A Vitriol fiend strikes at Tufnell Park and Highgate

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The night of the 30 September 1888 has gone down in infamy as the ‘double event’; the night when the mysterious killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ murdered both Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in different locations, leaving two London police forces searching for him in vain. The Whitechapel murders dominated the news hole for most of the late summer and autumn, only really fading away after the death of the Ripper’s last canonical victim (Mary Kelly) in early November.

During that time the papers continued to report the goings on at the Police Courts however.

At Marylebone Police Court a most unpleasant case came before the magistrate, Mr. Cooke. William Martin, a 46-year-old gentleman (of no occupation’) living on Holloway Road, was charged with throwing vitriol at Winifred Brown and another lady. Winifred had brought her case a week or so before and Martin now apologized (via his lawyer) and promised to compensate her for the damage he had caused to her dress. Clearly his lawyer wanted to circumvent the criminal charge by making this a civil one, of merely damages. His worship wouldn’t hear of it however and closed down these ‘negotiations’.

Now a police inspector came to the stand to present another victim who accused Martin of attacking her in a similar way. Florence Smith and her sister had left St. John’s church in Highgate three weeks earlier and had noticed Martin loitering outside. When, some days later, she came to put on the same dress she had worn to church she noticed it was ‘utterly destroyed down the back, having been burnt into holes’.

Mr. Cooke decided that this was such a serious affair it needed to be heard before a jury, and so he fully committed William Martin for trial. Martin was indeed prosecuted at Old Bailey (on a charge of ‘maliciously pouring sulfuric acid’ on Winifred Brown) but was acquitted.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 30, 1888]

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A murder in Barbados or a false accusation?

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The most recent series of Ripper Street opened with the death of an Indian lawyer found in the East India dock. At first it was thought that this might be the result of rivalry between dockworkers or perhaps tensions between foreign sailors (often this meant Lasacars) and locals. I don’t know how the writers get their stories but they might profitably search the pages of the Victorian press.

In September 1875 a Malay boatswain named Seeden was brought before Mr. Lushington at Thames Police Court. He was charged with ‘causing the death of a Lascar seaman named Sali’. Both men had served on the Neva, said John James a fellow crew member who gave evidence at Thames.

Whilst the ship lay at anchor at Barbados Sali and Sedeen quarreled and the latter knocked Sali to the deck, pushed him to the rail and threw him overboard. After an interval of 20 minutes he informed the captain that his crewmate had ‘jumped overboard’.

Mr. Lushington examined two other Malay sailors but they failed to corroborate James’ testimony. The magistrate turned to James and suggested it was odd that he waited so long to bring his evidence before a policeman or a court. He dismissed it as an ‘entirely groundless charge’ and ordered Sedeen to be released. He added that if the police ‘thought it proper’ they should arrest and charge James with perjury.

[from The Morning Post , Wednesday, September 29, 1875]

Drink: the curse of the working classes…

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Throughout the nineteenth century the problem of drink (especially the drinking habits of the working classes) were the subject of intense discussion. The Temperance Movement began in the early 1820s and while it began by advocating ‘moderation’ it became more radical, demanding the prohibition of the sale of alcohol and urging people to take the pledge of abstinence. The Band of Hope was founded in Leeds in 1847 and a national organization grew from this in 1855. In 1864 William Booth founded the Salvation Army with temperance one of its key tenets.

Of course while many people agreed that moderation and even abstinence were a ‘good thing’, others either resented the attack on their lifestyle and ‘freedoms’ or saw temperance as a threat to their business and livelihood. Publicans and brewers in particular can’t have welcomed the emergence of an anti-alcohol movement.

In 1850 Mr. William Townsend was due to speak on the subject of the ‘social. moral and religious condition of the working classes’ at the Temperance Hall at Horsleydown, in Bermondsey. Before the meeting placards were printed and distributed announcing the lecture. He rose to speak but had not got very far into his lecture before he was interrupted.

A group of people close to the podium stepped forward and threw red paint at him, covering the front of his clothes. The men then left and Mr. Townsend, to his credit, finished his speech.

However, as he was leaving and stepping into a cab ‘his assailants’, who had been waiting for him nearby, rushed forward and chucked a quantity of flour all over him; he was now, as the paper dubbed him, the ‘red and white lecturer’!

Townsend told the magistrate he knew who his attackers were and his worship issued a summons for them to appear to answer the charge. Perhaps they were members of the ‘skeleton crew’ supposedly hired by landlords to thwart the efforts of the prohibitionists.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 28, 1850]

A circus artist for whom the show cannot go on alone

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Very sadly suicides seem to feature quite frequently in the reports of the London police courts. The Thames offered those in despair plenty of opportunities to take their lives and we must remember that in the Victorian period there were not the social services, health care or even many of the modern charities that support those with depression or other forms of mental illness. Nor were nineteenth-century asylums places one would want to end up in.

Ellen Whitby was brought up to be re-examined before the sitting magistrate at Mansion House in late September 1873. Ellen had tried to jump from London Bridge into the river below and this had not been the first time. She had attempted suicide ‘no fewer than four times’, once been dragged out of the Thames after falling from Blackfriars Bridge. After this most recent attempt she was locked up in Newgate for her own safety.

Ellen was a former circus performer. Under the stage name Lottie Marcella she had performed as an ‘equestrienne’ with her husband. But three years previously he had been killed in an accident and their act had come to an end. A public subscription had raised £400 for the widow but it seems she took his loss and the end of her career hard, turning to drink.

This ‘intemperance’ was accompanied by what today we would probably identify as depression and so led her to attempt her own life.

The ordinary of Newgate (the prison’s chaplain) appeared at court to speak on her behalf. He said he believed she would no longer try to kill herself if released. He added that ‘arrangements had been made to send the prisoner to an institution where she would be taken care of’ (an asylum one imagines). There she might be able to ‘regain her position’ he hoped.

I fear the ordinary might have been being a tad optimistic as Victorian ‘lunatic asylums’ had ‘a reputation as dehumanising, prison-like institutions‘, and I doubt ‘Lottie’ would have had much ‘care’ there.

 

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 27, 1873]

A thief can’t wait to get back inside

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Cowcross Street, Farringdon, c.1870

George Wood (also known to the police and the community as ‘Gentleman Jack’) was presented at Clerkenwell Police Court in late September 1881 charged with stealing a gold chain valued at £5.

Wood was described as a ‘general dealer’ who lived at Bath Street, off the City Road. The watch belonged to Mr Thomas Matthews, an engraver at the Albion Works on Cow Cross Street (near Farringdon station, Clerkenwell). Matthews was walking to work one morning when Wood ‘got in front of him, tugged at his chain’ and ran off with the watch.

He was soon arrested by a police detective (DS Maroney) and charged. Woods, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, immediately confessed to the robbery. He told the detective that ‘he should like to be sentenced at once, so that he could be doing his time and [therefore the sooner] be at large again’.

His worship did not oblige however, he decided the case was too serious for a short summary imprisonment and committed him for a jury trial at the Middlesex sessions of the peace.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 26, 1881;]

One drink led to another…

Rosemary Lane had a bit of a reputation in the eighteenth century, and its fair to say this persisted well into the 1800s. Now the lane has gone, replaced completely by Royal Mint Street which runs to join Cable Street, south of Whitechapel High Street. In 1861 Henry Mayhew wrote of the people that here:

The lodgings here are occupied by dredgers, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, watermen, lumpen, and others whose trade is connected with the river, as well as the slop-workers and sweaters working for the Minories. The poverty of these workers compels them to lodge wherever the rent of the rooms is the lowest.

One of those living in and around Rosemary Lane was Mary Ann Carey, who described herself as a ‘basket woman’. On Tuesday, the 22 September 1868 Mary was in a pub when John Fletcher, a native of Scotland, newly arrived from Australia, walked past.

According to Fletcher Mary ‘rushed out’ and asked him to have a drink with her. Mary may have fallen for him, or perhaps she was already a little the worse for drink to be so forward, but my understanding of her actions suggests that she was a prostitute as well as a basket woman. Many women in the area sold themselves when they could not sell something less personal.

Gold rush

Fletcher had been to Australia for the gold rush; we know this because in court he said he was carrying ‘two nuggets of gold entrusted to him by a  scotchman [he met] at the diggings’. The gold rush in Australia drew thousands of fortune hunters to the continent i the 1850s and 60s. John Fletcher said he had had arrived back in London from Melbourne on the Lincolnshire and had presumably gone out to party on his new wealth. Months at sea with only male company led him to Whitechapel and the dock community than was synonymous with cheap booze and casual sex.

He took Mary up on her offer and the two of them started drinking at noon. ‘One drink led to another’, he told the court, and soon he realised he was missing not only the two gold nuggets but also four sovereigns. At least he still had his gold watch he thought, as the chain was in his pocket. Alas when he pulled the chain out, the watch was gone!

He called for a policeman and PC Childs came to his assistance. The policeman told the magistrate (Mr. Paget) that the pub was a ‘notorious den of thieves’ and he knew Mary as well. She was soon apprehended and presented in court. PC Childs suggested it was unlikely she was working alone and he begged time to round up the others.

Mr. Paget sympathized with the Scotsman’s plight but also said that his experienced should be a warning to others to avoid such places and keep their valuables safe. The court reporter took great delight in transcribing Fletcher’s words in dialect:

When asked what he would do now the poor man replied: ‘I was guan to Scotland. What am I to do now I dinna ken’. Where had he slept? ‘I was oot all the nicht in a yard’.

It was a very long way to go to find gold only to lose it within hours of landing back home in Britain.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 25, 1868]

Echoes of Bleak House or an elderly fraudster?

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“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means.”

Benjamin Gibbs Mitchell was an old man and had recently found himself in the Giltspur prison in the City of London. It is likely that Mitchell was in gaol for debt, as most of the Giltspur’s inmates were sent there by their creditors [https://londonhistorians.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/compters-aka-counters/]. The gaol closed just a year or so after he was released and imprisonment for debt was formerley ended in 1869.

He may have committed another minor offence but the circumsatnces of his appearance in the Thames Police Court in September 1852 suggests that he was someone for whom money was often scarce.

Mitchell was charged by his landlady, Mrs Hannah with assault but this was to reveal quite a lot about the old man and his delaing with his neighbours. Mrs Hannah kept a lodging house in Wellington Place and when Benjamin Mitchell turned up there he was quite effusive about his requirements.

He demanded ‘coffee and eggs for breakfast, mutton and potatoes for dinner, with soup at other times, and feather pillows for his bed’. He was suffering he said from a delicate stomach following his imprisonment.

On being asked how he would pay he told the good lady he was expecting large sum of money anytime soon. However, after a month he had not paid a ‘farthing’ for this keep and Mrs Hannah began to get annoyed with him. He met her demands for money with violence, striking her with his umbrella. She wrenched the item from him and ‘belaboured him in return’. This is what brought the pair into court.

Benjamin denied the assault and calimed his affairs were in the hands of a most ‘respectable lawyer’, named Mr. Gray*. He was pursuing a claim to £7,000,000 through Chancery that had been going on for 54 years. This sounds like the infames ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ case that provides the backdrop for Dickens’ Bleak House, a case that went on for ever and ever (and ever).

The magistrate was skeptical and so Mitchell asked him to seek out his doctor who would vouch to the truth of. The court sent for Dr Faulkener.

When he arrived he did indeed speak in Benjamin’s defense; he was a ‘respectable man’ and there was such a claim. In the meantime though the justice had heard that several neighbours had complained about Mitchell’s frauds over a number of years and so he had decided to sentence the old man to 10s fine or 7 days in prison. That was heavy punishment for the assault but he justified it on the grounds that he was unable to punish him for the frauds. I’m not sure that would stand up in court today!

However having heard that the claims the man had made were now verified he sent word to have him released from the cells (he had not been able to pay the fine, as I suspect the ‘beak’ well knew). Instead he sent the old man the amount of the fine for his own use plus 5s from the poor box – punishment had switched quickly to charity on the evidence of one ‘respectable’ medical man.

*my brother is just such a ‘respectable’ lawyer

[From Daily News, Friday, September 24, 1852]