Heartache for one couple as their baby boy disappears with his nurse


The state of mind of George Augustus Mahon can only be guessed at when he turned up at Bow Street Police court to seek the help of the magistrate. His appearance there is a reminder that not everyone that came to court was brought by the police or a summons. Mahon and his wife had suffered a terrible shock and they turned to the magistrate as the most obvious person to advise and assist them.

Mahon was a commercial clerk, an upright member of the middle class, who lived at 15 Serle Street in Lincoln’s Inn, in London’s legal quarter. Two months earlier the Mahons had employed a new servant, Kate Curly, a steady sober woman of 26 years of age and she had served them well thus far. Families like theirs would probably only have afforded one or two domestics but Kate was hired as a nurse to look after their infant son, who was just a few months old.

On Monday 9 May 1870 Kate requested permission leave to visit her mother who lived locally.  She wanted to show her the baby she said and Mr Mahon granted her request. He had no doubts about Kate as she her behaviour and work had been exemplary up to then. However, when it got to 4 o’clock and Kate had not returned home Mrs Mahon began to get concerned. 5 o’clock came and went and still there was no sign of the servant. In the evening, when George returned from his office he went in search of her.

Mahon visited Kate parents and they told him that she had left their house around 7 or 8 in the evening that they had walked with her as far as the Gray’s Inn Road where they had said their goodbyes. No one had seen Kate or the baby boy since. If they were telling the truth then the servant and the child had disappeared close to Holborn. Had something happened or had Kate abducted the baby boy?

The clerk went to the police and detective sergeant Kerly of E Division sent a description to every police station and had dispatched men to enquire at the local hospitals to see him Kate had met with an accident. The chief clerk at Bow Street asked the sergeant if he had placed a notice in the Police Gazette. He hadn’t but he would consider it. Sir Thomas Henry, the Bow Street magistrate, suggested that the following description of Kate and the child be placed in all the newspapers:

The child is described to have been dressed in long clothes, and a white cloak trimmed with blue silk. The nurse [Kate Curly], was 26 years of age, and about five feet three inches in height, with dark complexion and black hair. She wore a black and white cotton dress, black cloth jacket, and black lace bonnet with white flowers’.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported this as ‘another case of child stealing suggesting that there had been a spate of abductions in the capital, but then it was a more sensational publication that the sober Morning Post.  I wish I could say what happened to the Mahon’s baby and their nurse but I haven’t managed to find anything that follows up on this story. I hope they both turned up or were found, perhaps having been involved in some minor accident as the police suspected. If not one can only imagine the heartache of the Mahon’s, who entrusted their child to someone they’d only know a matter of months.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, May 13, 1870; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper , Sunday, May 15, 1870]

Death at Archway goes unpunished

Highgate Archway

On the 11 February 1866 John Loveman was standing with his omnibus at the Archway Tavern on Highgate Hill. Loveman was a driver for John Wilson, whose ‘Favourite’ ‘buses were some of the earliest on the capital’s streets.

As he waited a drunken man tried to barge his way onto the omnibus, but Loveman prevented him from doing so. Witnesses watched as the man, Thomas Brown, tried and failed three more times to get onto the vehicle. Frustrated he lashed out at the driver, grabbing him and, ‘with great force throwing him to the ground’.

The attack caused Loveman to break his leg and at his own request he was immediately taken to the King’s College Hospital, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The house surgeon, Mr Thomas Howell, treated him on arrival and he was held there until the 7 March, when he passed away. He had died, it was recorded, ‘from exhaustion caused by a succession of fits of an epileptic character, and inflammation of the right leg’.

Brown was summoned for assault and later presented at Clerkenwell Police court on a charge of manslaughter.

The key to this turned on whether the injury to Loveman inflicted by the drunken Brown had led directly to his death. Before his death the court was told that the omnibus driver was a ‘strong, healthy man, and there did not seem to be anything the matter with’. At the coroner’s inquest (which were, it must be said, often hasty and somewhat casual affairs with little medical examination beyond the cursory), Brown was named as the cause of the driver’s death.

However, a later post mortem failed to find any link between the injury Loveman had sustained and his death just under a month later. The prosecutor, Mr Beard, felt sure proof would emerge if only the original house surgeon at King’s (Howell) could be asked to appear and testify. The magistrate, Mr Barker, was less convinced. He said there was very little evidence to charge Brown with at the moment and he was minded to let him go.

However, he asked Inspector Westlake (Y Division, Metropolitan Police) if a warrant had been issued for Brown’s arrest by the coroner. It had, he was told and the prisoner would have been arrested earlier if he had turned up at the inquest.

Mr Barker agreed to release Brown on bail (the figure was not reported) but he was immediately rearrested by Inspector Westlake, and conveyed to Newgate gaol. Given that a man had died and Brown had committed an assault (albeit under the influence of alcohol) I would have expected there to be a trial at the Old Bailey and for Brown, if convicted, to face  short spell in prison. But no such trial is recorded so I am left to presume that at a subsequent hearing before the magistracy the prosecution offered insufficient evidence to persuade the bench to formally indict Thomas Brown for manslaughter.

[from The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, March 21, 1866]

NB I have a framed black and white print of the image of the Highgate Archway that once belonged to my maternal grandfather, Percy. It belongs to my mother but graces my office and reminds me my roots everyday (I was born in the Whittington Hospital, not far from the old pub or the former omnibus stop. 





A humanitarian intervention or an affair uncovered?

In a report titled ‘Inconstancy’ a Mr. F. Dixon appeared at Southwark Police Court charged with absconding with another man’s wife and some of his possessions. James Wilkinson, a milkman living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields said that while he gone ‘to the country for a month on business’ Dixon had ran off with his wife. He had tracked them down to an address near St Thomas’ Hospital, south of the River Thames and confronted them.

Dixon had been employed by Wilkinson as a clerk, suggesting that Wilkinson was more than a simple milk deliveryman. Not only had the clerk taken his wife, he raged, he’d also stolen a ‘portrait painting, a Bible, and some other articles’.

Dixon was outraged at the suggestion and said that she had brought the items with her. It is quite likely these were the wife’s own belongings but as all of a woman’s property passed to her husband on marriage in this period Wilkinson claimed them as his own. He then went on to make ‘a long statement’ to the effect that Mrs Dixon had been driven to stay with him because of the cruel treatment meted out to her by Wilkinson. Dixon, he claimed, had only acted out of his ‘humane feelings’ for Mrs. Wilkinson.

The magistrate said he minded to believe the clerk and simply asked him to appear again at a future date after the affair had been looked into more carefully.

[From Daily News, Friday, September 18, 1846]


A champagne thief with a generous nature

I have to admit that I enjoy a glass of fizz from time to time. My preference was always for champagne rather than prosecco but in recent years I’ve been really impressed by the quality of English sparkling wine prosecuted in Kent and elsewhere. I had thought this was a new thing; an unexpected beneficiary of global warming. How wrong I was.

In June 1860 John Henry Piper was presented at Bow Street Police Court accused of stealing 24 bottles of ‘British champagne’. Piper was described as ‘elderly’ and ‘respectable looking’ and worked as a foreman at Batchelor’s wine merchants in Queen Street, Cheapside. He looked after the cellars at 139 Drury Lane where the wine was made and bottled. Piper was paid 1s per dozen bottles ‘in lieu of a salary’.

Mr Batchelor , a young man of 27 years, suspected that some of his stock was ‘being clandestinely removed’ and employed a former City of London police officer to keep watch. The old PC (John Storey) saw Piper emerge from the cellar with two bottles of champagne, one under each arm. He followed him to Lincoln’s Inn Fields where he ‘accosted two ladies’ and then gave them one of his prizes. When the coast was clear Storey questioned the women who could give no explanation for Piper’s generosity.

Storey now brought in the police and he accompanied a constable from F Division to 43 Alfred Street in Islington, where the prisoner lived. There they found two dozen bottles of wine which Piper claimed were his own. In addition there were ‘also some larger bottles or jars containing a mixture which the prosecutor, after tasting it, appeared unable to describe, except that there was a taste of “sherry” in it’.

In court the ‘ladies’ also appeared to give evidence. One stated she was the wife of a ‘photographic artist’, and told the court that he had approached them in the park and asked if ‘they would object to drink his health’. She asked him what was in the bottles and he replied. ‘Champagne’. She thanked him and said they her friend was suffering with toothache ‘which they thought it might cure’ and so were grateful to him. They’d never seen him before and had no idea who he was.

In his defence the prisoner admitted to experimenting with drink to try and create ‘an entirely new wine’ and that was why he had taken the bottles. He was recommended to mercy by his employer and jailed for six weeks.

[From The Morning Chronicle, Monday, June 25, 1860]