The Murder Of Constable Cole

On Friday, 1st of December, 1882, Police Constable George Cole was shot at killed by a suspected burglar he had tried to arrest in Dalston.

The Derby Daily Telegraph broke the news of the murder in its edition of Saturday, 2nd December, 1882:-


“Information was received at Scotland Yard at midnight last night by Inspector Hagan, of the Criminal Investigation Department, of the murder, whilst on duty at Dalston, of a police constable belonging to the division. His name is George Cole, and his number is 83.

The murderer has escaped, but, from the particulars that have been gathered, it appears that the deceased had arrested him for some offence, the nature of which is at present unknown, and that the murder was committed in the prisoner’s endeavour to escape. This, at present, appears to the only motive for the crime.

A local correspondent states that it is believed that the assailant was dressed in a dark coat and light trousers, and was of short stature.

The shot, which was fired from a revolver, took immediate effect, death being instantaneous.”

The shooting of Constable Cole.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 16th December, 1882. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper gave a further account on Sunday 3rd December, 1882:-

“George Cole, a constable of the N division of the Metropolitan Police, was shot dead shortly before twelve o’clock on Friday night at Dalston.

Whilst on his beat the constable’s suspicions were excited by the conduct of a man whose movements he watched, and whom eventually he felt obliged to arrest. Whilst in custody, and before assistance could be procured, the prisoner produced a revolver, and shot the constable, who at once fell to the ground mortally wounded. The murderer immediately decamped.

Meantime, the wounded constable was picked up and conveyed to a place where he could receive medical attendance, but he was found to be dead.


Information was at once forwarded to Scotland-yard, and thence instructions were despatched to the various police divisions to secure the murderer’s arrest. It is assumed that the man was a burglar, and that the constable had frustrated his design by arresting him, the prisoner making his escape by the desperate expedient of shooting his captor.

Inquiries yesterday do not result in adding much information in respect to the murder. The report of firearms brought to the officer’s assistance Police-constables Harford 381 N and 411 N. They, finding their comrade lying on the ground bleeding and in an insensible condition, carried him to the Dalston-lane police-station, which is close by, and the police surgeon was sent for, but Inspector Hammond thought that it would be best to at once send the officer on a stretcher to the German Hospital. There he expired a few minutes afterwards.

On the constables being questioned by the superior officers, one of their number was found to have seen a man some time before Cole was shot, who answered in every description the man that shot the deceased, loitering in the Queen’s-road.

The deceased, who was a married man, was a member of the Army Reserve Corps, and had been in the police force for about two years.

A hat was found near the spot where the crime was perpetrated, and it is believed that will form an important clue, as was the case with a similar article in the Kensington outrage, when a policeman was shot.


The police who found the body state that they only heard three shots fired, but, according to the statement of Mrs. Shepherd, there were four shots altogether.

Only two of these shots actually hit the unfortunate constable, the one which proved fatal hitting him behind the left ear and penetrating into the brain. The second bullet found struck the case containing the murdered man’s truncheon. It penetrated the leather, but its further progress was stopped by the handle of the truncheon, and it fell into the bottom of the case, where it was discovered at the examination of the body. The fact of the truncheon not being drawn shows the unpreparedness of the constable.

There is little doubt as to the profession of Cole’s assailant, the murderer having left a number of house-breaking tools behind him. It is understood that a man answering the description of the man seen struggling with the deceased was seen by a police constable in the neighbourhood of Dalston-lane about half an hour before the murder is stated to have taken place. This man can be identified.


Mrs. Shepherd, the only person who saw the struggle, has made the following statement:-

“About a quarter-past ten o’clock last night I had occasion to go across the street to see a neighbour of mine. I opened the front door, and was about to step outside, when I saw a policeman and another man struggling in the road close to the kerb-stone on the side of the street on which I live.

At first, I thought that the policeman was trying to take up the other man for being drunk, and that he had proved a tougher customer than he expected to find him. But I soon saw that it was something far more serious, for I saw the man in plain clothes raise his right arm and fire what appeared to be a pistol.

For a moment the two men separated, and the policeman moved a few yards further up the street, away from Dalston-lane. The other man was after him, however, directly, and as he raised his arm to fire his pistol at the policeman a second time, I saw the policeman seize him with both hands by the shoulders. Directly afterwards I saw two more flashes, and heard two more shots fired in quick succession, and both men, who seemed to be struggling with all their might, moved still further up the street.

I was by this time terribly frightened, but I saw a number of people running towards the two men, having, I expect, heard the shots from Dalston-lane and I turned to go indoors again.

Just as I was going in, I heard the policeman shout “Help,” and I also heard another shot fired, This is all I know about the affair.

Mr. Shepherd, who was indoors, also heard the shots.”

The description of the missing man, which has been telegraphed to all police-stations, is as follows:- Age twenty-one, height 5ft. 2in., complexion pale, round face, slight moustache, long dark hair.


The following is a description of the burglar’s implements left behind by the assassin of the policeman Cole:- One 1-inch and a quarter bench chisel; maker’s name “Ellis, late Berry, Old-street, warranted,” On the reverse side a boat, “Oxford wins,” cast steel. There was also another chisel with “Rock” scratched thereon; this was recently ground. Whether “Rock” was the then owner’s name remains to be discovered. There was also a 1-inch cold chisel.

It has now been ascertained that they were found in the forecourt of the Baptist Chapel.

Circumstances are transpiring to lend to the conclusion that Cole first discovered the burglar there.

Before his death, he made a statement to the effect that he believed the man was there for an unlawful purpose, and that he then sprang upon him, and said to him, “What’s your little game?”

The man then drew the revolver, and replied, “I’ll show you what my game is, and then fired the first shot.”

Deceased then closed with him, and a fearful struggle took place.”

The constable struggling with the burglar.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 6th September, 1884. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Despite several promising suspects in the early stages of the police investigation into their colleague’s murder, the trail soon went cold, and for, almost two years, it seemed as though the murderer had evaded justice.

But the police persevered with their quest to hunt down the perpetrator and, finally, on Wednesday, 20th August, 1884, The Hackney and Kingsland was able to break the news that a breakthrough had been made in the case:-

We are given to understand that prosecution will very shortly be commenced by Mr. Poland, at Bow Street Police Court, on behalf of the Treasury, against a man who has been in custody for some considerable time for another offence, and who is suspected of having murdered police constable Cole in Ashwin Street, Dalston Junction, on the night of December 1st, 1882. The police are in possession of a clue which is considered sufficient to justify them in a prosecution.


The Liverpool Echo, on Thursday, 21st August, 1884, was able to publish the name of the suspect and report on his first court appearance:-

“Thomas Orrock was brought up at Bow Street (London), today, on writ of habeas corpus, from Coldbath Fields Prison, charged with the wilful murder George Cole, a constable at Dalston, on the 1st December, 1882.

Mr. Poland prosecuted (instructed by the Public Prosecutor), and Mr. Willis defended.

Mr. Poland related the fact of Cole being on duty Ashwin Street, Dalston, on the night named, and seeing an attempt to enter the Baptist Church in that street, seized the prisoner, who struggled desperately. This struggle was witnessed by two persons from their windows, and these would be called.

Four shots were heard in rapid succession, and when assistance arrived on the scene the constable was mortally wounded, in a gutter, and the prisoner was seen to escape down a side street.

A portrait of Thomas Orrock.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 30th August, 1884. Copyright, The British Library Board.


From that night up to a few days ago pursuit had been fruitless, but the police had always been at work on the case.

In the struggle, the prisoner dropped a chisel which a name had been partially obliterated, but the word ‘Rock’ was distinctly made out, and, after microscopical examination, it was proved that “Or” had been removed.

Thus the name of murderer was revealed.

Inspector Glass, who had been unremitting in his endeavours to find the man who escaped, had a photograph taken of the chisel.


Mr. Poland further said that the prisoner being taken into custody a short time back on another charge, inquiries then made led to his identification.

Two companions of the prisoner would be called who knew of the intended robbery at the chapel, and waited at a public-house bard by, and heard the shots, which the prisoner afterwards told them were fired in the struggle for the revolver.”


On Friday, 22nd August, 1884, the case for the prosecution was commenced, and The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette published the following report of the proceedings on Monday, 25th August, 1884:-

Owing to the rapid progress made on Friday with the examination of witnesses at Bow Street, Mr. Poland was able to announce that he proposed at the next hearing to complete the case against the prisoner Orrock, charged with the murder of Police-constable Cole at Dalston.

On entering the dock the prisoner appeared to be perfectly at his ease, glancing about the court, but he apparently failed to observe that his wife – a young and prepossessing woman – sat not far behind him.

A warder armed with a cutlass occupied a position at the prisoner’s side throughout the proceedings.


The cross-examination of Evans, who was recalled, was brief, and was intended to make plain the mode in which the police had obtained their information; but the witness repeated that he had kept his oath not to betray Orrock until Sergeant Cobb, who was accompanied by Miles, applied to him on July 29.

Frederick Miles, the next important witness, is a smart young fellow of about the prisoner’s age, and he gave his evidence clearly and straightforwardly.

Orrock seemed to be much interested in his admissions, which corroborated the statements of Evans.

The prisoner narrowly watched the witness when Miles declared that he (Orrock) had asked him to fetch away some plate from the chapel, adding, “I don’t want you to do anything, only help carry it away.”

Cross-examined on this point, he at first denied that he knew he was going to join in a robbery, but afterwards acknowledged that he thought such was the prisoner’s intention.

Miles was emphatic in his asseverations that if the reward bills had not been issued he would have come forward with information. His fear was that people would think he gave information for- money, and he muttered, “I didn’t want the £200.”

When the police came to him, he took Sergeant Cobb to Tottenham and pointed out the tree at which the revolver was fired. He added with a laugh that he “got a good wetting” 0n the occasion.


Henry Mortimer, who had been brought from Maidstone, where he is undergoing twelve months’ imprisonment for stealing, was much less confident. He spoke in a weak, trembling voice, his manner creating the impression that he was about to burst into tears.

He was distinct enough, however, when he quoted the prisoner’s observation to him; “Would you be surprised to know that I had done it?” and his own answer, “I shouldn’t think you had done such thing,” the prisoner’s rejoinder being, “If I have done it, and they can prove it, I am willing to stand the consequences.”

Portraits of the witnesses Mortimer, Miles and Evans.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 6th September, 1884. Copyright, The British Library Board.


William Ames, another witness brought straight from prison, was listened to eagerly, particularly when he recited scraps from conversations he had with Orrock at the shop and elsewhere.

In prison, they had met, and the witness had said to Orrock, “You’ll be in for it when you get out,” but did not explain what he meant.

At another time he said to the prisoner, “You know all about that affair,” and Orrock answered, “Shut up your row,” but subsequently stated that he knew the man who did it, and that next morning he was in bed reading about in the newspaper.

As Ames repeated these remarks, the prisoner gave no sign that he admitted their truth.

Ames, who is quite a youth in appearance, tendered his evidence without pressure on the part of Mr. Poland.

The chisels, which were produced, were handed to the prisoner for his inspection. With the naked eye the scratches upon the steel of the larger one, as shown in the photograph, were not discernable.


Mr. Augustas W. Wilson, of 13F, Dalston Lane, photographer, gave evidence and said that Sergeant Cobb brought him the inch-and-a-quarter chisel produced about a fortnight back, and he took the enlarged photograph of it, which had been put in.

On the photograph, the scratches showed the letters ‘Rock.’ He examined the chisel before photographing it.

It was now in the same condition as when brought to him.

A sketch of Orrock's revolver.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 6th September, 1884. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The evidence of Mr. James Cameron, Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry, Somerset House, was that on August 11th Inspector Glasse brought him a chisel, of which he made an examination with a powerful microscope.

He was able to trace two names, one evidently written over the other.

The uppermost was ‘Rock,’ with capital ‘R’, the under one read ‘Orrock.’ The capital ‘O,’ the ‘c,’ and the ‘k’ were imperfect, but he could make nothing else of it but Orrock.

The police have farther inquiries to make, and the prisoner accordingly stands remanded till Thursday.”


The Aberdeen Evening Express Thursday, 28th August, 1884, reported on Orrock’s last appearance at Bow Street, prior to his being committed for trial at the Old Bailey:-

At Bow Street, London to-day, Thomas Henry Orrock was again charged with the murder of police constable Cole at Dalston in December, 1882.

Further evidence bearing on the alleged purchase of a revolver by prisoner just previous to the murder was given.

Joseph M’Lellan said that the revolver produced was similar to one he had advertised in the Exchange and Mart. His wife was also examined, but could not identify the prisoner as the man to whom she had sold the revolver.

Chas. D. Green, who worked with the prisoner at Mr Pottingers, deposed that shortly after the murder pawned two coats for Mr. Albert Pottinger.

Witness talked about the murder with the prisoner, and asked him where his revolver was.


Albert Pottinger was the next witness, and he swore to seeing the prisoner wearing a soft felt hat similar to that produced. The prisoner did not, however, wear it after the date of the murder.

At this point, Mr Poland suggested the prisoner should try on the hat, and, after some discussion, this was done. It apparently fitted him.

Witness, continuing, said:- In February after the murder, he bought a pair of trousers from the prisoner. They had been split at the knees. He also bought a long grey coat.

Mr Preston, pawnbroker, to whom the tools were pledged, deposed to having scratched the name of Rock on the chisel, and after some further evidence prisoner was committed for trial.”


Thomas Orrock’s trial at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) began on Monday, 15th September, 1884, before the presiding judge Mr Justice Hawkins.

The trial concluded on Saturday, 20th September, 1884, with the Jury returning a verdict of Guilty, after which the judge sentenced him to death.

You can read the full transcript of the trial here.


He was executed at Newgate Prison on Monday, 6th October, 1884, and a fairly detailed account of his finals days and moments was given in the Islington Gazette the next day:-

“On Monday morning, at eight o’clock, Thomas Henry Orrock was executed within Newgate Prison.

Orrock’s young wife took her final adieu on Saturday.

In a message conveyed through a minister, Orrock implored the forgiveness of Mrs. Cole, the widow of his victim, who, it will be remembered, was greatly agitated at the trial, and exclaimed hysterically on being confronted with her husband’s murderer, “Is that the monster. Oh, why did he not shoot me, and not my poor husband”


Orrock made a full confession that he was the man who discharged the revolver at the unfortunate constable.

He fully admitted that he armed himself with the revolver – not, as he asserts, for the purpose destroying life, but merely with the intention of disabling anyone who might attempt to take him into custody; and he declares that he had no intention to kill the policeman, and that the sad event was, to a certain extent, due to an accident.

Orrock also admits that he was quite taken by surprise when he was informed by Inspector Glasse, while be was undergoing his imprisonment in the House of Correction, that he was about to take him into custody for the murder of Constable Cole; and he states that he has always had the idea that from the long period that had elapsed since the commission of the crime, the affair had blown over and had been forgotten.

On Sunday morning, Orrock received the Holy Communion. On Sunday evening, Mr. Duffield was with him until ten o’clock, and, afterwards, he slept well.


Mr. Duffield was again at the gaol at six o’clock on Monday morning, and he stayed for over an hour.

The clock of St. Sepulchre’s rang out the three-quarters, and then then the death-knell began tolling.

Berry, of Bradford, who arrived the gaol on Sunday, entered the cell, and after being pinioned, Orrock was led on to the drop, the usual procession of officials accompanying him, with the chaplain, impressively reading from the Burial Service.

Berry quickly adjusted the rope, and drew the cap over the culprit’s face. Then the warders, one of whom was standing on each side of the prisoner, momentarily pressed his pinioned hands as a last farewell, and then, stepping back, the pulling of the leaver and the thud was heard above the voice of the chaplain, whose solemn sentences alone broke the still more solemn silence.

The cord by which Orrook was hanging shook for a few seconds conclusively. Just as it ceased, St. Sepulchre’s clock struck eight, and the black flag was run up – a signal that was being awaited with morbid curiosity by an unusually large crowd.

According to Dr. Gilbert, who was present, death was instantaneous.”