CALENDARS OF PRISONERS
Devon Quarter Sessions, DRO - Devon QS32 and QS34
Transcribed by Brian Brassett
In accordance with a statute of 1388, Quarter Sessions [QS's] were held as their name implies 'Quarterly': at Easter, Trinity [MidSummer], Michaelmas, and Epiphany [January]. The Sessions were presided over by the Sheriff of the County or his Deputy. These quarterly calendars list particulars of prisoners in the County Gaol; the House of Correction [Workhouse or Bridewell] and the Sheriff's Ward for debtors, and of cases to be tried.
The Devon Record Office [DRO] QS holdings are listed in a black spring-back folder filed in the main search room and entitled Quarter Sessions. The QS32 transcriptions are just a section of the overall QS holdings and cover the period January 1655 through to January 1882. However, the total period covered is by no means complete, with certain years missing presumably either destroyed or lost, but in general terms the holdings are quite extensive.
The DRO QS32 series are to be found in manila folders or as stand-alone bundled printed sheets, each bundle containing a number of papers, for example QS32/1-10. So to identify any particular transcribed record I have numbered the transcriptions, for example, QS32/15 - that is the fifteenth paper in the QS32 series, and which would be located in the manila folder annotated QS32/11-20.
As can be seen from the transcriptions, the papers give a general description of the proceedings; the name[s] of the malefactors; committal Justice[s] of the Peace; charges brought against the prisoner; in some cases names of aggrieved persons and/or witnesses, and perhaps marginal notes identifying the outcome of the case; e.g. Transportation, fines levied, etc. Also identified is the location where the prisoner[s] is/are held, either serving out their sentences[s] or awaiting further arraignment at the next Assize or Sessions hearings.
The QS34 Assize documents are very similar to the QS32 Quarter Sessions documents. In some cases there is a replication of prisoners names/charges as transcribed in the QS32 series. The difference is that these are the felons who appeared at the Assizes rather than the Quarter Sessions. In the QS32 series transactions - prisoners being held in the County Gaol one finds references to a number of prisoners for the Assizes followed by an alphabetical list of such prisoners. The result of an appearance at the Assizes is shown in the Q32 Gaol returns where prisoners are mentioned as being held as 'Remaining on Former Orders' with a date of trial appearance/offence/sentence passed down. Thus the Q32 and Q34 records are two quite distinct forms of return but very similar in content.
The QS34 'z' series are the documents which had been mislaid, and were brought into the DRO as having been found among other documents.
At Epiphany 1835 an instruction was issued to the effect that the educational competence of a prisoner should be assessed and noted. The following indicators were adopted and are to be seen in brackets, eg; [R], alongside the prisoners name. The indicators and their meaning are as follows -
[R] = is able to Read.
[Well] = is able to Read and Write well.
[Imp] = is able to Read and Write Imperfectly.
[N] = is Neither able to Read or Write.
Note: The QS 32/89 file is blank.