The database presented here is based on the Register of Felons (Acc 4916) held by Carmarthenshire Archives. It is presented here with the kind permission of that body, whose generosity and support has been much appreciated. The form in which it appears here is the result of the sympathetic imagination and technical expertise of Nigel Callaghan of Technoleg Taliesin. The original transcription and creation of the database was undertaken by Claire Breay as the basis of a research project (funded by the Law Department, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, as it then was) undertaken by Richard W. Ireland. Details of the process and of some of the challenges it presented, and still presents, are discussed in the accompanying article “Hard Labour on a Hard Disk” which is reproduced at this site with the kind permission of the Editor of The Carmarthenshire Antiquary. The material contained within the Register formed part of the research which resulted in Ireland's “A Want of Order and Good Discipline” Rules Discretion and the Victorian Prison (University of Wales Press, 2007) and is complemented by the Gaoler's Journal which details the daily life of many of the prisoners recorded in the Register and which will appear shortly in an edition prepared by R.I. Ireland and R.W. Ireland for this Society.
The database which appears here is intended, primarily, to be easily usable by legal historians and others. As such it represents a compromise between an exact transcription of the text as it appears in the Register and a version so heavily edited that it would lose the essence of the original. So, for example, counties, or countries in particular cases, have been generally assigned to locations (with some exceptions such as “London” or “Birmingham”) where these do not always appear in the original. In some cases, where the record may present difficulties of identification, these additions are tentative only. Slight variations in the wording of the “state of instruction” field have been assimilated to allow for searches to reveal the underlying substance rather than a list of variant abbreviations. Similarly the “Miscellaneous” field has no counterpart in the original document (readers should look at the sample images provided to see the structure originally employed) but mostly contains editorial comments.
However retention of much of the original text does provide pitfalls for the unwary user. Care should be taken when searching for information which is recorded in “free text” by the Gaoler. Offence categories have, for example, generally not received an editorial gloss (this has been tried in a simple and infrequent instance: a search for “bestiality” will reveal the cases even if the offence is differently described in the “Offence”
Sample register entry - Ann Davies Click image for larger version
category, though the Gaoler's own words will also appear as they were written) . A search for “wounding” will not reveal “assault” or vice versa, a search for “arson” will not include the (more common) records for “setting fire to….” Nor a search for “theft” the common formula “stealing….”, a search for “rape” will not reveal “carnally knowing and abusing”. The reader interested in a statistical survey of, say, “crimes of violence” might be well advised to consider carefully in advance the types of offence for which to search, aided by a preliminary look through a collection of the records. It should also be noted that Governor Westlake in the earlier part of the Register routinely uses the term “Felony” in the “Offence” category, an unhelpful description which hides the detailed nature of the crime and may, accordingly, distort searches to reveal its frequently. It is hoped that in future it will be possible to present a easier practical means of integrating different offence descriptions.
Note too that information may be unreliable. Aliases, where revealed in the text, are searchable as are the initial name recorded (a search for “Hargrave” or for “Mackintosh” will both reveal Reference number 126). Place and personal names are also reproduced as recorded by the Governor, whose command of both geography, English, and (particularly) Welsh may be suspect! Variant spellings, of names and places, can cause trouble and a comprehensive drop-down lists of names are provided to help reveal these. A general caveat should be borne in mind throughout. This database reveals recorded information, not objective truth. It tells us what a prisoner called herself, not necessarily who she really was, where he said he was from, not necessarily where he really was, and what they was convicted for, not necessarily what they “really” did.
Not all entries, of course, contain photographs but these are reproduced where they exist.
Note that the “Reference Number” which is that assigned to the prisoner in the Register. More than one prisoner may be designated by the Governor in a single entry under the same Reference Number. They are distinguished as, eg, “174”, “174.1” here. It may perhaps also be pointed out that the Governor's numbering slips at one point, omitting part of the sequence in error as “266” is followed by “277”.
Finally it should be noted that, in a bilingual website, the information contained within the Register is recorded in, and reproduced in, English, the language of Victorian power and bureaucracy.
Should the reader wish to raise particular queries s/he may contact
Hard Labour on a Hard Disk - Carmarthen's Register of Felons on Computer - Richard W Ireland and Claire Breay, Carmarthenshire Antiquary Vol xxix, 1993