Explore Your Archives: Crime and Punishment with Manx National Heritage’s Library & Archives Team Search of iMuseum

Explore Your Archives: Crime and Punishment with Manx National Heritage’s Library & Archives Team

Posted on 06.02.2020

The following transcription is from an informal talk delivered in November 2019 by Sarah Christian, Library & Archives Assistant at Manx National Heritage. Sarah delivered this talk as part of Explore Your Archives, a national campaign designed for archives of all kinds throughout the UK and Ireland.

Sarah’s talk explores themes of crime and punishment using the resources from Manx National Heritage’s Library & Archives, as well as other online resources:

“We love doing Explore Your Archives: it’s the chance to let some great materials see the light of day and to give you a taste of what we have in the five levels in our stores.

My talk is not an overview of Crime and Punishment on the Isle of Man since the dawn of time (there’s probably a book in there somewhere for someone else to write!). It’s not me explaining about all of items the items that we have laid out for you to see in our Reading Room. Explore Your Archives is about YOU looking at the source materials to whet your appetite and draw your own conclusions.

We love doing workshops – when we’ve done them before, people often ask for case studies. For example “How do you research people?” and “what else can you learn about their circumstances?” As humans we are always seeking explanations; can research overturn some expectations? Other questions might be “what circumstances lead to law breaking behaviours?” and “what happened to people afterwards?” In studying crime and punishment, “can we get a flavour for what the Isle of Man was like in days gone by?”

Castle Rushen prison inner walls, Castletown. Image ref: PG/9395

Castle Rushen served as a prison for many years.  In 2019 a team of dedicated library volunteers completed a project to extract names and details of prisoners recorded in the gaol registers, which span 1825 until the close of the gaol in 1891.  These prisoner names may now be searched on the iMuseum website. Because of the nature of the registers and the fact that some people were repeat offenders, there is some duplication of names.  The offences, ages and circumstances of those recorded vary enormously.  The details enable us to learn more about the individuals and their sentences.  These might range from a few days inside, a sentence of hard labour or even transportation off the island.

Over several years eleven people have transcribed handwritten entries from the registers, double-checked work for accuracy and shown great diligence and enthusiasm for the work.

Sometimes it was hard work making sense of the dodgy handwriting!

Information from the registers is of interest for those looking into their family history. The data may be used in other ways including school projects and outreach, criminal justice studies, curatorial interpretation at the castle and creatively using stories for theatrical effect in our amateur Labyrinth productions staged at Castle Rushen.

Some material are still to be worked on. One is a  debtors’ registers from 1884 to 1886. There is also a description book for 1875-1891 recording physical characteristics of prisoners. Their contents will be released to iMuseum in due course.

How do we research criminals?

Manuscripts and printed items at Manx National Heritage

  • Court records (church courts and civil courts)
  • Mug shot books
  • Prison and women’s aid society
  • Asylum reports

The Manx newspapers online contain much  more detail than the modern press and are full of ‘skeet and scandal’.

A census was conducted every 10 years from 1841. The first was quite basic – where someone lived and who with, very approximate age and occupation. As time went by more details were included – by 1911 we know the number of rooms in the house and how long couples have been married, how many children they had and how many survived. In the Reading Room, we use the findmypast website to look images of the original pages – we have a subscription.

Historically, society was organised and regulated by the church. Early records are church records. But by 1878, birth and deaths had to be registered and marriages in 1884. We can see Church of England records using the familysearch website (its free) . Non conformists are more complicated. An index to certificates held at the Civil Registry is available on a great website called ManxBMD

Similarly, the early courts were church courts and then later on civil courts. We have some court records but lots are still with the courts, but often you can get all you need from the Manx newspapers.

Over 14,000 Gaol register entries are available on our iMuseum website, using the Advanced Search element and searching ‘people’.

What kind of information can we see on iMuseum?

Photograph of Jane Batty from Isle of Man Constabulary register of criminals ‘mug shot’ book. Ref: MS 10973

Here, on this link, is the example of Jane Batty, one of the pick pockets who preyed on tourists. You can see photographs of some of these people in the mugshot books held by Manx National Heritage Library and Archives – they contain repeat offenders from all over Britain, photographed so the police could keep an eye out for them.

But what of our Manx home grown criminals?

Cattle Market behind Heywood’s Place, Douglas. Image ref: PG/7611

The tourist hot spots of Douglas did not look much like the picture above. This image is from the 1880’s. This area of Douglas, close to the harbour and market was ‘rough’.  So let’s look at some women arrested for fighting which is described here in the newspaper cutting. I’ve chosen this image because we know that one of the women – Emily Christian – worked at The Cattle Market Inn in 1891 because she is mentioned as a witness when a horse and cart were stolen.

Isabella McKechnie is mentioned three times in the Castle Rushen Gaol registers. Once in 1890 and twice in 1891.

Bella puts weight on the first time she is sent to prison in 1890 for theft. The second and third times she loses weight in jail – perhaps missing all the empty calories from the booze? In 1896 she held the record as the worst offender, with nine offences within the year and was sentenced to 21 days hard labour.

I show here some of the numerous newspaper reports about her. My favourite is when she was in 1896 when she was charged with “wandering abroad without visible means of subsistence.” The group of women were given the choice of accommodation at the Poor Asylum, which they declined, so they got 10 days hard labour instead. Why does this married lady have no support from a husband and what happened to her?

I couldn’t find her in the census. Not surprising as she had an alias of McClure and also she often had no proper home. I did find her death aged 31.

Isabella dies in the Poorhouse – the place she declined over prison. The staff were kind enough to let me see this individual entry which costs £5.50 but I could have ordered a copy certificate for £11 and this can be done efficiently online

Mannin Infirmary, Strang, Braddan with Tromode village in background. Image ref: PG/6706/4

We have bound copies of the Asylum reports – reports done by officers of the Lunatic Asylum and the Poor Asylum. In 1897 it reads:

“The Asylum has continued to be extensively used as a Hospital and Infirmary for the indignant, a very large proportion of the admissions and inmates being confined to bed and under medical treatment.

96 people were admitted through the year and 24 died. The medical report describes some of the most interesting case and gives initials, but there is nothing for Bella – she is just one of two women who died of  a straightforward case of Tuberculosis (Phthisis Pulmonalis). This disease was also called Consumption as if the disease and resulting weight loss ‘consumed you’. Tuberculosis is closely linked to both overcrowding and malnutrition making it one of the principal diseases of poverty.

I was very surprised to find a poor divorced women in this exercise. Divorce was difficult – more so for women than for men as they had to prove not just adultery but another factor besides. I can only assume that John McKechnie divorced Isabella because of her awful behaviour and it looks like he has returned to his native Scotland. I have failed so far to find details of Isabella’s marriage to John.

And what of another woman in the fight? I was a bit apprehensive  of taking on a Christian to research – there are plenty of them and so it’s a difficult surname, as it’s so common. Emily appears twice on iMuseum as being confined to Gaol.

I couldn’t find a birth for Emily Kelly or a marriage, so I looked for her death which appears in the newspaper

And then I searched for her death record to get some more detail

The cause of her death was ‘Primary Intestinal obstruction, Bronchitis; secondary heart failure’. I was hoping to find a maiden name but to no avail, but I have her husband’s name confirmed. I noticed that her husband was not present at the death but a friend, Jane Cowin, who lived at Hardy’s Cottages at Shaw’s Brow. The bleak image by J.J. Frowde below gives us a feel for the environment and the informant – a woman unable to write her own name.

Hardy’s Court showing cottages, Shaws Brow, Douglas. Image ref: PG/9321.

I returned to the search for Emily’s marriage and found it. Her father was James McEvoy. This led me to finding her living with her Mother before her marriage in the 1881 census at Post Office lane. It seems her father died when she was only 4 years old.

I can find no trace of Emily and Robert having any children. Emily and Isabella both had early deaths and short brutal lives. This area of Douglas is a world away from the fashionable promenade area which is only a short distance away.

Domestic Violence

So let’s look at a male: Philip Hooper. Philip went to Prison on the 9th March and was released 22nd March 1889. This was quite a short sentence but included hard labour. What was the background to his beating his wife?

2nd March 1889

9th March 1889

16th March 1889

Quite a shocking case of domestic violence! He was drunk and they had a dispute over “household work” I hope he wasn’t expecting his tea on the table when he got home from the pub – Emily was pregnant at the time. On 16th March she refuses to testify against him, which of course is common in cases of domestic violence. However, the court refused to let him off, as the evidence was strong, and he was convicted but only served a few days after the sentence having been on remand until she had recovered.

I was surprised to learn that they had only been married the year before the assault.

Malew Church. Image ref: PG/5219/9.

Where did they live and what happened to them? In 1891 they lived in Fancy Street in Douglas. He is listed as a Stone Mason – both are described as  born in England. They have 3 children: George Henry, Katherine A and young Philip.  In 1901 he is living as a boarder with the Wade family at 23 Cattle Market Street in Douglas but without his wife- Has she seen the light and left him?

She is, in fact with the Children at Ballanass.

1891 census

Mary Ann was witness to an altercation outside a Baker’s Shop in 1893 in Douglas. In 1911 they are living together again. We can see that they had 4 children born to them and have 3 still alive. Using Familysearch I looked for these children – cross checking them with the ones I know about them from the 1891 census.

He died in 1926 and she in 1939, both buried at Peel, but neither had headstone to mark their passing. He is referred to as ‘Beloved’ so, although this is a social convention, its seems they got over the rocky start to their marriage. I found the children on the Familysearch website – their births were registered but no christenings were apparent. Katherine Ann was born in 1880 and married a William Greggor at Peel in 1908. Emma was born in 1895 and in 1911 was living with her sister in Factory Lane in Peel.

Beach Street, Peel. Image ref: PG/7180/53 


In the gaol register between December 1883 and September 1886, 11 prostitutes are named. Their offence? Mainly drunk and disorderly or fighting. This is because being a prostitute wasn’t illegal as such, although running a brothel was. All except one were picked up in Water Lane or Post Office Lane which gives us yet another impression of it as a very seedy area

Old post office in Post Office Place, Douglas. Image ref: PG/8842

This area of Douglas again! It’s interesting to note the location of the Wesleyan Chapel and Temperance Hall nearby – organisations of course that promote abstaining from alcohol. They would have had their work cut out in Douglas! I had assumed that Temperance Hotels would be a force for good – but from this letter to the newspapers – it appears not!

Manx Sun January 20 1900- Insular Gossip

“And by the way, if it be truthful to call Douglas Hotels ‘grog-shops’ because stimulants are sold there, surely it is truthful to call the Belvedere Temperance Hotel under Mr Cowin’s management a Brothel, because attached and unmarried couples were entertained there. Of one thing I am certain; it is more manly, more honourable, to receive money from a Brewery or an Hotel than from Temperance Hotels which are the sinks of iniquity in nearly every town in England. A black-guard cannot get a licence, so he runs a Temperance Hotel. For the last score of years I have held the opinion that Temperance Hotels are more in need of supervision than are licenced houses; and this opinion is endorsed by policemen in every British town.”

So – lets pick an easy prostitute to research:

Louisa Roxborough should have been easy to research. I managed to find her baptism in 1829 and her location in various censuses but it wasn’t easy. Please note the variety of different ways that her name has been spelled which made it harder than it should be:

  • Rocksburgh
  • Roxburgh
  • Roxborough
  • Rocksborrow

Louisa was born illegitimately in Ramsey to Isabelle Craine in 1829 and lived in College Street in Ramsey.  She was jailed in 1848 for stealing two flannel petticoats. She turns up in the Castle Rushen Gaol records nine times in total. An 1866 the newspaper report of an inquest has her being present in the house when a murder and suicide took place. She had “been Travelling” and had knocked on the window of the house and been allowed in to sit by the fireside. Louisa boarded with a family in Peel by 1881. When she is arrested for drunkenness in 1884 she is listed as  being aged 58 and a prostitute- no early retirement for her – living in St Johns. She died a pauper in 1887 aged 60.

The trial of Margaret Pitts

Margaret Pitts worked for the Gelling family (Eleanor and William) in  Marown. She was the daughter of Isabella Pitts and Robert Pitts, a miner living at Tosaby. On 13th September 1884 an Inquest reported her trial for the ‘Death of a child through exposure and neglect’.

Employer: “Three or four months ago we had suspicions as to Margaret Pitt’s condition, but she continued at her work as usual, and I did not suspect that her confinement was so near at hand”

Mother; “I suspected that she was pregnant, but did not mention my suspicions to her”

And here’s what happened:

At 10.30 Margaret went out of the house  for 45 minutes until 11.15.Then she went out again for 20 minutes at midday before having dinner. When she went out later to see to the pigs, she fainted. On examination by the farmer’s wife, she thought she had given birth but Margaret refused to say.  Her parents were sent for and they arrived at around 2pm, Margaret eventually explained what had happened and they found the child, still alive, in a briar bush. They bathed him in hot water and tied the cord but an hour later the infant died before the doctor arrived. Doctor Dearden explained that the baby would have been full term and had a fractured thigh – probably caused during the birth plus scratches on the skin. He says that Margaret was not due to turn 17 years of age until November, so she was actually 16.

High Bailiff

“It is my painful duty to commit you for trail for this offence. It will be the province of the jury to inquire into the whole of the circumstances of the case, and take, I hope, a merciful view of the position you now occupy…..The jury may think you have not been guilty of the crime of wilful murder, and they may bring in a verdict which would meet the circumstances  of the case, and reduce the crime to concealment of birth only, and I do hope sincerely they will take that merciful view of the case.” (Manx Sun, 20/09/1884).

Summing up:

“Whether it was her shame or her ignorance, or something worse that kept her from saying anything about it, we do not know, but the moment came and she came to the desperate resolve – for I say it was a desperate resolve- to be confined by herself and in secret, and we must indeed have hearts of stone if we cannot feel for the poor girl.” (Manx Sun, 01/11/1884).

The case was first heard at the criminal court at Peel and the jury were asked to decide if the case should proceed to a Court of General Gaol Delivery.

The legal debate centred around the exact cause which it was impossible to ascertain. The post mortem had not included an examination of the brain and it was pointed out that sometimes babies die with no apparent cause, so it would be impossible to say whether it would have lived or died. Impossible also therefore to prove without reasonable doubt whether her actions had caused the death. There was discussion around whether she knew what she was doing.

The defence did say “then with regard to the concealment, Mrs Gelling may be a very estimable woman, but not inclined to look on the tender side of a fault. There was one to whom the girl could have confided, but that was not Mrs Gelling.” – so not the sort of employer a sixteen year old girl could confide in but of course there was huge stigma around illegitimacy – unless there was a sweetheart on the scene.

The High Bailiff asked “Do you find there is not sufficient evidence to put her upon trial?”. The foreman relied, “we find there is not sufficient evidence to put her on trial” and she was therefore acquitted.

Unsurprisingly – 7 years later in 1891,  we find she has left the insular Manx community (and the scandal) and has moved to Liverpool – She is a servant with a Doctor in Rodney Street.

But then she returns home on 23rd March 1895 marries John Cubbon. This record would have been awkward to find, as it indexed under the surname Petts, due to the handwriting of Curate Fenton which is very scruffy, however but the signature looks correct. It appears in a tree that someone has submitted on the Ancestry website, which also shows the birth of children. I can’t check the baptism as we don’t have the Records from St Thomas’s church, although they appear on an online index. I could however order certificates from the civil registry to be absolutely certain. I was happy to find out that she went on to enjoy a family life after the sad death of her child and the  trauma of the court case.

Further tragedy struck in Margaret’s life. She was mentioned in the newspapers as Margaret Cubbon (again confirming we have the right marriage) and as sister to Emily Pitts. Emily worked as a Farm servant and housekeeper. She was a good worker, but was ‘intemperate in her habits’ and liked alcohol. She was found on the ground outside her bedroom window on the farm yard after being out ‘on the drink’. Her inquest recorded an open verdict but her family protested to the newspapers that she had been heard screaming, although her employer denied that he had seen her that evening at all.

Margaret died in 1923 aged 53 and has no headstone at Douglas Borough Cemetery where she was buried.


“The talk of the town during the week has been the disappearance of Mr Edmund Llewellyn Hartley, share Broker and real estate agent, who for some years past has carried on business in Athol Street” (Isle of Man Examiner, 14/11/1896).

Edmund Llewellyn Hartley was a broker and commission agent and was convicted of embezzling £512 10 s from Benjamin Lees. He jumped bail and escaped to Hamburg where he was caught and extradited back to the IOM. Born in Llangollen in Wales in 1867 to an Innkeeper, he had  moved to the Isle of Man with his family by 1881, his father by then being listed as a Brewer.

Edmund married a Manx woman called Sarah Amy Jones in Liverpool in 1884. They lived in Primrose Avenue and started a family producing children: Frederick Llewellyn, Frank, Vernon, Winifred May, Cyril and Herbert Stanley all born in Douglas. Edmund worked his way up from a position as a Clerk to being listed as an  accountant by 1891. (This research was all done online using Familysearch and Findmypast). In the Manx National Heritage archives we have 5 deeds for property transactions he completed.

Edmund was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. By the 1901 census he had been released and was living in Hildesley Road in Douglas with the 6 children. But by 1911, Sarah was living in Liverpool without him, but a new child, Muriel Edna who had been born in 1902. Strangely, the census entry has her listed as “Wife” which is then crossed out and replaced with ‘Head’. She was not listed as a widow – so where was Edmund?

Shell cottage, Queens Promenade, Douglas. Image ref: PG/8224/18/66.

This image shows Shell Cottage on Queens Promenade, where he lived as a child. On the 1881 census, Shell cottage was located next to Athol House just a couple of buildings before The Queen’s Hotel.

I was dependant on the internet to search for Edmund Llewellyn Hartley because he had left the Island. I used and came across someone person with the same name who died in Canada and one on some passenger lists travelling back from Montreal, in 1925.  He was listed as a manager, travelled third class and gave a Liverpool address. But I had no way to tie him to our Edmund.

So, my next ploy was to turn to the children. Using a website called FreeBMD (which has the indexes of births, marriages and deaths at the General Registry in the UK) I searched for marriages for the girls. There were no sign of any marriages or any deaths – they had disappeared. Turning back to Ancestry, I found Vernon in some shipping registers going backwards and forwards between Liverpool and The Gold Coast in Africa between 1918 and 1922. He is listed as ‘a  sampler’ (which I think is may be something to do with mining). But the eureka moment came when I looked at the Liverpool address he cited – Olivedale Road, Mossley Hill – the same address as the vague Edmund. So now I had my link to Canada. Unfortunately, because I don’t subscribe to Ancestry worldwide, I can chase him up no further at the moment. But I suspect that after the disgrace he set up a new life in Canada.

In summary, what can we learn from researching individuals like these examples?

We can use births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, census records, the newspapers and iMuseum. Records of monumental inscriptions and wills were of no use here as our subjects were either poor or left the Island.

When looking at their life circumstances, we have uncovered divorce, drunkenness, illegitimacy, ignorance, denial and sheer greed. Some of the people we looked at had a hard beginning in life, lived in poor circumstances and rough tough places and were very affected by booze –apart from Edmund (who grew up in pubs!)

We definitely can get a feel for Douglas in the 1880s and 1890s by studying crime and punishment. The polite facade of the Victorian seafront does not fully represent life in Douglas. But excessive alcohol caused problems in Port St Mary and the countryside too.”

Sarah Christian (Manx National Heritage Library and Archives Assistant)

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