Poaching
Poaching meant illegal hunting and trapping of deer, hares, pigeons etc. Poaching was forbidden by contradictory laws in the 14th Century.  Some poachers did it for a profit by supplying food to the Black market.
It became illegal to trade game and this resulted in the Black Market.  Other people poached not to sell but to provide food for their family.

The aristocracy saw poaching as an attack on their own right and as an invasion of their property.  The aristocracy owned the game so they thought that it was only them that could hunt it no-one else.

Punishments for Poaching

Poaching was not dealt with as a harsh offence because there was no intrusion into a house (Burglary) or a person's clothing (Pick Pockets) and perhaps it was also that aristocracy poached against each other.  The Punishment normally imposed was imprisonment or a fine.

 
Poaching after 1750

Two reasons for poaching after 1750 were Need and Greed.

Poaching through Need

Rural poverty continued to be widespread.  The 'enclosure' movement of the 18th Century deprived people of land, because of this many became labourers.  Wages were low and their diet was worse, and many turned to poaching to survive.

Poachers were thought of as heroes, people rescued poachers from the hands of keepers and police and intimidated people who took poachers to court.

Poaching through Greed

Another point of view was that poaching could never be justified.  The police and Estate owners believed that there was no connection between poverty and poaching. They thought the profits from poaching were spent in the pubs rather than on food.  Many poachers made plans in the pubs and did spend their money in the pubs.

Gangs based in London organized poaching and did most of the poaching business in the pubs.  These gags grew steadily in size between 1830 and 1870.  Representatives would make contact with actual poachers in rural areas.

Poaching became more tempting as Estate owners were building up their game and fish stocks for angling and shooting groups who were prepared to pay well for the popular pastime.

Dealing with Poachers

The authorities introduced a variety of man-traps and spring-guns, the purpose of which was to kill, mutilate or break the poachers legs, this was mainly as a deterrent to poachers.

Punishments for Poachers became worse. Poachers were sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment.  The less fortunate were, from 1816, transported to places like New South Wales (Australia) for fourteen years.  Between 1750 and 1820, more poachers than before were  hanged, particularly those convicted of using a firearm or wounding a gamekeeper.

During 1830s man-traps and spring-guns were made illegal, and a Act in 1883 allowed tenants to kill rabbits and hares on their own farms, so ending one of the most hated parts of the old game laws. On the other hand, the law remained heavily on poachers.  Poachers could still be transported to penal colony, or imprisoned for up to seven years.  By the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862 anyone suspected of carrying poaching implements could be stopped and searched by the police. poachers were treat more harshly than any other people accused of other types of theft in the 19th Century, this shows that the views on poaching changed more slowly than many other forms of theft on property since 1750.


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