Reporting Martha Tabram

On the 18th of August 1888, The Illustrated Police News, gave its readers a taster of the type of newspaper reporting that would, within a matter of weeks, become extremely familiar to people all over Victorian England.

On the 7th August 1888, the body of Martha Tabram (also known as Martha Turner) had been found on the first floor landing of George Yard Buildings, a none too pleasant thoroughfare that ran from the busy, and well lit, Whitechapel High Street through to Wentworth Street.

The body was pierced from the throat to the abdomen by 39 stab wounds, and the sheer ferocity of the attack had not only terrified the people living in the East End of London but had also given the papers a gruesome murder on which to report.


When it came to sensationalist journalism, The Illustrated Police News was in a league of its own. It loved nothing more than to bring its readers vivid accounts of murders, assaults, fires and disasters.

Indeed, as we mentioned in this previous article, such was the tabloid reputation of the journal that, in 1886, it had been voted “the worst English newspaper” by the readers of the Pall Mall Gazette!

The paper revelled in its notoriety and went out of its way to bring the most sensational stories, often accompanies by equally sensational illustrations to its readers.

So, when the horrific murder of Martha Tabram took place, the paper was quick to send an artist round to the scene of the crime in George Yard, and he quickly sketched the surroundings, before adding his own interpretation of how the body would have appeared in situ. You can read a full article on the George Yard murder here.

The Illustrated Police News Illustrations showing the scene of the murder of Martha Tabram.
The Murder of Martha Tabram As Depicted By The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


What is interesting is that we get a view of the scene of the crime as it appeared in the immediate aftermath of the murder.

It gives us the us the opportunity to compare what it was like then with what it is like now and enables us to observe the changes.

Whereas most of the buildings have long since been demolished, some of them have survived.

So, for example, if you look to the top right corner of the illustration, you will see an arch over which is written “ENTRANCE TO GEORGE YARD.”

Well, that arch has survived and it is, in fact, the first location we pass through on our nightly tour of Jack the Ripper’s London.

Here it is in all its 21st century glory.

A view along George Yard looking from Whitechapel High Street.
The Arch Into George Yard (Now Gunthorpe Street) as it appears today.

It stands alongside a pub, which has also survived from 1888, called the White Hart.

It was in the cellar of this pub that major suspect George Chapman had his barber’s shop, which gives us yet another link to the long ago killing spree.


The chilling thing is that, as we make our way through the arch, we are, in fact, following the route that Martha Tabram took on the early hours of the 7th August 1888, possibly in the company of Jack the Ripper, almost certainly in the company of her murderer.

Almost immediately, the noise of the modern traffic on nearby Whitechapel High Street is reduced to a distant murmur and you start to get the distinct impression your are, quite literally, walking back in time.

Last November, London was treated to several days of fog.

Now, fog is something that everybody associated with the Jack the Ripper murders.

It is safe to say that no fog machine suppliers ever went bankrupt providing fog machines for the various movies there have been on the case!

However, an intriguing fact about the Whitchapel murders is that the London fog was conspicuous by its absence on the nights that they actually occurred, so it isn’t, strictly speaking, historically accurate to depict the killer staling his prey through the dark and foggy alleyways of the East End.

But fog is as much a part of the legend of Jack the Ripper as are his top hat, swirling cape and Gladstone doctor’s bag – all of which are also artistic licence.

So, when the fog descended on the East End of London in November 2015, our tour groups were treated to a scene that was as close to their mental image of the Jack the Ripper murders as it was possible to get.

And this is what the alleyway beyond the George Yard arch looked like.

An image of Gunthorpe Street in a London Fog.
Gunthorpe Street In The Fog

Chilling, don’t you agree?

As our tour groups made their way along here they were approaching the site where George Yard Buildings stood, and it was on the first floor landing of these dwellings that the body of Martha Tabram was found.


However, the jury is still out as to whether or not she was a victim of the killer who became known as Jack the Ripper.

The fact that she had been stabbed repeatedly, as opposed to stabbed and ripped, has led many experts to dismiss her as a victim of the ripper.

But, there is a growing consensus that since Martha was an early Whitechapel Murders victim, she may well have been, for want of a better way of putting it, a learning curve for the killer and was, therefore, the first of the ripper’s victims.

The truth is that, since the murderer was never brought to justice, it is now nigh on impossible to state with any degree of certainty which of the eleven Whitechapel Murder victims were, in fact, the victims of Jack the Ripper and which weren’t.

But, of course, we can speculate – and where better to do so than in that dark East End thoroughfare where the crime actually took place?


As you will see from the above illustration from The Illustrated Police News, the paper tried to bring its readers as much detail as possible, even going so far as to treat them to an image of the victim’s corset (you can see it in the bottom right corner of the illustration) which, so the accompanying caption informed its readers, had been “Stabbed Through.”

What nobody could have realised as they perused the illustration on Saturday 18th August 1888 was that, within a month, two more equally gruesome murders (Mary Nichols on August 31st 1888 and Annie Chapman on the 8th September 1888) would have occurred within a short radius of George Yard and the resident artists of The Illustrated Police News would, most certainly, have their work cut out as they struggled to capture in stark black and white sketches the sheer brutality and ferociousness of what many newspapers were soon terming “The Whitechapel Horrors.”

Of course, they rose ably to the challenge and, as a consequence of their dedication, their black and white sketches provide us with vivid insights into the horrific aftermaths of the Jack the Ripper murders.

And, it all started with the above illustration that captured for posterity (with a certain amount of artistic licence, it must be said) the final moments and the immediate aftermath  of the life and death of Martha Tabram.