So John and William found themselves in York Castle prison, charged with two counts of sheep theft. On 23rd of December 1843, the York Herald reported that they had pleaded guilty to both counts and William also admitted to having stolen a bay gelding from Robert Williamson the previous September.
Since 1742 theft of sheep and cattle had been a capital offence, but fortunately for the Richardson brothers by the 1840s capital punishment was reserved for only the most serious crimes of treason and murder.
At the York Winter Assizes, on 30th of December 1843, both brothers were sentenced to transportation for ten years. The Herald noted that William was very distressed by this; and who could blame him? It must have been a terrifying prospect.
At the end of January, William and John were taken to Millbank Prison, on the banks of the Thames in London, to await transportation.
Millbank Prison was the largest of the London prisons, and was frequently used as a ‘holding pen’ for those awaiting transportation. Henry Mayhew, the social researcher, visited the prison in 1856 , and later published a vivid description of it:
Ahead is Vauxhall bridge, with its open iron work at the sides of the arches, and at its foot, at the back of the dismal Horseferry Road, lies the Milbank prison.
This immense yellow-brown mass of brick-work is surrounded by a low wall of the same material, above which is seen a multitude of small squarish windows, and a series of diminutive roofs of slate, like low retreating foreheads. There is a systematic irregularity about the in-and-out aspect of the building, which gives it the appearance of a gigantic puzzle; and altogether the Millbank prison may be said to be one of the most successful realizations, on a large scale, of the ugly in architecture, being an ungainly combination of the mad-house with the fortress style of building, for it has a series of martello-like towers, one at each of its many angles, and was originally surrounded by a moat, whilst its long lines of embrasure-like windows are barred, after the fashion of Bedlam and St. Luke’s.
At night the prison is nothing but a dark, shapeless structure, the hugeness of which is made more apparent by the bright yellow specks which shine from the casements. The Thames then rolls by like a flood of ink, spangled with the reflections from the lights of Vauxhall bridge, and the deep red lamps from those of the Millbank pier, which dart downwards into the stream, like the luminous trails of a rocket reversed.
Mayhew was given a tour of the prison and the procedure for admitting new prisoners was explained to him. this must be fairly close to what William and John were faced with when they arrived:
The governor, on learning the object of our visit, directed one of the principal warders to conduct us through the several wards, and explain to us the various details of the prison.
“Millbank,” he said, in answer to a question we put to him, “is the receptacle for all the convicts of England, Wales, and Scotland, but not for those of Ireland, which has a convict establishment of its own.”
Males and females of all ages are received here, the prison being the depot for “convicts” of every description. When a man is convicted, and sentenced either to transportation or penal servitude, he remains in the prison in which he was confined previous to his trial, until such time as the order of the Secretary of State is forwarded for his removal; and he is then transferred to us, his “caption papers” (in which are stated the nature of his offence, the date of his conviction, and the length of his sentence) being sent with him. From this prison he is, after a time, removed to some “probationary” prison (to undergo a certain term of separate confinement) such as that at Pentonville, or to some such establishment in the country; and thence he goes to the public works either at Portland, Portsmouth, or the Hulks, or else he is transported to Gibraltar, Bermuda, or Western Australia, where he remains till the completion of his sentence.
On the arrival of the prisoners at Millbank, the governor informed us, they are examined by the surgeon, when, if pronounced free from contagious disease, they are placed in the reception ward, and afterwards distributed throughout the prison according to circumstances, having been previously bathed and examined, naked, as at Pentonville.
“If a prisoner be ordered to be placed in association on medical grounds,” added the governor, “the order is entered in the book in red ink, otherwise he is located in one of the various pentagons for six months, to undergo confinement in separate cell.”
On entering his cell, each prisoner’s hair is cut, and the rules of the prison are read over to him, the latter process being repeated every week, and the hair cut as often as required.
This must have been daunting to the brothers who probably hadn’t been out of Yorkshire before, but more was to follow….
Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, December 23, 1843; pg. 6; Issue 3717. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, January 06, 1844; pg. 3; Issue 3719. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, February 03, 1844; pg. 6; Issue 3723. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
THE CRIMINAL PRISONS OF LONDON AND SCENES OF LONDON LIFE BY HENRY MAYHEW and JOHN BINNY
Griffin, Bohn and Co. London 1862 The Victorian Dictionary
© Caroline Cox and Caroline’s Chronicles. 2011 – current year