The tables are turned on a gentleman whose pockets are empty

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A refusal to pay a cab fare was a common enough reason to find a person in court in the nineteenth century. Cab drivers were quite vulnerable to being short-changed or simply to customers that claimed not to have any money. Given that many of their clients were wealthy this was sometimes just a temporary inconvenience as the driver could take an address and visit the following day to be paid. Not everyone that looked wealthy was of course and appearances could be deceptive.

Captain E. W. Pearce was a gentleman and would have been admitted into society as such. Yet he was also a gentleman who was in considerable debt, a situation that seemed not to bother him over much as he continued to live on credit, presumably hoping that his creditors would never catch up with him.

In February 1838 the captain was in court at Bow Street to prosecute a cab driver who he said had ‘created a disturbance in the street’. In reality however, it was Pearce’s refusal (or inability) to pay the driver that had resulted in the altercation and the arrival of a crowd of people.

As the report noted:

The Captain ‘had hired the cab for the purpose of making a few visits, and when done with it he found on searching the pockets of his inexpressibles to the furthest corner that he had nothing to pay the fare’.

The driver wasn’t at all happy with this and an argument ensured. This drew a crowd and, feeling threatened, Captain Pearce flagged a nearby policeman and had the cabbie arrested. At Bow Street Sir Frederick Roe sided with the cab driver, telling the captain that he should have paid the man. He released the cab driver after dismissing the charge but this wasn’t enough for the driver who was still out of pocket for an afternoon’s work.

Well, Sir Frederick said, you should summon him for the non-payment of the fare.

‘I can’t summon him, your worship. No one knows where he lives. He owes everyone’.

Captain Pearce then refused to give his address but said if the driver gave him his he would make sure he received his money within a week. The cabbie grumbled that he’d rather have the captain’s address, so he could summon him. At this, and ‘finding the tables turned’ the military man beat a hasty retreat and the reporter noted that ‘when he again tries to hire a cab to pay his visits he will carry his purse about with him probably’.

Probably indeed.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 19, 1838]

A mutiny at the Royal Albert & Victoria Docks reveals the hidden DNA of the capital

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Since the 1980s London has lost what remained of its working port on the Thames. The massive docklands development wiped away the last vestiges of warehouses and quays and transformed the area into smart housing, commercial centres and leisure outlets. It is still possible to see some of the buildings that survived the Luftwaffe and the developers but often they are little more than a façade and their function has changed.

In the 1880s however London was still a bustling port, the greatest in Europe if not the world. Thousands of ships were loaded and unloaded here, and teams of stevedores directed gangs of dockers in hard manual labour to bring in products from all over the Empire and the rest of the globe.

It wasn’t only the goods that were imported: the docks teamed with people from all over the world – Portuguese, Cypriots, Chinese, Arabs, American, Africans and south east Asians amongst them – a reminder that London has been a multi-cultural society for well over 150 years.

Most of those that were not white were collectively known as Lascars. Most of these were from India and many from Gujarat and Malabar or from what is now Bangladesh. They were recruited in large numbers to serve on British registered ships but often treated poorly by comparison to white European sailors. Lascars were paid less and often left virtually homeless while they waited to get a ship back home. The shipping companies treated them so badly because the lascars had a reputation for being ‘trouble free’. I would imagine that contemporary racism played a part in all of this as well.

Before we dismiss the lascars as submissive however here is an example of them standing up en masse and, while it was ultimately unsuccessful, it demonstrates that they were more than capable of doing so.

In early July 1884 four lascars sailors were brought before Mr Philips at West Ham Police court charged with being the ringleaders of a mutiny on a British vessel docked in London. The formal charge was that they had refused to obey their captain, William Turner of the Duke of Buckingham, a steamer operated by the Ducal Line Company.

The ship’s crew was made up of 45 seaman, all ‘coloured’ who had signed articles in January 1884 to serve on the Hall Line’s steamer Speke Hall, for a year. The ship docked at Liverpool for repairs and the owners decided to transfer the men to the Duke of Buckingham while they were completed. When the crew reached London and discovered that this ship was headed for India via Australia they protested. Some argued that their contract (articles) was with the Hall Line not the Ducal Line while others complained that the journey would be too long, and they would be beyond their 12 months of employment.

18 of the 45 men refused to work and four were identified as ringleaders and arrested, hence the court appearance in West Ham. The four were: ‘Amow Akoob a serang, Manged Akoob, a tindal, and Fukeera Akoob and  Adam Hussein, Lascars’. ‘Serang’ probably meant that Amow Akoob was a captain or boatswain while Tindal is a town in Tamil Nadu in southern India.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the English magistrate wasn’t about to get deeply involved in an industrial dispute. He pointed out to the men that at the current time they were under contract and warned them that they were liable to ‘penalties’ if they and they rest of the crew continued to refuse to work. In the end the four men decided that they’d made their point and had little to gain by continuing their protest. They agreed to return to work and were discharged.

We have heard a lot about Caribbean migration this year, with the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrushand the revelations of the Home Office’s scandalous treatment of some of their descendants. Immigration is often seen as a mid to late 20thcentury phenomenon, a product of the end of empire. But for London, and other port cities like Bristol and Liverpool, immigration has been part of the fabric of our history and our success for hundreds of years. London is built on the backs of migrant labour – migrants from all over Britain, Europe and the World; migrants of all nations, all races and all faiths. If we could analyze London’s dna it would reveal us to be the children of a global trading people and that is why it is the greatest city in the world.

[from The Morning Post , Monday, July 07, 1884]

The old sea dog and the dancing girl

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In the 1860s The Era was a newspaper that served the entertainment industry. It carried stories about the theatre but also covered the rest of the news, including the ‘doings’ of the Police Courts. The principal popular entertainment of the day was the music hall which offered a variety of comics, singers, dancers, jugglers and novelty acts to a mixed audience who could eat and drink while they enjoyed the show. Some music halls had reputations as being more ‘respectable’ than others, and a handful of the roughers ones were little more than fronts for prostitution.

In January 1866 The Era reported that a sea captain in the merchant navy had appeared at Marylebone Police court to ask the magistrate’s advice. The unnamed captain explained that he had a season ticket for ‘one of the principal’ West End music halls and had been sitting in the stalls when he was very taken by one of the dancing girls.

According to him she caught his eye and the attraction was ‘mutual’. After the show the couple left together and now he would not allow her to return to work. When he next turned up at the theatre the manager asked him to allow his employer to come back to dance but the captain refused.

The manager then approached the band leader and threatened to discharge him unless he took out legal action to get the girl back. This presumably means that the dancers were employed by the band and not directly by the theatre. The captain said they could do what they liked but the ‘danseuse’ would not be returning.

At this the manager lost his temper and ordered the seaman to leave his premises. He summoned his son and together they roughly and forcibly removed the captain from the theatre and turfed him out on the street. Unhappy about this, the naval man had presented himself before the magistrate the next morning.

Complaining that he spent £150 ‘in the place, and ought not to be subjected to such treatment’, he wondered what his legal position was. The magistrate was curt; he was surprised that such a man would air his business in public and more especially that he would admit to having taken a dancing girl home with him. In the popular opinion many of these women were hardly different to street prostitutes and indeed, in some of the rougher establishments, they performed a dual role.

The magistrate wasn’t going to help this old sea dog, if he wanted legal redress he told him to apply to a solicitor. No one seems to have asked the dancer what she wanted to do, not least whether she was happy to give up the boards. After all it is worth noting that the sailor said the attraction was mutual; he took ‘a fancy’ to her, and ‘she to him’. It speaks volumes about the agency of young working class women in the Victorian entertainment industry that nobody thought to ask her opinion.

[from The Era , Sunday, January 7, 1866]

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

A captain deploys desperate measures to keep the cheesemongers from his door.

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On the morning of Thursday 29 November 1877 the Wandsworth Police Court was full of shopkeepers and traders keen to witness the outcome of a case brought by one of their number, a cheesemonger on the High Street. Henry Lickfield had brought a charge of assault against one of his customers while another businessman, Mr Barrantz (another cheese monger) charged the same individual with fraud.

The defendant was Captain Edward Miller who lived at Spencer Road in Putney. The court heard that Captain Miller had ordered a leg of pork and 3lbs of sausages to be delivered to his residence. The goods were duly supplied but when the bill wasn’t paid Lickfield called on the captain in person to demand his money.

However when he knocked on the door no one answered. He tried again and this time a servant answered but refused to open the door. Finally he tried shouting through the letter box. As he attempted to get the attention of the household a lighted firebrand was thrust through the letter box towards him, striking him in the face!

Captain Miller was represented in court by a lawyer who offered a different version of events. He suggested that when Mr Lickfield’s assistant had called earlier he had been told that Mrs Miller would settle the bill on the following day and he had gone away. He denied any violence towards the cheese monger and said that he had no need to come in person, and that he should have waited for the money to be paid as promised.

The household was ‘alarmed’ by the repeated knocking on the door and no tradesman had the ‘right to recover their debts by a system of tyranny’, he insisted. Mrs Miller was ill and ‘the prisoner did nothing but protect himself’.

The magistrate, Mr Bridge, accepted the charge of assault and bailed the captain to appear at the next sessions of the peace.

The case then turned on the next accusation, of fraud. It was claimed by Mr Barrantz, that the Millers had ordered ‘one of the best hares to be sent to his house, to be paid for on delivery’. Again the goods were supplied but not paid for. Clearly Mr Barranz had done business with the Millers before and said he would not have sent the hares if there hadn’t been a promise to be paid on receipt.  He therefore charged Captain Miller with a fraudulent intent. Mr Bridge didn’t see it that way however. This was simply an unpaid bill not a deliberate attempt to defraud and he dismissed the charge.

Nevertheless I suspect the mere appearance of the captain in court was enough to ruin his reputation in his local community. The court was packed with local businessmen, all come to see ‘justice’ for a fellow tradesman. They would surely be reluctant to offer credit to the Millers in future and given the associations with credit and reputation this was social suicide for the captain and his wife. Unless they settled their bills quickly, or moved away they could hardly hope to hold their heads up in the streets around Wandsworth in future. As for the assault charge, while it was likely to end in a financial settlement (some compensation to Mr Lickfield) it was another example of the desperation of the family and further evidence to anyway dealing with them that they were best avoided.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, November 30, 1877]