Fonds 1110 - J.M. Beattie fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1110


J.M. Beattie fonds


  • 1952-2017 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

4 m of textual records (10 boxes)
1799 digital files (5 GB)
1 audio cassette tape
1 photograph

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John Maurice (J.M.) Beattie (7 March 1932 – 12 July 2017) was a white professor and British legal historian who taught at the University of Toronto’s Department of History and served as the former Director of the Centre of Criminology and Sociolegal Studies. Beattie is credited with increasing interest in the field of British legal procedure and criminal history between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, as well as helping to provide a better understanding of the development of early policing within eighteenth-century England.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England on 7 March 1932, Beattie completed his early schooling in England. In 1950, he moved to San Francisco to attend the University of San Francisco, where he graduated with a B.S. in History in 1954. He then pursued an M.A. in History at the University of California, Berkeley from 1954 to 1956. In 1957, Beattie returned to England to study at King’s College at the University of Cambridge, where he earned his Ph.D. under the supervision of J.H. Plumb in 1963.

In 1961, Beattie accepted a position at the University of Toronto as a Lecturer in the Department of History. In 1972, he became a Professor and later held the position of University Professor from 1988 to 1997. In 1997, he was recognized as Professor Emeritus. During his tenure at the University of Toronto, Beattie was also cross-appointed at the Centre of Criminology from 1972 to 1997, serving as the Centre's Director from 1989 to 1992. He taught various undergraduate and graduate courses based on his research interests. These included England 1485-1785 (HIS 238), England in the Age of Walpole (HIS 435), Crime and Society in England 1500-1800 (HIS 332), Crime and the Administration of Justice in Eighteenth Century London (HIS 411), England, 1689-1789 (HIS 1420), Crime Law and the State in Early Modern England 1650-1850 (CRIM 3150).

Beattie authored four books on English legal and criminal history that gained recognition for their contribution to research in the field. His book Crime and the Courts is regarded as a foundational text in legal and criminal history, earning Beattie prestigious awards such as the Leo Gershoy Prize (1986), the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize (1987), the John Ben Snow Prize (1987), the Louis Gottschalk Prize, and the Francois-Xavier Garneau Prize (1990). In addition to this work, Beattie wrote three more books: The English Court in the Reign of George I (originally a thesis transformed into a book in 1967), Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (2001), and The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (2012). Beattie's academic articles explore similar areas of historical inquiry, focusing on the British legal system, as well as subjects such as Canadian criminal history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women in crime, early policing history, and the Australian prison transportation era. Beattie's scholarship was rooted in deep archival research. He employed a quantitative analysis of crime within records at the Public Records Office, painstakingly categorizing those by offence type and number. He did the same with respect to the manner in which these were investigated, prosecuted and sentenced. In that respect, his work was driven by a search for what the records revealed, rather than by any sweeping ideological assessment. That method became a blueprint for subsequent scholars, who would go on to cite his work in theirs.

Beattie's commitment to education and publishing is apparent through his involvement in numerous committees and the editorial roles he took on. He served on education standards committees within and outside the University of Toronto, as well as editorial committees for four different history journals. Given his expertise in British legal and criminal history, Beattie actively discussed and reviewed contemporary research conducted by his colleagues. He also supervised dozens of graduate students throughout his career and was very generous with his time. He maintained a wide network of professional relationships and was always willing to mentor and support others.

Within the University of Toronto, Beattie assumed administrative responsibilities as a member of various standing committees in the Department of History. These included significant roles in committees such as the Department's Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee, the Policy Committee, as well as committees for University College and the Centre of Criminology. He also held leadership positions, such as Acting Chair of the Department of History in 1989, Chair of the Humanities Panel of the Connaught Fellowship Committee in 1977 and 1978, and Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Committee of the Research Board in 1990 and 1991. Furthermore, Beattie served as the Assistant Dean of the School of Graduate Studies in 1992 and contributed to various search and salary committees at the University of Toronto.

Beattie's contributions to academia were recognized through the awarding of research grants, scholarships, and prizes. He was named a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1973 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1988. In 1979, he was awarded a Killam Research Fellowship. Beattie actively participated in conferences and academic societies, playing significant roles in events such as the North American Conference on British Studies, where he served as both a speaker and a member of fundraising and planning committees. He also engaged with the Canadian Historical Association, serving as a speaker and member of the Council, as well as the American Society for Legal History.

In his personal life, Beattie was married to Susan Beattie (née Mills) and they raised three children: Roger, Allison, and Katherine. Beattie's pursuit of archival and historical research took him away from his family at times and resulted in extensive travel between England and Canada. On occasion, he would relocate his family: to Surrey in 1967-1968 and Cambridge in 1981, during his sabbatical terms. Throughout his life, Beattie actively participated in his community, both in Cambridge and within his neighborhood in Toronto. He passed away on July 12, 2017.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records encompassing the personal and professional activities of J.M. (John Maurice) Beattie as a British legal historian of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries in the Department of History and the Centre for Criminology at the University of Toronto. Includes personal and professional correspondence with family, colleagues, and students; drafts and research for his PhD thesis "The English Court in the Reign of George I" (University of Cambridge, 1963); syllabi and lecture notes for courses taught on British legal and criminal history; texts of his presentations and talks; research notes and drafts of books and articles, in particular his final two books Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (2001) and The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (2012); and files pertaining to his employment at the U of T and participation on committees within University College, the Department of History, and the Centre for Criminology.

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Conditions governing access

All files are open, with the exception of:

  • Series 1: B2022-0017/001(01) – This file is closed for 10 years until 2033-01-01.
  • Series 3: B2022-0017/005(15)-(18) and B2022-0017_df006 – These files are closed for 30 years until 2053-01-01.

Please contact the University Archivist for additional information.

Boxes are stored off-site. Please allow 2-3 business days for retrieval. Material may be requested in advance using our online request form.

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Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Digital files must be accessed on a computer in the Archives Reading Room. Please contact the Digital Records Archivist to schedule an appointment or for more details.

  • A spreadsheet inventory of all digital files is available upon request by email.

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  • Finding aid by Aerin Leavitt and Emily Sommers, 2024




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