The Whitechapel Waifs

The Jack the Ripper crimes generated an awful lot of moralising in newspapers all over the land.

There was, needless to say, universal condemnation of the perpetrator of the atrocities.

But the fact that his victims were prostitutes also shone a light on the nefarious world of what many saw as an immoral trade that had no place in a Christian land such as Victorian Britain.

On Saturday, 13th October 1888, The Motherwell Times published the following article which took a maroal high tone over what the victims were and what their lifestyles had been:-


A flood of light has been thrown upon the deplorable calling of the victims, and how it was practised by them, and the recital might well raise the blush to the cheek of the most callous and unthinking.

Can it be credited that we send missionaries to the heathen, and raise vast sums for their enlightenment, while such darkness and foul blots are unnoticed at our doors; and practices which it would be unfit to name in these columns are of common and everyday occurrence?


Such women are fallen and degraded, it is true: but no hand is stretched out to raise and help them. They frequently plead for help and work, but no assistance is given, and work cannot be procured, so they are forced to ply this vile calling, or starve and wander about the streets unable to obtain shelter.

Cannot our churchmen be stirred up to devise a scheme for helping these waifs?

Even allowing that they return to their evil habits after being weaned from them for a time, would not incalculable good be effected while they are under restraint or supervision?

But can we look to ministers, priests, or bishops to lead in this matter, or must the whole labour, such as it is, still rest on the shoulders of the poor city missionaries.


We read about a Roman Catholic priest devoting, or rather laying down, his life to serve the lepers in an island in the Pacific, and the good he thus effected by his life sacrifice.

A portrait of Father Damien.
From The Toronto Saturday Night, Saturday, 29th June, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Now, these women and their associates arc truly moral lepers, they taint and contaminate all with whom they come in contact, unless he be truly a moral physician.

In this respect, the latter is better off than the priest referred to, for he may by patient and long continued treatment eradicate the moral disease from his patients, and not be affected himself.


But to do so thoroughly, the sacrifice on his part must be great, for he must be ever at hand to ward off infection, to encourage reformation, and to confront those who would fain drag his patients down to their former level, as well as secure useful and honourable employment, and sufficient remuneration, so that they may live decently, honourably, and comfortably.

In short, men and women are required not to visit merely at longer or shorter intervals these hovels and dens about which we are learning much – but to live and abide in them, or in close proximity to them.


There are plenty of preachers – it is doers and workers that are required.

We hear sufficient about Sustentation Funds and augmentations of ministers’ stipends, but who will volunteer to live on the miserable pittances many of the lower classes receive, and which help to drive into evil courses, in order to afford them a clear and tangible example of what they should do, and how they ought to live and act when so circumstanced?


Why, can we imagine any of our clerics, who take such great care to secure well-aired houses in the suburbs with all the sanitary appliances, sleeping or remaining for one evening, let alone for a term, in one of the hovels of the Cowgate or High Street, with their frightful noises to disturb, foul language to shock, and smells to disgust finer sensibilities.

And the slums of Whitechapel are even a shade worse than these.


Yet such self-sacrificing men and women must be found, willing to endure all this if the roots of the evils are to be affected.

At present, the fringes or leaves only are touched.

There is ample scope for the hardest worker; though his work may not be seen of men.

Even if a few of such workers are raised up to combat the evils off which the veil has been lifted by these terrible Whitechapel atrocities, the murderer may unwittingly have done much good,


While the poor miserable waifs who have been murdered could then almost be looked upon as sacrifices for the benefit of their fallen sisters.

Let it not be forgotten, however, that these evils, if not fought, and that ably and strenuously, will increase; already they are sapping morality, hindering progress, proving menace and danger, which, like a very Frankenstein, may destroy the whole fabric which has nursed the monster.