Deal porters on the London Docks
There was plenty of violence in nineteenth-century London. Much of it was drunken and most of the perpetrators and women were often the victims. Policemen were also assaulted, not infrequently when they tried to move on drunks in the street or intervened to stop a crime, but it was relatively rare for them to be charged with violence.
So this then is a rare example of a summons being issued against a serving Victorian policeman. In September 1865 Thomas Marshall, a porter, appeared at Thames Police court in the East End of London to complain about being assaulted the previous night.
Marshall looked pale, he’d lost a great deal of blood and the top of his head was covered by a large ‘surgical plaister’. He told Mr Paget (the presiding magistrate) that he’d been to the Five Bells pub in Three Colt Street, near Limehouse church.
That was at about nine in the evening. Thomas was a deal porter who worked on the docks. This was a physically demanding occupation requiring considerable skills in ferrying and stacking softwood into tall stacks on the quays. It is quite understandable that Thomas quickly fell asleep in a corner of the pub after a few pints.
However, at midnight the landlord, Mr Wright, woke him gently and said: Now, York [which was his nickname] you must leave’.
For whatever reason Marshall refused and the landlord called in a passing policeman. The copper was heavy handed, dragged him out on the street and then, according to the porter:
‘struck him on the tip of his nose, hit him on the arm, and nearly broke it, and then struck him on the head with his truncheon. He received a dreadful wound, and the people who looked out of the windows called out “shame”.’
Why did he do this the magistrate wanted to know. Because he was drunk, the porter explained.
He didn’t know his name but he had got his number. Mr Paget turned to the policeman who’d appeared that morning to represent the force, sergeant Manning (15K). Would there be any difficulty in identifying the officer Mr Paget asked him.
‘None, sir, if he had mentioned the right time and place’, the sergeant replied.
The magistrate agreed to issue a summons and ordered the sergeant to speak to the station inspector to ascertain exactly whom the summons should be issued for. While the magistracy generally backed up the police, cases like this, where an officer appeared to have overstepped his authority and, more importantly even, had allegedly been drunk on duty; they were quite capable of siding with the public.
Whether this policeman was summoned to appear, let alone convicted of assault, remains unknown however, as I can’t easily find any reference to the case in the next couple of weeks at Thames. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t of course, the newspapers rarely followed up all the stories they printed and perhaps they felt they’d said all they needed to here. Quite possibly however, the police simply closed ranks and protected their own, concluding that it would be quite hard for the porter to prove anything.
[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 15, 1865]