The object of today’s post had a rather Dickensian name, Mr Wackett.
Wackett (no first name was given, if indeed he had one) declared himself to be a grave digger in Bethnal Green. One Sunday evening in early June 1839 Police constable Smith (171G) was strolling his beat in Shoreditch when he heard screams up ahead.
Moving along he quickly came upon several alarmed if not terrified persons, mostly women, who were trying to get away from a man in the street. Wackett was in the thick of things, apparently hurling small bags at passers-by, which appeared to explode on contact.
As the bags landed they ‘exploded with a report that could be heard at a considerable distance’, he later told the Worship Street court.
PC Smith arrested the grave digger and took him back to the station to search him. A number of bags, containing what seemed to contain gravel, were found on his person . On the orders of a magistrate these were taken away and examined by a local chemist.
When Wackett appeared before the Worship Street justice (Mr Broughton) it was reported that:
‘intermixed with the gravel [was] a detonating powder which, when thrown at any person, particularly a female, might create much alarm, but was not likely to destroy, or sensibly damage the dress’.
So it was an unpleasant thing to do, but one designed to upset and alarm and not to hurt or damage clothing. As a result Mr Broughton gave the grave digger a lecture on behaving more decently in future and let him go with a small fine.
[from The Operative, Sunday, June 9, 1839]
I hadn’t heard of the The Operative before, but it seems to have come out of Chartism. The paper’s ‘mission statement’ was “Established by the working classes for the defence of the rights of labour. Also for a ‘fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.’