A Bad Police Blunder

There can be no doubt that Victorian Whitechapel – and the 19th century East End of London for that matter – was portrayed and perceived as being a hotbed of villainy.

It frequently happened that those who lived in the district would cross into the “respectable” West End of London, bringing their contagion to the streets thereabouts.

This is how some – though not all – of the newspapers portrayed the events of Bloody Sunday, on the 13th of November, 1887.

An Illustration showing the Bloody Sunday riot in Trafalgar Square.
The Bloody Sunday Clash Between Police and Socialists in Trafalgar Square, November 1887.


In the court of public and Liberal opinion, Bloody Sunday was an unmitigated disaster for the Metropolitan Police, showing as it did that the police could make major mistakes.

However, police blunders did not stop with bloody Sunday. Indeed, the events of that Sunday were both preceded and proceeded by other example of police fallibility.

There had, for example, been the disastrous Mis Cass case of earlier in 1887. Then there would be the infamous Constable Bloy case of early 1888.

An illustration showing PC Endacott arresting Miss Cass.
Police Constable Endacott Arrests Miss Cass. From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.

These were cases that received a great deal of coverage and criticism in the press.

But there were other cases that were not afforded extensive media coverage that demonstrated that, when it came to policing the streets of the Metropolis, the police could, and often did get it wrong.


On Sunday the 16th of December, 1888, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper published an article that demonstrates how the Victorian Metropolitan Police could get things wrong, and, when they did so, the characters of those accused of particular crimes might well be impugned:-

“Jacob Myers and Lazarus Ellisberg, the first-named a boot-laster and the latter a skin-dresser, both giving correct addresses at the East-end of London, surrendered to their bail, at Westminster police-court, on Thursday, charged on remand with attempting to pick pockets in Westminster Abbey on the night of the 29th ult., the occasion of the performance of the Messiah, at the Abbey.


The prisoners, and another man, not in custody, according to the evidence of several police witnesses, made a succession of attempts to rob ladies and gentlemen.

It was stated that Myers put his hand in their pockets “covered” by his companions, and that in one instance a lady lost her purse, but declined to prosecute, as she could not herself identify the thief.

Myers asserted that ‘the whispering to his companion Ellisberg, which the police gave evidence of as a suspicious incident, was accounted for by the fact that he explained what was being sung to his friend, who had but a very imperfect knowledge of English.

Furthermore, that the alleged suspicious movement of his hands was only his endeavours to keep his hat from being crushed by the pressure of the crowd.


Both the accused men received excellent characters from Mr. David Cohen, boot and shoe manufacturer. of 22, Commercial-road, E ., Myers having been in his employ for over three years.


Detective Hawkins said that he had made a searching inquiry since last week in connection with the complaints of purses stolen on the night in question in the Abbey, and he had ascertained that most of the robberies were perpetrated before the defendants were there. There was nothing whatever against either of the accused.

Mr. T. D. Dutton, who defended, asked if everything ascertained was not in their favour, and the witness said he was bound to say it was.


Mr. Partridge at once discharged both defendants, subsequently the employer of Ellisberg courted an expression of opinion from the magistrate by asking him to publicly state that the defendants left the court without the least imputation on their character.

Mr. Partridge stated that the evidence did not justify him in doing more than to discharge them.

The applicant reminded his worship that the police case had altogether broken down, and that the lady who was said to have been robbed did not attend. The officers had made a very grievous mistake.

Mr, Partridge could not say that they had not given their evidence fairly and honestly.

He discharged the accused because their previous good character was so much in their favour.