Whitechapel most certainly had a reputation for all sorts of crime and violence, even before the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.
However, one of the most common forms of crime was that of domestic violence, and cases in which husbands assaulted wives – and vice versa – appear with depressing regularity in the pages of the Victorian newspapers. Indeed, so common was spousal abuse that people tended to ignore the resultant cries and screams that went with it.
The root cause of much of the domestic violence was drunkenness, and there is no doubt that the heavy drinking that was almost endemic in the district was a major contributor to the crime rate in the East End of London.
A BIZARRE DISTURBANCE
Of course, the people tasked with stepping in a quelling the violence when it occurred were the police officers whose job it was to patrol the district and to try and enforce a semblance of law and order.
However, in June, 1882, Police Constable Strachan, of the Metropolitan Police’s H Division, was summoned to the scene of a domestic disturbance which, to say the least, was somewhat bizarre.
The Mid-Sussex Times reported the incident in its edition of Tuesday, 20th June, 1882:-
HORRIBLE SCENE AT A WAKE
“Late at night, a few days ago, a horrible scene occurred at a house in Bowyer’s Buildings, Whitechapel, London, a regular Irish colony.
A young woman, named Nora Sullivan, had died in one of the hospitals in the area, and her body was brought home to the house of her married sister, a woman by the name of Tucker, who lives at Bowyer’s Buildings.
Arrangements were made for holding a wake upon the corpse.
The room in which the body lay was accordingly decorated with flowers and other items, whilst large wax candles were placed about the apartment wherever room could be found for them.
MR TUCKER ARRIVES HOME
Some little time before the proceedings commenced, Mrs Tucker’s husband, who, for some reason or other, had objected to the body being at the place, came home the worse for drink and commenced to make a disturbance, saying that he was “not going to have the corpse there, and that he meant to turn out.”
His wife and some of the friends and neighbours who were present tried to persuade him to keep quiet, but he would not do so, and he went towards the room where the body lay.
On reaching the apartment, he found that the door was locked, and he at once demanded that his wife should open it so that he might go in and “throw the thing out of the window.”
HE BROKE INTO THE ROOM
On his wife’s refusing to do what he asked, he smashed chair, and, with a portion of it, he broke open the door and ran into the room.
His wife and some others followed him, and were horrified to see him catch hold of the corpse with one hand, draw a knife that he had secreted with the other and declare that he meant to “cut the corpse’s throat.”
He was proceeding to put his fearful threat into execution, when those in the room clung round him and prevented him from doing as he intended.
However, in the struggle, the body was upset.
THE ALARM WAS RAISED
An alarm had meantime been raised, and Police-constable Strachan, 179 H, was called in, and he assisted to get Tucker out of the room.
He was ultimately removed from the house.
The wake then proceeded, and the body was subsequently taken away amidst considerable excitement.”