A thief is nabbed at the Tower and a cross-dresser is arrested for dancing: all in a day’s work for Mr Lushington

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Visitors to the Victorian Tower of London Armouries

Two contrasting cases from the Thames Police court today, one of who courts that served the East End and the river from the Tower of London. The first concerned the Tower itself, or rather the collection of arms and armour it displayed there.

The Tower Armouries was always one of my favourite places to visit when I went to the Tower as a boy. Housed in the White Tower (the original Norman keep) the collection of edged weapons, guns and suits and armour fascinated me just as it has so many other visitors before and since. Now it has been removed from the Tower and sent to the north of England to a purpose built museum in Leeds. It’s great there too, but not quite the same.

John Passmore was only a young man when he visited the Tower in 1877. He worked as a labourer and had gone to see the armouries with some mates. As he was coming out he noticed some horse pistols hanging on hooks, easy to reach and not behind bars. Without really knowing why he snatched one and hid it under his jacket.

Several such pistols had gone missing in recent weeks and David Deedy, one of the armories’ attendants, was keeping his eyes peeled for further depredations. Something about John caught his eye, was that a bulge under his jacket, or a smudge of dirt on his lapels? He moved forward, stopped the young man and searched him. John pleased with him not to have him arrested but, given the recent thefts, Deedy was understandably keen to prosecute. John Passmore apologized for his momentary act of recklessness and paid for it with seven days imprisonment at hard labour.

The other reported case that Mr Lushington (who known to be harsh) dealt with that day was distinctly different. John Bumberg was a foreign sailor (his precise nationality was not stated, he was just ‘foreign’) and he was in court for causing a disturbance.

PC George Carpenter (102H) told Mr Lushington that he had been on duty in St George’s Street when he’d heard what sounded like a large crowd up ahead. Hurrying along he discovered that there were about 200 boys and girls gathered around a dancing figure, who was being accompanied by a barrel organ. The dancer was dressed in woman’s clothing but was quite clearly a man. PC Carpenter approached and questioned him, established he was sober (if a little ‘excited’) and then arrested him.

Causing a nuisance and obstructing the streets were both misdemeanors so Carpenter was within his rights but it seems a fairly unnecessary action to take. I think that Mr Lushington   might have agreed because on this occasion he was fairly lenient. Given that Bumberg had been locked up all night he simply told him he had acted ‘foolishly’ and ‘advised him to behave more decently in the future’ before letting him go. The man left the dock carrying ‘a bundle of female wearing apparel in his arms’.

Was John Bumberg a frustrated female impersonator who wanted to be on the stage like the starts of the musical halls?  Was he perhaps a transvestite or cross-dresser? Whatever he was and whatever his motivation for entertaining the children of the East End that night I don’t believe he was doing anybody any harm and I think H Division’s finest might have found more suitable targets for their attention.

In 1881 George Carpenter was still in the force and on 14 May that year he brought Catherine Scannel into the Thames court charged with being drunk and disorderly. She was 46, quite possibly a streetwalker and Mr Lushington sent her to prison for 7 days, mostly likely because she gave the policeman some well-aimed verbal abuse. A week later he was back with another woman, Julia Hayes, who was charged with fighting. This time the magistrate let her off with a warning. PC Carpenter brought in a couple more drunks that May, this was after all, much of the traffic of the police courts, most of which the papers didn’t bother recording. We only of this because a few archival records survive.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 18, 1877]

H Division was, of course, the main police district tasked with catching the Whitechapel murder 11 years after these two defendants appeared before Lushington at Thames.  Drew’s new book (co-authored with Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books this week. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here:

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