Tutorial: Using the Old Bailey Online Archive
Introduction & Background
Hello, Victorian Era Literature students! I have provided for you a step-by-step tutorial on how to effectively use the Old Bailey Online archive and how one can apply its usage to a text. In a wide array of NINES-based digital archives, I was assigned the Old Bailey archive and frankly, I had no idea where to even start or how to properly navigate its contents. Basically, Old Bailey is an archive database where one can search law proceedings, including offenses, verdicts and punishments from London’s central criminal court in the time span from 1674 to 1913. This archive is updated frequently and interestingly enough, they post a daily criminal offense in history on the left sidebar of the webpage titled “On This Day In…”. This archive project is made possible and available by contributors of the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Sheffield, Open University, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, hriOnline Publications and others who can be found on the site’s home page.
In this assignment, I chose to relate the crime of rape to the Victorian novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy. I discovered many interesting facts to share with you all and I hope you enjoy this tutorial that is made easy for you and your future digital assignments.
In the Context of Tess
Before I show you how to navigate the website, I would like to share what I am exactly relating this new found information to. Tess of the D’Urbervilles tells the story of the heroine, Tess, and her journey of trials and tribulations through her sorrowful series of life events. Not long after she leaves home to meet her family’s apparent rich relatives to bring money and fortune to her impoverished family, Tess is raped by the man who brings her to her new home of lineage, the D’Urbervilles. Alec D’Urberville rapes Tess upon riding back home from town. This occurs in Chapter 11. Hardy writes, “D’Urberville stooped and heard a gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears” (Hardy, 58). Hardy does not write much more than this, but I argue that it indeed was rape. He uses a lot of artistic diction to explain this unfortunate event for Tess. I chose this scenario in the novel because I was curious to know how would the court have prosecuted Alec for rape? How would rapists be sentenced in the court of law at this time? I used Old Bailey to find out.
Tutorial for Using Old Bailey Online
This is the home page of Old Bailey Online (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Crimes.jsp) where there are many different directions one could venture to. To get where I did, you would click “About the Proceedings” found in the list on the left sidebar of the page. Or you could get to the same place by clicking “About the Proceedings” at the top menu of the home page, see below.
After this, you would select the “Glossary” towards the bottom of the “About the Proceedings” page, which provides the reader with a wide array of legal terms and their definitions to refer back to while you are conducting research.
I chose to research what “rape” was defined as in the Victorian time period to get a better contextual understanding of the incident between Tess and Alec, so this glossary was a perfect tool for my assignment. Thereafter, I selected “crimes” to get a longer, more specific list to find the crimes I was looking for: sexual offenses.
The definition of rape is defined in the Victorian time period was much like the contemporary definition of rape, forced sexual intercourse without consent. This was helpful and interesting to me to clearly define what happened between Alec and Tess, since Tess was sleeping during the abuse, as Hardy states with his evidence that I quoted above.
From here, I chose to do searches on actual cases regarding rape that were tried at the London central criminal court. To do this, you would look to the top menu bar of the web page and click “Search” and it would bring you to this template that you see below, where you can fill in the blanks of the categories, depending on what you would like to find out! So, for the offense, I selected rape. I wanted to keep my search relatively simple, so after that, I just chose the dates: January 1881 to January 1891. I chose these because Tess was published in 1891. It was fairly difficult to choose the time frame, so I could have tweaked it here and there, but I found a decade long gap to be fitting in this search.
Such a lengthy list of cases appeared, but what I chose to do, which is only one way of many, was to pick an interesting case from 1881 and a case from 1891. I was thinking that maybe there would be change in verdicts or any other eye-catching differences in that time gap. Here is what the case from 1881 looked like:
I underlined in yellow some important things I noticed. First of all, it is significant that there was no evidence offered in the trial, leading to a not guilty verdict. This was also mentioned in the definition blurb of what rape meant; it is crucial to justify that penetration had occurred. This is important in the context of Tess because even if Tess did want to pursue in prosecuting Alec, she would need to take the necessary measures of proving that aspect of the assault which could have been difficult with her circumstances of leaving her family’s care and moving to Alec’s family home of the D’Urbervilles to seek fortune for her own household. Also, by critically thinking of the societal norms and cultural values of this time period, many women were viewed as “unpure” if they were not virgins before marriage, as well as other factors that I learned from Tess.
In this case from 1891, the alleged was given a not guilty verdict as well, but I found it interesting that the court record stated that the same man was also indicted for multiple assaults on other women, which he was also found not guilty for. It appeared to me that not much had changed in that decade-long time period, until I discovered that many who were indicted under “rape” were usually better off being indicted under “assault with intent to rape”, so I returned to the glossary to find the definition of that offense and found that when an attempted rape case was unsuccessful or if there was not evidence to prove it, the victim could have the accused be indicted for assault with intent to rape instead. Using my imagination, I thought that if Tess had the ability to prosecute Alec, this could have been an avenue for her to receive justice for what she endured after the rape.
I found that by using the same search process as with the prior searches, instead of entering “rape” and entering “assault with intent to rape” as the offense, I found much different results. Unlike the accused who were indicted with rape, there was much more of a toss between guilty and not guilty. Just by looking at the subheads under the name of the case, I thought that some of the cases had to do with the age of the victim because a majority of cases involved girls under the age of thirteen or so, therefore I was not sure if that was seen as more serious or not. This was just an observation I had. Also, the offense of assault with intent to rape was classified as a misdemeanor, so not as harsh as a felony or being sentenced to death for example. Something that I did a little more research on was the punishment that the guilty had to undergo, which was always listed as “hard labor”. I wanted to know what hard labor exactly meant, because in my mind, I pictured the convict working as a farmhand or crushing rocks or something of that sort. Old Bailey helped me get a better understanding of this as well.
I went back to the glossary that I used frequently in this process, but instead of selecting “crimes”, I selected “punishments.” Under “punishments” I had a difficult time finding hard labor right away, so I selected “imprisonment” because I thought maybe the hard labor took place in a prison-like establishment, which brought me to hard labor, see below.
I enjoyed learning about this aspect of how a rapist would most likely be punished in the Victorian times because I have someone close to me who works in our state’s Department of Corrections, so I was sharing this with him as well, just to learn how things were done differently in terms of discipline. Basically, the convicted learned how to be more industrious while (in what we would compare to a jail) imprisoned. The site explained that the convicts would perform projects such as “working water pumps or dredging the Thames River” (Old Bailey Online) which also acted as a deterrent so others would hopefully not act the same way. Spending the extra time to conduct this research helped with the context of Tess to piece together a what if scenario in my mind about what would have happened to Alec.
Conclusion: What I Have Learned
I am very satisfied about my research and the topic that I chose to analyze more deeply. I have always been someone interested in history and the legal system, so this was fitting for my interests, but it also furthered my understanding about one of my favorite texts of the semester, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The plot point when Tess was raped by Alec is a controversial one to discuss in class and in my experience, people had differing viewpoints about what happened and how it affected Tess’s life throughout the rest of her journey. I enjoyed the direction I took by researching how or if Alec would have been convicted of rape and how he would have been punished. I am also greatly appreciated for being exposed to this digital archive and I now have this to use for other projects in the future. Of course, you can always put your own spin on something like this. Even when you are pulling an all-nighter to complete a project….remember to have fun!
Clive Emsley, Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, “Crime and Justice – Punishments at the Old Bailey”, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 05 December 2014 )
Hardy, T. (2001). Tess of the D’Urbervilles (P. Negri & J. Pine, Eds.). Mineola, NY: Dover.