Spare a Thought For Sir George Arthur

With the East End of London gripped by panic over the murder of Mary Kelly on 9th November 1888 a little light relief was provided to Londoners at large by the arrest of “little Sir George Arthur,” on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper.

According to an article published in the New York World on 18th November 1888,  Sir George was a captain in the Royal Horse Guards who was also an enthusiastic amateur actor.

Apparently, the murder of Mary Kelly, had led to a resurgence of slumming in the area and, each night, scores of young men who had never ventured into the East End before were heading into the streets where the murders had occurred to talk with the frightened women and push their way into the over-crowded lodging houses.

The police were turning a blind eye to those of them who went in pairs and who didn’t make a nuisance of themselves. But, should one of these young men go out alone and try and lure a woman into a dark corner in order to converse with her, then, according to the paper, he was just asking for trouble.

Unperturbed, the hapless Sir George Arthur had donned and old coat, put on a slouched hat and had headed out to Whitechapel for “a little fun.”

As he prowled the shadows, he was noticed by two police men who were struck by his resemblance to the descriptions of Jack the Ripper that were then circulating. They became even more suspicious as he began trying to talk to various women and promptly moved in to arrest him.

Sir George was furious and threatened the constables with all manner of things, not least of which was “the vengeance of royal wrath.” However, the constables were unmoved and it was only when he was allowed to send to Brook’s Club, in St James’s to prove his identity that he was finally released “with profuse apologies for the mistake.”

Sir George was sufficiently well connected to keep word of his arrest out of the English newspapers. But his fellow club members considered the affair to be too good a joke to be kept quiet and they duly tipped off the American newspapers, who had no qualms about making Sir George’s embarrassment public.