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Ten years in jail for stealing some beef; Rough justice for women in Victorian era.

Byline: Kim Carmichael

WITH years of hard labour dished out for the pettiest of crimes, Victorian convicts paid harshly for falling foul of the law.

But now the spotlight has been shone on some of the women caught up in the Victorian justice system.

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Documents unearthed by family history website Ancestry.co.uk show the crimes that saw North East women imprisoned for decades and forced to carry out hard labour.

Among the petty crimes and harsh punishments is a Tyneside woman sentenced to hard labour for stealing beef and another sentenced to seven years for stealing a skirt. In May 1884, Elizabeth Armstrong appeared at Newcastle Assizes, the Crown Court of Victorian times, charged with theft.

The 56-year-old, who was also known as Ann Stacey, received five years imprisonment and hard labour for stealing a horse sheet, a blanket and a coat.

The haul was worth just five shillings but saw Elizabeth sent to Fulham Convict Prison, in London, to serve the back-breaking sentence.

In October 1881, Mary Lynch, also known as Hannah Tiffin, of Wesley Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, received five years imprisonment for stealing a shirt and other articles from a Joseph Stokel in Durham. She was paroled three years later. The 33-year-old was described in court as being "frequently convicted" and a "woman who lived on the public."

For 36-year-old Catherine Kendall, shoplifting a skirt from a shop in Jarrow brought a sentence of seven years hard labour and imprisonment. She received parole five years later.

Fanny Green, a 22 year-old woman, received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment and hard labour for stealing beef in 1876.

She received parole seven years later and sailed to Ohio, in America, to live with her sister Mary Turnbull.

But the convicts weren't all petty thieves.

Mary McKivett was brought before Newcastle Assizes on February 22, 1875 accused of a violent robbery.

The 44-year-old served was sentenced to "15 years penal servitude and seven years police supervision" for her crime.

McKivett, seen scowling at the camera in her convict mugshot, was sent to a prison in London to serve her time.

Ancestry.co.uk international content director Dan Jones said: "Crime is more often associated with men. However, these intriguing records shed light on some rather colourful female lawbreakers of their day.

"And given the petty nature of many of their crimes, they also serve as a reminder of how harsh our judicial system was not so very long ago.

"With so many records now available online, it has never been a better time to start exploring your family''s history."

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HARSH TREATMENT Catherine Kendall's charge sheet. She was sentenced to seven years for shoplifting a skirt
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2011
Words:449
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