State of Crime in Liverpool, October 1837

The Borough Gaol, Great Howard Street, Liverpool

From The Statistical journal and record of useful knowledge, Vol. 1 October 1837

The following paper was read by Mr Joshua Walmsley in the statistical section of the British Association at Liverpool on Friday the 15th of September.

“ Those who have interested themselves in the general proceedings of this Association will remember, that, at its last meeting, held in Bristol a paper on Statistical Desiderata was read by a distinguished member of this section, wherein several censures were passed upon ‘ A report upon the state of crime in Liverpool ‘ then recently printed by order of the Council of the borough That gentleman having subsequently visited Liverpool, I rejoiced in the opportunity it afforded me of showing him the data on which the conclusions were founded. He admitted that he misapprehended the report, for instead of allowing, as he thought, an average income of 470 l. a year [£23, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 26,240]  to each criminal, it did not allow quite 80l.[£4, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 4,467]; and when the profligacy and necessary expenditure of a confirmed thief or a dissolute woman’s life are considered,  80 l. a year is not an excessive temptation to a life of crime and sin. In fact it implies most forcibly that, in a pecuniary sense, the mass of them lead (which is the truth) a life of misery.

The report gave, as the result of rigid inquiry, a criminal population to this town of 4,200 females and 4,520 males, 2,270 of the latter being professed thieves, and the remainder occasional thieves, living by a combination of labour and plunder; and the whole was set down at upwards of 700,000 l. [£35,000, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 39,000,000.] This does at first sight appear incredible; but an investigation, pursued with much labour, and not unattended with obloquy, convinced me the statement contained no exaggeration.

A more recent inquiry, carried on by better means, afforded by a more experienced police force, not only confirms these details, but leaves an impression that the number of criminals was underrated. In an inquiry of this kind an approximation to accuracy is all that can be expected, and all I purpose to do is to furnish the society with the most accurate data which is accessible.

I hold in my hand two or three returns, about the correctness of which there can be no doubt. They contain the number of persons brought before the magistrates, and the number committed; they also give the age of the juvenile felons. In the year 1835, there were taken into custody 13,506 persons, of whom 2,138 were committed. In 1836, there were taken into custody 16,890, of whom 3,343 were committed. Up to the 13th of the present month, the number taken into custody in eight months was 12,709, of whom 2,849 were committed. From July, 1835, to July, 1836, the number of juvenile thieves, under 18 years of age, apprehended was 924, of whom 378 were committed. From July, 1836, up to the present day the number of juvenile thieves taken into custody was 2,339, of whom 1,096 were committed. There were in custody, during the same period, upwards of 1,500 well known adult thieves.

In our report juvenile thieves were set down at 1,270, it now seems that the number was very greatly underrated, for the most expert officer does not pretend to say that one half were taken into custody.

In the returns made by the old watchmen, the number of houses of ill fame was set down at 300; but this return referred only to the notorious ones. A full and complete return has since been made and the real number is 655, exclusive of private houses in which girls of the town reside. In all the houses of ill fame females reside, and allowing an average of four to each house, the number residing in such places only would be 2,620. 

This return is further confirmed by the fact, that, in the year preceding the inquiry, there were apprehended 1,000 females of a particular description. Mr Bacheldor, now the excellent governor of the borough gaol, was then the principal bridewell keeper; he gave it as his decided opinion, and no one was more competent to give one, that not one fourth of the females had been apprehended. In this opinion the heads of the police, deriving their knowledge from a different source coincided.

Another return has been placed before me, which, though not absolutely bearing on the subject, is not without interest. Of 419 individuals now in the gaol, 216 profess the religious creed of church Protestants, 174 are Roman Catholics, 8 are Methodists, 17 are Presbyterians, 2 are Unitarians, 1 Baptist, and 1 Independent; 41 can neither read nor write, 59 read imperfectly, 38 read well, 127 read and write imperfectly, and 56 read and write well.

I come now to the consideration of the annual sum necessary to the support of such a criminal population. In estimating this, the expenditure of persons living upon the wages of crime, as nearly as could be estimated, was taken as the basis. The amount expended by each individual will, of course, differ according to his or her position, as stated in the paper on the table, but the average for each is not more than 80 l. per annum; and when the lavish and profligate expenditure, in which the characters in question are known to indulge, is taken into consideration, the amount will scarcely appear to be overstated. It must be borne in mind, as the report particularly observes, that the greater portion of this sum is derived from strangers; of these, including sailors, the weekly influx and departure exceed 8,000, and a small rate levied on each will be found to form a considerable proportion of the whole estimated amount: in fact, the robberies committed by a certain class of depredators on the persons of those who, with an absence from the place where they are known, throw off moral restraint, are estimated by our chiefs of police at an average of 100l. nightly [£5, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 5,583]. The reported robberies of this nature on a single night have often been from 500l [£25, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 27,920] to 1,000l. [£50, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 55,830] It must be understood, also, that the whole of the amount is not supposed to be derived from theft, a large portion of it being unquestionably the produce of voluntary contributions from the profligate. It may here be remarked, that writers on statistics seem to have had little idea of the extent of property stolen by felons. Baron Dupin, on the authority of Mr Hibbert, states that previous to the establishment of the preventive system, 1-50th part of all the sugars and 1-40th part of the rum landed at the London Docks were stolen; the quantities of colonial produce stolen during the years 1799, 1800, and 1801, were valued at 1,214,500 l. [£60,725, or a modern-day equivalent of £ 56,820,000]. The exposed situation of the Liverpool Docks, and the detached localities of the warehouses, give the utmost facility to this description of robbery, which is still further encouraged by the existence of numerous receiving houses. The system observed in the discharge of vessels is another prop to this evil: the work is let out to men called lumpers, some of whom take it at low rates, calculating to increase the produce of their labour by plunder; they form a large body, and the matter should, and I trust will, have the attention of our merchants.

I have come forward at this time solely with the hope that the subject may be taken up by those able and willing to devise and carry into effect some means for the amelioration of the condition of so many of our fellow creatures. The surveillance of a vigilant police unquestionably lessens the opportunities for the commission of crime, and leads to the quick detection of the offenders; but humanity requires, that while we take measures to punish, we should use means to reclaim. We should recollect, that ‘oft the means to do ill deeds make ill deeds done.’ I am glad to see that so great an interest is now taken in criminal statistics. One of our worthy magistrates, a few days since, observed that people were wont to go in search of the picturesque, but that now they came in pursuit of crime. Like Sancho Panza’s hare, they start up where least expected; but the subject being disagreeable and repulsive, there is no danger, I apprehend, of this kind of research becoming mischievously fashionable.

Joshua Walmsley had been elected a one of three Whig/Reformer councillors for Castle Street ward in 1835. The elections to were held on Saturday 26 December 1835, and it was the first election to Liverpool Town Council. As this was the first election to the Council, all three seats for each of the sixteen wards were up for election. The candidate in each ward with the highest number of votes was elected for three years, the candidate with the second highest number of votes was elected for two years and the candidate with the third highest number of votes was elected for one year. All of the sixteen wards were contested. The Reformers had a total of 59 councillors, and aldermen, to 5 Tories, and remained in control of the Council until 1841, when the Tories took control by 44 to 22.

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