Knife crime causes concern in London again, several people are charged

It seems that rarely a week passes in London at the moment without there being a report of a stabbing or shooting involving young people. Gangs, drugs, turf wars and postcode territorial disputes are often blamed and carrying a knife for ‘self-defence’ seems to be endemic.

As with many things in history, especially it seems the history of crime, none of this is very new. In September 1893 the newspapers carried several stories of knife related incidents prosecuted at the capital’s Police Courts.

At Greenwich Alfred Lewis (a 43 year old coach maker from Deptford) was charged with ‘maliciously cutting and wounding’ James Good. Both men fought and both ended up in the Miller Hospital. The fight had happened at a coffee house in Watergate Street and a policeman had been fetched by a distressed onlooker.

Charles Townsend had picked up e bloody knife Lewis had used on Good and handed it over to PC James (512R). The copper went to the café and found Lewis being restrained by two men. The prisoner asked, “is he dead?” and then added, “I meant doing for him. I should like to see him in e mortuary to-night”.

A crowd had gathered outside the coffee house, upwards of a 100 people who seemingly wanted to deliver their own ‘justice’ to Lewis. The policeman had great difficulty in getting Lewis away from those that wanted to Lynch him.

Back at he police station the prisoner told the desk sergeant he had acted in self defence. It seems an unlikely plea, especially given what he had said at the scene. Good was badly hurt:he had four stab wounds in his chest, and one on his cheek. Lewis had a fractured rib where Good had tried to resit him.

The magistrate heard from a doctor that the victim’s wounds were very serious and he was unable to attend court. Lewis was remanded in custody to await Good’s return to some degree of health.

[from Daily News, Thursday, September 21, 1893]

Anything to Declare sir? I’ll just have a look in your luggage please…

William Hartey probably rode his luck once too often. These days we have become fairly used to the concept of Duty Free shopping at airports and ferry terminals, and of course the ‘booze cruise’ to Calais has been a popular pastime for Brits in the last few decades. Perhaps not for much longer after Brexit, who knows?

MAB-WWharfMap1894-2500

Hartey was he second steward on a ‘Boulogne boat’ which docked in London at the West Wharf in August 1868. The Customs officer went on board the boat as he was required to do, to check what it was bringing in from the continent.

The second steward was asked to produce his stories and so Hartey showedhim 25 cigars he had with him. “Is that all?” Robert Sharp asked him. “Yes” the sailor told him.

The customs officer was clearly suspicious, and inspected the boat. In the pantry he found 200 more cigars, concealed ‘behind a drawer’. The duty owing on them was £1 but the magistrate had the power to fine Hartey ‘single, double, or treble duty’.

But he must have been feeling charitable on this occasions. He said he would ‘not be hard upon him this time, but he must not be brought there again’. He fined him 20s and confiscated the cigars.

[From Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 20, 1868]

A parent is unconvinced by the theory of vaccination

jenner

The Cow Pock by James Gillray (1802) satirizes the campaign against vaccination

Many of the cases that came before the Police Courts actually had little resemblance to anything we might today call ‘crime’ but there was plenty that might come under the general banner of regulation.

In recent years there has been something of a campaign against vaccination – specifically the MMR jab which was rumored (incorrectly) to cause autism. Vaccination was pioneered in the early 19th century by Edward Jenner and people were quick to ridicule his efforts. Jenner successfully found a vaccination for small pox, a disease that had killed thousands in Britain and Europe.

Even by the later 1800s not everyone was convinced that vaccination worked or was desirable. The government was convinced and acted to make vaccination compulsory by a series of statutes from 1867 to 1873. However there was considerable disquiet about this and many people simply refused to present their children to the parish officers for their injections. As a result plenty of parents found themselves in court facing a magistrate.

John Forster Howe was one such father. Howe appeared at Greenwich Police Court in September 1881 charged with ‘disobeying an order of the court to have his child vaccinated’. The Vaccination Officer confirmed the facst before Mr. Howe offered a spirited defense of why he felt the prosecution was unjustified and vaccination inappropriate.

He gave no less than eight reasons:

“Because we believe the theory of vaccination to be unsupported by sufficient evidence”; statistics could be shown to have ‘intensified the evil’ not lessened, it, and there was no proof it had stopped small pox. He rejected the idea that the best way to prevent a disease was to infect a child with that very same disease. The dangers involved here far outweighed the limited risk of catching small pox itself.

He also (and this echoes modern complaints) felt it undermined his ‘liberty of conscience’ (his freedom to choose in other words). So for him a refusal to obey a bad law was the best way to bring about much ‘needed reforms’.

It was a sterling defense and the newspaperman reported it verbatim. It did him no good, the justice fined him 20s plus 2s costs. Howe said he was happy to pay but would never comply with the law.

[from Daily News , Monday, September 19, 1881]

A humanitarian intervention or an affair uncovered?

In a report titled ‘Inconstancy’ a Mr. F. Dixon appeared at Southwark Police Court charged with absconding with another man’s wife and some of his possessions. James Wilkinson, a milkman living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields said that while he gone ‘to the country for a month on business’ Dixon had ran off with his wife. He had tracked them down to an address near St Thomas’ Hospital, south of the River Thames and confronted them.

Dixon had been employed by Wilkinson as a clerk, suggesting that Wilkinson was more than a simple milk deliveryman. Not only had the clerk taken his wife, he raged, he’d also stolen a ‘portrait painting, a Bible, and some other articles’.

Dixon was outraged at the suggestion and said that she had brought the items with her. It is quite likely these were the wife’s own belongings but as all of a woman’s property passed to her husband on marriage in this period Wilkinson claimed them as his own. He then went on to make ‘a long statement’ to the effect that Mrs Dixon had been driven to stay with him because of the cruel treatment meted out to her by Wilkinson. Dixon, he claimed, had only acted out of his ‘humane feelings’ for Mrs. Wilkinson.

The magistrate said he minded to believe the clerk and simply asked him to appear again at a future date after the affair had been looked into more carefully.

[From Daily News, Friday, September 18, 1846]

 

A mysterious motive for stabbing in Seven Dials

In mid September 1816 three people appeared in the Marlborough Street Police court (or Office as it was termed then) accused of being involved in the wounding of Thomas Mannax.

Mannax had been attacked at his home in Monmouth Street in the heart of the notorious Seven Dials district near Covent Garden. His attacker was John Christopher Colman and he had stabbed Mannax but there was no report that the man’s life was in danger.

The other two defendants were Colman’s mother and Mannax’s wife. One is bound to wonder at why Mrs Mannax was involved in an attempt on her own husband’s life. Sadly we can only speculate as the paper gives us nothing further than that the three prisoners were remanded for examination at a later date. Perhaps Mannax was an abusive husband, maybe Colman was having an affair with his wife?

[From The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 17, 1816]

P.S please forgive the short entry today but I’m getting married at 4 and so a little busy. Posts will continue to appear while I’m away but I might not respond much to comments. Thanks to everyone who comments, tweets and RT my posts and thanks to all of you who quietly read them.

Poisoned treacle in Lewisham (and an empty poor box in the City)

lyles-truck

In a report of a meeting of the Lewisham Board of Works (which sounds as riveting as its title suggests) from 1877, it was claimed that a supply of poisoned treacle was being sold in the borough. The treacle had apparently been ‘accidentally poisoned with arsenic’ but was now being sold in the ‘poorest districts, where it could easily be disposed of at low prices’ (suggesting to me that the vendors were well aware of what it contained).  The board reported that two families had already been made ill by the sweet sticky substance and requested samples be taken so the source could be traced and the remainder removed from sale.

This was not yet a crime (in that no one had been arrested and therefore no court action taken). But hopefully this would have eventually ended up in the Police Courts and in a prosecution for adulteration of food at the very least. Hopefully no one was killed as arsenic in low quantities is rarely fatal.

Meanwhile over at Mansion House a very different problem faced the authorities.

The magistrate (the Lord Mayor on this occasion) announced that the poor box was empty. Indeed not only was the ‘poor-box fund of the court’ […] ‘quite exhausted’, it was also slightly in debt.

It seems to have been the norm for the Mansion House court to use the proceeds of fines and sometimes of costs to provide temporary handouts to the poorest of those that came before the court. Now, however, these funds had been used up and so the Lord Mayor issued an appeal to the public to donate monies to replenish the fund.

I suppose this shows us that in the 1800s (as indeed seems to have been the case in the previous century) the summary courts of the capital played an important role in providing temporary support to London’s large population of paupers and others, like abandoned wives and mothers, that needed it.

[ from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 16, 1877]

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

ticketofleaveman

From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

ticketofleaveman

From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.

The Bow Street Runners have the tables turned on them

The Bow Street Runners was the contemporary (and slightly disparaging) name given to the officers attached to the Bow Street Police Office. These proto-policemen had been established in the late eighteenth century by the Fielding brothers, Henry and John, and by the early 1800s they were regularly bringing criminals before the magistrate in Covent Garden and helping prosecute cases at the Old Bailey. The Runners were also being sent outside of the capital to help with provincial crime fighting.

They were not professional police has we understand them however, they were more akin to the thief-takers of the early to mid-eighteenth century if less corrupt. Runners were paid a basic stipend for their service but relied mostly on rewards from government and from those victims whose cases they pursued. I think it’s fair to say that if we are to see them (as Professor Beattie does) as England’s ‘first detectives’ then we should recognise that they were just as flawed and open to accusations of heavy handiness and corrupt practice as many of those that have come after them.

The Metropolitan Police were founded in 1829 and there was much discussion of the need (or otherwise) of professionals in London in the years leading up to Peel’s initiative. The Runners were part of that conversation and incidents like today’s news story from 1824, reflect concerns about the way the Bow Street officers operated on occasion and perhaps the need to replace them with a more accountable group of men.

The landlord of the Star & Garter public house in St. Martin’s Lane, Mr. Sbrinzi, had recently been the victim of a robbery. As a consequence two Bow Street Runners had been in and out of his house on a regular basis, presumably making enquiries.

They were there late on Sunday night. At about midnight one of his lodgers knocked him up to let them in and as Sbrinzi opened the door two Runners forced their way in demanding to know who was in the house. Despite the landlord answering their queries in full the men dragged him out of his property by the collar and marched hi to the watch house. There they tried to have him locked up overnight but the constable of the night refused them.

On the way he complained that ‘they had used him so roughly that he was obliged, in his own defence’, to seize on them (by the name of Donald) by the hand and tried to shake him off. At this the officer shouted to his colleague: ‘Hollick, give your knife, and I’ll cut his __________ hand off’. Not surprisingly then the publican pressed a charge of assault at the Bow Street office.

The two Runners arrived in the building as Sbrinzi was giving his evidence and immediately countered with their own version of events. They accused him of assayult but when an independent witness verified the landlord’s story the magistrate, Mr. Birnie, dismissed their accusations out of hand. He ‘strongly censured the conduct of the patrole’ (meaning Hollick and Donald) and recommend that Mr. Sbrinzi prosecute them at the Sessions of the Peace, which he said he would do.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 14, 1824]