A small tragedy averted as over 600 drown in the Thames’ foul waters

FeaturedA small tragedy averted as over 600 drown in the Thames’ foul waters

On Saturday 14 September 15, 1878 Henry Sharpe, whose occupation was simply recorded as ‘labourer’ , was set in the dock at Mansion House and charged with trying to kill himself. 

On Friday night (ominously perhaps, the 13th) a City policeman was on patrol by London Bridge when a man rushed up and grabbed him. The man (Sharpe) was clearly at his wits end and very drunk. He tried, incoherently, to explain that his wife and two children were dead – both drowned in the sinking of the Princess Alice earlier that month. 

The SS Princess Alice  was a Thames paddle steamer that sank after a collision with a collier, (the Bywell Castle) on 3 September. It was a terrible tragedy that claimed the lives of over 600 people: men, women, and children. The steamer went down in a stretch of the river that was heavily polluted with raw sewerage; many of those that died must have suffered an awful death. 

Having poured out his grief to the policeman Sharpe was persuaded to go home and sleep off his sorrow. Convinced he’d averted another tragedy (however small by comparison) the policeman resumed his beat. Imagine his surprise then when 30 minutes later he saw Sharpe scrambling up the parapet of the bridge, seemingly intent on launching himself in the Thames’ murky waters. 

With the help of some passers-by the lawman affected a rescue, dragging the drunken labourer back from the precipice by his ankles. He was taken back the station, charged and left to sober up. 

Sharpe was joined in court by his wife in children who had clearly not perished in the disaster and must have been shocked that Henry would suggest such a thing. His desperate actions perhaps reveal a deep seated mental illness but he told the magistrate – Sir Thomas Dakin, Lord Mayor of London – that he had been drinking with a close friend that evening, consoling him for the loss of his family in the sinking. 

Who knows if that was the truth either; we have no passenger list for the Princess Alice  we don’t know exactly how many souls perished or what all of their names were. One of Jack the Ripper’s victims claimed to have lost her husband in the tragedy; Elizabeth Stride may have been hoping to gain the sympathy of others for her loss, or perhaps even to benefit from the generosity of Londoners who raised thousands of pounds for the bereaved families.  In Liz’s case as in Henry’s it was a false claim but it shows how this disaster touched so many lives in the late Victorian capital. 

The Lord Mayor declared that Sharpe was ‘a dissipated fellow’ and decided the best course of action was to lock him on remand for a few days so the alcohol could work through his system. It wasn’t a conviction or a sentence as such, but at least it was some sort of intervention that might have saved his life.  

From Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 15 September 1878

A brutal assault on the underground

A brutal assault on the underground

Clarence Lewis was in a poor state when he appeared at Guildhall Police court in September 1880 to tell the sitting alderman what had happened to him. 

He was only a young man – just 18 years of age – and apprenticed to a grocer with premises in Aldgate and Kensington. On 21 August he was working at the Aldgate shop when his master, Mr Barham, instructed him to travel to Kensington to pick up the takings there. He arrived at 9.30 and collected a bag containing neatly £100 in cash. 

In 1880 £100 was a considerable sum of money (around £7,000 at today’s prices), so his master certainly placed a lot of trust in young Clarence. Stowing the package in his pocket he headed for High Street Kensington station to catch the train back to the City.

Clutching his third-class return ticket he rushed to catch the train. As he passed the ticket office a man a little older called his name. The young man was Henry Perry and he claimed the pair knew each other. ‘Don’t you know me?’ he demanded and, when Clarence replied that he didn’t, said: 

‘I am Perry, of Aldgate; I thought you were too proud to speak to me’. 

This must have triggered the apprentice’s memory because he now recognized the young man as someone who had once worked behind the counter at Barham’s shop in Aldgate. Perry insisted that Clarence join him in a first-class carriage and waived aside the younger man’s protest that he didn’t have the fare:

‘Never mind’, he said, ‘I will pay it’. 

The compartment they entered was empty and, as the train moved off, Perry peered into the next one and laughed, saying that there were only a few ‘girls over there’. The train rattled through a couple of stations before Clarence’s companion produced a small phial of liquid which he said was Zoedone, offering it to him.

Described as ‘the king of non-alcoholic beverages’ ‘Zoedone’ was said to have powerful ‘elements essential for the building up and reproduction of the human body’.  

It was a tonic drink which was available throughout the late 1800s and Perry claimed to have obtained a small sample. Warning his new friend not to take more than half he watched as Clarence upended the bottle. Clarence swallowed about an eighth of the phial and it tasted awful and fizzed in his nose. He immediately felt sleepy and resisted as Perry poured some onto his handkerchief and suggested he sniff it. 

‘Don’t you like it?’ Perry asked. ‘No, if all teetotalers’ drinks are like that I’d rather not be a teetotaler’ Clarence told him.

He turned down the other man’s offer of port to take the taste away. 

The pair carried on the journey for a few stops, with one female passenger getting on at Gower Street and then off at Kings Cross. Then, just before they reached Farringdon Perry pounced on his victim, hitting him with a stick and knocking to the carriage floor. He knelt on his chest and put his hand over his mouth as Clarence tried to shout for help. His assailant demanded to know where the money was and Clarence was forced to tell him.

Having lost the shop taking the beaten apprentice hid his head under the seat for safety; when the train pulled into Aldersgate station he emerged to find that Perry was nowhere to be seen. 

It took several weeks for Clarence to be fit enough to attend court and, even when he was, he stood in the witness box swathed in bandages to his head. He had been helped at the station by a bricklayer and his brother who saw him staggering out of the compartment covered in blood. Perry had not fled and as a policeman approached the crowd around the stricken apprentice he appeared clutching the parcel he had stolen. 

When Clarence accused him of doping him with laudanum and chloroform (the phial he claimed to be a tonic being quite the opposite), and then assaulting and robbing him, Perry brazenly denied everything.  ‘We are friends’ he told Clarence and the police that now collared him, ‘and you know me; I have not robbed you; that is my own money’. 

The alderman at Guildhall had heard enough to commit Perry for trial at the Old Bailey where he appeared on 13 September. The court heard evidence from a number of witnesses as well as testimonials to Perry’s general good character in his employment with another grocer on Aldgate. He had left there in May but his boss only had good things to say of him. 

Nevertheless this couldn’t save him. He was found guilty of violent robbery and was probably fortunate to avoid a charge of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to 30 lashes and a crippling 20 years of penal servitude. Perry didn’t do 20 years because he died just 15 years later in 1895 at the age of 39, not long after being discharged from prison. 

From Nottinghamshire Guardian Friday 3 September 1880

I have been writing and teaching the history of crime for over a decade and continue to find it fascinating.  Whether it is the stories of everyday life in Victorian London that I uncover for this blog, the mystery of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings, or murders and attempted murders like this one, I am always discovering new ways to look at crime and its representation.

Fortunately very few of us will experience murder directly in our lives; instead we engage at a distance, through the news, or, more often, via a television drama or a holiday crime novel. When we do it is invariably shocking murder that captures our attention. Indeed if we took popular cultural representation of crime at face value we could be forgiven for believing that murder was an everyday occurrence, when, in reality, it is extremely rare. 

This week my most recent book – Murder Maps– is published by Thames & Hudson. This takes a 100 years of murder news in a global context, exploring via short entries, dozens of homicides across Europe, the USA, and Australia from 1811-1911. 

In the stories of Jack the Ripper, Henry H. Holmes, Joseph Vacher, Ned Kelly, Belle Gunness, and the other murderers I show the myriad motivations and underlying causal factors that led men and women to kill. Jealousy, greed (like Perry), politics, and severe mental illness were all factors that resulted in newspaper headlines that shocked and titillated readers in equal measure.  

Hopefully some of you will take a look at Murder Maps and find it as fascinating to read as I did to research and write. But don’t have nightmares, we are all pretty safe in our beds today. 

‘You are manifestly in a state of suffering, but I am not certain that this should be taken into consideration’. No pity for a East End thief

Mill Lane, Deptford c.1890s

There were some curious and sad stories from the police courts on 30 August 1864. 

At Bow Street a man was sent for trial for stealing his landlady’s shawl (value £1) but the circumstances were most peculiar. 

She had found him drunk in her room, sitting on one chair with his feet up on another.  When she asked him to leave he dropped to all fours and started barking like a dog and meowing like a cat. A policeman gave evidence that just days before the same man had been seen trying to persuade soldiers in uniform to desert to join ‘the Federals’ (meaning the Northern ‘Union’ army fighting the American Civil War against the Southern ‘Confederates’). 

At Worship Street Maurice Lawrence cut a sad figure in the dock. Described as ‘a general dealer’ who lived on Plumbers Row, Whitechapel, he was clearly down on his luck. He struggled to stand on his one good leg, the other was ‘withered’ and ‘about to be amputated’ the court was told. 

He had been discovered by Michael Mahon, allegedly stealing flowers from Victoria Park. Mahon was an old soldier – a sergeant major who’d seen service in the Crimean War – and he caught Lawrence plucking ‘three dahlias and two geraniums’ and, in his new position as park constable, arrested him. As he was bring led away to the station house Lawrence begged to be set free, offering Mahon 5for his liberty. 

In court he admitted taking the flowers but denied attempting to bribe the park constable, and then threw himself on the mercy of the magistrate. He rolled up his trousers to reveal his withered limb ‘which was seen to be no thicker than an ordinary walking stick’.  

If he hoped the magistrate would let him off he was disappointed. The magistrate declared that unless people that stole flowers were punished ‘the beds will very speedily be destroyed’. 

‘You are manifestly in a state of suffering’, he said, ‘but I am not certain that this should be taken into consideration’.

So for stealing a small bunch of flowers from a public park Maurice Lawrence was fined a shilling and the cost of the flowers. Since he was unable or unwilling to pay this he was sent to prison for a day instead.   Perhaps that represented leniency, but it seems a fairly unkind punishment for a man that was so obviously in a state of extreme poor health. 

The last story that caught my eye (leaving aside a man that tried to kill himself with a dose of laudanum) was that of two landlords prosecuted for keeping unlicensed lodging houses.  Both prosecutions were at Greenwich Police court before Mr Traill, the sitting justice. John Buckley (in absentia) and Johanna Keefe were both accused of renting rooms (although the term is hardly apt, ‘space’ would be more accurate) without a license. 

The cases were brought by Sergeant Pearson (45A) the inspector of lodging houses in the district’. He testified to visiting both properties (in Mill Lane) and describing the scene he found there. 

At Buckley’s he found a room with:

‘with beds, each occupied by a two men, three of whom paid 4d a night each, and the other 2s a week; and in a cupboard in the same room he found a bed on the floor occupied by two men, each paying 1d a night. The size of the cupboard, which had neither light nor ventilation, was about 6 feet in length, by 4 feet in width and 5 feet high’. 

There were other rooms with similarly cramped lodgings within them.  At Johanna Keefe’s he found a room that had: 

‘three beds, each occupied by two men, five of whom paid 2s per week each, the sixth being the defendant’s son’. 

‘What!’, interjected Mr Traill, ‘Ten shillings a week rent for one room?’

‘Yes, your worship’, the sergeant replied, ‘and a small room, not being more than 12 feet square’. 

The magistrate issued a warrant for Buckley’s arrest (he had form for this offence) and fined Keefe 20s. Hearing that she had eight years worth of previous convictions he warned her that if she persisted in taking lodgers without obtaining a license he would start fining her 20 shillings a day.

All in all the day’s reports made a fairly depressing read and reminded Londoners that their city had plenty of social problems in the mid 1860s.

[from Morning Post Tuesday 30 August 1864]

A birching for two boys as Arsenal get their first manager

The gate at Woolwich Arsenal

Charles Robinson was packing up his butcher’s stall at Woolwich Market on Saturday evening when he spied a couple of boys acting suspiciously. They ran off and Charles thought no more of it. 

Until he checked his cash box that is. The box was about 15 shillings light but there was little he could do, the lads were nowhere to be seen. 

The following evening PC Shove (445R) was stopped by a tram conductor in Plumstead. The conductor told him that he’d seen two boys moving in between the passengers queuing for the trams on the High Street. He was pretty sure they were up to no good and he gave PC Shove a description of the pair. 

Later on, at about 10.30 at night, the officer spied his quarry and collared them. He asked them to turn out their pockets and discovered two purses and about 12s in loose coins. Neither lad could give the policeman an adequate explanation as of how they came to be in possession of so much money and eventually owned up to stealing it from Mr. Robinson’s stall the previous day. 

The boys were taken to court at Woolwich and charged with theft. They gave their names as George Bell (11) of Lower Robert Street, and William Igglesden (10) who said he lived in Ann Street. Both addresses were in Plumstead but there was no mention of their parents appearing in court. 

Sergeant Gilham, the gaoler at Woolwich Police court, recognized the boys: the younger child. William Igglesden had been sent to a truant school on two previous occasions he told the magistrate, while the pair had also been in trouble together in the recent past.  

The gaoler informed the magistrate (Mr Taylor) that George and William had been caught in ‘the refreshment bar of the Arsenal football ground’. They’d broken in, helped themselves to whisky, and had got quite drunk. All that brought was a telling off and a warning not to offend again. 

Perhaps it was thought that a warning would suffice and a lesson would be learned, but that leniency was not about to be repeated.  

Mr Taylor told the pair that if they continued to misbehave they risked being sent to prison, regardless of how young they were. To reinforce the message he ordered that a police sergeant beat the pair of them with a birch rod.  

Maybe that did the trick because there’s no prison record for anyone with either name from the 1890s onwards. Of course names could be changed but one can only hope that George and William realised that they were pushing their luck too far. 

1897 was an important year for Woolwich Arsenal, the club whose bar the boys had raided earlier that year.  

On 2 April Thomas Mitchell became the club’s first full-time manager, beating 53 others who had applied for the position. Mitchell had previously managed Blackburn Rovers and been a referee, so he was an experienced football man. He knew about winning as well, having led Rovers to no less than four FA Cup victories.

Presumably the board hoped Mitchell would bring success; after all in January local rivals Millwall Athletic had knocked the Arsenal out of that season’s competition with a 4-2 away defeat. Mitchell never really got the chance to show what he could do at Arsenal because he felt the board of directors was constantly meddling in his efforts to improve the team. So in March 1898, just under a year after he took the job, he resigned, one of the shortest managerial reigns in the club’s 134-year history. 

Arsenal would have to wait a long time to win their first FA Cup, with victory over Huddersfield in 1930. Today of course the modern Arsenal Football Club holds the record for the most FA Cup wins (14) and the most cup final appearances (21). Today they take on all conquering Liverpool in the ‘largely meaningless friendly’/’first trophy of the season’ (delete as applicable) behind closed doors at Wembley in the FA Community Shield. 

I like to hope that the ancestors of William and George are watching somewhere, cheering the Gunners on. Who know eh? 

[from Morning Post, Monday 1 February 1897]

For more on Arsenal’s history visit the excellent Arsenal History Society site. The Arsenal History Society is an integral part of AISA (the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association) and you can find out more about their work here.

‘Let finish the bastard!’ : Drunkenness and violence in the Victorian capital

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Seven Dials, a Victorian slum 

It was drunkenness and its consequences that filled the first column of reports on the Police Courts in the Morning Post on 6 August 1863. Drunk and disorderly behaviour, especially if it involved any form of violence, was regularly punished by the city’s magistrates and featured often in newspaper reports. This morning the reports, while they had a common theme, involved a range of defendants and circumstances.

The most serious (at least in the eyes of the law at the time) was heard at Bow Street before Mr Henry. Two ‘young rough fellows’ – Reardon and Sullivan – were accused of being drunk and assaulting a police officer. The officer involved was a Inspector Brimmacombe of F Division Metropolitan Police. Brimmacombe was on duty in Seven Dials, one of the capital’s poorer and more criminal districts.

What he was doing there is unclear but he wasn’t operating under cover because when he came upon Reardon and Sullivan and a half dozen other men who were drunk and disturbing the peace, he instructed them to go home quietly.

They laughed in his face, refused to comply, and attacked him. Sullivan swung at the officer but missed, striking a nearby carthorse on the nose instead. Sullivan now tried to grab at the policeman and spat full in his face, cursing him. Brimmacombe seized the man’s collar and made to drag him way but he called for his mate’s to help him ‘throw him down’.

The ‘mob’ now piled in on the policeman, joined he said by many more so that he was kicked on the ground as he was surrounded by upwards of 20 assailants. Inspedctor Brimmacombe was kicked, ‘beaten, and dragged about, his coat and cape covered with mud, and so torn as to be unserviceable’. The assault continued for about 10 minutes and Reardon then drew a knife and muttered darkly:

‘Let’s finish the __________’.

Just then the Westminster Police court prison van drove by, on its may to the House of Detention. The sergeant driving the van saw what was happening and rushed to help the inspector. The crowd of roughs scattered but Sullivan was arrested. Reardon was identified and picked up in a pub later that evening. In court both prisoners apologized but it didn’t save them from punishment: Mr Henry ordered them to pay a hefty £3 fine each or go to gaol for a month.

The next two cases are from the City of London, which had two courts – at Mansion House (where the Lord Mayor presided, unless he was unavailable) and Guildhall, which was staffed by aldermen in rotation.

Ellen Murray was charged before Alderman Gabriel with being drunk and causing criminal damage. She was prosecuted by a Mr Hough, who kept a licensed public house on Giltspur Street. Hough said that Ellen had come to his house and had been drinking until he decided she’d had enough. Ellen was becoming rowdy and landlords were mindful of running orderly establishments for dear of losing custom and their licenses.  When she wouldn’t calm down he threw her out.

The young woman was drunk and enraged and put her fist through his window, breaking what he described as a ‘valuable pane of embossed glass’. He called for a policeman and had her arrested. In court he told the alderman magistrate that he was particularly upset because he had helped Ellen in the recent past. She was poor and he had approached the West London Union on her behalf to secure her some outdoor relief, meaning she could stay out of the workhouse. He thought it very ungrateful of her to repay him in this way.

Ellen apologized but again; it wasn’t enough to save her. She had no money to pay a fine or the damages she owed for the window so she was sent to prison for a fortnight.

Our final case concerned a young man at the other end of the social scale. James Wilson was the name he gave at Mansion House but that may not have been his real name. He was a – he said – a solicitor and had a ‘genteel’ appearance as he stood in the dock before the Lord Mayor.

He too was charged with being drunk and, in addition, with ‘assaulting several females’. This was his second appearance that week but when he was set in the dock on Tuesday he’d been too drunk to stand and so was remanded overnight. Wilson had been seen by a 15 year-old boy in Bucklersbury (a street in the city quite close to the Bank of England – pictured right c.1845 ) with a young girl. It was reported that he had assaulted her in ‘an indecent manner’ and the witness had gone off to fetch a policeman.

london-bucklersbury-in-simple-time-antique-print-1845-71415-p[ekm]372x400[ekm]

Meanwhile Wilson ran off and groped a passing woman before boarding a moving omnibus where he assaulted another female passenger. The bus was stopped and Wilson removed and warned by a constable. Taking no notice – presumably because he was so drunk – Wilson ran up to another women in the street and threw his arms around her neck.

That was his lot and the police took him into custody. On Wednesday, sober and repentant, he apologized although he said he was so drunk he could hardly remember anything from that night. He begged not to be sent to gaol, as ‘it would ruin him mentally, he was sure’. The Lord Mayor said drunkness was no excuse and he’d have to be punished in some way.

Wilson said he was ‘a poor man’, living off his friends with very little funds of his own but he’d happily make a donation to the poor box if His Lordship requested him to. The Lord Mayor fined him 40but warned him that a failure to pay would earn him a month in prison. Hopefully for him – if not for his victims – his friends rallied round and paid his fine.

So, three cases of drunken behaviour, three different sorts of victim and quite different circumstances, but all ‘rewarded’ in much the same way. Violence, often fuelled by drink, was endemic in the Victorian capital and must have proved depressingly repetitive to the  men who served as Police Court magistrates.

[from Morning PostThursday, 6 August 1863]

Cowboys in the dock at Westminster as the ‘Whitechapel fiend’ makes his first appearance.

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On the 3 August 1888 two Americans appeared before the magistrate at Westminster Police court. John Dunn was probably every small boy’s idea of an American – a cowboy and ‘professional horseman’, part of Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West Show, he would have cut an exotic figure in the dock. The other man was darker skinned, described as a Mexican and giving the name Richard Chester Dare.

Dare (described as ‘a powerful man’ with the press) was charged with assault, and Dunn with aiding him. On the Thursday night both had been drinking at a pub on the Broadway when they had fell into an argument with a gun maker’s assistant called William Head. We can probably imagine the nature of the dispute, two US citizens in London arguing with a local about the merits of American vs British firearms.

Head left the pub but Dare hadn’t finished the quarrel and took it outside. As the gun maker walked home Dare and two others came up behind him and pushed him. A fight ensued and Head was knocked to the ground. Head and Dare grappled together before William escaped and made his way home.

He had been wounded quite badly, sustaining a bruise to the side of his face which had closed his left eye and had been stabbed in his side. It is likely that in the chaos of the moment and being a little the worse for drink he hadn’t noticed the American pull out a knife at the time. However, in court before Mr Partridge he testified to seeing a knife in the cowboy’s hand.

Both men were remanded to appear again but on application Dunn was granted bail. His was the less serious charge and Mr Partridge was told that Dare was supposed to be on his way to Brussels to join up with ‘Mexican Joe’s’ troupe, so perhaps the chance that he might slip away from justice was uppermost in the magistrate’s mind. He also instructed the police to inform the American consul of the men’s arrest.

William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody toured Europe several times between 1887 and 1906, the first in 1887 which coincided with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. One of the reviews of the 1887 show in London (at the American Exhibition) gives us a flavour of the event:

The size of the enclosure was one element of the impressiveness of the coup d’œil and this was cleverly increased by the picturesque scenery which enclosed half of the circle. At the edge of the ash-covered circle in the center were drawn up on parade the whole strength of the Wild West company. There were the various tribes of Indians in their war-paint and feathers, the Mexicans, the ladies, and the cowboys, and a fine array they made, with the chiefs of each tribe, the renowned Sergeant Bates, the equally celebrated Buffalo Bill, the stalwart Buck Taylor, and others who were introduced by Mr. Frank Richmond who, from the top of an elevated platform, described the show as it proceeded. 

Cody took his troupe back to the USA in May of 1887 having performed for both the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Yet some of the performers stayed behind, enjoying the life they found in London’s bustling city streets. Presumably two of these were Dare and Dunn. Sadly, at this point they both vanish from the pages of the Victorian newspapers so we don’t know what happened to them.

A few days later the body of Martha Tabram was discovered on a landing in George Yard, in the heart of the Whitechapel slum. She had been viciously stabbed and her killer was nowhere to be seen. Although there is considerable dispute as to whether Martha was the first victim of ‘Jack the Ripper’ a consensus is developing that suggests she was killed but he same person that murdered five or more women that summer and autumn.

As the police searched for a serial killer in 1888 the idea that the killings might have been perpetrated by a native American or another member of Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West circulated. After all, it was said, what Englishman could do such a terrible thing?

[from The Standard Saturday 4 August 1888]

A drunken mother loses her temper and then her liberty

220px-The_Production_of_Clothing_in_Britain,_1914-1918_Q30770

Royal Army Clothing Factory 21/6/1918 during a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (IMW collection)

On Wednesday 28 July 1875 Emma Leven was set in the dock at Westminster Police court to face a charge that she had tried to kill her own baby. She was remanded overnight by the sitting magistrate Mr Arnold, who wanted to hear from a number of people, including the key witness, who had not appeared that day.

The case hadn’t been reported at the time but we should read nothing into that. Hundreds of summary hearings took place every day at London’s police courts and the papers only carried reports of one or two from each of them daily. This case was ‘of interest’ however, so when Emma was brought back from the cells on Thursday a scribbler from the Morning Post described the hearing for his readers.

Emma was married and – according to Mrs Elizabeth Turner, Thomas Tullogh, and William Rush – on the night of 27 July she was drinking in the Eagle public house on Grosvenor Road¹ and was ‘very drunk’. Her baby had been left outside and it was crying its eyes out. One imagines Emma was under some pressure to deal with the crying infant, and no doubt felt a mixture of anger, resentment, and embarrassment as all the eyes of the pub were turned on her.

Suddenly he declared that she would throw the child in the Thames, and rushed out of the pub. She lifted the child into her arms and set off at a run in the general direction of the river. Alarmed, Mrs Turner hurried after her and managed to catch up with Emma just before she hurled the poor thing over the railings and into the water.

A policeman was summoned and Mrs Turner took charge of the baby as Emma was led away. While Mrs Turner suckled her child Emma screamed abuse at her all the way back to the police station. For some reason however, Mrs Turner did not appear in court on the Wednesday, while Tullogh and Rush did. Turner somehow managed to sign the register of witnesses attending that day, despite not doing so, this would impact on her, as we shall see.

In court on the Thursday Emma Leven had sobered up and was contrite. She was ‘too fond of her children’ to ever intend to hurt them she told Mr Arnold. She had gone to the pub that evening to meet her husband and some friends; one drink had led to another and she had drunk too much. She was sorry.

Her husband was more belligerent. He told the magistrate that he didn’t believe a word of what Mrs Turner had said. Perhaps there was some bad blood there; local jealousies and neighbor disputes were all too common, feuds could develop out of the smallest slights amplified over time.

What mattered here though was not what  Mr Leven believed but what Mr Arnold (as presiding magistrate) did. And he believed the case was proven.

He rebuked Mr Leven for ‘having little regard for his child’ and challenged Emma’s declaration of ‘fondness’ for her child. If, he said, ‘she chose to get so drunk that she rushed to the side of the river to throw the child in she must put up with the consequences’.  She had been drunk and disorderly and he would send her to prison for a month. On her release she would have to find sureties of £20 against her good behavior for the following six months.

Having dealt quite severely with Emma Leven he turned his attention to the witnesses.

He was full of praise for Turlough and Rush but very disappointed to hear that their employer had stopped their wages for coming to court the previous day. The pair worked at the Royal Army Clothing Factory on Grosvenor Road in Pimlico (where the Eagle pub was) and he instructed the chief inspector of B Division to pay the factory a visit.

‘The men had attended in the performance of a public duty’, he said, and ‘if they were stopped of their wages it would have the effect of deterring people from coming forward and giving evidence in the public cause’.

Arnold recognised that justice relied on the participation of the general public. The men deserved praise not a penalty.

The same was not the case for Mrs Turner however. When she asked for her expenses (presumably for attending court and looking after Emma’s baby) Mr Arnold dismissed her abruptly. He had ‘no fund at his disposal expect the poor box; he told her but as she ‘had not attended the court on Wednesday, although she had signed the sheet, he should not allow her expenses’. The suspicion is then that the magistrate, while keen to recognize public spiritedness was less impressed by self-interest and dishonesty.

The Royal Army Clothing Factory was established in Pimlico in the 1850s to make and supply the British Army. It was part of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and remained in Grosvenor Road until 1932, when it closed.

Today the site is covered by the private housing development Dolphin Square which was erected in the 1930s following the factory’s demolition. In recent years it has been home to a number of famous people (including the tennis star Rod Laver and Princess Ann – not together I hasten to add) and several politicians including Harold Wilson and David Steel. Oswald Mostly, the most prominent British fascist of his generation, was living in the Square in 1940 when he was detained as an enemy of the state during the Second World War. Having once stayed in an apartment in Dolphin Square I can attest to its general air of opulence, but I never met any celebrities

from Morning Post Friday 30 July 1875

¹ The Eagle is still operational in Pimlico, now renamed the Grosvenor though.

The artist’s model who left no trace

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An incident in the Revolutionary War of America (The Fraser Highlanders at Stone Ferry) – Robert Ronald McIan (1854)

Robert McIan probably thought he was doing someone else and himself a good turn when he ‘rescued’ John Coster from his perilous condition on the streets of central London. It was the dawn of the Victorian age – 1837 – and the comedian and artist was strolling near his home on Newman Street, off Oxford Street, he saw a man in ‘a wretched state of constitution and starvation’. He decided to take him home and feed him.

McIan would later admit that his motivation was more than just that of a good Samaritan; he recognized that Coster’s ‘picturesque appearance’ made him a perfect subject for artist study. Coster was an Indian from the Bengal, who had been born a ‘Mohametan’ but had converted to Catholicism. He spoke English, but with a heavy Indian accent.

He was treated with some compassion by McIan who made him a servant in his household but he was also a ‘curiosity’ and was shown to the artist’s friends, several of whom painted him themselves. Coster then was drawn and painted by no lesser figures than ‘Sir David Wilkie, Landseer, Etty, Ewins, and most of the celebrated painters of the day’.

In McIan’s head he had done the man a great service so it must have come a terrible betrayal of trust to discover that the man he had saved from the streets had robbed him. Yet in March 1840 that is exactly what he alleged. A pistol had disappeared from his painting room and, since Coster (who had also vanished) was familiar with the room and its contents, and the door had been forced open, suspicion fell on him.

A description of the missing servant and the gun – a ‘Highland pistol’ – were circulated and several months later both were recovered. The pistol had been pawned on Tottenham Court Road and it was easy to trace that back to Coster given his distinctive appearance as an Asian in London.

At his appearance at Hatton Garden Police court Coster was also accused of a second robbery. Since he’d quit McIan’s service he had been living in lodgings St Giles and his landlady deposed that he had plundered her rooms before running out on her as well. Coster admitted stealing the pistol but vehemently denied any knowledge of the other charge.

Mr Combe, the sitting magistrate that day, told Coster he would be remanded in custody while further enquiries were made and other witnesses sought. But he informed the prisoner that if he was convicted all of his luxurious long black hair would be shaved off.

‘No!’, Coster exclaimed from the dock, ‘da neber sall; me die first before da sal cut de hair off’.

Robert Ronald McIan (1802-1856) was a popular artist in the Victorian period known for his romanticized depictions of Highland life and history. He had trod the boards in the theatre in his youth (which may explain why he still described himself as a ‘comedian’ in 1840). He is most well known for his “Battle of Culloden’ and ‘A Highland Feud’ (both 1843) and in the same year he exhibited ‘An Encounter in Upper Canada’ which depicted the heroic fight between Clan Fraser and a larger French and American Indian force. The Highland pistol that Coster probably featured in some of these paintings and, who knows, maybe his former servant did as well in some way.

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) also had his Scottish connections – his ‘Monarch of the Glen’ (1851) is one of the most famous images of nineteenth century art. In 1858 he was commissioned to create the four bronze lions that guard Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

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Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841) was, famous for his historical paintings. Like McIan he was a Scot, born in Fife the son of a clergyman. Soon after the court case that involved Coster and his acquaintance McIan he travelled abroad, painting the portrait of the Sultan in Constantinople and various others on including Mehemet Ali in Alexandria, Egypt. He fell ill at Malta and died on the return voyage.

As for John Coster I’m afraid history doesn’t record what happened to him. There’s no record of a jury trial for this theft of an artist’s pistol or the robbery of a St Giles lodging house. Once again, the mysterious Indian with the ‘long black hair and dark piercing eyes’ vanished.

Above right: ‘General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib after having Captured Seringapatam, on the 4th May, 1799,’ by Sir David Wilkie (1839) – National Gallery of Scotland

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday 10 March 1840]

Cruelty to bears is not ‘entertainment’

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Given the Victorians’ love of animals and the efforts (from 1824) of the RSPCA to stamp out animal cruelty, I was a little surprised to see that dancing bears were still a sight seen on London streets in the last decade of the 1800s.

It must have been quite a sight as well which explains why over 200 people were drawn to Bridge Street in Homerton in May 1890. Two Frenchmen – De Love Chamary and Agas Jean – who both gave addresses in Edmonton – were charged at the Dalston Police court with obstructing the highway and refusing to ‘move along’.

A huge crowd had gathered on Bridge Street to see the  men prod the muzzled animal into performing, which had blocked the street entirely. PC Munro asked them to move along but they only went a few yards before starting up the entertainment again. When they failed to comply again he arrested them. Goodness know what they did with the bar but presumably the poor animal had to be taken into custody as well. I can well imagine the desk servant’s face when the trio arrived at the station!

A gentleman named Edward Young took the stand at Dalston to complain that along with the obstruction the bear represented a threat to the public. He himself had seen the beast ‘make for a servant girl twice that morning’. The bear was, he conceded, muzzled, but he wanted to let the court know that with bears it was ‘the hug that did it’. His intervention added to the entertainment element of this prosecution and prompted some laughter.

The defendants were ‘picturesquely-dressed’ as French ‘peasants’ and were, the reporter suggested, of ‘the gipsy class’. It is likely them that they lived in the countryside north of the capital, in caravans and tents at Edmonton rather than in suburban housing.

They assured Mr Haden Corser that the bear was harmless, and so the magistrate said there was little he could do to them beyond making them aware that were to obey the police’s instructions in future.  He cautioned them and let them go.

The practice of forcing captive bears dance was prohibited in Britain in 1911 but sadly continues in many countries in the world, even after prohibition. An organisation called Bear Conservation monitors the abuse of these magnificent animals worldwide and you find out how to support their efforts here

Daily News, Saturday 3 May 1890; Illustrated Police News, Saturday 10 May 1890