September 1888 Begins

As September 1888 began, the Victorian Eastenders were struggling to come to terms with the murders of Martha Tabram and Mary Nichols, both of which were now attracting the attention of newspapers throughout the country.

Both murders, so far as the press could tell, were motiveless – done for the sheer pleasure of mutilating the bodies of the victims – and the general consensus was to depict the crimes as a sort of disease that had been incubated by the horrific social conditions in the area where the atrocities had occurred.

By way of an example, The Sheffield Evening Telegraph set the mood for its readers in its edition of Saturday 1st September 1888:-


“The London epidemic of murder rages apace.

From the frequency with which atrocious assassinations are committed within its borders, it would almost seem as if “Moloch, horrid besmeared with blood,” were holding high festival Whitechapel.

Never a fortnight passes without some hideous crime being added to the annals of that locality.


Barely a fortnight ago, the population there was thrown into a state of fever the frightful murder of woman under mysterious circumstances.

Yesterday, again, a deed of even grosser brutality startled the neighbourhood.

In the one case, it was a bayonet that sent the unhappy victim to her death; in the other a large knife seems to have been the instrument of guilt.


The most striking feature about these Whitechapel murders is the mystery that surrounds them. They are wrapped in a shroud of horror.

In many respects similar to the fictitious “Murders of the Rue Morgue,” told by the late Edgar Allen Poe, the murders show another singular coincidence with those invented by the American novelist. In the “Murders of the Rue Morgue” the French gendarmes believed the criminal to be some ferocious maniac whom they could not track.

Yesterday’s reports announce that the London police have conceived a similar idea.


The real French murderer turned out to be a gigantic ape that had escaped from captivity.

The English criminal – well, we will have to wait a little before we can say who or what he is.

If the police fail to trace the crime home this time, there will probably be an alarming hullabaloo.

London is simply infested with undiscovered murderers, and for own credit, no less than to avert a popular panic, the police should strain every nerve to find their man.”


Meanwhile, other newspapers were wondering whether the police were up to the job of catching the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders, and several papers were openly questioning whether Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioners, was, in fact, the right man for the job.

It had just been announced that James Monro had just resigned his position as head of the Criminal Investigation Department following several clashes with Warren

Freeman’s Journal, on Saturday, 1st September, 1888, was just one newspaper that was openly critical of Warren’s leadership:-


It is satisfactory to find that there is a pretty unanimous feeling among the London police that Sir Charles Warren’s policy in Scotland Yard, which only last week brought about the resignation of Mr. Monro, the Assistant Commissioner, will have the effect of abolishing the Criminal Investigation Department or crippling its usefulness very materially.

A portrait of James Monro.
James Monro. From The Illustrated London News, 8th December 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


If any such result follows from Sir Charles Warren’s action, all decent men will be ready to support, the Chief Commissioner instead, of holding aloof, as they do now.

The Criminal Investigation Department was up to some years ago a very useful institution in a big city like London, and it would continue always to be regarded as such if its functions were confined to the investigation of crime.

But latterly it has been converted into a sort of political bureau.

The hunt after the dynamiters completely demoralised it.


Mr. Monro and his detectives, instead of confining their attentions to the men who come to London to blow up bridges, made a set upon all Irish Nationalists. They followed and dogged men who have as hearty abhorrence of crime as themselves.

They swarmed about the House of Commons for the past two sessions, subjecting Irish members to the most offensive form of espionage, and creating such a scandal that English members like Mr. Bradlaugh and Sir Wilfred Lawson avowed with shame from their places in the house that no such humiliating spectacle could be seen in any capital in Europe.


This being the sort of work done by the Criminal Investigation Department, nobody will regret that Sir Charles Warren has given it a knock on the head.

What would have pleased Mr. Monro was to be left a perfectly free hand at Whitehall Place, and to be allowed to do as he liked with his detectives and plain clothes policemen.

Evidently, Sir Charles Warren has very different notions.


Sir Charles Warren is a very stern man, and his action in connection with Trafalgar Square shows that he cares very little for the rights of the public in the matter of open meetings, but still he has strong and not altogether objectionable views about the duty of every individual policeman under his charge.”

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Yorkshire Post, on 5th September, 1888, corrected a rumour that was then circulating that Warren had actually resigned his position:-

“There is, our London Correspondent hears, no foundation for the rumour – so industriously circulated that Sir Charles Warren has resigned the Chief Commissionership of the London Police force.

What Sir Charles will do in the face of the difficulties which have occurred in his department, and of the outcry which has been raised against his administration, remains to be seen.

At present he is, I hear, in France on a holiday, and it is quite certain that, if he intended resigning his post, he would not send in his resignation from abroad.

It will be as well, for some days to come to take all reports with regard to the management of the London police with caution.

Something like a manufactory of false rumours in regard to the matter has been established here, and is being kept busy not merely by the Socialists and their friends, but also by the discontented officials at Scotland Yard, and certain interests which expect to profit by shifting of places at the headquarters of the police.

Sir Charles is, in fact, the victim of a most formidable intrigue, due not only to the hostility of noisy politicians but to the resentment of influential persons, whose susceptibilities have been wounded by what they regard as the over autocratic spirit in which he has maintained the authority of his office.”


In the same edition, The Yorkshire Post also carried a brief mention that the people of Spitalfields were to get a new vicar of their local church, Christchurch, Spitalfields:-

A good deal of satisfaction is felt in evangelical quarters (says a London Correspondent) at the news that Canon Quirk, of Rotherham, has been invited to succeed the Bishop of Bedford as Rector of Spitalfields.

The living has already been offered to the Rev. W. J.  Smith, of Kilburn, and to the Rev. Mowbray Trotter, of Gloucester, who were well advised in declining the honour.


But those who know Canon Quirk and know Spitalfields feel that he is the very man for an extremely difficult and exacting post.

Health, means, pluck, and administrative ability must be the necessary attributes of a successful rector there.


The parish probably houses more thieves, impostors, rogues, and vagabonds of every kind than any other district in London. The notorious Flower and Dean Street – the worst street in London – is within a stone’s throw of the Rectory.

Charles Dickens gave that doubtful honour to Wentworth Street, one side of which is also in the same parish.

Petticoat Lane forms part of the City boundary of the district, and Bird Fair is close by.

The organisation of the parish is extremely full and intricate, whilst the financing of it is a question into which Canon Quirk will doubtless make a full inquiry.”