10 Sep 2011

Part 3: A Child in prison!

One person, who was missing from the family of Sarah Swinfield, which was at Earl Shilton in 1841, was Jane. She had been baptised in 1829. Where was she?
1841 census of Millbank Prison
The census taken in June that year reveals that a girl of that name was in prison in London. A 13 year-old servant was languishing in the General Penitentiary. That was MillbankPrison. It had been opened in 1816 and was where all prisoners awaiting transportation were sent pending their passage to Australia. It stood on the site where Tate Britain is today. Why was she there?

No records survive for that penal establishment until a couple of years after that date. However the Leicestershire quarter sessions records show that she had been convicted there in January that year for “felony”. She was of “bad” character and was sentenced to seven years transportation. Her arrival in prison was dated 3rd February but there is a later annotation that she was given a free pardon on 31st July less than two months after the census was compiled.

The records of pardons are held at the National Archives. A series of letters relate to Jane Swinfield and her time at Millbank. The first, dated 21st January, details her imprisonment. Written from Belvoir Castle, Charles William Packe, Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, recommended that Jane, who he stated then just 11 years of age, would be best served by “reformation in a penitentiary”. Her offence was that she had stolen a purse containing three shillings, a gold ring and a pair of scissors from her mistress.      

Jane was received into Millbank on 27th May and was to spend what must have been a frightening seven weeks, for what was such a very young child, far away from her family.  

Eventually the attention of the prison visitor focussed on her plight. A letter of 20th July highlighted that she had “symptoms of unsound lungs” and they feared that, if she stayed there for the winter, she would be in great danger. She was freed less than two weeks later.

I still don't know what became of her as she did not return home to Leicestershire. She may be the person whose death was registered at Windsor in 1854 but I haven’t yet obtained a copy and I cannot find her in the 1851 census. The mystery remains as to her fate after her spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure.   


  1. Seven yrs Transportation seem like a harsh sentence for an 11 yr old. Usually the 7 yr mates did not return. Even though she got a pardon, hers is a still a sad story of the times.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. Packe was the local MP. Was Jane lucky to gain his support or was his intervention a regular occurence, especially given her tender years? It would be great to find out what happened to her. Any ideas?

  3. " Epiphany sessions: JANE SWINFIELD, 11, charged with stealing on the 30th of August last, Earl Shilton, gold ring, purse, pair of scissors, half-crown, and sixpence, the property of Charlotte Bugg.— Sentence deferred."

    Found in the newly available online newspapers at