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UK Prison System in the 1850s


Although not a beginner in the truest sense, I am certainly a beginner researching HM Prisons and prisoner records. :)

Can anyone help with this, or give me a shove in the right direction:

I see in the Criminal Registers Archive for Cambridge (England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892) that a Richard Clarke was sentenced to 6 MONTHS in prison, Jan 3, 1850 for larceny. And again, a Richard Clarke (I suppose the same) was sentenced 3 Jul 1851 for 7 YEARS transportation being a repeat offender for larceny. (The Fulbourn Chronicle mentions this case and says it was about missing ham/bacon.)

As the 1851 census was in March 1851, it is at least possible that the same Richard Clarke was the Lodger in Judges Passage, Cambridge with Sarah Ann POOLEY in March, and then a guest of HM Prison from July.

However, "my" Richard Clarke arrived in Australia on an Assisted Immigrant ship Feb 1857 (departed UK Nov 1856) and I can see no record in any other UK or AUS archives (convict arrivals) that has a Richard Clarke arriving 1851 to 1857.

My question then is:

Were these registered punishments ever "commuted" or converted to "time in the UK", because if so, it would be possible for him to have served almost 6 years, been freed, and then sailed as a 'free' man. Was that ever an option? Did anyone get 'time off for good behaviour? Did some of the 'transportation' inmates never get 'transported'.

Does anybody have an insight into the system then? (Personal experience will count double. :cool:).

For the record ... I have determined that:

Yes, Early Release licneces were issued, especially in the 1850s when finding transport ships and 'willing' colonies was an issue. In this case, I have located the licence from 1854, in Portsmouth Prison.