Two Deaths In East London – 1861

Death from starvation was a common occurrence in the Victorian East End in the years before and after the Jack the Ripper murders.

On Sunday, 17th March, 1861, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper published two stories on inquests into the deaths of two people whose final days were marred by malnutrition:-


On Wednesday evening, an inquest was taken by Mr. Walthew, at the Wellington public house, Cannon street, St. George’s In The East respecting the death of Sarah Upton, aged forty-seven years.

The deceased was a well-known fortune-teller, and for many years she had lived at Shovel Alley, New Road, St George’s in-the-East.  She was a widow, and the neighbours had seen ladies, dressed in the height of fashion, pay her daily visits.


She was not a steady woman, but drank large quantities of spirituous liquors, which she sent for by a female attendant, who waited upon her.

Although sickly, she was always able to receive the visits of her patrons.


On Sunday last she kept to her bed, but her servant made her some rum and water, which she drank.

She was left alone for a short time, and about four o’clock she was discovered lying on her side with her head twisted.

A Mrs. Appleby was in the room, but she was so drunk that several of the neighbours turned her out of the house, as she tried to drag the deceased off the bedstead.

Elizabeth Miller, the female who attended the deceased, stated that the persons who called to have their fortunes told occasionally came in their carriages.


When they asked the deceased to have something to drink, she sent for rum, which she took with warm water. The deceased could not eat anything, and her chief support was diluted spirits and tea.


Henry John Foster, a collector of rents, said that when he reached the house he found a number of drunken women ransacking the place, and carrying away the furniture.  He did not know whether the deceased had possessed any property.


Mr. James Broadwater, surgeon, of No. 3, New Road, stated that he had known the deceased for many years as a fortune teller.

He found her dead on the day in question.

He had since made a post mortem examination of the body, and death was the result of extravasation of blood on the brain. Verdict, “Natural death from apoplexy.”


On Monday evening an inquest was held by Mr. Walthew, at the Duke’s Head Tavern, Whitechapel, Road, on view of the body of William Woodcock. aged sixty-two years, who died in a wretched cellar, situated at No. 4, Little North street, which is surrounded by horse slaughterers’ and knackers Yards, located behind the houses directly opposite the London Hospital.

A view along 19th century Whitechapel Road.
Whitechapel Road In Victorian Times.


The deceased was living with his daughter in an underground cellar.

They obtained a scanty existence by making slop tailoring.  They had only occasional employment, and occasionally they were without food for two days together.


On Wednesday week, the daughter went to the Board of Guardians of the Whitechapel Union for some temporary assistance, when she was told that they could not do anything for them.

On Friday evening the daughter went out to obtain some cash from a friend, and, upon her return, she found the deceased lying in bed in a state of insensibility.

She ran to the workhouse and obtained a medical order for the attendance of Dr. Richardson, who found the deceased dead.


Dr. Richardson was examined at great length, and said that he found the deceased lying upon a quantity of rags, and the place was in a very dirty and filthy condition in fact the wretched abode was not fit for a human being to live in.

It was an underground kitchen, and the body was in a filthy state from dirt and vermin.

The various organs were healthy, but the immediate cause of death was effusion of serum into the ventricles of the brain.

The body was emaciated, and death was no doubt accelerated by the want of proper nourishment.


The deputy coroner said that the case was a very distressing one, and the locality where the deceased died ought to be brought under the notice of the proper authorities of the parish.

The jury concurred, and returned a verdict, “That the deceased died from effusion on the brain, and death was accelerated by starvation.”