Friday, September 25, 2009

"Laws Respecting Servants"

"Laws Respecting Servants"

from The Servants' Guide and Family Manual, 2nd edition, 1831

I have just turned up, quite by chance, some very interesting laws--"abstracts of Acts of Parliament respecting servants"--in the above-mentioned item found on Google Books. It is interested to note that the abstracts lean heavily towards charges and punishments for offenses committed by servants, and barely mention crimes against servants.

Here are some extracts:

"A servant setting fire carelessly to a house, is liable to pay, on the oath of one witness, 100₤ to the sufferer, or be committed to prison and hard labour for 18 months.

If a servant refuse to serve his term, he may be committed till he give security to service the time; or he may be sent to the House of Correction, and punished there as a disorderly person.

Should a woman with child hire herself for a term, and the master she hires with know not of her being with child, he may discharge her, but before a magistrate.

If a servant, after warning is given, is insolent, or refuses to do his duty, a magistrate, on complaint, will commit him to prison for the time he has to serve; but the master will be order to pay him his wages whilst there.

No agreement a servant shall make with his master to his disadvantage whilst he is under the age of 21, shall operate against him.

If any servant shall purloin, or make away with his master's goods to the amount of 40s. it is felony.

A servant may stand up in his master or mistress's defence, and assault any one that assaults them, without being liable to any punishment by law.

Whatever trespasses a servant commits, by order of his master, the master is answerable for it, not the servant.

Masters are justifiable in insisting on their servants going to church.

Servants gaming at a public-house with cards, dice,…etc. are liable to be apprehended, and forfeit from 5s. to 20s., one-fourth to the informer, or be committed to hard labour for a month, or till the penalty is paid.

If any servant shall curse or swear, and be convicted on the oath of one witness, before one justice, within eight days of the offence, he shall forfeit 1s. for the first offence, 2s if convicted a second time, and 3s. the third time; or be committed to hard labour for ten days.

Every person convicted of having been drunk, within six months of the complaint made, before one justice, on the oath of one witness, shall forfeit 5s. for the first offence, or be set in the stocks for six hours.

Servants pawning their master's goods without orders, shall forfeit 20s. and the value of the goods so pawned, or be sent to the House of Correction for three months, and publicly whipped."

Punishments are harsh--one would expect fines and gaol terms, but hard labour, stocks and even public whipping seem extreme to a modern sensibility. But these were times when you could be hanged for public theft. Perhaps the punishments visited on wayward servants were considered lenient. What do you think?

'Til next time,


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