The Punishment of Children

Part of the Crime & Punishment in Cocking in the Nineteenth Century” series

During the nineteenth century, the punishment of children who were in trouble with the law was particularly savage. It was only in the latter years of the century that the treatment of children began to show signs of improvement.

Hampshire Advertiser. 13 April 1839. Midhurst Petty Sessions

Hampshire Chronicle. 6 May 1839. Midhurst Petty Sessions

Sussex Advertiser. 8 July 1839. Sussex Western Sessions

Brighton Gazette. 11 July 1839. Trial of Prisoners

At the Sussex Western Assizes held at Horsham in July 1839, 15-year old Thomas Miggs was charged with stealing three table-cloths, valued at 20s (£1), from Benjamin Challen at Cocking on 8 April, for which offence Thomas had confessed. During the trial, Mr. Challen had expressed his opinion that Thomas’s parents were “more to blame than himself, and more deserving of punishment”.  Despite a plea for leniency from Mr. Challen, Thomas was sentenced to one month’s hard labour, with the last fortnight to be spent in solitary confinement.

Francis Miggs, Thomas’s father, had been jailed for two months with hard labour by the Midhurst magistrates in April, for stealing potatoes growing in Benjamin Challen’s garden at Cocking. He was back on trial at the July assizes on a further charge of stealing six logs from Mr. Challen, but this case was dismissed.

Brighton Gazette. 26 December 1850. Midhurst Petty Sessions

Sussex Advertiser. 7 January 1851. West Sussex Epiphany Sessions

Sussex Advertiser.  8 July 1851 West Sussex Midsummer Session

Brighton Gazette. 10 July 1851. Trial of Prisoners

Hampshire Advertiser.  12 July 1851. West Sussex Midsummer Session

In January 1851, 17-year old William Mills appeared at the West Sussex Epiphany Sessions at Petworth, where he pleaded guilty to stealing three live tame rabbits, value 3s, from George Hounsome at Bepton, for which he was sentenced to six weeks hard labour.

He was back in court at Horsham in July, charged with stealing six sheep skins on 31 May, valued at 9s, from Benjamin Challen at Cocking. Having been found guilty, the court took into account his earlier conviction, and sentenced him to 10 years transportation.

For the full story, see the separate article on the Kingshott family.

Sussex Advertiser. 1 March 1853. Midhurst Petty Sessions

In February 1853, 15-year old Stephen Boxall was found guilty of stealing two pieces of cord wood, value 1d from Henry Soane, the woodman for Lord Egmont, then the owner of the Cocking estate. He was sentenced to 14 days hard labour.

 Sussex Advertiser. Tuesday 28 February 1854. Midhurst Petty Sessions

West Sussex Gazette. 1 March 1854. Midhurst Petty Sessions

 On 23 February 1854, the Midhurst Magistrates considered the case of John Smart vs. George Humphries, a ten-year old lad. The boy was charged with stealing a length of chain, valued at 8 to 10s, from Midhurst Wharf, the property of John Smart. He had been seen by Police Sergeant Charles O’Neill dragging the chain up North Street, Midhurst to the premises of Thomas Tribe, blacksmith. There he tried to sell the chain, described as “an iron safe chain”, to Mr Tribe, who asked the lad where he had obtained the chain; “I found it on the turnpike at Cocking Hill. I should think it was three or four months ago.”

Mr Tribe insisted that the boy’s father should come with him to the blacksmith’s shop. The boy left the chain at the shop, but returned at 7 p.m. and said that his father would not be home until late. Mr. Tribe then put the chain around the boy’s shoulders and sent him away. By now, O’Neill had reported his suspicions to Mr Smart, and George was quickly taken into custody. Unable to sell the chain and unsure of what to do with it, George hid it.

Illustration of a flogging (From A Grim Almanac of Sussex, by W.H. Johnson, The History Press. 2007)

George was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks hard labour, and to be once privately whipped.

Brighton Gazette. 17 January 1856. Midhurst Petty Sessions

On New Year’s Day, 1856, 11-year old Charlotte Rogers, and her 8-year old sister, Jane were caught by Henry Farley stealing firewood from his farm at the foot of Cocking Hill. He testified that on coming down the hill, he saw two girls under his bavin stack. The elder girl was pulling logs from the stack and passing them to her sister. He went up to the two girls, when Charlotte came towards him with a bundle on her head. When the girls saw him, Jane dropped the bundle (which was wrapped in an old shawl) that she was carrying and tried to run off, but he managed to detain them both. Charlotte claimed that her mother had sent them to the wood stack.

At the hearing by Midhurst Magistrates, Charlotte was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment, while Jane was discharged. The magistrates “severely reprimanded” the girls’ mother and “expressed their regret” that she couldn’t be indicted for receiving stolen property.

Chichester Express & West Sussex Journal.

22 June 1869. Midhurst: Sudden Death of an Old Woman

6 July 1869. A Little Girl Robbing an old Woman at Cocking

In May 1869, 11-year old Elizabeth Payton was a servant in the home of 81-year old widow Sarah Todman. On 10 May, she was shaking up Mrs Todman’s bed and mattress when a bunch of keys dropped out. She picked up the keys and couldn’t resist the temptation to open the old lady’s moneybox, from which she removed a sovereign.

The theft was quickly discovered and the police were called; Elizabeth immediately confessed to the police.

At the magistrates’ hearing on 12 June she was committed to the West Sussex quarter sessions at Horsham. On the day of the magistrates’ hearing, Mrs Todman sat up in bed to ring for assistance, when she collapsed and died.

At the quarter sessions, Elizabeth pleaded guilty to theft. The court prosecutor said that “the girl had had a bad example set before her in some respects, and it was the wish of the prosecution that she should have the opportunity of amending her life, as she was so very young”.

The court, under their chairman J.M. Cobbett, sentenced Elizabeth to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Sussex Agricultural Express. 1 February 1890. Theft by a Lad

Bognor Regis Observer.  5 February 1890. Theft of a Whip

14-year old Charles Whittington was a beneficiary of the First Offenders Act of 1887, when he appeared at Midhurst magistrates’ court in February 1890 on a charge of stealing a whip.

On the evening of 27 December 1889, Charles was helping his brother-in-law, James Laker, stable horses at the premises of Henry Mills, a miller. Laker had laid down this whip on an oak chest by the stables, but the following morning, the whip was missing. He reported its disappearance to his employer, who called the police.

Three weeks later, on 23 January, PC Ellis visited Charles, who was then working at Cocking Causeway and found the missing whip. Initially, Charles claimed to have found the whip in Bex Lane, but eventually confessed to have taken it.

At the Magistrates’ hearing, he pleaded guilty to the theft of the whip, valued at 5s. The magistrates made a “lengthy address to the prisoner” and “a few words of good and sound advice”, but not wishing to send him to prison for a first offence, used the provisions of the First Offenders Act, and bound him over to be of good behaviour for 6 months, on a surety of £10.

Sussex Agricultural Express. 20 November 1890. Wanton Mischief

In November 1890, 15-year old John Pollard was charged with killing a leghorn rooster, valued at 5s, the property of George Webb.  Mrs Webb testified that she had seen John throwing stones at the bird which killed it.

At the magistrates’ hearing, George said that it was an accident and that he was very sorry. He was fined 15s, plus the value of the bird, making £1 in total.

Sussex Agricultural Express:

11 August 1891. Apple Stealers

29 August 1891. Theft

In August 1891, Percy Strotton (aged 15) and his brother Arthur (aged 12), sons of Elizabeth Strotton, appeared before the Midhurst magistrates charged with stealing apples from the garden of William Ring-Smith. They were charged with stealing 10 apples, valued at 2d on 23 July.

During the hearing against Arthur, Elizabeth fainted; after she recovered, she explained to the court that her husband had left her, through jealousy the previous week.

The boys were given “a good talking to” by the bench, and bound over to be on good behaviour for six months, under the First Offenders Act, 1887.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express

28 May 1895. A Three-Fold Charge

25 June 1895. A Miscellany of Thefts

12 November 1895. Straying Animals

 On 23 May 1895, 16-year old John Williams, appeared before the Midhurst magistrates under chairman Lt. Col. H.A. Lascelles, on three charges:

Stealing 19 pairs of spectacles, value £1, 0ne spectacle case, value 3d, eight rings, value 7s 7d, and two combs, value 9d, the property of James Lee, a pedlar, at St Pancras, Chichester on 16 May;

Stealing from the person, one clasp knife, value 6d, the property of John Tier, aged 5, at Cocking on 17 May;

Stealing from the person, three slices of bread and butter, three slices of bread and jam and one egg, value together 4d, the property of Albert Edward Batten, aged 6, at Cocking on 17 May.

On the night of Thursday 16 May 1895, John Williams and James Lee had both been staying at the Black Horse in St Pancras. When James Lee woke next morning, he discovered that all his stock had been stolen. By this time, John Williams had made his way nine miles north to Cocking, where he met the two young boys who were on their way to school from their homes at Cocking Causeway. He demanded that the boys hand over the knife and Albert’s lunch, before making off.

Williams was arrested in Midhurst by PC Ward who found the items from James Lee and John Tier still in his possession, and was brought before the magistrates the following week, where he was committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions. Lee pleaded with the magistrates for the return of his goods, but these were required as evidence. Without his stock, he was destitute and unable to earn a living. The magistrates took pity on him, and gave him 10 shillings, with the clerk adding 2s 6d and another person in the court gave him a further shilling, to tide him over until his stock could be returned after the Assizes.

At the Quarter Sessions held at Horsham Town Hall on 20 June, Williams pleaded guilty to all three charges and was sentenced to six months hard labour.


On 7 November 1895, John Tier’s father, Frederick, a cattle dealer from Cocking Causeway, was in front of Midhurst magistrates, where he was found guilty of charges of allowing two geldings to stray on to the road between Cocking and Heyshott. He was fined 7 shillings, including costs.