Convicts’ petitions to the British Home Office.
Another useful source for researchers studying convicts are the petitions people addressed to the Home Office requesting the sentences of convicted people to be reduced. None of these records have been copied as part of the AJCP project.
The petitions are archived in the records series Home Office (HO) 17 & 18 and their dates range from around 1800 to 1854. Indexes exist for all these petitions and can be found in HO19. While visiting the Archives Bevan Carter digitally photographed the records HO19/11A, 11B, and 12 which cover the years from 1847 to 1854 and contain the names of all prisoners who requested their sentences be reduced. Unfortunately, after that date the petitions appear to have been lost or may possibly be scattered among various Home Office documents and there are no indexes to enable one to find them. Bevan has yet to discover what caused the marked deterioration in record keeping standards that are apparent in the Home Office records after 1854. Petitions were signed by neighbours, relatives and sometimes the convicts themselves. Having looked at a number of these petitions it is difficult to escape the conclusion that legal clerks routinely visited prisoners and persuaded them or their families to retain lawyers to petition on the convict’s behalf. Although this may have been a lucrative exercise for the lawyers, except for some recorded remissions of death sentences, very few petitions arguing for a reduction in sentence were successful. For further information on these records please contact us.