A remarkable woman challenges the patriarchy

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Mrs Georgina Weldon

In August 1883 a woman appeared at the Bow Street Police court to ask for a summons against a psychiatrist whose name is perhaps family to researchers interested in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ case. Lyttelton Forbes Winslow was born in London in 1844 and trained as a physician, like his father. He became a psychiatrist like his father but was a controversial figure, falling out with his family and making seemingly spurious claims about his knowledge of who the Whitechapel murderer was.

Winslow believed the killer was the Canadian born G. Wentworth Smith who had arrived in London for work and lodged with a couple in Finsbury Square. Smith was apparently overheard declaring that ‘all prostitutes should be drowned’ and this was reported to Winslow by Mr Callaghan, the Canadian’s landlord.

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Winslow told the police, who investigated and dismissed his thesis, but the doctor persisted to talk it up at every opportunity. When he was eventually interviewed by Chief Inspector Swanson Winslow crumbled and said he’d been misrepresented in the press (which had carried the story). One Ripper theorist (Donald McCormick) suggested that the police even suspected Winslow himself of being the murderer.

Forbes Winslow’s real notoriety however, and his rejection by the mainstream medical community, was down to events before 1888 and linked in fact to this case at Bow Street. In 1878 he had attempted to commit Mrs Wheldon to a lunatic asylum at the request of her husband. This ended up in a long running court battle of which this request for a summons seems to have been a part.

Georgina Weldon was an opera singer who led a colourful life and become estranged from her husband Harry, a former officer in the Hussars. She’d filled her house with orphan children and when Weldon became increasing exasperated at the expense of keeping his ex-wife (at £1,000 a year) he tried to do what many Victorian men did and have his wife put away as a lunatic on account of her interest in spiritualism (which was increasingly popular at the end of the 1800s).

Her examination was conducted in an underhand manner by doctors who pretended they were interviewing her about her orphanage and Georgina soon realised something as amiss. She couldn’t sue her husband directly until the law changed in 1882 but seems to have sued everyone involved at some point and to have been a champion of litigation (‘the Portia of the Law Court’s as she was dubbed).

At this appliance in August 1883 Georgina had requested a summons to bring Dr Forbes Winslow to court to prove she was not insane. Mr Flowers, the Bow Street magistrate, declined her a summons but stated that he was entirely satisfied she was not mad. He added that she could of course apply at a higher court to bring Dr Winslow to book, which of course she went on to do.

Georgina Weldon went to prison, gave public lectures, wrote a number of books and articles about her experiences and sang and published songs. She died just over six months before the outbreak of the First World War and perhaps deserves to be better known than she is. She certainly stands out as a woman who was not prepared to accept the lot that life dealt her; that is (or was) to be a submissive wife of a Victorian military man.

She carved out her own destiny and challenged the medical and legal patriarchy at every turn and its a shame she didn’t make it to the end of the war to see the sisterhood win the right to vote. She was a quite remarkable Victorian lady.

[from Morning Post, Monday 13 August 1883]

‘When the fun stops, stop?’: the ‘curse’ of betting in late nineteenth-century London.

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When Augustus Peake asked to speak to his employer it wasn’t to ask for time off or for a rise, it was to make a deeply embarrassing confession. Peake had worked as cashier to Mr. W.H. Chaplin, a London wine merchant, for a decade but had been stealing from the till for the past 15 months.

In 1887 Peake earned £150 a year (about £12,000 at today’s prices) but had run into difficulties at home. He had a growing family and was struggling to make ends meet. At some point in the mid 1880s he’d taken ‘a few shillings’ and ‘invested’ them in a speculative bet. This paid off, he won but before long he was hooked. The shillings turned into pounds and by July 1887 he was confessing to having embezzled upwards of £250 (or £20,000 now).

We would now recognize that he had a gambling addiction, something that afflicts very many people in Britain today. Unfortunately for Peake he had compounded his addiction by stealing from his employer. While he admitted his crime in July he also begged Mr Chaplin not to act on the information straight away as his wife had just given birth and he feared the effect it might have on her nerves and health. To his credit the wine merchant took pity and agreed.

Peake was then arrested at his home in Leytonstone in August and brought before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street Police court. There he admitted his crime and  the circumstances that drove him to it. Like all deluded gamblers he said he ‘always had before him the vision of getting all the money back again in one grand coup’ but it never happened and when he realized the half yearly accounts would expose him he confessed all to Mr Chaplin.

The magistrate had heard and seen it all and took the opportunity to warn the public, via the newspapers, of the perils of gambling which he viewed as ‘a curse to this country’.

I wish that the clerks in mercantile houses of London could come to this court and see what I see and hear what I hear. This is only one of a multitude of cases where prisoners placed in your position have confessed that their robberies are entirely due to betting’.

Peake was clearly well thought of by his master who pleaded leniency. Nevertheless Mr Chaplin and Mr Vaughan agreed that an example had to be made and Peake was sent to prison for three months. That would not be the end of his punishment of course. No one was likely to trust him as a cashier in the future unless Chaplin took pity on him. So he would be out of work, massively indebted (unless the wine merchant chose to write it off) and with a new mouth to feed at home. In a society without support for unemployment (beyond the workhouse) or for those suffering from addictions, Augustus’ future looked bleak indeed.

Personally I think gambling and the companies that promote it is, as Mr Vaughan put it, a curse on society. I suspect we all ‘have a flutter’ from time to time which is fine so long as we realize that the odds are massively stacked against us. After all ‘the house always wins’, and it is no coincidence that betting shops proliferate in areas of the greatest deprivation.  Quite why drugs are illegal and gambling is promoted on television I shall never fully understand.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 10, 1887]

Shock and anger as a ‘respectable clerk’ assaults a six year old girl in the park

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The Duke of York’s Monument, c.1840

A heightened awareness of child abuse in the last decade has raised the media profile of this awful crime to the extent that it is one of the key concerns of 21stcentury Britain. From the discovery of Saville’s historic abuse of children at Stoke Mandeville and elsewhere, to the grooming of young girls in several British cities, to stories of abusive football coaches and priests, it would sometimes appear that we have witnessed an epidemic of paedophile behaviour in the UK. It is more likely of course that what we have experienced is a rise in the reporting of incidents.  This is not a modern crime, it is something that has always happened but it is likely that in the last 10-15 years society has taken victims’ testimony more seriously.

At the end of July 1862 Thomas Percy was relaxing in the band enclosure at St James’ Park. The musician was watching the promenaders and the families enjoying the summer sunshine in the late afternoon when a fellow musician drew his attention to a little girl holding a baby. She was about six years of age and a well-dressed young man was sitting near to her. Percy saw the man throw a penny to the girl, who threw it back. To his horror the man then moved over and started to sexually assault the child.

The man named Brown was on his feet in seconds and raced over to the offender, pulling him off the girl. He ‘boxed the child’s ears and sent her away’ and then turned his anger on the young man. Several other bystanders had seen the ‘filthy conduct’ of the man and as he tried to run away they gave chase. He made it to the foot of the Duke of York’s monument near The Mall where he was surrounded by a mob. A soldier on duty kept them from attacking him and the young man apparently bribed the sentry and clambered up the monument to temporary safety.

Eventually PC John Richardson (C167) arrived and forced his way through the crowd. The young man, who’s name was William Pinkstone, denied doing anything wrong and said he was a married man with children himself. Ricahrdson took him into custody and he was presented at Bow Street Police court on Friday 1 August.

There Percy’s evidence was heard along with that of Mr. Blake, (a French polisher), John Dickenson (a baker), and Francis Tyman (who was unemployed). All of them had been in the park and had seen what happened. The person missing was Brown and there was something suspicious about his absence. The magistrate, Mr Henry, asked for him to be fetched if possible and was told he worked at the Pavillion Theatre. After the case was heard new information came to light that suggested that Brown and some friends had been ‘seen drunk outside the court’ having been paid money (by the defendant?) to stay away.

By that time Pinkstone, a ‘respectable’ clerk, had been bailed for 40but committed to face a trial for indecent assault on a minor. On the 18 August Pinkstone appeared at the Bailey on three charges of indecent assault. He was acquitted of assaulting Amelia Porter (who was under 10), convicted of assaulting an unknown girl (probably the child in St James’ Park who had run away), and pleaded guilty to assaulting Rosina Masters.  He was sent to prison for 15 months but no other detail is recorded in the Proceedings (which is normal, they very rarely gave any detail of sexual assaults for fear of offending public morals).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 02, 1862]

Did you steal my pineapple? Shady goings on at the Royal Horticultural Show

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There was an annual horticultural show in Chiswick in the nineteenth century. Exhibitors displayed their plants and produce and there seems to have been an especially good array of fruit, some of it quite exotic. However, the trustees of the Horticultural Society of London had been aware form some time that certain exhibits were being stolen, to then be sold in London’s markets. When this happened again in 1842 they decided to do something about it.

One exhibitor, Mr Henderson of Collorton Hall (possibly Coleorton in Leicestershire) had sent seven pineapples to the show, one of which he’d earmarked as a potential prize winner. The exotic fruit was placed in a jar on a stand that belonged to another exhibitor, a Mr Chapman, but there was no doubt that everyone knew the pineapple was Mr Henderson’s, and he’d even marked it on its base.

The fruit was declared a winner, just as was predicted, but before it could be awarded its prize it disappeared! Someone had stolen the winning fruit, and so investigations were made.

Every year Henderson sold his fruit at Covent Garden to a fruiterer named Dulley. This year he’d promised Dulley seven pineapples but only six were handed over. Then, a day after the fruit vanished, an older man turned up at Covent Garden and offered Dudley a single pineapple for sale. The old man was Chapman’s father and the fruit was the missing ‘pine’ from the horticultural show.

The whole case ended up before Mr Jardine at Bow Street who seems less than happy that such a trivial thing had been brought to trouble him. Nevertheless he listened as witnesses testified to the fruit being found to be missing, and to its being offered for sale. One witness, a Fleet Street watchmaker called Dutton, testified that he had seen Chapman talking to a man at the gardens and negotiating the sale of the fruit. The pair shared a bottle of wine, which seemed to be a part of the bargain that was struck. Mr Dudley said he had paid 12s and a bottle of wine for the pineapple but he hadn’t realised it was not Chapman’s to sell.

Mr Jardine declared that while it was clear that the pineapple was Henderson’s to sell, not Chapman’s, so long as the money or fruit found its way to the right person he was confident no actual crime had taken place, and he dismissed the case. The society were more keen to have raised the issue as a warning that in future people should not think to steal from their show. It was hardly the crime of the century though, and I suspect it served more to amuse readers than to send them into a panic that the traders at Covent Garden were dealing in stolen fruit and vegetables.

As a postscript it does reveal just how expensive a luxury item such as a pineapple was in the 1840s. This one was sold at 9s in the pound and, as he said,  Dulley paid 12 (plus a bottle of wine of course). That equates to about £36 today. If you want to buy a pineapple now it will cost around £1-£2 which shows how much has changed in the global food market.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, July 18, 1842]

A paedophile in Trafalgar Square or an innocent case of being overly friendly?

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Yesterday’s case involved an alleged assault on a young girl and today’s is clearly similar. I think this demonstrates two things that perhaps we have not really considered: first that a concern about paedophiles is not a new phenomena but that perhaps we take it more seriously than we used to.

In July 1877 Matthew Seton was presented at Bow Street Police court. Seton clutched a roll of music in his hand as he was quizzed by Mr Vaughan but he gave his occupation as a barrister. A Police constable alleged that he’d seen Seton approach two young girls who were sat on the wall by the fountains in Trafalgar Square and engage them in conversion.

According to the witness Seton spoke to Elizabeth Corrington (who was just seven years of age), pinched her legs playfully and then put his hand up her skirt. He arrested him and took him to the nearest police station to be charged.

In court the barrister denied there was anything sinister in his actions.

‘On my way back, to rest a little, I sat next to the little girl on the wall in Trafalgar Square. The little girl kicked her legs at me in a childlike way, and I playfully pinched them, and said, What nice legs you have! I solemnly deny that I indecently assaulted her. If my hand went under her clothes it was an accident, and must have been caused by her slipping down’.

It was very hard to prove of course and today one would hope that no one would touch an unrelated or unknown child in any way, sexual or otherwise. The magistrate clearly had his doubts as he committed Seton for trial. His case came up at the Middlesex Sessions where he was acquitted of indecent assault probably because there was insufficient evidence to convict.

Was the 32 year old lawyer a paedophile? It is impossible to know so we, like the jury, should give him the benefit of the doubt. I am bound to wonder again however, as to why a seven-year-old girl was apparently without adult supervision  in the square, just as in yesterday’s case a 10 year-old was roaming the city streets at 10 at night.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, July 14, 1877]

A ‘good citizen’ or a man ‘with felonious intent’? Unpicking the truth on the late Victorian Strand

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This is one of those cases where the truth is very hard to get at. On the surface it involves a deception but one in which the motive is far from crystal clear. It also turns on perceptions and appearances, and contemporary assumptions of what one sort of behaviour and circumstances implied.

Let us start with John Tattershall. He was walking on the Strand late at night when he saw a crowd of people surrounding a young woman in her twenties. The woman was sobbing and being held by a man (also in his twenties) who explained that  he was a detective and had just seen her take money from someone. The woman was denying it and Tattershall was suspicious and challenged the officer. At this the detective said he had to go after the victim, and ran away.

The young woman was Amelia Willis and she had been walking on the Strand at 12.30 on the  2 July 1875. It was a Friday night and it would seem odd that an unmarried woman was walking out so late at night on her own. Quite by chance she met someone she knew, or rather someone she had known from her childhood. The two fell in together and chatted for a while. Her old friend gallantly gave her enough money to get her bus home. She was walking away to find one when a man grabbed her arm and told her he was a detective and was arresting her for robbery.

Henry Williams (25) was on the Strand when he saw a woman and a man close together. He said something to her and gave her some money. It was very late and the Strand was a notorious spot for prostitution and street robbery. Williams suspected that a crime had taken place and decided to intervene. Pretending to be a detective officer he ‘hoped to prevent ‘a drunken man from being robbed’ by a prostitute.

Police constable 363 E saw the crowd of people on The Strand and a man run away from them. There were several shouts and the copper went after the suspect, catching him within yards. The man he arrested refused to give his address and a satisfactory explanation so the officer took him back to the station and left him to cool off in the cells over night. In the morning the man, Williams, was taken before the sitting justice at Bow Street Police court.

Sir T. Henry was as confused by the case as we might be. He suspected that the ‘evidence rather pointed to some felonious intent’ but what it was if couldn’t pinpoint. However, Williams’ continued refusal to give his address was an offence and he warned him that he could either oblige the police and the court or he would pay a fine of £10. Williams still objected to telling the court where he lived and so the magistrate said he would pay the money or go to prison for a month.

So, was Williams a citizen with a sense of duty, or a charlatan who had some ulterior motive? Perhaps he was suffering from a mental illness and was  deluded? Was Amelia telling the truth? And if so, what was she doing all alone on the Strand at midnight on a Friday? This case presents more questions than answers.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, July 03, 1875]

A ‘barbarous’ attack on ‘Eliza Doolittle’ at Charing Cross

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One of the classic ‘screen’ images we have of the late Victorian/Edwardian period is that of Eliza Doolittle selling flowers in Covent Garden market in My Fair Lady. Eliza, as one of London’s poorest and least educated citizens, is chosen by Professor Higgins for his experiment in linguistics.

According to the social investigator Henry Mayhew there was somewhere between 400 and 800 flower sellers in mid Victorian London, and most of them were very young girls, often the daughters of costermongers. They operated throughout the capital but were concentrated on the ‘busiest thoroughfares’ such as the Strand where they ‘cried their fares’ to attract passing ladies (mostly) to buy them.

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Perhaps with the passing of the Elementary Education Act (1870) and increased schooling for the 5-13 year olds this took some of the girls off the streets, at least on weekdays. This might mean that the character of Eliza Doolittle, as a young woman in her late teens or early twenties, was more typical of flower sellers by the late 1800s.

One Monday in June 1887 Martha Smith was selling roses at Charing Cross. She was calling out, ‘Roses, penny a bunch’ to catch the attention of pedestrians when a drunk started to hassle her. Thomas Davis (56) was also trying to sell flowers but his were withered and decayed. He ‘mocked her cry’ but when this failed to make her move along he resorted to violence.

He was carrying his own roses on a basket lid and he violently shoved this in her face, then punched her in the mouth, knocking out two teeth. He hadn’t finished though. Grabbing a ‘Chinese parasol’ he proceeded to beat her over the head with it. Somehow Martha managed to get away from him and found a policeman who arrested the man.

When he was charged at the station Davis said nothing but in court at Bow Street he told the magistrate that he competed for business with Martha and that she was trespassing on his territory, a lamppost by Charing Cross station. He alleged that she’d started the row and had scratched his face; he was only defending himself. PC 254E testified that Davis had said nothing of this version of events when he’d been arrested or charged and so Mr. Vaughan was not inclined to believe him.

The justice told Davis that just because both parties were on the same trade it was no reason for them for their assaulting one another’. The attack he’d made had been ‘barbarous’ and he ‘must go to gaol for one month’.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, June 29, 1887]

This is not my first ‘flower girl’ story – for another follow this link.