Petitions for Pardon 1797-1858

George Moutard Woodward, "The deaf judge, or mutual misunderstanding" (1796). Collage, record number 18211. © London Metropolitan Archives.

The "Register of Petitions for Pardon 1797-1854", "Petitions for Pardon 1819-1858" and "Petitions for Pardon 1839-1854" record sets included on this site contain details of the petitions submitted by offenders and/or their families and friends to the Home Office between 1797 and 1854 for the reduction or revocation of their sentences.

Origins and Content

Offenders who had been convicted and sentenced by the courts were permitted (along with their families and friends) to petition the crown for the reduction or revocation of their sentence. Such petitions were usually sent directly to the Home Office, who acted on behalf of the crown, or otherwise the trial judge, the king or the Privy Council. In other instances, petitions were passed up through the social hierarchy (for example from the offender’s employer to the local Sheriff and then on to their Member of Parliament etc.), meaning that some petitions might include several covering letters and references by the time it reached the Home Office.

At this point, the Home Office usually, although not always, forwarded the petition and any supporting documents to the trial judge (or the Recorder of London, if it was a case from the capital), asking for a report and recommendation on the case. It most, but not all, instances, the Home Office followed the recommendation made by the judge.

The petitions can vary a great deal in length and format, from simple letters to more elaborate appeals. In many instances, they provide some of the richest detail available on the lives of tens of thousands of offenders. In putting forward the grounds for mercy, petitions often provide details of the offender’s life and circumstances at the time of the crime. Attached to some petitions are related papers and returns made by the governors of convict prisons of convicts recommended for early release for good behaviour.

Petitions for Pardon 1819-1858

"Petitions for Pardon 1819-1858" are the pardoning petitions filed in HO 17 at The National Archives, covering the years 1819-1858.

Petitions for Pardon 1839-1854

"Petitions for Pardon 1839-1854" are the pardoning petitions filed in HO 18, covering the years 1839-1854.

Register of Petitions for Pardon 1797-1854

"Register of Petitions for Pardon 1797-1854", meanwhile, relates to HO 19, a register of the pardoning petitions contained in HO 17 and HO 18.

The "Petitions for Pardon 1819-1858" and "Petitions for Pardon 1839-1854" records together list some 37,000 pardoning petitions that were lodged with the Home Office between 1819 and 1854, whilst the "Register of Petitions for Pardon 1797-1854" records contains information relating to around 77,000 convicts.

Pardoning petition for Abraham Isaac[s] (1821). The National Archives, reference number HO 17/49. © The National Archives.

Relationship to Other Sources

The pardoning petitions were compiled following the trial, conviction and sentencing of offenders, as part of the pardoning process. They include many cases tried at the Old Bailey, and should therefore link to several other sets of records included in this website that detail such trials and other aspects of the pardoning system.

Virtually all of those who are listed in the "Petitions for Pardon 1819-1858", "Petitions for Pardon 1839-1854" and "Register of Petitions for Pardon 1797-1854" records as having been tried at the Old Bailey will be found in the Old Bailey Proceedings 1740-1913 and in the England and Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892.

Many of those who petitioned the Home Office for mercy were subsequently the subject of a judge's report, and correspondence relating to the pardoning process in such cases might also be found in the Home Office Criminal Entry Books 1782-1876.

For those who petitioned for mercy following a death sentence at the Old Bailey, they will be found in the records of Capital Convictions at the Old Bailey 1760-1837.

Many of those who petitioned for mercy in the shadow of the gallows were pardoned on condition of transportation or imprisonment. In such cases, the offenders might be found in the records of transportation or the records of imprisonment.

Strengths and Limitations

The three record sets of pardoning petitions included on this site provide basic details of every pardoning petition contained within the HO 17, HO 18 and HO 19 files held at The National Archives. Each record gives at least a brief note of the name of the convict and the date of the record. In many instances the offence, sentence and place of trial are also given. As such, the records often provide little additional information on the convicts beyond that found in other records on this site.

However, the records do in themselves indicate whether an Old Bailey convict (or someone on their behalf) subsequently petitioned the Home Office for mercy. And through the links provided, users can (via a Find My Past subscription) view images of the original petitions, which frequently contain a wealth of information on the convicts that is not available elsewhere.

Original Source and Digitisation

The original pardoning petitions can be found at The National Archives, Kew (London), under catalogue references HO 17, HO 18 and HO 19.

Databases of all the individuals listed in HO 17, HO 18 and HO 19, along with images of the original records, are available from Find My Past.

With the kind permission of Find My Past, those databases are reproduced in summary form on this website.

Further Information

Author Credits

This page was written by Richard Ward, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.