Last Night In Dorset Street

On the evening of the shocking murder of Mary Kelly, which took place in Miller’s Court on Friday the 9th of November, 1888, a reporter from The Echo newspaper paid a visit to Dorset Street, the thoroughfare in which the terrible crime had occurred earlier that day.

His subsequent article provides us with an intriguing glimpse of the immediate vicinity of the location at which the atrocity had occurred as those who lived close by were coming to terms with the horror of what had happened in their midst, and, even allowing for a little journalistic licence, it doesn’t reflect them in a good light.

It should be borne in mind that those who spoke to the reporter might not have been exactly credible as witnesses.

For us today, however, the article does capture a little of the mood in Dorset Street in the aftermath of Mary Kelly’s murder, whilst, at the same time, illustrating the lengths to which reporters would go in order to gather information in the wake of a Jack the Ripper murder.

The newspaper published his report in its edition of Saturday the 10th of November, 1888:-

LAST NIGHT IN DORSET-STREET

THE CROWD AT MILLER’S-COURT

At eleven o’clock last night Dorset Street looked its dingiest and gloomiest.

There was, of course, a crowd before the entrance to McCarthy’s Court – or, as it is popularly known, Miller’s Court – in which stands the house where the unfortunate woman was murdered.

The body had been taken away in the afternoon to the mortuary, which is attaining the celebrity almost of the Paris Morgue; but the crowd still hung opposite the entrance to the court, discussing the murder and the murderer.

Over the way, the occupants of the Commercial Street Chambers were looking out upon the crowd, their noses glued to the window panes.

Sheer dazed stupidity (says an Echo reporter) seems to be the attitude of the East-enders before this most mysterious of modern mysteries.

A sketch showing Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfields. From Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 2nd June 1901. Copyright The British Library Board.

HE WILL NEVER BE CAUGHT

In the crowd last night the keynote struck seemed to be that of resignation to the inevitable “Jack the Ripper.” It would appear to have been accepted as a concomitant of East-end life.

The firm opinion is that he will never be caught. He is regarded almost as one of the terrible conditions which go to the making up of existence in the East-end.

The women are waxing superstitious.

One old lady last night averred that he was the Devil, or if not Satan himself, one of the demons, nor could she be reasoned out of this mental attitude.

IN THE PUBLIC HOUSE

Hard by the scene of the murder stands a public house, which was a place of resort visited by the murdered woman.

The landlord – evidently a respectable man – suspects a fellow who was wont to call there.

The man in question was a big, burly-looking fellow, with a black moustache. He had been seen in the company of the deceased woman, and the landlord told the Echo reporter as a significant fact that the man, although a regular customer to some extent, had not visited the house at all yesterday.

This may be a clue, but it looks like a very shadowy one.

The man appeared to follow the calling of a butcher.

We shall probably see from this a revival of the old suggestion that the murderer is a slaughter-man.

IN A DORSET STREET  “DOSS HOUSE”

One of our reporters last night had the temerity to visit one of those fearsome establishments known in the neighbourhood as “doss houses.”

Having paid the required sum of fourpence, he was ushered into the kitchen of the establishment, not, however, without certain glances of angry suspicion being levelled at him by the Deputy.

The room was a fairly large one.

A big, bright fire was burning in the grate, and at the rough wooden tables lining the walls the habitués of the house were having their supper.

One very frowsy-looking fellow was eating a beefsteak, which threw its grateful fragrance round the room, whilst at the same table another, and obviously less fortunate “dosser” was munching a chunk of bread, and drinking tea of a colour which suggested that there was more water in the brew than tea.

Other men were supping, some eating frugally enough of bread and cheese, the remainder contenting themselves with less humble fare.

A view Along Dorset Street.
Dorset Street As It Was

CYNICAL FASHION

Our reporter got into conversation with the men.

It was shocking to note the light cynical fashion in which they treated the murders.

They might begin a sentence sympathetically enough, but it almost invariably ended in a laugh of brutal indifference, or even worse.

Did anyone know her?

A rough-looking fellow, engaged in cutting his victuals on the rude table, queried on this.

“Did anyone not know her?” – a remark which hugely tickled his companions.

RECOLLECTIONS OF MARY KELLY

Poor Mary Jane Kelly was a figure, it appears, in street brawls, sudden and quick in quarrel and – for a woman – handy with her fists.

The rough fellows laughed and grieved in turns over her, although the terrible cynicism beforehand mentioned always entered in his conversation.

An elderly man, who wore a coat and waistcoat, but no shirt beneath, averred in pessimistic tones that it was better for Mary Jane Kelly to have been done to death.

“Wot was her life?”, he muttered, spreading out his thin and not-too-clean hands to the fire. “Starvation three days a week, and then, when she got money, drink for the other three days. I knowed her. I giv ‘er the money for her doss three weeks ago ‘cos she hadn’t any. Yes, matey, and that at two in the mornin’,” he said, turning to our reporter whose intent bearing may possibly have suggested incredulity.

“Mary Jane was a good soul.” This testimony was freely offered. “She would spend her money lavishly when she had any, and when she hadn’t any, why —-.” The sentence was left unfinished.

A group of people sitting and being served tea in a common lodging house.
People In The Kitchen

THE SHADOW OF DEATH

Our reporter soon left.

Even as he stepped out into the darkness of Dorset Street visible from the glow-light of the lodging-house kitchen, the men laughed loudly and their laughter was carried up the street.

The terrible event of the morning had little, if any, saddening effect on these men.

Even within a stone’s throw of the scene of the tragedy they were laughing and cracking jokes as if the shadow of death were not then brooding over the miserable street.

But to give them their due, their reckless merriment was at times dashed with a pitying sigh for poor Mary Jane Kelly.