Criminal trials from 18th and 19th centuries go online for first time





On March 2, 1882, Roderick Maclean brandished a pistol outside Windsor railway station and attempted to shoot Queen Victoria.

Things did not go according to plan. The monarch lived and Maclean was charged with high treason, but “acquitted on the grounds of insanity”. Ordered “to be kept in strict custody and gaol until Her Majesty’s pleasure shall be known”, he spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital.

His case is one of 1.4 million criminal trials from the 18th and 19th centuries which feature in registers that go online for the first time on Monday.

A murderous doctor who claimed to be Jack the Ripper, the crook thought to have inspired Fagin and a notoriously inept highwayman are all listed in the carefully handwritten ledgers that can be browsed on the ancestry.co.uk website from Monday.

The records, published in a collaboration between the website and the National Archives, include every criminal trial in England and Wales that was reported to the Home Office between 1791 and 1892.

It was a deadly period to be a criminal — the era of the “Bloody Code” when 222 different offences carried the death penalty — and the documents detail no fewer than 10,300 executions as well as 97,000 transportations and 900,000 sentences of imprisonment.


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