The Last Day Of 1888

New Year’s Eve, 1888, fell on a Monday, and, as the country as a whole prepared to ring in 1889, the people of London found themselves enveloped in a thick fog.

The Globe described the state of the streets in its edition of that evening:-


“The Metropolis was this morning visited by the thickest and most trying fog experienced during the present season. It settle down early in the morning, and was accompanied by a very sharp frost.

The fog appears to extend to all London suburbs for a considerable distance, and, of course, it has caused considerable inconvenience.

At one time during the forenoon there was a slight clearance, and there seemed a probability of a fine afternoon, but by about eleven the fog came down again blacker and darker than ever, and so continued¬† until after two o’clock, when it gradually cleared.”


Meanwhile, The Sunderland Daily Echo, looked forward to the festivities that would see the old year out and the new year in:-

“Yet a few hours, and in thousands of churches and chapels people will bow their head’s in silent prayer during the few moments which mark the death of the old year and the birth of the new.

Then thousands of steeples bells will ring merrily, and millions of hands will grasp hands, with hearty wishes of health and prosperity during 1889.


The “first foot” will be received in numberless houses with acclamation, and “mirth and youthful jollity” will prevail into the small hours of the morning.

There are no homes like British homes for these social – I beg pardon of literary purists – fraternalia.

Gentle sleep will put a partition – in many cases a very thin partition – between these social revels and the festivities of the new-born year.

Well, I shall present in sympathy at all such revels, wisely conducted, and wish all a Happy New Year.”


However, all was not happy in some parts of the nation.  The murders of Percy Knight Searle, in Havant, on Monday 26th November 1888, and The murder of John Gill, in Bradford on Thursday 27th December 1888, had genuinely shocked people, to an extent even more than the Jack the Ripper murders had done.

The milkman Pratt, watched by Robert Husband, holds his lantern over the body of the murdered boy.
Robert Husband and the Milkman Pratt by the body of Percy Searle. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Sheffield Daily Telegraph opined that, although people could look forward to a happy and prosperous New Year, the latest epidemic of murder mania should be cause for concern:-

“The New Year will open with every prospect of being a happy one for the English people, who are now reaping the fruits of honest, firm and resolute government on the part of those whom they have entrusted with the management of their affairs.

The only subject which causes any anxiety is that of the repeated outbreak of the fiendish form of crime which had its birth in Whitechapel.

The Metropolitan Police are, of course, in close touch with the provincial police, but hitherto all their efforts to detect the criminal have come to naught.


The latest phase of this epidemic is the most distressing and appalling of all, for whereas in the former cases the victims lent themselves to the purposes of their slaughter, in the latter cases the victims have been innocent, unsuspecting, defenceless children.

The Havant and Yorkshire crimes are regarded by the police here as probably the work of some cowardly and cunning lunatic of the “Silly Billy” order; and I understand that “cautions” have been distributed as to the movements of persons of that class who are to be found in almost every village throughout the country.

Illustrations shwing the final sightings of John Gill and the finding of his body.
From The Illustrated Police News, 5th January 1889. Copyright, The British Library.


The lunacy laws have gathered into safe keeping thousands of brainless wretches who used to wander about the roads and lanes of the country; but there are still a good many who have not been considered bad enough for the asylums, and who, from the very fact of their possessing more or less intelligence, are peculiarly liable to have their insane tendencies developed by hearing or reading of the East London crimes.


I was talking the other day with an eminent psychologist who told me that in his opinion we are seeing the beginning of a mania, which, unless it can be checked, may reach frightful proportions. He considers that there are probably hundreds of people in our midst whose minds are hovering on the verge of insanity, though nobody suspects it, and who are liable at any moment to be thrown of their mental balance by the recurrence of these mysterious horrors, which case their mania would almost certainly take a homicidal turn.


The detection and execution of even one of the murderers would, he considers, be the best check, not so much by bringing home the consequences of discovery, as by dissipating the unwholesome atmosphere of mystery which has gathered round these crimes, and which has a fatal fascination for morbid minds.”


The Pall Mall Gazette, of Monday 31st December, 1888, carried news that the hunt for the perpetrator of the Whitechapel crimes had, apparently, moved to the other side of the Atlantic:-


“Inspector Andrews, of Scotland-yard, has arrived in New York from Montreal. It is generally believed that he has received orders from England to commence his search in this city for the Whitechapel murderer.

Mr. Andrews is reported to have said that there are half a dozen English detectives, two clerks, and one inspector employed in America in the same chase.

Ten days ago, Andrews brought hither from England Roland Gideon Israel Barnet, charged with helping to wreck the Central Bank, Toronto, and since his arrival he has received orders which will keep him in America for some time

The supposed inaction of the Whitechapel murderer for a considerable period, and the fact that a man suspected of knowing a good deal about this series of crimes left England for this side of the Atlantic three weeks ago, has, says the Telegraph correspondent, produced the impression that Jack the Ripper is in that country.”


“The same edition of the Gazette reprinted an article from The Sunday Times, which spoke of a certain suspect who was under surveillance:-

According to the Sunday Times, a gentleman who has for some time been engaged in philanthropic work in the East-end of London recently received a letter, the handwriting of which had previously attracted the attention of the Post-office authorities on account of its similarity to that of the writer of some of the letters signed “Jack the Ripper.”

The police made inquiries, and ascertained that the writer was known to his correspondent as a person intimately acquainted with East-end life, and that he was then a patient in a metropolitan hospital.

It is stated that on an inquiry at the hospital it was discovered that the person sought had left without the consent or knowledge of the hospital authorities, but that he has been subsequently seen, and is now under observation.

The police are of opinion that the last five murders were a series, and that the first two were independently perpetrated.”