‘The knife at work again’ screams the ‘headline’ in the Chronicle

TheIllustratedPoliceNewsetc(London,England),Saturday,August7,1880

David Connor was a drunk. And when he was in his cups he was extremely violent. Plenty of people would testify to that fact, including the police to whom he was a known offender.

In February 1857 he was up before Mr Tyrwhitt at Clerkenwell Police court on charge of stabbing James Roberts. Both men were costermongers – street traders who had a reputation for bad language, heavy drinking, and fighting. When they rolled up their sleeves and traded blows in a ‘fair fight’ no one really minded but when knives were involved the state intervened.

Roberts had entered the Coffee House pub on Chapel Street in Somers Town at about 8 o’clock at night. Connor – a ‘rough, dirty looking fellow; – was already much the worse for drink. The pair argued and Roberts left. He made his way to another pub, the Victoria, but Connor followed him and the two men quarrelled again.

This time they came to blows and Connor pulled out a knife and stabbed the other coster in the arm. As Roberts bled and sought medical help, Connor scarpered before the police could catch him. Enquiries were made however and the culprit was picked up and taken into custody. The police were adamant that Connor was guilty because he was known to be aggressive and ‘committed assaults on nearly every person he fell in with’.

Connor pleaded for leniency and said he was sorry, it would;t have happened if he hadn’t have been drinking. He asked the magistrate to deal with him there and then – knowing he would get a lesser sentence at the Police Court. Mr Tyrwhitt asked after Roberts’ health and was told that his injuries were not yet clear, and it was too soon for him to appear in court to give his evidence. He doesn’t seem to have been in mortal danger but under the circumstances it was appropriate to remand Connor in custody to see what charge he would eventually face.

The paper’s headline – the knife at work again – suggests a contemporary concern with mindless violence in the late 1850s. There was a growing concern about a criminal class and outbreaks of garrotting panics in the 1850s and 1860s fuelled this. I suspect Connor would have faced  a trial at the Sessions later that month and a faulty lengthy prison spell if he was convicted. Violence that involved knives was not considered very ‘British’ and he may well have paid the price for that.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, February 23, 1857]

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