A Hammer attack on a Whitechapel chemist in 1888

On the 8th September 1888 (in the middle of the Whitechapel murder series associated with ‘Jack the Ripper’) William Seaman turned up at John Simpkin’s chemist shop at 82 Berner Street, Whitechapel.

It was 10 to midnight and the chemist was just closing up and beginning to draw his shutters. Seaman asked for ‘a pennyworth of zinc ointment*’ which Simpkin started to make up. The chemist had his back to his customers as he stood behind his counter.

All of a sudden, and without provocation, Seaman attacked – aiming a hammer at the shopkeeper which struck him on his head. Simpkin was wearing a hat which was knocked off his head and ended up (he knew not how) in the street outside.

The attacker then moved around the behind the counter and continued his violent attack, beating the chemist about the head with the hammer. As a result Mr Simpkins was badly bruised about the back and head, his ears were cut and he sustained other cuts to his upper body and head.

Dr Allen, who examined the chemist said he was covered in blood and for a while his life was in danger. Thankfully he made a recovery and a  month later he was able to give his evidence before the magistrate at Thames Police court.

The magistrate fully committed Seaman for trial and on the 22 October he appeared before a judge and jury at Old Bailey. There the court was told that the injuries had left Mr Simpkins deeply affected both physically and mentally. He was ‘unable to use his hands fully yet—the joints of his thumbs are very weak, and he is still suffering from pains about the body—he is now in a fair way to recovery—his eyesight has not been so good since the assault, and he has not been able to write (a major issue for a pharmacist). Moreover he was mentally damaged by the attack: ‘he was very excited at nights’ the court heard, and on ‘one or two nights he was rather delirious’.

Seaman’s only defence was that he had been drinking and said that they had quarreled because the chemist had refused to weigh ‘the alum’. He added that while he admitted to hitting his victim he never intended to cause the harm he had.

Havining pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding (rather than the initial charge of attempted murder that had been heard at Thames) Seaman was sent to prison for 7 years of penal servitude.

  • used (for example) for skins conditions, rashes and blisters.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper , Sunday, October 7, 1888]

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