Someone tries to steal ‘Mr Slater’s parrot’

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It was about 2 o’clock in the morning when Henry Preston heard a loud commotion coming from the parrot house at London Zoo. The keeper rushed over to investigate and saw a man running away from one of the cages, which had been opened.

The bird it contained – a rare Bell Bird (native to Brazil) – was missing, and so Preston set off in pursuit of the mysterious intruder.

It took him a while to catch up with him, but eventually he had him and demanded to know where the missing bird was. The man was silent but the keeper noticed a feather on his coat. Another keeper arrived and questioned him and five more feathers were found.

Then Mr Jeffcoat, the keeper of the elephant house arrived and said he had seen a man leaving the gentleman’s lavatories, obviously in something of a hurry. Leaving the others to hold onto their prisoner Jeffcoat went to search the toilets for the missing bird.

Sadly he found it; quite dead, drowned in a w.c and wrapped in a handkerchief with the name ‘Goodfellow’ embroidered on it. The keepers took the suspected culprit to Mr Bartlett, the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens who accused him of stealing it. The man now tried to buy his way out of the risk and embarrassment of a court appearance, offering Bartlett £20 if would let him go. He would not and then man was handed over to the police.

The next day (Friday 27 July, 1888) he appeared before Mr Cook at Marylebone Police court and gave his name as Walter Hamilton. There the magistrate was told the events of the night as the keepers had witnessed it and informed that the dead parrot was ‘the only specimen of the bell tribe in this country’. It belonged to Mr Slater (the secretary of Zoological Society) was valued at £10 and Mr Cook decided that Hamilton must stand trial for its theft (if not its murder).

The neotropical bellbird in question was probably the white bellbird or the bare-throated member of the species. Both live in Brazil. They both have a call that resembles the sound of a bell being rung.

Those of you of a certain age (and perhaps a certain musical background) will recall that the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band recorded a song called ‘Mr Slater’s Parrot’ on their 1969 album Keynsham. It is one of my favorites, with the line:

‘When Mr. Slater’s parrot says, “Hello!”

A geezer likes to get one on the go.

We hope to hear him swear.

We love to hear him squeak.

We like to see him biting fingers in his horny beak.’

Was it inspired by the attempted theft of a bell bird in 1888, or by the secretary of the Zoological Society? I doubt its more than a coincidence but it made me chuckle this morning.

[from The Standard, Saturday, July 28, 1888]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon here

The Regent’s Canal might be polluted but there’s no cause for alarm say the committee

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Something different caught my eye this morning and so this is not a case from the Police Courts but possibly one that could develop into a prosecution if it was not resolved. The Daily Telegraph (which in the 1870s was not the same Conservative Party organ it is today) ran a story about pollution in the Regent’s Canal.

The article reported on a meeting of the St Pancras vestry who were responsible for the canal that ran through central London and was used by all sorts of people in the 1800s. Several complaints had been registered about the state of the canal and the smells that emanated from it. As a result the sanitary committee had been asked to investigate and report back to the vestry with its findings.

The medical officer of health and the chief surveyor of the parish were both consulted and they gave evidence to the committee and vestry. The surveyor had undertaken an examination of the main area of the canal where the problems had been highlighted. This section was where the drains of the nearby  Gardens emptied into to canal. The suggestion was that the zoo was polluting the watercourse.

The committee heard that each year the zoo emptied 16 million gallons of water into the canal: seven million gallons from their well and an additional nine million which was supplied to them by the West Middlesex Water Company. On top of all of this water was the annual rainfall, all of which contributed to swelling the canal.

Into this water had been washed a variety of deposits from the various tanks used by the zoo, along with animal and human waste. During the dry summer months the committee was told, it was likely that mud had been washed into the drains, adding to the general discolouration of the water.

The investigation  had arranged for some fish to be caught and examined, to check for any health concerns. Five gudgeon were studied and found to be healthy. The report concluded that:

‘the water of the canal is turbid and unsightly, but no offensive exhalations could be detected, even when it was disturbed by a passing barge, and it was being fished at the time of the medical officer’s visit’.

So all things considered  the committee felt that no action (which would incur an expense of course, if only in a legal prosecution of the zoo) was necessary. They adopted a ‘do-nothing’ approach by 37 votes to 8 and left locals to continue grumbling about the unpleasant odour of the canal.

[from The Daily Telegraph, 12 November, 1874]

Medals count for little in class warfare

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George Walters was a hero of the Crimean War. At Inkerman on 5 November 1857 his quick thinking and bravery saved the life of an officer in the heat of battle. Sadly although he carried the Brigadier General to safety he later died of his wounds in the military hospital at Scutari. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and later left the army (and his home town of Newport Pagnell) to start a new career with the Metropolitan Police.

His mini biographer (in the link above) noted that he soon left the police and ‘joined the Regents Park Police, and little is known of what happened to him before the 1871 Census’. Well, thanks to the newspaper coverage of the Police Courts, I can fill in a small amount of detail, at least as to what he was up to in 1865 when he was about 36 years of age.

George was indeed working in Regent’s Park as a Parks constable and on 20 July a well-heeled group of men and women were enjoying a boat trip on the lake. At about twenty to nine in the evening ‘the whole party’ made their way to the exit gates close to the Zoo. The gates were locked and had been for some time it seems, as a small crowd of people were gathered there hoping to get out.

Henry Percy Berry, a ‘young gentleman’ of 81 Adelaide Road in fashionable St John’s Wood took matters into his own hands.

‘Being desirous that the ladies should not wait there for an indefinite period of time he got up over the gate and, as he was getting over a second gate for the purpose of going to the inspector’s lodge’, he was seized by constable Walters.

The park constable grabbed him by the throat, ‘and after shaking him violently said he should take him into custody and charge him with an assault’. Berry offered the man his card but he was ignored. Walter summoned another constable and together, with the help of ‘a drunken cabman who said he was a detective’ the young man was unceremoniously dragged to the nearest police station.

Berry claimed to have been beaten and kicked on the way and had the bruises and a torn coat to show for it. After a night in the cells he was presented before a magistrate in the morning (for assault) but the case was discharged.

Now, several weeks later he counter sued the constable for assault and so it was George Walters who found himself in front of a ‘beak’. The former soldier wore his medals with pride; the VC and Crimean Medal (with four bars) making a very clear statement as to his character. He was defended by counsel, Mr Johnson, and the case was observed by Inspector Caunt of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Works (who looked after the Park and employed the constable).

Berry’s testimony (that he was an innocent and the victim of an aggressive attack by Walters) was challenged in court and he was forced to deny swearing at the constable or throwing any punches. He admitted climbing the gate but didn’t consider that it had made him a ‘wrong doer’ in the eyes of the law. He was also ‘perfectly sober at the time’ he insisted.

The young gentleman’s evidence was backed up by two  ‘well dressed young named Edward Castle and Matthias Milner’. Neither knew Berry personally they swore, but they said that they had seen the event unfold.

The constable brief now called his own witness, a retired policeman turned cabdriver named John Holder. He painted an alternative account to Berry’s and it was one which corroborated our hero’s. Berry had used bad language he said, and was violent. He had been called to lend assistance as a former police colleague. As to the term coat he argued that the damage had been done by Berry himself and Walter had warned him about it at the time. His warnings had been treated with contempt and abuse by the young man however.

As for the former soldier, Holder declared that:

‘He never saw a man exhibit more civility and forbearance than did the defendant on this occasion, and he never saw a man behave more violently than the complainant did’.

Holder’s account was supported by the other park constable. So in the end it came down to who the magistrate would choose to believe. Would it be the working-class constable who was a decorated war hero, or a rich young man with a fashionable address?

I think you can probably guess.

Mr Mansfield had tried the previous case when Berry had appeared on a charge of assaulting the constable and had dismissed it. He was hardly going to admit he was wrong in open court. He declared that the defence that had been offered by Walters was a fiction and he ‘could not adequately give expression to his feeling of indignation at the manner in which the cabman had given his evidence’.

He turned to George Walters and fined him the huge sum of £4 for the ‘outrageous’ assault on a respectable young man and warned him that failure to pay would result in him going to prison for  a month.

England, a home fit for heroes? Not in 1865 it seems, not when the reputation of the ruling class was at stake anyway. It reminds me of Kipling’s Tommy:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! “
But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 10, 1865]

‘Limping Bill’ and the case of the stolen armadillo

 

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London Zoo in 1837

Two cases for you these morning, both from the Marylebone Police Court in the year of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. The first features a fair of ‘fashionable’ young men and a street trader, the second involved a theft from London Zoo.

Captain Ferguson (alias Collegian Fred) and Lieutenant Grant (also known as the Lady Killer) were summoned before the magistrate by a stall holder who operated at the corner of Paradise Street in Lambeth. The complaint was brought by Billy Bucket (commonly known locally as ‘Limping Bill’) and he alleged that while he was selling his wares the two came along and whilst play fighting with each other they managed to knock over his stall of seafood.

The Morning Post‘s court reporter rendered Billy’s testimony in dialect, for maximum comic effect and I think this demonstrates one of the functions of these early reports from the metropolis’ police courts, that of entertaining a middle-class or elite audience. To give you a sense of this I shall simply set it down as it was printed in 1837.

‘Please your vorships (said the little bandy-legged complainant) I vos standing at my stall last night in the hact of sarving a customer with a harpeth of pickled heels of the best quality, when up comes these regular swells well primed with lush [he meant the worse the wear for alcohol] , and one of un shoves the other right bang against my stall, not was not strong enough by no means to stand such a heavy “swell” and over it goes’.

The result was that the street was scattered with ‘shrimps, periwinkles, welks, pickled eels, and other delicacies’, Billy’s stock and any chance he might have had to make his living that day was either ruined or stolen as the jars of eels broke and the local children rushed in and picked up and ate whatever they could lay their hands on. Billy estimated the cost of the collision as ‘at least 10s‘ and so he came to court to get compensation.

The two ‘swells’ then negotiated a price with the costermonger, settled their account and left.

Next up was a ‘well-dressed middle-aged’ hairdresser and perfumer named Joel Lazarus. Lazarus gave his address as 20 Upper Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square. If the first case at Marylebone was amusing because of the characters involved (a cockney costermonger and ‘a couple of swells’) then this one entertained because it was quite bizarre.

While Lazarus stood in the dock the witness stand was occupied by an armadillo, ‘a remarkably fine specimen of its kind’, which the hairdresser was accused of stealing from the zoo.

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The magistrates (there were two in attendance, Mr Shutt and Lord Montford) were told that at seven o’clock the previous evening the gate guard at Regent’s Park Zoo had noticed Lazarus leaving the zoo and was suspicious. John Henry White stated that he observed him ‘making his egress from the grounds carrying before him his hat, around which was tied a handkerchief’.

White stopped him and asked him what he had under the ‘kerchief. Lazarus told him to mind his own business and seemed ‘in a  great hurry to reach his gig, which was standing in the road’. Before he could get to the waiting transport however, White called for help and the man was swiftly captured.

He was searched and an armadillo was found concealed in his hat. This was identified then and in court by Mr Alexander Mullins the ‘superintendent of the gardens’. He told the bench that the animal was valued at £5 and that it had recently been imported from South America.

When questioned Lazarus admitted taking the animal but would say no more. A surgeon appeared to testify that he was aware that the hairdresser ‘occasionally suffered from an aberration of mind’. There was no proof of madness at the time of the theft, the magistrates declared, and  regardless it was the ‘duty of his friends to look after him’ if he was indeed suffering in the way described.

However, they felt a fine was a sufficient punishment in this case and they imposed one of £5 for the theft plus another £5 to reflect the value of the armadillo. The monies were paid and Lazarus was free to go. The armadillo was taken back to the zoo, and was probably the subject of greater close attention than it had been previously. After all ‘bad’ publicity is better than no publicity and I imagine Londoners would have been quite keen to see the armadillo that a hairdresser had tried to steal.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, July 10, 1837]

Preying on unwary visitors to the Zoological Gardens

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London Zoo in the late 1800s

Stephen Westbrook was visiting the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s  Park (better know to most of us as London Zoo of course), when he felt a tug at his pocket. As he span round he saw a man behind him holding his gold watch! Westbrook, a well-heeled gentleman who resided on the Camberwell Road, South London, called the thief a ‘scamp’ and made a grab for him.

The other man was too quick for him. Dumping the offending item into the outstretched hand of his victim the thief took off, running through the gathered crowds who were intent on viewing the menagerie.

Westbrook gave chase and caught up with his prey, securing him with ‘some difficulty’ and handing him over to a nearby policeman. A week later the pair were in Marylebone Police court, with the ‘scamp’ facing a charge of picking pockets.

Westbrook told the magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, the circumstances of theft and a police spokesman explained that the prisoner, James Bodi (alias Potter), had a string of similar fences as long as his arm. The magistrate asked Bodi/Potter if he had anything to say in his defence. He hadn’t and the 32 year-old sawyer from the parish of St Luke’s was committed for trial.

Next up was another case of theft from the zoo. This time the defendant was a woman, Eliza Dyne and she was a ‘respectably dressed’ 37 year-old. She too had been using the crowded areas of the zoo as an ideal place to pass unseen amongst the crowds, dipping into bags and pockets. On this occasion she had taken 9s from the dress pocket of Mrs Mary Chessington (who presumably had no connection to a zoo of the same name…). Eliza was, like James, unable to escape arrest and she too found herself committed to a higher court and a jury trial.

Nether appear in the Old Bailey records however, so perhaps they went somewhere else like the Clerkenwell sessions. Like so many cases that come before the summary courts, the outcome is uncertain.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, May 24, 1876]