Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by:  National Justice Museum


This resource explores attitudes towards crime and punishment in the 1800s.


Curriculum Links

  • KS3 History: Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745 - 1901


Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Explain that transportation was using Australia as a prison
  • Describe the penal system of the 1800s and some of the changes Elizabeth Fry made to it.
  • Describe what Quakers believe in


Discussion Ideas

  • How does the 'Bloody Code' differ from our penal code today?
  • Why did Britain send so many of its criminals to Australia and America?  Transportation of criminals like this would not be allowed today, so why was Britain allowed to do this at the time?
  • What kinds of criticism did Elizabeth Fry come under for fighting for the abolition of capital punishment?  How far are women who devote their lives to work criticized in the same way today?
  • Do you think that harsh penalties helped to prevent crime during the 1800s?  What about today?
  • Are all the crimes punishable by death in the 1800s equal in your opinion?  


Activity Ideas

  • Write down nine different crimes on separate pieces of paper and ask small groups to arrange them in a 'diamond 9' with the most severe crime at the top, the next two in the row below, a middle row of 3, another row of two and the least severe crime at the bottom.  Groups can then compare their diamonds and discuss their reasons behind how they judged the severity of the crimes.
  • Pupils could pick a particular crime and research how it has been treated in the penal code through time.  
  • Using the 'Brief History of Newgate Prison' and other sources, pupils could write a letter as if they are a prisoner in the 1800s.
  1. What was your crime? 
  2. Why did you commit it? 
  3. What is the prison cell like?  
  4. Who are you sharing your cell with?  
  5. What punishment do you expect? 
  6. How do you feel about your future?