It is an amazing online research resource for English trials for over two centuries:
The corpus includes 121 million words describing 197,000 trials over 239 years. According to researchers, it represents the largest existing body of transcribed trial evidence for historical crime; it is, they say, the most detailed recording of real speech in printed form anywhere in the world.
The article discussed how academics using computers to read the over 2,000,000 words had studied the transformation in England of how crime was treated between the mid-18th and mid-19th Centuries.
The article sets out in 1765 you could be hung for stealing “a watch and a hat” and you could be hung for murder.
Within a century picking a pocket would usually involve a fine.
How England approached crime had changed:
In the early 1700s, violence was considered routine. A trial about theft, Dr. DeDeo said, might include testimony “in which people gouge out each other’s eyes, are covered in blood and get killed.” But by the 1820s, the justice system was focused more on containing violence — a development reflected not just in language but also in the professionalization of the justice system. “The changes occurred under the radar,” said Dr. Hitchcock, the British historian.
What was most interesting to me was learning of the immense record of English criminal trials.
Multiple means of searching trials are possible.
Some trials were deemed inappropriate to report as in Oscar Wilde’s misguided decision to prosecute his lover’s father for criminal libel:
336. JOHN SHOLTO DOUGLAS, MARQUESS OF QUEENSBERRY , was indicted for unlawfully publishing a false, scandalous and malicious libel of and concerning Oscar Wilde. To this the defendant pleaded NOT GUILTY, and put in a plea of justification, stating the contents of the alleged libel to be true in substance and in fact, and that it was published for the public benefit.
SIR EDWARD CLARKE , Q.C., MESSRS. CHARLES MATHEWS and TRAVERS HUMPHREYS, Prosecuted; MESSRS. CARSON, Q.C., C. F. GILL and A. GILL, Defended.
The details of the case are unfit for publication.
At the close of the case for the prosecution, and whilst MR. CARSON was opening the defence, SIR EDWARD CLARKE interposed and stated that he had consulted with his client, and was prepared to accept a verdict of NOT GUILTY , which the JURY at once pronounced, adding that they considered that the publication was justified and for the public benefit.
If you want to read the transcripts from that trial they are available on line through the University of Missouri at Kansas City which has a website on the Trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895.
I have dipping into the Old Bailey Online to see how trials were recorded. I looked at murder trials for the same period of the year in 1675 and 1775 and 1875. My next post will provide my comments on the changing of how trials were reported during those 200 years and aspects of the trials.