Academic journal article Journal of Social History

"My Pappa Is out, and My Mamma Is Asleep." Minors, Their Routine Activities, and Interpersonal Violence in an Early Modern Town, 1653-1781

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

"My Pappa Is out, and My Mamma Is Asleep." Minors, Their Routine Activities, and Interpersonal Violence in an Early Modern Town, 1653-1781

Article excerpt

On August 26, 1765, two girls, one 12 years of age, the other nine, looked out a window and saw a handsome young marine lieutenant by the name of William August Jenkins. Their names were Betsy and Ann Robertson, and with them were three maids: Ann, Sally, and Mary. What happened next was the source of much dispute and many intemperate words, as, indeed, was any episode in which the commissioner of the royal dockyard at Portsmouth was called on to discipline the junior officers who routinely descended on the town and terrorized its inhabitants. According to Jenkins, the older of the two girls invited him inside, saying, "Mr. Jenkins, my Pappa is out, and my Mamma is asleep, and if you will come in we can all have a game." (1) Jenkins readily acceded to the request, and for the next half hour "frisked about with Miss Robertson" and her maids. He denied, however, "having any design upon" Betsy Robertson, adding that he "considered her as a Child."

The girls' father, who was not informed of these events until the next morning, naturally took a much dimmer view of Lieutenant Jenkins' conduct. It was, he said, one of the maids who had invited Jenkins into the house, upon which "Mr. Jenkins then laid hold of Betsy and chased her through the hall & Kitchen into the Brewhouse, where he pulled her about and kissed her; but letting her go at the Rebuke of a Servant Ann, then in the Brewhouse, he followed Betsy into the Stall, & there acted the same behaviour again ..." Jenkins promptly exited upon being told that the mistress of the house was about to make an appearance, only to let himself back in through a window a few minutes later. He then resumed his pursuit of young Betsy, desisting only when it was clear that Mrs. Robertson had at long last roused herself.

It had been an episode worthy of Faydeau, with this one crucial exception: no one seems to have been amused. In the days that followed harsh words were exchanged between the girls' father and Jenkins, with the latter advising the former "that close confinement is the best Method he can think of for the preservation of his Daughters Chastity." It was in vain that the exasperated commissioner of the royal dockyard appealed to Jenkins' commanding officer, Colonel Hector Boisrond. Annoyed but by no means surprised, Boisrond dismissed the entire episode as one he could not "take any Cognizance of, any further than reproving [Jenkins] for the Indecency he has been guilty of, advising him to make the proper Apologies to Mr. Robertson and cautioning him against such behaviour for the future ..." Even this was too much for the young lieutenant, who instead of apologizing to the girls' father continued to taunt him, telling him on one occasion, "I think I have already made you a Man of more consequence than I ought to have done, by condescending to have any altercations with you upon so trifling a Subject."

Lieutenant William August Jenkins may not have been a gentleman, but he had at the very least grasped the essential principles of what has since come to be known as routine activities theory. Simplified, routine activities theory predicts that crimes are likeliest to occur when three conditions are present: a motivated offender; a suitable target, be it property or a person; and the absence of a capable guardian. (2) Jenkins was motivated; Betsy was a suitable and quite possibly a willing target; and, as the child herself is supposed to have said, "My Pappa is out, and my Mamma is asleep." That left Ann, Sally, and Mary, none of whom proved a capable guardian in the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson.

Obviously, the primary use of routine activities theory is to predict where and when particular types of crimes might occur. But the theory can also be turned on its head, which is to say that the incidence of crime can tell us something about what people routinely do, and who, if anyone, is there to look after them. This is especially true of crimes against children. …

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