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People Arrested and Victims of Crime
Watchhouse records are useful for genealogy and family history, especially if you are researching the 'black sheep' of the family. They also have details of people who committed minor offences or were victims of crime.
Offences include being a neglected child, having no visible lawful means of support, theft, drunk and disorderly, breaking and entering, child (or wife) desertion, attempted suicide, being of unsound mind, inciting to riot, beating a horse, supplying opium to an Aboriginal, assault, murder, etc. Children appear in the records as both offenders and victims.
As this extract shows, Police Station watchhouse charge books (and Court of Petty Sessions police charge bench books, which are similar) often provide clues to sources for further research (eg, Court, prison and mental asylum records, criminal depositions, murder files, Police Gazettes and other police records):
The usual format for charge books, however, is different, as shown here (see a larger version in a new window):
Most books show date, town, prisoner's name, aliases, age, occupation, religion, state or country of origin, education level, offence, and how disposed of (fine or term of imprisonment, or whether sent to a reformatory, asylum etc. or discharged, cautioned, or committed for trial at which court and when). Some show previous convictions and prisoner's signature and property, and on rare occasions a physical description. Some victims of crime are named.
The date range for surviving registers varies from district to district. I have indexed early watchhouse charge books and police charge bench books for some of the towns listed below. Twentieth century records also exist for some of these areas plus many others. There is usually a 30 year restriction on access.
If you know approximately when and where an offence occurred, searches are feasible even without an index. If you don't know the year and place, start by searching Police Gazettes, registers of criminal depositions (which are indexed, at least by first letter of surname), and prison records (some of which are indexed). For more details see the latest edition of the book Tips for Queensland Research.
Pre-1900 watchhouse records are known to exist for these towns (there may be others).
Some 1901-1904 records for Adavale, Augathella, Charleville, Cunnamulla, Eromanga, Eulo, Hungerford, Morven, Nocundra, Wooroorooka, Wyandra, Thargomindah and Upper Warrego are in a consolidated index for south-west Qld (which includes pre-1900 records for Charleville). See names from the index.
My indexes include policemen only if they were victims, which they often were. To research police officers, use police staff files and other sources described in Tips for Queensland Research (including Police Gazettes).
Queensland sources list many people who had a criminal record in another State. For Victoria, the Gibson Index lists 55,000 names (offenders and victims) from 140 watchhouse charge books for the 1850s to 1899. See also Helen Harris's index to criminals (opens a new window).
New crime and punishment records on Findmypast.
My other genealogy sites have additional advice and names.
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