Officer down! Two policemen are stabbed with a sword stick by a crazed revolutionary

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Giuseppe Mazzini

A crowd had gathered outside 7 Hardington Place, Portman Market in Marylebone. It was about 10.30 at night and a man was at a first floor window in a highly agitated state. He was hurling ‘bricks and missiles in all directions’ and several policemen were soon on the scene.

Two officers, PC Robert Dobell (237D) and PC Thomas Tice (40D) entered the building and rushed upstairs accompanied by some others, possibly from the ‘mob’ outside. The door to room in which the man had been seen was locked so they put their shoulders to it, and broke it down.

At this the man came charging towards them brandishing a walking cane which he thrust at them. PC Dobell cried ‘I am stabbed’ and then fell in front of his colleague. PC Tice was also wounded but in the chaos and with his adrenaline pumping he didn’t realise this at first.

The policemen shouted for help and the man was soon overpowered. The weapon, a sword stick, was picked up from the floor where the attacker had dropped it. PC Dobell was taken to hospital and the prisoner to the station. When he removed his uniform top coat PC Tice discovered his injury, a stab wound to the ‘fleshy part of my right arm, between the elbow and the shoulder’.

The following morning PC Tice was in court at Marylebone to give his evidence in front of Mr Long, the sitting magistrate. He showed the court his bloody coat and testified that PC Dobell was still gravely ill, and not yet out of danger.

Their attacker was also in court and gave his name as John Phillips, occupation – painter. He’d been brought to court in a cab, handcuffed with two other officers guarding him. He was clearly a dangerous man.

Not only was he dangerous it was also evident that he was suffering from a mental illness or, as the court reporter described him, demonstrating ‘unsoundness in his intellect’. He raved in court, shouting out:

‘Kossuth, Mazzini, let me have justice. It was not a Roman dagger or a poisoned dagger, and I stand upon the liberties of my country. Had Prince Albert have been there at the time his blood would have flowed, and so would yours (alluding to the magistrate), had you been there’.

Lajos Kossuth was a Hungarian revolutionary who briefly ruled his nation in the tumultuous period of 1848-9, he was widely revered amongst British radicals and so may have been an inspiration for Phillips. Similarly Giuseppe Mazzini was a well known Italian political activist who was driving force in Italian Unification.

Philips was eventually sent for trial at the Old Bailey but his ‘madness’ was deemed too great and the jury found him unfit to plead. He was therefore found not guilty by dint of being non compos mentis. I believe that PC Doble survived the attack but he was lucky if he did, because the stab wound was very close to his heart. Philips, one imagines, was confined to an asylum.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, April 14, 1853]

A poor woman pleads not to be sent to ‘a country which was foreign to her’

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1848 was a tumultuous year in Europe. There were revolutions in Italy, Germany,  Denmark and the Habsburg Empire (in Hungary). Louis-Phillips was forced from his throne in France and fled to England, while there was rioting in Sweden and a short civil war in Switzerland. Britain didn’t escape trouble as Chartists assembled across the country in large numbers including a ‘monster’ rally in Kennington Park in April when tens of thousands demanded the vote.

Over in Ireland the ‘great famine’ was forcing thousands to flee the island and leaving almost  million dead; reducing the population overall by 20-25%. Many of these travelled to England finding their way to London or one of the other other large urban areas of Victorian Britain.

So 1848 saw political unrest, nationalism, poverty, and the mass migration of peoples fleeing all these events. We get an inclining of how this might have impacted society in a brief report of business from the Thames Police Court in October of that year.

‘THAMES – Complaints are almost daily made by aged natives of Ireland, whose necessities compel them to apply for parochial relief, of the hardship of being sent back to Ireland after a long stay in England’.

One case in particular was brought to the attention of the Thames Police Court magistrate, Mr Yardley. A ‘poor Irish widow’ who had been resident in England for 40 years applied to the Stepney Poor Law Union for relief only to be refused help and told to go home to Ireland. She explained to Mr Yardley that she had been away so long she ‘did not know a soul there. She hoped the magistrate would interpose , and prevent her being sent to a country which was foreign to her’.

The woman had been before him to ask for help a week earlier and he had directed a letter to the union on her behalf, so he asked what had happened in the interim. A police officer attached to the court confirmed that the letter had been delivered but one of the reliving officers said they were only following the instructions handed down to them by the board of guardians of the poor.

The policy in a time of huge pressure on the parish purse was, it seems, to try and get rid of as many unwanted paupers as possible. The court was told that while this woman  claimed she had lived in England for 40 years her ‘residence was a broken one, and not continued for five years in any one parish’. In short she had moved around and so did not ‘belong’ anywhere.

Mr Yardley was sympathetic to the woman’s plight but could only assure her that he would intercede on her behalf and hope the guardians relented. She thanked him for his time and left the court.

I think this reveals some of the problems facing the authorities in mid Victorian Britain but also the callous lack of care for the people of the wider empire. Stepney was poor, as was most of the East End in the 1800s. Poor relief fell on the parish rather than the national purse. So it was individual ratepayers who were supporting the huge numbers of impoverished East Londoners whose ranks were undoubtedly swollen by migrants from Ireland (and perhaps from further afield in such a troubled decade).

Poverty, war and famine always lead to migration and this inevitably puts pressure onto communities that are themselves often struggling to survive. Whether migration is fuelled by economic necessity, or by persecution, or simply a desire to get away to a ‘better place’, it is part of the human condition. Human beings have always migrated in search of better land, greater resources, improved living conditions, or a more tolerant society. Whether it was the Irish in the 1840s or Polish Jews in the 1880s, or South Asian Kenyans in the 1970s, or indeed Syrians in the last decade; all of these people have left their homes, sometimes their families, everything they know and love, to find a refuge overseas.

That this puts pressure on the country and community that receives them is self-evident. Tensions flare, xenophobia rears its ugly head, and people make political capital out of the situation. But the answer is not to close the borders, to turn one’s back on people in need, to refuse to help. The attempt of the Stepney guardians to send a poor Irish woman back to her country of birth and therefore into a situation where thousands were dying every week was simply wrong. It was wrong in 1848 and it remains wrong today.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 24, 1848]

A ‘hideous noise’ in the street and early concerns about immigration

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If  you have ever been out for dinner when a singer with a guitar has begun to serenade the restaurant, uninvited, then you will have some appreciation of this story from Marylebone Police Court. Similarly if you are trying to work, watch TV or sleep and your neighbours are having a party (loudly) then you can imagine how Mr H. G. F Taylor was feeling on the evening of the 28 June 1887.

At about 7.30 pm Mr Taylor, a private secretary who resided at 17 Manor Mansions, Belsize Park, (a fashionable address that would today set you back a cool £1.5m) heard a noise in the street outside. Peering out of his window he saw a young woman with an accordion.

According to him she wasn’t playing it, but ‘simply pulling the instrument in and out, and making a hideous noise with her mouth, not singing’. Taylor was completing his income tax return and had frequently been disturbed by street musicians. In fact it was getting to his nerves to such an extent that he had even considered going ‘the country’ for a few days to escape it.

Opening the window he leaned out and told her to go away. She ignored him, so he tried shouting at her, and motioning for her to move away. The girl simply crossed the road and moved  little way further up and continued her performance.

Frustrated, Taylor called the police. When PC 79S arrived he arrested the girl (whose name was  Catherine Demassi) and took her to the station. The next day Catherine was up in court before the Marylebone police magistrate on a  charge of ‘playing an accordion to the annoyance of the public’.

In court Taylor complained that ‘these street musicians [were] a great annoyance’ and blighted his life. Catherine spoke no English it seems and a translator was present so she could understand the charges brought against her, her sister was also present. Through the translator Catherine said that she didn’t understand what Taylor was saying to her, something the secretary found incredulous.

The magistrate, Mr Newton, wanted to know how long Catherine had been in England to not understand the language. Her sister explained she had only been here three months, having been sent for by her sibling. This brought the magistrate’s rebuke:

‘Mr Newton told the Prisoner’s  sister that it could not be allowed that children should be brought from foreign countries to England simply to play instruments about the streets’.

He remanded Catherine and sent the translator (M. Albert) to to the Italian consul in London, to arrange the girl’s repatriation to Italy. In the end then what had started as a case of a nuisance in the streets had turned into a discussion about the validity of migration and the ‘right’ to work in the UK. Catherine probably had little choice in whether she came to London or not, she was being used by her family as a means to generate funds to survive.

Her story – as an economic migrant in a foreign country – was replicated tens of thousands of times in the 1880s and 1890s and fuelled a debate which would eventually lead to legislation to restrict immigration into Britain for the very first time. The passing of the Aliens Act (1905) represented the end of Britain’s cherished ‘open door’ policy towards the people of the world, and immigration has remained a contentious issue ever since.

[from The Standard, Friday, July 01, 1887]

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