The horrors of life for the poor and destitute in Victorian London were constantly being mentioned in the newspapers of the age.
Reading the accounts of the hardships faced by those long ago residents can be both distressing and depressing.
Indeed, when placed against the number of victims of Jack the Ripper, the statistics reveal one awful fact – starvation, want, neglect and exposure claimed more victims over the course of any given year, than the Whitechapel murderer claimed in the course of three years.
And yet, since this was an almost invisible death toll, that lacked the sudden and appalling violence of the Ripper crimes, it failed to infiltrate the consciousness of the nation and cause the revulsion that the 1888 East End atrocities did.
But, in many ways, and not to belittle the fates of the victims of Jack the Ripper, some of the deaths of the poor of London were every bit as horrible as the Ripper crimes.
These were, after all, victims of society at large, as opposed to victims of a lone miscreant.
But, if thought about, their deaths were just as sordid, just as horrible, just as tragic as the deaths of the Whitechapel murders victims.
THE RETURNS FOR 1900
In September, 1901, the returns for the deaths in London over the course of 1901 were published, and were picked up by newspapers across the country over the course of the subsequent week.
The London Daily News published the following account of it on Monday, 23rd September, 1901:-
DEATHS FROM STARVATION IN LONDON
HOW THE POOR HAVE DIED
“How the poor live is a theme that has often engaged the attention of author and journalist, but it remains for the cold, matter-of-fact pages of a Parliamentary return to record how some of them die.
The return, issued on Saturday, shows the number of occurring in London during 1900 due directly to starvation or accelerated privation. It deals, however, only with those cases upon which coroner’s jury has returned a verdict.
AN UNHAPILLY LARGE NUMBER OF DEATHS
The total is, unhappily, as high as 53, and, from the figures given below, it will be seen that the eastern and the north-eastern districts have contributed the largest number to this sad, tragic roll.
The Borough of Southwark, which has long been described as having within its borders the most poverty-stricken aggregation of humanity of any metropolitan district of the same size, affords a refreshing relief by providing one case only.
THE STARK FIGURES
Here are the figures from the several districts in County of London:-
North Eastern….. 13
South Western….. 4
South Eastern….. 1
Borough of Southwark….. 1
City and Liberty of Westminster….. 2.
SOME OF THE CASES
The return also gives the observations furnished to the Local Government Board by the Boards of Guardians, with reference to the cases reported upon.
Appended are some of the details supplied:-
The wife of a coal porter, age 46. Verdict – Exhaustion from want of sufficient food refused during a considerable period in consequence of being of unsound mind.
Guardians’ observations – An application was made I6th December, 1899, by the husband for medical attendance for his wife.
A visiting medical order and medical nourishments were granted on the same day.
On 21st December, the patient was removed to the sick asylum on the recommendation of the district medical officer.
DIED FROM NEGLECT
A young woman, whose age is given as, 19, died from pleurisy and bronchitis, accelerated neglect.
The deceased was found by the police in Whitechapel, ill and destitute.
She was taken to the infirmary and at once admitted, but died the following day.
She stated that she had no friends and had made no application for relief.
EXPOSURE AND WANT OF FOOD
A hawker, aged 83 years. Died from bronchitis, accelerated by exposure and want of food.
Deceased was found by the police, homeless and destitute. He was taken to the infirmary and at once admitted, but he died on the following day.
He was a vendor of matches.
On a previous occasion (20th March, 1900), the deceased was found destitute in Brick-lane, taken to the infirmary at 11.15 p.m., and two days later was transferred to the workhouse, from which he voluntarily discharged himself on the 9th of May.
The relieving offices have no further knowledge of the deceased.
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
A woman unknown, 40. Died from cardiac failure, caused by exposure.
Deceased, found by the police ill in Whitechapel, was taken to the police station.
The divisional surgeon, who was called in, ordered her immediate removal to the infirmary, where she was admitted, but died two hours later.
The relieving officer had no knowledge of the deceased.
THE HOMELESS LABOURER
A homeless labourer, aged 40. Found dying in the street.
Verdict. Death from pneumonia and destitution.
There is no record of any application to the relieving officer.
THE HOMELESS WIDOW
A homeless widow, aged 66.
Found ill in the street; died from congestion of the lungs and exposure and destitution.
No application for relief was made the deceased.
THE DOLL MAKER
A woman of 65; occupation doll maker, receiving 2s. 6d. weekly, poor law relief.
Workhouse offered and accepted, but died of exhaustion from congestion of the lungs and want of necessaries and nursing.
A cabinet maker (Shoreditch), aged 48.
SYNCOPE AND PLEURISY
Died from syncope and pleurisy, and want food and necessaries.
Was brought to the infirmary on a costermonger’s barrow, and at once admitted.
No previous application made for admission.
A domestic servant, aged 53, found dying in the street and expired two-and-a-half hours after admission to the workhouse.
Verdict: “Syncope when suffering from disease of the heart and lungs, accelerated by exposure, want of proper nourishment, and from self-neglect.”
A previous application for relief had been made.
DEATH OF A WATERMAN
A waterman, aged 49.
Found ill in the street, and taken to the infirmary: died from consumption, want of food, and self-neglect.
The deceased was in the workhouse five months previously, and four months before his death was sent to prison for neglecting work.
A further application was made for relief to the Guardians or their officers until he was found ill in the street by the police, and taken to the infirmary.”