Sir Henry Smith Remembers

Two police forces – the Metropolitan police and the City of London Police –  were responsible for investigating the Jack the Ripper crimes.

All but one of the murders took place within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police, whose Commissioner was Sir Charles Warren.

However, the murder of Catherine Eddowes, which took place on the 30th September 1888, was carried out in Mitre Square, which was, and is still, just inside the eastern boundary of the City of London.

The corner in Mitre Square where the body of Jack the Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes was found.
Murder Corner – Mitre Square


This meant that the responsibility for investigating this particular murder fell to the officers of the City of London Police, whose Commissioner was Sir James Fraser.

However, Fraser was absent on sick leave at the time of the Mitre Square atrocity, and Major Henry Smith was standing in as Acting Commissioner, making him the highest ranking officer on the City force.


Following Fraser’s retirement, in 1890, Smith took over as City of London Police Commissioner, and he reamined in the post for eleven years until his resignation in 1901.


In 1910, Sir Henry Smith published his memoirs, quirkily entitled “From Constable to Commissioner: The Story of Sixty Years Most of Them Misspent.”

As with several other police officers who had been involved with the case, he could not resist reminiscing about the Jack the Ripper murders, albeit, again as with many who had worked on the case, his memory proved slightly faulty on several key facts!

A portrait of Sir Henry Smith.
Sir Henry Smith.


Following the publication of his memoirs, several newspapers published articles about his reminiscences, and almost all of them focused, more or less, exclusively on his involvement with the hunt for the Whitechapel murderer.

The following article appeared in The St Andrews Citizen on Saturday, 15th October, 1910.

It is of interest in that we are getting an account from a high ranking police officer involved with the case, but, at the same time. some of his claims and statements should, most certainly, be taken with a rather large pinch of salt!

The article read:-


“The mystery of the Jack the Ripper murders probably never will be cleared up.

The man intimately versed in all the details of the police search after the murderer, Sir Henry Smith, late Commissioner of Police in the City of London, has owned himself completely baffled.

In his reminiscences, entitled “From Constable to Commissioner,” he tells some striking details of the tremendous efforts made by the police to track the criminal.


“The coincidences in connection with the tragedies no one would credit.

After the second crime, I sent word to Sir Charles Warren that I had discovered a man very likely to be the man wanted. He certainly had all the qualifications requisite. He had been a medical student; he had been in a lunatic asylum; he spent all his time with women whom he bilked by giving them polished farthings instead of sovereigns, two of these farthings having been found in the pocket of the murdered woman.

Sir Charles failed to find him. I thought he was likely to be in Rupert Street, Haymarket. I sent up two men, and there he was; but, polished farthings and all, he proved an alibi without the shadow of a doubt.”


In August 1888, Sir Henry made such arrangements as he thought would ensure success.

He put nearly a third of the force into plain clothes, with instructions to do everything which, under ordinary circumstances, a constable should not do.

“The weather was lovely, and I have little doubt they thoroughly enjoyed themselves, sitting on doorsteps, smoking their pipes, hanging about the public-houses, and gossiping with all and sundry.

In addition to this, I visited every butcher’s shop in the City, and every nook and corner which might by any possibility be the murderer’s place of concealment.

Did he live close to the scene of action? or did he, after committing a murder, make his way with lightning speed to some retreat in the suburbs. Did he carry something with him to wipe the blood from his hands? or did he find means of washing them? were questions I asked myself nearly every hour of the day.

It seemed impossible he could be living in the very midst of us.”


Sir Henry describes how two Women were found murdered on one night, the first in Berners Street, a narrow thoroughfare off the Commercial Road, and the second in Mitre Square.

“I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that had my orders been carried out in the spirit – they may have been to the letter – his reign of terror would have ceased that night.

The orders were to account for every man and woman seen together. It may be that the man and woman, having made an appointment, went separately and met in the square.

That does not exonerate the officers of the City Police.

On hundreds of occasions I have defended them and stood up for them when unjustly accused of neglect or excess of duty; but that is not my platform now.”

The Mitre Square victim was known to a good many of the constables. Had she been followed and men called to guard the approaches, says Sir Henry, the murderer would to a certainty have been taken red-handed.


“My men, thoroughly awake at last, were scouring the whole neighbourhood, and one of them, Halse by name, who had been with us in Mitre Square, thinking that he had a better chance down Whitechapel way, ran at his best pace in that direction.

Goulston Street, Whitechapel, is a broad thoroughfare running parallel with the Commercial Road [Smith was, in fact, thinking of Commercial Street], just one-third of a mile from the square, and in that street in the door one of the model workmen’s dwellings erected by Peabody, he saw a light, and halting, found a constable of the Metropolitan Force looking at the missing piece of apron.

It was folded up, and immediately above, written in chalk were the words, “The Jews are the men that won’t be blamed for nothing.”

“It was thus proved beyond doubt that the murderer, on that evening, at any rate, made in the first instance for Whitechapel.

Sir Charles Warren was instantly apprised of this discovery, and coming down himself, he ordered the words to be wiped out, alleging his reason for so doing that he feared a rising against the Jews.

This was, I thought, a fatal mistake.

It is just possible the words, if photographed, might have afforded an important clue.”

Goulston Street showing Wentworth Model Dwellings where the message was found.
Goulston Street. The Building Smith Refers To Is In The Background On The Right.


Three or four days after the murder in Mitre Square, a letter addressed to Sir Henry by name was delivered at his office.

The writer said he had a lot to tell about the murders, that he was on ticket-of-leave, and that if he came to Old Jewry [The City of London Police headquarters at the time was situated in Old Jewry in the City of London] the ‘tecs would apprehend him.

He added that a letter addressed to a certain place in Hoxton, to be left till called for, would find him.

“There were two courses open to me – to watch the house in Hoxton and apprehend anyone or everyone who called, or to trust the man who trusted me. I chose the latter.

I wrote making an appointment with him for 10 p.m. in one of the quietest squares in the West End; assured him that I would be alone and that not one detective would accompany me from the Old Jewry.

I told him to stand under the lamp at the north-west end of the gardens and wait for me.

Shortly before the hour named, I took my position on the pavement opposite.

Punctual, almost to the minute, I saw a man advance from the North and halt under the lamp.

Crossing the road at once, I walked quickly up to him and looked him over steadily. The man confronting me could not have been more than five feet two or three inches in height. He was stoutly built, black-bearded and of an ugly and forbidding countenance.

“Have you come to see anyone, my man?” I said.

“No, I haven’t,” he replied civil enough in tone.

“Well, I have,” I said, “and I mean to wait a bit longer to see if he keeps his appointment.”

There we stood, facing one another for five or six minutes, when the man turned and walked leisurely away.”

After this meeting, Sir Henry had a note from his short friend.

“Now,” he said, “I know can trust you, I’ll be at the Old Jewry as soon as I can.”

The man, however, never came.


In summing up, Sir Henry says the writing on the wall may have been written – and he thinks it probably was written – to throw the police off the scent.

It may have been written by the murderer it may not.

“To obliterate the words that might have a given us a most valuable clue,” he adds, “more especially after I had sent a man to stand over them till they were photographed, was not only indiscreet but, unwarrantable.”