Blood is thicker than water on Hackney Marshes


One disturbing report from the London papers on this day in 1888 reads reminds of the panic caused by the actions of an unknown killer on the streets of the capital:

At Clerkenwell, Frederick Dunbar, 48, a hair-dresser, of King-street, Somer’s Town, was charged with drunkenness, and disorderly conduct, in Bayham-street, Camden Town, on Sunday night. – Police-constable 493 Y, said that prisoner, who was surrounded by a crowd of people, was drunk, and he loudly shouted several times, “I am ‘Jack the Ripper.'” He was taken to the police-station, and about 1,000 persons gathered around. – Dunbar, in defence, said he was sorry for what had occurred. He had taken too much to drink. – Mr. Bros: You have made a fool of yourself, and I will send you to prison for twenty-one days’ imprisonment with hard labour.

That was from the Evening News and is one of many such ‘snippets’ posted as part of a huge amount of material on the excellent casebook site for the Ripper murders. London was gripped by the murders and one might think that this pushed all other ‘time news’ out of the news hole, fortunately (for readers here at least) this was far from the case.

While Fred Dunbar was being charged for his disorderly behaviour over at Dalston Police Court a ‘young gipsy’ called Daniel Gumble was brought before the sitting magistrate charged with a violent assault on his father-in-law, John Roster.

Neither man were prepared to be sworn on ‘that book’ (meaning the Bible) because they were gypsies. Roster actually stood up for his son-in-law, describing him as a ‘good father to his three children’ and adding that the assault had occurred when they were both drunk.

Mr Bros (the magistrate that had also appeared at Clerkenwell to deal with Dunbar) turned to the police for details of the crime. Police sergeant Nolleth said he had been informed of the assault at 2.30 in the morning when Roster turned up at the station asking to have his head wound dressed. Nolleth then went to the gypsy camp on Hackney Marshes and arrested Gumble.

He confirmed that Roster had complained that the younger man had hit him over the head with a clothes prop. But Roster again intervened on behalf of his son-in-law, repeating that he was a good man but poor,  he was a hard worker and that only the other night he had declared that Roster was the best father-in-law in the world.

‘You told a very different tale last night’, responded the police sergeant. ‘Oh a man says anything when drunk’ replied Roster. Since there seemed no desire on behalf of the prosecutor to press charges the case was dismissed and Daniel was released.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 29, 1888]

NB it seems that true Romani people follow a variety of faiths including Christianity and Islam. For more information see this interesting site

2 thoughts on “Blood is thicker than water on Hackney Marshes

  1. I wonder, having refused to swear on the Bible were the travellers allowed to take an oath or have some other away of affirming that they were telling the truth. I’ve only given evidence in a court of law once twice and each time I was given the chance to affirm that I was telling the truth without any recourse to a higher authority. When was that introduced?


    1. I don’t have any evidence to suggest they could affirm. Quakers could affirm (since the late 17th century) but the right in law today seems only to date from the 1970s.


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