Victorian Crime

Most Common Crimes

Children would pick pockets and steal from street markets and women would engage in shoplifting.  The lower Victorian classes (thieving was often was linked to poverty) would also often operate in teams or bands, thieving from anywhere ranging from shops, to homes, to warehouses. 
    Theft was the most common problem in cities.
Some victims would be put out with chloroform to facilitate the attack; others would have clothing pulled over their faces!

Life was very hard in Victorian Britain, and many people took comfort from alcohol, which caused high levels of disorder, as well as accidents.


A wave of this crime passed in 1862, and caused great levels of public fear.  Pedestrians would be half strangled by one person whilst having their possessions stolen by another from behind.    

Whilst there were violent periods of Victorian history, it did tend to be over-emphasised by newspapers at the time.
   The murders by Jack the Ripper were a terrifying example of violent crime of this time, but much evidence from the crimes remained inconclusive, and he was never caught.


Common Punishments

Enforced Isolation
During the 1830s and 1840s, prisoners were isolated with nothing but their thoughts and a Bible.  They may occasionally have received visits from a chaplain – because crimes were thought to be a moral problem, such reflection was seen as a way to correct the way people thought.

It was believed by the Victorians that prisons could be used to reform people, so that they served their term, they would leave as better citizens. 
   Authorities wanted to use sentence in order to reduce the number of smaller and more minor crimes. Nevertheless, no distinctions were made between the ages and as such, young children could be sent to an adult prison.



Reformatory Schools
In 1854, these special schools were set up for children under the age of 16, although many were still incarcerated in adult prisons.  Discipline was extremely strict, beatings were commonplace and sentences often lasted a number of years.

Capital Punishment
This remained only for murderers and traitors under Queen Victoria’s rule, and there was a great shift towards imprisonment and lunatic asylums.  However, there are records of children as young as 12 being hanged.

Offenders would often be sent to work in British colonies, such as Australia. This was stopped by the 1850s because the Australians were becoming hostile to such an growth of the British population!