Callous Ballads

One way in which people have always found solace in the wake of horrible happenings is to use humour as a coping mechanism.

The Jack the Ripper murders were no exception to this, and, as the murders were raging in the area, street ballads were on open sale in the streets of Whitechapel.

It must be said that these ballads were not particularly eloquent, but they do reveal to us today, one of the ways in which the atrocities were impacting on the district.

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, in its edition of Tuesday, 11th December, 1888, took issue with the way that people were finding humour in the murders:-


The lower-class cockney is a callous personage. Startled from time to time out of his pachydermatous insouciance by the horrible murders of which his district has recently been the scene, the denizen of Whitechapel soon reverts to his former condition.

Amid the saddest and sternest realities of life, with vice and crime reeking up from the alleys on every side of him, he preserves an attitude of almost brutal stoicism.

A ghoulisg figure place posters about murder on a wall.
Punch Magazine Comments On The Excitement Being Generated By The Whitechapel Murders.


The dweller in Whitechapel has been hardened by long familiarity with the most revolting aspects of life.

Poverty is his constant attendant, and in his struggles to ward off its clutches he becomes blinded to the moral horror of his surroundings. That is rather much, of course, to say of Whitechapel as whole.


Out of the slums where “Jack the Ripper” has plied his horrible task it is, we fear, only too true.

To what, for instance, but a wholesale deadening of the moral sense are we to attribute the outburst of ghastly humour with which the street ballads of Whitechapel have lately been flooded?


Of many of these unique efforts, as reported by a London contemporary, the Whitechapel murderer is the hero.

His awful deeds are described with doggerel callousness that makes sensitive people shudder, and plenty of slangy comicality is infused into these ballades of the proletariat.


The man who can find matter for fun in the Murder and Mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly will extract laughter from anything, and what are we to say of the taste of the poetaster who can choose as a rollicking refrain to his gruesome ditty “The champion Ripper Of All?”


Here is a sample of the precious stuff, miscalled poetry, which finds wide and ready sale on the streets of Whitechapel:-

Now at night when you’re undressed,
and about to go to rest,
Just see that he ain’t underneath the bed,
If he is you mustn’t shout,
but politely drag him out,
And with your poker tap him on the head.
So look out, Jack the Ripper,
we’re on your blooming track,
There’s a pretty piece of rope for you in store;
We’ll give you beans, old bogey;
then, good old ripper Jack,
You’ll never go out killing any more.”