A Penzance Detective

Although the actual Jack the Ripper murders took place over a relatively short period of time – some might say as short as between August 31st 1888 to 9th November 1888, whilst others might attribute a longer reign of terror to the perpetrator – ramifications from the crimes continued to be felt long after whatever fate befell the mysterious miscreant who carried out the most infamous murder spree in criminal history.


What can be said with certainty, is that, the person responsible for the crimes, or at least the press depictions of him, which had, in many ways, given him the aura and allure of a pantomime villain, had found his way into the public imagination, and people the world over were on the look out for him, long after his East End atrocities had reached their bloody climax in Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, with the slaying of Mary Kelly on the 9th of November 1888.

Newspapers were reporting on his supposed antics well into the early 20th century; and every so often, the press picked up on episodes that, far from having the air of terror and horror that the reporting in the immediate aftermath of the crimes had had; gave their readers a more amusing take on those who, in the course of their everyday lives, had, so they believed, encountered the dreaded Jack the Ripper.

An example of this is the following article that appeared in The Cornish Telegraph on Thursday 31st October 1889:-


“Jack the Ripper does not now occupy so large a share of public attention as he did some twelve months ago, but that he is still very much in the minds of some people a diverting incident which recently occurred at Penzance will serve to show.

Some weeks ago a public-house not a day’s journey from the harbour was visited by a stranger, whose appearance and general demeanour were such as to arouse suspicions in the mind of the worthy landlord.

Perhaps mine host had been reading the novels of Gaborian, and was desirous of emulating the fasts of the French writer’s detective heroes; perhaps he had confined his studies to a lower order of literature, and had pored over the “Police News” accounts of the Whitechapel horrors, and its fearful and wonderful illustrations of them, until the subject had become a sort of mania with him.

At all events, he was firmly convinced that the real Jack the Ripper stood before him.


Even a publican may cherish ambition, and perhaps Boniface conjured up a vision of himself made famous over all the civilised world as the man who had done, single-handed, what all the metropolitan and city police and all the mad doctors and vigilance committees had failed to do.

Perhaps he dreamt of his name being chronicled in the world’s press as that of a benefactor to his kind; perhaps he even ventured to hope that he might attain to the crowning honour of having his portrait given in the Police News.

Perhaps he cared for none of these things, and was only inspired by that respect for the law, and that antipathy to those who break it, which are supposed to be characteristic of Englishmen.

At all events, he had two ideas firmly fired in his mind, that the stranger was the veritable Jack the Ripper, and that the criminal had been delivered into his hands.


But our publican, like the hero of a certain popular song, was a careful man. He had no intention of carrying his zeal in the cause of justice so far as to jeopardise his own safety.

He was not ambitious of furnishing “Jack” with an opportunity of trying his anatomical skill on a male subject, and therefore he had recourse to strategy, like Brer Rabbit in his ever-memorable encounter with Brer Fox.

The supposed terror of Whitechapel was making certain enquiries about the whereabouts of a young woman – whose appearance had attracted his attention, and whom, he said, he was desirous of engaging as a servant.

It was this that had first roused our amateur detective’s suspicions, and he determined to use the unknown’s horrible designs against the girl as the instrument of his discomfiture and capture.

He would show the gentleman the place where the young woman lived, let him follow him.


So these curiously assorted companions set out, and in about a quarter of an hour’s time arrived at the Penzance Police Station.

The stranger looked puzzled; this was not exactly the sort of place that he had expected to arrive at.

“Wait here”, said his conductor, who could scarcely conceal his eagerness and excitement.

The supposed assassin complied, and our self-appointed special constable knocked at the door of the Superintendent’s office.

The Superintendent was not in, would not be in for some little time.

The ardent hunter of criminals was much disappointed, and was almost inclined to look on the Superintendent’s absence as a grave dereliction of duty.

He controlled his impatience as best he could, and invented some excuse for detaining his companion in the neighbourhood of the polices-station till the Superintendent arrived.

Then he revealed his mission –  whether in the orthodox melodramatic style, with an injunction to the supposed-to-be unmasked villain to “tremble” we are unable to say.


At all events, the issue of the affair was rather of the nature of farce than of melodrama.

It was, in fact, an anti-climax, a woeful nipping in the bud of the ambitions of the aspiring publican.

The individual whom his fertile imagination had conceived to be Jack the Ripper, was able to give a satisfactory account of himself at least, an account which was satisfactory from a police point of view.

Whether it would have been so considered by a strict stickler for the proprieties is another matter.


But, he made it quite clear that whatever else he was, he was not Jack the Ripper, and so straightforward was his statement that, to all appearances, the landlord himself was convinced that he had made a mistake.

So he returned to his bar and his beer-engine, his brief dream of fame vanished.”