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.
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.
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.
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.’ ”
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.
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.
- Prison and criminal records from FindMyPast
- Cavenagh-Mainwaring, Christine Whitmore Hall : from 1066 to Waltzing Matilda. Adelaide Peacock Publications, 2013. Pages 208-9.