Burglary and bike theft: crimes that landed West Cork emigrants in jail

September 9th, 2021 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

Henry Marrison from Bantry was charged with breaking into a shop in Sheffield and spent six months in Wakefield prison, above, in 1904. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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New records from the DNA site have revealed the stories of thousands of Cork immigrants who travelled to Victorian Britain to escape poverty, but sadly ended up in prison.

Fascinating new documents uncovered by the DNA-testing site include the convict’s crime, their appearance, and the length of their sentence.

Crimes include murder, fraud, and horse theft and several were originally from West Cork.

The newly-digitised records on Ancestry, document the stories of people who moved to Victorian Britain between 1834 and 1934 in search of a better life, escaping famine and poverty, but ending up in Victorian jails for crimes that ranged from murder to bike, horse, and even car theft.

The records within the UK, Registers of Habitual Criminals and Police Gazettes, 1834-1934 collection shine a light on how difficult life was for some Irish immigrants, many of whom ended up in Irish ghettos where they struggled to get work, faced discrimination and often found themselves singled out by the police.

Comprising criminal registers, newspapers, photographs and other intricately-recorded details such as offenders’ tattoos, distinctive scars and demeanour, a search through the collection brings the individuals to life on the page.

The Bandon street hawker

Ellen Risien was born in Bandon in 1841. She was charged with street hawking in Bristol in 1891 and sentenced to 12 months in jail. Police records show she had lost all her top front teeth and her second right finger.

The Bantry burglar

Henry Marrison was born in Bantry in 1856. Police records in the UK note he was a small man with brown hair and brown eyes. He had several tattoos, including the initials HM tattooed on his forearm. He came to the attention of police in Sheffield on January 20th 1904, when he was arrested and charged with breaking into a shop in Sheffield. Marrison spent six months in Wakefield prison for his trouble and was released on July 19th, 1904.

Kinsale’s sticky fingers

Kinsale may be better known for its restaurants nowadays, but stories of theft, burglary and larceny lurk in its past.

Bike theft has always been a feature of modern life but in Victorian Britain, sentences ranging from two months to two years were handed down to bike thieves. William Feet was a labourer who was born in Kinsale in 1879 before moving to Hampshire in England, where in 1907, he stole a bike and was jailed for two months in Winchester prison.

Police records show that Feet had lost his right thumb but otherwise had no tattoos or noticeable scars.

Fellow Kinsale man, Martin Devaney, was a Seaman in Middlesbrough when in 1910 he was sentenced to three years penal servitude in Dartmoor prison for larceny.

The sailor, born in Kinsale in 1862, had several distinctive scars and tattoos including a sailor on a barrel tattoo.

Irish street hawkers, salespeople who sold various trinkets in different locations, were a common sight on the streets of London in Victorian times.

Edward Daniel Parker was born in Kinsale in 1871. He later moved to Gloucester where he made his living as a street hawker.

It was noted in police records that he had a scar on his forehead and an injured finger on his right hand. The Kinsale Hawker was sent to Gloucester prison in 1920 for one month on larceny charges.

The Schull deserters

Many young Irish immigrants joined the British army. Those who left without permission were charged with criminal military desertion. George Swanton, from East Schull, was born in 1863.

In 1885, he absconded from the HMS Royal Adelaide whereupon a reward of £1 was put up by authorities for his recapture.

Stephen Hennessy and Timothy Allen, also both from Schull, were charged with Military Desertion. Hennessy deserted in Kinsale in 1885 and Timothy Allen deserted in Kinsale on June 7th 1911.      

The details can be accessed at

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