Around three in every four petty thefts of personal property recorded in the county of Middlesex in the first quarter of the 19th century were committed by people under 25 years old, the vast majority of whom were teenagers or younger boys.
This evidence is further supported by the findings of social investigators at work during the 19th century.
His sentence by this time was already considered exceptional.
Death sentences for girls and boys under 16 years of age were in practice usually commuted to transportation.
Journalist Henry Mayhew, for example, wrote extensively about the corrupting effects of poverty on the young.
In Mayhew described life in the capital’s ‘low-lodging houses’, where he found several young boys engaged in daily petty thefts, including one who recounted how he was regularly drunk at the age of 10.Similarly, Isaac ‘Ikey’ Solomon was a well-known receiver of stolen goods in the 1810s and 1820s who was arrested several times, and on one occasion escaped from custody.Solomon gained notoriety for being a trainer of young thieves and was for some time (incorrectly) considered to be the inspiration behind Dickens’s character of Fagin owing to his similar Jewish heritage.In reality, death sentences bestowed on children were almost always commuted to lesser sentences on the grounds of leniency.Of the 103 children aged 14 or under who were sentenced to death at the Old Bailey between 18, not one was executed.Typically, when two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old were convicted of a burglary in 1821, they were ‘recommended to mercy on account of their youth’: a phrase that was regularly recorded by the courts.The last execution of a juvenile in England was probably that of John ‘Any Bird’ Bell, at Maidstone in Kent in 1831: a 14-year-old who committed a cold blooded murder of a 12-year-old boy during a bungled robbery .The activities of so-called ‘lads-men’ were regularly reported.These were criminal bosses who supposedly trained young boys to steal and then later sold on the stolen goods they received from them.One report in 1817 described flash-houses as containing ‘distinct parties or gangs’ of young boys, while later in 1837 a police witness recalled how one lodging house in London had ‘20 boys and ten girls under the age of 16’ living together, most of whom were ‘encouraged in picking pockets’ by their ‘captain’.Evidence from the courts and newspaper articles during the first half of the 19th century suggests that juvenile crime was indeed a genuine problem.