A lucky escape (or just a delayed one?)

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Catherine Johnson was a fortunate thief. Fortunate that is, because the mid nineteenth-century criminal justice system and police was unable to build a tight enough case to send her to trial.

In early January 1853 she was brought before the magistrates at Marlborough Street to be examined as a suspect in a series of jewel thefts in New Bond Street. She was remanded for further enquiry twice before finally being discharged for lack of evidence.

Catherine was initially charged as an accessory, the main culprit being her husband who had seemingly fled the country. Mr Johnson (no first name was given) was an American citizen and following a raid on Hunt & Roskell’s jewelers where items valued at £1,500 were stolen, he evaded the police search and escaped to France leaving Catherine to face the music.

The only evidence that the police had was that Johnson had pledged two rings at a pawnbrokers in Newington Causeway before he fled and that ‘some articles of jewelry resembling some of the stolen propriety’ had been seen in Catherine’s possession. Crucially however, nothing had been found on her by the police, so that evidence was, at best, circumstantial.

At the hearing on the 7 January Mr Bingham was told that no new evidence had emerged that would justify pursuing a case against Catherine for the theft.  Since Mr Hardwick had dealt with case initially he had asked his opinion but his fellow justice agreed that little could be done. The real villain was somewhere on the Continent by now and unlikely to return so, on this occasion, Catherine would walk free from court.

Neither Catherine  nor Johnson are unusual names for the mid 1800s but in 1853 a Catherine Johnson was sent to gaol for stealing a earthenware pint pot. Later, in 1855, a Catherine Donovan (alias Johnson) was sentenced to penal servitude for picking the pocket of a man and taking his watch. I wonder…

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, January 08, 1853]

‘An assault of an unmanly character’ as a trio of ‘gentlemen’ drag a Turk about by his beard

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I imagine that most owners of Indian curry houses have had to put up with a lot of bad behaviour from drunken customers who stumble into their establishments late on a Friday night demanding ‘the hottest thing on the menu’. The boorish actions of English men was satirized wonderfully in the BBC comedy sketch show, Goodness Gracious Mewhere the team talked about ‘getting tanked up and going for an English’.

It plays on the reality that for many immigrants to Britain being abused or made fun of by the native population has only recently been deemed unacceptable both in law and by the majority of the British populace. Until now those running curry houses (and other shops and eateries) have pretty much had to take whatever they were given.

Thankfully that past is (largely) behind us, although the spectre of xenophobia has re-emerged emboldened perhaps by Brexit and the ongoing debate about migration. Looking back we can find plenty of examples of racism and nationalism in British history, especially in the heady days of Empire when Great Britain really did rule half the globe and the map of the world was covered in swathes of pink.

Three friends, overtly respectable and well-dressed men, had been out drinking in central London in the run up to Christmas 1855. It was a Friday night and Charles Bowley, Henry Nation and John Tickell weren’t quite ready to call for a cab home to their wives. They were on the Haymarket, in London’s entertainment district and they decided to head for a tobacco house, or divan, where they could relax, smoke a cigar to two, and perhaps enjoy a brandy. There were several of these ‘cigar divans’ in the centre of London and they provided a range of entertainment for men with money to pay for it.

But being intoxicated and full of British swagger and arrogance they barged their way into Youssef Ben Ibrahim’s divan and upset the prevailing calm atmosphere of the club. Concerned for her establishment’s reputation and the peace of her customers, Youssef’s wife, Ayesha, told them to be quiet or leave.

It was a reasonable request but, in liquor, these were not reasonable men. Ayesha Youssef was  verbally abused with ‘course epithets’ and Nation (a Naval officer) struck her in chest and almost sent her flying. Her husband leapt to her assistance and was assaulted by the trio.

One of the men grabbed him by his beard and then the tree amused themselves by pulling him to and fro ‘by that honoured appendage’. It was both violent and insulting, and deliberately so; the men clearly thought very little of Youssef and his wife, dismissing them as mere foreigners not worthy of the respect due to Englishmen.

In the end a member of Youssef’s waiting staff got involved and, despite being hit several times, managed to pull his master free. The men were later arrested and brought before the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street on the following day.

Mr Hardwick didn’t believe the men’s protestations of innocence and sided entirely with the Turkish couple. He was ‘satisfied that an assault of an unmanly character had taken place’ and he fined each of the men £3. That made their evening out that little bit more costly but, and more importantly, the declaration that the assault was ‘unmanly’ and the description of the attack on a defenseless woman were both made public in the papers. That would have made uncomfortable reading for the trio, their families, and their circle of friends. That was probably a better punishment than the fine which no doubt they each found in their deep pockets.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, 22 December, 1855]

“The last descendant of the Bruce”?: madness and the magistracy in mid Victorian London

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This is another example of mid-nineteenth century attitudes towards mental illness. At the time mental health was not as well understood as it is today but it seems to have been, if not as prevalent, then still quite significant as a societal problem.

Ms Wetherall (if indeed that was her real name) was quite well know to the staff and magistracy at Marlborough Street Police court. The respectably dressed middle-aged woman had appeared at the court to ask the magistrates’ advice on more than one occasion.

On her previous visit she had told the bench that she was about to be married to Earl of Carlisle and had been summoned by ‘various tradesmen’ upon she had imposed in order to get herself the necessary wedding outfit on credit, something they had declined to do.

In a separate incident  she apparently declared she was ‘the last descendent of the Bruce’ (meaning Robert the Bruce, the victor of the battle of Bannockburn and a Scottish national hero). She had made this extraordinary assertion outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and was led away by a policeman. The magistrate then had sent her to be assessed by the medical authorities in St Martin’s to see if she was quite in her right mind.

Now she appeared before Mr Hardwick (the parish officials at St Martin’s clearly not wanting anything to do with her) to make an application to retrieve some property that she claimed her former landlady was withholding from her. It was a common enough application for a magistrate to decide on but given her history Mr Hardwick chose to fob her off. He said that as she had previously applied for similar things to his colleague Mr Bingham, she would have to direct this application to him on the following Monday.

Ms Wetherell was unhappy with this decision as she said she may not be able to make Monday. She told the justice she was sailing to Australia on Monday and may well have already sailed by the time the court opened. Having stated her case she upped and left the court leaving everyone wondering what her story would be when she next appeared.  She was clearly suffering with some form of mental illness which Victorian society was unable to help. However, she was not abusive or dangerous, the nineteenth-century’s equivalent of the early modern ‘village idiot’ perhaps, so off she went, no doubt with the laughter of the court ringing in her ears.

[from The Morning Chronicle, 15 November, 1849]

An editor’s dream as a lover’s quarrel is aired in court

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This case is quite unusual and barely qualifies as a case the London magistracy could hear at all. Indeed Mr Hardwick, the incumbent justice at Marlborough Street, was clearly annoyed that it had come before him at all, and this certainly influenced his decision making. Most all though, it shows how rich a source of stories the police courts were for the London press.

At the end of June 1842 a young man by the name of Frederick Isambiel appeared at the Marlborough Street Police court to ask Mr. Hardwick to issue a warrant to arrest a young woman for assault. Isambiel was tall, respectable and well dressed. He told the magistrate that eight months previously he’d traveled to Surrey with ‘a gentleman of fortune’ and there he’d met a young lady who was under the care of her guardian. According to his account she had fallen madly in love with him but he didn’t return her affections.

This didn’t put her off however, and even when he returned to London she found out where he lived, sent a spy to watch him, and then, just a few days ago, she contrived a meeting with him in the Haymarket. There, ‘not wishing to be besieged with her unfortunate affection, he tried to get away, and this led to his coat being torn’. Since she had now returned to Surrey with her friends he required a warrant to bring her to court.

At first the justice tried to put him off, suggesting he had no power to send a warrant into Surrey. But pressed he agreed he did have that power, ‘recollecting that he could act in all the metropolitan counties’. However, his advice was to seek a summons instead. A summons had less legal power as it wasn’t executed by a police officer and Frederick was sure his ‘stalker’ (as we might describe her today), would ignore it.

He added that she had also threatened him: she was ‘so resolute that she had already threatened to write to a friend to “call him out,” if he did not meet her advances in a hymeneal spirit’.

In other words agree to marry her.

Eventually Frederick was persuaded to apply for a summons, which was posted to the young woman in question. Three days later, on the last day of June, the young woman’s representatives answered the summons by appearing in Mr. Hardwick’s court to rebut the charge of assault. What followed was acrimonious and arguably served no good but to amuse the readership of the London papers as they digested their toast and marmalade.

Miss Thyrza Sumner lived at Oatlands farm, Surrey under the care of her guardian, Mr Haynes. Haynes and a solicitor were there to represent Thyrza who had remained at home. This upset Isambeil who felt she should be present so he could defend his good name which he ‘felt had suffered in consequence of the violence of the young lady’s passion for him’.

Mr Hardwick refused his request saying that he was here to try the assault, nothing more, and that if Frederick wished to pursue a civil case of character assassination he’d have to do so elsewhere. He hoped then that Mr. Haynes and his lawyer were prepared to answer for Thyrza. They were, and were perfectly happy to settle the matter there and then if the young man refrained from further statements in court.

Unfortunately for all concerned Frederick Isambiel seemed to have wanted his moment in the spotlight. He produced a bundle of letters and declared he was going to read them and set out his version of events.

He started by explaining why he’d traveled to Surrey in the first place, and was immediately challenged by Mr. Haynes. He said he went to Oatlands with a gentleman.

You went as [his] valet’ interrupted Haynes.

Silence’, was Isambiel’s ‘furious’ response.

Haynes persisted: ‘You were valet to the Hon. Mr. Littleton, who turned you off on his marriage with Lord Beverley’s daughter’.

Frederick tried to carry on, ignoring Haynes’ attempt to undermine him. He recounted his meeting with Thyzra and how she’d fallen for him and read aloud a letter (from him) in which he had tried to let her down gently. In it he explains how he is an unsuitable match for her, not possessing the means to keep her in a manner fitting ‘for a lady who has, and always will have the comforts of a good home all her life’.

He then proceeded to read Thyzra’s reply which included some ‘unintelligible poetry’ and a lot of heartfelt sentiment. Another letter expressed her ‘grief at your cold farewell’ and said that she ‘had no hope left for the future’ signing the letter ‘your distracted Thyrza’.

This public airing of deeply personal feelings was entirely unnecessary to prove an assault accusation and the magistrate was keen to close it down as soon as he could. Nevertheless it was manna from Heaven for the journalists scribbling down the story in court. Most cases before the courts got a few paragraphs at most, often much less, this one ran for over a column.

Mr Hardwick told Frederick to stick to the point. He said he’d been assaulted at Dubourg’s Hotel on the Haymarket, so what were the circumstances? In Isambiel’s version he’d met Thyzra and they’d gone into a private room. As soon as they were alone she’d locked the door and threw herself into a chair and began to declare her love for him.

He insisted of being allowed to leave at once but she refused. He threatened to call the police and she insisted she would only open the door if he kissed her.

I will not kiss you,’ he said, and rushed to the window to summon a constable but, as he described in court, ‘she ran to me and caught me about the neck, and tried to kiss me. I held my hand up, and being much taller than she is, she could only kiss my breast, which she did, till I threw up the window to call the police’.

At that point a voice in the next room – clearly someone listening through the keyhole called out ‘Thyzra, its no use!’ The door opened and Isambiel left, in the struggle his coat was torn.

The defence offered an alternative version saying that Thyzra had wanted her letters back, presumably so that they couldn’t be used against her as Frederick was doing today. It was deeply embarrassing and quite understandable that she would wish them destroyed and certainly not printed in the newspapers, as now happened. Haynes and his solicitor admitted the assault and the damage to the coat, but not the version of it that Frederick had given. In fact they said this had occurred a month ago and in Surrey. This annoyed Mr. Hardwick as he felt it could have been dealt with down there.

Mr Haynes suggested that there was a darker motive to Isambiel’s actions. He hinted that the young man was hoping for a settlement of £50 per year from the young lady and her family. Was this to buy him off and make the complaint go away to save her good name? The magistrate was at a loss as to what to do with the case, and said so.

Frederick said he had ‘proved the assault’ and now charged her with trying (in her earlier threat) of trying to provoke him into fighting a duel with her (unnamed) champion.

Mr Haynes dismissed this: ‘I don’t think you are a person very likely to fight, so there is no danger about the duel’.

The magistrate seems to have agreed as he dismissed the assault charge and said that if Isambiel wanted to pursue any further hurt against his good name he’d have to do so at his own expense and in a civil court. As an out of work valet with little more wealth than he stood up in, that was hardly likely so this would be an end of it all.

Frederick must have recognized this but he was determined to have the last word and sought out the men of the press as he left court. They helpfully published three of the letters between the ‘lovers’, including some doggerel poetry and the threat of the duel.

The press always know a good story when they see one.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 27, 1842;The Morning Chronicle , Friday, July 1, 1842]

Huge numbers of special constables are sworn in London. Why?

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We all love a mystery don’t we? When you dip into a newspaper that was published 170 years ago sometimes things just don’t make sense on their own. Take this report from April 1848 at Marlborough Street Police court for example. The report is headed ‘Special Constables’ and starts by declaring that:

‘The swearing in of special constables continued throughout the day, without intermission, in consequence of the large numbers of persons of all ranks that presented themselves at this court’.

Historically special constables were sworn in to police particular events (notably public executions) or at a time of crisis (during riots for example). The practice both preceded the introduction of the New Police in 1829 and continued afterwards. You can still serve as a ‘special’ today so long as you can give four hours of voluntary service a week.

In April 1848 the press reported that hundreds of men had come forward in London to swell the ranks of the professionals: ‘There could not have been fewer than twelve or fourteen special constables sworn in yesterday’ the The Morning Post noted. Men were joining en masse from businesses that employed large numbers – not unlike the ‘Pals’ battalions later raised during the First World War.

‘Messers. Cottam and Hallam’s men, to the number one hundred, were sworn in. About 120 men in the employ of Messers. Dowbiggin, the upholsterers, were also sworn in; and Mr. Lumley, the lessee of the Opera, furnished 63 able men’.

But it was not just the working men of London that were signing up in their droves to represent their communities and employers, ‘men of rank’ were also volunteering for action.

‘Lord Colchester, Lord Wharncliffe, Lord Cawdor, Lord Sondes, the Marquis of Blandford, B. Neville Esquire, Sir Moses Montefiore, Mr. Fox Maule, the Hon. F. Baring, Colonle Sir E. Cust, Colonel C. Hutchinson, Hon. C. Hardinge, Colonel Wood, Henry Agar, A.E. Lockhart MP, etc..’ all signed up.

A tradesmen approached the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street with a query. He said he had men who were keen to serve but were concerned that they would not, as he believed was the principle of specials, be used to support policing in their own community, but instead be deployed elsewhere. Mr Bingham thought to reassure him:

‘It was perfectly well understood’ he said, ‘that special constables were for the protection of their own immediate neighbourhood only, and so long as they assisted to preserve the peace of their own locality, they need be under no apprehension of being called elsewhere’.

This calmed the tradesman who said he now suspected many more of his employees would be presenting themselves at the court in due course. The paper reported that Mr Bingham would now sit in tandem with his colleague Mr Hardwick tomorrow, so they could get through the numbers of men wishing to be sworn.

Nowhere, however, does it explain why so many specials were being called for or were volunteering. For this you need to know your history, particularly the political history of Britain in the mid 1800s. 1848 has been described as the ‘year of revolutions’ because of events in Paris, Sicily, Germany, the Habsburg Empire and elsewhere. Everywhere the desire for liberal democracy clashed with autocracy and in Britain, a nation more ‘democratic’ than some, we had our own taste of a popular movement for change: Chartism.

This is not the place for a careful analysis of Chartism but it was both a democratic movement and a revolutionary one. The Chartists wanted to extend the vote to all men, by secret ballot, and the abolition of the property qualification that effectively excluded all but the wealthy from standing for parliament. Indeed of the six demands they made only the call for annual elections has come into being. At the time however, these were radical demands and while Lord Russell (the sitting Prime Minister) was sympathetic to an increase in the franchise Britain wasn’t ready for one-man-one-vote (and wouldn’t be until 1918).

Chartists were split internally, between those that believed change had to come from persuasion and rhetoric and those that agitated for direct action to force change. The most extreme example of this would be the Newport Rising in November 1839 the failure of which which led to arrests and the transportation of the ringleaders to Australia. By 1848 Chartism was on its last legs but one of its leaders, Feargus O’Connor, decided that the best way to achieve their aims was by a combination of public demonstrations and a petition to Parliament.
He called a mass meeting of Chartists at Kennington Common, south of the river Thames, to rally his supporters and then a march to Parliament to present the petition. It echoed the events of 1780 when Lord George Gordon summoned his rag bag of anti-Catholic protestors to the Common to rail against attempts to repeal anti-Catholic legislation. In the end his supporters ran riot for a week burning down several prominent buildings (including Newgate Gaol) and attacking the Bank of England.

This may have been in the minds of the government and public in 1848 (as would Newport of course) and a call went out for volunteer constables. Lord Russell pleaded with O’Connor not to address the rally and agitate the crowd, nor to march on Parliament. He also arranged for 8,000 troops to be on hand and 150,000 special constables.

chartistsThe meeting went ahead on the 10 April 1848 without trouble, the Chartists claimed 300,000 turned up by other estimates put the numbers at a more conservation 20,000 – 50,000. O’Connor also claimed he had gathered over 5,000,000 signatures but in reality the petition contained just 1,975, 496 many of which were fake.

 

The whole thing did little for the cause and Chartism died a death after that.

So now we know why there were so many men signing up to be specials in April 1848, but without this little bit of historical knowledge (which I remember studying as a schoolboy) nothing in this newspaper report would make sense.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, April 08, 1848]

The Marlborough Street magistrate helps Big Ben’s missus deliver a knock-out blow

In the 1840s the biggest name in English boxing was Benjamin Caunt. Ben Caunt (pictured below) was one of the first English prize-fighters to seek international acclaim. In 1841 he traveled to the USA to look for rivals to fight for a world title but ended up bringing an American boxer home with him to manage instead. Caunt was so famous that some have suggested the bell within the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster was named after him, which seems unlikely.

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By 1846 ‘Big Ben’ was running a pub in St Martin’s Lane with his wife, although he continued to box well into the 1850s.

John Gill was a baker who lived in Cumming Street, Pentonville. On Saturday 19 December 1846 he had been drinking in the Caunts’ pub and got up to leave. Mrs Caunt asked him to settle his bill of 5s and at this point the baker made some wrong choices.

First, while he acknowledged the debt, he argued that since  her husband owed him 5 guineas it was a bit unfair of her to ask him to pay up in full when ‘Ben’ was already in his debt.

Such familiarity didn’t go down terribly well with Mrs Caunt. She came around from the other side of the bar and stood toe-to-toe with him.

‘Does Ben owe you anything?’ she asked, ‘Then I’ll pay you this way’, and punched him twice in the face.

Regaining his feet if not his composure, and finding his mouth full of blood, Gill staggered to the bar and launched a stream of abusive words at the landlady.

That was his second mistake.

Ben Caunt heard the foul language aimed at his wife and loomed into view, hauling the baker to his feet and throwing him out on to the street.

All of this of course landed Mrs Caunt in court before Hardwick at Marlborough Street. In her the dock Mrs Caunt didn’t deny the assault but said she had been provoked. She alleged that Gill had used bad language towards her before she had thrown any punches and was able to produce a witness to that effect.

The newspaper reporter for Lloyd’s Weekly clearly enjoyed the story and its associations with the English champion. Mrs Caunt had delivered a punch that ‘would have done no discredit to her husband’s powers’. The hapless baker was the butt of the story and that is how the magistrate saw it as well.  So Gill’s third mistake was in not simply putting the whole episode down to experience and going home quietly. Mr Hardwicke told him that he had ‘provoked the assault, by using language that was almost certain to cause a breach of the peace’, and he dismissed the summons.

Gill was beaten again, this time by a justice system and a magistrate that favoured the ‘weaker’ sex (who was clearly not the weaker one on this occasion).

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, December 27, 1846]

Fined for hanging a cat – a porter’s shame at Marlborough Street

I have written about cruelty to animals in previous posts on this site and, sadly, it seems to have been all too common in Victorian London. Cats, dogs and even performing monkeys were subjected to abuse or neglect by their owners or strangers and, occasionally, this was deemed serious enough to bring the perpetrators before the summary courts.

Henry Lewis, a porter  working at 31 Pall Mall (a very ‘respectable’ address in the 1840s) was charged at Marlborough Street with ‘cruelty towards a cat’ in early November 1846.

The case (for anyone reading, but especially those of you – like me – who live with cats) was horrific.

Mr Hardwick (the Police Magistrate) was told that Lewis was seen:

‘to hang the cat by the neck to a shutter in an area of the house. He then took a poker, and struck it with the nobbed end several blows on the head. Afterwards he cut down the cat whilst alive, and threw it in the dusthole‘.

Asked why he acted in such a cruel way all that Lewis could offer in his defence was to say that the animal was ‘troublesome, and mischievous’ and that once he had trapped it he thought that was the best way of getting rid of it.

Cats can be  a nuisance of course; doing damage to property or taking food from kitchens but that can never justify the level of violence the porter meted out in this instance. Mr Hardwick agreed and ‘sharply rebuked the man’, while fining him 40s.

This week President Trump, that well known humanitarian, described the terrorist that ran down and killed eight people in New York as ‘an animal’. Technically he may have been correct – we are all animals. But he is wrong in the sense that he intended it. Most animals don’t kill their own kind for political, ideological, or religious reasons, only homo sapiens (i.e us) do that.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 03, 1846]

for other posts concerning cruelty to animals see:

Animal cruelty exposed in the early years of the RSPCA

Cruelty to cat grabs the attention of the press while across London the ‘Ripper’ murders begin.

Six weeks in gaol for cruelty to a cat