An ‘eye for an eye’ in Whitechapel

Mr Lushington, the notoriously harsh magistrate who presided over Thames Police Court during the 1880s, was said to have little toleration of domestic abusers or of those that resisted the authority of the police, especially when they did so with violence. He sat at Thames during the ‘autumn of terror’ when at least five poor working-class women were brutally murdered by ‘Jack the Ripper’.

On the 15 January 1888 a woman came to see him with her son. One of his eyes was bandaged and she complained that he had been attacked by an older boy in the neighbourhood.

On the previous Wednesday she had sent her ‘little boy’ out on an errand. As he walked along the street there was another lad in front of him who was carrying a lighted torch. I presume this was at night or at least in the early evening. The streets around the Thames Court area were dimly lit if they were lighted at all, so perhaps torch carrying like this was common.

The leading boy turned on the younger one and challenged him:

‘Are you following me, for if you are, I’ll put this torchlight in your eye’, he declared.

The smaller lad denied he was but this did not stop the attack on him. The lit torch was poked into one of his eyes and it was all he could do to stumble home. When his mother saw him she asked what had happened and ‘he fainted away on a chair’.

The unnamed mother, having cared for her son, now went to find the culprit. She spoke to his father who promised to take his own retribution on the lad by giving him a ‘sound chastisement’. This would seem to have been enough for the mother because she didn’t think her son was that badly hurt but when a doctor finally examined him he told her that his sight was likely to be affected for some time.

The boy that carried out this attack was 15 years of age, as she told Mr Lushington when he asked. This was important because it made his father liable to paying some compensation the magistrate told her. He instructed one of the officers of the court to look into the matter and she left court. I wonder whether there was any action to punish the boy through the legal system because despite his relatively young age, 15 was old enough to be charged with assault and this was clearly a lot more serious than ‘fisticuffs’ between two youngsters of equal ability.

Maybe the justice didn’t see it as being serious, or perhaps the unnamed mother didn’t want to make any more it knowing that the boy had been punished by a beating from his father. If her boy was in need of medical help however, it was important to get some compensation so that that seems to have been her reason to take it to court.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, January 16, 1888]

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