Further Thoughts on Coroner’s Inquests into Deaths in Custody

Last week we cross-posted Krista Kesselring’s essay on early modern coroner’s inquests into prisoner deaths, which originally appeared on the blog Legal History Miscellany. I have never looked systematically into the records of coroner’s juries, as Professor Kesselring did, but I’ve found two intriguing cases in the course of my research that seem to confirm … Continue reading Further Thoughts on Coroner’s Inquests into Deaths in Custody

Early Modern Coroners’ Inquests into Deaths in Custody

We are delighted to share this post by Krista Kesselring, Professor of History at Dalhousie University. It originally appeared on the Legal History Miscellany blog on July 9, 2017.

Legal History Miscellany

Posted by Krista Kesselring, 9 July 2017.

Hollar Tower

Deaths in gaol have long required investigation by coroners. In Canada, one provincial jurisdiction recently sought to end this practice to save time and money, but abandoned the proposal upon protests that the public had a duty and right to oversee custodial conditions.[1] The mandatory inquest into deaths of prisoners has a long history, dating back to the medieval origins of the coroner, when his duties centered on preserving the king’s rights and revenues. Looking at early modern inquests makes one wonder about their purpose and utility, in an era when gaol deaths were rife and the inquests typically perfunctory.

As one might expect, gaol deaths kept early modern coroners and their inquest jurors busy: J.S. Cockburn’s study of the assize court records extant for the five Home Counties between 1559-1625 noted inquests into no fewer than 1,291 deaths in custody, observing…

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Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Sometimes I try to lift my head out of the archives and read around in the growing and really awesome new literature on prisons in more recent times. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about books that deal with the more recently historical experiences of incarceration and … Continue reading Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction

George Dewing, the keeper of the Halstead House of Correction, was a monster who raped an inmate and murdered her child. Or he was framed.            The version of the story in which he was a monster is found in A Short and Impartial Account of the Proceedings against George Dewing (1728),  probably written by … Continue reading Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction

Prisoners and Prison Staff at the Cold Bath Fields House of Correction

by Kiran Mehta In The Promise of Punishment: Prisons in Nineteenth-Century France, published in 1982, Patricia O’Brien argued that the prison guard was ‘the most important person in the operation of the prison’ and that ‘the whole disciplinary regime of the nineteenth century [could] be reduced to the dealings of the guard with the prisoner’. … Continue reading Prisoners and Prison Staff at the Cold Bath Fields House of Correction

A Proposal to Enslave Petty Offenders (1621)

We are delighted to share this post by Krista Kesselring, Professor of History at Dalhousie University. It originally appeared on the Legal History Miscellany blog on 10 January 2017.

Legal History Miscellany

Posted by Krista Kesselring; 10 January 2017

hollars-eight-beggars

The State Papers contain a remarkable rough draft of an Act intended to condemn petty offenders to slavery. Prepared at the opening of the 1621 parliament by an unknown author, the proposal had the following title: ‘An Act for keeping in servile works such persons as shall be convicted of petit larceny and felony capable of the benefit of clergy, and such as shall be convicted for cheaters or incorrigible rogues.’ It echoed in some ways the infamous but short-lived 1547 Act to enslave the persistently unemployed, though this one – somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, given its talk of slavery – presented itself as a measure not just of heightened rigour but also of mercy.[1]

The text is given below. The measure did not pass – nothing passed into law from the 1621 parliament, save for a few new taxes – and the…

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Imprisoned without Trial: Remembering John Bernardi

As America says goodbye to a president who promised but  failed to close Guantánamo, and prepare to inaugurate one who says he wants to “load it up with some bad dudes” we would do well to remember John Bernardi. As suggested by the title of his Short History of the Life of Major John Bernardi, … Continue reading Imprisoned without Trial: Remembering John Bernardi