There were, most certainly, some pretty horrible crimes perpetrated in London in the 19th century.
Aside from the Jack the Ripper atrocities, which tend to be the ones that occupy us today, a range of horrible murders were reported in the Victorian newspapers.
The murder of children – such as that of Percy Knight Searl in late November, 1888 – genuinely shocked the people of Victorian Britain, just as they would and do today.
Sadly, this murder was not an isolated incident and such atrocities appear with tragic regularity in the pages of the 19th century newspapers.
In January, 1899, for example, 44 year old George Robertson murdered 11- year old Mary Kenealy in Drury Lane in the West End of London.
The Illustrated Police Budget took up the story on Saturday 4th February 1899:-
INNOCENT CHILD MURDERED AND MUTILATED
A Bloodcurdling Tragedy In the Heart of London
A revolting tragedy was perpetrated in the vicinity of Drury Lane last week.
A little girl named Mary Kenealy, living with her parents at 9, Goldsmith Street, was found lying on the stairs in the afternoon with her throat cut, and with injuries to other parts of the body. Her wounds were serious and the loss of blood so great that she died on her way to the hospital.
Goldsmith Street, Drury Lane, is a narrow side street of tenement-houses. No. 9, in which the murder was perpetrated, is occupied by many families of the poorer working-class population of this dreary locality.
THE MURDERED GIRL
The little girl who was murdered lived with her father and mother and three other children on the third door. Mary, the victim of the crime, was a pretty. golden haired little girl of four years, who went to school at times, and when at home played about the house and in the street.
When last seen alive by the neighbours she was playing in the street. She then went into the house where her parents lived, and ascended to the top floor, which was occupied by a woman with whom she was on good terms. The woman was not in the house, and it appears that the child when returning downstairs was intercepted and brutally murdered.
A SUSPECT ARRESTED
On Wednesday night, a man who is alleged be the murderer of Mary Kenealy was arrested by Detective Gray at a lodging-house in Crawford Street, Canning Town. When told that he would be detained on suspicion of committing the crime, he replied, “That’s unfortunate for me.”
HIS COURT APPEARANCE
The prisoner, George Robertson, alias “Shorty” and “Little Tich,” described as a labourer, of no fixed abode, was brought up at Bow Street charged with the wilful murder of the little girl. He is quite a dwarfish individual, his legs being so short that the trousers supplied to him the police had been turned up about half a foot the bottom.
In the dock he took a stealthy glance Mr. Lushington, and thereafter kept his eyes fixed on his boots, nervously twirling his hat between his hands.
THE VICTIM’S MOTHER
Mary Kenealy, the mother of the victim, said that she last saw her daughter alive at 1.30 on Monday afternoon, when she was playing in the street opposite the house.
A little before two o’clock her son, Patrick, told her that his sister was in a neighbours room; but she (witness) took no notice.
About an hour later William Caldon, a lad who lodges on the second floor, came to her, and, in consequence of what he said, she ran down to the second floor landing, where she saw her son John, a boy of ‘fourteen, with poor little Mary in his arms. There was blood on her face and head, and she was lifeless.
SHE CONFRONTS THE SUSPECT
Continuing Mrs. Kenealy said that she looked into the back room on the second floor, and saw “that man” (pointing to the prisoner) on his knees wiping up some blood at the foot of the bed. There was no one else in the room. She said to the prisoner, “What have you done to my child?” and he replied, “Nothing whatever, It was not done in here.” She exclaimed, ‘‘You villain, look at the blood on your boots.”
The prisoner then ran away up the street.
THE PRISONER CONTRADICTED AND REMANDED
Robertson here stated that when the child was found he was on the bed, and the door of the room was locked; but Mrs. Kenealy said the door had no lock.
The prisoner has been identified by the lad Caldon.
At the police station a pair of scissors was found in one his pockets.
Mr. Lushington directed him to be remanded for a week.
A correspondent has been told, on excellent authority, that although there was no outrage, in the sense in which the term is generally used in cases of this kind, a knife was used on the murdered child’s body in a revolting manner.
Our Special Commissioner, who was on the spot immediately after the sad occurrence, obtained entrance, and is enabled to present to our readers the actual room wherein the murder took place, and also the very spot where the poor little victim was found.
HER FATHER SPEAKS OUT
The unfortunate and unhappy father – a most respectable and hard-working young man – informed us that he only rescued little Mary from his burning house a year ago in his own arms.
The whole of Monday night he and seven faithful friends – formidable specimens of honest British manhood – had been out all night driving in a cart, searching for the murderer – if “they” had only caught him.”
On Thursday 9th March 1899, George Robertson appeared at the Central Criminal Court, charged with the murder of Mary Kenealy. The defence was that he was of weak intellect and, therefore, not responsible for his actions.
The jury, however, found him guilty of murder, and the judge, Justice Bingham, sentenced him to death.
He was executed at Newgate Prison on Tuesday 28th March, 1899.