A Humorous Pennyworth.

The Jack the Ripper murders certainly exposed the horrors and the dangers of the lives that were led by many of the women who found themselves on the streets of the East End of London, and their was no shortage of commentators who were trying to draw the attention of society at large to the plights of the unfortunates of London.

On Friday, 25th January, 1889, The Peterhead Sentinel and General Advertiser for Buchan District , published the following article about a journalist who had been fighting a battle to expose the social conditions in the area, even against the threat of great personal danger:-


“Some time ago, I mentioned in this column the case of a London newspaper man who, in exploring the slums of Whitechapel, was twice arrested as “Jack the Ripper.”

I mentioned at the time that the hero of the adventure was a native of Peterhead, who began his newspaper career in Peterhead; and I don’t know any reason why I should not state also that his name is John Nicol, and that he left Peterhead only some six or seven years ago.

An illustration showing homeless people in Whitechapel in 1888.
The Homeless of Whitechapel. From The Illustrated London News, 13th October 1888. Copyright, The Mary Evans Picture Library.


I revert to him now because I find that he has made a penny pamphlet out of his curious adventure, and I have a copy of it before me now.

It bears the title “The Whitechapel Atrocities Arrest of a Newspaper Reporter,” and it narrates, to the extent of some sixteen pages, the writer’s experience among the “unfortunates” and police and public-houses of the East End.

He states that he has been several times mobbed and maltreated in Whitechapel, and asserts, on the authority of the police, that he is in danger of his life if he ventures into some of the East End thoroughfares at night.


And he is very eloquent over the “unfortunates.”

“Shall they go to hell,” he asks, “while we remain with folded arms, and with true fatherly pride walk Sunday by Sunday to the church with our daughters our side?”

This about the daughters I take to be more or less metaphorical, because I scarcely think that Mr Nicol, who is about twenty-five years of age, is in real life anything of the paterfamilias.


“I am no fanatic teetotaller,” he continues, “but this fact stares me in the face – had the murdered women of Whitechapel been total abstainers they would not have been in the way of death” – which is very much the same as to say that if they had been somewhere else they would not have been there.

“Men of England,” he further breaks out, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this fact, that where there are no wicked men there are no unhappy prostitutes; and he winds up with an apostrophe to the Christian public, appealing to them to pray and work, and declaring that his object in the whole business has been “to do something towards rescuing the perishing” – an object which he says has got the better of his judgment.


Says he, further:-

“The feelings that have been stirred within me will influence me until my beating heart lies still in the grave, but if the shock has injured my health and caused sorrow to a beloved mother, I am repaid somewhat in the thought that I undertook the task, not for my own benefit alone, but also for the sake of those who have to live for ever, and must either spend their eternity with the pure and holy, or with those who are eternal outcasts.

More than half-a-dozen women have been placed upon the altar of immorality. Their lives have been taken – their souls rushed into the presence of the Judge; and this in the city which boasts its British and Foreign Bible Society, its many missionary societies, its thousands of places of worship, and in the capital of a nation which, as one man, commemorated the other day the birth of the Blessed Saviour.


It makes one horrified, one’s soul is stirred to the depths, one’s blood creep, one’s hand shakes, when one thinks of the multitude of people who are rushing headlong to destruction in this great London, and are allowed to do so because people love ease and luxury better than a self-denying life such as that which our Blessed Master led.”


This is certainly very fine and large, hut I hardly expect that Mr Nicol’s narratives will do much to “rescue the perishing.”

Abler men than he have been at the business for a long time without making an impression; but the heroics of the pamphlet rather amuse me.

A humorous pennyworth.”