06 February 2013
Just 13 years old, Rosanna Watson was sentenced to seven days of hard labour for stealing iron in Newcastle on May 2, 1873. She served her time in Newcastle City Gaol along with her accomplices: Mary Catherine Docherty, Ellen Woodman, and Mary Hinnigan who was just 11. What must their lives have been like that they had to resort to thieving? Were they encouraged to do so by a parent? Were they orphaned?
The Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums in Newcastle upon Tyne, England posted this image along with other mugshots taken 1871-1873. Sadly, Rosanna is not the only child in the lot. There's Michael Clement Fisher, 13, and Henry Leonard Stephenson, 12, sentenced to two months for breaking into houses. And James Scullion, 13, sentenced to 14 days hard labour for stealing clothes. Upon his release he was sent to Market Weighton Reformatory for three years. The list goes on. All of them bring to mind Dickens and every other Victorian tale of misery that involves girls and boys.
There's something very striking though about about Rosanna. Perhaps it's her direct gaze at the camera or the look on her face that says she's seen far more than any girl her age should. I don't know what happened to her but I hope that she survived and made it to adulthood, maybe had a family, and that she was able to carve out a better life for herself. Whatever her fate, I hope she didn't spend anymore time in jail.
To see more of these mugshots, check out Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums' Flicker set here.