received three months for stealing a horse rug. This was clearly the start of a persistent career, and I went on to find Thomas in Durham Jail in 1865 and 1867, Chatham Jail in 1871, and Durham Jail in 1901 – among others! He died in 1902.
With the help of the crime recordson Findmypast, I've managed to confirm all the convictions I'd found, mainly from newspaper articles, been able to see a photograph of him, and read a full description.
Following the paper trail
The historical newspaper collection has been invaluable in tracing Thomas's story. As soon as I put his name and town into the search it came up with dozens of articles. These reported offences such as defrauding a shopkeeper over a hare – for which he received six months hard labour, stealing boots from his father – 18 months hard labour, and stealing large quantities of iron and bone – seven years penal servitude plus seven years police surveillance. The last offence was reported in the Sheilds Daily Gazette on 5 January 1870, the article also stating that Thomas was 28, and working as a joiner.
With the help of the Findmypast, I've managed to confirm all the convictions and find a photograph of him
On 9 March 1870 there is a record in PCOM2 National Archive, showing that Thomas was moved to Pentonville Prison from Durham. He was later transferred to Chatham Prison on 28 October 1870. PCOM2 National Archive confirms that a license was issued to Thomas on 19 June 1875.
There is a further document in PCOM2 which describes Thomas upon discharge from Chatham: Height 5' 3.5"; dark brown hair; hazel eyes; fresh complexion. It is possible he received his license because he had been sent to work in Gibraltar, which was where some Chatham convicts went. Building work was undertaken there and, as a joiner, Thomas's skills would have been needed. The Gibraltar establishment for convicts was closed on 28 May 1875.
A newspaper article in 1876 stated that Thomas had been a "ticket of leave" man and this has been proved via the recent records release. I think he went from Chatham to Gibraltar in the early 1870s. The timing of his ticket ties in with the closure of the convict colony in Gibraltar in May 1875.
Northern Echo - Wednesday 11 October 1876
© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
By 1876, he was being convicted again which led to him eventually being in Dartmoor, having been in Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville prior to Dartmoor. The event that led to this conviction had included his 11 year old son, who he had sent to obtain goods under false pretences. The charge against his son was dropped.
Most of Thomas's convictions were for obtaining goods by false pretences or theft. His criminal career started in 1863, and spanned 38 years, almost until his death in 1897. In 1897, his wife committed suicide, which was also reported in the papers.
I don't think I can blame her!