Parts of the Victorian East End of London were extremely violent – and all manner of disputes ended up with violence.
The situation was helped by the fact that many of the people, men in particular, were routinely armed with knives and guns.
What is interesting is that, even the magistrates who sat in judgement on cases where violence had either been used or threatened would not pass judgement on the possession of a weapon, but, rather, they would make their judgement based on the intention for which the weapon had been used.
A case that demonstrates this came up before Mr. Hannay at the Thames Police Court on Tuesday, 26th June, 1888.
AN EAST-END SHOOTING CASE
The Globe reported on the case on Wednesday 27th June, 1888:-
Yesterday, before Mr. Hannay, at the Thames Police Court, Thomas Turner, 30, no occupation, and living in Mercer-street, Shadwell, was charged with feloniously discharging a loaded revolver at Ellen Martin, with intent to do her grievous bodily harm.
Prosecutrix, a smart-looking young woman, deposed that on Monday the accused went home with her, and at the time was rather the worse for drink.
She said that she had known Turner for three weeks.
Witness took off her cloak and hat, when the prisoner became noisy.
Previous to that they had been to music-hall together, and had had a few words owing to the witness giving the cabman sixpence more than his fare.
IT’S YOUR LIFE OR MINE
After taking off her cloak Turner said to her, “I mean to do for you. It is either your life or mine.”
He then took a revolver from his pocket and fired at the witness, who was about four yards off.
She screamed, and a number of people ran up the stairs.
HE ONLY WANTED TO FRIGHTEN HER
Turner tried to run down, but was stopped, and was afterwards given into custody.
By Mr. Williams ( the magistrate’s clerk):- Witness believed that Turner only wanted to frighten her.
She knew that Turner carried a revolver. The prisoner twice pointed the revolver at her. He did not say “There he goes,” as he pointed the revolver at the floor.
ALICE SOLOMONS EVIDENCE
Alice Solomons, the landlady of the house, said that she heard Turner say to the prosecutrix, “Look how you have been tantalising me since Saturday. Now, I’m going to make fool of you tonight.”
The witness afterwards heard them quarrelling, and then the revolver went off.
Some men ran into the house and got hold of the prisoner, who said, “I didn’t mean to shoot you, missus, or her either. I only pointed at the floor to frighten her.”
Turner had been very kind to the prosecutrix.
SERGEANT OWEN’S TESTIMONY
Sergeant Owen, 5 H, stated that he heard cries of “Murder” and “Police.”
On going to the house, he saw the accused being held by several men.
The witness asked Turner, who was very violent, where the revolver was. He answered, “I will shoot every one of you. I haven’t got a revolver about me.”
Witness searched him, and took the revolver from the pocket behind his trousers.
Prosecutrix was very reluctant to come forward.
When at the station, the prisoner tried to throw himself out of the dock, saying, “I have got another revolver in my pocket. I will shoot the lot of you.”
He then became so violent that he had to be handcuffed.
Prisoner:- “They stole my purse, in which were two half-sovereigns, when I was in the cell.”
INSPECTOR BLAKE’S EVIDENCE
Inspector Blake said that he examined the revolver. Four of the chambers had cartridges in them, and one had been recently exploded.
He afterwards went to the house, and the prosecutrix showed him where she stood when Turner had fired at her.
In line with her head, there was a bullet hole in the wall.
There was no mark from a bullet on the floor.
Mr. Hannay had the accused put back in order that the room might be carefully examined.”
THE PRISONER DISCHARGED
However, the evidence clearly pointed to the fact that Thomas Turner had not intended to actually harm Ellen Martin and, as The Pall Mall Gazette reported:-
“The evidence went to show that the accused fired the revolver with the muzzle of the weapon pointed to the ground, and that his object was to frighten the woman.
The prisoner was, therefore, discharged.”