An East End Tragedy 1885

As mentioned in a previous article, domestic violence was extremely commonplace in 19th century London; and there are numerous press reports of spouses attacking, injuring –  or even murdering – their wife or husband, – or their live in lover, as was often the case with Victorian East End couples.

In a large proportion of these cases the arguments that led to the act of murder were exacerbated by the fact that the perpetrator – and in many case the victim – had been drinking heavily in the hours, or even the days, leading up to the crime.


This was certainly the case with John Dunkin who, on October 23rd 1885, murdered Elizabeth Jackson – whom the Edinburgh News referred to as his “paramour.”


The Illustrated Police News reported the case over several editions.

On October 31st 1885, it provided its readers with a little information on how the couple had spent the days leading up to the murder.

According to Henry Ingham he had seen both John Dunkin and Elizabeth Jackson, whom he said passed for Dunkin’s wife, drinking in the Queen’s Head, both of them the worse for drink.

According to the article:-

“They were quarrelling, and the prisoner said to her, “Lizzie, I’ll go and take my boots off and you pawn them.”

She said, “You wont do anything of the sort and I wont pawn them, Patsy.

He then struck her with his open hand behind the ear. It was a rather hard blow. She fell down. She had had a “tidy” drop to drink and the least touch could knock her down. She was picked up and went home. This took place outside The Queen’s Head public-house…”


On the 7th November, 1885, The Illustrated Police News provided its readers with a detailed illustration of the circumstances leading up to and in the aftermath of the crime.

An illustration showing Dunkin leaning over the body of Elizabeth Jackson but being restrained by a policeman.
From The Illustrated Police News, 7th November 1885. Copyright, The British Library Board.


On the 31st October 1885, The Manchester Courier and Lancashire Gazette carried the following report on the crime:-

“On Saturday, John Dunkin, 43, described as a hawker of umbrellas, of the Phoenix common lodging-house, 43, Medland-street, Ratcliff, was charged at the Thames Police-court with causing the death of Elizabeth Jackson, a woman with whom he had been living.

Inspector J. Quinn, H division, watched the case on behalf of the Commissioners of Police.


Mary Ann Walford said that on Thursday afternoon she saw the prisoner and the deceased woman on the landing outside their own room. The woman was lying down bleeding from her face, and also from a wound at the back of her ear.

The accused was standing over her and was attempting to kick her, but witness fell on to her and prevented him from carrying out his intentions.

After that the witness, with the assistance of another woman, got the deceased woman downstairs and bathed her face.

The deceased woman was very drunk at the time.


Bridget Buckley deposed that, on Thursday afternoon, she saw the accused kick his wife in the stomach and side. Dunkin rushed at her and knocked her down, and at that time she noticed she was bleeding.

The prisoner said, “If I had my big boots on I would kick your face in.”

He afterwards left the woman on the landing, and walked downstairs.

When the deceased was on the ground the defendant kicked her and told her to get up.

Dunkin and the woman had both been drinking.

After that the deceased cried out and could not stand.


Witness then put her into a bed, not her own, and she said, “Don’t let him know I am here, or he will kill me.”

After that she appeared to be in great pain, and was still bleeding from a wound behind the ear.

When Dunkin came home he said, “Where’s my wife?”

Witness told him, and he rejoined, “I hope she don’t come within my reach tonight.”


The following morning (Friday) witness saw the woman lying on the floor of the bedroom. She then said to witness, “I am done for. He has killed me.”

At that time Dunkin was in bed, asleep.

About ten o’clock witness again saw her, and she was then very ill and in great pain. She appeared to be all cramped up. Witness saw her from time to time until she died.


Inspector John Quinn, H division, said that on Friday afternoon he was called to No. 3, Medland-street, Ratcliff. He there saw the woman lying on a bed, on her back, dead.

At that time Dr. M’Cay came in and examined the body, and witness went out of the room.

Dunkin was present, and witness told him to come downstairs.

He then charged him with causing the death of his wife.

Dunkin replied, “Yes, my son, I am welcome to go with you.”

At the station, in answer to the charge, he simply nodded.

The accused, who was drunk, afterwards told him that the woman was not his wife.


Sergeant Roscelly, 9 H, said that, when he was called to the house, he went upstairs to the prisoner’s apartment on the first floor.

He there saw the woman lying on the bed.

The prisoner was leaning over her.

Witness looked at the woman, and then said, “She is dead.”

Dunkin replied, “Is she? She told me yesterday I had been with her too long.”

The prisoner then clenched his fists, and, looking savagely at the corpse, said, “I will disfigure her; nobody shall know her.”

Witness seized him, and prevented him striking her.

Mr Lushington ordered the prisoner to be remanded for a week.”


On Saturday 7th November 1885, The Illustrated Police News provided its readers with an update on the case:-

“At the Thames Police-court, on Saturday, John Dunkin, forty-three, hawker of umbrellas, was brought up on remand, charged with causing the death of Elizabeth Jackson, who lived with him as his wife.

The case has already been reported, and at the inquest held on the body the medical evidence went to show that the cause of the woman’s death was heart disease and excitement accelerated by drink, a verdict to that effect being returned.

Mr. Michael M’Coy, surgeon, of Commercial-road, said that on Friday week he was called to the deceased woman. He found her in the Phoenix lodging-house, Medland-street. She was dead, and lying on her back. She had died recently, about half an hour.


He examined the body.

On the face were four or five old contused wounds. The right ear was discoloured, and on the back of it was a lacerated wound about one inch in length and half an inch in width. This wound was not very deep, and was recent.

On the back of the left hand was a small old contusion.

There were no other marks of violence.


He made a postmortem examination.

The mortuary at Ratcliff was a shed under a railways arch, and the accommodation was so bad that he had great difficulty in making his examination.

The cause of death was heart disease accelerated by drink and excitement, almost every organ was diseased.

The woman was a hard drinker.

The excitement might have been caused by the knocking about she had received, and the blows she received might have accelerated death.

By the Magistrate: If she was kicked in the stomach there might have been no marks, especially if the blows were inflicted with indiarubber boots. The wound behind the ear did not accelerate death.

The prisoner was remanded.”