The American Doctor In Trouble

In January, 1875, forty-five-year-old Edward Hanratty, a railway worker, died after a long illness.

At the subsequent inquest into his death, it transpired that, in his final days, he had been treated by a man who had been advertising himself doe several months as “The Great American Doctor”, whose name was spelt by the newspapers as Tumilty.

However, this doctor was, in fact, none other than Francis Tumblety, who, thirteen years later, would become a suspect in the Whitechapel murders.

A sketch of Dr Francis Tumblety.
Dr Francis Tumblety


The Manchester Evening News reported on the inquest into Edward Hanratty’s death in its edition of Tuesday, 19th January, 1875:-

Mr. Clarke Aspinall held an inquest yesterday, in Liverpool, on the body of Edward Hanratty, 45  years of age, a “sheeter,” employed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company.

Ann Hanratty, wife of deceased, said that her husband had been ill for some time, and was under the care of Dr. Bligh, 117, Mount-pleasant, for about four months.


Last Monday, at her husband’s request, she took him in a cab to “the American doctor,” whose name she did not know, whose place was at 177, Duke-street. The “doctor,” tapped deceased on the chest, and said that he would cure him for £2 10s., adding that the deceased was “bad in his breath.” Witness asked him to be as reasonable as possible, as she and her husband were in poor circumstances, and “the doctor” then agreed to effect a cure for £2, which she agreed to pay.

He then told her that the deceased would have no medicine until Wednesday, and she then called, when “the doctor” gave her a bottle of medicine, a box of pills, and some herbs. She then gave him £2, but he returned ten shillings, saying that her husband would require some nourishment, and that in giving her the money he was going against his habit.

There was no label on the bottle, but on a piece of paper attached to the herbs there were directions to the manner in which they were to be used.


There was no instruction on the pill box, but the “doctor” told her to give the deceased four of the pills that night.

About five o’clock the same day she gave her husband a tablespoonful of the mixture, and he died at ten minutes to nine o’clock. She gave him none of the pills nor any of the herbs.

Next day she went the “American doctor” and told him that her husband was dead, asking for a certificate of death. He replied that he knew nothing about the case, and then left her in the room with a friend named Mrs. Johnstone.

When he returned in about twenty minutes, the witness said to him, “I know you, if you don’t know me.” He merely replied “Oh, is that you?” and handed back the thirty shillings that she had paid to him, although she had not asked for it. She took the medicines back and left them with the “doctor.”


Hugh Jones, who lives with Mrs. Hanratty, said that after the deceased had taken the medicine a cold sweat broke over him, and he subsequently had two fainting fits.


Dr. Bligh said he saw the “American Doctor” whose  name is Tumilty, and asked him if he knew what was the matter with the man, and he said he did not.

Tumilty said that he only sold medicine, and did not know anything about disease, adding that he had come to Liverpool to make money for the purpose of bringing an action for the recovery of some property which he had in Canada.


As the result of the post-mortem examination it was found that Hanratty had died from natural causes, but under ordinary circumstances he might have lived some time longer.

There was nothing in the appearance of the body to indicate that death had resulted from erroneous treatment, but they were, nevertheless, quite consistent with such treatment.

The inquest was adjourned for a week, in order that the brain of the deceased might be examined and the contents of the stomach analysed.


The inquest resumed on Wednesday the 27th of January, 1875, and the Liverpool Mercury reported on the outcome in its next day’s edition:-

“The adjourned inquest on the death of Edward Hanratty took place on Wednesday the 27th of January 1875, and The Liverpool Mercury reported on the proceedings in its next day’s edition:-

Yesterday the adjourned inquest upon the body of Edward Hanratty, a railway sheeter, who resided at 91, Athol-street, was resumed before Mr. C. Aspinall, coroner.


Dr. Bligh said that he had, in conjunction with Dr Samuel, made an examination of the head and brain of the deceased. He found the brain congested, which he attributed to the patient’s general condition, and not to any special cause.

He could not trace distinctly that the condition of the brain suggested to his mind that anything in the nature of opium had been taken, but the condition was such as would be produced by an opiate. An opiate would have aggravated the condition in which he found the brain, but there was nothing in the brain to account for death.

If he had to certify the cause of death, he would certify to the effect that the deceased had died from disease of the heart and lungs.

He was not able to say, after investigation, that death was not the result of heart and lung disease from natural causes.


Mr. Murphy, who watched the case on behalf of Mr. Tumilty, otherwise known as “The American Doctor”, asked certain questions which intimated that Dr. Bligh had, after asking Mr. Tumilty to meet him at a given place and time, failed to keep his appointment, and consequently Mr. Tumilty had not the opportunity of being present at the post-mortem examination on the deceased.

The Coroner asked Mr. Murphy if he wished to say that Mr. Tumilty had been precluded from being present at the post-mortem examination.


Mr. Murphy said that he was s0 instructed, and that Mr. Tumilty had said that he could not expect any “appreciation” at the hands of  an English jury, and that he (Mr. Tumilty) had been informed that the jury had been tampered with.

The Coroner said that Mr. Tumilty ought to have been present in court. As an absentee he was wanting in respect both to the court and to himself (Mr. Tumilty).

If it was said that Mr Tumilty had been precluded from attending the post mortem, he (the coroner) would cause process to be served requiring Mr. Tumilty to be present and give an explanation of how it was that he did not appear at the post-mortem examination.


In regard to mention made by Mr. Murphy of Mr. Tumilty as “The American Doctor,” the coroner said that sensationalism ought not to be imported. It was of no importance whether Mr. Tumilty was American or not. It was of far more consequence to know whether was “doctor ” or not.

Mr. Murphy said that he had no sympathy with imposture.


He cross-examined Dr. Bligh to certain statements which the latter had made on a former occasion relative to a conversation with Mr. Tumilty, in which the latter was said to have stated that “he sold drugs but knew nothing about disease.”

Dr. Bligh upheld his statement on those points.


Dr. J. Campbell Brown, public analyst, said that he had made an analysis of the stomach and contents.

The stomach was healthy, and there was no definite indication of a drug in it. If he had not heard of a drug being taken, he would not have stated it; but, looking as he did on all the statements made, the indications pointed to an opiate, but did not conclusively establish its presence.


After a comprehensive summing up by the coroner, the jury retired for about a quarter of hour.

On returning into court, the foreman of the jury delivered a verdict to the following effect:- Death was the result of natural causes, but whether it was accelerated by unskilful treatment or not was left an open question.

The jury strongly censured the conduct of Mr. Tumilty in administering medicine, he being in total ignorance of the condition of his patient.”


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