Lessons From The Murders

On October the 5th, 1888, The Weekly Herald published an opinion piece in which it pontificated about the lessons and morals that could be drawn from the Whitechapel murders:-


The fiendish work of the man or men to whose account must be credited the six or seven recent brutal murders and mutilations that have put London, and Whitechapel especially, into a white terror, still goes on, and at the moment of writing the hand of justice seems as far as ever from paralysing the onward course of the record of atrocious brutality.

These murders have drawn men’s minds with peculiar intensity to a consideration of the conditions under which so many people exist not only in the East End of the huge metropolis, but in al the large towns of the country.

The horrible dens of vice and crime that blot the fair face of our most thriving communities, are whatever else may be said of them, crying impeachments of the indifference and carelessness with which those in responsible positions, both governmental and social, look upon their less fortunate fellowmen.


It would be wrong to say that these particular crimes are to be attributed to general social causes, for if there is one thing more than another proven to the hilt by the experience of history it is this, that human nature even under the most favourable conditions, from time to time gives evidence of the depravity and viciousness of which it is capable.

To say that poverty is the author of vice, would mean that where wealth and plenty abound, there is little or no vice.

Unfortunately this is not so.

We find among the very poor, honesty, virtue and heroic self-sacrifice in a great degree.

It is true, too, that certain classes of crime abound among our poor, but have we not rich and well-to-do who are immoral and vicious just as we have some among them who are noble and good?


Crime and evil-doing are confined to no particular class of society.

Our poor will compare favourably in this respect with the rich.

It is, therefore, idle to declaim against poverty as the root of all evil. Are we not told that gold is also its root? As a matter of fact wealth produces one class of crime, poverty another, just as wealth gives men an opportunity of practising certain virtues, and poverty calls for certain other virtues.


Many remedies are proposed to meet the evils that afflict our poor districts.

What we want is not Acts of Parliament to compel men to do right–at best they can only provide for the punishment of those who do wrong, and in this way they may effect some good but we require a more thorough appreciation of the command “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.”

That’s where the great social want of the time is.


The East End of London with its slums, its rookeries, its gin-palaces, its crowded population living in poverty, and not knowing where its tomorrow’s dinner will come from, has claims of the most pressing kind on the West End, where idleness and luxury are the temptations that assail virtue and charity, where in the gilded saloons, at the gaudy parties, in the ball room and the theatre are wasted in empty show or worse, that wealth which is entrusted to those who have it for the dispensation of mercy, for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and spreading truth where error holds sway.

The nostrums of the politician or the demagogue only touch the fringe of the subject.

By all means let us prevent by good laws social injustice, let us keep the hands of the grabber off the throat of the poor, let us put it out of the power of a few men to grind the face of the many.


Monopolies and hereditary rights that enable men to take what is not theirs under sanction of law, must be swept away.

But when we have upset one order of things and established another, we shall still be at the mercy of those who have the disposal of the good things in the new order.

We find that democrats can grind and pilfer just as aristocrats can.

The sweater in the West End employs his hands, who again employ others, and sweat them even worse.

In Ireland, the middleman takes a big farm and lets it out to his neighbours at 100 per cent profit on his outlay. The farmer extracts from his “cottar” or labourer a rack-rent for his cabin or his half acre plot, greater than that demanded by some London company.

The foreman grumbles at the harshness of his employer, and to those beneath himself he is, possibly, a most savage task-master.

These things all show that it is in men themselves that we must seek for the root of so much evil, not in laws or social abuses. What are these but the outcome of the efforts of legislators, feeble at the best to legislate for good, and incapable of so legislating as to eradicate evil.


Would we reform society then we must begin with those who constitute it.

The slums of London and other cities are not to be wiped out by a stroke of a pen. Dismantle ten square miles of dilapidated houses, and you only drive the inmates to another district, perhaps to crowd them together still more.

What all our slums want is more practical charity, more good example, more brotherly tenderness to their inmates from those who live in the gilded mansion, and more knowledge of God and His truths.

Religion alone can save the denizens of the slums from their own evil passions, just as religion alone can save the king on the throne or the noblest and wealthiest of the world. That is as certain as that to-morrow’s sun will rise.


Meantime the life-blood of six or seven victims to the insanity or deviltry of some villain, cries to heaven for vengeance.

No fewer than five of them were women separated from their husbands, leading lives of sin in the modern Babylon.

Drink in most cases seems to have been at the bottom of the quarrels and separations.

Here is something for the social reformer to ponder over. It is not recorded that any of these women were driven to follow their sad calling by want or poverty, at the beginning. Married, in one case at least to a well-to-do husband, drink led to separation, and the rest followed; the want and cold, the gin-palace, murder, mutilation, the coroner’s inquest and the pauper’s grave.


Fathers and mothers, husbands and wives have a lesson here that should sink deep into their hearts. There is but one way to make good men and women, and that is to train them as children. Impress upon them the responsibilities of life, particularly of that state of life which they enter when they join hands in wedlock.

If marriage is not indeed to be a failure, there must be God’s grace with it and a determination to bear and forbear.

If that does not exist the ills are sure to follow, appal us by their very contemplation.

Among the many reflections that arise from a perusal of the facts of these murders and the histories of the victims, no one is more important than this.