Attempted Murder At Camberwell

Although the Jack the Ripper murders were, most certainly, dominating the newspaper headlines in October and November, 1888, it did not mean that other violent crimes were not taking place in London.

The Morning Post carried the following report about a particularly ferocious attempted murder in its edition of Wednesday 17 October 1888:-


“Thomas Onley, 62, traveller, and Frank Hall, 20, seaman, both living in Hornby-street, Peckham, were charged at the Lambeth Police-court yesterday, with being concerned together in attempting to murder Sarah Brett.

Mr. Sydney appeared to defend Onley.

lnspector Taylor, P Division, informed his worship that the injured woman was unable to attend.

He stated that whilst on duty on Monday night at Peckham Police-station he received information which induced him to go, in company with other officers, to Hornby-street, Camberwell.


In the middle of the roadway, he found Sarah Brett, who was aged about 53, lying on the ground. She was bleeding from a wound about 4in. long, commencing from the left side of the neck and reaching the centre of the throat. He at once sent for a surgeon. He asked the woman who had done it, and she said, “Frank, the sailor.”

Dr. Manyard, of Southampton Street, soon arrived, and he left her in his care, and with the other officer obtained admission to the house.


In a back bedroom, he found Hall lying on a bed, and endeavoured to rouse him. He appeared to be drunk.

Witness then proceeded to the front bedroom. and found Onley sitting on the side of the bed.

Constable Bennett said, “I have found this knife in the bed,” and produced a large carving knife with wet blood upon the blade. The witness had the prisoner detained until he had removed the injured woman to Newington Infirmary. There she became more sensible, and from what she said both men were taken into custody and charged.


Mr. Biron:- “What had the prisoners to do with the woman?”

Inspector Taylor:- “She was living with Onley as his wife, and Hall lodged in the same house.”

It was further stated that chairs and other articles had been overturned in the kitchen and a lamp smashed.

Mr. Biron remanded the prisoners.”

Framk Hall attempts to murder Sarah Brett.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 24th November, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Kentish Mercury  published the following update on the case on Friday 26th October 1888

“At the Lambeth Police-court, Tuesday. Thomas 0nley,62, and Frank Hall, 20, were charged on remand with being concerned together in attempting to murder Sarah Brett, by cutting her throat with a carving knife, at 60, Hornby-street, Peckham.

Mr. H. J. Sydney (for Mr. W. H. Armstrong) defended Onley.

Inspector Taylor, of the P division, who has the case in hand, informed his worship that the woman was still unable to attend to give evidence, but she was reported to be progressing favourably. He, therefore, asked for a further remand.

Mr. Biron said that should be granted.

Mr. Sydney now applied that Onley, against whom he said there was little or nothing, might be admitted to bail.

Mr. Biron said that he could not agree with that observation. It had been stated, although not in evidence at present, that Onley said that would give 10s. to anyone who did it. Inspector Taylor said that that was so, and would be given in evidence.

The prisoner Hall here said that Onley had nothing to do with it.

Mr, Biron said that it was a very serious case, and a most extraordinary thing that the woman was not murdered. He certainly should not accept bail in any amount. The prisoners were then further remanded.”


Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, on Sunday 11th November 1888, gave an update on the most recent court appearance of the two defendants:-

“Lambeth, Tuesday, Thomas Onley, traveller, and Frank Hall. 20, seaman, were charged, on remand, before Mr. Biron, with being concerned together in attempting to murder Sarah Brett, at 66, Hornby-road, Peckham.

Mr. Pollard prosecuted for the Treasury, and Mr. H. J. Sydney (for Mr. W. H. Armstrong) defended Ouley.

Inspector Taylor was recalled, and said that at the station Hall said to Onley, “You did it, and I’ll be a witness against you.”

Onley said, “I was in bed and asleep, and know nothing it.”


The prosecutrix was now called, and she said that that she lived at 66, Hornby-road, Peckham. She had lived with Onley as his wife for eighteen years.

On the 3rd of October her son came home from see,. bringing with him the prisoner Hall.

Hall remained in the house, and he was treated as one of the family, and no rent was asked of him.

On the 15th of October, Onley was out until about five o’clock, when he came in and commenced abusing her.

Later, the two prisoners came in together, at about a quarter-past eight o’clock. Onley said, “I’ll let them know’ you are no wife of mine, and have no business here.” Hall got up and said to her, “****** you and your son, too; I mean to look after Mr. Onley.”

Witness replied, “‘Get out of the house, you ungrateful villain; you don’t lodge here.” He struck her on the face, and she returned the blow, sending him back in the chair. Onley then said, “I’d give anyone 10s. who would do another Whitechapel murder of you.” As soon as he had said that he went upstairs to bed.

Hall immediately knocked over the lighted lamp on the table. He then struck her on the side of the head, which caused her to fall. He grasped her by the throat, and then she felt the knife across her throat. She struggled, and became insensible. She did not know how she got into the street, and remembered no more until she got to the infirmary. The carving-knife produced was upon the table at the time of the attack upon her.

She came out of the infirmary on Wednesday, and had since been living with Onley.


Dr. Munyard stated that it was a clean-cut wound, and might have been caused by the carving-knife produced.

By Mr. Biron:- The wound in itself was not dangerous.

Mary Anne Fayre, living at No. 60, gave corroborative evidence.

William Brett said Hall was a sailor with him on a vessel called the Thames. They landed on the 4th of October, and both went to Onley’s house. He asked him where he had put the knife, and he said somewhere in the front room. He asked if knew anything about it, and he said he did not. Hall said he did not know what made him do it.

Police-sergeant Bennett said that when he told Onley that Brett was lying in the road with her throat cut, and that the carving-knife, wet with blood, was on the pillow, he said he knew nothing about it.

Detective Briton gave evidence as to the arrest of Hall, in whose pocket was found a handkerchief with wet blood upon it.

Mr. Sydney said that there was no evidence against Onley. Mr. Pollard said he would carry the case no further.

Mr. Biron considered a jury would not convict Onley, and he would be discharged.

The prisoner Hall, who declined to say anything in his defence, was then committed to take his trial at the next Old Bailey Sessions.


The People, on Sunday 25th November 1888, published details of Frank Hall’s trial at the Old Bailey:-

Frank Hall, 20, was indicted for attempting to murder Sarah Brett, by cutting her throat. Mr. Poland and Mr. Mead prosecuted.

The prisoner is a seaman, and on October 3rd be appeared to have arrived in England. A son of the prosecutrix was one of his messmates, and they both took up their abode at the house where she resided at Peckham with a man named Onley, who passed as her husband.

On the night of October 13th, the prisoner and Onley went home drunk, and a quarrel took place between Onley and the prosecutrix. He made threats towards her, and blows were exchanged, after which he went up to bed.


Immediately afterwards the prisoner, apparently without the least provocation, attacked the prosecutrix with a carving knife and wounded her severely on the throat. He then took the knife, which was covered with blood, to the bedroom, and laid it on the bed on which Onley was sleeping.

The prisoner at first appeared desirous to fix the crime upon Onley, and he was taken into custody, but the prisoner subsequently admitted that it was he who had wounded the prosecutrix, and expressed his sorrow for what he had done.


The prisoner, in answer to the charge, said that he recollected very little about the matter as he was very drunk at the time.

The jury found the prisoner guilty of unlawfully wounding, and sentence was postponed.”