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The Times, London, 4 December 1822
Surrey Sessions, Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Matilda Dunn, a child described in the record as being under 10 years of age, was indicted for stealing 12 yards of printed cotton, the property of Mr. Cornell, a linen draper, residing at Newington.
The circumstances of this case have been fully detailed in our police reports. It appeared from the evidence, that on the 28th of October, the prisoner, accompanied by a younger sister, entered Mr. Cornell's shop, and asked for a quarter of a yard of muslin. Whilst the shopman was engaged in serving her, she rolled up the cotton mentioned in the indictment, and thrust it into a basket which was carried by her sister. The action was observed, and she was apprehended.
The prisoner, when called upon for her defence, said she knew nothing about the matter.
The Jury immediately found the prisoner guilty, but recommended her to mercy.
The prosecutor begged to add his recommendation to that of the jury. It would, he said, afford him great satisfaction if the prisoner could be placed in some benevolent institution, where she might, if possible, be reformed. He had made inquiries in the neighbourhood in which the prisoner lived, from which he had been able to learn that the father of the prisoner was in confinement preparatory to being tried on a charge of receiving stolen goods. The child who was with the prisoner when she committed the theft was in the parish workhouse. The family consisted of five children and the father -- the mother being dead. A brother of the prisoner was at present in Brixton gaol. Not one of the children had been taught to read or write.
THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. Harrison) observed, that in one view he was glad to hear of the latter circumstance.
Mr. Cornell said the prisoner had been known to be in the practice of stealing in shops for the last two years. She had confessed that she had robbed him of a table-cloth about a fortnight before she committed the theft of which she had been convicted. He understood that she was 13 years of age.
THE CHAIRMAN said, he was convinced that the prisoner was an experienced thief as soon as he heard her declare that she knew nothing about the matter. Then addressing the prisoner, he said, "Prisoner, you stand here a dreadful instance of the effects of vice generated by ignorance. It appears that your parents have totally neglected your education and left you destitute of instruction, except, indeed, for wicked purposes; for I have reason to believe that one of your parents has been the occasion of your being placed in your present unfortunate situation. Your case presents a great difficulty to the Court, which hardly knows how to deal with you for the best. I have, however, consulted with my brother magistrates, and we think that the most advisable course we can pursue is to direct you to be imprisoned for three months in the House of Correction at Brixton, there to be kept to hard labour, and to be twice during that period privately whipped.
The prisoner was of small stature: the expression of her countenance was a mixture of shrewdness and depravity seldom to be met with in so young a child. During the trial she maintained the most perfect indifference, but after the verdict was delivered she seemed to weep.
The Times, London, 6 December 1822
Whipping of females.
To the Editor of The Times.
Sir, -- In your report of the trial of Matilda Dunn, at the Quarter Sessions for the County of Surrey, contained in The Times of Wednesday, the 4th inst., I observe that the Court passed the following sentence upon her, viz., "To be imprisoned for three months in the House of Correction at Brixton; there to be kept to hard labour, and to be twice, during that period, privately whipped." Now, Sir, upon referring to "Gifford's English Lawyer," I find that by the 1st Geo. IV, c.57, the punishment of public and private whipping of females is abolished, and instead thereof hard labour in the gaol or house of correction, for any time not exceeding six months, nor less than one, is substituted.
Such being the case, and the act above cited not having been repealed by the Legislature, it is manifest that the Court exceeded their authority.
I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant.
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