British Columbia Ancestors: Victoria Police Department Charge Books

Some people get embarrassed when they find out there\’s an ancestor who has a criminal connection. Genealogists, on the other hand, tend to have the opposite reaction. We look at \”black sheep\” ancestors with delight, knowing there\’s a good story in there.

This week I found out about a great resource through social media. Gail Dever\’s Genealogy a la Carte had a post about Winnipeg Police Museum digitizing mug shots. She had posted a link to her blog post on her Genealogy a la Carte Facebook group. A lady named Bev had commented that the University of Victoria Libraries website had digitized the Victoria Police Department Charge Books.

This interesting collection was a collaboration between the Victoria Genealogical Society, the Victoria Police Historical Society, and the University of Victoria. There are 10 books from the Victoria Police Department in all:

  • Charge Book April- November 1875
  • Charge Book April 1873- August 1874
  • Charge Book April 1873 November 1874
  • Charge Book August 1874- June 1876
  • Charge Book December 1874- November 1876
  • Charge Book June 1875- October 1876
  • Complaint Report Book August 1911- September 1912 
  • Mugshot Book 01 1897-1904
  • Mugshot Book 02 1900\’s
  • Mugshot book 03 1898-1904

It is not indexed as of yet, but you can browse the collection. The link to the collection is just under the title at the top of the page:

Down near the bottom of the page, there is a warning that some may be offended by the terminology used in these charge books. They advise to keep in mind that when these books were filled out, the \”attitudes and social norms\” of this time period were different than today\’s. Anyone who has researched genealogy for some time is used to this. However, someone new to genealogy may not be accustomed to having government records using terms that we now find offensive. I remember how shocked I was the first time I saw the column \”Infirm/Insane/Idiot\” on a census record. I\’ve seen worse in documents since then, and it no longer fazes me.

Charge Books
Clicking a particular charge book will let you browse its contents page by page. These books appear to be all handwritten, so you will have to use some paleography skills here. My suggestion is to look at all the entries of a page if you\’re stuck on a word. Sometimes by looking at how the person wrote \”N\”, \”n\”,\”r\”, \”g\”, \”y\”, etc. in other entries will help you to figure out what that hard to read word is.

Of the books I looked at, \”drunk and disorderly\” seems to be epidemic at the time. Some of the books also had notations about what happened after the person was arrested. Here\’s an extract of an entry from 6 April 1873:

April 6th: Thomas Sweeney, arrested by Constable Clarke and charged by Mr. Saunders
with stealing a cheese from his Store, of the value of $2. and upward.
                 Property .35 cts. Sheath knife & Pocket knife.          Horace A. Lafridge

          7th: Remanded for one day

          8th: Remanded for one week

In other entries I saw that there was mention of fines, bail, and discharge dates. I even saw an arrest for a \”Debtor\’s Prisoner\” by the name of Ah Chu. His bail was set at $142.50. Quite the sum of money back then.

Here\’s another entry from the same book:

Micheal Kaghan Pt. R. M. of H.M.S. \”Yenedos\” charged by Inspector Bowden, with being a Straggler from that Ship.    Horace A Lafridge
Ordered to be given over to his ship.

Complaint-Report Book
This is a book that records all calls to the Police Station. So, you might might find your ancestor in here calling the police, as opposed to being arrested by them. Some of the pages are handwritten, and some are typed. There\’s people calling about the usual theft, injured persons, and domestic disturbances. There\’s also some amusing ones. Here\’s an entry from 14 August 1911:

Mr. Morley of Porters Cabins reports that there is four men living in a cabin at Porters Cabins and who he believes are bad characters as they keep very late hours and do a great deal of drinking in their cabin and it is impossible for him to get any sleep on account of the noise that these men make.

Here\’s another one from 19 September 1911:

Mrs. Conder 1011 Collingson St telephoned that the Sidewalk near her house is blocked with lumber and the Street is all torn up and she is Unable to get in or out of the house and she wished the Police to get the lumber removed from the sidewalk. H.N. Sheppard

Anyone who has watched COPS (yes, I am revealing my age here), or Live PD can attest to the fact that community policing doesn\’t seem to have changed in the last hundred years on the types of calls they get!

Mugshot Book
If you love old pictures, as I do, you\’ll enjoy looking through these. Some have quite detailed information with the picture, while others have just a name. Mr. Harry Jensen had this written about him:

 \”Arrested Oct 5 \’95 charged passing counterfeit money committed for trial, and aquitted by the G Jury. was again arrested at the instance of P. Police charged housebreaking at Alberni by cons Moriat & McDonald. sentence of 6 months H.L.  at Nanaimo B.C. Again arrested by Cons Seeley of the P.P. on the West Coast on the 12 of April 97. charged with being in possession on liquor etc stolen from S. Clay\’s saloon Johnson St. also charged with stealing a Boat belonging to Mr. Turpel sentenced to 18 M. H.L. in both cases to run concurrently. Was again arrested by Cons McDonald on 31st July 97 charged with Breaking Gaol. Sentenced 6 M. H.L. Died whilst serving the latter sentence.\”

Sadly I saw a lot of pictures of children. The majority of pictures were of men, but there are some of women as well. The biggest difference I saw in these from the mug shots of today is the clothing. All the women I saw had big hats worthy of a trip to Buckingham Palace. Even some of the men had quite dapper looking hats and suits on.

On the main screen of the Collection, down near the bottom are links to other digitized collections the University of Victoria Libraries was involved in. The only two that seem to still work are good ones:

Thank you to Bev for pointing out this resource!

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