This a large and complex data set, containing information from a number of documents pertaining to a range of prisons. The specific registers for certain prisons formulate the major resources, but there are other relevant records, such as those drawn from the "Home Office Prison Records 1770-1951".
Until the nineteenth century, most prisons in England and Wales were administered locally and were not the responsibility of central government. They were used primarily for the correction of minor offenders and to hold suspects awaiting trial or punishment. Lists of prisoners may be found in many local records, but usually consist of little more than names and information about offence and sentence. In the nineteenth century, the use of imprisonment as a punishment expanded massively, and central government became much more involved in the ownership and administration of prisons, beginning with Millbank (1816), Parkhurst (1838), Pentonville (1842) and Portland (1848). Additionally, from the late eighteenth century, the state began to keep growing amounts of personal information about criminals, and so large numbers of prison registers began to be kept, which could include detailed biographical information and (later in the century) photographs, and help to trace the movements of prisoners between institutions. The wide range of records compiled, here, can be arranged under four distinct record sources:
This is a very large series of records, containing registers of prisoners and habitual criminals, photograph albums, minute books, visitors' books, order books, journals, assizes and quarter sessions calendars and other records relating to various prisons in England and Wales, to Gibraltar prison and to some ship prisons.
Registers of prisoners in Millbank, Parkhurst and Pentonville prisons. These registers give each prisoner's age, marital status and number of children, whether they can read or write, trade, when and where convicted, crime, sentence, where and whence received, previous offences, when removed and where. However, not all of this information has been transcribed.
Registers of prisoners in the county prisons of Aylesbury, Bath, Leeds, Leicester, Northampton, Nottingham, Preston, Reading, Somerset and Wakefield, where the government rented cells for the housing of overflow prisoners from the national prisons. The registers give each prisoner's age, marital status and number of children, whether they can read or write, trade, when and where convicted, crime, sentence, where and whence received, previous offences, when removed and where. However, not all of this information has been transcribed.
Registers of male and female prisoners in Millbank prison. The registers give each prisoner's name, age, birthplace, occupation, marital status, physical details, state of health, character in prison, crime, sentence and discharge details.
Prisoners who were tried at the Old Bailey will appear in the Old Bailey Proceedings 1740-1913 and those tried at the Middlesex or Westminster Sessions may appear in the Middlesex House of Detention Calendars 1836-1889. Convicts sentenced to penal servitude can also be found in the UK Licences for the Parole of Convicts 1853-1925.
Prison registers provide two important types of information. Firstly, they document what happened to convicts following their conviction at the Old Bailey. Secondly, they can provide additional personal information. The amount of extra information may vary considerably, particularly in the diverse records within the "Home Office Prison Records 1770-1951" records.
Digital Panopticon does not however provide access to the full content of these records. Not all categories of information have been transcribed and licensing conditions restrict what we are able to display. To see the full content of these records, you either need to go to The National Archives, or to the Find My Past website as indicated below. While these resource providers have not transcribed all available information, they do provided digitised page images which can be consulted.
Millbank Prison Register 1816-1826: the original records are held at The National Archives PCOM 2/60. They can also be viewed online via Find My Past (subscription needed). The Digital Panopticon project has added more detailed transcriptions to the basic data provided by Find My Past.
This page was written by Sharon Howard, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.