Heather Dean

Heather Dean

Historic police charge books returned to VicPD after digital preservation

Victoria police leather-bound charge books from the 1800s have been scanned onto hard drives to preserve a piece of history.

Historic Victoria Police Department books from the 1800s have been digitally preserved to last for many more years to come, thanks to the Victoria Genealogical Society and the University of Victoria.

On Wednesday, UVic Libraries returned five leather-bound charge books to the Victoria Police Department after being in the university’s possession for the past few months.

“[The Genealogical Society] found out through their research that these log books were held by the police department and they identified it as an important project in terms of digitizing the books and making them accessible to a broader public online, but they didn’t have the expertise to do the digitization” said Heather Dean, associate director of special collections at UVic Libraries. “They were connected with the library; we have a whole unit that works on digitizing projects.”

Almost 2,000 pages were scanned one-by-one onto three hard drives; the Genealogical Society has begun indexing the charge book entries to improve online searching. The entries will be available on the university library website in the near future.

“We have a lot of faculty and students on campus who are interested in studying Victoria’s history, B.C.’s history, Canada’s history, and these really contribute to that,” said Dean.

The five books contain records from April 4, 1873 to Sept. 30, 1876.

“I had no idea we even had records that went back to this,” said Chief Constable Frank Elsner. “To have that as a permanent record for this organization and our community is amazing.”

Books beyond 1876 exist at the Victoria Police Department, and could be digitized in the future if the interest is there, said Susan Henderson, communication officer for UVic Libraries.

When Elsner started at the police force 30 years ago, he said they wrote in books similar to those. Now, every thing is recorded digitally.

“It’s amazing history, and we don’t want this record to disappear,” said Pat Acton, president of the Victoria Genealogical Society. “There is fascinating social history here.”

The books reveal how different some laws were in the 1800s compared to today. For example, an entry from April 7, 1873 describes a man named Charlie being charged for hitting someone in the face with a fish. Other charges include looking suspicious or riding a horse too quickly in town.

“If you’re wondering if you have a rogue in your family, it’s one way to [find out],” said Henderson.

Victoria Police Department Detective Constable Jonathan Sheldan said when he started at the department, there was an emphasis to throw away old books and documents such as these, which is no longer the case.

“I think we’ve got a reemphasis on preserving our link to the community,” said Sheldan.