The View From Liverpool

The gang problem in Victorian England was, by early August, 1888, considered by many commentators to be completely out of hand. Police across the country were, so it seems, struggling to bring the members of the gangs that infested many of the big cities to justice and restore some semblance of law and order to the streets.

In May, 1888, the problem of young hoodlums being given free rein on the streets of London, had resulted in the murder of 22-year-old Joseph Rumbold in Regent’s Park.

Throughout June and July, 1888, newspapers across the country were reporting daily on the latest events of the Regent’s Park Murder; and, when gang-member George Galletly was found guilty of the murder, in early August, 1888, newspapers across the country began demanding that the police should “do something” to bring the gang problem under control.

Illustrations showing the murder of John Rumbold.
The Regent’s Park Murder. From The Illustrated Police News, 2nd June, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The trial of Galletly coincided, more or less, with the trial of members of the “High Rip” gang in Liverpool, several members of which were sentenced to penal servitude in early August, 1888.

Sporting Life, was one of several newspapers which, on Saturday, 4th August, 1888, published articles highlighting the gang problem, and wondering if more police resources couldn’t be put into bringing the problem under control?:-


“The conviction in the case of the Regent’s Park murder should have a salutary effect.

The youth proved guilty of using the knife has been sentenced to death, and though, on account of his years, the recommendation to mercy made by the jury may save the young ruffian’s neck, no doubt the alternative punishment will be severe.

Nothing has done more to “scotch”, if not to “kill,” the banded horde called “The High Rip Gang,” a number of young miscreants who infest Liverpool, than the sentences passed upon the captured ringleaders by Mr. Justice Day.

If the London police provide Mr. Justice Hawkins with similar opportunities, no doubt his lordship will avail himself of the same to the public advantage.


We, too, have our “High Rip Gangs.”

There is Fitzroy Square gang, and there is a Marylebone Road gang, and there is also a gang that is associated with the Seven Dials, and calls itself “The Deckers,” with, I fear, many others.

Although it is not for me to interfere with the policy of Scotland Yard, I think on the whole I should prefer seeing the police engaged in breaking up those gangs to their engaging in certain other work they have recently been assigned.”


The Liverpool case referred to in the Sporting Life article, was highlighted in the following brief article, which appeared in The Hull Daily Mail on Wednesday, 1st August, 1888:-

“Five members of what is known as the High Rip Gang of Liverpool roughs, all of whom have been previously convicted, were, on Tuesday, sentenced five years’ penal servitude each, for breaking into the house a chief detective superintendent, and also with robbery with violence, all of them being concerned in the latter, but only four in the former offence.

Another prisoner, who was also convicted, but who had not been previously convicted, was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour.”


In the early stages of the investigation into the Whitechapel murders, there was a general consensus that the crimes were being perpetrated by one of the area’s gangs, which, so the following article in The Liverpool Mercury, on Monday, 3rd September, 1888, wondered, had possibly been influenced by the so-called “High Rip” gang in Liverpool:-

“It may well be believed that in the neighbourhood of the spot in London where the woman Nicholls [sic] was murdered there is “a general demand for further police protection and supervision.”

More than a sensation has been caused in Whitechapel – and a panic has been engendered.


It is not as if this were an isolated crime of the sort.

Only on August the 6th a woman was found murdered near the same place, and the previous Bank Holiday a like crime was discovered.

Worse still, the person or persons who committed the former murders are still at large.


What adds to the terror which the latest crime has inspired is its resemblance to the first two. In all three cases, the women who were murdered were “unfortunates.”

The deeds, moreover, were done within an area of about half a mile radius, were committed in the early hours of the morning, were done without noise, and with such extreme precaution that, savagely brutal as the murders are, no trace of the murderer can be found.

The natural conclusion to be come to is that they are the work of the same hands.

But it is doubtful if one man could have done them alone and unassisted. It certainly seems impossible that one pair of hands could do such savage work and yet their owner be able to exercise so much skill in covering his retreat.


The theory that the woman had first been murdered in a house and then dragged to the spot is now abandoned, because it is found that, with such wounds as the body bore, a removal was not possible.

It is far from improbable that the murders will be found to have been the work of an organised gang.

Such a gang, bearing a name unhappily exported from Liverpool, is known to infest the neighbourhood and to levy blackmail on the women of the town who frequent the streets there.

They are known also to treat these women most brutally upon occasion.

The suspicion is that the members of the gang have in these cases carried their brutality to the extreme.


It may indeed be questioned whether there exist in London men who so closely resemble the savage as to be equal to such deeds, but we do not require to go further than our own “High Rip” gangs to learn to what depths of ruffianism human beings may sink.


The police are now on their mettle, and we may be assured that the very utmost will be done to clear up these mysteries.

Perhaps there is hope in the information that the detectives have been empowered to offer money rewards for the discovery of the actual perpetrators of the murder.”