A mysterious shooting in Belgravia


Sometimes there is just no obvious reason behind people’s actions and this is one of those cases. In early February 1844 the magistrate at Queen Square Police court was about to shut the court and leave for home when the police brought in a young man named Philip Macholland.

Macholland, who was seemingly in all accounts, ‘respectable’ and ‘of sound mind’, was set in the dock and charged with firing a pistol into a house in Lower Belgravia Place. The ball from the gun narrowly missed the Reverend Charles Chapman who appeared in court with the policeman that had arrested the youth.

Rev. Chapman testified that earlier that afternoon, at about four o’clock, he had been dressing in a room which overlooked his garden at the rear of the house at 20 Lower Belgravia Place. To his horror he heard a gun discharged and felt the ball pass close by him before lodging in the wainscot.

Looking out the window he saw a man (evidently Macholland) appear from a property three doors down holding a gun. Either the cleric or one of his staff had already called for the police and PC Hobbs (166B) quickly arrived and secured the gunman.

Macholland tried to deny firing the gun but when the clergyman assured him that ‘he might be forgiven’ if he admitted his actions he confessed to it, but gave no reason. In court before Mr Bond Macholland said he was sorry for what he’d done and promised not to do it again. All he would add under questioning was that he was apprenticed to a modeler and sculptor; he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say why he had a gun or had used it that day.

The magistrate was quite perplexed but given that the Rev. Chapman was in no mood to press serious charges against the lad he simply reprimanded Macholland, warning him that the consequences could have been fatal, and bound him over to keep the peace for the next twelve months. Having extracted a promise (backed up with nearly £150 worth of sureties) he released the young man. Congratulating the reverend on his lucky escape from an untimely death the magistrate went home to reflect on an unusual end to his working day.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, February 10, 1844]

p.s curiously, and amusingly, just around the corner from Lower Belgravia Street is Ebury Street where, at number 22 Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, once lived. A blue plaque marks the house today. 

Hardly the perfect ‘gentleman’: a waiter is ‘coshed’ by an impatient toff.


The Café Royal, by William Orpen, 1912)

It was not the sort of behaviour one expected to see at the Café Royal on Regent’s Street, so other diners must have been shocked when Henry Fitzgerald rose from his seat and smashed a glass bottle over the head of a waiter.

As another waiter ran to intervene the assailant warned him to back off:

‘If you come near me I will smash one on your head as well’, he threatened.

The police were called and Fitzgerald was led away, admitting his crime but muttering darkly that the fellow had deserved it for his insolence.

At Marlborough Street Police court Henry Fitzgerald gave his address as 75 Chester Square in Begravia, his victim was Otto Kettler, a German national living in London and working at the café. The case reveals the cosmopolitan nature of late Victorian London: Kettler was supported in court by a fellow waiter (Fritz Temme – also most probably German or Austrian) and his manager M. Eugene Lacoste who was certainly French.

According to Fitzgerald’s defense counsel Mr Abrahams his client had been provoked. The waiter had not served him quickly enough, telling him instead that he was busy at another table. The policeman (PC Walters 187C) deposed that the man wasn’t drunk, just ‘excited’; perhaps he objected to being made to wait for his drinks by a foreigner, perhaps (more likely even) he was a just a very rude and self-entitled oaf.

The lawyer knew his client was in the wrong and offered (on his behalf)  a half-hearted apology and compensation for any harm done. Mr Newton, the magistrate, was in no mood for financial settlements however; a man had been assaulted violently with a glass bottle and Mr Fitzgerald – regardless of his fashionable address and clothes – would face trial at the Old Bailey.

However, I’m not sure it came to that. No Henry Fitzgerald appears in the printed records of the Bailey. Perhaps it was not published in the Proceedings or perhaps he was acquitted, but I rather suspect he came to an agreement outside of court – a hefty financial one at that – to keep his ‘good name’ out of the criminal courts.

The press did enjoy this fall from grace. The Hampshire Telegraph reported the incident as an amusing anecdote commenting that ‘after this we shall not be particularly anxious to be called “a gentleman” – it will sound roughish’.


[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 26, 1880; Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc , Saturday, November 6, 1880]

The Police Courts as citizen’s advice bureau


Two cases today which show how the police courts of the metropolis could be used by members of the public seeking legal advice. Both are from Westminster Police Court in November 1888, just days before the final ‘canonical’ murder in the Whitechapel series took place.

A ‘lady-like person’ first approached the sitting justice, Mr D’Eyncourt, to ask for help in preventing her estranged husband from visiting her place of work and causing trouble.

The unamed woman worked at the home of a naval officer in Eaton Square, in fashionable Belgravia, where she acted as a sort of live-in nurse for the officer’s invalid wife. Her husband had left some time before, leaving her to fend for herself.

Even before he left she had been used to supporting the pair of them for he was a ‘lazy fellow’, much given to drink. Before he left he had ruined them, spending her money and selling their furniture to buy more drink and pay his debts.

Finally rid of him she must have been devastated when he found out her new address and started turning up in Eaton Square demanding money. On Saturday the household’s butler had turned hm away but he at first reused to budge until he was given something for his trouble. She begged the magistrate to help her. Mr D’Eyncourt advised her if she got her mistress’ assent she could prosecute him for ‘coming there without lawful excuse’.  The lady thanked him and said she do as he suggested.

The next case before the court was brought by a ‘well-dressed young woman’ who also asked for advice, this time about a boy. Her parents had brought up their grandchild ‘from eleven months of age’. The boy was ten years old now and his father had appeared to demand custody. Yet the elderly couple had maintained and educated the boy at their own expense and clearly felt he ‘belonged’ to them.

Mr D’Eyncourt was interested in how the boy had come to live with them in the first place. ‘Because the father was given to drink’ he was told, and ‘it was the mother’s – my sister’s – wish that he should be properly looked after’.

The magistrate advised her that the couple should stick to heir guns and refuse to give up the child because the father would then have to go before a judge and make his case for custody, and show supporting evidence.

Both examples show these courts working to regulate and mediate family life and social relations in the late Victorian capital. The magistrate was a respected figure and clearly people felt him to be a person’s whose legal and other advice was worth listening to.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 06, 1888]

keywords: advice, Jack the Ripper, D’Eyncourt, Eaton Square, Navy, Begravia, adoption, childcare.

Threatening letters in ‘Burglaria’




Henry Fisher (or Leonard as he was probably previously known) and Walter Kavanagh (a youth who called himself ‘John Smith’ in court – fooling nobody!) appeared before the Westminster magistrate accused of several burglaries over the previous few weeks. The pair had burgled a string of properties but it was the threat associated with at least one of their crimes which excited the court reporter for The Standard newspaper.

Having robbed Mrs Bromley-Davenport’s  home in Belgrave Place on the 31st August 1892 the two robbers carried on to a premises at the back, Cambridge House, which belonged to a Mr Walter Gilbey. Gilbey was a well known wine merchant and gin distiller (his brand is still in existence today) who had set up his business on his return from the Crimean War in 1857.

Walter Gilbey’s other passion was shire horses and he apparently did much to promote and improve the stock of English shire horses during his long life (he died in 1914 aged 83). Whether the two burglars knew this or not is impossible to say but their actions that night suggested they might have.

Having scaled a 10 foot high wall Fisher and the boy forced a window open and entered Cambridge House. There they broke open ‘boxes and rooms, and carried off a considerable booty’. They also attacked three paintings of horses (worth upwards of £400 or more) cutting out the heads and removing them. They left behind a threatening message which read:

“Charles Peace. We should have cut your head off if we had met you. We will visit you again when you have something more to lose”.

Charles Peace was an infamous criminal who was hanged in Leeds in February 1879. Peace carried out several burglaries and at least two murders and was the subject of a number of penny dreadfuls. He was immortalized with his executioner (William Marwood) in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s.

Detective Inspector Bannister (of S Division, Metropolitan Police) testified that a note in very similar handwriting had been found at the scene of a burglary in Eton Square. The note there read: ‘thanks, boss, for what we have got’.

Burglary was (aside from murder) the hot topic within crime news and robberies of the affluent upper and middle class homes in and around Belgravia had led to satirical articles that dubbed it ‘Burglaria’ and bemoaned the   inability of the police to prevent them. Householders were urged to install devices to protect their homes and the late 19th century saw the  ‘invention’ of household contents insurance.

Fisher was no Charlie Peace however, and the pair’s bravado was hardly likely to endear them to the public or the bench. The detective told the court that Fisher (or Leonard) had been convicted of robbery in Portsmouth in the past and most recently in the Albany in 1899. While there was nothing previously known about Kavanagh/Smith the two were fully committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

[from The Standard, Thursday, October 13, 1892]