From Juvenile Delinquent to Boy Murderer: Understanding Children Who Killed, 1816-1908.
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In 1993 the murder trial of two ten-year-old boys sparked an unparalleled wave of media attention, inspiring historians and media scholars to trace similar events that had occurred in the past. What they found, however, was surprising. Very few murders committed by children were uncovered and the newspaper coverage surrounding these cases was scant. Scholars therefore concluded that the sensation and horror associated with children who kill is part of a modern phenomenon. My thesis questions this assumption. Murders were committed by children in the past and these crimes were reported in the press. I have been able to locate 230 children who were charged with felonious killing offences in England and Wales between 1816 and 1908. My thesis introduces these criminal children to the histories of childhood and crime. When children killed in the nineteenth century, contrary to previous historical opinion, their crimes were widely reported in the press and were considered to be sensational. Idealistic notions of the innocence of childhood were popular in the nineteenth century and, as a result, murders committed by children questioned core beliefs concerning the nature of childhood rooted in the popular imagination. Throughout my thesis I consider how members of Victorian society attempted to understand the existence of children who were capable of wilfully killing another human being. Could a child reason enough to be considered criminally responsible for such a serious offence? If so, how should those children be punished and why did those children turn to murder in the first place? Through an analysis of theological, legal, and medical texts and journals, published social investigations into the cause and extent of criminality, and reports covering murders committed by children printed in the press I consider the attempts that were made to answer these questions.
AuthorsBetts, Eleanor Frances Winifred
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