Attempt At Murder In Poplar

Even without the Jack the Ripper murders, parts of the Victorian East End of London saw a fair share of violence, much of it of a domestic nature.

The Maryport Advertiser, on  Friday 25th January, 1878, broke the story of one such incident, which had taken place in Poplar, an area that saw its fair share of murder and bloodshed.

The article read:-


At the Thames Police court, London, William Potter, 40, described as an engineer, of No. 2, Wade’s Place. Poplar, was brought before Mr. Lushington charged with shooting his wife Annie Potter, John Robinson, a young man, and Mrs. Beresford, landlady of the house 140, East India Dock-road.

Sergeant Hanson, 4 K R, who had charge of the case, said that the injured persons were not able to attend, and were at present inmates of the Poplar Hospital.


Alfred Beresford, son of Mrs. Beresford, said the prisoner’s wife had been staying at his mother’s house since Christmas last. On Friday afternoon witness went out on an errand. In Wade’s-place he met the prisoner, and said to him, “Mother says you had better not come to our house, as perhaps father will be coming home, and he would make a noise.”

The prisoner said “All right,” and witness accompanied him to his house.

He there said,” Wait a minute I’ll go indoors.” He went in, and after remaining a short time came out and went to witness’s father’s house, 146, West India Dock-road. Witness said, ” You had better not come in; wait a minute; go and see if my father is indoors.” He replied, “All right, there will be no row,” and entered the passage.

Witness told his mother that the prisoner was in the passage, and on her going to him he said, “I will see my wife.”


The latter just then came upstairs to where he was standing.

He said, “Halloo. my dear,” to which she replied, “Don’t dear me; you have been telling lies about me.”

Directly afterwards witness saw him take a pistol from his right hand pocket and fire at his wife. She ran downstairs, and witness saw she was bleeding from a wound under her eye. The prisoner followed her and fired at her, and witness saw blood running from her head. He fired another shot, the bullet striking witness’s mother in the left breast. He then went upstairs.


John Robinson came out of the kitchen, and, while be was standing at the foot of the stairs, the prisoner said. “You and all,” and fired at him.

The shot struck the kitchen door close to where Robinson was standing.

The prisoner again fired at him, and the shot took effect in his neck. Robinson ran at the prisoner, struggled with him, and got his hand behind his back and some one came in and took the pistol out of his hand.

The prisoner was between two and three yards off when he fired the shots.


Mr. Lushington asked the prisoner if he had any question to put to the witness.

The prisoner said that he had not, but he was positive that the witness did not see him present the pistol.

An illustration showing the shooting taking place.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 2nd February, 1878. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Job Pope, 147 K, said that at five o’clock on Friday evening, in the East India Dock-road, he heard cries of “Police” and “Murder,” and the report of firearms. He went in the direction, and seeing the door of No. 146 open, rushed into the passage.

On reaching the top of the stairs he met Mrs. Beresford, who exclaimed, ” I am shot, policeman and he will shoot all in the house; mind, he has a revolver.”

He then heard a pistol fired, and saw the prisoner in the passage leading to the front kitchen at the foot of the stair. He ran into the back kitchen, where Mr. Robinson wrenched a pistol front his hand and handed it to witness.

Robinson was bleeding from a wound on the neck.

Witness told the prisoner he should take him into custody for shooting Robinson. He replied, “Very good.”

His wife was in the front kitchen, bleeding from a wound on her head. She pointed to the prisoner, and said “That is my husband. He has shot me.” The prisoner asked her to “shake hands with him and forgive him.”

Witness took the prisoner to the Poplar Station, where he said that he did not intend to injure anybody but his wife.


Alfred Hanson, sergeant 4 K 8., produced a revolver which had been handed to him by the constable, Pope, who received it from Robinson. Each chamber was empty, and the cartridge case appeared to have been recently discharged. In the prisoner’s possession were found six cartridge cases, the same size and bore as the revolver.

The prisoner said, “How is Mrs. Beresford?”

Witness replied”, I think she is all right.”

He said “I am very glad of that.”

It was stated by a medical gentleman who was in court that none of the wounds were dangerous excepting one.


Sergeant Hanson went to the prisoner’s lodgings, where he found three letters, one of which was to the following effect:-

” 2, Wade’s-place, Poplar.

Dear friends,

I write these few words to let the world know the cause of my taking my wife’s life, and then my own. The cause is she left me to live with another man of the name of Robinson, an engineer. Oh, it is more than I can bear, to think that my child should be in the control of another man, and I am alone. That alone has driven me to the course I am about to pursue, which I can swear before the One that knows the secrets of all hearts; there was never a more loving husband in the world than I have been, and she knows that and everyone else that knows me. I would do all that could be done for her in the world if she would only come to me again, for I am not ashamed to own before the whole world that I love her dearer than my own life. . . My dear friends, believe me I am truly heartbroken, therefore I care not to live. I hope that this will be published directly after  I am dead. I hope and trust that some of my family will take care of my darling boy and bring him up. I should like my sister to have him.”

He then mentions her address and also that of his brother.

Mr. Lushington remanded the prisoner in order to see how the injured persons progressed.”


William Potter appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) on 11th February, 1878.

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer published the following article on the case in its edition of Thursday 14 February 1878

William Potter, aged 40, Sailor, indicted at the Central Criminal Court yesterday for feloniously shooting at Annie Potter, with intent to murder her. He was also charged with shooting at John Robinson and Mary Beresford, with intent to do them grievous bodily harm.

Mr Horace Avory prosecuted, and Mr Lovell and Mr White were counsel for the prisoner.


The facts of this case have appeared very fully in the police reports.

The prisoner had been married to prosecutrix for several years, but they lived unhappily, and separated about eighteen months ago, and the prosecutrix went to live with a woman named Beresford in the East London Road, Poplar.

The prisoner frequently asked his wife to return and live with him, but she refused, and the prisoner was very angry at this, and he also appeared to be jealous of a man named Robinson, who lodged in the same house with his wife.

On the 18th of January the prisoner went to the house, and after some angry words had passed between him and his wife, he fired at her with a revolver, and wounded her severely in the side.

Robinson and Mrs Beresford came to the assistance of the prosecutrix, and the prisoner fired at both of them, and while the prosecutrix was lying on the ground the ground the prisoner discharged another barrel of the weapon at her, and the ball passed completely through her jaw.

During the struggle the prisoner discharged another barrel at Robinson, but missed him, and the sixth barrel appeared to have gone off by accident, the ball lodged the ceiling.

The prisoner afterwards said that he did not mean to hurt either Robinson or Mrs Beresford, and his wife was the only person he desired to injure.


It was stated in cross-examination that the prisoner’s wife and Robinson had been to supper rooms and places of amusement together, but they both denied that any improper intimacy existed between them.


The jury found the prisoner guilty of wounding with intent to murder, and he was sentenced to be kept in penal servitude for 20 years.

The prisoner fell down insensible when the sentence was pronounced, and he was carried out of court in that condition by the warders in attendance.”


You can read the full transcript of William Potter’s court appearance at the Old Bailey Online website.