Clarence Lewis was in a poor state when he appeared at Guildhall Police court in September 1880 to tell the sitting alderman what had happened to him.
He was only a young man – just 18 years of age – and apprenticed to a grocer with premises in Aldgate and Kensington. On 21 August he was working at the Aldgate shop when his master, Mr Barham, instructed him to travel to Kensington to pick up the takings there. He arrived at 9.30 and collected a bag containing neatly £100 in cash.
In 1880 £100 was a considerable sum of money (around £7,000 at today’s prices), so his master certainly placed a lot of trust in young Clarence. Stowing the package in his pocket he headed for High Street Kensington station to catch the train back to the City.
Clutching his third-class return ticket he rushed to catch the train. As he passed the ticket office a man a little older called his name. The young man was Henry Perry and he claimed the pair knew each other. ‘Don’t you know me?’ he demanded and, when Clarence replied that he didn’t, said:
‘I am Perry, of Aldgate; I thought you were too proud to speak to me’.
This must have triggered the apprentice’s memory because he now recognized the young man as someone who had once worked behind the counter at Barham’s shop in Aldgate. Perry insisted that Clarence join him in a first-class carriage and waived aside the younger man’s protest that he didn’t have the fare:
‘Never mind’, he said, ‘I will pay it’.
The compartment they entered was empty and, as the train moved off, Perry peered into the next one and laughed, saying that there were only a few ‘girls over there’. The train rattled through a couple of stations before Clarence’s companion produced a small phial of liquid which he said was Zoedone, offering it to him.
Described as ‘the king of non-alcoholic beverages’ ‘Zoedone’ was said to have powerful ‘elements essential for the building up and reproduction of the human body’.
It was a tonic drink which was available throughout the late 1800s and Perry claimed to have obtained a small sample. Warning his new friend not to take more than half he watched as Clarence upended the bottle. Clarence swallowed about an eighth of the phial and it tasted awful and fizzed in his nose. He immediately felt sleepy and resisted as Perry poured some onto his handkerchief and suggested he sniff it.
‘Don’t you like it?’ Perry asked. ‘No, if all teetotalers’ drinks are like that I’d rather not be a teetotaler’ Clarence told him.
He turned down the other man’s offer of port to take the taste away.
The pair carried on the journey for a few stops, with one female passenger getting on at Gower Street and then off at Kings Cross. Then, just before they reached Farringdon Perry pounced on his victim, hitting him with a stick and knocking to the carriage floor. He knelt on his chest and put his hand over his mouth as Clarence tried to shout for help. His assailant demanded to know where the money was and Clarence was forced to tell him.
Having lost the shop taking the beaten apprentice hid his head under the seat for safety; when the train pulled into Aldersgate station he emerged to find that Perry was nowhere to be seen.
It took several weeks for Clarence to be fit enough to attend court and, even when he was, he stood in the witness box swathed in bandages to his head. He had been helped at the station by a bricklayer and his brother who saw him staggering out of the compartment covered in blood. Perry had not fled and as a policeman approached the crowd around the stricken apprentice he appeared clutching the parcel he had stolen.
When Clarence accused him of doping him with laudanum and chloroform (the phial he claimed to be a tonic being quite the opposite), and then assaulting and robbing him, Perry brazenly denied everything. ‘We are friends’ he told Clarence and the police that now collared him, ‘and you know me; I have not robbed you; that is my own money’.
The alderman at Guildhall had heard enough to commit Perry for trial at the Old Bailey where he appeared on 13 September. The court heard evidence from a number of witnesses as well as testimonials to Perry’s general good character in his employment with another grocer on Aldgate. He had left there in May but his boss only had good things to say of him.
Nevertheless this couldn’t save him. He was found guilty of violent robbery and was probably fortunate to avoid a charge of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to 30 lashes and a crippling 20 years of penal servitude. Perry didn’t do 20 years because he died just 15 years later in 1895 at the age of 39, not long after being discharged from prison.
From Nottinghamshire Guardian Friday 3 September 1880
I have been writing and teaching the history of crime for over a decade and continue to find it fascinating. Whether it is the stories of everyday life in Victorian London that I uncover for this blog, the mystery of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings, or murders and attempted murders like this one, I am always discovering new ways to look at crime and its representation.
Fortunately very few of us will experience murder directly in our lives; instead we engage at a distance, through the news, or, more often, via a television drama or a holiday crime novel. When we do it is invariably shocking murder that captures our attention. Indeed if we took popular cultural representation of crime at face value we could be forgiven for believing that murder was an everyday occurrence, when, in reality, it is extremely rare.
This week my most recent book – Murder Maps– is published by Thames & Hudson. This takes a 100 years of murder news in a global context, exploring via short entries, dozens of homicides across Europe, the USA, and Australia from 1811-1911.
In the stories of Jack the Ripper, Henry H. Holmes, Joseph Vacher, Ned Kelly, Belle Gunness, and the other murderers I show the myriad motivations and underlying causal factors that led men and women to kill. Jealousy, greed (like Perry), politics, and severe mental illness were all factors that resulted in newspaper headlines that shocked and titillated readers in equal measure.
Hopefully some of you will take a look at Murder Maps and find it as fascinating to read as I did to research and write. But don’t have nightmares, we are all pretty safe in our beds today.