Criminal Women: Hannah McKay & Caroline Griffiths

By Jo Faulkner, Record Assistant

In many instances, the female criminals who appear in nineteenth century Quarter Sessions records were very familiar to the police. This is true of both Hannah McKay and Caroline Griffiths, whose photographs appear in the police charge book ‘mug shots’ album (QP). The majority of women whose photographs appear in the police ‘mug shot’ albums had committed petty thefts or occasionally damage against property. Unusually, both Hannah McKay and Caroline Griffiths were accused of committing acts of violence.

Hannah McKay

QP Photograph of Hannah McKay from police charge book

Hannah McKay appeared for a number of convictions for assault, indecent behaviour and drunk and riotous behaviour during the 1860s. Described as ‘a well-known character at the police court’ in the press, a Justice told her ‘You are a perfect nuisance woman’. She was accused of stealing from the person in 1872 and 1873. In each case, more than one male associate was believed to have been involved.

Hannah was from Staithes but by 1871 was living unmarried, with John Abbott, a labourer and their baby son in Middlesbrough. Abbott was indicted 1872 along with Hannah and William Featherstone, for stealing one silver watch, one silver guard, one pocket handkerchief, one necktie, one key, and 2s 6d in money, the property of John Brand.

Abbott had tempted the victim to his home with a jug of beer. After falling asleep, the man awoke to find he had been robbed. McKay and Abbott pointed the finger at each other, Abbott threatening ‘You took it off his neck and if you don’t give it to him I’ll knock your head off with a poker!’ Hannah claimed to have ‘had nothing to do with the bloody old watch’, blaming ‘That Navvy, Jack’ (Abbott).

Hannah was no stranger to violence. Press reports describe the ‘brutal attack’ she suffered in 1882 at the hands of Abbott ‘a powerful man’, during which a beating with a poker exposed part of her skull, and her assault at the hands of Maurice Donaghue, an ironworker, whose wife she had accused of neglecting their children.

Caroline Griffiths

Caroline Griffiths was involved in a violent incident, initiated by her 19-year-old son Samuel. In his deposition (statement) the victim, PC Hardy, emphasised the role of alcohol in the event. As Samuel resisted arrest after an unprovoked attack on the officer, whom he claims had previously ‘taken a hare off him’, he and his father, aided by a third man pulled the victim into their house at New Marske, where a very violent scuffle ensued.

Caroline is said to have attacked PC Hardy with a flat iron and struck him with her fists ‘like a man’. 

Cross Examination by Skidmore. I did not charge Griffiths minor with being drunk or any of the Griffiths. I did not grab young Griffiths by the collar before he touched me. I had my staff with me but I did not get it out. I was trying to take young Griffiths into custody for assaulting me in the execution of my duty. Shaw struck me some very heavy blows with his clenched fists before he got an instrument. Mrs Griffiths struck me with her clenched fists like a man.

George Hardy

QSB 1875 3/8/7 From the deposition of PC Hardy

When the local press reported the incident Caroline was described as ‘The old woman’ – she was 45 years old at the time. Two men emptying ash pits nearby, who rescued PC Hardy heard the attack. For this offence, Caroline and her husband were imprisoned for 6 months, and her son Samuel, for 12 months.

Further reading:

See our previous post Criminal Women in Victorian North Yorkshire for an overview of useful sources and background information.

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