A Constable Stabbed In Whitechapel

Had you woken up in London on Sunday, 25th November, 1888, you could have been forgiven for thinking that danger lurked in every corner of the East End.

An attack on a lady by the name of Annie Farmer, apparently in brought daylight, which had taken place on the 21st of November, 1888, had been in the headlines for several days.

It was becoming more and more obvious that, when it came to hunting down the perpetrator of the atrocities, the police were as clueless had they had been the previous month, and the newspapers were increasing their criticisms of the authorities for their inability to secure a breakthrough in the case.

Illustrations showing the attack on Annie Farmer.
The Attack On Annie Farmer. From The Illustrated Police News, 1st December 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


But, as was revealed in the following article, which appeared in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper on Sunday, 25th November, 1888, even the East End police officers were not safe from an assassins blade:-

“John Hurley, 19, was charged on remand with assaulting Constable Wilcox, 148 H, while in the execution of his duty.

The evidence of the constable showed that at midnight on Saturday last he was standing outside a public-house in Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel. when the prisoner came up and tripped him into the road, saying with an oath, “You’ve locked my mate up.”

A crowd then got round the witness, and kicked him while he was on the ground. He got up and arrested Hurley, who struck him, and called out to the crowd “Rescue me.” The crowd attacked him, and rescued the prisoner,who also struck Wilcox on the right shoulder-blade

The witness was taken to the police-station and the prisoner was afterwards arrested.


When the officer got home, he felt a pain in his back, and then found he had been stabbed. The great coat, tunic, and shirts were cut through, and there was a wound about an inch deep.

When the prisoner was arrested by Constable West, 378 H, he said, “I was at a lead.”


Burley was placed with several other men, and Wilcox picked him out as the man who had assaulted him.”

The constable was placed on the sick list, and was still on the list.

Mr. Saunders again remanded the case for further witnesses.


Meanwhile, Reynolds’s Newspaper, on Sunday, 25th November, 1888, pulled no punches when it launched a scathing attack on the failings of the police:-

“London was subjected on Wednesday last to one of those recurring fits of horror that have given the East-end such unhappy notoriety.

An unfortunate woman, living in a common lodging house in, George-street, close by the scene of the last murder, had a wrangle with a man with whom she had spent the night, in the course of which a slight wound was inflicted on her throat, apparently by a blunt instrument.


The whole affair amounted to nothing more than one of the usual brawls that occur every week between drunken and dissolute men and women in the hives of vice that abound in every quarter of the East-end. But the alarm was given that it was the work of the same hand that had perpetrated the seven murders which have made Whitechapel the synonym for horror throughout the civilized world.

Instantly the hue and cry was raised, and a number of men started in pursuit of the miscreant, who, however, succeeded in escaping – a fact that seems to prove that the pursuit was anything but ardent.

The event is one of but little importance in itself, for brawls ending in the drawing of blood are the commonest product of society in all communities where wealth abounds side by side with abject poverty; but that in a densely-crowded district, at nine o’clock in the morning of a bright winter’s day, in the immediate neighbourhood of the scenes of seven or eight horrible and undetected murders, where we have been assured the police are keeping vigilant watch in re-doubled numbers, a ruffian supposed to be the real “Jack the Ripper” – who was seen, too, almost in the very act, red-handed-should have got clearly away, is one of the gravest and most depressing facts that it has ever been our duty to record.


We ask where are the police, and, we may add, the vigilance committee, which has recently shown signs (at least, in the newspapers) of’ new vigour?

How was it possible that, at such a place, at such an hour – or, indeed, any hour – no policeman was to be seen, and not even a vigilance committee-man at hand to trip the fugitive up and give him over to justice?

We have been assured that specially-trained officers, both in uniform and in plain clothes, are daily and nightly on the watch against another crime – or, rather, against the escape of the criminal, for the police have admitted the hopelessness of preventing the perpetration of the deed.

Let only the miscreant rip up another victim, said they, in effect, and his capture will be certain.

Well, another was provided in Miller’s-court, and because the murderer – quite naturally, of course, from the point of view of the game between him and authority – varied his tactics, he escaped once more.


Miller’s-court is now guarded night and day by the police. Mitre-square is also under watch and ward, and Berner-street has a double share of protection.

But are the authorities simple enough to imagine that so skilful and wary a ruffian – that anyone, indeed, but the stupidest and most reckless of criminals – would attempt to repeat his barbarous experiments in one of these places – for the present at least?

Must he oblige the police by committing the murder, under their noses before they arrest him? It, would really seem so. They have exhibited an incapacity that amounts to imbecility in all their methods; and whether it is the outcome of divided counsels in high quarters or sheer incompetence, the result is the same, and a brutal murderer is given what seems absolute impunity to practise his horrid crimes.


This is a terrible outlook for the poor of the East-end, but we are afraid that it must be accepted.

It may, of course, be provided against by volunteer agencies; but that would mean the entire reconstruction of the civic system, for which the time is not yet ripe.

We have presented the matter as it is, without exaggerating a single point or going beyond the bare record of the facts as reported.


The police have failed miserably. They have obtained grace again and again from a horror-stricken public, and almost in so many words they have dared the human fiend of Whitechapel to try his hand once more.

He did so seven times, and, with all their assurances, he is as free as ever to pursue his hellish work, and may pursue it periodically, for aught the police can do, for years to come.


It is a ghastly prospect, but, as we have said, Londoners must reconcile themselves to it.

They are doing so already.

The authorities are at loggerheads with each other; the Chief Commissioner has resigned; the head of the Criminal Investigation Department is new to the duties, and no one knows anything about him; his predecessor is located somewhere in Whitehall under the wing of an incompetent Home Secretary, investigating, it is said, ancient agrarian crime in Ireland, for the benefit of The Times.

All is discord, confusion, and imbecility.”