A guide to...
Victorian Crime & Punishment
What were common Victorian crimes?
People in Victorian times were concerned about how much crime there was and wanted to find ways to reduce it.
Theft was very common. In busy towns where there were overcrowded streets, pickpockets took the opportunity to steal money and small goods from people’s pockets or bags. Many of these pickpockets were children.
After lots of factories had been built in cities, groups of criminals would sometimes steal factory goods that were being stored in warehouses. Criminals would also break into houses to steal valuable items.
Sometimes people would also commit crimes by destroying property or damaging railway equipment.
The most serious crimes usually involved violence, poisoning or murder.
Was there a police force?
Although there were various groups of people whose role it was to catch criminals, at the start of the Victorian period there was no official police force in England. People became worried that crime was getting worse as cities began to grow.
In 1829, a politician called Sir Robert Peel introduced the first English police force in order to improve public law in London. Over the next ten years, many other areas of the country also formed their own police force.
The policemen carried truncheons as weapons and noisy rattles to raise alarm. At first. many people did not trust the new police and thought that they were a way of enforcing unpopular ideas for the government. However, over time the new police force was successful in detecting and reducing crime.
What kind of punishments were given?
The penalty for the most serious crimes would be death by hanging, sometimes in public. However, during the Victorian period this became a less popular form of punishment, especially for smaller crimes, and more people were transported abroad (sometimes all the way to Australia!) or sent to prison instead.
Over the Victorian period, more prisons were built and there were rules about the treatment of prisoners. Life in prison was hard and prisoners were expected to carry out difficult physical work.
At the beginning of the Victorian period, children could be sent to adult prison. However, in 1854, special youth prisons were introduced to deal with child offenders, called ‘Reformatory Schools’. Other forms of punishment included fines, a public whipping, hard physical labour or being sent to join the army.
You can find a full KS2 lesson plan about Queen Victoria in our Victorians KS2 Resource Pack.