Death From The Frog’s March

In April, 1889, the newspapers were up in arms (quite literally) at the news that a prisoner in the East End of London had died in police custody whilst being “frog marched” to the police station.

The “frog’s march”, as it was known at the time, was a particularly brutal practice that was employed by the Victorian police in order to get struggling and violent criminals to the police station with the least amount of disruption.

It consisted of several constables lifting the man, or woman, by their arms and legs and then carrying them, face down – and, as the story which broke towards the end of March, 1889, illustrates, its usage could have fatal consequences.

The Leicester Chronicle covered the story on Saturday, 30th March 1889:-


“On Saturday morning Dr. Macdonald, M.P., the coroner, received the particulars of the death of Samuel Mahoney, aged 28, a labourer, which occurred on Friday afternoon at the Commercial Street Police-station under suspicious circumstances.

Between five and six on Friday afternoon, two constables were called to the Gun Tavern, Boundary Street, Shoreditch, to eject some men who were creating a disturbance.

The deceased was among them, and became exceedingly abusive. He was asked to leave, but refused, and savagely attacked the constables, kicking one officer so that he became unfit for duty.

Eventually, on assistance arriving, he was taken into custody, but was so violent that it took six constables to carry him to the police station.

On their reaching there, however, the prisoner appeared unconscious, and Dr. Phillips, the divisional surgeon, was sent for, and on examining the deceased pronounced life extinct.

It is stated by persons who witnessed the affair, though this is denied by the police, that the man was given what is known as “the frog’s march” – that is, being carried by the arms and legs face downwards.

His head, it is alleged, was hanging down in such a manner that he was suffocated (the police surgeon says he broke a blood vessel) before the procession had got to the corner of Commercial Street, which is about a couple of hundred yards from the Gun.”

Samuel Mahoney being subjected to the Frog's March.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, April 13th, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board and Richard Jones.


On the evening of Saturday, 30th March, 1889, The Exmouth Journal, carried the following report on the inquest into Samuel Mahoney’s death:-

“Dr. Macdonald has held an inquiry at the Shoreditch Town Hall into the circumstances attending the death of Samuel Mahoney, aged 26, a labourer, who is alleged to have been killed by the police giving him what is known as the “frog’s march.”

Inspector Chandler, H Division, attended to watch the case for the Police Commissioners.


Patrick Mahoney, a bricklayer’s labourer, identified the body as that of his brother, with whom he lived. They had dinner together at half-past two on the day of the death of his brother, and the deceased appeared well and hearty. He was perfectly sober at that time.

He had been in prison several times, and only came out after his last sentence at Christmas.

The witness was not with him when he met his death.


Matthew Nagle, of Kingsland Road, deposed that he was in the Gun, but not in the deceased’s company.

Deceased had some ale, and then called for two pots, which he declined to pay for.

The barman called the police in, and they ordered him out. He said he would go when he had drunk his beer. Another constable then came in and deceased walked outside.


As he went Police-constable 347 stepped on his heels, and then pushed him into the road. He struck at the constable, and then two others got hold of him.

There was a struggle, and they all fell together in the road.

Police-constable 347 put his knees on deceased’s throat and chest, and the man went black in the face and appeared to be choking.

Other constables arrived, and deceased was turned over on his face and carried away in that position.

Deceased had evidently been drinking, but was not drunk.


Walter Bailey, inspector of the Road Car Company, deposed that he was on duty outside the Gun, which is the stopping place for their omnibuses.

Witness saw the deceased come out of the public house, and heard Police-constable 213 H ask him to go away and not create a disturbance.

Deceased struck the constable a violent blow.

They then closed, and in trying to release himself the deceased got down.

Police-constable 213 H held him till another constable arrived.

The deceased kicked the second constable in the head.

Other constables soon arrived, and the deceased was placed on his feet. He struggled, and had to be held, but, eventually, he again threw himself down. He was picked up by four policemen and carried to the station.

He was carried face upwards by the arms and shoulders. He was not carried at arms’-length.

He continued struggling and was very violent.

Witness followed for about 50 yards, when he appeared to go more quietly.

As far as the witness saw, he was not at any time carried face downwards, and no more violence than was necessary was used by the police.


Police-constable Thomas Moss, 213 H, deposed that he was called to the Gun to eject the deceased.

After refusing he walked out.

Police-constable 347 H assisted. Deceased struck him in the chest and kicked 347 in the head so violently that he was now on the sick list.

All the way to the station he was very violent.

He was carried face upward, and, on arriving at the station, was found to be insensible.


The divisional surgeon. Dr. Phillips, was at once sent for, and pronounced life extinct.

Dr. George Bagster Phillips, the divisional surgeon of police, deposed that he was called to Commercial-street Police-station, where he found the deceased lying on his back dead. The features were calm, and there were no marks of violence apparent.

A post-mortem examination had since been made, and the cause of death ascertained to be syncope, due to disease of the lungs and the violent exercise which the man had gone through.


A great number of witnesses were in attendance, and the brother of the deceased insisted on them being called.

After the coroner had summed up, the jury asked if the police had not instructions to use an ambulance, and Superintendent Arnold said that was so, but circumstances alter cases, and in this case it was best to carry the man.

While returning a verdict of death from syncope consequent on the excitement of the struggle, the jury desired to add that the ambulance should have been used in this case and in all future cases of similar descriptions, and also that independent medical testimony should be secured, and not the divisional surgeon’s, the “frog’s march” to be discontinued.”

A police officer wheeling a drunk man on a barrow.
A Policeman Wheels A Drunk Man Through The Streets Of The East End.


The Alcester Chronicle, on Saturday 30th March, 1889, commented on the barbarity of the method of conveying a prisoner to the police station, that had, allegedly, been employed by the constables on this particular occasion:-

“The “frog’s march,” as was alleged by witnesses at an East London inquest on Tuesday to have been practised upon a refractory prisoner by the police, to the end that their troublesome charge died under its administration, is a barbarously brutal method of handling a man.

It was not clear that the officers’ use of rough force killed the prisoner, but much hard swearing occurred on either side.

We quite agree with the jury that every possible endeavour should be made to give the public assurance that the fearful savagery of the “frog’s march” sort shall never be practised on any poor wretch, whatever his delinquency.

There are plenty of policemen to render, apart from humanitarian considerations, any such proceedings unnecessary, and there are ambulances in existence.

Policemen are schooled in many methods of reducing the refractory to speedy helplessness; and for the matter of that it would be far less cruel to deliberately break a man’s leg with a truncheon, and place him so hors de combat, than to first kneel on his neck and then to carry him face downward with extended limbs, a procedure than which the rack could not be productive of greater torture.

Whether or not the man who died under police treatment at Shoreditch was really so abused as this it is not safe to say, after the evidence offered; but the matter should be sifted to the bottom, and the “frog’s march” finally given its dismissal from the list of things possible to practise in Britain.”


The popular comic Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, decided to highlight the danger’s of the “Frog’s March” on Saturday, 13th April, 1889 by publishing a cartoon that showed the method of restraint being used in reverse.

The cartoon showed two criminals carrying a face down police constable, holding him by his arms and legs.

The accompanying caption had one of the criminals asking the other:- “It won’t kill him, will it Bill?”

“Dunno,” comes the reply, “don’t matter if it do. They don’t ‘urt yer for it, if yer prisoner ‘appens to die under the ‘frog’s march.'”

The cartton from Ally Sloper's Half Holiday.
From Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, Saturday, 13th April, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board and Richard Jones.


However, the matter was taken so seriously that it was raised in Parliament during questions to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews.

The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, reported the exchange on Monday 1st April, 1889:-

“In reply  to Mr. Pickersgilll, to the recent fatality at Shoreditch to a prisoner, Mr. Matthews said: I am not prepared to prohibit altogether the use of what is called the “frog’s march”, which is had recourse to only when it is absolutely necessary, in order to enable the police to convey to the station exceptionally violent, drunken, disorderly men.

The Commissioner of Police would be glad to receive any practical suggestion as to any safer way in which the police can perform their duties under such exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Gardner asked whether it was not possible to use stretchers.

Mr. Matthews said it was perfectly possible to have stretchers, but it was necessary to use much violence in order to tie persons upon them.

Sir W. Foster asked whether the right hon. gentleman would not issue an order upon the subject, seeing the danger incurred in the frog’s march.

Mr. Matthews said that the Commissioner of Police would consider any practical suggestion which might be made.”


On Saturday 13th April, 1889, The Sheffield Weekly Telegraph also questioned why stretchers could not be employed in the transportation of disruptive prisoners to the police station:-

“The method of carrying a man by the arms and legs with the face downwards has been discontinued in the army.

In the control of violence, the police have generally to deal with excitement due to heavy drinking and this is a condition in which a severe struggle may produce fatal results.

Acute dilatation the heart, with rapid, weak pulse, have been repeatedly observed in acute alcoholism, and with the additional difficulties of respiration and circulation produced by the “frog’s march,” cardiac thrombosis and pulmonary apoplexy may be produced.

Medical evidence attributed death to “syncope, due to disease of the lungs, and the violent exercise the man had gone through.”


Drunken persons have often died while in the charge of the police authorities, and for the credit of the force, as well as for the safety of the unfortunate victims, stretchers should be employed in the conveyance and the treatment of cases of violent drunkenness.


The police are supplied with and trained in the use of wheeled stretchers and litters by the St. John Ambulance Association, and it is to be hoped that improved electrical communication will soon render ambulances as quickly available in cases of emergency as fire escapes and engines at the present time.”