In The Courts April 1888

Today when we talk about crime in 1888, the chances are that we are discussing the Jack the Ripper case, or at least the generic Whitechapel Murders.

Indeed, the fact that this murder spree became so well known tends to distract us from the fact that many other crimes were taking place, both prior to and after the start and the finish of the ripper’s reign of terror that lasted from August to November 1888.

It should, however, be remembered that, despite their ubiquitous nature, the Jack the Ripper crimes were, comparatively speaking, a small part of the crime scene in London.

So, today, I thought it would be interesting to look at what crimes had come before the courts this week in 1888.

The source for the following cases is the edition of Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper dated the 29th April 1888.


We begin our journey around the crime scenes of London in the East End of London with a shooting case that had taken place at a Brick Lane pub.

According to the newspaper report:-

“James Matthews, manager of the Two Brewers public-house, Brick-lane, Spitalfields, was charged with firing a revolver at a young man named Henry Blaming, with intent to murder him.

The prosecutor had been potman at the house of the accused, and was tried at the Old Bailey on Jan. 31 last, on the charge of committing an indecent assault on the defendant’s daughter, a girl of tender age.

He was “Acquitted ” by the jury, and the same evening he went with two friends into the Two Brewers public-house, where, it was alleged, he laughed at the defendant, and jeered and triumphed over him.

Matthews then drew from his pocket a revolver and fired two shots, wounding him severely in the abdomen.

When arrested the prisoner made no secret of what he had done, and expressed his regret that he had not killed the prosecutor.

The house surgeon of the London hospital deposed that at one time the prosecutor was in considerable danger, and that he would still suffer considerable inconvenience, as one of the bullets had not been extracted.

The jury found the prisoner “Guilty” of unlawful wounding, and strongly recommended him to mercy.

He was sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour.”


Meanwhile, a young lady named Rebecca Halkiss found herself before the magistrate at Thames Police Court.

The newspaper afforded her case a brief mention:-

“A smart-looking woman, named Rebecca Halkiss was charged with attempting to drown herself.

She was seen by a policeman to attempt to throw herself into the water from New Gravel-lane-bridge.

When spoken to, she said she was tired of life.

She now told the magistrate that she had had a good deal of trouble, and on Tuesday night took a “little drop” to drown her thoughts.

She was now very sorry.

The magistrate discharged her.”


Over at Southwark Police Court, a rather disturbing story was unfolding, as Lloyd’s reported under the above headline:-

“Arthur Ketley, hackney carriage driver, badge 11,768, appeared on a summons charging him with unlawfully assaulting Ellen Christy, the wife of Henry George Christy, manager of the Carved Red Lion, 2, Essex-road, Islington, on the 15th inst.

The prosecutrix stated that on Sunday, the 15th inst., she attended the funeral of a relative and left Hollyoak-road, Newington-butts, about a quarter past 11 o’clock at night.

When she was near the Clock tower she saw the defendant, and asked him how much he would take her to Islington-green for, and he replied, 2s.

She got into his cab and he drove her as far as Newington-causeway.

When they arrived near the Sessions house, an ill-lighted place at that time, the defendant suddenly pulled up, and, getting off his seat, came to her and asked her where it was she said she wanted to go to, and she replied, “Islington-green.”

Then he asked how much he had agreed to take her for, and she told him 2s.

Defendant then demanded that sum at once.

Witness,who became frightened, asked him why he had stooped at a lonely place like that to ask for his fare, but he only replied with a volley of foul and threatening language.

She got so much alarmed that she offered to pay him ls., the fare to that place, but he said he would not let her go until she gave him 2s. She got up to try to get out of the cab, but he threw her back with great force.

Just then a man came up and told her he would go for a constable.

Defendant then said he was a fighting man.

A constable came up, and the defendant was uncivil to him. At first he refused to show his badge, but afterwards produced it from an under coat pocket.

She got out of the cab.

This evidence having been corroborated, the defendant, who was also charged with not wearing his badge, simply said he was innocent.

Mr. Slade said for the minor offence of not wearing his badge a line of ls. and 6s. costs would be inflicted.

Defendant’s conduct towards this lady had been outrageous, and he ordered his licence to be cancelled, and for the assault he must undergo 14 days’ hard labour.”


At Marlborough Street Police Court, the law had, apparently, finally court up with an aged conman who had been preying on the well-intention residents of London for fifty years:-

“John Sullivan, alias Clarke, Hammond, Ward, Walton, and Fordham, 81 years of age, and described as a hairdresser, having no fixed abode, was charged on a warrant with unlawfully endeavouring to procure a charitable contribution by means of a fraudulent pretence.

Detective-serjeant Richards deposed that on Monday evening he arrested the prisoner in Queen-street, City.

He at first denied that his name was Sullivan, and on the way to the station endeavoured to throw away some documents that were in his possession.

The sworn information on which the warrant was granted was read.

It stated that on the 22nd of last March the prisoner called upon Mr. Arthur Jervoise Scott at his residence in Grafton-street, Bond-street, and pretending to collect for a Mrs. Clarke, who had lost a horse and cart, obtained a sovereign.

Detective-serjeant Turrell said that there were a number of cases against the accused, who for the last 50 years had been defrauding charitably-disposed persons.

Prisoner was remanded.”


Four flower girls had also been making a decided nuisance of themselves by plying their trade in such a way as to obstruct the public highway:-

“Four flower-girls were summoned by the police for exposing flowers for sale on the footway – two of them in Liverpool-street and two in New Bridge-street – and thereby causing an obstruction or annoyance to foot passengers.

The evidence was to the effect that the defendants persisted in keeping on the footway, and in following up passengers and annoying them by thrusting flowers in their faces.

Alderman Renals said his experience of the City flower-girls was that they caused considerable obstruction and annoyance.

The police and the magistrates had been very lenient to them.  That was because they did not wish to prevent their getting an honest living. They must, however, be made to obey the police regulations.

With this caution he would discharge the defendants now, but they would be fined if brought up again.”


At Bow Street Police Court an alleged pickpocket found himself appearing before the magistrate, Mr Bridge, in what appears to have been a case of mistaken identity:-

“William T. Baker, 32, of respectable appearance, was charged with having attempted to pick pockets at the entrances to the Adelphi and Lyceum theatres.

Detective-constable Henry Collins, of the E division, said that at 10 minutes to seven o’clock on Saturday evening he saw the prisoner outside the pit entrance of the Adelpht.

He first worked on the outskirts of the crowd, and then pressed close to two ladies and a gentleman, until one of the ladies suddenly turned round and looked him in the face, after which he “eased himself ” out of the crowd, and walked along the Strand to the Lyceum, where he mixed with the crowd at the pit entrance of that theatre, and while there he acted in a suspicious manner.

Ultimately he placed his hand in the pocket of a lady who was entering the theatre.

He then followed with the crowd to the barrier, turned round, and was walking away when witness took him into custody.

Almost immediately afterwards a purse, containing 10s. in silver, and nine-and-a-halfpence in bronze, was picked up near the theatre, and given to the police.

Another detective said he had had the prisoner under observation for a number of nights at different theatres – mostly on Saturday nights.

One night at the Adelphi he saw his hand in a lady’s pocket, but the lady said that she had not lost anything.

On the same night witness followed him to the Savoy theatre.

Mr. Bridge: Are you sure it is the same man.

Witness: I am quite certain.

For the defence a partner in the firm of Woolf and Co., leather goods manufacturers, of Godliman-street, said that the prisoner had been employed by the firm for over 12 years as clerk.

Mr. Bridge: What has his character been?

Witness: Most irreproachable. We place implicit trust in him. He has charge of the petty cash accounts and collects money. I have never found anything wrong, and I cannot help thinking that the police have made a mistake.

Mr. Bridge: With that character, it is my duty to discharge you, and I must do more than that I must express my opinion that you are not guilty. At the same time, however, I ought to say that the constable may have been mistaken in what he thought he saw. Or, perhaps, what he did see was sufficient to justify him in taking you into custody.”


Frederick Osborne, 38, a fish hawker, was indicted for maliciously wounding Ann Hadland with intent to do her grievous bodily harm.

Tho prosecutrix, who is over 70 years of age, keeps the Fox and Hounds beershop, Pimlico.

On March 16 prisoner went into the beerhouse and was served with some beer.

Mrs. Hadland was alone in the bar, and the prisoner then called attention to the dull condition of the fire in the taproom. Mrs. Hadland went to stir it, when she was attacked by the prisoner, receiving two wounds on her head, which bled very much, one being lacerated and the other contused, and which the doctor stated might have been caused by a poker. She screamed, and prisoner ran out of the private door in Gregory-street, and it was afterwards found that the public door in Union-street had been bolted inside. A poker covered with blood was found in the taproom.

Prisoner was arrested on the 20th. His defence was that he had been drinking all day before he went to the beershop, that he had a dispute with the prosecutrix about the short measure she had given (which, however, she denied), and that when she went to stir the fire, he kicked her with his heavy-nailed boots.

The jury found the prisoner “Guilty” of unlawfully wounding, and the Recorder sentenced the prisoner to two months’ hard labour, remarking that he accepted the prisoner’s explanation that he did not use the poker.

The sentence caused some surprise in court.”


Some of the most difficult cases for juries to decide on in the 19th century were cases of parents, or grandparents, murdering a new born child. Since there were seldom any witnesses to the crime the defence nearly always claimed that the child had either been born dead, or had died shortly after birth from natural causes. The jury had to decide whether this was, in fact, the case, or whether the parent, or grandparent, had murdered the child.

This was the quandary that had faced a jury at the Bailey in the preceding week:-

“An elderly and well-dressed woman named Esther Jane Hart surrendered to answer two indictments, one charging her with the wilful murder of a male child belonging to her daughter, Norah Hart, and the other charging her with the murder of a female child belonging to the same person.

The prisoner resided at Edmonton, and her daughter Norah, a single woman, gave birth to twins.

The question before the jury was whether these died a natural death.

The learned judge expressed an opinion that it would be impossible to sustain a charge of murder, and the jury consequently returned a verdict of not guilty.”


And so the selection of cases from the week prior to the 29th April 1888 draws to a close.

These cries, and these criminals were all contemporaries of Jack the Ripper, but their names have, largely, been long forgotten whereas the unknown miscreant has bee, in many ways, elevated to the realm of legend and his name is almost immortal.

But, to put his crimes into the context of the era in which they occurred, I feel that it is imperative that we  get some idea of the larger criminal background of the age, and so I hope to, in the near future, return to the 19th century courts and outline a few of the other, ordinary and, in many ways, mundane, cases that the Victorian  police and authorities had to deal with as they prepared to pit their wits against history’s most infamous criminal.