Attempted Murder Of A Whitechapel Chemist

In early October, 1888, the news about Whitechapel was dominated by the murders of Elizabeth Stride (in Berner Street) and Catherine Eddowes (in Mitre Square), both of which had taken place in the early hours of the morning of the 30th of September.

However, other crimes of violence that had taken place in the district were also being reported in the papers, such as the following case, which was reported by The Birmingham Daily Post on Wednesday 3rd October 1888:-


At the Thames Police Court, London, yesterday, William Seaman (40, a builder, of Princes Street, Whitechapel, was charged with attempting to murder John Sunkin, a chemist, of 82, Berner Street, Whitechapel.

Inspector R. Thresher, H Division, watched the case on behalf of the Commissioners of Police.

The prosecutor was now able to attend.

He stated that on Saturday night, the 8th ult., at ten minutes to twelve, he was about closing his shop-door, when the prisoner came in alone and asked for a pennyworth of zinc ointment. The witness got the ointment and gave it to him.

Seaman then asked for a pennyworth of powdered alum.

The exterior of the Thames Police Court.
The Thames Police Court. Courtesy of Adam Wood.


While the witness was serving the accused behind the counter he was facing the prisoner. Suddenly the prisoner struck him a heavy blow with a hammer on the head. The witness had his hat on at the time, but could not say how his hat got off, as it was afterwards found in the road. The blow caught him on the forehead.

Directly the prisoner hit him he rushed round the counter, and again struck him with the hammer.

The accused then dropped the hammer, and the witness picked it up and gave it to a man who came in.

The witness was cut at the back of the ear and was bruised all over the body. This was the first day he had been able to get out. He had never before seen the prisoner, and he appeared to be sober. The witness was covered with blood.

The prisoner: What is alum a pound? That is what caused the dispute.


Dr. Francis John Allen, of No. 1, Dock Street, stated that when he was called to the prosecutor he found him suffering from a wound in the forehead, and one behind the left ear. Both hands were very much swollen and bruised. The prosecutor had considerable difficulty in swallowing, and the witness should say he had been seized by the throat.

The prosecutor was also bruised all over his body, and at one time his life was in considerable danger through the injuries he had received. The hammer produced would cause the wounds.


Henry John Smith, a warehouseman, of 6, Chamber Street, Whitechapel, said that on the night in question he was opposite the prosecutor’s shop, when he heard a scream. He then saw the prosecutor’s daughter, who called out to the witness, “They are murdering my father.”

The witness went into the shop and saw the prisoner having hold of the prosecutor’s throat, and punching him about the face and chest. The prosecutor was covered with blood.

The witness helped to hold the prisoner until a constable came.


Constable 85 H said that when he arrested the accused he said, “I shan’t tell you what I did it for, but I will tell the magistrate.”

He had been drinking.

When he entered the shop, the prisoner had hold of the prosecutor tightly by the throat, and was punching him in the ribs with his right fist.

The prisoner, having been formally cautioned, said, “I will say nothing.”

Mr. Saunders committed him for trial on the charge of attempted murder.