A Very Rare Mid-19thC Ledger Page of Convict Mugshot Photographs from Exeter City Gaol c.1855-65

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Object Description

Hailing from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the very scarce four sided leaf of forty-eight mugshot photographs, to include five minors, from an Exeter Gaol administrative ledger being pages 36-39, showing each prisoner via a pasted down silver paper gelatin portrait photograph, a numbered plaque hanging from their collars accompanied with their name handwritten in ink beneath, and with the pencil inscription ‘From Exeter Prison’ handwritten to one edge, surviving in-tact from Early Victorian England.

Object History

Unknown.

Object Literature

The current Exeter prison was built in 1853, and is of a typical Victorian design, by local architect John Hayward and was based on the plan of the model prison at Pentonville, with four residential wings. The prison has been the setting for many executions. Of particular note is the attempted execution of John Babbacombe Lee in February 1885. Three attempts were made to carry out his execution. All ended in failure as the trap door of the scaffold failed to open. This was despite the fact it had been carefully tested by James Berry, the executioner, beforehand. As a result, Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Lee continued to petition successive Home Secretaries and was finally released from Exeter prison in 1907. After the last execution at Exeter Prison in 1943, the gallows were taken down and shipped to Jersey where they performed their grisly task one more time in the 1950’s.

The full list of the 48 prisoners is as follows:

Samuel Heals No.11381
Edwin Cove No.11405
John Reynolds No.11412
William Hoskins No.11431
Nicholas Courtice No.11485
Abraham Brown No.11486
Henry Clarke No.11488
Line alias Loving No.11554
Frederick Tucker No.11537
Thomas Brown No.11547
Richard Grant No.11556
Richard Nickson No.1824
William Wood No.1846
Oliver Paul Jones No.10283
Ed. Hy. Cornwall No.11372
John Cuye(?)No.11385
John Sidstowe No.11427
James Osborn No.11504
William Sampson No.11548
William Chipsy No.11585
John Lockyer No.11594
Charles Martin No.11599
James Raymond No.11613
James Paul C. No.1834
Thomas Palmer No.11015
William Parkhouse No.11149
Thomas Henry Smith No.11406
Harry Williams alias Pond No.11177
John Kerwick No.11473
George Bray No.11546
Patrick Casey No.11550
John Webster No.11580
Samuel Dish No.11600
Alfred Oldridge No.11601
William Gemson (?) No.11602
William Cappell No.11614
John Parsons No.11628
William Mills No.11629
Edward Stroud No.11635
James Salter No.11636
Frank Bidgood No.11637
John Coudick No.11638
Jacob Flur No.11641
John Northcott No.11643
Henry Williams Pincher No.11644
Frank Mear No.11650
Samuel Needs No.11654
William Searle No.11658

Although extensive research is required for each inmate, we have found one for John Lockyer reading;

28 Dec

John Lockyer
brushmaker
Barnstaple

D/sleeping in the back premises of complainant

Alexander
general dealer
121 Fore St Hill

#27 Wm Heard

Insp Wall
D Bench discharged

Mugshots were originally created because written descriptions were unreliable. A governor at the time these shots were taken said of the new method; “’Photography as an agent in discovering the antecedents of criminals, especially tramps and strangers, is unquestionably a very useful auxiliary and in my opinion should be brought into prison use generally.

Some experts say that the first photographs used for law enforcement were probably taken of prisoners in Belgium in 1843 and 1844, possibly so that the prisoners could be identified if they committed other crimes after being released. By 1857 the New York police had adopted the practice, opening a gallery so that the public could come in to see the daguerreotypes of “hookers, stooges, grifters and goons. “They offer a rare insight into the lower classes of the late 19th century, who were rarely photographed. Photographic portraits were expensive so the portraits which usually survive from this time are mainly of the gentry and middle classes who could afford them.”

Whether thieves, poachers, forgers or murderers, this is a very rare piece of ephemera photography and is immeasurably absorbing.

Object Condition

The condition of the images is good with some small blemishes, and the paper with some tattiness and spotting with browned edgings. It would probably benefit from being framed in a double sided frame.

Object Details

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