Tag Archives: presentations

Crime and the Courts in Three Dimensions: Workshop Presentations

The workshop was immensely enjoyable and stimulating and we’d like to thank all the speakers and attendants for making it so. We hope to bring a fuller workshop report in the near future, but in the meantime the workshop presenters have made the slides of their presentations available for those interested to download. (The Mulcahy/Rowden slides are not yet available but will be added if we get them.)

Valeria Vitale, An Ontology for 3D Visualization in Cultural Heritage

The use of 3D computer graphics and modelling techniques in the study of the ancient world has been mainly limited to the display of traditional research. Often, their value has been assessed merely on aesthetic quality. Behind every scholarly 3D visualisation is a thorough study of excavation records, iconographic documentation, literary sources, artistic canons. However, this research is not always detectable in the final outcome, and 3D visualisations do not seem able to meet the standards of scientific method (reproducibility) and academic publishing (references and peer-review)…

Tim Hitchcock, Re-imagining the Voice of the Defendant at the Old Bailey

When the sessions house at the Old Bailey was rebuilt in the 1770s, a traditional open courtroom was transformed in to a fully enclosed space, with a new and complex internal layout. The relative positions of the judge, jury, defendants and witnesses where substantially reconfigured. This presentation represents a preliminary attempt to capture the significance of that transition in sound: to explore how the different actors in the legal drama of a trial heard, both their own voice, and that of other participants…

Nick Webb, Analysing historic works of architecture using digital techniques

This presentation will discuss the use of digital techniques to analyse significant works of architecture, whether they exist, are destroyed or are not built at all. A methodology is introduced for future research employing digital tools in this context. Examples will show how the process augments research already undertaken by architectural historians, who provide traditional critique and analysis, by testing such studies further using a range of contemporary digital techniques…

What’s in a Name?: Details and Data Linkage

A year in to the Digital Panopticon project we have begun record linkage with some of our key sources relating to Transportation. With several innovative iterations of initial linkage completed, thanks to Jamie McLaughlin, we have been able to trace more than three quarters of those sent for transportation from the Old Bailey, linking them to their voyage details in the British Transportation Registers. For some, we have also been able to link onwards to the Convict Indents compiled for them on board convict ships and once they arrived in Australia. This iterative process has taught us much about the nature of our different record sets, and about the complex job of connecting them together.

One of the biggest challenges in the linking process has been differentiating between the multiple cases of identical names and trials in the Old Bailey. However, with a schedule of record linkage due to connect not just our transportation datasets, but also imprisonment data and eventually civil data, such as the census and birth marriage and death information, in the coming months, the certainty of what to link and how becomes increasingly difficult.

When confronted with a sea of names, and no consistency in the recording of other contextual information between our diverse datasets, how are we to make the right choices and make sure that the correct history is connected to the right offender?

Between 1780, and 1900 there was only one Mary Ann Dring convicted at the Old Bailey she was sentenced to five years penal servitude in 1865 for feloniously uttering counterfeit coin. She had appeared in the old Bailey once previously in 1863 as a witness in the coining trial of another Woman, and twenty years later in 1885 might well have acted as a witness in a manslaughter case.

From a linkage perspective we are fortunate. In all of our criminal datasets there should only be one Old Bailey Mary Ann Dring. Indeed, this is very lucky because owing to just two lines of text for her own trial, the information we start off with in order to trace her is minimal:

Name: Mary Ann Dring

Approximate year of birth: 1817

Location: London.

Step one, is to link to the next big dataset for those who stayed in England to be imprisoned. In this case that is the PCOM 4 female licences for parole. By searching with the available information from Mary Ann Dring we took from the Old Bailey data, there is no problem in locating her licence. Those familiar with the licences will know that these documents give us the opportunity to, collect a vast amount more information on her. Confident that the right link has been made we can collect some key contextual detail that will allow us to identify Mary Ann Dring in further datasets.

Licence fields

The future datasets we link to will not, of course, contain the majority of this information. So we must utilise a few key details that will help us link to new records. For civil data we could certainly use information such as the fact that Mary Ann Drink was recorded as married with two children in 1865. She worked as a Charwoman, and had been resident in London, under her married name, since at least 1863 when she had her first conviction.

In the nearest census to Mary Ann’s Old Bailey conviction in 1865 (1861) there are 183 returns for a Mary Ann Dring born on or around 1817. If we make the not unreasonable assumption that our Mary Ann Dring was living in London for the five years prior to her Old Bailey appearance, we can rather luckily reduce that to four viable matches.  To most academic researchers or family historians, this is a small and manageable selection of information in which to choose.

MAD census entries

Yet even though we know she was married with two children, we are faced with four married women, two with two children, two with three, all living in London (and none with any occupation listed which is not unusual for a census entry with a male head of household). Given the parameters of most automated systems that might be required to make such a match, any of these census entries could be considered a valid match. Manually, it is possible for an individual researcher to reduce the choices to two viable matches. They are, from a linkage point of view, almost indistinguishable. The dates of birth for the two most likely candidates fall one year either side of 1817. Both are married, both have two children. Both are residents of London. Both have identical names.

In the 1871 census, six years from Mary Ann’s conviction and four years after her release from Prison, there are no records that would directly match to either of the entries for the 1861 census. Instead there is a choice of five women who all fall within five years of the original Mary Ann Dring’s birth year, but have notable differences in their personal information. Furthermore, depending on which links are made to census data, and what extra contextual information is added to May Ann’s case, there is the potential for relevant death records from London and the surrounding counties, spanning a fifteen year period.

The choices we would be faced with if we just looked for Mary Dring, without the middle name Ann would be several times the volume. If we looked for a Mary Smith with the same level of contextual detail we could well be faced with exploring hundreds of potential matches with no way to choose between them.

Each individual record linked to a convict has ramifications for future links. On the micro level this is the dilemma faced by every genealogist or family historian. The difficult decisions that have to be made in matching records to individuals. However, the Digital Panopticon’s task of linking almost 90,000 convicts across multiple datasets is not a micro history, nor a task that can be managed manually. The design of an automated system that can navigate and discern between multiple similar (or even identical) entries in a given dataset is essential. Or perhaps it is a question of ranking and displaying the multiple possible links in case of conflict?

It would seem that our challenge now is that of developing a suitably complex data linkage system, that can simultaneously maintain a high rate of matches that we can be confident in, and one that at the same time allow us to incorporate possible, contradictory, and conflicting data. Those with common names will no doubt prove our greatest challenge, but even someone as seemingly unique as Mary Ann Dring poses challenges about how we match, what we match, what we keep, and how to store and rank conflicting information across such a wide variety of datasets.


Bound for Botany Bay? Old Bailey penal sentences and their implementation

The opportunity to connect each Old Bailey convict from their trial, to the ship they sailed on, to the records of their lives in Australia is only one of the benefits of the huge data -linkage efforts currently being undertaken by the Digital Panopticon. However, as this process develops we are presented with a second opportunity – to see where data is missing, and to follow those who seem to disappear between datasets. So far, this has been most apparent in the case of those sentenced to transportation but who are absent from records of convict vessels, or convict arrivals.

Leading historians of transportation, such as Digital Panopticon partner Deborah Oxley have estimated that anywhere between one quarter and two thirds of those sentenced to transportation were never actually sent to Australia. Initial investigations indicate that between1782-1800 3,801 men, women, and children, were sentenced to transportation at the Old Bailey. Yet just over two-thirds of these convicts (2468) do not appear in the next relevant data set – the British Transportation Registers.

It seems clear that the road from arrest to Australia was rarely so straight forward as suggested by many contemporary and later popular accounts. Testimonies given by the officials who ran the transportation system tell us that it was predominantly those below the age of 50 years (45 years for women), and those convicted of the most severe crimes that were selected for transportation.  Historians have also provided evidence to suggest that it was not only the young, but also the practically skilled that were preferred for transportation to Australia. Yet the disparity between sentencing and implementation of transportation suggests that, at present, histories focussing on those transported tell only half of the story. For a fuller picture of how this penal process worked we now have the chance to start tracing those that were left behind.

Preliminary findings suggest that the missing convicts can be traced to three main groups.

The first group of convicts did not even make it to the secondary phase of transportation – that is detainment on the hulks or in holding prisons. Instead their ill health saw them detained in Newgate hospital ward until eventual death a few weeks or a few months after their trial. In the cramped and insanitary conditions of Newgate Gaol, fever was rife and infection spread quickly. Most of those who died were only recorded as having very generalised ailments. Coroners would regularly record a death with little detail, listing simply fever, decline, despondency or ‘natural causes.’

Inside Newgate Gaol

There are of course some exceptions that give us a little more detail. For example, forty-year old Thomas Kennedy was tried at the Old Bailey on 12 July 1797 for the theft of a silver watch. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. He died in Newgate in April 1799.

Most of those who died in these vague circumstances were the elderly, at least in transportation terms.  These generic fevers, fits, and decline listed as causes of death for those in Newgate could be a myriad of infections that could be found in any of the densely populated areas of London. Sickness such as typhus, typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia, and tuberculosis spread quickly and fatally in the confines of the gaol. Those without strong immunity – especially the elderly or very young were especially at risk.

There were also other convicts who died in gaol as the result of pre-existing illness such as venereal disease, heart problems, and jaundice. Robert Fosgate was sentenced to seven years transportation in October 1787 for the theft of a large amount of clothing. After a year waiting in the gaol suffering from venereal disease, he died of its effects in November 1788. Similarly Peter Rock whilst awaiting transportation in Newgate but three months after of trial he succumbed to the effects of jaundice, and dropsy – a common symptom of heart failure.

A second group of missing prisoners were delivered on board the floating prison ships, the hulks. Some died after accidents on board the ships, others drowned after falling overboard or during escape attempts. Both occurrences could be common upon such vessels. Other men could have remained on the hulk either until the expiration of their sentence – the collection of new data regarding the hulks will allow us to more fully understand why this might have been – or some would have died from illness or infection in the hulks which were described as ‘the most brutalizing, the most demoralizing, and the most horrible’ of British penal history, and where the death rate was estimated to be twice as high as that of the English population in general. [1]

Inside Hulk

The third and final group that our initial linkage has shed light on are those who received pardons. At present our understanding of this process is limited. For women, pardons were complete, dissolving the woman’s conviction and setting her at liberty. However a pardon could come a substantial time into the sentence. Those awaiting transportation could wait years before their sentence was commuted or their crime pardoned. Hannah Findall was sentenced to seven years’ transportation in 1793.   It was not, however until September 1797 that she was pardoned. For male convicts, a partial pardon was more common than a full one. There could be several conditions attached to such freedom. Commonly this might be service in the army or on the high seas. On the level of individual cases it is impossible to say with any certainty what the criteria for pardons or commutation might have been. However, when the data linkage process is more complete, it will be possible to analyse these convicts in aggregate, and view the commonalities in their ages, crimes, sentences, and skills.

Making it from the courtroom to Australia, then, was not just about being young and healthy. It seems to have actually been about not already being sick, vulnerable to illness via age or an existing condition, and perhaps about not being useful to the state for something else. As the work of the Digital Panopticon continues, there will doubtlessly be other disposals we discover which will again change how we think of the transportation process. As the data-linkage on these records progresses we are hoping to produce more accurate proportions of sentence implementation – or failure – and will be able to visualise whether this changed over the convict period. We have the opportunity to gain some new perspectives on transportation that don’t just note numbers of those not eligible for transportation, but also give more of an idea about who they were and what fate awaited them.


[1] T. Forbes ‘Coroners’ Inquisitions on the deaths of Prisoners in the Hulks at Portsmouth England in 1817-1827’ in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (1978), 33, 3, p.358. See also B. Webb and S. Webb,  English Prison’s Under Local Government (Longmans,Green, and CO.: London), pp. 45-46.


Visualising Life-Grids and Narrating the Lives of Convicts

One of the great opportunities presented by the Digital Panopticon project (and one of the most exciting in my opinion) is in uncovering more about the processes of crime and punishment by placing thousands of offenders, and their offences, back within the context of their own lives.

Tracing offenders through the records has been a preoccupation of several groups of historians and criminologists (for example Barry Godfrey, Heather Shore, Pam Cox, David Cox, Helen Johnston, Zoe Alker, Joanne Turner, and Stephen Farrall) in the last decade. On account of the laborious nature of record linkage those studies which have focussed on tracing groups offenders through civil as well as criminal datasets have been able to examine a few hundred offenders at a time. Those pioneering this methodology have taken the collected information and sorted it into ‘lifegrids’ which chart life events and changes for each individual. Lifegrids might typically include details of birth marriage and death, family evolution, employment and residential addresses, and offending and punishment history. Of course, the depth and breadth of documents and information available on different groups of, or individual offenders, dictates how much material can be recorded in each life grid.

Other than life-grid format, there are a number of ways that this information can be presented and communicated. Even the simplest visualisations are able to show the role that offending had in any one person’s life. This might be through indicating what proportion of an individual’s life was spent in custody, or how many offences were recorded against them at what stage of their life. It is possible to chart how someone’s offending accelerated and decelerated. From an institutional perspective it is possible to indicate how an individual’s weight and health changed over time, or how their behaviour and privileges impacted upon their experience of punishment. The myriad of ways in which this fascinating and complex data can be presented has some exciting potential for how others see, interrogate, and engage with this fantastically rich data.

To begin to explore these possibilities, we have been working with an example offender: Patrick Madden (one of a number of offenders included in Johnston, Godfrey and Cox’s ESRC funded research on ‘The costs of imprisonment’).

P Madden

Born and raised in Sheffield, Patrick began offending around the age of sixteen. Although often motivated by property, Patrick’s offences were primarily violent in nature. Madden had 15 offences recorded against him over an almost thirty year period. Each of these was committed either in Sheffield or other close-by northern towns such as Wakefield and Doncaster. It was in these locations that he was incarcerated, accept for one occasion of penal servitude when he served seven years of penal servitude in London, and the south of England. It does not appear as if Patrick ever married or had children, nor that he managed to establish a life for himself that did not involve repeat offending for long before dying at the age of 52.


Patrick Maddens lifegrid, of course, contains much more information than this brief overview might suggest. Patrick’s civil and penal records allow us to know about many elements of Patrick’s life right down to his familial relationships and sexual preferences. However, even if we take the most ‘bare bones’ approach to Patrick’s life narrative, it is possible to start creating some interesting visualisations based on his experiences and offending history.

DataHero Patrick Madden years of imprisonment in life course (1) DataHero Patrick Madden type of offending over life course


DataHero Weight over period of imprisonment line DataHero Penal class over time of imprisonment


Yet the size and scale of the research being undertaken by the Digital Panopticon means that we are faced not just with presenting Patrick Madden’s life, but instead the lives of all of the ‘Patricks’ that went through the old bailey between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. This poses two distinct challenges which we will face in presenting the mass of information traditionally held in lifegrids.  First is that the range of records being linked together for each offender is unprecedented. Some records are well known to our researchers and relatively straightforward to visualise, such as criminal registers that allow us to examine date, place and type of offence. Others such as the changing picture of family life that might evolve from three successive census entries, or the seemingly random personal or professional information that can be carried in a newspaper report, are far more difficult to quantify and visualise. This first problem will become clearer and hopefully less significant as more records are collected and linked. It should be fairly straightforward to identify the information which can be presented easily, and to adapt that which cannot. The second challenges we must meet is that of potentially presenting to other researchers and the public tens of thousands of individual life and offending histories. What we need to work on is finding a way of presenting a range of different information about our offenders both individually and in aggregate so that it is possible for users to access information about an individual they are interested in, but also to see how such an individual compares and contrasts with others in the study – something which enables researchers to identify how typical an individual’s experience was.

BG offered some initial ideas of how we might best achieve this when we met in Oxford. By creating ‘strand’ visualisations which present a mass of offenders by a few ‘key values’ –  for example the year of their first recorded offence, nature of offence, or length of offending career – and then allowing users to further restrict what strands are shown to them by other values – for example sex and location- it would be possible to access information about a single individual, whilst getting a sense of how they match up to their contemporaries.

BG visualisation

We hope that this will prove an excellent starting point as we work to develop future visualisations and methods of presentation which will allow the Digital Panopticon team, fellow researchers, and members of the public to explore, understand, and get the most from the fantastic wealth of data at our fingertips.


Transforming research (and the Panopticon)

This is a very quick report from the Transforming Research through Digital Scholarship event at the British Library. I really liked both the BL Labs competition winners – really fascinating ideas. (Read more about one of them, the Sample Generator for Digitised Texts, at the BL Digital blog – perhaps there’ll be more about the Mixing the Library project soon.) Andrew Prescott gave a characteristically entertaining and thoughtful keynote, and Bill Thompson rounded off the event brilliantly. James Baker of the BL has posted his notes on the whole event.

It was great to learn more about the two other Digital Transformations projects – so take a look for yourselves:

Fragmented Heritage “aims to revolutionize landscape, site, and artefact analyses by bringing new transformative digital recording methods and computed analysis to fields that are traditionally labour intensive”.

Transforming Musicology “seeks to explore how emerging technologies for working with music as sound and score can transform musicology, both as an academic discipline and as a practice outside the university”.

Finally, here are my slides with notes for the DP presentation.

Event: Transforming Research through Digital Scholarship (London, 11/11/13)

A showcase event for British Library Labs and AHRC Digital Transformations Projects

Monday 11th November 2013 11.45-16.00, The British Library, St Pancras, London (free, including lunch, but booking is required)

Audience: “Anyone who is interested in Digital Scholarship, research which involves the use of digital content, collections, data, particularly using digital methods for investigation.”

I’ll be attending and talking about what the Digital Panopticon project is about and what we’re hoping to achieve.

More information here. (The booking form is still open at the time of writing, although it mentions a deadline of 7 November…)