Police work is dangerous work. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever. Those tasked with the job of ensuring the safety and the well-being of society as a whole never know what is going to happen when they go about their duties.
In 19th-century London, the police constables whose job it was to patrol the streets of the Victorian metropolis could sometimes find themselves in situations that put their lives in danger, and one can only guess at the effects that what would now be recognised as Post Traumatic Stress had upon them, in an age when, following a severe trauma on duty, they were meant to just pull themselves together and get on with their lives and return to duty as quickly as possible.
POLICE CONSTABLE HEWITT ATTACKED
On Monday, 24th April, 1882, Police Constable Hewitt was on duty in the Seven Dials district of London, when he saw a group of youths terrorising an elderly man in the street.
As The London Evening Standard reported, on Wednesday, 26th April, 1882, Hewitt wasted no time in intervening, at, as it would transpire, great personal cost:-
ASSAULTING A POLICE CONSTABLE
“Two youths, named Fitzpatrick, alias Connor, and Barry, were charged with violently assaulting Police-constable Hewitt, 463 E, on Monday night, by striking him on the head with pick-axe and spade handles.
Mr. Batchelor appeared on behalf of the Public Prosecutor to support the charge, and the Prisoners were defended by Mr. W. D. Smyth.
BEHAVING IN A DISORDERLY MANNER
Constable Hewitt, who was provided with a chair in the witness-box, said that. on the night in question, he saw a number of boys in Neal-street behaving in a disorderly manner to an old gentleman. The two Prisoners were there, and when Witness told them to go away they made use of bad language and ran towards Nottingham-court.
The Witness followed, and upon arriving at the corner of the court he was knocked down by a blow struck with a pickaxe-handle on the right temple. At the moment he did not see who struck him, but upon looking up he saw Fitzpatrick standing over him in the act of striking him.
A DESPERATE STRUGGLE
He got up and seized him by the throat.
A desperate struggle ensued, and they fell to the ground together.
The Witness eventually succeeding in getting the weapon away from Fitzpatrick, not, however, until after he had been struck on the head. He received five or six more blows on the head, and then fell down insensible. He was, however, enabled to identify the two Prisoners as having struck him before he fell down.
The evidence already given by three lads named Burtonshaw, Clifton, and Spelem, identifying the Prisoners as being concerned in the assault, was read and supplemented.
A VERY SEVERE CONCUSSION
Mr. Crane, the house surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, described Hewitt’s wound on the temple as being very deep and extending down to the bone. The scalp was bruised, and he remained insensible for five or six hours after his admission to the hospital. The symptoms indicated that he was suffering from a very severe concussion of the brain.
The first day or two the symptoms were very serious, and might have been attended with fatal results.
He was still suffering from the effects of the injuries he had sustained, and it would be several weeks before he would be able to resume his duties.
COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Mr Smyth called witnesses with a view of establishing an alibi on behalf of the prisoners.
They were committed for trial.
MALICIOUSLY WOUNDING A CONSTABLE
The Globe, on Tuesday, 2nd May, 1882, reported on the outcome of the criminal trial of the two attackers:-
“James Fitzpatrick, 18, a labourer, was charged with maliciously wounding Police-constable Hewitt, on the 10th April, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm, and Michael Barry was charged with aiding and abetting Fitzpatrick.
Police-constable Hewitt stated that on the night of the 10th of April, on going into Nottingham-court, near Seven Dials, he was felled to the ground by a blow given by Fitzpatrick with the handle of a pickaxe.
He got up and had a struggle with Fitzpatrick, in the course of which received three or four more blows and then became insensible.
Barry was there with a stick and helped Fitzpatrick.
WOKE UP IN HOSPITAL
He (the constable) found himself next morning in Charing-cross Hospital.
Fitzpatrick admitted having struck Hewitt.
The jury found both the prisoners guilty.
It was stated that Barry had been previously convicted on six different occasions of assaulting police constables in the execution of their duty.
They were sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.”
THE LONG TERM EFFECTS
However, for the unfortunate police constable, his bravery in the line of duty was to have long-term mental health consequences, as is evidenced by the following article, which appeared in The North London News on Saturday, 17th June, 1882:-
INSANITY OF A POLICEMAN THROUGH AN ASSAULT
“In the earlier part of April last, a case of murderous assault upon a police-constable (Hewitt, 463 G) was reported from Bow Street Police Court, London, under the following circumstances.
Constable Hewitt had occasion to remove a disorderly gang of young ruffians from Nottingham Court, and, while doing so, he was attacked with pickaxe and spade handles, and struck about the head with such violence that he was rendered insensible.
HIS LIFE WAS IN DANGER
For a considerable time after he was confined to his bed in the Charing Cross Hospital in a very critical condition. His injuries were so severe that, at one time, his life was despaired of, and fears were entertained that if he should survive his brain would be permanently affected.
Two of the youths charged with the assault, named Michael Barry and James Fitzpatrick, were each sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.
HE BEGAN BEHAVING STRANGELY
Since the occurrence, Hewitt has been on the sick list, and was apparently making satisfactory progress towards recovery, but a few days ago he began to behave in a strange manner.
Three days later he became violent, and attacked his wife with a stick. He afterwards retired to his room, and she proceeded to do her domestic work.
Upon going upstairs later she was surprised to find the room empty, but looking out of the window she was horrified to see her husband lying asleep upon the slanting roof of the next house. She called to him, and succeeded in coaxing him into the room again.
In the evening they went out for walk, but had hardly got to the top of the street when he began to rave and gesticulate in the most violent manner.
Two constables succeeded in getting him home, and Dr. Mills, the divisional police surgeon, was sent for.
SENT TO THE INSANE WARD
He at once ordered the removal of Hewitt to the insane ward at St. Giles’s Workhouse, where he is now confined, while his wife is making efforts to secure the services of two persons who would undertake to enter into the necessary bonds for her husband’s removal to Bedlam, an asylum she is desirous of sending him to.
ONLY RECENTLY MARRIED
The case is of a peculiarly painful nature, as Hewitt has only been married about ten months, and has one child only recently born.
He was a man who was generally liked by his brother constables, and was the only support of his widowed mother.”