Bankrupted By Jack The Ripper

Bankruptcy was a common occurrence in Victorian Britain, probably as common as it is today, so, in fact, little has changed.

The South Wales Daily Echo, in its edition of Thursday, 8th August, 1889, published details of the reasons given by people who had been declared bankrupt, which appeared in a report published by the Board of Trade.

It is interesting that, amongst those whose cases were reported, were those of several Whitechapel publicans who claimed that their misfortunes had been caused by the impact that the Jack the Ripper scare had had on their businesses:-


The report of the Board of Trade on the working of the Bankruptcy Act is out this afternoon, and supplies some interesting information.

It shows, among other things, that, on the most unfavourable basis of comparison, which it is possible to assume, the reduction of the national loss by insolvency, since 1883, amounts to some unascertainable figure of over eight millions sterling per annum.

Last year the estimated total loss to creditors arising under the Bankruptcy Act is the smallest on record since 1869, prior to which period no materials exist for ascertaining the facts.

The loss was a trifle over five millions and a half. Enough -but less than before.


Some of the causes for failure are striking.

The weather is blameable, however the wind blows. Thus an innkeeper fails owing to the long, bad winter, whereas a waterproof garment manufacturer cannot make both ends meet because the fine summer of 1887 (the Jubilee year) was “un favourable to the waterproof trade.”

On the other hand, photographers, florists, and drapers in many cases attribute their failure to the bad summer of last year.

An illustration showing the rain in London.
A Punch Cartoon Showing The Heavy Rain In London. Copyright, The British Library Board.


An innkeeper alleges as the principal cause of his failure the “intemperance his wife and children.”

Some debtors, again, have been brought to the ground by their “large families,” while others attribute their failure to the “expense of burying their children.”

Husbands and wives are somewhat apt to throw the blame for their insolvency upon each other.

Thus a wife carrying on a separate business of shot-belt manufacturer says that her failure is due to the recklessness of her husband. She paid the expenses of the wedding and cleared the husband of many debts which he had contracted prior the marriage. He earned no money afterwards and wasted all that he could get from his wife.

A straw hat manufacturer complains that his wife was in debt when he married her, and he had to pay off some of her debts.

Other instances are “indiscriminate credit given by wife,” “debts incurred by wife without knowledge,” and “my late wife’s improvidence.”


The Whitechapel publican, who traced his insolvency to the terror inspired by the work of Jack the Ripper, has, it appears, many imitators.


Perhaps the simplest and frankest explanation of inability to meet his engagements is given by the bankrupt who describes himself as “a gentleman,” and attributes his failure to “being without income.”