Bloodhounds And Rewards

By early October, 1888, many theories and suggestions were in circulation as to the best means by which the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities could be hunted down and brought to justice.

It was still a bone of contention with sections of the media, as well as the public in general, that no official state reward was being offered for information that might lead to the miscreant’s apprehension.

It was also being widely discussed whether bloodhounds might prove a useful means of pursuit in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.

The bloodhounds used in the trials.
The Bloodhounds. From The Illustrated London News, 20th October 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


On Wednesday, the 3rd of October 1888, The Dundee Courier updated its readers on the prospect of a state-sanctioned reward being offered and about the opinion of the scientific community as to how viable bloodhounds might prove as detectives:-


London, Tuesday Night.

There is still no clue to the Whitechapel murderer, who, if he be sane enough to appreciate a joke, must enjoy the discomfiture of the police.

The incompetency of the detectives to effect a satisfactory capture naturally intensifies the panic from which the inhabitants of the sore pressed districts are suffering, but there is a certain measure of grateful relief found in the reward which has been offered, and which, it is believed, may put an end, after a practical fashion, to this reign of terror.


There is much indignation over the refusal of the Home Secretary to offer a State reward for the capture of the murderer, but Mr. Matthews will, I understand, point out in Parliament, if he is called upon for an explanation, that he is simply following the course initiated two or three years ago by his predecessor, Sir William Harcourt, who himself came to the conclusion that the detection of blood-stained fugitives ought not to rest upon the mercenary conditions of State bribes.


The scientific hypotheses of Professor Wortley Axe, of the Royal Veterinary College, meanwhile are dead against the theory that bloodhounds form a ready-made auxiliary to the police for the detection of fugitives.

The bloodhound, it seems, needs scientific training for the business, and although many hundreds of the species exist, they would in an untrained state be of no more practical use than a setter or any other dog which has a natural nose for blood.


Again, even if Scotland Yard were endowed with a leash of expert bloodhounds, it would be useless unless the scent were taken up in a term immediately after the commission of the murder.

If the pursuit rested upon what is called an air track, this condition would be an imperative one, as the atmosphere with us is constantly being disturbed by the passage of human and other beings.

Again, a foot trace is equally liable to obliteration from the possible presence upon the pavement or in the roadway of other blood marks, some of them human, the result of natural deposits.

So it will be seen that the success of the application of bloodhounds depends upon – first the capacity of the dogs themselves, and secondly, upon the condition of the clue to be tracked out.

The Professor’s explanation, even when qualified with his conditions of possible success, will be acceptable to Scotland Yard, whose unwillingness to use this ancient and not over refined method of pursuit has met with much condemnation.