Crime and Punishment

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  • Moments in Cork City History

Public Hangings

In eighteenth-century Cork, law enforcement was overseen by the Mayor and his elected sheriffs. Highway robbery and burglary were the most common crimes in Cork at this time.

Punishments in those days were severe: usually hanging or expulsion to the Americas. Lesser crimes, such as working on a Sunday or owing debts, usually meant a fine and a short time in prison. In the account of a public hanging shown to the right, the person survived the gallows. Click on the image to read the story of what happened.

In another account, a public hanging caused a riot because the man who was convicted was popularly believed to be innocent. Click on the image to your left to expand it and read the story of what happened.

Public executions were a fact of life in many European cities in the eighteenth century, including Cork. Crowds of people attended the hangings of people convicted of crimes, who often made speeches from the gallows before going to their death. Today, the death penalty is no longer used in most European countries.

Petty Thieves

Pickpockets were rampant in Cork in the eighteenth century. Silk handkerchiefs, valuable at the time, were one of the main items stolen from rich gentlemen. The punishment for theft was generally to be sent to the pillory or tarred and feathered. Below is an account of a female pickpocket who was punished for her crimes.
Female Pickpocket in Cork City, 1767

Often, the punishment of criminals was treated as public entertainment. The offender was publicly humiliated, and whether or not they remained unharmed generally depended on level of sympathy and the mood of the crowd.