A morbid request for a reward reminds London of the Princess Alice disaster

 

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For those of you following this blog regularly and especially this week I hope you can see that I have tried to follow the ‘doings’ of the Thames Police Court for a whole week. Due the selective reporting of the courts however, this has not proved possible. I had hoped to be able to follow a couple of remanded cases, to see them reappear with some conclusion reached, but sadly this hasn’t happened. It all helps me understand though, just how selective the reportage was and suggest readers were more interested in a variety of ‘titbits’ about the courts than they were in finding out exactly what occurs in each court on a regular basis.

Historical research is always problematic and we can learn from what we can’t find almost as much as we learn from what we do. There is also the unexpected gobbets of information that the newspapers offer, that can open up new avenues for research and understanding, there were two of these today.

On the 66th anniversary of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo the Standard newspaper chose to concentrate on two cases from the Woolwich Police Court. In the first a ‘reputed lunatic’, James Peacock, was sent for trial by jury for allegedly stealing rockets from the Royal Arsenal.

The other case concerned a boy who had summoned the overseers of the poor at Woolwich for non-payment of a reward he was due. The reward was for recovering a dead body from the Thames and this linked the police courts to a tragedy that had occurred three years earlier, in September 1878.

On the evening of the 3 September the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer loaded with passengers, was passing the shore at Tipcock Point, North Woolwich, when it collided with another vessel, a collier barge, the Bywell Castle. The Alice went down in just four minutes, dragging its terrified passengers into the polluted river. Over 650 people, men , women and children, drowned in the river and the loss of life was shocking.

The tragedy lasted long in local and national memory and must have impacted Londoners in particular. Liz Stride, one of the victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ even claimed she had lost her husband on the Princess Alice, a claim that doesn’t seem to have much substance.  Stride might have been trying to get some charitable relief following the disaster, as several institutions, including the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House Fund, paid out to victims’ families.

Appearing in Woolwich on behalf of the Overseers of the poor, Mr Moore a relieving officer, said that the Overseers or the Guardians were normally quite happy to pay out for the recovery of bodies from the river. The boy also had a certificate from a coroner saying he was entitled to the money, so that seemed settled, but it wasn’t.

Mr Moore  told the court that a recent ruling at the Court of Queen’s Bench that in the case of the Princess Alice there was no actual law that gave authority for the paying of rewards. The Thames, he explained, was not included as part of “the sea”, which was what the original reward referred to. The magistrate, Mr Marsham grumbled that he couldn’t see how the two were not connected; after all the Thames was a tidal river which seemed to bring it within the act. Nevertheless he was bound to abide by the superior courts’ ruling and he dismissed the summons.

However, apparently the case was being discussed in parliament he was told, and so the lad (not named in the report) was advised to hang onto his certificate in the hope that the situation was eventually resolved to his benefit.

[from The Standard, Saturday, June 18, 1881]

As this was the 66th anniversary of Waterloo several papers mentioned the battle. The Daily News dedicated a small column to 200th anniversary of the Scots Greys, the ‘oldest dragoon corps’ in the British Army.  The ‘Greys’ had served with distinction in the Crimea at the battle of Balaclava, where they ‘tore through the Russians as acrobats go through a paper hoop’ (as the reporter described it). Their charge at Waterloo, which was more brave than effectual (if military historians are to be believed), was forever immortalised in Lady Elizabeth Butler’s Scotland Forever which was painted in 1881, to celebrate the anniversary. 

[from Daily News, Saturday, June 18, 1881]

Adulterated milk and the Inspector of Nuisances

 

There were no cases from the Thames or Worship Street Police Courts reported in the London press on 17 June 1881. As an exercise in following one court for seven days then this has been something of a failure. However, the absence of reportage is not evidence that the court did not do any work – we know these courts sat daily. Henry Turner Waddy recorded that:

‘All the police courts are open for business on every week-day of the year, Good Friday and Christmas Day only excepted. The ordinary hours are [from] 10 am to 8 pm’.  The Police Court and its Work, (London, Butterworth, 1925)

The manuscript records of the Thames court reveal that it opened on Saturdays as well. Given that they heard dozens if not hundreds of cases daily it stands to reason that the press representation of them is highly selective, when we can see that on some days they reported nothing from one or more of the courts then clearly we need to look carefully at what was (and was not) chosen by the reporter or his editor as worthy of inclusion.

With nothing from either of the two East London courts it is necessary to look at the others on this day.

Earlier in the week we had a short report of an assault that arose out of a dispute between rival milkmen. Well today that same milk company, the Farmers’ Dairy Company (FDC), were back in the news. George Shepparton, the manager of the FDC, was summoned to Clerkenwell Police Court for ‘selling as unaltered milk from which the cream had been extracted’.

We are encouraged to drink low fat milk and avoid cream but the Victorians had different concerns when it came to food. In the 1800s it was the adulteration of food which brought prosecutions: bread with bleached floor, or watered down beer, and of course milk from which the cream had been removed.

The case was brought by William Roache, the wonderfully entitled Inspector of Nuisances. He had seen a man selling milk in Lancing Street (near Euston Station) . The vendor was shouting ‘Fresh Farmhouse milk, twopence a quart’. He bought a pint and then informed the seller that he intended to have it analysed. This prompted the vendor to tell him that it was in fact ‘skimmed milk’.

In court the deface and prosecution lawyers argued over whether the milk had been intentionally sold as something other than skimmed milk. The prosecution said that since it was advertised at ‘Fresh Farmhouse milk’ that implied it was full cream. Mr Wakeling, for the dairy, argued that:

‘the price at which the milk was sold was sufficient to show that there was no pretence that it was anything but skimmed milk’.

Today a pint of milk is likely to cost much the same regardless of whether it is full fat, semi-skimmed or virtually far free. After all you are probably paying more for the packaging now than you are for the content. Supermarkets sell milk at ridiculously low prices compared to cost of producing it.

Back at Clerkenwell the magistrate felt he needed more time and advice before he could make a decision on the evidence he’d heard. He sent the parties away and asked them to return in a  week. Meanwhile he dealt with several other cases of adulteration.

Percival Hawes was convicted of selling milk from which all the butterfat had been extracted, he was fined £20 plus cost. Andrew Carrucio of Gray’s Inn Road was similarly convicted and fined, as was James Ernteman who operated a business on the same road.

George Matthews of Camden Town was summoned for selling adulterated mustard. Mr Roache claimed he had been sold mustard which was mostly flour with a small amount of turmeric (for colour). Matthews countered that he had bought it wholesale from a reputable business so ‘he thought he might safely trust them’. Roche said that the mustard powder he’d been sold came not from a wholesaler’s tin but loose from a drawer. The conviction stuck and Matthews was also fined £20 plus costs.

These are not petty fines, £20 in 1881 was a significant sum of money, close in fact to £1000 in today’s prices. So the state, in the form of Mr Roache the Inspector of Nuisances for St Pancras, was doing sterling work. Today I think that job is part of the role performed by councils and the Food Standards Agency, which checks up on labelling to make sure it is accurate and not misleading. It is worth remembering that this has such a long history.

[from The Standard , Friday, June 17, 1881]

Yet more casual violence towards women in the East End

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Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. This photo is early 1900s but the scene would have been quite similar in the 1880s

There were two reported cases from the Thames Police court in the Morning Post on the 15 June 1881. The first was an awful case of domestic abuse that I will consider shortly, while the second was a case of fraud.

A compositor (someone that worked in the printing trade) named Jacob Marks was brought up before Mr Saunders charged with obtaining money by false pretences. It was alleged that Marks pretended to be a broker ’employed by the Inland Revenue to levy distress when the Queen’s taxes were not paid’.

He went around Tower Hamlets suggesting that he had some influence in registering people as tax collectors, a steady form of employment. He demanded a registration fee of 1 to 2 guineas but it was a scam. Several people parted with money but no one was appointed as a result and Marks promptly disappeared. Mr Saunders committed him for trial for fraud.

It was the other case that was more shocking however. Thomas Leigh , a 23 year-old ship’s cooper who lived in Limehouse, was accused of assaulting his wife, Ellen. Mrs Leigh was so badly hurt that she was unable to attend the court in person and there were fears over her life as a result of the injuries she had sustained.

I suspect no one is any doubt of how difficult the Victorian period was for women; domestic violence was a daily experience for many women and men resorted to violence in a routine manner. Moreover much of this was simply accepted by society as appropriate or even necessary. The law did little to protect females from abuse by fathers, husbands, lovers or employers and the prevailing rhetoric of patriarchy validated a man’s ‘correction’ of his ‘disobedient’ or ‘bad’ wife.

Proportionally very few women ever tried to prosecute their husbands in court and when they did it was probably after suffering silently or meekly for years. When they did go before a magistrate it was often because they feared that the ‘next time’ they were were assaulted might be the ‘last time’; and given the strong correlation between domestic violence and domestic murder this is not at all surprising.

Thomas Leigh was probably a man that sent considerable time away from home. As a  ship’s cooper he may have worked on land at the docks but it is more likely he traveled often, leaving his wife to cope at home and coming back periodically to (hopefully) share his wages.

The couple lived at Fuller’s Rents, Cotton Street in the East End and on Monday 13 June they rowed. We don’;t know what about but Leigh claimed that he was provoked into hitting his spouse.

‘She tore my shirt, and gave me a great deal of provocation before I struck her’, he told Mr Saunders in his defence.

The row and subsequent fight was loud enough to alert the neighbours (and presumably violent enough for them to not simply ignore it as many routinely did). One aspect of the later ‘Ripper’ murders (in 1888) was the fact that no one seemed to hear anything, or if they did, they chose not to intervene. One witness supposedly heard Mary Kelly shout ‘murder’ but that was so common in the dark courts of Whitechapel that she thought nothing of it.

When PC Robert Wells (346D) arrived he found Ellen in a terrible state. Her husband had beaten her and kicked her ‘five times about the body’. She was, the court heard, ‘enciente at the time’. In other words she was pregnant. Was it his child, did he even know? Was that what they had rowed about? At this stage we can’t know.

It was clear that this was serious but Thomas Leigh seemed ‘indifferent’ in court. PC Wells told Mr Saunders that two women had stayed up with Ellen all night but she was in a ‘dangerous’ condition. Leigh asked for bail which was refused; Saunders remanded him for a week and told him that he was facing a charge of assault that might easily become worse if his victim failed to recover.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, June 15, 1881]

Brickbats and stones ‘welcome’ the Salvation Army to Hackney

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Congress Hall, Clapton – a Salvation Army mission

None of the London papers reported the business of the Thames Police Court in their editions on the 14th June 1881, but fortunately The Standard did include a report from Worship Street, Thames’ sister court in the East End. Given that the Morning Post did have reports from other courts, this helps me understand that reportage was (as I was fairly certain it was) highly selective.

I have written before about the unpopularity of the Salvation Army in its early days. The Army marched up and down London’s streets and held meetings to draw attention to the moral plight of the working classes. Whether it was the moralising people didn’t appreciate or the supposedly awful row their amateur musicians made, is not clear, but they suffered a great deal of abuse.

What I found most interesting was not the brickbats of the working poor but the relatively lukewarm support they drew from the middle-class magistrates that served in the Police Courts. I would have expected them to approve of the Army’s message but it seems that they saw them as at best a nuisance and at worst an unwelcome example  of radical non-conformism.

On Sunday 12 June 1881 a Salvation Army procession was marching, four abreast, though Hackney on the way to a gathering at the Mission hall in Havelock Road(which they soon outgrew, moving in and adapting a former orphanage to build Congress Hall in the later 1880s).

As the marchers processed they were assailed with all sorts of missiles along the route and when they reached the hall some of them found their path barred by a group ‘of rough young fellows’ who had been dogging their progress through Hackney.

Edgar Lagden, a porter and member of the Army was attacked. James Elvidge saw two lads, later named as Israel Stagg and Henry Abbot assault his fellow marcher. Stagg hit Lagden with a stick which drew blood, Abbot had been throwing stones, some of which hit Elvidge and others.

Elvidge broke free and grappled with the boys and seized Stagg, but as he tried to get him under control several men attacked him to release the lad.  In giving evidence before the magistrate at Worship Street Elvidge explained that he and his section of the march had been waiting and making space for the female marchers (the ‘sisters’) to get through unmolested when the main trouble flared. He ‘admitted that the crowd appeared to object to their possession of the road’.

That didn’t excuse the violence shown towards them of course, and the magistrate, Mr Hannay was quite clear on that point. Stagg was apparently well known as a troublesome lad in the district  and he was described as being ‘in league with the street fighters’. His actions and those of the others who objected to the marching band of the Army was unacceptable, he was told, and ‘very nearly [constituted] a riot’. Mr Hannay sent Stagg to prison for two months and Abbot for seven days, ‘both with hard labour’.

But he wasn’t happy about the tactics of the Salvation Army either, he noted that the ‘course pursued’ by them was ‘such as to induce disturbance’. One gets the distinct impression that he wished they would find some other way to practice their faith, one that didn’t involve marching or the cacophony of brass instruments that accompanied it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 14, 1881]

Gamekeeper turned poacher at the West India Docks

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Sugar being loaded at the West India Docks c.1900

So far this week at the Thames Police Court we have had three assaults (one of them domestic), a stabbing at sea, and a case of arson (with no obvious motive). The reporting has come from two different newspapers, Reynold’s and  the Illustrated Police News. Today’s post is taken from the Standard, and concerns a breach of trust.

Francis Earl was a Customs House officer. In fact he was described as ‘an extra out-door Customs Officer’ which sounds very much like he was a junior or low ranking officer rather than anything more sophisticated. In consequence I don’t expect he was particular well paid for the job he did, probably in all weathers and at antisocial hours.

Perhaps this led him into temptation, and that is hardly surprising given the huge amount of luxury goods that came through the London docks in the late nineteenth century.

On Saturday morning, the 11 June 1881, Earl was about to leave the West India Dock when he was stopped by watchman. His black bag was searched and a bottle of gin found inside. Earl was arrested and was then taken before Mr Lushington at Thames Police Court the next morning. There he was charged with the unlawful possession of goods that were believed to have been stolen.

Lushington had a reputation for severity, and he clearly didn’t like the idea that a Custom’s officer might be corrupt. After all it was the job of men like Earl to catch and prosecute those seeking to evade customs duties, not to profit from the illegal trade.

As a result the magistrate sent him to prison for two months adding that ‘he hoped the defendant would lose his position at the Customs, since he was not fit to be trusted’.

Ouch.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 13, 1881]

A mysterious case of arson in Mile End

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The spinning room in the Shadwell rope works c1880

This week I am looking at the business of just one of London’s police courts, Thames (in East Arbour Lane) over the course of seven days in June 1881. After yesterday’s wounding at sea and violent assault at home we have another two cases from the East London courtroom.

Francis Kearns and Thomas Risdale were accused of assaulting Henry Osborn. All three were milkmen, the former worked for the Farmers’ Dairy Company (based in Stepney) and while Osborn was employed by an unnamed rival. They clashed in a pub in Cotton Street, Limehouse and Kearns hurled a can containing eight quarts of milk at Osborn. As a fight began to escalate the police were called and the men arrested. Mr Saunders, the magistrate presiding that day, sent both defendants to prison for a month at hard labour.

However it was the other story I found more interesting because it involved arson, a crime historians have , relatively speaking, largely ignored.

At 4 o’clock on Saturday 11 June the gates of Joseph Johnson’s rope and twine factory in Wade’s Place on the Mile End Road were locked. All the hands had gone home at 2 having finished for the day, as was the normal pattern of working in the 1800s. Workers generally worked Monday to Saturday afternoon, having the latter off along with Sunday.  Joseph Johnson ran the factory with his brother William but they didn’t live there. At 11 at night William checked the premises, as he always did, and found everything in order and nothing out of the ordinary. He returned to his home which was close by the business.

However, at one o’clock on Sunday morning a fire was seen burning in the factory and the alarm was raised. William rushed over accompanied by his carman (effectively a nineteenth-century van driver) and they found the whole place on fire. They also discovered a man lying on the ground, ‘face downwards, close to the shed door’. William asked him what he was doing there but his reply was inaudible and Johnson and the carman left him and ran off to try and save the horses that were stabled there.

When they had secured the horses – all safe and well I’m glad to say – they looked for the mysterious man but he had gone. He hadn’t gone far however, and they soon caught up with him near the gates. Johnson and his employee seized the man and handed him over to the police. On the way to East Arbour Square Police station the man, who gave his name as John Redding (a cooper from Stratford), desperately tried to escape his situation.

‘I hope you will not swear against me’ he pleaded with Johnson, ‘I did not intend to do any hard. If £1000 will get me out of it, I can get it’.

£1000 in 1881 was a huge sum of money, the equivalent to nearly £50,000 today so I’ve no idea how a cooper thought he would lay his hands on that amount, and it all adds to the mystery.

At Thames Police Court Mr Saunders was told the police thought Redding had been drinking and was sporting a black eye. Was this an explanation of his behaviour or evidence of him seeking some ‘dutch courage’ to carry out a deliberate act of arson, perhaps one inspired by revenge? When he was searched no ‘lucifers’ (matches) were found on him; in fact nothing (not even a pipe) was found that might have enabled him to start the blaze. It was a curious case and clearly there was more to be discovered. As a result Mr Saunders remanded him in custody for further examination.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 12, 1881]

A Stabbing on the High Seas (and other tales from Thames Police Court)

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This week I am going to take a slightly different approach to my selection of cases. Instead of taking them from across a range of Police Courts I am going to concentrate on just one, the Thames Police Court, which was one of two courts serving the East End of London*. I am also going to stick to one year, 1881 (a year when there are also manuscript records for Thames**). Hopefully then, I will be able to chart the business of Thames Police court from Saturday 11 June 1881 to Friday 17 June.

There are two cases reported from Saturday’s sitting, the first concerned a man named George Braithwaite who was accused of assaulting Elizabeth Grub, a ‘young woman’ living on the Isle of Dogs. She was too ill to attend court and the magistrate remanded Braithwaite in custody for a week to ‘see how the complainant progressed’.

The second concerned a ‘stabbing on the high seas’. Tobias Rosenfelt was brought up in Thames on a charge of ‘unlawfully wounding Harry Price, chief steward on board the steamship “Libra”.’ The Libra was one of the vessels run by the General Steam Navigation Company between London and Hamburg. The company (formed in 1824) carried both passengers and cargo across the Channel and North Sea, and later (after 1882) began operations in the Mediterranean. The Libra was launched in 1869 but sank in 1889 following a collision at sea.

According to the report of the case in 1881 Rosenfelt, a 29 year-old horse dealer who lived in Whitechapel (in Half Moon Passage), was on board the Libra on May 1st as it steamed towards Hamburg. He was in boisterous mood and entered the saloon, calling loudly for a bottle of lemonade. When Price, the ship’s steward, asked him to be  little more restrained Rosenfelt gave him a mouthful of abuse.

Price then asked him to leave but he refused. When the steward attempted to throw him out of the saloon he was attacked. He took a knife (or ‘some other sharp instrument’) from his pocket and aimed it at the steward’s chest. Price put up his hands to defend himself and was stabbed in his palm. Rosenfelt fled with the steward in pursuit. When he reached the middle of the ship Price caught up with him but Rosenfelt snatched hold of a ‘camp chair’ and bashed Price over the head with it.

Presumably at some point the horse dealer was arrested or detained onboard and returned to England to face the music in June. At the hearing the prosecutor told Mr Lushington (the Thames magistrate) that Rosenfelt had previously been charged with manslaughter in Hamburg, and wounding, and was clearly a ‘dangerous man’. The magistrate remanded him in custody to see if more evidence emerged. We can see if he reappeared later that week.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc , Saturday, June 11, 1881]

*the other was Worship Street in Shoreditch

**held by the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)