Mary Cowen

Today, when we look back on the Jack the Ripper crimes, there can be a tendency to take them in isolation and forget that they were, in fact, a small part of a much bigger picture.

Because of this narrowed focus, you could be forgiven for thinking that, throughout 1888, the police focussed their entire energies on policing Whitechapel, whilst the rest of London was a sort of “happy valley” across which the shadow of crime and violence was never cast!

Of course, this wasn’t the case.

Violent crime blighted London as a whole in the months leading up to the Ripper murders, and it continued throughout and beyond the duration of the Whitechapel atrocities.

And, it wasn’t just confined by the boundaries of the East End.

What is of interest to the student of Victorian crime, in many of these cases, is that the perpetrators were brought to justice, and, as a consequence, we are able, thanks to the press reporting of the crimes and the hunts for the perpetrators, to actually watch the police at work, and to witness the procedure as the accused were brought to justice and, eventually sentenced.


One violent crime, which took place in Lambeth, on the south side of the River Thames, on Tuesday, 10th July, 1888, was carried out by Henry Baker, who, that day, was charged with the attempted murder of his estranged lover, Mary Cowen.

The next day, Wednesday, 11th July, 1888, The Evening Star carried the following report on his first court appearance, which had taken place earlier that day:-


“At the Lambeth Police Court, Henry Baker, alias Welbourn, 26, of 73, The Buildings, East Street, Walworth, hairdresser, was charged before Mr. Chance with attempting to murder Mary Cowen, of Gaywood Street, St. George’s Road, Southwark.


Chief Inspector Chisholm: “This is a case, your worship, in which the woman is in such a dangerous condition that she has been detained at St. Thomas’s Hospital.

After the stabbing by the prisoner, he ran away. I now produce his coat, on which are marks of blood.”


Police-constable Jones, 62 L: “About 11.30 this morning I took the prisoner into custody in the London Road. Upon my approaching him he ran away, but I pursued him some 100 yards, and with assistance, conveyed him to the station.

Prior to this, I told him he would be charged with attempting to murder Mary Cowen, and he said he had not done it, or attempted to murder anyone. He made no other observation.

He was searched at the station, but no weapon was found upon him.”


Chief Inspector Chisholm stated that he went to St. Thomas’s Hospital at about two o’clock in the afternoon, and he found the woman suffering from two severe wounds – one in the breast, and one in the back.

She was conscious and mentioned the prisoner as the man who had stabbed her.

He believed she was in a dangerous condition.


He was informed that the accused had previously threatened to murder.

Mr. Chance remanded the prisoner.”


Lloyd’s List, published an update on the case on Wednesday, 18th July, 1888:-

“Henry Baker, 26, a hairdresser, was further remanded at the Lambeth Police Court, yesterday, on a charge of the attempted murder of a woman named Mary Cowen, with whom he had formerly cohabited.

It was stated that the woman was in a precarious condition, and not likely to recover.”


Over the next few months, as Mary Cowen teetered on the brink of death, Henry Baker made several court appearances, and each time he was remanded in custody.

But, despite fears that she was unlikely to survive, Mary Cowen defied the doctors and went on to make a full recovery.

She was finally discharged from the hospital on Monday, 3rd September, 1888, and the police could now proceed with their case of attempted murder against Henry Baker.

However, as was often the case in these domestic incidents, the police were hampered by the seeming reluctance of the victim to appear in court, kept away, so it appeared, by the friends of the accused.


The Yorkshire Gazette published an update on the case on Saturday, 8th September, 1888:-

At Lambeth, on Tuesday, Henry Baker, alias Williams, described as a hairdresser, was charged on remand, before Mr Biron, with attempting to murder Mary Cowen, at Gaywood-street, St. Georges-road, by stabbing her in the breast and back on the 10th of July.

The injured woman was admitted to St. Thomas’s Hospital, and remained there until Monday, when she was discharged.

For some time it was believed that the injuries would terminate fatally, and the prisoner had been remanded week by week.


About one o’clock, on the morning in question, the prisoner saw the prosecutrix near the Elephant and Castle.

He had formerly lived with her, but owing to quarrels separated. He followed and stabbed her with a knife and ran away.

She screamed “Murder.”

A constable came and conveyed her to the hospital.


In answer to Mr. Biron, Chief Inspector Chisholm stated that the woman was not present, and he believed that the friends of the prisoner were keeping her away.

Mr Biron said if the prisoner imagined that would stop the matter he was much mistaken, she would be compelled to come.

A further remand was granted.”


However, The Denbighshire Free Press, on Saturday, 22nd September, 1888, was able to report that the reluctant victim had appeared in court, and that the case against Henry Baker had resulted in his being committed for trial:-

“At the Lambeth Police Court, Henry Baker, alias Williams, aged 30, was charged on remand, before Mr. Biron, Q. C., with attempting to murder Mary Cowen, by stabbing her in two or three places with a knife in St. George’s Road, Southwark.

Some particulars of the case have already appeared, and the prosecutrix, who was dangerously injured was for some weeks in St. Thomas’s Hospital. It was, indeed, believed at the time that she could not recover.

The prisoner from week to week was remanded, and, about a fortnight ago, it was stated that the injured woman had so far recovered as to permit of her being discharged.


Upon the day of the remand, although she had received notice, she failed to attend to prosecute at the court, and Mr. Biron was informed by Chief Inspector Chisholm that there was little doubt that the woman had been kept out of the way by the friends of the prisoner.

Mr. Biron told the prisoner on the last occasion that, despite the attempt to keep the woman out of the way, she would have eventually to appear, and that the prisoner or his friends would obtain but little, if any benefit, from such a course of proceeding.


His worship ultimately granted a warrant to compel the attendance of the prosecutrix, and upon that she was brought before the Court.

She appeared very ill, and evidently was most reluctant to give evidence against the prisoner.

Mr. Pollard, prosecuting for the Treasury, after some difficulty, elicited from the prosecutrix that she had formerly lived with him [Henry Baker that is] in Birmingham.

She had been parted from him for some time.


On July 10th they met, and she struck him on the face with a bag, and called him foul names.

On the following Monday she again saw the prisoner, when he stabbed her two or three times with a knife. She became insensible, and remembered no more until after she found herself in the hospital.


Mr. Pollard said he had in his possession a letter alleged to have been written by the accused from the prison during the remand, in which there was an admission of the offence.

The prisoner objected to such a document being used, as it had not been proved that it was his handwriting.

Mr. Pollard said that it could be proved, he believed, upon the trial by a warder of the prison.

The prisoner was eventually committed for trial for the attempted murder.”