Each record is a transcript of the original calendar entry. The information contained varies but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Date of court appearance
Whether the accused, a convict, a witness or a victim.
There are 67,156 records available covering more than 150 years.
The Quarter sessions were held four times a year and would generally take a number of days, depending on how many cases needed to be heard. They took place in the weeks around the dates of Epiphany (January 6th), Easter (variable dates), Midsummer (June 24th) and Michaelmas (September 29th) and dealt with a variety of misdemeanours, minor offences and other crimes that did not carry the death penalty . The sessions were presided over by magistrates, otherwise known as justices of the peace. The position was unpaid and was held by those who held lands worth over £100 a year, in practise this generally meant either clergy or gentlemen.
The Quarter Sessions used the Oyer and Terminer system of two juries. First the grand jury would decide whether the prosecution evidence was strong enough to go to trial, then the trial jury would judge the case. Even with this two tier system most trials were over in less than a day.
Most sentences would include hard labour. In the Devizes gaol this would mean the treadmill. Until the early 19th century treadmills generally ground flour that would be sold to help finance the gaol but later the treadmill became an utterly pointless pursuit. In other gaols cells would have a hand crank installed, this was also used as similarly useless labour. Sentences for hard labour were usually relatively short.
Transportation was another frequent punishment. Terms varied from 4 to 7 years to life and could be handed down for relatively minor crimes. Before the War of Independence started in 1776, convicts were sent to America. After 1787 convicts were sent mainly to Australia.
The records were transcribed by the Wiltshire Family History Society.