a fortunate Frenchman and a callous villain

Two tales today from the Thames Police court, one which shows the sometimes very personal steps the magistracy took to deal with cases before them, the other revealing a rather less appealing attitude, towards the police.

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‘Before Whitechapel workhouse’ shows poor men queuing up ahead of the day’s work at the workhouse in Fulbourne Street, London which has since been demolished

Henri Rentiere was a Frenchman living in the St. George’s-in-the-East workhouse, in Wapping East London. Rentiere had come over to England on a cattle ship with an assurance of a return voyage which had not materialized. He now found himself destitute and had to seek help from the local parish. They had sent him to the workhouse but the daily slog clearly disagreed with him. He soon found himself in front of the Thames magistrate, Mr Cluer, on a charge of refusing to work.

The justice had examined him previously and  investigated his story. Cluer wrote to the French consulate asking for their help in repatriating their fellow countryman. They had passed the letter on to a charity who said it was nothing to do with them, they only helped people in London. This exasperated the magistrate who commented that they clearly didn’t know that Thames Police Court was in London.

So there was a problem. Henri didn’t want to be in the English capital, much less having to earn his keep in a workhouse, and yet he couldn’t afford his fare home. He stated that he wanted to join the French army and serve his country. Mr Cluer saw nothing wrong with that and moreover, he didn’t want M. Rentiere in St. George’s either, living there ‘at the expense of the ratepayers’. So he gave him the money to return to France from his own pocket, and sent him on his way.

Meanwhile the next case reported in the Daily News concerned the death of a policeman. John Barker – a 28 year-old labourer – was drunk and disorderly and causing a scene which attracted the police. As one officer tussled with him another tried to help but collapsed. He had died on the spot of ‘heart disease’ having become ‘so excited in the struggle’.

Barker received a ten month gaol sentence with hard labour and as he was escorted from the dock proclaimed: ‘One copper’s dead, and you’ll die too’.

[from Daily News, Thursday, July 30, 1896]

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