• Tom Marshall

'Hard Labour' Child Criminals in Colour


These remarkable photographs from the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums collection give a glimpse into the lives of Victorian child criminals, convicted between 1871 and 1873, in the Newcastle area.

I always love working with photos from police archives as they have a realness to them that's often missing from other 'staged' portraits of the time. My 'Bad Characters' project focused on adult criminals from the 1930s, and these photos give an insight into people from similar lives, but at a much younger age.

Like the previous project, working from police records gave me valuable information for colourising, with their hair and eye colours well documented. Clothing is based on historical examples, and with these images I was able to distress the clothing using mud and dirt tones, which really helps them to stand out from their sepia originals.

The children in these photographs were the poorest of the poor, and could have come straight out of the pages of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which was written only 30 years earlier. Their convictions were mostly for stealing every day things like clothes and food, but their sentences of hard labour seem extremely harsh to modern audiences.

I colourise photos to bring their faces to life, and to hopefully allow people to imagine their circumstances, and how they must have felt at the time. In colour you can see the sadness, fear and reality in these children's eyes.

The captions for the photos come from the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum's original notes, and their albums on Flickr are well worth looking through.

The original images © Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

The colourised images are © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2017.

Henry Miller, aged 14, was charged with the theft of clothing and sentenced to 14 days hard labour. He was born in Berwick, and his occupation was a confectioner.

The youngest in this collection, 11 year old Ellen Woodman was ordered to do 7 days hard labour after being convicted of stealing iron, when caught with Mary Catherine Docherty, Rosanna Watson and Mary Hinnigan (see below). Ellen was born in Durham c1857 and lived in Houghton-Le-Spring. Her parents were Thomas Henry Woodman, born in Birmingham c1826, a comedian, and Catherine Costella born at Scarborough Yorkshire in 1839, a singer. During Ellen's youth the family would travel round the North of England doing their acts. Ellen died in 1916 in South Shields.

Robert Charlton was a labourer from Newcastle and was imprisoned for 4 months for stealing 2 pairs of boots. He was 16 when arrested, and his place of birth was listed as Newcastle.

Along with Mary Catherine Docherty, Ellen Woodman and Mary Hinnigan, Rosanna Watson was sentenced to 7 days hard labour after being caught stealing iron. She was aged 13 on discharge and her place of birth was listed as Durham.

Glassmaker John Reed of Gateshead, sentenced to do 14 days hard labour and 5 years reformation for stealing money in 1873. He was 15 when discharged.

Mary Catherine Docherty was sentenced to 7 days hard labour after being convicted of stealing iron along with her accomplices: Mary Hinnigan, Ellen Woodman and Rosanna Watson. Mary was from Newcastle, and was aged 14 on discharge.

Along with Mary Catherine Docherty, Ellen Woodman and Rosanna Watson, 13 year old Mary Hinnigan was caught stealing iron and was sentenced to do 7 days hard labour.

Henry Leonard Stephenson was only 12 when he was convicted of breaking into houses in Newcastle, and was sentenced to 2 months in prison in 1873.

Michael Clement Fisher was 13 in this photograph and was an accomplice of Henry Leonard Stephenson. They were both charged with breaking in to houses and sentenced to 2 months in prison. Michael was born in West Hartlepool.

In a newspaper article at the time of the crime in 1873, it was suggested the boys had thought they were doing 'heroic, manly acts' after reading the 'wrong books'.

They were sentenced to two months in prison for the crime. Fisher's mother promised to send him away to sea on release, while Stephenson's father vowed to send his boy to India.

14 year old Stephen Monaghan was convicted of stealing money on 25 July 1873 and was sentenced to 10 days hard labour and 3 years in Market Weighton Reformatory. He was born in Scotland, and had no listed occupation at the time.

Labourer James Scullion was 13 when he was sentenced to 14 days hard labour at Newcastle City Gaol for stealing clothes. After this he was also sent to Market Weighton Reformatory School for 3 years.

12 year old Jane Farrell stole 2 boots and was sentenced to do 10 hard days labour.

Labourer James Donneley (also know as James Darley). At the age of just 16, this young man had been in and out of prison, but on this occasion he was sentenced for 2 months for stealing some shirts.

I hope you've enjoyed looking through these photos and learning more about the children and their stories.

The original images © Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

The colourised images are © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2017.

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© All content (unless otherwise specified) Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2020

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