The Case Of Eliza Harris

Fights were extremely common in 19th-century Whitechapel, and the main cause of a large majority of them was caused by drink.

However, every so often, the policemen who were obliged to intervene in the drunken brawls that were so plentiful in the district overstepped their mark when it came to some of those that they arrested.

One such case was reported by Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, in its edition of Sunday the 24th of December, 1848:-


At the Thames Police Court, Samuel Elmore, Constable, 68 H, was charged with assaulting Eliza Harris.

The prosecutrix had been brought up on the preceding day charged with being drunk and disorderly, when her face exhibited signs of severe punishment, both of her eyes being blackened and one of them almost closed up, as, she alleged, from the brutal violence of the constable, though abe would not swear positively to Elmore being the man; but to the best of her belief he was.

The exterior of the Thames Police Court.
The Thames Police Court. Courtesy of Adam Wood.


The complainant stated that she was a dressmaker, and lived with her husband, a coal-whipper, at Herne-street, Southwark.

Between three and four o’clock on Tuesday morning she parted with a female friend at a public-house in Whitechapel, where they had something to drink.

She had not gone above three or four yards from her friend and the public house when the prisoner came up and gave her blow on the eye with his fist, which knocked her down. She had scarcely got up when he knocked her down again, and, on her rising second time, he gave her another blow which felled her a third time.

The people about cried. “Shame,” and, some other constables coming up, she was taken to the station-house.

She admitted that she was somewhat the worse for liquor at the time.

A sketch of Whitechapel High Street.
Whitechapel High Street.


Connell, H 53, said, hearing cries of Murder on Whitechapel High Street, he found a woman, who was drunk, creating a disturbance at the door of the Leopard coffee-house.

Having got her away, he proceeded towards a crowd a little further on, in the direction of Leman Street, where he saw the complainant on her back, and Elmore close beside her.

She seemed to have been very badly treated, and several people about said that the constable had used her shamefully. Witness reported Elmore for not preferring the charge.


Duke, 171 H, was then called, and materially contradicted Connell’s evidence.

He said that when he came he saw the defendant patting the woman’s head as one would do with a drunken person to rouse her up.

Witness got a pail of water and sprinkled her with it, and it was then that the people cried shame on him for using the water.

A man in the crowd said that Elmore had done all that he could for the woman.


Joseph Clarke, a waiter at the Horse and Leaping-bar, said that he saw the complainant at half past three o’clock. She had a black eye. Her face was bleeding, and her hair was streaming about it.

He refused her admittance, and she fell on Dr. Dodd’s steps two or three times, whilst some of the chaps about “bonnetted” her.

The constable then came up, and as she was very obstreperous, he knocked her down twice.


Wm. Upsall, a waiter at the Mazeppa Coffee-house, saw the complainant pass his place, when a constable pushed her down; and turned the light of his bull’s-eye on her; 68 came up to her afterwards.

He was not the constable who knocked her down.


Another witness, who represented himself as the manager of the Britannia Coffee-house, said that the complainant came to their house and wanted to show fight with the witness and some women that were there, saying that she would give them Bendigo’s touch.

She had a black eye at the time.


Inspector Scott said that the complainant was brought to the station-house in a beastly state of intoxication.

53 made a report that 68 had assaulted her.

When asked with whom she had been fighting, she said, “With no one; but that one of the police had knocked her down, but she did not know which, and would be sorry to swear a wrong person.”


Mr. Yardley said that the case was a very extraordinary one.

It was evident that the woman had sustained some violence from a constable, but the amount of it had been greatly exaggerated.

After the evidence heard, it would be rash to conclude that 68 was guilty.

Connell was not now on his trial, but his evidence was not satisfactory, and it would rash to believe it against that of three disinterested witnesses and the other constable, 171.

As Connell was not now on his defence, he, Mr. Yardley, would make no remark; but 68 must be discharged, without the slightest slur upon him.