The haunting image of an 11-year-old Victorian boy imprisoned and beaten for stealing sausages

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This is the terrifying mugshot of an 11-year-old Victorian boy who is imprisoned and beaten for stealing sausages. John Collins, of Birmingham, was sentenced to three days’ imprisonment in 1876 for petty theft from a shop.

His tragic story has been released by the West Midlands Police Museum, which has hundreds of Victorian criminal mugshots. His brutal punishment was typical of that meted out to young children who, in many cases, turned to stealing to survive in the harsh world of Victorian England.

The deceptive photos are reminiscent of the children in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, as the Artful Dodger’s gang, led by Fagin, picked a few sacks on the streets of London. And in reality, the streets of Birmingham were no different from the fictional characters Dickens created with Brummie children leading criminal lives.

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John was one of many child criminals arrested and photographed in 1876. Most crimes were very minor thefts, but the penalties imposed were severe.

Shockingly, there is a photo of a 10-year-old boy – making him one of the youngest offenders in the Birmingham City Police’s records. Charles Lambourne’s mugshot was taken in 1876 before being sent to prison for seven days and beaten for stealing a dress from his father.

Victorian child criminals Charles Paul and Charles Lambourne

At the age of 10, he had just reached the age where he can be held criminally liable when British society believes that you are capable of making your own decisions and understanding right and wrong. This is still the era of criminal responsibility today.

Another frequent offender was 13-year-old Charles Paul. In 1876 he stole ‘six pairs of drawers’ (underwear) from his father and was sentenced to 14 days in prison and five years in a penitentiary, which resembled a Victorian institution for young offenders.

Corinne Brazier, Heritage Manager at the West Midlands Police Museum, where the photos are kept, said: “Victorian criminal law has a strong focus on punishment, including lengthy prison terms for minor offences, reformatories and forced labour.

“As the country moved away from transportation and the death penalty, a significant number of people were imprisoned, including a large number of children.

“Many of those kids were first-time offenders and likely completed their incarceration toughened and streetwise.

“If the desired effect was to ‘scare them,’ it often fell short, with many young offenders repeatedly appearing in court.”

The photos were taken by the West Midlands Police Museum, which is currently moving from Sparkhill Police Station.

Part of the collection is now located at the Birmingham Central Lock-up on Steelhouse Lane and the full move will take place later this year.

For more info visit the West Midlands Police Museum at Facebook – The Lock-up or Twitter – @WMPHistory

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