A Female Cannibal

This week in 1888 the newspapers were carrying the details of the murder of Martha Tabram whose body had been discovered on the first floor landing of a black of flats in George Yard, off Whitechapel High Street.

George Yard is the first stop on our Walking Tour around Jack the Ripper’s London and it is still a very atmospheric thoroughfare today, albeit its name has now been changed to Gunthorpe Street.

A view of Gunthorpe Street which was called George Yard at the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders.
Gunthorpe Street - Formerly George Yard

There is a great deal of debate as to whether or not Martha Tabram (who was also known as Martha Turner) was a victim of Jack the Ripper. The general consensus is that she wasn’t, although there is some evidence to suggest that she may have been his first victim. 

What is certain, however, is that her murder caused a general feeling of unease to ripple through the district as people could not comprehend the horror of what had happened to her.

But reading the newspapers for this week other stories appear that illustrate just how violent the area could be in 1888.

One story, carried by the East London Observer had the somewhat sensationalist headline “A Female Cannibal – Exemplary Punishment.”

The subsequent article told how a lady by the name of  Eliza Borman, who lived in Poplar, East London, had been assaulted by 19 year old Bridget Dooley.

Apparently Dooley had dragged Borman to the floor by her hair and had then proceeded to bite her on the forehead before forcing her [Borman’s] thumb into her [Dooley’s] mouth and biting it.

At here subsequent hearing at Thames Police Court the presiding magistrate, Mr Lushington  sentenced Borman to four months hard labour observing that if she chose to “act like a brute and a beast” she must put up with the consequences.

The same issue of the East London Observer carried a report about a 16 year old girl named Emily Banner who was charged with assaulting Elizabeth Barber by knocking her down and kicking her. Apparently Banner was then dragged off her victim by a group of men but she then follow Barber carrying a large hat pin which she proceeded to thrust into her victim’s right eye. The pin broke in half, whereupon Banner thrust the other portion into Barber’s right breast.

These stories, appearing in the newspaper on the same day that it was reporting the murder of Martha Tabram show that the area, even without the crimes of Jack the Ripper, was a prone to its fair share of street violence.