The exhibition A most proper verdict, focusing on attitudes to crime and punishment in 19th-century Antrim, is currently on display on the ground floor of the McClay Library.
Inspired by the ‘Mad or Bad?’ exhibition at the Armagh County Museum in 2016, Jayne Clarke commissioned Elaine Farrell and Ruth Thorpe to research 19th-century crime and punishment in the area that now comprises the Mid and East Antrim Borough. The research underpins this exhibition, which was curated by Clarke (Mid-Antrim Museum), Shirin Murphy (Carrickfergus Museum) and Laura Patrick, all graduates of QUB.
Artefacts in the exhibition, on loan from Carrickfergus Museum, Larne Museum, and Mid Antrim Museum, include: photographs and paintings of Carrickfergus Gaol (the county gaol until the opening of Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol); the material culture of punishment such as manacles and handcuffs; and alcohol bottles, which point to 19th-century fears about the connection between drinking and crime.
Accompanying panels outline 19th-century punishments, like transportation, incarceration and execution, alongside case studies of some women, men and children suspected of deviant activity or breaking the law in Larne, Carrickfergus, Ballymena, and the surrounding areas. In exploring themes of poverty, unwed motherhood, and alcoholism, the exhibition highlights how attitudes towards gender, class and age shaped punishments. The focus on intersections between crime and industry also alludes to some uniquely Antrim elements.
The exhibition includes a commemorative quilt, the result of community engagement workshops led by Ballymena textile artist Lucy Craig. Participants took their inspiration from the images and sources of the exhibition.
Artefacts are displayed alongside relevant secondary sources from the McClay Library, showcasing the research that has been published on crime and punishment in recent years. Nineteenth-century literature from Special Collections make clear the enduring interest in crime.
Visitors can see the exhibition on the ground floor of the McClay Library until 23 October.