Brutal Assault By Policemen

An intriguing court case took place in 1857 which shows us that, sometimes, the Victorian police were not averse to abusing their power and then blatantly lying about their behaviour to the detriment of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.


On the evening of the 29th July 1857, Mr. Diedrick Rathgen (some newspaper accounts gave his name as Rathjin) attended the annual ball and festival in aid of the Infant German School at Highbury Barn, with his wife and several friends.

The party returned to Whitechapel in the early hours of the next morning in two cabs, and were dropped off alongside St Mary’s Church on Whitechapel Road.

At this point the party split up. Mr Rathgen returned to the family home in Old Montague Street off Brick Lane, whilst his wife and her sister, Mrs. Emma Roberts, conducted a young 14 year old German girl to her nearby home.

A view of the steeple of St Mary's Church.
St Mary’s Church Seen Through Green Dragon Yard, Old Montague Street.


Having seen the girl safely to her door, the two women were returning to Old Montague Street when they encountered Police Constable Hugh Brady, 185-H.

There were conflicting reports as to what happened next and as to how subsequent events unfolded.


According to Constable Brady, as reported in The Morning Advertiser on Thursday October 15th 1857, when Mr Rathgen appeared in court:-

“…he was on duty in George-street, Spitalfields, when, about three in the morning, he heard a noise which proceeded from the defendant and others, who were shouting and quarrelling.

On his interfering, the defendant was most conspicuous in obstructing him in his effort to get them away, and struck him a blow on the head, which stunned him, and then ran into his house and procured a poker, the others beating him while he fetched it.

When he returned he struck him with the poker, and said – ” You damn —, I shall do for you;” and as he continued to strike him with the poker, he at length drew his staff, and used it about defendant’s bead.


Another constable [George Quinley, 125-H] duly came to his assistance, and the defendant then ran into the house.

They pursued him, and eventually lodged him at the station. He was then bleeding from the head. He could not say bow many times he struck him on the head with his truncheon.


Collectors in Old Montague Street.
A Glimpse of Old Montague Street.

Mrs Rathgen and her sister, however, had a slightly different recollection of what had occurred that morning.

According to The East London Observer, having escorted the young German girl home:-

“…they were returning soon after, when Brady, who was on duty on the beat, suddenly overtook them and, without uttering a word, caught hold of Mrs. Rothjin’s velvet mantle and flung it over her head.

On demanding what he meant by such insolent conduct to a respectable woman, who had lived for years in the neighbourhood, Brady replied in the most insulting language, and stated that he knew her to be nothing more than a soliciting prostitute.

He kept up the same insulting observations and continued to follow them until they reached their own door, when her husband, whose attention had been attracted to the altercation, hastened out, and hearing what had occurred quietly took his wife by the arm and led her in doors, with an intimation to the constable that he should certainly report him for his insolence.”


According to The East London Observer article:-

“In less than five minutes both defendants presented themselves at the outer gate, which they burst open, when their entrance was opposed by a young German named Conrad Vienbeim, a lodger, who was instantly knocked down by Brady, who then rushed into the home with the other constable, but they were confronted in the passage by the prosecutor, who was about to take down Brady’s number in his pocket-book, when that officer commenced a merciless attack upon him, and after knocking him down struck him repeated blows with his truncheon as he lay on the floor.


In the struggle that ensued Mr Rathgen succeeded in forcing the truncheon from the officer, retreated in the kitchen, where both of them again attacked him and beat him so brutally that the blood from the wounds in his head blinded him, and he was almost insensible.


They then left the house, and when he had sufficiently recovered, he followed, and observing them at the corner of the street, stated his intention of going to the station house to report their conduct, upon which they said he should go, and seizing him by each arm conveyed him there.


Subsequently he was bailed out, and attended court the following morning, when be was in such a state of suffering and exhaustion, that the magistrate ordered his immediate removal to the London Hospital, and nearly a month elapsed before he was sufficiently recovered to meet the charge, and was ultimately sent to the sessions for trial.”


He appeared at the Middlesex Sessions on the 14th October 1857, charged with having having assaulted Hugh Brady and George Quinley, two police constables, in the execution of their duty.


At the trial Police Constable Quinley testified that:-

“…he went to the assistance of Brady on hearing the disturbance, when one of the women who were with the defendant said he (Brady) bad thrown her cape over her head and insulted her. He saw the defendant hit the constable, who had, he said, called his wife a prostitute. In the scuffle he received a knock on the nose with the poker, and he saw Brady follow defendant into his house. Blows took place, and when he came out the defendant and another person were bleeding from the head. He heard the defendant say he would take the officer’s number, but at what part of the affray he could not tell…”


At the trial, Emma Roberts, Diedrick Rathgen’s sister-law, testified as to her recollection of what occurred that night:

“I live at 16, Little Sutton-street, and am sister-in-law to the defendant. On the morning of the 9th of July I was with him and some friends, returning from a party, and I went home with them.

There was a little girl 14 years of age with us. We saw Brady, the policeman, on duty. We said nothing to him. He laid hold of my sister’s cape, and pulled it over her head, and she asked him what he did that for. He told her to go on, or he would lock her up, as she was only out for the purposes of prostitution.

The defendant, attracted by this, came up, and my sister said to Brady, ” You are here to protect, and not to insult respectable people.”

She told the defendant that she had been insulted by Brady, and he told her to come home, and he would report him the next morning.

Rathgen had not struck Brady when Quinley came up. My sister told him Brady had insulted her. We went indoors, and shut the gate after us.

A young man stood at the gate, and tried to prevent the police entering, as they were attempting so to do, and 185 hit him on the head. They said, ” We will lock some of you up yet.”

They broke open the gate, and rushed in. The defendant had his pocket-book in his hand, and said he would take their number.

They struck him about the head as he stood on the mat. The defendant had neither stick nor poker in his hand; nothing but his pocket-book. He cried “Murder,” and they went away, but came back again, and they and the defendant went to the station. My brother-in-law has lived in the same house in King Arms-court for four years.”


Mr. Adams, the house surgeon at the London Hospital, to which Mr Rathgen had been conveyed for treatment of the injuries he had sustained during the altercation testified that:-

“..the defendant had been under treatment at that institution for wounds of the head, such as would be produced by blows. He was an in-patient twelve days, and was not discharged, but left of his own accord to join his family. His life was in danger some time, and he was not cured when be left.”


At this point, the Jury announced that they had heard quite enough and, despite loud protestations from the Prosecution, they informed the judge that they were going to find the defendant, Diedrick Rathgen, Not Guilty.

He was subsequently dismissed, and as the case came to a close the judge informed the court that it was now inevitable that the two police officers would be prosecuted for perjury.


The two officers appeared before Mr Hammill at the Worship Street Police Court, charged with violently assaulting and seriously injuring Diedrick Rathjin.

According to newspaper reports Brady was, by this time an “ex policeman” whereas George Quinley was still an acting constable.


The jury found Brady guilty and Quinley not guilty.

Passing sentence on Brady, the Bench Magistrate, Mr Creasy, deplored the case as “one of the gravest offences it has been his lot to try.” He would, he said, pass the maximum sentence that the court could pass – and he regretted that he could not sentence him to longer.


Hugh Brady was then sentenced to two years hard labour in the House of Correction and, with that, one of the most shameful episodes in the history of H-Division drew to a close.