Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800

By Gwenda Morgan; Peter Rushton | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER SEVEN

Transportation

In the view of the most authoritative overview of transportation to America, the North produced relatively few transportees, less than a tenth of the total for England and Wales. A number of factors may have contributed to this. In part, because of the absence of subsidies for areas outside London and the Home Counties at the outset of the 1718 Act, its implementation in the remoter corners of the country was not promoted by the use of central government resources. 1 Consequently, local authorities may have been reluctant to undertake such expensive punishment unaided, although they had no choice about paying for those transported from the assizes. Also, local justices may have agreed with Henry Field-ing's view that transportation, possessing “such an appearance of extreme severity”, was an unsuitable penalty for petty thieves. 2 Nevertheless, transportation was promoted within the criminal law, as a direct punishment for theft and as an alternative to execution when the condemned were reprieved, and continued to feature in repeated legislative measures against vagabonds, for example in the 1744 Vagrancy Act. The 1718 Act, it has been said, represented as significant a development in English criminal justice as any later legislation on imprisonment: it arose from a period of unprecedented revision of the criminal law. In southern England its primary impact was in the decline in the convenient fictions of benefit of clergy, and instead of branding and discharging convicts the courts transported them. The preceding legislation of the later Stuarts had increased the severity of punishments for burglary and shoplifting, and had been directed particularly at servants and the young. The 1718 Act provided a means of allowing convictions for such offences with the possibility of

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