A Parisian romantic in a London court

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London was a cosmopolitan city in the nineteenth century. Just as today it was home for thousands of Europeans who lived and worked alongside native Londoners and migrants from all over the British Isles. It was, and is, one of the things that makes the English capital such a vibrant and exciting place to be.

One young Frenchman in 1844 was not enjoying life despite his best efforts to live it to the full. Frederick Marigny had found himself on the wrong side of the law, locked up in a cell and brought before a magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court on a charge of theft.

The theft was fairly petty but and Marigny believed that there had been a misunderstanding occasioned by the fact that he spoke little or no English. He appeared in court on the 24 October 1844 having been remanded in custody by Mr Maltby, the sitting justice at Marlborough Street.

The magistrate had been told that Marigny was a regular at Pamphilon’s Coffee house in King Street, off Golden Square (in Soho). There had been a series of thefts of newspapers from the café and so the proprietor had set a watch on customers. Marigny had been seen leaving the coffee house with a copy of National hidden under his arm. A waiter stopped him and he was arrested.

In court an interpreter was supplied to translate from French to English and back. The young man said the waiter had given him permission to borrow the paper, he had not stolen it. The magistrate had him locked up and while he was custody Marigny wrote to the French ambassador on London, asking for his help in gaining his freedom. He claimed that his actions had been lost in translation and that he’d been sent to prison by mistake.

When he reappeared the ambassador’s secretary was there to support him. However, the magistrate was told that in the intervening days a search had been made of Marigny’s rooms and several missing papers had been found. Moreover, the waiter that the young man had suggested had given him license to borrow the café’s reading material denied it. It was also suggested that Marigny was ‘not exactly in his right mind’.

Mr Malby now told the ambassador’s man that he had remanded Frederick for a few days on the understanding that if no one came to press charges against him after that he would be released. The café owner had been informed of this and, since he’d not turned up in court that morning, Marigny was free to go.

With that the young man – resplendent in a ‘high sugar-loaf hat, hair on [his] head close cropped, with beard and mustachios covering the lower part of his face’, left court, his head held high.

The papers described him as a ‘member of la jeune France’.

While this might literally translate as ‘the young France’ I think that here it refers to young members of Parisian society, satirized by Théophile Gaulier in an 1831 work of the same name. Les Jeunes France were part of the romantic arts movement in France, flamboyant and passionate, based in a belief that the revolution had failed to liberate the individual in the way that he at promised to do.

Frederick Marigny was liberated, in the literal sense, if only from a dark and uncomfortable prison cell in London.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, October 25, 1844]

Two knife assaults in the East End: evidence of targeted police action to find the ‘Ripper’?

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One can imagine that with tension riding high in September 1888 violence was on everyone’s mind, even violence that might have seemed ‘commonplace’ previously. Assault was one of the most frequently prosecuted crimes at the police courts but penalties were usually small – fines or short period of summary imprisonment – it wants normal to send cases up into the trial court system unless they were serious.

However, in times of ‘moral panics’ the authorities tend to react by clamping down on even small acts of anti-social behavour and petty theft, using the courts as a blunt instrument to reassure the public that they are ‘doing something’. In 1888, with a serial killer on the loose and the police unable to catch him pressure was building on the forces of law and order to do something about it.

So perhaps that’s how we should read the fact that the Morning Post chose two assault cases to feature as its daily look into the work of the Thames Police court on 14 September that year.

The first was the case of Suze Waxim, a Japanese sailor who was charged with stabbing a local woman, Ellen Norton. Ellen was drinking in a Limehouse beerhouse when she heard screams from across the street. She ran out towards the noise and found Waxim standing over her friend Emily Shepherd about to thrust a knife into her.

Ellen tried to intervene and was stabbed in the head. The sailor ran off but was captured nearby, in the backyard of the Stranger’s Home, by PC 448K. The man was washing his hands when the officer found him and arrested him. Ellen had only suffered a superficial flesh wound and wasn’t in danger but a knife wielding foreigner on the streets was not what society needed. Waxim spoke no English and while they had translators for languages such as Italian and Yiddish, I doubt the police would have found anyone able to speak Japanese.

Waxim was committed for trial.

Next up was a local man, Frank Kersey, who was also accused of assaulting a  woman, Frances Cocklin. She testified that on the 3 September he had stabbed her and beaten her while they were at Canning Town. She’d suffered bruising and cuts but was not seriously injured. He had multiple previous convictions for assault and wounding and it seemed he had also tried to rob her. Mr Lushington also committed him for trial.

Both cases were serious but I have seen cases like this dealt with summarily before, with the defendants being fined or sent to gaol for a few weeks or months.  That Lushington decided to send them to the Old Bailey is indicative, I believe, of a wider concern about violence, especially violence involving knives. It may also reflect police practice – were they particularly targeting assaults where a knife was used in the hope of finding the ‘Ripper’? It is possible, if not provable.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 14, 1888]

One in the eye for a foreign national in London

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Mr (or perhaps Monsieur)  Goughenheim was strolling along Bear Street near Leicester Square in mid August 1839 with an English friend (named Richardson) when he noticed a man across the road that he recognised. Goughenheim was a translator and he’d spotted one of his former clients, Jean Jaques Covin, who happened to owe him money for his services.

Crossing the road, Goughenheim hailed the man and demanded he honour his debt. Covin was literally taken aback, and took a moment to step backwards before lifting his cane and aiming an attack at the translator. It was a vicious assault and caught Goughenheim in the eye, seemingly popping it.

Richardson grabbed hold of the assailant and he was quickly given into he custody of the police with the help of some passers-by. It took some time to come to court (because of the victim’s injuries) but eventually the case was heard before the Marlborough Street Police magistrate in early September, 1839.

There several witnesses gave evidence but were unable to comment on what was factually said because the entire exchange had been in French.  One was able to testify however, that:

as he ‘was passing a portion of the aqueous humour [from Gugenheim’s eye] fell upon his clothes, and at first he thought the prisoner had squirted water over the prosecutor, until he saw that his eye was totally destroyed‘.

The justice, Mr Dyer, was pretty clear that this was too serious a case for him to deal with  summarily. Covin, through his solicitor, denied any attempt to injure the other man, saying he thought he’d been assaulted himself when Gougenheim placed his hand on his shoulder to get his attention in the street. He accepted he’d raised his stick but never meant to hurt Gougenheim. His solicitor asked Mr Dyer to be lenient and to fine his client rather than send it up through the system.

Gougenheim challenged Covin’s version of events and insisted he’d not acted aggressively himself. Probably on the strength of this and the seriousness of Gougenheim’s injury, the magistrate decided he would commit the Frenchman for a full jury trial. There would still be an opportunity for this to be settled however, if Covin offered to pay the translator what he owed him and added compensation for the injury he might have escaped an embarrassing public trial and a potential prison sentence.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, September 3, 1839]

‘My God, what I say is true’; how should a ‘Hindoo’ swear an oath in court?

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In the 1800s those giving evidence in the Police courts were sworn on the Bible. This worked fine for most prosecutors and witnesses but occasionally someone stepped into the box who was clearly not a Christian, so what happened then?

Nowadays those swearing can do so on a religious text of their choice if the Bible is not appropriate, and those without a religion can affirm. In 2013 the courts rejected a move to abandon the oath in favour of a promise to tell the truth and it remains core to all trials and summary hearings in England.

In 1879 two men were charged at Marylebone Police court with stealing 100 rabbit skins, and with conspiring with another (not in custody) to sell them. The skins weren’t of particularly high value (just 8s) but the novelty of the case was that the chief witness was Indian.

Ballee Bhatter was described as a ‘Hindoo cook’ working at the home of ‘his Highness Suchait Singh of Chumla’. The Chumla valley is in the Punjab and British troops passed through here in 1863 what one officer described as a ‘frontier war’. By the 1870s the Imperial project in India was complete; the British had survived the 1857 Indian revolution, the Sikhs had been defeated and turned into allies, but some pockets of resistance continued from hill tribes in the far north. Afghanistan had never been successfully subdued and after the debacle of 1842 and loss of so many British and Indian troops the empire chose to avoid any major campaigns north of the Punjab until the late 1870s.

The question for Mr Cooke, the sitting magistrate at Marylebone, was whether it was appropriate for Ballee Bhatter to swear on the Bible before giving his evidence. Although described in court as a ‘Hindoo’ Mr Cooke thought he ought to swear on the Koran. The Rajah’s secretary confirmed that the cook wasn’t a Christian, but did that make him a Muslim? Was this a case of contemporary English ignorance or was the prince’s servant a Muslim working in the kitchens of a Sikh household? While today we would normally associate the word with the Hindu religion (for which the Koran would be an inappropriate text) in 1879 it may simply have been (mis)used to mean any native of the Indian sub-continent.

A police detective suggested that it was proper for the man to be able to swear the following oath: ‘My God, what I say is true’, but the justice wanted to be clear that Bhatter understood what was being asked of it. He decoded to adjourn the case so that a translator could be called for; someone that spoke ‘Hindostanee’.

Later that day the cook returned and the situation was explained in his native language. He swore an oath (on which text it is not stated) and explained that on the 7 April one of the prisoners and another man came to the Rajah’s house in Richmond Road, Paddington, and ‘asked him if he had any rabbit skins to sell’. Bhatter told him he had 100 and he was offered 2deach for them. Well, that is what he understood they’d offered, he added, his English wasn’t that good.

Since he wanted to be sure he went next door to find someone to translate for him but when he got back the men and the skins were gone. Two other local servants testified to seeing the two men and a barrow that day and Mr Cooke remanded the prisoners for a week.

This shows us that there were Indians living in London in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The British Empire involved a migration in both direction then, not simply a movement of British troops and administrators to India but families and their servants in the other direction. They would have added to the cultural melting pot that was London in the late 1800s and act as a reminder that this country (and particularly our capital) has been a multi-racial community for a very long time.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, May 14, 1879]

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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