22nd January 1884

Jersey beggar is sentenced to hard labour

The Victorian era could be harsh – particularly for those who had fallen on hard times. With little in the way of social welfare, the less fortunate would be expected to fight for themselves but, in the process, could find themselves at the mercy of the law.

When Frederick Herbert found himself homeless and penniless, he set about begging in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, explaining to anyone who would take pity on him that his wife and children had died in Jersey and he’d subsequently come across to the mainland. That much was true, but what wasn’t true was the claim he’d been a captain in 12th Lancers – a story that he hoped would encourage people to make a donation.

In actual fact, while he had been in the army and served during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – 58, he hadn’t been a captain, and it seems to have been this unnecessary embellishment that landed Herbert in the most serious trouble.

A simple untruth

The public’s suspicions were further raised because they knew that while he claimed to have arrived from Jersey that morning he couldn’t have done so, as there had been no boats for the previous two days. Thus, Herbert found himself in the dock, quite literally, answering to a judge.

He told the court that, having heard of fellow soldiers having some success begging when they had no money, he had come to the conclusion it was the only viable way he could support himself.

The judge was sympathetic to the situation in which Herbert found himself, but not enough to spare him a harsh sentence: one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. What he would do upon his release, one can only guess, but his situation was unlikely to be any better than it had been upon his incarceration.


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