An Attack On Sir Henry Matthews

By early October, 1888, the fact that the police had failed to catch the murderer who was now becoming universally known as “Jack the Ripper”, led to an enormous amount of hostility being directed towards them in the newspapers.

Even papers that, to that point at least, had been extremely supportive of the police, now began criticising their evident lack of effectiveness in the hunt for the Whitechapel murderer.


Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner, was coming under attack from the press on an almost daily basis, and he found himself accused of militarising the police to such an extent that the type of independent thought and individual ingenuity that was so needed to bring the killer to justice had both been stifled by his methods of command.

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


However, it was also becoming apparent by this time, that the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, wasn’t exactly up to the job, and the East End atrocities, so many newspapers were claiming, had succeeded in exposing the shortcomings of a government official whom certain elements of the press had dubbed “Never-at-Home Matthews,” on account of the fact that, whenver trouble loomed, he was never to be found!


One of the big criticisms being levelled at the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office was that, in refusing to sanction a reward for information that might lead to the killer’s apprehension, they were missing out on a ruse that could provide the all-important breakthrough in cracking the case once and for all.

It was now becoming more than apparent that it was Henry Matthews and his staff at the Home Office who were blocking the offering of a reward.

In consequence, his actions were being questioned by many newspapers and, on Sunday the 7th of October, 1888, Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, took aim at the Metropolitan Police commissioner and the Home Secretary, and, having done so, they let loose a victorious volley intended to knock one or both of them right of their perch.

The article read:-


“London lies under the spell of a nameless horror, and the whole country, in sympathy with the centre of its social and political life, is agitated and panic-stricken.

For weeks the East-end has been the scene of villanies surpassing anything ever known in the annals of crime, and the police are today as helpless to prevent another holocaust as they were when the initial murder of the long series was perpetrated in George-yard.

Helpless, shamefully helpless, as they are against one villain, they are equally hopeless of discovering who the criminal is and bringing him to justice, or even of distinguishing whether the horrors are the work of one hand or of many.

A blindfoled police officer surrounded by criminals.
The Punch Cartoon “Blind Man’s Bluff.”


It may seem unfair, in this time of their humiliation, to speak harshly of the incompetence of the metropolitan force.

The individual officers are entitled to be credited with the intelligence common to the class from which they are drawn. Their industry and zeal have on certain recent occasions made them unhappily notorious.

In their encounters with the people last year, and with the unemployed in Hyde-park this year, they displayed an energy that, if shown in a good cause, would have been everything to be desired.


But these outbursts of official zeal – directed as they were by a military martinet in Scotland-yard and an incompetent lawyer in the Home-office – have had the pernicious result of making the force unpopular; thus bringing on the men an amount of opprobrium which, individually, they do not deserve.


But the military system introduced by Sir Charles Warren has had more evil results than these.

It has transformed a civil force into a garrison; so that crime, which needs for its discovery the subtle, stealthy methods of the detective is now, in a large measure, face to face with a body of men under severe military drill, whom it can evade without any very great effort of skill or ingenuity.

The results are apparent in the contemptuous alacrity with which the murders in Whitechapel have been perpetrated one after the other.

It might have been supposed that the prolonged security of the criminal or criminals who have their lairs in the East-end would have forced the Home Secretary and Sir Charles Warren to drop, for the time at least, the stiff, formal, and pedantic methods that are in vogue, and which have been proven so inadequate to cope with the necessities of the situation.


But, notwithstanding the almost agonized appeals of the inhabitants of Whitechapel to the Queen, the protests of the press of all sections, the undoubted failure of the authorities to obtain a reliable clue to the crimes, Mr. Home Secretary Matthews, through his assistant at the Home Office – for he is himself not to be found – sticks with the obstinacy of a pig to his original position, and declares that nothing that has happened – not six consecutive murders in the same locality within a few months – has enabled him to modify his opinion that “rewards have hitherto done more harm than good,” and that they are, therefore, “useless.”

A portrait of Sir Henry Matthews.
Sir Henry Matthews. The Home Secretary.


It did not need this final proof of the incompetence of Mr. Matthews to convince the public that he is the worst Home Secretary that this generation has seen, not excepting even Mr. Secretary Cross; but it is well that it has been given, as it must lead to his ignominious dismissal from the office.

Lord Salisbury will be carrying his stupid and somewhat chivalric habit of sticking to his colleagues too far if he does not yield to the general demand for Mr. Matthews’ expulsion from the Home Office.


It is not the first time that this man has displayed the crassest ignorance of the necessities of his position and his contempt for public opinion.

The Cass case is still fresh in the memory, and the records of the House of Commons show for the first time in history the defeat of a Government at the hands of a poor dressmaker.

But it is the first time that so loud and general a cry has been raised against his negligence and ignorance of duty.


The “helpless, headless, useless figure of the Right Hon. Henry Matthews,” is a phrase that will stick, and not the less closely because coined by an out-and-out supporter of the Government in the press.

“If it be of any avail,” says our Jingo contemporary, “we would once more urge Mr. Matthews to wake up and do his duty.

If it be of no avail, then the protest against his ineptitude will assuredly become a clamour, a demand, an insistence, and Lord Salisbury will have to dismiss the minister who had not good sense enough to resign.”


And it is not in the public and in the press alone that indignation and anger have been kindled by the attitude of cynical indifference he affects, and by the callousness – not the less brutal because displayed in society’s best manner – that his inaction manifests.

At the headquarters of the City Of London police, as is seen from the reward offered by the Lord Mayor for the only murder committed within its official boundaries, the condemnation of the Home Secretary is not less strongly expressed.

The Chief Commissioner, Colonel Sir James Fraser, and the Chief Superintendent, Major Henry Smith, and their officers, are in favour of rewards being offered in all cases of serious crimes in which the perpetrator has not been discovered.

Their experience is entirely adverse to the theory which the Home-office recluse has evolved from the depths of his own consciousness.

The only reservation made by them – and it meets every possible objection that may be offered – is that no part of the reward shall be paid to the police. This has been the rule always, though we venture to suggest that, in such a grave crisis as this, it may be wisely relaxed.


Those experienced officers and their staff and men hold that a reward in such cases would stimulate the zeal of the classes who are most likely to know, or have the best opportunities of learning, the habits and the haunts of the murderer or murderers.

Private detectives also, many of them better fitted for such work than the ordinary official staff, would thus be induced to volunteer their skill; the services even of the amateur detective in such cases are not to be despised.


Excepting our pious Chief Commissioner, who, like that saintly politician, Mr. A. J. Balfour, finds his most harmless vocation at Church congresses, or such like religious affairs, the staff in Scotland-yard, all the practical men of the staff, are at one with the City police officials, and have frankly avowed their belief in the utility of public rewards in extreme instances such as these at the East-end.

The chief alone encompasses himself in a veil of official reserve, and declines to be committed. “The matter of rewards rests entirely with the Home-office,” he says, and beats a cowardly retreat under the shield of the incompetent Matthews.


These are some of the reasons why this most stupid of officials, Mr. Henry Matthews, should have his hands forced in this matter, or, what would be better still, himself forced from the office which he has so disgraced.


But there is another reason that strikes us as of equal, if not of more than equal, importance.

When a community is paralyzed by such a series of atrocities, there is the most stringent need of the strong, protecting arm of the Government being seen and felt in the efforts to punish them.

This always tends to establish public confidence, and may avert a public panic, the effects of which would be calamitous.

The reassuring nature of such a step cannot be over-estimated, and, a Home Secretary who declines to act as the guardian of the public interests, out of an obstinate regard for a rule that has only been in existence a few years, and has been discredited again and again during its brief application, shows himself absolutely incapable of apprehending the complicated relations that subsist between the people of the country and the office that touches their wants and their interests more directly than any other in the Government.


Mr. Matthews, as we have said, is not at home, and he is therefore out of the direct reach of the people of London.

It is a peculiar quality of this precious sample of officialdom that he is never at his desk when he is wanted on such occasions.

A year ago the nickname “Never-at-Home Matthews” was given to him, and he seems to have accepted the sneer as a compliment.

The Home Secretary who is never at home, is a contradiction in terms that apparently amuses him, and during the present horrors, he is doing his best to prove its propriety.

But surely, now that the murders are no longer confined to the ugly and inaccessible East-end; now that, from the windows of his office in Whitehall, he may see the very spot where the body of another wretched woman was found, he may be induced to bring himself face to face with the London public, so that they may force their claims on his attention directly, instead of having to do so, as hitherto, through an authorized deputy; and compel his adoption of the only rational course that can be taken to relieve the metropolis from the incubus that his neglect of duty has enormously weighted.”