Lynch Law In London

Whitechapel could be a violent place in the 19th century. All manner of crimes took place there, and some of them were as brutal as those perpetrated by the murderer who would come to be known as Jack the Ripper.

Domestic violence was commonplace, and murderous assaults on wives by husbands were frequent.

But, every so often, the perpetrators of domestic violence found the tables turned on them when the local citizens took it upon themselves to intervene and subject the abuser to summary justice at the hands of the local mobs. It has to be said that, in some cases, you do find yourself beginning to side with the mob.

One such case occurred in December, 1870, and was reported by The Illustrated Berwick Journal in its edition of Friday 6th January 1871:-


“Mr. Richards has held an inquest at the London Hospital touching the death of Edward Daniel Sees, a cooper, aged 45 years.

Martha Sees, 88, Sidney Street, Commercial Road, stated that the deceased, who was her husband, had frequently assaulted her in a most brutal manner.

Five months ago, after beating her savagely, he called in a broker and sold off all his furniture and broke up their home. He then deserted her, and she had to obtain her living by needlework.


On Saturday while passing along the Commercial Road, she saw him standing at the bar of a public-house. She went in and asked him to give her some money. He instantly swore at her and struck her twice on the breast with his clenched fist.

She then left the public-house and he followed her, and at the corner of Osborne Street, Whitechapel, he overtook her and struck her again violently about the head.

The junction of Osborne Street and Whitechapel Road.
The Corner Of Osborn Street where the attack occurred.


A mob of about 200 people gathered round them, and as her husband was going to strike her again they hooted and yelled at him, and some of them cried out, “Strike us; not her.”

He tried to get away, but the mob would not let him, and one young man caught hold of him, and the deceased and he fought.

During the row the witness ran away, and she never afterwards saw her husband alive.


James Collier, a mechanic, living at No. 5, Pleasant-place, Bethnal Green, said that as he was going to the theatre on Saturday night he saw a mob surrounding the last witness and her husband.

The witness interfered, and the deceased attacked him.

They struck each other, and afterwards the witness left the mob. He believed that did not injure the deceased. The mob might have done so.

Blood came over the deceased’s face.


Sarah Sees, a young girl, the daughter of the deceased, said that she was present when her father beat her mother.

He threatened to kill the witness as well as her mother, and then the mob interfered and attacked him.

He struck Collier first.


Mr. Leapingwill, surgeon at the London Hospital, said that the deceased had expired from the effects of exhaustion caused by injuries that he had received.

His face and head were lacerated in a shocking manner.


The coroner said that it was impossible for the jury to say the exact manner in which the deceased had been ill-used by the mob. No person could tell whether Collier had been the cause of inflicting the injury or not, for a great number of persons had evidently attacked him.

The jury returned the following verdict, “That the deceased died from certain injuries, but how or by whom the said injuries were inflicted there is no evidence show.”


No doubt reflecting the mood of many people who heard about the death of the despicable Mr. See, The Evening Standard had, in its edition of Saturday, 31st December, 1879, published an article that praised the rule of mob and suggested that Edward Daniel Sees had, in fact, got his just deserts:-

“The worst means may some times work out a good end.

We not mean to imply that even in such cases the end justifies them, but certainly a result achieved on the Commercial-road on Saturday last was so pleasing in itself that one oven feels disposed to forgive for this once the introduction of Lynch law into the streets of London.


Edward Daniel Sees was a man in appearance, a cooper by trade, and a brute by nature.

He constantly maltreated his wife, and a few months ago, after beating her savagely, sold off his furniture, took possession of the proceeds, and deserted her, leaving her destitute.

Saturday last she accidentally saw him drinking in the bar of a public house. She went in and asked him to give her money. Thereupon he swore at her and he struck her twice with his clenched fist.

She retreated; he followed her along the Commercial-road, overtook and struck her again repeatedly.


A question suggests itself at this stage of the case. Where were the police? It would seem that they must have had a holiday on Saturday last in the East-end of the town. They may have been engaged possibly in the preparation of Christmas-trees or picking plums for a pudding.

At all events, they brought no influence to bear on the domestic affairs of Mr. and Mrs. Sees. The husband continued at discretion to assert his physical superiority with his fists.

A crowd gathered round, but he naturally relied on a disposition ordinarily shown by British bystanders not to interfere in these little scenes when man and wife are concerned.


But he did not fully gauge the character of James Collier, mechanic, of Pleasant-place, Bethnal-green, who on this occasion was amongst the bystanders. Collier interfered, and Mr. Sees found, doubtless, with astonishment and much indignation other fists interposed between his own and his wife.

Here the narrative becomes confused.

Mrs. Sees escaped, happily, and her husband was left to settle accounts with Mr. Collier and others. There was a fight, and then, after a lapse of time, it is to be presumed when everybody had had enough, cool and composed policemen sauntered up the road to see what had been going on.

That at the late stage of the conflict it was difficult to ascertain minutely, but, under all circumstances, we have no wish to inquire into details.


The broad result was so gratifying that it matters little how it was brought about. Mr. Edward Daniel Sees was found to be in extremis. Shortly afterwards he expired from determination of fists to the head. No one in particular could be made responsible, and the little performance stands complete in one act; round and perfect – totus atque rotundas.”