Researching our secret criminal histories

Female convict Hannah Holliday taken after her conviction at the Old Bailey in 1883.
Female convict Hannah Holliday taken after her conviction at the Old Bailey in 1883.

Between 22nd and 26th February University of Liverpool historians, including Professor Barry Godfrey (Who Do You Think You Are?; BBC’s The One Show, ITV’s Secrets of the Prison, and Time Team) are coming to Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town to discuss the history of eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish convicts.

Aoife O’Connor from family history website, Findmypast, will also be on hand on Saturday 25th February (10am- 4pm) to provide members of the public with free one to one guidance on how to use online sources to trace family histories of criminal lives.

Looking forward to the event, Barry Godfrey commented: “It’s always good fun to talk about crime history with family and social historians, and I can’t think of a better place to do that than in the Scottish town of books!”

Taking place in The Open Book in Wigtown, talks will include Dr Lucy Williams (author of Wayward Women) on the fascinating life-story of Hannah Holiday, a female convict from Scotland (Wednesday 22nd February, 6pm).

Dr Williams said: “I’ll be giving a talk on Hannah’s life story, how any why she came to appear at the Old Bailey, and what happened next. Hannah is one of thousands of really interesting personal stories we are uncovering on the Digital Panopticon, and a great example of why the project, despite looking at convicts in the Old Bailey, isn’t just about Londoners. Hannah’s journey brought her all the way from Scotland, and when I read her defence in court was, ‘I can only say I don’t remember anything at all about it. I had been drinking all day long...’ I knew there would be a story worth telling.”

Professor Barry Godfrey and Emma Watkins (University of Liverpool) will talk about how to use criminal records to make family and social history on Thursday. Everyone from the beginner to the accomplished genealogist is welcome to attend this workshop. All talks are free and are open to the public. For more information see www.digitalpanopticon.org

The event is being held as part of ‘The Digital Panopticon’ project, a digital research network on criminals sentenced at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875.