Assaulting the police is never a good idea, especially not if its outside Parliament

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William Pomroy, a police constable in A Division was stationed opposite Westminster Hall in the early evening of Tuesday 27 June 1866.  As the house had just finished sitting and many of the MPS were beginning to leave the building when PC Pomroy noticed a man trying to get in the way of them as they came out. He seemed determined to obstruct and argue with them so the constable asked him to move along.

He didn’t go far though and stood, legs akimbo with his hands in his pockets, blocking the pathway. PC Pomroy came up to him again, placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and tried to propel him the direction of the other bystanders,, a little way off.

Instead of complying with the officer’s command however the man turned around and punched the PC in the mouth, cutting his lip. Not surprisingly he was promptly arrested and produced before Mr Arnold the sitting magistrate at Westminster Police court on the following morning.

The accused’s name was Frederick Michael O’Connor and he spoke with a ‘strange Scottish accent’. The justice asked him what he had to say for himself.

I wished to see some of the members’, the man answered, ‘and was standing there for that purpose when I found I was suddenly in crowd, and I got pushed about, first one way and then another, and I found that I could not get out’.

As the MPs left the palace there ‘was a great deal of excitement, and people showed their feelings’ he added.

It sounds as if it had got quite rowdy and that the politicians were coming in for some stick from the gathered crowds (no change there then). He said that the policeman had pushed him and that he’d lost his temper and had struck out.

He [only] told you to move’ said Mr Arnold.

Yes, but I suppose I did not do it fast enough; and then he pushed me, and I hit him’ O’Connor explained somewhat sheepishly.

He wasn’t the usual rabble rouser or ‘rough’ and I doubt he made a habit of hitting policemen.  The copper had probably acted hastily as well, not being aware that the man was evidently upset at finding himself hemmed in by a crowd.

But assaults on the police could not be tolerated and he was fined 10sand warned he would go to prison for a week if he couldn’t pay.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 28, 1866]

Blasphemy, Race and Empire collide as an undertaker appears before the Southwark court.

170px-John_William_Colenso_by_Carlo_Pellegrini

I am often reminded of how tremendously ignorant I am of some aspects of history. Most of my  study has been concerned with Britain and Europe and the world conflicts that involved them. I studied some American history to A level and some aspects of colonial history as part of my undergraduate degree, but for the last decade or so I have been firmly rooted in the period between about 1750 and 1900 and rarely stray much beyond London.

So until I read about him today I’d never heard of John William Colenso (1814-1883) or his important influence on African history. Colenso was born in St Austell in Cornwall where his father lost money in the mining industry when a sea flood deluded the works. After several false starts Colenso eventually took a career in the church and in 1853 became the first Church of England Bishop of Natal in what is now South Africa.

Throughout the 1850s Colenso travelled around Zululand meeting its people and writing up his experiences. Unlike many colonial travellers and officials Colenso was sympathetic to the cause of Africa rights and equality and this brought him plenty of criticism from the church and colonial authorities and eventually led to his removal from office in 1863.

And this is where he came across my radar, appearing (albeit not in person) in the Southwark Police court in April, in a case heard by Mr Combe the sitting magistrate.

As the newspaper report noted:

‘An elderly Scottish gentleman entered the court to complain of a blasphemous placard placed outside the shop of an undertaker’. The notice declared “Colenso right and the Bible wrong’, and the complainant wanted it taken down immediately. It was, he said, ‘full of blasphemy’ as it denied the truth written down in the scriptures.

At first Mr Combe was reluctant to get involved in this, as he didn’t think he had any jurisdiction to interfere but the Scot was instant. The magistrate sent a warrant officer out to fetch the placard and ask the undertaker to attend to explain himself.

Once the offending message and the undertaker’s men ( a Mr Antill) were present Combe asked him whether he was aware what it said. Antil was, he explained that he related to a series of lectures due to be given over the next six Sunday evenings. We don’t learn what the lectures were about but given what I now know about Bishop Colenso I think I might make an educated guess.

Colenso was a polygenist, in other words he believed that mankind had evolved from more than one initial source. The Bible, of course, states that man descends from Adam and Eve. Science and history made it hard, Colenso argued, to accept that all races were descended from the same single pair of human beings. Instead he suggested that God had created several races, but all of them were created equal. As with others that held this belief he argued that monogenism lay at the heart of racism and slavery.

The Colenso controversy sparked huge religious debate in Britain and southern Africa in the 1860s and we can see from this small snippet in the news that this manifested itself even in daily life in the capital of Empire.

Mr Combe asked the undertaker if he had gone to these lectures. Yes, he had, Antill replied, and he ‘took considerable interest in them’ which was why he’d put out the placard to advertise them to others.

The magistrate told him he’d committed an offence by ‘exposing such a blasphemous’ notice. It was ‘not at all respectable for a tradesman to allow it, and more especially an undertaker’.

Mr Antill apologised and said he would not put it out again in the future and left with a warning that if he did he could expect to be punished for it. The unnamed ‘Scottish gentleman’ thanked the magistrate and left the court, his mission accomplished. One wonder what he would have made of Darwin’s Origins of Species, which had been published just 4 years earlier in 1859. Religion and science were locked in an intellectual debate throughout the second half of the nineteenth century with evolution and God’s role in it firmly at the heart of that debate.

That debate continues still, as does the question of racial equality and the rights of peoples. Colenso was a friend of the Zulu people and supposedly argued against the war that broke between Cetshwayo and the British state in 1877. After the Zulu’s had been defeated Colenso agitated on the defeated kings behalf and successfully got Cetshwayo released from imprisonment on Robben Island. His continued challenge to authority and exposure of racism at the heart of the imperial project did nothing to endear him to politicians and senior clergy at home but it earned him the title of Sobantu (father of the people) amongst native Africans in Natal. He died in Durban in 1883, aged 69.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, April 24, 1863]

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

ticketofleaveman

From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

ticketofleaveman

From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.

Contrasting fortunes at the London Police Courts

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The ‘New police’ taking ‘charges’ to the Marlborough Street Police Court (c.1830)

I have two stories for you this morning, reflecting the contrasting events that brought people to appear at London’s Police Courts in the nineteenth century. For me they also highlight the different ways the capital impacted the lives of the many thousands of people that lived there; it was a hard and unforgiving place in the 1800s and Londoners had to survive as best they could.

James Grey was not surviving very well at all. He had traveled down from Glasgow to look for work, with his wife and two children in tow. They had been brought in to court because they had been found ‘looking [but] not asking for alms’ and a parish officer had taken pity on them and accompanied them to the nearest police court.

Grey and his family were economic migrants: he came  ‘for the purpose of bettering his condition’ he told the sitting magistrate (the Lord Mayor) at Mansion House. Sadly, it hadn’t worked out that way. Grey brought money to support them for ‘five or six weeks’ but that was soon gone and the weather made it hard for him to find any work. Now they had no money and nowhere to live.

The Lord Mayor asked him: ‘Why, what a fool were you to leave a certainty for an uncertainty. Why did not ask some of your countrymen about London before you left?’

The Scotsman replied that he had, and everyone that spoke for leaving said there was money to made there whilst those that ‘spoke against it never returned home’. This provoked laughter in the courtroom. James must have felt ashamed as well as desperate. When prompted by the Lord Mayor Grey asked him for help in getting them all home to Scotland where he was sure he would find work again.

The Lord Mayor extracted a promise that he would never again  come to London to  seek his fortune and directed him to a charitable organization that then provided the funds for the long trip north.

The next (and contrasting) case concerned two members of the so-called ‘swell mob’ – the ‘well-dressed thieves’ that lived (as best they could) from the profits of crime. Henry Vincent and Richard Jones  appeared at Marlborough Street Police Court charged with picking pockets. A former Bow Street Runner named Reardon had seen the pair while he worked as police constable during the King’s levee on St James. They were working their way through the crowd, dipping into the pockets and removing wallets and coins.

When Reardon apprehended them he found over £8 in cash between them, quite some haul! Where Grey and his family brought themselves low by refusing even to beg in the streets these two had determined to live well by their cunning and dexterity, knowing that London would always provide them with rich pickings.

The magistrate sent them to the house of correction for two months.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, July 23, 1830]

Inhumanity towards migrants is nothing new

In 1819 Parliament passed the Irish and Scotch Vagrant Act (59 Geo III, c.12) as a reaction to complaints from parishes in England that they were being swamped by impoverished migrants.  It was meant to make it easier to pass (to expel) paupers from a place where they had arrived or attempted to settle and back to their place of birth (or last settlement). Settlement law was complicated but in essence you were only entitled to poor relief in the parish where you were born, or where you had settled (through work, marriage or by paying rent or rates).

Irish_potato_famine_Bridget_O'Donnel

Migrants from Scotland and Ireland traveled to England (in particular to London) for the prospect of a better life and the hope of work. Such movement increased at times of economic hardship so when the Irish potato harvest failed in 1821 and famine gripped the country in the following year thousands made the journey across the Irish Sea.* This placed extra pressure on local resources and in particular on the poor rates so it is not surprising that English ratepayers complained bitterly about the effect on their pockets, especially as the country had recently come out of a long period of hardship caused by the wars with Napoleon’s French Empire.

England was a tense place in the early decades of the nineteenth century. There were agricultural and industrial disputes in reaction to the introduction of new technologies; political turmoil focused on the right to vote; and conspiracies that threatened the monarchy and government.

So all in all we might be forgiven for assuming that a law that served to kick a few thousand desperate Scots and Irish out of the kingdom and off of the rates would be universally welcome (with the exception of the poor migrants, of course). But this example from the press in 1824 reveals that despite all the trouble they seemed to cause not everyone was anti-migrant in the 1820s.

In July Mary McCarthy appeared at  Southwark town hall to make her complaint to the sitting magistrate, Alderman J. J. Smith. She told him that the Overseers of St Olave’s had stopped her money. ‘Some time ago’ the same magistrate had directed the parish to pay her 1s a day in poor relief. On that occasion the officers had brought her to him so that he would enact the terms of the Irish and Scotch Vagrant Act , and send her back to Ireland. Instead he had decided that to do so would have been cruel and inhuman so he refused their request and ordered her to be relieved by the parish. This they had done, reluctantly, until now.

Mary was old. At 77 years of age and ‘tottering upon the very verge of the grave’ the magistrate felt it was his responsibility to apply the act with his discretion something the overseers cleared disagreed with. He told the Beadle who appeared on behalf of the parish that to send her back to Ireland at her age, to ‘a country  she had been separated from for years, and where she probably had no living soul that knew her’, would be an ‘act of the greatest inhumanity’.

Instead he advised the Beadle that the magistrates of Union Hall had equal jurisdiction to him so the overseers could apply there if they so chose. However, he added that it would not reflect well on a ‘respectable’ parish if they decided to follow that route. The Beadle promised to convey his decision to the officers of the parish and he and Mary left.

It shows us that negative and positive attitudes to migrants and refugees have existed for centuries and there is little new in contemporary rhetoric. Sadly it also suggests, to me at at least, that our presence of being a ‘Christian’ nation is stretched to the limit at the very moments when we should be holding out a helping hand to our neighbours within and without of the borders of our islands.

[From The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, July 3, 1824]

 

* Arthur Redford (ed), Labour Migration in England, 1800-50, p.110