My last blog focused on James Hawkins, a thief so determined not to be separated from his wife and family that he twice returned from the other side of the world and continued to evade his sentence for several years. While cataloguing the criminal petitions for mercy in HO 17 it is very hard not to feel sympathy for men like Hawkins, whose punishments appear so disproportionate to us now. However, as I try to remind myself, the petitions were written to elicit sympathy and there are two sides to every story.
One case which recently piqued my interest was that of George Sanglier, the master of Lambeth Workhouse. 1 Sanglier was convicted at the Central Criminal Court in November 1838 and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for embezzling money, the property of the guardians of the Lambeth Poor Law Union. The National Archives holds correspondence between Poor Law Unions, who were responsible for administering the Poor Law at a local level, and the central Poor Law Commission in record series MH 12. 2 Here was an opportunity to find out how Sanglierâ€™s side of the story in his petitions compared with what his prosecutors, the Guardians at Lambeth, reported to their superiors.
There are seven petitions on Sanglierâ€™s behalf and they provide a lengthy explanation of his dealings with Lambeth Poor Law Union. Sanglier was appointed as workhouse master early in 1838. The workhouse master was responsible for the running of the workhouse; his duties included managing its estate and accounts, overseeing male paupers and ensuring that sick or dying inmates were dealt with appropriately. The parish of St Maryâ€™s Lambeth was just coming under the operation of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and as master Sanglier faced numerous challenges, which he described in his petitions: