I went to a talk recently titled Boys will be Boys about the treatment of juveniles during the 19th Century and how they were dealt with and was surprised at how harsh the punishment was during that period.
To the modern eye the treatment of juvenile criminals in the 19th century appears to be particularly savage. After 1800 children between the ages of seven and 14 were considered incapable of forming criminal intentions, but could nevertheless be found guilty where this was proven beyond doubt. In theory, children convicted of serious felonies therefore faced the full penalty of the law; namely sentences of imprisonment, transportation and death.
In reality, death sentences bestowed on children were almost always commuted to lesser sentences on the grounds of leniency. Death sentences for girls and boys under 16 years of age were in practice usually commuted to transportation.
Changes started to come about in the mid 1800’s in the UK, but the Isle of Man did not have the same systems in place as the UK and there was a need for changes to be implemented as crime amongst children was on the increase. Children were part of the changing world and if we look at the island during that time, Douglas town although had development and regeneration on the promenade facing the bay, the old town of Douglas was still full of lanes with small squalid houses, no sanitation and people living in conditions which were appalling.
Another point arising out of the rapid growth of Douglas was the increasing cost of the poor of the Island, and the growing inadequacy of the existing provisions for their relief. There had never been a Poor Law in the Island in the modern understanding of the term, and, since the absorption of the portion of the tithes anciently set aside for their maintenance, each parish voluntarily maintained its own poor, a proceeding rendered comparatively easy by the smallness of their number and their primitive habits
The Douglas Home Mission was started in December 1868, and was first instituted with a view of aiding the large number of destitute children, who were without parents, relatives or friends and needed help with regard to their food, clothing, lodging and education. The Home was first situated in James Street, Douglas but in May 1869 they moved to larger premises in Woodhouse Terrace on the South Quay, at this time they had 22 children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. By May 1870 they needed to move again and took Mountain View on Glencrutchery Road for an annual rent of £40.
For many years the Home was cared for by Mr. David Russell who was the Manager and Agent of the Home Mission which in 1871 was united with the Industrial Home. By this time there were 40 children in need of their care, 7 boys and 33 girls. When the children were brought to the Home, a form had to be signed by the parent or guardian agreeing to give up all claim to them and not to interfere with their upbringing in anyway.
Once in the Home the children had to work as well as have lessons, a tailor was employed once a week to teach the boys to mend their clothes, they also manufactured paper bags, hearth rugs and firelighters for sale. Over 16 acres of land were worked as a kitchen garden. Some of the boys worked as errand boys and as market porters on a Saturday night.
When they were old enough the boys would be apprenticed, they would then live in their Master’s house, who would feed, clothe and train them for their future occupation.
Many appeals were launched to help support the Home, churches, Sunday schools and many prominent citizens gave money and goods to keep the Home going. William Dalrymple was President for many years and he and his nephew Dalrymple Maitland and their families gave continuous support over many years.
In the early days of the establishment of the home under Mr David Russell, the courts were sending children to him to be rehabilitated but when the home came under new management, it was decided that they wanted to disassociate themselves with these children. What in today’s world would be re – branding of the home took place and this was to acquire new patrons. Under the management of David Russell there had been no need for a reformatory school, but the new management wanted change by not allowing any ‘young criminals’ who came through the courts to be sent to the home so that the patrons would give generously to the poor orphans. This resulted in the ‘court children’ needing to go to some sort of Reformatory school of which there were none on the island.
Reformatory schools were established for children who had been found guilty of a crime, conversely industrial schools were set up not for young criminals but for children who were destitute or who were thought, by dint of their circumstances or temperament, to be likely to commit a serious crime in the future. Eventually the difference between reformatories and industrial schools gradually disappeared until there was virtually no difference at all by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1933, both were renamed ‘approved schools’.
From the late 1880’s the home became associated with the Quarrier Homes of Scotland and sent many children to Canada via the scheme ran by these homes.
But for the poor children put through the courts, reform school was the only option left and they and there were none on the island. The children were sent across to ships or farms and served a period of five years in these establishments. The ships were moored in near the ports of Liverpool or Manchester, they taught the children seafaring skills as well as being a disciplinary establishment. Anyone who was not well or strong enough for the ships was sent to farms. Girls also had separate establishments. Not only were petty criminals put in these establishments, but parents also paid for their children who were showing signs of rebellion within their household to be sent to reform their behaviour.
We live in a world that has completely changed from those days, and the petty crimes today are not because of poverty but because of greed most of the time. Some of the children of that era were reformed and their lives changed, but the majority went back to a life of poverty and of crime again and would then have been punished according to the laws pertaining to adults. This article is not about the social injustice, but merely an observation that things have not changed much, as of all the juveniles that go into the system to be reformed, not all of them can change the course of their lives due to social circumstances.