I recently had the pleasure of talking with Richard Patterson about his favoured Jack the Ripper suspect, the poet and mystic Francis Thompson (1859 – 1907).
Richard shared some intriguing insights with me about the life of Francis Thompson, and you can see them in the video on my YouTube channel.
WATCH THE FRANCIS THOMPSON VIDEO
THE LIFE OF FRANCIS THOMPSON
Born in Preston, Lancashire in 1859, into an ordinary middle class family – his father, Charles, was a doctor who had converted to Catholicism – Francis Thompson’s early childhood seems to have been unexceptional for the time.
SENT AWAY TO SCHOOL
At the age of eleven he was sent away to Ushaw College, a catholic seminary that was located near Durham in the north of England.
He was a shy and sensitive boy, he spent much of his leisure time in the college library, where he developed a fondness for books on history and poetry.
His writing skills developed considerably over this period, coming first in the class in sixteen essays out of twenty taken.
HE STUDIED MEDICINE
His school days over, Thompson went on to study medicine for nearly eight years at Owens College in Manchester, albeit he was lacking in any enthusiasm for medical studies, although he did excel at essay writing.
He never actually practised as a doctor, and, having left college, he tried to join the army, but was rejected on the grounds of his slightness of stature.
HEADED TO LONDON
In 1885, he headed to London, where he tried to make his living as a writer, supplementing his allowance from his father with various odd jobs, such as selling matches on the streets of the capital.
It was during this period that he became addicted to opium.
Thompson would wander the streets of London, and would sleep on the streets around Caring Cross as well as on the banks of the River Thames.
He applied for Oxford University, but was turned down on account of his addiction, and, having reached rock bottom, he contemplated suicide. However, he was saved by a vision in which the poet Thomas Chatterton appeared to him.
BEFRIENDED BY A PROSTITUTE
Francis was then befriended by a prostitute, whose name he never revealed, who gave him both lodgings and encouragement. He would later describe her as his “saviour” in his poetry.
HIS WRITING CAREER
In 1888, he sent examples of his writings to Merrie England, a magazine edited by Wilfred and Alice Meynell, who, on reading it, were struck by the vividness of it.
They took him into their home, helped him battle his opium addiction, and, during this period – 1888 – 1897 – he wrote most of his greatest poetry.
WAS HE JACK THE RIPPER?
Of course, 1888 was the year that the Jack the Ripper murders occurred, and Richard Patterson suggests that, since Thompson was around the East End at the time, and since he had had medical training, then this makes him a candidate for the mantle of having been the Whitechapel murderer.
Whether he was or not, you can decide by watching the video and drawing your own conclusions about Francis Thompson’s viability as a suspect.