Murder In Artillery Passage

Artillery Passage is a delightful throwback to the bygone East End, and it really has not changed since the days when Jack the Ripper stalked the area.

Indeed, when you stand at the east or west entrance into this narrow thoroughfare, you get the distinct impression that you are looking back into bygone London, and it might not come as any surprise should a top-hatted figure – or a figure attired in any other Victorian garb for that matter – coming strolling towards you!

I have been leading my Jack the Ripper tour through this atmospheric thoroughfare since 1982, and the reaction from my groups is one of dliehgted amazement when they follow me along it.

It really is a delightful slice of old London, and, given that it is a conservation area, long may it continue to be so.

Artillery Passage looking east.
Looking East Along Artillery Passage.


However, twenty years before the Whitechapel murders occurred, number 11 Artillery Passage was the scene of a particularly gruesome murder when coffee-house keeper, Mrs. Emma Grossmith was battered to death on the premises by Arthur Mackay, a nineteen-year-old youth whom Emma and her husband employed as a waiter at their establishment.

The Globe, on Friday 8th May 1868, broke the news of the crime:-


“The magistrate of Worship Street police-court was called today to take the evidence of a dying woman named Grossmith, who had been beaten almost to death by a boy in the employ of her husband, a coffee-house keeper, at 11, Artillery Passage, Norton Folgate.

The lad, whose name is Mackay, attacked the woman with a large rolling-pin and iron meat lifter, and completely battered her head and face, the place where the deed was committed presenting “the appearance of a slaughter-house.”

The woman was unconscious and unable to give evidence, and it is deemed impossible that she can recover.

The youthful murderer has not yet been captured.”

The exterior of 11, Artillery Passage as it is today.
11, Artillery Passage As It Is Today.


The Morning Post, on Saturday, 9th May, 1868, gave further details of the attack:-

“Yesterday afternoon, at the termination of the business at the Worship-street police-court, Sergeant Richard Kenwood made an application to Mr. Ellison, the sitting magistrate, to take the depositions of a dying woman who had been beaten almost to death by a boy.

Mr. Ellison at once signified his intention of proceeding to the bedside of the poor woman, and accordingly, his worship, the chief clerk, and Mr. Wood, chief usher, proceeded to a house, at No. 11, Artillery-passage, Old Artillery-ground, Norton Folgate, and on arriving there proceeded to a bedroom on the second floor, where, extended on a bed, held down by two constables, lay a woman named Grossmith, of about 45 years of age, her eyes closed and swollen, her nose half-hanging down (cut away by repeated blows), her hair, face, hands, etc., covered with fast congealing blood, and, on the back portion of the right side of the skull, there was a deep indentation exposing the brain.

Mr. Ellison, after consulting with the doctor in attendance, asked the poor creature if she could tell him who had done it, but no reply was received, and during a period of half an hour that the party remained there were only broken words and ejaculations of “Why isn’t it done.” “Will you leave me alone.” etc., were heard, and to several questions put by his worship to her nothing could be gleaned respecting the horrid outrage, and the party left.

It appeared that the woman and her husband kept a coffee and eating house, and yesterday morning, in the absence of the husband, the woman and an assistant named Arthur Mackey, a boy of 19, quarrelled, and the boy attacked her with some weapon and left her in the above-mentioned condition.

Mackey then absconded.

His description is as follows:- Age, 19; height, 5ft. 5in; complexion very fair, pale face, long, thin Roman nose, high in the bridge; very fair hair; raw-boned; dressed in a short dark pilot coat, with pockets on the outside, no vest, dark plaid trousers, lace-up boots with plain toe-cap, flowered cotton shirt, and a black soft felt hat with a fold through the centre.”


Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, on Sunday, 10th May, 1868, reported that the victim was a little better:-

“On inquiry last evening, our reporter was informed that Mrs. Grossmith, the unfortunate victim of the youth Arthur Mackay, was slightly better.

During the forenoon, Dr. Jackson, under whose care the woman still remains, dressed some of her wounds, the hair was out from the head, and the pain of course lessened.

She has made a brief statement to the effect that the youth had beaten her with the rolling-pin like a dog.

The perpetrator of the outrage has still evaded the police.

His arrest is, however, Considered certain, for he is well known not only to the numerous frequenters of the Grossmiths’ dining-rooms, but also to the police of the H division, who are on duty in the neighbourhood of Artillery-passage.”


However, as The London Evening Standard reported, on Monday, 11th May, 1868, there was little hope of the victim recovering from the injuries she had sustained:-

“We regret to learn that no hopes are now entertained of the recovery of Mrs. Grossmith, of Artillery-passage, who on Friday was so fearfully beaten by her shop boy.

While there is life there is hope, but in addition to the frightful facial injuries she sustained, the poor woman’s skull is found to be seriously fractured.

The poor woman on Saturday recovered her consciousness sufficiently to give an intelligible, although a somewhat incoherent, account of the affair.

The young ruffian who perpetrated this savage assault has not yet been apprehended.”


The Sheffield Independent carried an update on the case, together with a statement by the victim’s husband, in its edition of Tuesday, 12th May 1868:-

“Yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Grossmith was still alive, but the surgeons who are in attendance upon her state that her death may take place at any moment. She has so far recovered consciousness that she has been able to give her husband an account of the manner in which she was attacked by Arthur Mackay.

From circumstances which are within the knowledge of Mr. Grossmith and of his young sons, there is now no doubt whatever that the attack was premeditated, and that for some days previous to Friday last Mackay had conceived a violent antipathy for his mistress and her children.


Mr. Grossmith’s statement is as follows:-

Mackay was the son of an old friend, and owing to that circumstance he was taken into the service of the Grosssmiths, although he had been for three years in the Reformatory at Feltham for larceny. He professed himself highly satisfied with his place, and tried to ingratiate himself with his employers, and he was so far successful that he was able to borrow money from time to time of Mrs. Grossmith.

Last week he asked his master to give him beer for his luncheon instead of for his dinner. Mr. Grossmith said, “You can have it for both luncheon and dinner if you like.” Mackay hypocritically said, “No, thank you, I will only take beer once a day.” Thrown off his guard by this proof of temperate habits, Grossmith left the keys of the beer-cellar in the door.

On Thursday morning, one of the little boys got up at five o’clock to learn his lessons, and detected Mackay in the act of helping himself to beer out of the barrel. He asked the boy not to tell and the boy replied, “Not if it is the first time.” Mackay protested that it was the first time, and the boy promised to hold his tongue.

The same evening, Mackay told the boy that he had dreamt twice that he had killed him, and, after some conversation, he appears to have got at the fact that Mrs. Grossmith had been told of the affair of the beer barrel.


On Friday morning, at half-past six o’clock, Mackay was seen by Walter Grossmith striking the chopper into a large piece of meat in an extraordinary way, and he asked him what he was doing it for. Mackay said, “I am practising to see how to serve those that don’t do as I like.”

This appears to have made an undefined impression of danger on the boy’s mind, which was increased when Mackay soon afterwards lost his temper with him and his brother for not cleaning some forks to save him trouble.

He was so violent that Mr. Grossmith called him up and reprimanded him for his ill-temper.


At half-past nine o’clock, after Mr. Grossmith left to go to market, Walter, who should have gone to school, lingered at the front door, distrustful of the intentions of Mackay.

The latter, who was cleaning the shop window, kept looking in at Mrs. Grossmith, who was in the kitchen behind the shop.

Seeing that the little boy would not go away, he called out to Mrs. Grossmith, “See here, ma’am, here is Walter not gone to school yet.”

Mrs. Grossmith sent Walter to school, and she thus deprived herself of her only protection.


She was engaged in making a pudding, and she asked Mackay for a cloth. Mackay gave her one, which he had used for wrapping round grease; she got angry and told him that he should wash it, and it would appear that she scolded him.

He came into the kitchen and shut the door. She did not know what he intended to do, but was almost instantly struck down by a terrific blow on the head from a rolling-pin, and was sent under the sink. She got up and laid hold of his waistcoat, which was torn in two, but he knocked her down again and again, striking her with something which she could not see. A large iron saucepan was found afterwards with a piece broken out of the side of it, and it is believed that it was with a blow from that that he fractured her skull, and knocked part of the bone away.

She became nearly insensible. She could feel, she said, that “he gave it to her, and knocked her down a hundred times,” and, from injuries to her body, it is believed that he jumped upon her.

Arthur Mackay attacking Emma Grossmith. From The illustrated Police News, Saturday, 16th May, 1868. Copyright, The British Library Board.
Arthur Mackay Attacking Emma Grossmith.


A Mrs. Sandford, whose attention had been attracted by the noise, entered the shop. Mackay looked out through the glass panels of the kitchen door, and she observed that his face was covered with blood. She went forward, and Mackay opened the door to go out to meet her.

She then saw Mrs. Grossmith on the floor in a pool of blood, and beaten out of all shape.

She said to Mackay, ” You have done this.” He, with great coolness, said, “No, I did not. The master is just gone out round the corner. I will go for him,” and he walked out. Thus he effected his escape.

Mrs. Sandford fainted, and was for some hours in the hands of the doctor before she could make any statement to the police.

Mrs Grossmith states that she heard Mrs. Sandford come in, and that if she had not arrived, another blow would have been fatal at once.


The police believe they have got a clue to Mackay ‘s whereabouts.

A hawker states that he met him in the neighbourhood of Woolwich, and spoke to him there. Several officers were at once despatched to the locality in question, and if he is really there, his arrest is certain. In any case, he cannot long evade justice, for it is believed that he has no funds, and he has not gone near his relatives.”

Mrs Grossmith died on the evening of Sunday, 18th May, 1868.


However, the Mackay remained at large for over two months.

He had fled to Kent, where, towards the end of July, 1868, he was arrested for a trifling offence and committed to Maidstone Gaol. He was identified from a photograph that had evidently been circulated by the police in London, and was returned to London.

On the afternoon of Monday, 28th July, 1868, he appeared before Mr. Newton at Worship Street Police Court.

The Morning Post carried a full report on his court appearance in its next day’s edition:-


“Yesterday afternoon, Alexander Arthur Mackay, aged 19, who stands charged with the wilful murder of Mrs. Emma Grossmith, aged 45, in May last, was placed in the dock, at Worship Street Police-court, before Mr. Newton, having been brought up from Maidstone Gaol in custody.

When placed in the dock, in answer to the question of the chief gaoler of the court, “What is your name?  He answered, “Alexander Arthur Mackay” in a very clear tone, and with perfect composure of manner.

Mr. Lewis, sen. , of Ely-place, appeared for the defence.


The first witness called was George Grossmith, husband of the deceased, who deposed:-

“I live at 11, Artillery -passage. My wife’s name was Emma.

The prisoner was in my service to do the menial work of the shop. I am an eating-house keeper.

On the 8th of May last, I went out at 10 minutes past nine in the morning. I left the prisoner, my wife, and two children in the house.

At 10 minutes to ten, I returned, and found my doctor and another gentleman there. They would not let me see my wife them. I saw her afterwards, before she died, on Sunday, the 17th of May. When I first saw my wife she was incapable of speaking.

She afterwards rallied, and I had a long conversation with her.

That conversation did relate to the circumstances under which she had been wounded.

She did not tell me that he had complained that he was always being followed by the children. She did not tell me that he had threatened to chastise the children for following him. She did not say that he and she had been quarrelling. She did not say that she had struck him twice with a cloth as she was making puddings. She did not say that she used a pudding-cloth against him before he took up the rolling pin. She did say that she had had a quarrel with him because he would not wash the pudding-cloths, which was part of his duty. She did not say that she first took hold of him, and he then seized the rolling pin to strike her.

I frequently had conversations with her before her death on the subject of her injury. She did not revert to his refusal to wash the cloths. She did not tell me there had been a severe scuffle between them before she was struck.

He had given notice once to quit, but afterwards begged to stop, and as his father came to see me I consented.

My wife did tell me the origin of using the rolling pin. I do not know if she was in the habit of quarrelling with the prisoner. She never struck him. She never struck anyone in her life.”

By the Court:-  “The children are aged 11 and 13 years.”


George Grossmith, son of the last witness, a little boy about 11 years of age, was sworn, and deposed:-

I remember Friday, the 8th of May; on that day I did not go to school until nearly ten o’clock. I then left my mother and John in the house. We used to call Arthur Mackay, the prisoner, John. When I was sent to school I did not go directly, but stopped outside the door, as I fancied something was going to happen, as he had threatened to strike my mother; that was about half-past eight; there was nobody there but me.

My mother was upstairs at the time, and she did not hear him threaten her.”

Cross-examined:- “My mother and the prisoner had been quarrelling about us. I did not hear him tell my mother that whenever he was sent out we were always sent to follow him. I am not quite sure that he did not say that he would strike us, not that he would strike my mother; my mother did say that she would tell my father.

My mother was not sharp tempered; she was not easily put out. She was sometimes angry with the prisoner because he did not do his work right.

I did say something to him about the cloths, for he did not wash them clean. My mother did not throw a cloth at him. She threw a cloth at the dish rack.”

By the Magistrate:- “I did hear him threaten my mother that morning. I asked him for some water, and he would not get me any, and I went upstairs to my mother and asked her, and she came downstairs and asked him why he did not give it to me. She then went upstairs again, anil I heard him say if she did not mind she would get into the wrong box.”


Other witnesses (neighbours) deposed to hearing the scuffle between the prisoner and his victim, and to the discovery of the poor woman, her head covered with blood.

The accused was still on the premises, but escaped immediately on being charged with the crime.

Persons who saw him noticed that he had blood on his face.

Inspector William Broad, H division, produced an iron bar, a rolling pin, an iron chopper, a torn waistcoat, a saucepan handle, a sack, a coarse apron, two or three broken pieces of a hair comb, a hairpin, and some hair, all of which were found more or less covered with blood in the kitchen at the back of the shop.

The surgeon who examined her proved the extensive nature of the wounds and bruises inflicted. In his opinion, she died from the effects of these wounds.

Police Constable John Lee, 42 H, deposed that on the morning and afternoon of the 8th he watched beside the bed of the deceased.

In the course of the afternoon, she rallied and said, “He knocked me down.” I asked who did, and she replied, “The boy.”

Mr. Lewis objected to this evidence, which he urged could not be received unless it could be shown she was in articula mortis.

The evidence was then taken that she had made several statements to the witness, which at the time he took down in writing.

Mr. Newton, remarking that the writings could be produced at the trial, and their value as evidence estimated by the court above.

John Reeve, 42 H, Reserve, also proved that she made statements to him at night, which he also took down in writing.


Mr. Lewis intimated that he should contend the crime was only one of manslaughter, although there could be no doubt that the accused had used too much violence in defending himself from the attack made on him. The prisoner was then committed for trial.”


Arthur Mackay appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) on Thursday, 20th August 1868.

Having heard the evidence against him, the jury found him guilty of the wilful murder of Mrs. Emma Grossmith, although they did recommend him to mercy.

The judge, Mr Justice Lush, however, ignored their recommendation for leniency and sentenced him to death.


Despite an appeal against the death sentence being sent to the Home Secretary on his behalf, the Home Secretary opined that the crime was one of such a vicious and heinous nature that Mackay deserved to be executed for it.

His execution took place within the walls of Newgate Prison on Tuesday, 8th September, 1868.

The South London Chronicle carried a full report on the last moment of Arthur Mackay’s life in its edition of Saturday, 12th September, 1868:-

“Alexander Arthur Mackay, nineteen years old, was executed Tuesday morning, the 8th inst., within the walls the gaol of Newgate, for the murder of his mistress, Emma Grossmith, the keeper of a coffee shop in Norton Folgate.

The execution took place, in accordance with the amended state of the law upon the subject, in one of the yards of the prison, the old drop and scaffold being made use of for the purpose.

The gallows was placed in one corner of the yard, the barriers were erected, in front of which were placed about a dozen policemen.

The only other persons present were Mr. Sheriff  M’Arthur, Under Sheriff Davidson, Under Sheriff Roche, the ordinary (the Rev. Mr. Jones), the governor of the prison (Mr. Jonas), and the surgeon (Mr. Gibson).

The only strangers present were the representatives of the press and the son of Mr. Justicc Lush, before whom the prisoner was tried.


According to the statement of the Rev. Mr. Jones, the ordinary of the gaol, the culprit repented his crime. In extenuation of it, however, he maintained that his mistress was in the habit of “nagging” at him and finding fault without occasion.

At his earnest request, and after deliberation. the Rev. Mr. Jones administered the Holy Sacrament to the culprit on Sunday afternoon.

He was visited on Saturday afternoon by his father and two sisters, and they remained with him for nearly an hour.


The only persons upon the scaffold were the culprit, the ordinary, and the executioner, Calcraft.

The unhappy youth prayed in a most fervent manner during the whole of the period of the preparations for the execution.

His last words were, “Lord God, have mercy upon me.” The sentence was hardly out of his mouth before the drop fell, and, after a few convulsive struggles, he was dead.

Although it was known that the execution would be conducted within the walls of the prison, and that nothing connected with the proceedings would be visible outside, as the hour approached for carrying out the sentence a number of persons, principally men and boys, numbering altogether perhaps a couple of hundred assembled outside the prison.

As the drop fell, a black flag was hoisted in front of the gaol, and this was the only indication to the persons assembled outside that the execution was concluded.

The body was cut down after hanging for an hour.

At the coroner’s inquest, which was afterwards held, the jury, having inspected the body and heard the evidence of Mr. Jonas and Mr. Gibson, found that the deceased had been legally and properly executed.”