Was your ancestor a prisoner or prison officer in Devon in the nineteenth or early twentieth century? For those with convict ancestors, the records will reveal where they were sentenced and for how long. For those with prison officers in their family tree, you will discover the names of prisons in which they served and their salary and rank.
Each result will give you a transcript and an image of the original record. The details in each transcript or image will vary depending on the type of document you are viewing. The records include male and female prisoner registers, calendars of prisoners and registers of prison officers. In each transcript, you may find a combination of the following information.
Archive and reference
The images will flush out your ancestor’s life in even greater detail. Many of the prison registers recorded information across two pages. Use the next arrow, on the right side of the image, to move to the second page.
We have provided a list of the different event types for the documents included in this collection and the additional facts you will find in each.
Calendars of prisoners, Devon & Cornwall and Calendars of prisoners, Plymouth and Devonport quarter sessions
Particulars of the crime committed
Date of warrant
Date received into custody
Verdict given by the jury
Plymouth Gaol returns of offenders
These records relate to the costs incurred by the prison service for each prisoner and submitted to the Clerk of the Peace. The costs recorded included clerk, magistrate and attorney fees.
Plymouth prison officers
Establishments where employed
Dates of service
Memoranda – may include superannuation dates and details of transfers
Plymouth prison register – male and female prisoners
Number of children
Physical description and distinguishing marks
By whom committed
Date of discharge
Date of sentencing
The Plymouth Prison records have been digitised in partnership with the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. Explore more than 90 years of crime and punishment in Plymouth. Plymouth Prison was built in 1849. The first person to be locked in a prison cell was a woman who was curiously exploring the new prison. When she entered one of the cells, the door unexpectedly closed behind her and locked into place. It took seven hours before an official person with keys could release her from her surprise incarceration.
The prison housed both male and female prisoners for a range of offences including desertion from prison, embezzlement, sodomy, drunkenness, murder, and prostitution, to name a few. When Plymouth Prison was built, England was embarking on new prison reforms. In previous centuries, prisons were often used for holding a prisoner before trial and for debtors. Punishments for crimes were usually transportation, public corporal punishments or execution. By the late nineteenth century, the penal system had been studied and legislation such as the Prison Act 1898 had passed, which lead to public opinion shifting to the idea that a prison should be used to reform prisoners. Work was no longer used as punishment but to be productive. It was believed that a prisoner could reform and leave prison a better person.
Many of the records include physical descriptions of the prisoners and provide their offence and sentence. For example, in the records you will find 13-year-old Frederick Joslin from Plymouth who was arrested for stealing clothes. Joslin was described as having fair skin and blue eyes and measuring 4 feet 8 inches in height. He was sentenced on 16 November 1871 to one month and five years in a reformatory school. In the same register book, you will find Agnes McKenzie from America. She was arrested at the age of 23 for destroying workhouse clothing. At the time of her arrest, McKenzie was living in the Plymouth workhouse. She was sentenced to 14 days in prison.