History of crime and punishment

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If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the lawWinston Churchill

The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will beLao Tsu


The Law, in its grand equality, forbids both the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges, to steal bread and beg on the streets - Anatole France

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” Jonathan Swift


Colour key:


Abolition of punishments


Capital Pubishment and its abolition – see Appendix 2 below

Abolition of other punishments  - See Appendix 3 below

Prisons  - see Appendix 6 below


For changes in the legal prosecution and punishment of minors, see Morals


4/7/2014, Former entertainer Rolf Harris, 84, was sentenced to 5 years 9 months for sexual crimes against children in the 1970s and 80s.

27/1/2010, The first criminal trial without a jury for 400 years opened in London.

18/2/2005, In England and Wales, hunting with dogs became illegal.

4/6/2000. In the UK, the Conservative opposition announced plans whereby they would have prisoners work full-time whilst in jail in order to pay compensation to their victims.

30/7/1998, The conviction of Derek Bentley for the murder of a policeman in 1952 was posthumously rescinded; Bentley was hanged in 1953.

26/8/1996. The courts in Sweden heard their first ever case of dangerous handling of a shopping trolley.

11/1994, Britain passed the Criminal Justice Act (1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act). The Act contaoined a wide range of mesasures which generally ‘got tougher’ with criminals, and was promoted by the Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Civil Liberties groups were concerned about the erosion of a suspects ‘right to silence’, which could now be treated by the Court as inferring guilt. A new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’ was created, a DNA database of offenders was set up, and the age of homosexual consent lowered from 21 to 18.

1993, The US State of Washington passed the countrty’s first ‘three strikes’ law. California followed in 1994.

3/10/1989, The Shetland Island of Foula was shocked by its first crime in over 80 years. A Land Rover had been vandalised; a 17-year-old was later convicted and fined £50.

17/8/1989. Richard Hart, accused of theft, became Britain’s first electronically tagged suspect and was allowed home.

1988, In Britain, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 allowed the Attorney General to refer cases to the Court of Appeal if it appeared that sentencing had been unduly lenient.

27/5/1988, In Canada, a man who ‘sleepwalked’, drove over to his mother’s house and killed her with an iron bar, was acquitted of murder.

13/11/1987. The first criminal conviction based on genetic fingerprinting saw a rapist sentenced to 8 years at Bristol Crown Court.

1985, In Britian, the Crown Prosecution Service was established.

23/10/1984. The Police Federation in Britain said that from now all Police Forces in England and Wales should be equipped with plastic bullets.

1974, The Police National Computer at Hendon became operational. Set up in 1969, it stored information from the UK’s 800 police stations.

1971, In the UK, the old Assize Courts were abolished by he Courts Act 1971. The Assize Courts were presided over by High Court judges, who travelled on ‘Circuit’; they dated from ther reign of King Henry II.

22/3/1969. Soccer hooligans ran riot on the London Underground, causing thousands of pounds of damage.

5/10/1967, The first majority verdict was recorded in a UK court, 10 to 2, at Brighton Quarter Sessions.

21/7/1967, Majority verdicts were now allowed in UK courts.

18/10/1966. The hanged Timothy Evans won a posthumous Royal Pardon, see 15/7/1953.

1964, In Britain the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was set up to award state funded compensation to victims of violent crime. Damages to property was not covered.

18/5/1964, Mods and Rockers clashed at UK south coast resorts.

30/3/1964, Mods and Rockers clashed on the seafront at Clacton.

1963, The US Supreme Court, in Gideon v Wainwright, ruled that poor criminal defendants had a right to a lawyer. However no provision was made for paying for this legal advice, leading to prisoners being sent legal bills.

30/8/1958, The police clashed with 500 ‘Teddy Boys’ in Nottingham.

28/5/1955, 16 Teddy Boys were arrested after a disturbance at a dance hall in Bath.

6/5/1954, Sir David Maxwell-Fylde, British Home Secretary, said the problem of Teddy Boys was not widespread.

2/10/1953. The photograph of William Pettit, wanted for murder, was shown on the BBC by request from the police. It was the first time TV was used in Britain to help find a wanted man.

15/7/1953, John Christie was hanged ( see 25/3/1953) one day after a government tribunal maintained that Timothy Evans was rightly convicted of murdering his wife at Christie’s house and hanged for the crime. Christie had been convicted of murder on 25/6/1953; three years earlier Christie had been key witness against Evans. After Christie’s conviction, Evans’ family asked for a judicial review. See 18/10/1966.

28/1/1953, Derek Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison, see 11/12/1952.

11/12/1952, Derek Bentley, 19, was sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman, even though his accomplice Christopher Craig, 16, fired the fatal shot. The incident occurred during a bungled robbery in which police surrounded the pair on the roof of a Croydon warehouse. Craig was too young to hang and was detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Bentley had shouted to Craig “Let him have it”; did he mean ‘shoot him’ or ‘let him have the gun’?

2/11/1952, The Croydon Rooftop Murder took place. Two illiterate young men, Christopher Craig (16) and Derek Bentley (18, almost 19) were seen breaking into a confectionery warehouse. The police were called and Bentley was arrested almost immediately. When the police moved to arrest Craig he pulled out a gun; Bentley, then under arrest, shouted at Craig “Let him have it!” Craig then shot two policemen, one fatally. Craig was too young to hang, and got life imprisonment; Bentley was sentenced to death. Many thought that Bentley too should have got life, as, firstly, he had been under arrest when the fatal shot was fired, and secondly, the doubt surrounding Bentley’s motive in what he said; did he mean ‘let him have a bullet’ or ‘give him the gun’? The jury recommended mercy in Bentley’s case. However executing Bentley satisfied a general sense of revenge for the death of the policeman, and was supported by the Home Secretary.

18/1/1934. British police made their first arrest using pocket radios. They caught a thief in Brighton three minutes after he had stolen three overcoats from a shop.

4/5/1932, The mob leader Al Capone began his prison sentence for tax evasion.

1927, Police in Britain began using 2-way radio cars. Personal radios for police on the beat were introduced in 1965.

1921, Police in Britain began using motorcycle patrols.

13/8/1915, George Joseph Smith, the infamous ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, was hanged by John Ellis at Maidstone Prison. Smith had ‘married’ three different women, then murdered them to claim on life insurance policies or gain their fortunes.

23/11/1910, The American Dr Hawley Crippen was hanged in London’s Pentonville Prison for the murder of his wife,

22/10/1910. American born Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen was convicted at the Old Bailey of poisoning his wife Belle Elmore. The trial began on 18/10/1910. Born in Michigan, USA, Crippen achieved notoriety as a poisoner. He graduated from Michigan University, and married. He then moved to England where he worked as a dentist and medicine salesman. After a party at his home in Holloway, London, on 31/1/1910, he poisoned his wife. The police began inquiries after he brought a young typist, Ethel Le Neve, to live in the house. The couple fled, and the remains of Crippen’s wife Belle were found in the cellar on 14/7/1910. Crippen was caught after the captain of the ocean liner Montrose radioed a message about two suspicious passengers to Scotland Yard. He was arrested on SS Montrose on 31/7/1910, with Ethel dressed as a boy. He was charged on 29/8/1910. This was the first time radio had been used to track down a criminal. Crippen was hanged on 23/11/1910 at Pentonville Prison, still protesting his innocence.

29/8/1910, Dr Crippen was charged with murder.

31/7/1910, The murderer Dr Crippen was arrested aboard the SS Montrose just before docking in Quebec.  He was the first criminal to be captured by the use of wireless.

31/1/1910, Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen poisoned his wife Belle Elmore, music hall singer, then cut her in small pieces and buried her in the cellar. See 22/10/1910. Telling suspicious friends of Elmore that she had gone to America, Dr Crippen brought secretary Ethel Le Neuve, 27, into his house as his lover. See 22/10/1910.

1907, Until 1907 there was no appeal possible against criminal conviction in the English legal system. In this year the Court of Criminal Appeal was instituted by Act of Parliament.

1903, In the UK, the Poor Prisoners Defence Act established the first legal aid scheme.

1903, The Pistols Act in Britain banned sales of handguns to people under 18 or those ‘drunken or insane’.

13/9/1902. Britain’s first conviction on fingerprint evidence was obtained by the Metropolitan Police in a case at the Old Bailey against Harry Jackson.

1873, The English Court system was reformed. Until now it had consisted of; 1) The Court of King’s (Queen’s) Bench. This dealt with criminal cases, and was originally presided over by the King (Queen) himself, sitting on a raised Bench. 2) The Court of Exchequer, which dealt primarily with cases involving royal or public revenues. 3) The Court of Common Pleas, dealing with property disputes between private citizens. 4) The High Court of Chancery, which decided cases ‘in equity’ that is, cases where the law needed modification or interpretation to avoid injustice. In 1873 these Courts were brought together as the High Court of Justice. Along with the Court of Appeal this formed the Supreme Court of Judicature.  The High Court now comprised three Divisions; Chancery, Kings Bench and Probate, Divorce and Admiralty. Equity cases come under Chancery. See also 1907.

2/11/1871, In Britain, systematic photographing of convicted prisoners began.  This was the start of the ‘rogue’s gallery’.

1856, In Britain the County and Borough Police Act complelled all boroughs and counties to set up police forces.

1853, Transportation to Tasmania, Australia, ceased.

1834, London’s Central Criminal Court, popularly known as the Old Bailey, was established; it now stands on the site of Newgate Prison

1833, In Britain, the Lighting and Watching Act allowed any town with population exceeding 5,000 to appoint paid watchmen.

29/9/1829, London police went on duty for the first time. See 1748.

5/2/1788, Sir Robert Peel, British Tory Prime Minister and founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, was born at Bury in Lancashire, the son of a cotton millionaire.

26/1/1788, The first batch of British convicts arrived at Sydney Cove, Australia. They came aboard the HMS Endeavour, captained by Arthur Phillip; 570 men and 160 women were the survivors of a 36-week voyage from England on which the pox had killed 48 of the prisoners. Captain Phillip was to administer the penal colony. See 18/1/1788.

See Australia, New Zealand, for exploration of Australia

18/1/1788 A penal settlement was established at Botany Bay, Australia. The first convicts arrived on 26/1/1788. The option of sending its prisoners to America was no longer open to Britain.

13/5/1787, A fleet of 11 ships consisting of 2 two men 3 stores ships, and 6 convict transporters with some 730 convicts set sail from England for Australia under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. The journey lasted until January 1788. The convicts disembarked at Sydney Cove, minus 40 who had died on the voyage.

1748, The Bow Street Runners were established by Henry Fielding, a magistrate at Bow Street. They were both police and detective force, a precursor to the first London police force established on 29/9/1829. 

1736, In England, statutes against witchcraft were repealed.

1617, Denmark made ‘diabolism’ a crime.

1532, The Holy Roman Empire passed a law authorising the death penalty for practising black magic.

24/10/1513, In England, clergymen who committed murder were no longer exempt from punishment.

621 BCE, Draco, an Athenian lawgiver, drew up a code of laws that set out severe pinishments for theft, sacrilege and even laziness, which could be punished with death. Hence the term ‘draconian’ for any severe or harsh law today.

1750 BCE, The Laws of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, were set out. If a commoner destroyed the eye of a Babylonian noble, his own eye was to be put out; if a noble put out a commoner’s eye, he was only fined. Theft from a burning building and adultery were punished gy death, and a son who struck his father, or a surgeon who botched an operation, had their hands cut off. The Code also set out wage rates for labourers and craftsmen, and for hiring oxen.


Appendix 2 – Capital Punishment and its Abolition

The status of the death penalty is complex worldwide. Essentially there are four possible situations, 1) Total abolition of the death penalty, 2) Abolition for ordinary peacetime offences, but possible retention in wartime (there may also be an experimental period of de-facto abolition before legal abolition is instituted), 3) The death penalty exists but is not used in practice, 4) The death penalty exists and is being used. Within (4), the range of offences liable to the death penalty can vary from murder only to include, possibly, political crimes, and ‘economic’ crimes such as theft and forgery, also serious drugs offences, or, (e.g. in Iran) distributing certain forms of pornography. Within (3), executions may take place rarely, then the death penalty passes into disuse again for some years.

‘Executions ceased’ implies this was the last year an execution took place.

Islamic Law may support the death penalty. African countries also tend to support it as the only appropriate piunishent for murder.

See Social Changes (layer Three) at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=15nUwJvKQxvETRQKdlXHiAzGdVlF_U6dZ&ll=55.058625814792904%2C1.860228234960914&z=7

For abolition of death penalty

2/2019, Sri Lanka restored the death penalty, as part of a drive against drug trafficking, after a moratorium of 43 years (see 1976).

2018, Washington State, USA; Court declared the death penalty ‘arbutrary and racially biased’. The sentences of the 8 men on death row were all commuted to life imprisonment.

2018, India extended the death penalty to cover rape of a child aged under 12. Previously the death penalty in India had covered murder, kidnapping, treason, terroriam, and rape that left the victim in a vegetative state. The more by Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed an outcry after a series of sex attacks in the country, and allegations that the Government was not doing enough to tackle this.

14/8/2018, The US State of Nebraska performed its frst execution for 20 years, as Carey Dean Moore, a 60 year old who had been incarcerated for 38 years, was given a lethal injection for murdering two taxi drivers. US support for the death penalty stood at 54% in 2018, up from 49% in 2016.

2017, 49% of US citizens supported the death penalty, down from 80% in 1995.

23/7/2014, Joseph Wood, convicted of double murder, took nearly 2 hours to die by lethal injection in an Arizona prison. Questions were raised on the practicality of the death sentence in America.

5/2002, The European Union adopted Protocol no.13 demandning abolition of the death penalty in all member countires under all circumstances.  This followed on from Protocol no. 6 in 4/1983 added to the European Convention on Human Rights abolishing the death penalty. There has been no execution in any of the Council of Europe’s 47 member States since 1997.

1/1996, Executions resumed in Thailand; the last previous execution had been in 1987.

1995, New York State, USA, restored the death penalty, under Governor E. Pataki, after a break of 32 years. Spain abolished the death penalty from its Military Penal Code. The South African Constitutional Court abolished the death penalty.

1995, The South African Constitutional Court, in the case of The State v. T Makwanye and M Mcbunu, that the death openalty was ‘incompatible with the prohibition against cruel and degrading punbishment ‘. Hpwever the South African Parliament, faced with rising levels of ciolent crime, wasd reluctant to abolish the death penalty. See 7/1992.

12/1995, Moldova abolished the death penalty.

11/1995, The President of Mauritius was obliged to ratify a second vote of the National Assembly abolishing the death penalty. He had been reluctant to do this because he was dissatisfied with the length of alternative imprisonment proposed. See 1987.

8/1995, The Gambia restored the death penalty, following a military coup. See 1993.

6/1995, A moratorium on executions in Albania.

1994, Lebanon hanged a man, 11 years after the last use of the death penalty there.

1994, Kansas, USA, restored the death penalty, after a break of 29 years.

1993, The Philippines restored the death penalty. The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Hong Kong abolished capital punishment. See 1995. Greece abolished the death penalty for ordinary offences during peacetime.

1992, Angola abolished the death penalty. Sierra Leone executed those convicted of a coup plot, after a lull in executions of over a decade. Turkey abolished the death penalty for drugs offences, and Taiwan made the death penalty for mudred discretionary rather than mandatory.

7/1992, The South African Minister of Justice announced a suspension of the death penalty, see 1971, 1995.

2/1992, Algeria declared a State of Emergency, and executions resumed in 8/1993. There was a temporary moratorium on the death penalty from 12/1993, but executions resumed from 3/1994.

1991, Papua New Guinea restored the death penalty, for ‘wilful murder’.

1990, Mozambique and Namibia abolished the death penalty. Sao Tome & Principe, which had retained the death penalty for military offences only, completely abolished it. Zambia made the death penalty for murder discretionary rather than mandatory. Nepal abolished the death penalty again (see 1945, 1985) for all but ‘exceptional crimes’ – a protyection against assassination attempts on the Royal Family.

1990, Bulgaria commuted all death sentences to 30 years imprisonment. However a death sentence was passed in 1992, but this too was commuted to imprisonment.

7/1990, The Czech and Slovak Republics abolished the death penalty.

1989, Cambodia and New Zealand abolished the death penalty. Singapore extended the death penalty to all offences involving the use of firearms.

1989, Executions ceased in Serbia.

7/1/1990, Romania abolished the death penalty.

1988, Executions ceased in Poland.and Zimbabwe.

1987, Executions ceased in Mauritius. See 11/1995. The new government of the Philippines, following the overthrow of the Marcos regime, abolished the death penalty as an infringement of human rights. Haiti abolished the death penalty.

1987, East Germany abolished the death penalty.

1985, Nepal restored the death penalty for some murders and terrorist offences,  see 1945, 1990. Executions resumed in Guyana after a 15-year break. They ceased again in 1991. St Christopher-Nevis executed one man; no executions since then. South Carolina, USA, resumed executions after a break of 21 years.

Executions ceased in Chile and Belize.

1984, Executions ceased in Surinam. Argentina abolished the death penalty – it had been reintroduced by a military government in 1971, abolished for non-military crimes in 1972, and reintroduced after a military coup in 1976. 1990s political initiatives to reintroduce the death penalty have been thwarted by the Roman Catholic Church. North Carolina, USA, executed a woman after a break of 21 years.

5/9/1984, Western Australia became the last Australian State to abolish capital punishment.

1983, Executions ceased in Guatemala. Cyprus abolished the death penalty. Malaysia instituted the death penalty for possession of drugs.

1982, Executions ceased in Tonga.

1981,  Cape Verde abolished the death penalty.

18/11/1981, France formally abandoned the use of the guillotine.

18/9/1981, Under President Mitterrand, France abolished the guillotine and capital punishment.

1980, Turkey ended a 7-year period, from 1973, with no executions. Between 1980 and 1983 there were 48 executions in Turkey; 23 for ordinary crimes and 25 for political crimes.

1979, The Seychelles and Fiji abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime. Peru abolished the death penalty. Executions ceased in Trinidad and Tobago. Thailand instituted the death penalty for possession of drugs.

15/4/1978, The death penalty was abolished in Spain.

1977, Libya resumed executions after a lapse of 20 years. Bahrain executed a convict after a lapse of 20 years in executions; however it has again ceased executions since then. Bermuda executed two men for a political murder, the first executions there for 34 years. Executions have aganin ceased since then. Grenada resumed executions after a lapse of 15 years; executions ceased again in 1978.

10/9/1977. The last official execution by guillotine in France; execution of Hamida Djandoubi. See 17/6/1939.

1976, Executions ceased in Sri Lanka (see 1959, 2019). However serious civil unrest lead to the adoption in Parliament of a Private Member’s Bill in 1995 restoring the death penalty for ‘extreme murders which shock the public conscience’.

14/7/1976. Canada abolished capital punishment for peacetime offences, after an experimental moratorium of five years. A move to reintroduce in in June 1978 was heavily defeated in parliament.

4/1976, Executions ceased in Jamaica, for four years.

1975, Executions ceased in Bosnia. Singapore instituted the death penslty for possession of drugs.

1974, Papua New Guinea abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1971, The Society fot the Abolition of Capital Punishment was founded in South Africa. See 7/1992.

1969, Brazil restored the death penalty (see 1882). However in 1979 the death penalty was declared to be applicable only in times of war. Iran instituted the death penalty for possession of drugs.

18/12/1969. The death penalty for murder was formally abolished in Britain.

1968, In Nauru, no executions since independence in 1968.

2/1967, In Australia, Ronald Ryan became the last person to be hanged, for murdering a prison guard when he escaped from prison in December 1965.

1966, The Dominican Republic abolished the death penalty.

9/11/1965. The Act legally abolishing capital punishment in the UK came into force. This Act was largely due to the efforts of Sidney Silverman MP.

1964, Executions ceased in Bhutan.

21/12/1964. The UK Commons voted to end capital punishment.

13/8/1964. The last hangings in Britain took place – the murderers Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool, and John Robson Walby at Strangeways Prison, Manchester.

1962, Monaco abolished the death penalty. In Western Samoa, no executions since independence in 1962. Israel last used the death penalty, when it executed Adolf Eichmann.

12/10/1961. New Zealand voted to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1959, In Sri Lanka (then, Ceylon), a Commission on Capital Punishment recommended its abolition for an experminental period, see 1976.

1957, Executions ceased in Brunei.

1956, Honduras abolished the death penalty.

16/2/1956. The British Parliament voted to end the death penalty.

13/7/1955. Nightclub hostess Ruth Ellis became the last woman hanged, at Holloway Prison in Britain, for the murder of her lover David Blakely, following her conviction on 21/6/1955. However there was public sympathy for her; she claimed someone else put the gun in her hand; and her case was influential in bringing about the abolition of the death penalty in the UK.

12/7/1955, The last hanging at Lincoln Prison. Kenneth Roberts, 24, was executed for the murder of 18-year-old Mary Georgina Roberts in Scunthorpe.

10/2/1955, The House of Commons voted by a majority of 31 to retain the death penalty.

1954, Israel abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

23/9/1953, The Royal Commission on capital punishment said it should be left to the jury as to whether to impose the death penalty.

1/7/1953. MPs rejected a Bill to suspend the death penalty for 5 years.

1952, Executions ceased in the Maldives.

1950, Austria abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1949, West Germany abolished the death penalty.

1949, Finland abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime. Last execution was in 1824.

20/1/1949, Attlee set up a Royal Commission on capital punishment.

12/1/1949. In Britain, Margaret Allen was hanged, the first woman hanged for 12 years.

1947, Italy abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1947, The Soviet Union abolished the death penalty for ordinary peacetime offences but restored it in 1950.

1945, Nepal abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime. See 1985.

1942, Switzerland abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime. See 1874.

15/8/1941, Josef Jakobs became the last person to be executed at the Tower of London. A German spy, he had parachuted into Huntingdonshire with a radio transmitter; however he injured his leg in the fall and was captured by the Home Guard. He was tried and shot the same day, in a chair.

17/6/1939. The last public execution in France. The German multiple-murderer, Eugen Wiedman, was publicly guillotined outside Versailles gaol, near Paris. See 25/4/1739 and 10/9/1977.

8/5/1933, The first execution by gas chamber in the US, in Nevada.

15/12/1930, A UK Commons Select Committee recommended ending the death penalty.

1928, Iceland abolished the death penalty.

1921, Argentina abolished the death penalty, but later restored it.

8/5/1921. Sweden abolished capital punishment for ordinary crimes during peacetime. In 1901 a Bill to aboloish capital punishment had been rejected by the Swedish Parliament.

1920, The Soviet Union suspended the death penalty, but restored it in 1921.

1918, Austria abolished the death penalty.

1917, The Soviet Union suspended the death penalty, but restored it in 1918.

24/3/1911. Denmark abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1910, Colombia abolished the death penalty.

11/1/1909. Four murderers were publicly guillotined in northern France.

1907, Uruguay abolished the death penalty.

1906, Ecuador abolished the death penalty.

1905, Norway abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime. No executions since 1876.

25/1/1902, Russia abolished the death penalty.

1882, Brazil abolished the death penalty, but restored it under a military government in 1969.

1877, Costa Rica abolished the death penalty.

1874, Switzerland abolished capital punishment, although individual cantons retained the right to restore it if the murder rate rose. See 1942.

1870, The Netherlands abolished capital punishment for ordinary crimes during peacetime. No executions since 1860.

26/5/1868, The last public execution in Britain took place outside Newgate Prison. Michael Barrett, the hanged man, had murdered 12 people with a bomb.

21/4/1868, In the UK, a Bill to abolish capital punishment, introduced by Mr Gilpin MP, was defeated by 127 votes to 23.

1867, Portugal abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes during peacetime.

1865, San Marino abolished the death penalty.

1864, Romania abolished capital punishment.

1863, Venezuela abolished the death penalty. Last execution in Belgium.

27/8/1861, Martin Doyle became the last person to be hanged in Britain for attempted murder.

1832, In Britain, house-breaking, sheep-stealing and forgery ceased to be capital offences.

16/12/1830, The last ‘hanging at execution dock’ in Britain. This punishment involved hanging of pirates, such as William Kidd in 1701; the convict was then left at low water mark and immersed three times by the tide before being buried.

31/12/1829, Thomas Maynard became the last person in England to be hanged for forgery.

21/1/1790, In Paris, Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin demonstrated to the National Assembly of Paris a new machine for ‘humane’ executions using a heavy blade falling on the victim’s neck. This method of execution was used in France from 1792

1789, Tuscany abolished capital punishment.

18/3/1789, Catherine (Christian) Murphy (Bowman) became the last person in Britain to be executed by burning at the stake (see 5/5/1790). She had been convicted of ‘coining’ (forgery), which was punished severely as a form of treason.

1787, Austria abolished capital punishment. However it was restored in 1795 for High Treason and extended to some other crimes in 1803.

9/12/1783, The first executions at London’s Newgate Prison.

7/11/1783. The last hanging was held at Tyburn, west London. John Austin, convicted of forgery, was executed.  An estimated 50,000 had been executed at Tyburn.

24/8/1782, David Tyrie, having been found guilty of spying for the French, became the last person in Britain to be executed by hanging, drawing and quartering, at Portsmouth.

1778, The first execution by hanging in the newly-independent USA, of Bathsheba Spooner.

1765, According to William Blackstone, renowned legal writer, there were 160 offences carrying the death penalty under English Law.

5/5/1760. The first hanging by hangman’s drop at Tyburn, London. Earl Ferrers was executed for murdering his valet.

1750, Russia abolished capital punihshment, under Empress Elizabeth. However it was later restored.

28/7/1716, The last hangings for witchcraft in England; Mary Hicks and her 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth were executed at Huntingdon. The last hanging for witchcraft in Scotland was of Janet Horne, in Dornoch in 1727.

1708, The last recorded hanging, in Britain, of children; a 7 year old and his 11 year of sister were hanged at Kings Lynn. Common Law then presumed children just as capable of criminal intent as adults; in 1629, for example, an 8-year old boy was hanged at Windsor for burning two barns.

14/5/1650, The UK Parliament voted in favour of the death penalty for adultery but this was never implemented.

1307, In Dublin, a device for beheading people was mentioned.


Appendix 3 – abolition of other punishments

1955, In Britain, Ruth Ellis became the last woman t be executed.

1924, First use of the gas chamber in the USA for execution.

1899, In the USA, Martha Place became the first woman to be executed hy electric chair.

1890, First use of the electric chair for execution in the USA. William Kemmler was executed.

1881, Flogging in the British Army was abolished (although caning in military prisons was still permitted).

1879, The British Royal Navy abolished the ‘Cat’o’Nine Tails’ (a whip made of nine knotted ropes) as punishment. This form of penalty was first mentioned in around 1700.

11/6/1872, The stocks were last used as an official form of punishment in Britain.  Their last recorded use was at Adpar, west Wales. They had also been used in 1865 at Rugby, 1863 at Tavistock and 1858 at Colchester. Their introduction in England appears to have been around the late 14th century. The Second Statute of Labourers Act, 1350, made provision for their use on ‘unruly artificers’, and in 1376 the House of Commons asked King Edward II for the establishment of stocks in every village.

1871, Flogging in the British Navy in peacetime was suspended.

1870, In Britain, hanging drawing and quartering was abolished.

5/8/1861, Flogging in the US Navy in peacetime was abolished.

13/7/1860, The last naval execution at the yardarm took place, aboard the HMS Leven in the River Yantse   The victim was Private John Dallinger.

1853, Transportation of criminals from Britain to Tasmania ceased. 67,000 convicts had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land, which was now renamed Tasmania.

1840, Transportation of criminals from Britain to New South Wales ceased. Transportation to Tasmania continued until 1853, and to Western Australia until 1868.

30/6/1837. A British Act of Parliament abolished punishment by pillory. In France the pillory (carcan) was abolished in 1832, but in the US this punishment was on the statute books until 1839, and one pillory survived in Delaware unti1905.

25/7/1834, The British Parliament passed an Act formally abolishing ‘hanging in chains’. This was a practice once reserved for the most heinous murderers; after execution, their bodies were hung in chains in a gibbet near the scene of their crime. The purpose was two-fold; to deter similar crimes, and to comfort the relatives of the victim. The last recorded use of ‘hanging in chains’ was in Scotland in 1755, of a Mr Andrew Wilson, who had poisoned his wife.

24/6/1830, Peter Bossey became the last person to be sentenced to the pillory. He was sentenced at the Old Bailey to 6 months in prison, 1 hour in the Old Bailey’s pillory, and 7 year’s transportation to Australia.

1829, Branding with hot irons was abolished in Britain.

1827, Breaking on the wheel was abolished in Germany.

4/8/1826, The last set of stocks in London was taken down. They had been at St Clement Danes, in The Strand.

1824, The Scold’s Bridle was last used in Britain.

1817, The last sentence in Britain to the Ducking Stool. The water level in the pond was too low to immerse the victim anyway.

1809, The last recorded use of the Ducking Stool in England, at Leominster.

5/6/1790, Burning at the stake was officially abolished as a form of capital punishment in Britain; see 18/3/1789.

1789, Torture ceased to be part of the French juducial system.

1787, Transportation to Australia began, from Britain.

1772, The punishment of pressing to death with heavy weights was abolished as penalty for refusing to plead (or for challenging more than 20 jurors). In 1275 the Statute of Westminster laid down the punishment of ‘strong and hard’ imprisonment for a defendant who refused to plead either guilty or innocent; until they pleaded, they could not be tried. In 1406 the punishment of pressing to death was instituted instead. After 1772 ‘standing mute’ was deemed equivalent to a guilty plea, but in 1827 no pleas was considered as equivalent to pleading innocent. 1741, Cambridge Assizes, was the last actual usage of pressing to death.

1735, The last execution in Britain by being pressed to death took place in Horsham.

1726, The last recorded case of burning alive in England as a means of execution. A woman was  put to death this way for pety-treason (the act of murdering someone to whom one owes allegiance, in this case, her husband). Burning of women for similar cases of petty treason continued until ca. 1790 (one such woman was ‘executed’ this was at Ipswich in 1783; however the victim was strangled first.

1727, The last burning of a witch in Scotland took place, at Dornoch.

1685, The last execution by drowning in Scotland (the Wigtown martyrs). In England drowning as a means of execution had ceased by the 1620s; however in France the last such execution was in 1793 at Nantes.

5/1640, The last use of torture as part of the English judicial system.

1547, In England, the punishment of boiling alive was abolished.

28/3/1542, In England, Margaret Davy was boiled to death. This rare punishment was inflicted for her committing murder by poisoning.

1531, In Engtland, a law made boiling alive the punishment for poisoning.

1401, In England, a law made burning alive the punishment for heresy.

1215, The Catholic Church in Europe decreed that trial by ordeal at the Fourth Lateran Council (for example by ducking the suspect underwater and seeing if God preserved their life, if so they were innocent) was too superstitious. This decree led to the emergence of modern trial by jury.

337 AD, Crucifixition was abolished in the Roman Empire.


Appendix 6 – Prisons

15/2/2000, The US prison population passed the 2 million mark. The USA had 6 to 10 times the incarceration rate of other developed countries.

1993, The UK’s Prison Service was formed.

1991, Belmarsh Prison in S E London opened.

1989, Pelican Bay Prison, California, opened as the first US Supermax Prison. By 2005 the US had over 40 Supermax prisons, where inmates had a regime of 23 hours solitary confinement each day. One hour was allowed each day for yard exercise and cafeteria meals.

1983, The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that people cannot be imprisoned for failing to repay debts.

1972, Canada finally ceased sterilising convicts in prison.

1/8/1963, The minimum age for prison in the UK was raised to 17.

21/3/1963. Alcatraz, the notorious prison in San Francisco Bay, was closed. It had been a maximum-security prison since 1934.

1955, In the US, the closure of mental hospital institutions began. As overall State care for the mentally ill shrank, prisons took up much of the slack.

22/8/1953, The infamous French prison of Devils Island, depicted in the film Papillon, was closed after a century of operations.

1948, In British prisons, hard labour was abolished. The Criminal Justice Act set a model for all UK prisons.

1937, Nazi Germany had, by now, forcibly sterilised some 225,000 convicts in prison. An opinion poll in the US this year showed two-thirds of respondents supported this idea, and in the UK Churchill also privately supported the idea.

27/5/1936. The first open prison in Britain was opened at New Hall, near Wakefield, Yorkshire.

11/8/1934, The first batch of prisoners, classified ‘most dangerous’, arrived at the new Alcatraz high-security prison in San Francisco Bay.

1928, Alabama became the last US State to outlaw ‘convict leasing’.

1927, The first US Federal Women’s Prison opened in Alderson, West Virginia.

1908, In the UK, the Children Act abolished the practice of sending children aged under 14 to prison.

5/1/1908, Serious prisoner mutiny at Dartmoor Prison; several warders injured.

1902, (see also USA) Death of John Peter Atgeld (born 1847), who was a prison reformer ahead of his time. A German-born lawyer in Chicago, he was concerned about how the poor found it difficult to access justice. He was elected Governor of Illinois in 1892 and succeeded in passing laws regulating child labour and loosening the monopolies enjoyed by railways and tramways companies. He pardoned three anarchists imprisoned since 1886, and condemned President Cleveland for sending in troops to disrupt a railway strike. However he was then vilified by the press as a ‘Illinois Jacobin’ and was defeated when seeking re-election in 1896.

16/10/1902. The first Borstal institution opened, at the village of Borstal near Rochester, Kent.

1/4/1902, The treadmill was abolished in British prisons. It was invented by Sir W Cubitt around 1818. The UK’s Prison Act 1865 specified that every male prisoner aged over 16 sentenced to hard labour should spemd at least 3 months of his sentence on ‘first class labour’ – that is, the treadmill, crank, capstan or stone-breaking. The Prisons Act 1877 reduced this period to one month. A day of such labour consisted of two 3-hour sessions, with a 3 minute break between 15 minutes of work.

By 1895 British prisons had 39 treadmills and 29 cranks, a number reduced to 13 and 5 respectively in 1901, just before abolition.

1899, The US State of Indiana began forcibly sterilising convicts in prison. By 1941, 36,000 criminals had been sterilised.

1891, Wormwood Scrubs prison, London, opened.

11/1890, Millbank Prison, London, closed.

31/12/1881, Newgate Prison, London, closed.

3/11/1870. In Britain, the photographing of every prisoner was made compulsory. A photograph had been successfully used on a ‘wanted’ poster in 1861.

1866, In the USA the practice of ‘convict leasing’, hiring out usually Black male prisoners for private work, began.

1863, Broadmoor, asylum for the criminally insane, was built.

1857, Britain ceased  using ‘hulks’, old ships, as prisons.

1852, Holloway Prison, London,  opened. It was mixed-sex until 1903, when it became Britain’s first women-ony prison.

1849, Construction work on Wandsworth Prison began. Male prisoners were first admitted in 1851; female prisoners from 1852.

1845, Crumlin Road prison, Belfast, opened.

1842, Pentonville Prison, north London, opened (closed 1996).

1842, London’s Fleet Prison, once used to house prisoners committed there by the King’s Star Chamber, and later used to hold debtors, closed, it was demolished two years later.

1838, In the USA, Federal Law abolished debtor’s prisons, replacing them with bankruptcy law.

1829, In the USA, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia opened. It was the first ‘modern’ prison; solitary confinement was used, to give prisoners time for reflection and ‘penitence’. By 1890, major concerns were arising about the number of insane, suicidal, or catatonic prisoners resulting from prolonged solitary confinement.

1821, Millbank Prison, London, opened.

1820, Brixton Prison opened, as the Surrey House of Correction.

1817, Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, began her work.

1815, The UK Government started paying regular wages to jailers and began inspecting prison conditions.

1806, Construction of Dartmoor Prison began.

1791, In the UK, Jeremy Bentham designed the ‘perfect prison’ a star shaped ‘panopticon’ in which prisoners never knew if or when they were being watched from a central point.

1790, The New Bailey Prison, in Salford, Manchester, opened, It closed in 1868.

20/1/1790, John Howard, prison reformer, died.

21/5/1780. Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, was born in Norwich. She was the daughter of a Quaker banker, John Gurney.

1779, In the UK, the Penitentiary Act introduced the concept of rehabilitation to British prisons.

1778, UK prison reformer John Howard established the principle of separate confinement for prisoners combined with work.

1218, Newgate Prison, London, opened.

1166, In Britain, the Assize of Clarendon ordered jails to be constructed in all English counties and boroughs.

200 AD, The Palestinian town of Tiberias was the site of one of the oldest prisons outside the region of Rome.

250 BCE, One of the first Roman prisons was erected, at Tullianum.


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