Criminal lives exhibition sheds light on Georgian and Victorian convicts

  • Study traces lives of British convicts imprisoned or transported to Australia
  • Findings on display at new exhibition give a rare glimpse into the lives of convicts in Georgian and Victorian Britain
  • Convict lives can also be explored through online resource

A convict from the database

An exhibition revealing fascinating new insights into the lives of British convicts that were either imprisoned in Britain or transported to Australia hundreds of years ago is set to open next week (11 December 2017).

The exhibition Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts is based on research by historians at the University of Sheffield and partner universities that has traced the lives of British convicts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Produced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Digital Panopticon project in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the exhibition combines original Victorian photographs, documents and prints from the city’s archives with convict life stories uncovered by the Digital Panopticon project.

It also includes items such as a Victorian policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia.

The exhibition sheds light on the lives of convicts from the Gordon Riots in 1780 to the early 20th century, including prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker; Ikey Solomons, the notorious receiver of stolen goods; and serial thief Thomas Limpus, who was transported to Africa, America and Australia.

Bob Shoemaker, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, said: “This exhibition brings together a fascinating set of records from the LMA’s collections and other archives to show how the reformatory prison became the chief form of punishment in our judicial system. By using convict life stories to explain the origins of the modern prison, we hope that ‘Criminal Lives’ will help viewers see punishment in a new light.”

Larissa Allwork, Public Engagement and Impact Officer at the University of Sheffield, added: “We hope that the exhibition will provide an opportunity for people to engage with this fascinating history and its contemporary legacy in all of its dimensions. ‘Criminal Lives’ is complemented by our free public engagement programme, which includes an education pack for schools, FindmyPast workshops for family historians, and an event with Ikon Gallery in Birmingham about the convict artist, Thomas Bock.”

The Digital Panopticon project is a collaborative project led by the University of Liverpool, and supported by the Universities of Sheffield, Sussex, Oxford and Tasmania.

The project’s website, which enables users to trace the lives of British convicts imprisoned or transported to Australia, features on a new second year module for history students at the University of Sheffield.

Historical information and research guides on the site provide undergraduate history students at Sheffield with information on how the resource can be used as part of their studies into Georgian and Victorian crime and punishment.

The Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts exhibition opens on 11 December 2017 at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

Tickets and information

The AHRC Digital Panopticon Project

Additional information

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For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Junior Public Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852