In a perfect fusing of two of my favorite things in the world — technology and criminal justice, an English university has just digitized and put online the "Proceedings of the Old Bailey", London’s central criminal court, for the years 1674-1834. The Proceedings are short reports of criminal trials geared toward a popular audience. The website’s authors call the over 100,000 trial descriptions "the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published."
On this day in 1742, for instance, we read that: "Christopher Peterson, otherwise Jack the Sailor, was indicted with one William Briers, for stealing an Oil-Skin Bag, and seventeen Pound Weight of Tea, the Property of William Barton, out of the Shop of the said William Barton." In his defense, the prisoner had this to say: "I have nothing at all to say. I leave it in your Hands, my Lord. I have no Friend in the World." Verdict: Guilty. Sentence: Death. Fortunately, "The Jury recommended him for Mercy," which would generally mean his sentence would be commuted to something like whipping or branding, or possibly "transportation" to Australia or the U.S.