In early October 1888, the inquest into the death of Jack the Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes got underway in a room above the City of London mortuary in Golden Lane.
Catherine had been murdered on the 30th of September, 1888, in Mitre Square on the eastern fringe of the City of London, which meant the inquest was not presided over by Wynne Baxter, the Coroner whose name had been in the newspapers a great deal in recent weeks, owing to his having presided over the deaths of Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman.
The Coroner in this case was Samuel Frederick Langham, who appears not to have been so determined to turn the inquest into his own personal soapbox as Baxter had done with the inquests he had presided over.
REPORTS ON THE PROCEEDINGS
In its issue on Sunday the 7th of October 1888, Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, reported on the opening of the inquest and treated its readers to a detailed sketch of the room in which it had taken place; and the principle characters who had participated in the proceedings.
The reporter appears to have been very taken with both Mr. Coroner Langham and with Dr. Gordon Brown, the surgeon to the City of London police force, almost to the point of being smitten by them!
However, the article itself is interesting in that it enables us to look back at the proceedings:-
SKETCH OF THE CITY CORONER’S COURT
“The above sketch shows the City Coroner’s court in Golden Lane during the examination of Mrs. Eliza Gold, the first witness on Thursday, and a sister of the murdered woman.
CORONER LANGHAM PRESIDING
In the top corner of the left Mr. Coroner Langham is depicted in one of his reflective moments, when, having raised his spectacles, he is deliberating some knotty point previous to asking another question of a witness, or replying to Mr. Crawford, the City solicitor, who assists in the inquiry.
PC WATKINS WAS PRESENT
On the opposite side appears the serious face of Watkins (881), the policeman who discovered the body in Mitre-square at 16 minutes to two on Sunday morning.
JOHN KELLY THE VICTIM’S PARTNER
John Kelly, the “gentleman,” who lived with the dead woman, is a peculiar looking man, as will be seen by his picture.
He is a man of perhaps 40 years, with a fresh coloured face, bronzed by a recent hop-picking excursion, a head of thick black hair, a somewhat low forehead, and moustache and imperial.
He wore the fustian clothes of a market labourer, with a deep blue scarf round his neck, and spoke with a clear, deep, sonorous voice.
THE DEPUTY LODGING HOUSE KEEPER
Another type of character associated with the East-end is the deputy of the lodging-house in Flower and Dean Street, Frederick Wilkinson, who appeared very ill at ease in the coroner’s court, and who seemed to be longing for his box at home.
DR. GORDON BROWN
Both forcibly contrast with the handsome face of Dr. Gordon Brown, the surgeon to the City of London police force, who was called to see the body in the square and afterwards conducted the post-mortem examination.
While waiting to be called he was preparing himself a pictorial memento of the tragedy, being occupied in making sketches of other witnesses.
It took the doctor two hours to tell the horrible story of the injuries inflicted upon the body of the deceased.
DID THE KILLER POSSESS MEDICAL KNOWLEDGE?
According to Dr. Brown, the person who inflicted the wounds possessed a good deal of knowledge of the position of the organs of the body and the way of removing them.
“Did you say possessed some medical knowledge?” suggested the coroner.
“No, not necessarily,” replied Dr. Gordon Brown, and he afterwards added that it was such knowledge as would most likely be possessed by one accustomed to cutting up animals.
A NEW INQUEST LOCATION
The City has departed from the old custom of holding an inquest at the nearest public-house, and provided a lofty and fairly commodious room over the Mortuary.
Its arched roof is depicted in the sketch, and also the arrangement of the court – the jury being seated in a double row on the left, and the legal gentlemen and leading police officers on the right.
GOOD, HONEST WATER!
It may be as well to state that the jugs and glasses shown on the centre table, devoted to the use of reporters, contained the harmless beverage of good “honest water.”
A MOMENTARY PUZZLE
At the outset the coroner was momentarily puzzled by finding one juryman in the box over and above the number who answered to their names.
THE BLOODSTAINED APRON
Some little excitement, more especially amongst the relatives and friends of the deceased woman, was occasioned by the passing of a Metropolitan policeman with a bag which contained the bloodstained apron and other evidences of the tragedy; but on the whole the day’s proceedings were productive of few incidents.
MANY PEOPLE WANTED TO ATTEND
The room is a fairly large one, but accommodation was at a premium, so great was the interest which centred in this attempt to ascertain by what means and at whose hands the deceased came by her death.
Only a very favoured few of the general public, however, managed to get in.
AN INSPECTION OF THE CRIME SCENE
Before proceeding to the mortuary Mr. S. F. Langham made a personal inspection of the scene of the crime, with a view to the better appreciation of the evidence bearing on the position of the body.
CITY OFFICIALS PRESENT
The zealous interest of the Corporation in the proceedings was very manifest.
Mr. Crawford, the City solicitor, started many theories, and the Commissioner, Colonel Sir James Fraser, the Assistant-Commissioner, and Supt. Foster were present, noting any possible clue.”