Source 2a page 2

This is a petitioning letter written on behalf of Robert Brown by his former master to the Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, 30 July 1838. Robert Brown was a Jamaican boy convicted of stealing two pairs of sailor’s trousers and sentenced to two months imprisonment, Catalogue ref: HO 17/121/54



15 Circus Road, St John’s Wood,

July 30th 1838


My Lord


About a year & a half since on leaving the Island of Jamaica & having had with me to this country, a boy of colour as servant, he had been living with a friend of mine – behaved himself extremely well for some time but being obliged from the nature of my occupation to absent myself from home during the day, he formed bad connection


[By the Right Hon. Lord John Russell]


going into the street, & finally he left my house for several days. When he returned, I would not receive him. He went into the streets & took some lamps for which [William] Horkins, Magistrate at the Marylebone Police Office, sentenced him to two months imprisonment in the House of Correction [prison]. When that time expired, he came to my house & asked for some clothes & said he was going on board a vessel bound for Jamaica. He did go on board but the Captain having no room for him sent him on shore. He brought with him from the vessel two pairs of trousers belonging to one of the seamen. He was again taken before a Magistrate [William] Ballantine at the Thames Police Office, & sentenced to two months imprisonment. He is now working at the thread mill. [Cotton factory]. He had been there now a month having been committed on the 26th of June. I saw him yesterday & he seems to be aware that he has done very wrong & appears to be penitent, promising to behave himself in the future. I have an opportunity of sending him back to Jamaica with a friend who sails on Thursday next the 2nd of August & if your Lordship should think it a proper case in which to interfere & would give the necessary orders for his enlargement [discharge] he would be taken direct from the prison on board the vessel lying at the West India Docks. He is quite willing to go, & William Ballantine the Magistrate who committed him & with whom I have spoken agrees entirely with my idea on the subject & wished me to say so to your Lordship – the boys’ name is Robert Brown.


Waiting your Lordship’s decision.

My Lord
Your Lordship’s Obedient Servant
Walter Logan


« Return to Criminal petitions

Task Source 2a

  • Why was Robert Brown sent to prison two times?
  • Robert Brown does not write his own petition. How difficult is it to know the possible reasons why he stole?
  • How does Robert’s master explain Browns’ actions and change in behaviour?
  • How does the wealth and status of the author of this petition affect the style of the request?
  • Do you think a petition from Robert Brown himself would be more/less effective?
  • What does this petition reveal about the judicial system?