A Whitechapel Atrocity

One of the more disturbing aspects of the Jack the Ripper case was the fact that many commentators came to see the perpetrator of the crimes as an inevitable outgrowth of the horrific social conditions that had been allowed to develop in the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields in the East End of London.

For several years prior to the Whitechapel murders, the newspapers countrywide had been bringing their readers sensational stories on all manner of crimes that had been perpetrated by residents of the East End of London.

These reports had helped foster a belief in the minds of the public at large that those who lived in the Victorian East End were a lawless, savage and uncivilised populace to whom basic Christian values, not to mention common human decency, were anathema.

For many of the people of Victorian Britain, who had never been to, and would never go to, Whitechapel, these press reports were what shaped their perception o the district, and, it has to be said, many of the crimes that were reported on were truly barbaric, and can make the reader cringe even today, separated as we are by the passage of 130 years.


One such case was that of Teresa Smith, who, in March, 1888, was arrested for having inflicted dreadful injuries on her own little boy, Henry.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper first reported the story on Sunday, March 18th, 1888.

What is truly shocking about this case is that several neighbours not only knew what was going on, but had also witnessed the mother’s appalling treatment of the boy, but chose to stay silent.

This is indicative of the unwillingness to “get involved” in cases of domestic violence and shows why, during the Jack the Ripper murders, people who had heard cries of “Murder!” tended not to alert the authorities.

People simply preferred to mind their own business.


Although the newspapers reported Teresa Smith’s residence as being in Catherine Buildings, it was, in fact, Katharine Buildings.

The Lloyd’s article read:-

“Teresa Smith 24, of 88, Catherine-buildings, Cartwright-street, Whitechapel, was brought up at the Thames police-court on Tuesday, for shockingly ill-treating her illegitimate child, Henry Smith.

Annie Edwards, 89, Catherine-buildings, Cartwright-street, deposed that Smith lived next door.

She had a child, named Henry Smith, aged five.

Witness frequently went to the prisoner’s room to assist her.

A man lived with her.


About six months ago the accused lived in Cannon-street road, where she smashed the child’s head open with a quart pot.

Last Wednesday witness went to defendant’s room and saw her there with her two children.

The lad, Henry, had been severely injured by being jumped and had suffered in consequence from an objectionable form of weakness.

On Wednesday he was seized by one of these attacks, when the prisoner forced him to the ground, and put filth in his mouth.

She then placed the poker in the fire until it was red hot.

In the meantime, she treated her son with the most revolting cruelty.

She next took the poker from the fire, and, having stripped the child, applied the weapon to the lower part of his back, burning him severely. She kept the poker in one spot for about three minutes, after which she knocked the poor child down and kicked him about the ribs, and afterwards jumped upon him with all her force.

She then knocked his head against the door so severely that a Mrs. Sullivan, who lived in the next room, came out.

The same day, the witness saw the woman bite a lump out of the child’s arm, while he stood by the fireplace.

Witness had seen her assault the child every day since.

It was her illegitimate child.


Mr. Saunders: Why did you not interfere?

Witness: I did not like to. I was afraid. I have been blamed a great deal for not letting it be known before.

Mr. Wlilliams (magistrate’s clerk): Quite rightly too.


Mr. David Macrinch, surgeon, 1, Dock-street, E., said that on examining the child, who was aged four years and 10 months, witness found that he was imperfectly nourished, his features pinched, and his weight was only 22 pounds.; if properly nourished he should have weighed a stone more.

On examining the head he found a large blister on the right side. The hair all around it had been removed from the roots.

On the left side there was another extensive sore, and smaller sores were scattered all over the head. There were sores on both ears. On the trunk of the body there was a large scar over the left shoulder, and over the bottom of the spine was a cicatrix two inches long.

On the right and left elbows were large ulcerating sores, and on the right hand there had been a blister of considerable size, extending down to the roots of the fourth and fifth fingers.

On the left hand there was also evidence of scars.

On both limbs, at the head of the thigh hones, there were extensive circular ulcerating sores and smaller scars scattered over the limbs.

On the soles of the feet were a large number of blisters and scars.

These showed all the symptoms of being burns.


The child was carried into court, and presented a most shocking appearance.

He seemed to be nearly starved, and bore traces of terrible injuries.

Mr. Saunders ordered the prisoner to be remanded.”


An update on the case was published in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper on Sunday, 25th March, 1888.

By way of explanation, in case you’re not sure what a “rasp” is, as mentioned in the newspaper report, it is a coarse form of file that is, and was, used for coarsely shaping wood or other material.

The article read:-

“Teresa Smith, 22, of 88, Catherine’s-buildings, Cartwright-street, Whitechapel, was charged on remand at the Thames police-court, on Tuesday, with ill-treating her illegitimate child, Henry Smith, aged four years.

Mr. J. G. Waters prosecuted for the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.


The evidence of a witness named Annie Edwards was reported the previous week.

In cross-examination, she now stated that about four days before the accused was arrested the little boy came into witness’s room and asked for the loan of a rasp.

The next morning witness went into the prisoner’s room.

The accused went outside, and during her absence witness turned up the child’s clothes and saw that the skin had been scraped, as if from a rasp. His back was bleeding.

When the mother came in the witness asked her, “Whatever did you do this for?” and she replied, “Because he took a piece of sugar out of the basin.”


The boy was carried forward, and Mr. Williams (the magistrate’s clerk) said he had so improved that it was difficult to believe him to be the same child.

An attendant said the child had gained two pounds in weight during the past week.


Charles Edwards, of 89, Catherine’s-buildings, Whitechapel, father of the last witness, deposed that on one occasion he saw the accused take the child by the roots of the hair and throw him from the door to the window – a distance of about 20ft.

Witness said to her, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

She replied, “I can’t serve him bad enough.”

On that occasion, the child cried out and seemed to be in great pain.

He had known the prisoner had ill-used her son for a long time, he had spoken to her about the ill-usage.


Mr. Saunders: As a humane man did you take any action in the matter?

Witness: I did not. I am very much to blame in the matter.

Mr. Saunders: I should think so. You must be a cruel-hearted man. It is contrary to human nature. Stand down.

Mr. Saunders again remanded the accused.”


Smith’s next court appearance was reported briefly in The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser on Friday 6th April 1888:-

“Teresa Smith, aged 22, of 88, Catherine-buildings, Cartwright-street, Whitechapel, has been again charged, on remand, with ill-treating her illegitimate child, Henry Smith, aged four years.

The facts of the case have already been fully reported, and an officer of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Children stated during the last week the child had increased two pounds in weight.

When the prisoner was arrested by Constable Don she said, “Do not believe it. They are making it up for me.”

On examining the room, however, he found blood stains on the wall and on the right-hand side of the washstand.

Mr. Saunders then committed the prisoner for trial.”


Smith’s final court appearance was at the Middlesex Sessions, on Wednesday, 11th April, 1888.

The Beverley and East Riding Recorder reported on the case and the verdict in its edition of Saturday 21st April 1888:-


“Theresa Smith was indicted at the Middlesex Sessions, before Commissioner Kerr, for having most cruelly assaulted Henry Smith, her son, aged five years, to which she pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Frank Lemon appeared for the prosecution on behalf of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Children.

The prisoner was undefended.


According to the evidence of Dr. Gabe, of 16, Mecklenburg-square, and Dr. M’Nish, of Dock-street, Whitechapel, the boy on examination was found to be very badly nourished and neglected and was suffering from a wound on the left side of the head, caused probably by a fall.

There was a bruise on the right side of the head and sores.

On the left side and all over the infant’s body and feet were scars.

There were, in addition, some old wounds on the knees.


Superintendent Brook, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, gave evidence that at present the infant weighed over 33 pounds., whereas on being examined Dr. M’Nish his weight was only 25 1/2 pounds.


The jury convicted the prisoner.

Replying to his lordship, the police-constable who had charge of the case said he had made inquiries, and had found out that three weeks after the birth of this infant it was taken away by a man, who himself was seized with illness and laid up in hospital.

In passing sentence, his lordship observed that under the indictment defendant was liable to five years’ penal servitude, and it would be difficult to say that that would have been too much for her.


She had grossly ill-used this poor child, and it was difficult to imagine that the injuries inflicted could have been perpetrated by any being but a fiend.

It was of no use to expostulate with a person of her description, and the only difficulty the bench had was to the punishment.

She would have to go to gaol for 18 calendar months.”