In 1879, Gerald Mainwaring, my first cousin four times removed, just 24 years old, was tried and found guilty of murder. The case, widely reported, caused a sensation.

From the mid-1870s Mainwaring had lived in Canada, farming in Manitoba. In April 1879 he returned to England to attend the wedding of his sister Julia.  A few months later, due to return to Canada, he went on a spree in Derby.  He got drunk, and driving a trap with a ‘female companion’ too fast through the town, was pulled over by the police. When they began a search of his lady friend, Mainwaring fired several shots from a revolver, wounding two policemen, one fatally.

Found guilty of murder, he was sentenced to hang. It transpired, however, that the jury, unable to agree, had drawn a ballot to decide Mainwaring’s fate. There was an appeal to the Home Secretary and his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.

Mainwaring Gerald The Times 1879 07 19 pg 11

Report in The Times 19 July 1879 page 11: Gerald Mainwaring being committed to trial for murder

Mainwaring aMainwaring b

Mainwaring c

New York Times 19 Aug 1879

Mainwaring Gerald House of Commons Aug 11 The Times 1879 08 12 pg 6

House of Commons Aug 11 The Times 12 August 1879 page 6

Mainwaring Gerald Sheffield Daily Telegraph 1879 08 14 pg 7

Report in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 14 August 1879 page 7 that Gerald Mainwaring’s death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment


A Calendar Of Prisoners Tried At The Derby Assizes: Gerald Mainwaring. Series HO140 Piece number 45. Retrieved through FindMyPast.

On 11 September 1879 Mainwaring was transferred from Derby to Pentonville Prison. In December 1880, after a brief stay in Millbank Prison, he was moved again, and on the 1881 and 1891 censuses he was recorded as a prisoner at Her Majesty’s Prison at Chatham, Kent. In 1891 he was moved to Portland Prison on the Isle of Portland, Dorset.


Pentonville Prison Register record for Gerald Mainwaring Occupation None Court Derby Assizes Series PCOM2 Source Pentonville Prison, Middlesex: Register Of Prisoners Piece number 77 Page number 660. Retrieved through FindMyPast.


Chatham Prison, Kent: Register Of Prisoners record for Gerald Mainwaring Occupation None Age 23 Court Derby Assizes Series PCOM2 Source Chatham Prison, Kent: Register Of Prisoners Piece number 4 Page number 312. Retrieved from FindMyPast.

On 16 May 1894 Gerald was discharged from Portland Prison. The Habitual Criminal Register of 1894 describes him as of fair complexion, with brown hair, grey eyes, 5 foot 7¼ inches tall. He had a large cut to the back of his head, a cut on his second right finger, a tattoo mark outside wrist and stab ribs, dot inside left forearm, anchor outside wrist and two moles near armpit. His destination on discharge was London.


Habitual Criminals Register 1894 description of Gerald Mainwaring Series MEPO6 Piece number 6 Retrieved from FindMyPast

I can find no record of Gerald Mainwaring on the 1901 census nor in death records of the period, and there no newspaper mention of him. I have been unable to find a shipping record with his name. A family history compiled in the 1930s asserts that he died in America, but it does not specify the place and date of death.

Since I last wrote about Gerald, in 2013, my father’s cousin, Christine Cavenagh-Mainwaring, has published a history of Whitmore Hall and the Cavenagh-Mainwaring family. She writes that Gerald was released after 15 years in prison on licence after innumerable pleas for clemency from his family. A family story has it that Gerald made his way to his old home at the Whitmore Rectory. His brother Percy, then Rector of Whitmore, would not let him in the house and sent him away with 5 pounds and an overcoat for the cold weather.

Christine Cavenagh-Mainwaring also wrote that some Mainwaring family relations were entertaining the former governor of the Portland prison for tea. One of the women “was holding forth about the Mainwaring family with its rather illustrious pedigree and its royal connections, when the governor suddenly said, ‘Mainwaring … why I had a Gerald Mainwaring as one of my prisoners.’ ” There was some consternation and embarrassment. “The governor, realising the effect that his remark had made on the party, patted Mrs Colhoun on the arm and said, ‘Don’t worry my dear, he was one of the most charming men that I have ever had the privilege to meet.’ ”

The prisons

Pentonville Prison was built between 1840 and 1842 to house convicts sentenced to imprisonment or awaiting transportation. When Gerald Mainwaring was incarcerated there Pentonville was a place for all male convicts to serve their probationary term of nine months, after which they would be sent to a public works prison. In the late 1870s Pentonville held about 1,000 prisoners.

Millbank, in Pimlico, was opened in 1816. It was the first modern prison in London. In the late 1870s Millbank, like Pentonville also had a daily confined rate of just over 1,000 convicts. Millbank was demolished in the late nineteenth century. Among new buildings erected on the site was the National Gallery of British Art, now Tate Britain, which opened in 1897.

Chatham Prison, which opened in 1856, stood on St Mary’s Island near the Chatham Dockyards.  In 1880, it was selected for the receipt of “star class” convicts: men with no previous convictions and kept separate from other classes of prisoners were sent there for public works. It closed in 1892.

Chatham Prison interior 1861 Illustrated London News 1861 03 09 page 218

Interior of Chatham Prison 1861 from the Illustrated London News 9 March 1861 page 218 retrieved from FindMyPast

Chatham Prison convicts 1861 Illustrated London News 1861 03 09 page 219

Prisoners at Chatham prison were used to build the extension to the Royal Navy Dockyard at Chatham. From the Illustrated London News 9 March 1861 page 219 retrieved from FindMyPast

Portland Prison in Dorset, 140 miles south-west of London, was a male convict public works prison, receiving prisoners who had already undergone periods of separate confinement at Millbank, Pentonville and specially contracted local prisons. It opened in 1848 and is still in operation today. In the early 1890s the daily confined rate was just over 1,000 convicts.

AtoZ map U

The prisons Gerald Mainwaring was incarcerated in near London are shown with black xs. Pentonville is to the north of the city, Millbank to the south and Chatham is far to the east of London.


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