The Late Riot In Whitechapel

In addition to its being one of the most crime-ridden parts of the Victorian metropolis, Whitechapel was also a place of considerable political agitation, especially towards the end of the century, as the lower classes began to bare their teeth and demand a fair share of the considerable wealth that the country then enjoyed.

The people who had to confront the unrest were, of course, the Metropolitan Police, and every so often, the constables who tried to bring order to the district found themselves injured while carrying out their duties.

One such case was reported in The East London Observer in its edition of Saturday the 18th of February 1882:-


At the Thames Police Court on Friday, before Mr. Lushington, James Ling, 38, a drayman, in the employ of Messrs. Ind, Coope, and Co., was charged, on remand, with violently assaulting Police-constable John Bateman, 318 H, by kicking him in the leg, in the Whitechapel Road, on the night of the 2nd inst., during the time that Mr. Bryce, M.P., was addressing his constituents at the St. Mary’s Schoolrooms, Whitechapel.

Mr. Cattlin defended.

Constable Bateman was unable to appear last week, it being feared that his leg was broken.

He, however, was in attendance today, and he was stated to have resumed duty on Thursday.

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


The Constables, John Den, 309 H, William Thompson, 343 H, and Detective Sergeant Bennett, who were all examined last week, were recalled and were cross-examined at considerable length by Mr. Cattlin.

Their evidence, however, was not taken in the least, and they all positively swore that the prisoner was the man who committed the assault.


An independent witness, named Collins – who was not called last week – also gave positive evidence as to the prisoner’s identity.


Police Constable Bateman was then sworn and said that he was following up some constables who had a prisoner, named Kelly in custody.

When they got to Whitechapel Church, a number of persons, amongst whom was the prisoner, came rushing down upon them.

The prisoner ran up to him and gave him a kind of running kick outside the knee.

He caught hold of his coat to detain him, but was unable to do so, and fell into the road.

He was quite certain that the prisoner was the man who assaulted him. He was conspicuously dressed, and he could not have made any mistake about him.

A sketch of St Mary's Church, Whitechapel.
The “White Chapel.”


Mr. Cattlin then made a long speech on behalf of his client urging that it was a case of mistaken identity.

He called Mr. Bell, a gentleman from Messrs Ind, and Coope’s, who gave the prisoner an excellent character as a steady, sober, and peaceable man.


Mr. Lushington said that in the face of the evidence that had been called, he was forced to come to the conclusion that the prisoner was the man who had assaulted the constable.

He could not make any difference in his sentence, and that of those whom he had had before him last week, and he would go to prison for six months with hard labour.


When the sentence was pronounced, the prisoner’s wife shrieked out in a most heart-rending manner and had to be carried out of court in an apparently half-fainting ‘condition.