As one ought, I’ve been looking up my ancestors (well, people with my not-especially-common surname) on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913 website.
There’s a disappointing lack of criminality among my lot. Only three Bands were prosecuted at the Old Bailey over the whole period, and one of them was acquitted, whereas we seem to have witnessed a whole load of stuff.
The baddest Band was Thomas Band, who nicked five kilos of brass from his boss in 1785, and got transported to Australia for seven years for his pains (which seems a bit harsh if you ask me, but then I’m a bleeding heart liberal…). But that clearly didn’t teach him much of a lesson – he was back in London by 1796 and nicked 13 wooden boards. This time he seems to have dragged his brother John into it as well, since the boards were nicked from John Band’s boss’s shop. But Tom maintained he was acting alone:
My brother has got a wife and five helpless children, he does not know any thing at all about it; for God’s sake, Gentlemen, if there is any guilt in the business let it fall upon me, and not destroy an innocent family.
The courts were unconvinced: Tom got six months; John got 12 months. Adding to the indignity, whoever wrote the sentencing report managed to get John’s last name wrong. This is annoying enough at the best of times (“did I pronounce it with an R? Did I spell it out with an R? No, I spelled it out Bee-Ay-Enn-Dee. Garrrrr”), but I imagine it’s even worse when someone’s just sent you to jail after your dodgy brother nicked your boss’s planks.
I suppose Tom was lucky that the courts’ record-keeping was poor back then: I can’t imagine the court would have been as comparatively lenient (the planks were worth three shillings, while the brass he’d been transported for first time round was only worth five) if they’d known he was a Magwitch-esque returned convict…