Reading progress update: I've read 22 out of 692 pages.

The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

"Until 1776 over a thousand British petty felons were shipped each year to Virginia and the Carolinas, sold into an indentured servitude no better than slavery. British justice of the time was grim and unflinching; murder, arson, the mysterious crime of “impersonating Egyptians” and larceny to the tune of more than a shilling were punished on the gallows. Petty crime meant transportation to the Americas for the term of the felon’s natural life."

 

Well, I learn something new every day. The phrase "impersonating Egyptians" caught my eye and I had to look it up. Apparently, the phrase refers to "gypsies" and "vagabonds" and essentially just poor people, who had been criminalised under the vagrancy laws.

 

The 1744 Vagrancy Act listed the following who could be prosecuted under the law:

 

- Patent gatherers, gatherers of alms under pretence of loss by fire, or other casualty

  • - Collectors for prisons, goals, or hospitals
  • - Fencers and bear wards (those who travel with a bear or dancing bear)
  • - Common players of interludes
  • - All persons concerned with performing interludes, tragedies, comedies, operas, plays, farces or other entertainments for the stage, not being authorized by law
  • - Minstrels and jugglers
  • - Persons pretending to be Gypsies, or wandering in the habit of Gypsies
  • - Those pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or fortune telling
  • - Those using subtle crafts to deceive and impose, or playing or betting on unlawful games
  • - All persons who run away and leave their wives and children
  • - Petty chapmen and pedlars, not duly licensed
  • - All persons wandering abroad and lodging in alehouses, barns, outhouses or in the open air, not giving a good account of themselves
  • - All persons wandering abroad and begging, pretending to be soldiers, mariners, seafaring men, pretending to go to work in harvest
  • - All persons wandering abroad and begging
 

"There is little evidence that strolling players and Gypsies were prosecuted with any regularity under the Vagrancy Acts, but prostitutes, seasonal workers, street pedlars and aggressive beggars certainly were. The inclusion of a separate provision for the punishment of individuals who simply threatened to desert their families, also ensured that almost anyone lacking property or position might be prosecuted under the title of a vagrant." (Source: London Lives 1690 to 1800)