Starved To Death In Whitechapel

The Jack the Ripper murders were most certainly shocking, and they caused a huge amount of fear and panic in the East End of London.

Yet, there was another killer loose on the streets of London at the same time –  and one that claimed more victims than the Whitechapel murderer.


Furthermore, this killer was an invisible assassin that could strike at any time and which didn’t confine itself to a certain class of victim.

Indeed, everyone was susceptible should their circumstances suddenly take a turn for the worse.

This silent killer was starvation; and its victims were numerous – 32 in 1887, 41 in 1886.


In other words, in the two years prior to the Jack the Ripper murders, starvation had claimed the lives of 73 people, and yet, aside from brief mentions in the newspapers of the inquests into the deaths of these unfortunate people, their lives ended in painful and lingering deaths that occurred without general notice or comment by society at large.


Looking back on the deaths of those who died from starvation in the East End of London over the twenty-five years prior to the Whitechapel murders is both saddening and infuriating.

Saddening because it is evident that, in many of these cases, their fates were brought about by a sudden change in circumstance – an accident that rendered them unable to work or, in the case of many of the women, desertion by a spouse – and it quickly becomes apparent that, like the victims of Jack the Ripper, these poor people found themselves at the mercy of a society that provided no safety net to catch those who fell through the cracks and ended up living in the squalid slums of the East End of the Victorian metropolis.

A close up of the lady on the step.
The Unknown Woman With The Baby On Her Lap


So, below, you will find the stories of seven victims of this invisible killer whose deaths truly should have caused more universal fear, panic and revulsion than they actually did, and whose deaths, in the words of the foreman of the Jury at the inquest into the death of one of the victims, were, quite simply, “a disgrace to the country.”


The East London Observer, Saturday 2nd October, 1875, published the following story of the inquest into the death of a two-year-old girl:-

“An inquest was held by Mr. Donaldson on Saturday at the London Hospital, into the circumstances attending the death of Ann Murray, aged 2 years.

Elizabeth Murray, 1, Garden-court, George-yard, Whitechapel, deposed that she got her livelihood by selling vesuvians [a slow-burning match formerly used for lighting cigars] in the streets, out of which she had to support the deceased, herself, and another child, aged 7 years.

Sometimes she earned 9d. or 10d. a day, the utmost she ever got being 1s. 6d., out of which she paid 7d. per night at the lodging-house.

They lived on potatoes and bread.


On last Monday afternoon, she was sitting on a doorstep in Ratcliff-highway, when two gentlemen came and said her, “What is the matter with your child?” to which she replied that it was ill.

They then persisted in her taking it to the doctor’s, but that gentleman, instead of giving her medicine, presented her with a silver sixpence, instructing her at once to take the child to the hospital.

She took it there on her way home, but the Deceased died in the receiving ward.

The Deceased had been ill for seven weeks, but she never before took it to a doctor’s.


Ann McDonald, deputy to the lodging-house, said that the mother had the deceased child out with her all day, generally returning home between 11.30 and 12 o’clock at night.

She had seen the mother buy halfpennyworth of milk and give it to the deceased, and sometimes a pennyworth of potatoes.

The mother had told her that she was married, but that her husband had deserted her.

The witness was certain that the children had not enough to eat, as she had seen them so ravenous that they had snatched the food from her hands.


Mr. Charles Mercier said that in making a postmortem examination he had found that the stomach and intestines were empty, the body being much emaciated. The immediate cause of death was due to rupture of the rectum.

Exposure and privation would accelerate death.


The Foreman of the jury said that it was a disgrace to the country for a woman to be allowed to drag a dying child about at that time of night, which was only done to create sympathy.

The Coroner concurred with the jury’s remarks.

The Jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence, and considered there was great blame attached to the mother.”


The Morpeth Herald, on Saturday, 15th January, 1876, published the following account of another tragic death:-

A case of starvation was investigated the other afternoon by Mr. Humphreys, at Whitechapel.

The inquest was on the body of James M’Cormack, aged 72 years.


Elizabeth Spicer said that she had known the deceased for many years.

He had been a famous pugilist.

On Christmas Day, she called at his lodgings, and found him and his wife huddled up on the floor in a mass of rags. There was not a particle of fire in the grate, and nothing but two chairs in the room, except a few rags that they slept on.

She at once went home and brought some food.

She then obtained an order for their removal to the infirmary.


Dr. Staff, resident medical officer of the Whitechapel Infirmary, stated that the two persons were admitted in a dying condition. Everything was done that possibly could be, but the man never rallied.

On making a post-mortem examination he found a terrible state things.

The bones were protruding through the skin, and the blood was like water. The cause of death was sheer starvation.

The woman was still lying in the infirmary, suffering from the effects of long privation.


The Coroner remarked that this was the worst case of the kind that had ever come before him.

The man had died from sheer want, and he left the verdict in the hands of the jury.

The foreman remarked that they had to pay rates and taxes, and to see such a terrible case before them was quite distressing.

A verdict of “Death from starvation” was recorded.”


The Luton Times And Advertiser, on Friday, 31st May, 1878, carried the following report into the death of another victim of this silent killer:-

“An inquest has been held at the Weavers’ Arms, Whitechapel, to the death of Mary Lee, aged 60.

The Deceased was admitted into the infirmary of the Whitechapel Union on the 20th inst.

She was in a most filthy and destitute condition, and died the following day from effusion on the brain, accelerated by starvation.

The Deceased had been in the habit of sitting on the steps of the entrance to Whitechapel Church, selling matches.

A verdict in accordance with the evidence was returned.”


The Nottingham Evening Post, 31st August, 1882, published an account of the inquest into the death of an actor who had died from starvation:-

Yesterday, an inquest was held at Whitechapel on the body of Guy Linton, aged thirty-five, an actor, who died from starvation.

P.C. James Cox stated that on Thursday he was on duty in Hanbury-street, Mile-end New Town, and about ten o’clock at night he saw the Deceased. He was so weak that he fell to the ground, and appeared to be thoroughly exhausted.


The witness felt certain that he was in a starving state. He procured a conveyance, and had the deceased removed to the Whitechapel Infirmary.

Eliza Hyde, nurse at the Whitechapel Union Infirmary, stated that the deceased was in a very dirty and destitute condition, and he appeared to be only skin and bones.

He told the witness that he had a wife and sister in America, and was a professional actor, and formerly held an engagement at the Pavilion Theatre.

A juryman here said that he knew the deceased well as an actor.


The witness, continuing, said that the deceased never rallied, although everything that was possible was done for him, and he died on Sunday afternoon.

He told her he had earned a few halfpence by selling matches and envelopes.


Dr. John James Ilott, resident medical officer at the Whitechapel Infirmary, said that he had made a post-mortem examination of the deceased, and he found that the lungs and brain were diseased. The stomach and intestines both bore indications that the deceased had suffered greatly from want of food.

The cause of death was serum of blood on the brain, accelerated by destitution and exposure.

The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.


The juryman already mentioned then stated that the deceased was well known throughout the theatrical profession, and was on one occasion specially selected by Mr. Hollingshead to play a leading part at the Gaiety Theatre.

He also had a brother in the profession, and his aged mother resided in Glasgow.”


The Edinburgh Evening News, on Thursday 25th October, 1883, published the following tale of woe:-

Sir John Humphreys held an inquest in Whitechapel yesterday on the body a man named Charles Ross, aged 62, a chimney sweep, who had for some months been unable to work, and had occasionally earned a few pence by minding horses at Spitalfields Market.

The people who knew him did not know how he contrived to exist.

He was never seen to eat any meat.

On Thursday last he complained of feeling very ill, and he was taken on a costermonger’s barrow to the infirmary, but he was dead before the doctor saw him.

The cause of death was stated to be disease of the heart, accelerated by long privation and want.

A verdict in accordance with the medical evidence was returned.”


The Dundee Evening Telegraph, Saturday, on 10th January, 1885, published the following story of the death of a woman in a common lodging house, in 1885, whose story, in so many ways, resembled the story of the victims of Jack the Ripper:-

“On Thursday, an inquest was held in Whitechapel on the body of Mary Harrison, about 50.

Edward Coulson stated that the Deceased lived in a common lodging house at Thrawl Street, Spitalfields.

Witness did not know much about the Deceased, but, on Monday last, his attention was called to her by the landlord of the house.


The Deceased was partly dressed and lying on the bed, apparently starving and in a dying condition.

Witness gave her some brandy, and then went for a doctor, who came and prescribed for her; but she never rallied, and died the same evening.


Witness should say that the deceased died entirely from the effects of starvation, and during the time he had known her he had never seen her have any food or nourishment any kind.

At first, no one knew the name of the Deceased, and it was only found out by seeing it on a pawn-ticket.

The body was very thin and emaciated, and there was scarcely a vestige of fat on it.

The blood was also thin and watery.

The cause of death was an effusion of serum on the brain, accelerated by destitution and want.

A verdict was returned accordingly.”


On Saturday, 27th October, 1888, Justice published the following brief article which used the Jack the Ripper murders to make the point that starvation was a far more dangerous killer than the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities:-

“On Friday morning, a man named Robert Reynolds, aged forty-one, was found lying insensible on the pavement in Brady Street, Buck’s Row, Whitechapel.

He was taken to the Bethnal Green Infirmary where he was found to be dead.

The cause of his death was stated to be destitution.

The place where this man was found was near the scene of one of the recent murders.

He, however, did not have his throat cut by any “Jack the Ripper,” and in consequence, his death has excited no comment.

But the fiend who murdered him is responsible for more murders than any other.

His name is Starvation and he is the creature of that Society which is shedding tears of crocodile sympathy over the victims of the more merciful if more sanguinary Whitechapel murderers.


The final case appeared in The Morning Post, on Saturday, 7th September, 1889:-

“Dr. Danford Thomas, the coroner for Central Middlesex, was yesterday informed of the death of a child apparently from starvation.

A young girl, named Anna Caroline Thompson, who had been deserted by her husband, gave birth to a child on the 17th of December last.

In order to support the child, she went to work at the Clerkenwell dust-yard, leaving the child in the care of a young woman named Nash.


On the 29th ult. Nash took the child with her along the Bethnal-green-road, but the sight of it attracted a great crowd, and the police were obliged to interfere and take both to the station.

The child was little more than a skeleton, and the police communicated with the society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, who sent an officer to convey the child to the infirmary.


In the meantime, Dr. Quinliven, the divisional surgeon, was called in and he made the following report:- “Child greatly emaciated, with no organic disease to account for it. Weighed only six-and-three-quarter pounds., instead of from fifteen pounds to eighteen pounds which is the ordinary weight of a child of that age.”


The mother, on hearing that the child was in the Workhouse Infirmary, went there and persisted in taking it away, but was afterwards persuaded by Inspector Burrows, of the S.P.C.C, to take it to one of their shelters, which she did on Tuesday.

Though everything was done for it, death ensued the following day.”