The Lighter Side Of My Official Life

In 1910, Sir Robert Anderson, who at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders was the head of the Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police, published his memoirs which were titled The Lighter Side Of My Official Life.

The Sketch published a review of the book on November 9th 1910, which featured excerpts from the memoirs and which was accompanied by a photograph of Anderson.

A Photograph of Sir Robert Anderson.
Sir Robert Anderson. From The Sketch, November 9th, 1910. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The full review read:-

“Few words run better in couples than ” secret” and “service”: alone they are commonplaces; together they are fascinating.

Sir Robert Anderson need have no fear as to the fate of his book.

It is certain that the truths with which he deals are not invariably stranger than the fiction that has to tell of such wonder-men as Arsene Lupin, Raffles, and Sherlock Holmes; but it is none the less a fact that the doings he details rival, if they do not surpass, those of the great adventurers of sixpenny magazine and feuilleton.

Secret Service as we encourage it may not be as is that of other lands, but it is every bit as exciting.

“In this country we know nothing of Secret Service in the Continental sense of the term.

In England the duties thus designated are such as any competent police force would discharge.

But with us the expenditure of public money must be open, and subject to audit.

In the annual Estimates, therefore, a specified amount is taken for Secret Service; and, as regards this fund, the controlling authority must accept a certificate under the hand of a Secretary of State that it is expended for purposes authorised by the statute in that behalf.

Were it not for this no Government could obtain information about conspiracies against the State.”

All that red tape cannot seal the door so tightly that Romance is unable to enter in.


Witness numbers of Sir Robert’s experiences.

What could be less governed by “Department” than the movements which prevented the projected “pyrotechnic display in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee ” which was to have been a dynamite explosion in Westminster Abbey during the historic ceremony that marked the fiftieth year of a great reign?

A slip might not only have meant disaster, but have turned a British official into that most abhorred of things, according to our ideas, the agent provocateur.

Think, too, of the strength of mind needed to prevent indiscretion at a time when the alien and the official in Ireland lived and had his being in fear.

There is in Mrs. Charles S. Roundell’s diary the following: “After luncheon Lady Spencer asked me to drive in state with her. We drove in a barouche-and-four, with postilions and outriders; an A.D.C. sat opposite to us, with his revolver in his hand under the fur rug; two footmen sat in the rumble behind, each wearing a powerful whistle, hung round his neck by a red cord, and with pistols in a holster by his side; there followed two mounted soldiers, with drawn swords in their hands and pistols in their holsters.

In this fashion we drove through some of the principal streets of Dublin.”

Yet, according to Sir Robert,” even when the Invincibles were on the prowl, these ladies might have driven, or even walked, alone through any street in Dublin.”


Secrecy was needed also.

“My first Fenian informant,” says Sir Robert, “was shot like a dog on returning to New York. In communicating the man’s information to Lord Mayo, then Chief Secretary, I gave him the poor fellow’s name and some particulars respecting him, and these he passed on to the Lord-Lieutenant as they sat together one evening over the dinner-table at the Viceregal Lodge.

A servant happened to be behind the screen which covered the service-door of the dining-room, and he overheard the conversation and repeated it in the servants’ hall.”

And what care and knowledge were needed before the truth could be sifted from the lie – diplomatic or determined!

How many believed that Count D’Orsay died of spine-disease and a carbuncle in the back?

Sir Robert, thanks to the break-up of the French Secret Service Department, on the fall of the Empire, learnt from an agent of the Surete that, “as a matter of fact, the carbuncle was a euphemism for a bullet aimed at the Emperor ” as D’Orsay and he were walking together in the gardens of the Elysee.


Attempted murder reminds one that, “when Mr. Chamberlain visited America in 1896, there was a formidable plot to assassinate him at the house where he was sojourning in Pennsylvania. Facts which came to light convinced the local police of the truth of the information received, and the American authorities deemed it necessary to take very special measures for his protection.”


Mr. Gladstone had a marvellous escape in April 1893, “when the lunatic Townsend, with a loaded revolver in his pocket, lay in wait for him in Downing Street. A lunatic is often diverted from his purpose as easily as a child; and the man’s own explanation of his failing to fire was that the Premier smiled at him when passing into No. 10 – a providential circumstance that, for Mr. Gladstone was not addicted to smiling.”


To turn to a different subject, it is of far more than ordinary interest to read Sir Robert on the Jack the Ripper scares.

“If nonsense were solid, the nonsense that was talked and written about those murders would sink a Dreadnought. The subject is an unsavoury one, and I must write about it with reserve.


But it is enough to say that the wretched victims belonged to a very small class of degraded women who frequent the East-End streets after midnight . . . one need not be a Sherlock Holmes to discover that the criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent type; that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders; and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt, and refused to give him up to justice. . . . The conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews; for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice.

And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point.

For I may say at once that undiscovered murders’ are rare in London, and the Jack the Ripper crimes are not within that category.


And if the police here had powers such as the French police possess, the murderer would have been brought to justice. . . . I will only add here that the ‘Jack the Ripper’ letter which is preserved in the Police Museum at New Scotland Yard is the creation of an enterprising London journalist. Having regard to the interest attaching to this case, I am almost tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer and of the Pressman who wrote the letter above referred to; but no public benefit would result from such a course, and the traditions of my old department would suffer.


I will merely add that the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him ; but he refused to give evidence against him. In saying he was a Polish Jew, I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact.”

None need take up Sir Robert Anderson’s book without anticipating much entertainment; none will put it down without regret that it is not longer, without desire to see its author’s promised “Graver Reminiscences” at a very early date.”