Court

The laws of England and Europe are crude version of our own modern-day laws. Many spheres of modern law, such as gun control laws, have yet to be instigated by 1867, and will not be so until the turn of the 20th century.

The law of Europe is directed toward property crime. There is a documented case where a costermonger who assaulted a police officer and almost murdered him with the savagery of the assault received a mere 6 weeks in jail. Conversely, a street urchin arrested for shoplifting an apple was sentenced to 1 year of jail.

Usual procedure once the purported felon is caught is as follows: (1) The felon is incarcerated at the arresting police station until the court date and has the right to send a message to whomever he wishes to represent his interests. (2) The felon is taken by police coach to the court. (3) The court case follows, resulting in the release or sentencing of the offender.

When at court the following points should be kept in mind:

  • An upper class offender will rarely have a public trial. He is unlikely to be put in prison and his indiscretion will be kept secret to avoid scandal.
  • A middle class offender will receive a trial, is allowed a lawyer if he has the means to hire one and will probably be sent to prison. Even if found innocent, peers would shun him.
  • A lower class offender will receive a trial, often without the chance to contact a lawyer. The court case would be conducted and the offender sent to prison, deported to Australia or hanged, as appropriate.
  • An Ogre could expect to be told that he is guilty and immediately to be sent to prison - guilty or not. Other races should be treated as for the class from which they originate.

The usual punishment for most offenses is either a fine or prison sentence; some crimes are considered punishable by either, but for extreme crimes the death sentence exists. In such a case the judge makes the decision. Prison is not a pleasant place; the Victorian philosophy for prisons is that they are a place of punishment rather than detention or rehabilitation. Nineteenth century prisons bear more resemblance to a filthy dungeon than to a modern prison, and each day inmates would be tortured on ghastly contraptions such as giant treadmills, weighted cranks and subjected to sand-papering (just what it sounds like). Disease is rampant in jail, and even if an inmate survives his sentence, he will probably have contracted something unpleasant. A final note on the prison is that there is no minimum age for prison confinement.

The number of crimes carrying the death sentence has waxed and waned over the last century. Before the American War of Independence, there were 50 crimes that held the death penalty, rising to 200 during the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the main crimes that lead to the death penalty are murder, treason, piracy, demonology, necromancy and setting fire to the royal dockyards. Crimes punishable by death or deportation include sodomy, rape and theft of articles of clothing, livestock or items worth more than five shillings. There is also an array of bizarre minor exceptions such as 'kicking a Chelsea' and 'desertion during a time of war'. Hangings are carried out in public, and are often a source of great entertainment. Unfortunately, these public occasions themselves frequently inspire crimes such as theft, fraud and assault.

Deportation seems initially to be an easier option. After all, you go to a foreign country, work for the settlers for a few years and — hey presto! — you're free. Wrong. Approximately one quarter to one third of deportees die on the journey over to Australia and, when they arrive, they face several years of poor food, hard labor and the cruelty of sadistic guards. Australia itself is a cruel and hospitable continent, with one fifth of the land unfit for human habitation, a plethora of dangerous animals unheard of in Britain and occasional attacks by aborigines. The Governor of the colony can actually release you at any time, but this depends on the liberality of the official and on current government policy. Deportation is rare in the 1860s, as the original penal colony at Botany Bay stopped taking convicts in 1844.


Typical Sentences

Crime Typical punishment
Armed robbery 2 years deportation
Arson 6 years detention
Blackmail £1 fine or 3 months detention
Bribery 10s fine or 3 months detention
Demonology Death by public hanging
Disturbing the peace 1s fine or 1 week detention
Fraud £10 fine or 1 year detention
Grand theft* 1 year deportation
Kidnap 2 years deportation
Manslaughter £5 fine or 6 months detention
Murder Death by public hanging
Necromancy Death by public hanging
Obstructing the law 6 weeks detention
Petty theft 6s fine or 6 weeks detention
Piracy Death by public hanging
Rape 12s fine or 3 months detention
Treason Death by public hanging
Vandalism 6s fine or 6 weeks detention
Unlicensed use of sorcery 2 years in a guild oubliette
*** more than 5 shillings
† The sad truth is it depended who got raped by whom. The rape of a noble woman would certainly be discreetly punished by death/deportation. Sadly the women of the middle classes are nowhere near so protected and paltry fi nes are considered to be enough compensation for their ‘inconvenience & discomfort’. The women of the working classes had no real legal recourse for wrongs done to them. It’s also worth pointing out that under Victorian law it is legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife, as he is owed his ‘conjugal rights’. It’s an unpleasant subject, but such a brutal husband may make a villain that your players will love to hate.