The Lord Mayor On The Murders

Frequent mention is made of the Lord Mayor in relation to the Jack the Ripper murders.

However, it mostly happens that the articles that make mention of him, do not actually provide any information as to who, or, for that matter, what, he actually was!


The Lord Mayor is the head of the City of London Corporation, based in the historic financial district of London, also known as the Square Mile, and the Lord Mayor holds office for one year, a year that runs from November to November.

It is an almost universally known fact that the murder of Mary Kelly, on the 9th November 1888, took place on Lord Mayor’s Day, and it is often stated that, as a consequence, Jack the Ripper ruined the day for the incoming Lord Mayor.

It is a lesser known fact that, in the wake of the murder of Catherine Eddowes, on the 30th September 1888 – which took place in the City of London – the then Lord Mayor, Polydore de Keyser (1832 – 1898), offered a reward for information that might lead to the apprehension of the person responsible for the crime.


The Lord Mayor had, in fact, been born in the Belgian city of Dendermonde, near Ghent, and, in October 1888, he gave an interview to a Belgian newspaper in which he held forth on his opinion about the hunt for the elusive Whitechapel murderer.

The Pall Mall Gazette, reproduced the resultant article in its edition of Tuesday 9th October 1888.

A portrait of Lord Mayor Polydore de Keyser.
Polydore de Keyser


“The editor of the Independence Belge has had an interview at Brussels with Lord Mayor De Keyser, and the conversation naturally turned on the murder mania in London.

As “the first magistrate of the City,” the Lord Mayor was invited to give his theory of the crimes.

The  Independence Belge summarizes the Lord Mayor’s answers as follows :-


The theories propounded on the subject of the character and motive of the murderer made Mr. de Keyser shrug his shoulders.

He does not believe either in the enraged moralist theory, or the coroner’s theory, or the scientific Socialist theory.

In his opinion the murderer is simply a maniac; a kind of human mad dog – a proper subject for M. Pasteur – a man whose whole physical and intellectual being is so set on the single object of his monomania that he has been able to evade all the professional and amateur detectives.


“Will he finally be caught?” asked the interviewer.

“Yes,” replied the Lord Mayor, “he will be caught when he commits his next crime.”

A whole army of bloodhounds (metaphorical and literal) will be on his track the moment he draws blood again.

If he does not begin again, it is a corpse – the corpse of a suicide  – that will ultimately be found.

With a whole community against him, he cannot long escape.


On the subject of the reward, the Lord Mayor is reported as saying that it was meant more for show than for use.

A reward would only discover the murderer if he had accomplices; and the Lord Mayor does not believe he has any.

Sometimes, too, rewards do more harm than good, by creating crime.

But the Lord Mayor felt compelled to offer the reward in order to appease popular clamour.

As the offer will cost nothing, it would have been absurd not to make it.


As for the general excitement about the murders, the Lord Mayor treated it very lightly.

How could London expect, he said, to be the centre of everything else, and not also of crime?

There is no hiding place from justice so secure as the vast city which keeps secrets so well.

“But why not increase your police?” asked the editor.

“Why should we?” replied the Lord Mayor.

“It would cost much money; and the taxpayer would resent it. Besides, the English do not like to meet authority in uniform at every turn. It would offend their instincts of liberty.”

“And the liberty of the criminals, I suppose ?” asked the sarcastic editor.

“But the liberty of private initiative also,” rejoined the Lord Mayor, “and of individual energy.”


Finally, the Lord Mayor is reported to have described the efforts to purify the slums as a piece of utopianism.

The people are, he said, “miserable by taste, and idlers by profession.”

And as for the philanthropists, who arc so exceptionally pushing just now, Lord Mayor De Keyser ascribes their zeal to the fact that many of them are currying favour with a view to the approaching County Council elections.

With these digs all round at the foreign community in which Lord Mayor De Keyser has been good enough to take up his abode, the interview appears to have terminated.


The same edition of The Pall Mall Gazette also carried a report on suggestions being made by the Bishop of East London on home the everyday lives of the poor, and of the class of women from which the victims of Jack the Ripper were drawn in particular, could be improved:-

“The Bishop of Bedford, Bishop Suffragan for East London, and ten years rector of Spitalfields, writes:-

“Another night refuge is not required. It would attract more of these miserable women into the neighbourhood and increase the difficulties of the situation.

But what is needed is a home where washing and other work could be done, and where poor women who are really anxious to lead a better life could find employment.

There are penitentiaries and there are mission houses into which younger women can be received.

The public generally are little aware of how much good work has been clone of late among these.

But for the older women, many of whom have only taken to their miserable mode of earning a livelihood in sheer despair and who would gladly renounce it, we have not the home, and it is of the utmost importance one should be provided.

It would in its management differ from the ordinary penitentiary.

If anything is to be done, it should be done at once.

Two thousand pounds would enable the experiment to be tried.””


The Gazette, then followed with an article by Dr. Thomas Barnardo, in which he lamented the corruption of children in the common lodging houses of Spitalfields and Whitechapel; and then went on to repeat the well known story of Dr. Barnardo having met Elizabeth Stride shortly before her murder:-

“Dr. Barnardo writes on behalf of the children:-

“The saddest feature of the common lodging-houses in Whitechapel and other parts of London is that so many of their inmates are children.

Indeed, it is impossible to describe the state in which myriads of young people live who are brought up in these abodes of poverty and of crime.

We want to make it illegal for the keepers of licensed lodging-houses, to which adults resort, to admit young children on any pretext whatever.

It is also desirable that the existing laws relating to the custody and companionship of children should be more rigidly enforced.

At the same time some provision is urgently required for the shelter of young children of the casual or tramp class, something between the casual wards of the workhouse and the lodging-house itself, places where only young people under sixteen would be admitted, where they would be free to enter and as free to depart, and which could be made self-supporting, or nearly so.”


Dr. Barnardo tells the following story of a visit [to Flower and Dean Street] on which he recently saw the woman Stride:-

“In the kitchen of No. 32 there were many persons, some of them being girls and women of the same unhappy class as that to which poor Elizabeth Stride belonged.

The company soon recognized me, and the conversation turned upon the previous murders.

The female inmates of the kitchen seemed thoroughly frightened at the dangers to which they were presumably exposed.

The pathetic part of my story is that my remarks were manifestly followed with deep interest by all the women.

Not a single scoffing voice was raised in ridicule or opposition.


One poor creature, who had evidently been drinking, exclaimed somewhat bitterly to the following effect:- “We’re all up to no good, and no one cares what becomes of us. Perhaps some of us will be killed next!” And then she added, “If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this.”

I have since visited the mortuary in which were lying the remains of the poor woman Stride, and I at once recognized her as one of those who stood around me in the kitchen of the common lodging-house on the occasion of my visit last Wednesday week.””