On Friday, 18th July, 1884, a violent confrontation between two burglars and two police officers took place in Hoxton in the East End of London.
Reynolds’s Newspaper published a full account of the incident in its edition of Sunday, 20th July, 1884:-
TWO POLICEMEN SHOT BY BURGLARS
“The neighbourhood of the Kingsland-road, Hoxton, was, at an early hour on Friday morning, the scene of one of the most desperate encounters that have for years occurred between the police and burglars.
It would seem that at about a quarter to five, Constable David Garner, of the G division, was on duty in Shepherdess-walk, when he saw a short, dark, and somewhat stout man, of suspicious appearance, walking along the street, carrying several sealskin bags. Behind the first man, and at some distance, followed a second one who was apparently a confederate.
He immediately followed the burglar carrying the bundle of bags. The man, who was walking along at a sharp speed, turned down Murray-street, and continued his journey as if unaware that he was being followed some distance down the thoroughfare. He turned quickly round the corner into Church-street, the constable at that time being close at his heels.
Garner was in the act of turning also, being on an exact level with the miscreant, when the latter produced a revolver and fired deliberately at him, though he missed his object. The constable at once closed with his assailant, and while they were struggling on the pavement the other burglar ran up to the rescue of his companion, and rapidly fired four or five shots at Garner.
One of the shots struck the unfortunate man in the groin, but he manfully stuck to his captive till assistance arrived.
CONSTABLE SNELL TRIES TO ASSIST
The reports of the revolver and the shouts of the men at once attracted the attention of Police-constable William Snell, 462 G division, who was on duty close by in the New North-road.
He rushed to the spot, and, as he advanced, several revolver shots were fired at him, and one of them inflicted a dangerous wound in the abdomen, just above the buckle of his belt. He staggered and fell to the ground.
OTHER OFFICERS ARRIVE
The noise of the deadly struggle had aroused the neighbourhood, and when Sergeant Walsh and Police-constable Webster, both of the G division, came to the rescue of their wounded companions, the street was already beginning to swarm with people.
What followed can best be told in Police-constable Webster’s own language.
“I was on duty with Sergeant Walsh, in New North-road, when we heard several revolver shots in quick succession. We both made for the corner of Church-street. When we got there we found, I should think, a hundred or two of people in the street.
On the pavement were two officers and one of the prisoners. Gainer was holding on to him.
The other burglar had disappeared up a ladder reared against a house at the corner of Nile-street and Bevenden-street, which was undergoing repairs. The miscreant could be seen on the roof of one of the houses.
HE THREATENS TO SHOOT THEM
I went into a private house, proceeded upstairs, got through the skylight on to the roof, and Sergeant Walsh also got on to the roof.
The prisoner stood between a stack of chimneys, some little distance off.
We advanced towards him together, and we could see that he was covering us with a revolver.
As I walked along the narrow coping, not more than half a foot wide, the man shouted out to me, “If you come near me you ******, I’ll blow your **** brains out.”
We still advanced, but he did not fire. I do not know whether all the chambers of his pistol were empty, but some at all events were.
THE MAN IS CAPTURED
We closed on the fellow, I collaring him from behind, and the sergeant seizing him in front. Just as we were about to lay hold of him he threw his revolver on the tiles. He was wearing a false beard, which fell off.
He struggled fiercely to get away, but we held him firm.
Just as several people had mounted the ladder and were appearing on the roof, the prisoner tried to throw me. I seized a jemmy which he had in his right hand, and struck him across the skull with it.
That blow dropped him and he resisted no more. It made a gash of three-and-a-half-inches in his head, and the wound was stitched up when we got him to the station. He was nearly insensible, and we had some difficulty in lowering him.
AN ANGRY CROWD
By this time, the street was crowded with people, and when it was known that we had captured our man there were loud cries of “Chuck him over.”
I never saw a crowd so angry before in my life.
I am positive if they could have got at the prisoner they would have lynched him on the spot.
The excited condition of the onlookers rendered it impossible for us to get him to the station until a strong detachment of police came up to surround him. All the way to the station the mob hissed and groaned.
When we reached the station in the Kingsland-road the other prisoner was already there.”
OFFICERS TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
The two wounded men were immediately conveyed to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Garner being taken in a cab and Snell on an ambulance.
Here their wounds were at once attended to. Snell is the more dangerously wounded of the two.
THE ACCUSED IN COURT
At the Worship-street Police-court on Friday afternoon, before Mr. J. L. Hannay, James Wright and William Wheatley, aged about 28 years each, described as labourers, living at common lodging-houses in Hoxton, were put in the dock and charged with having burglariously broken into and entered the premises at No. 36, New North-road, and stolen therefrom five sealskin bags, a pair of opera glasses, &c., valued at £5, the property of David Elsbach, furrier.
They were also charged with having been concerned together in feloniously shooting and wounding David Garner, police-constable 429 G, and William Snell, 462 G, with intent to murder them in Church-street and Herbert- street.
The prisoner Wright at first refused any account of himself, but afterwards said he was a tailor, though he refused his address. He is known by four or five aliases and, has been identified as a ticket-of-leave man.
Wheatley gave the address of No. 15, Grosvenor-street, Islington, and he is an “expired.”
Among the articles found on the prisoners were those mentioned in the charge, and a complete set of housebreaking implements.
INSPECTOR MAYNARD’S EVIDENCE
Inspector Maynard, of the G division, was then called. He said:-
“I live at 50, Herbert-street, New North-road. This morning, about a quarter-past five o’clock, I heard the report of two shots, and, shortly afterwards, a third. I partly dressed and hastened out into the street. Near my house, and inside the railings of a school-yard, I noticed the prisoner, Wheatley, being held down by the constable Garner, and a man named Thomas was also there. I got over the fence and seized hold of the prisoner.
Garner said, “I’m glad you’ve come, sir, for I am shot.” Garner released his hold and sat up. I saw that his trousers were ripped up the right leg, and through the breakage I could see a wound, and blood was running down his leg. I secured the prisoner, and with assistance took him to the station.”
The constable was afterwards taken to the hospital.
FREDERICK THOMAS’S EVIDENCE
Frederick Thomas, living at 18, Wenlock-terrace, Shepherdess-walk, said that he was walking along that street when he heard a report of firearms. He ran up the street, and found Police-constable Garner struggling with Wheatley. He heard a shot fired, and saw that Garner’s leg was bleeding.
He got over the school railings, and seized Wheatley. The other prisoner was a little way off, and, as he (witness) went up, that prisoner made his escape, running up Herbert-street.
SHOT IN THE STOMACH
Witness saw that the other constable (Snell) was pursuing him closely, and presently, when the constable was about to seize him, he stood round, and fired one shot. The constable fell, and the wound appeared to be in the abdomen, for the constable put his hands upon his stomach, and cried out for help.
The man Wright then continued running, got up a side street, and he lost sight of him.
The prisoner Wright, whose head was entirely bandaged, and who bore a most vicious appearance, said:- “The constable told me it was enough, and more than enough, for him.”
Mr. Hannay:- “One of the constables is, I understand, wounded in the leg. How is the other injured?”
Inspector Maynard:- “The other has a very dangerous wound in the abdomen, and our surgeon does not expect him to live much longer”.
Mr. Hannay said that was now sufficient evidence for a remand, as the charge might resolve itself into one of murder.
The prisoners were then taken down, and Wright made an application for the money found on him to go to his family.
The court and its surroundings were crowded with an excited crowd.
Upon inquiry yesterday at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, we were informed that the two constables – Snell and Garner – were going on as favourably as could be expected. The belief entertained by the police officials that one or both of the burglars were concerned in the shooting of Police-constable Chamberlain at Park-street, Islington, a few weeks ago, has been confirmed in the case of Wright, the man who is charged with wounding Snell and Garner.
On Friday, portraits of the men were shown to Chamberlain, who is still in the hospital, and he at once recognised that of Wright, remarking, “Yes; that is the man.”
His photograph has also been identified by other persons as that of the man they saw running, after Chamberlain was shot.
THEY WERE DISTURBED
It appears that the men were disturbed in their actions whilst committing the burglary with which they are charged. Police-constable Garner saw them together at about half-past one, recognising Wheatley by his short arm, he being slightly deformed.
The officer then lost sight of them until half-past three, when he met them under the circumstances stated.
At that time the police were unaware of the house where the burglary had been committed, and were only informed by the proprietor, Mr. Elsbach, of 36, New North-road, giving information at the station. Mrs. Elsbach feeling unwell, her husband went into the front parlour to get her some brandy. On lighting the gas, he was surprised to find the place in confusion, and noticed a weapon protruding from a cupboard, partly open, which contained a large quantity of silver plate. On examination, the instrument proved to be a jemmy, which the burglars had left behind in their hurried exit on hearing Elsbach descending the stairs.
HE WOULD HAVE SHOT MORE
From a statement made by the prisoner Wright, it seems that it was only owing to a fortunate mishap that he was prevented from shooting other persons.
On reaching the roof of the first house he ran along with the intention of dropping on to a lower one. In doing so he damaged his revolver, the pin of the centre-piece falling out, and thereby rendering the weapon useless. This was not observed by the police, and the prisoner was enabled to keep them at bay by presenting the weapon at them.
The roof of the house on which the final struggle took place bears traces of the damage done to it by the displacement of the tiles and bricks.
Mr. Poland will prosecute on behalf of the Government at the next examination.”
Despite initial fears that he would not survive, Police Constable Snell went on to make a good recovery, and he was released from hospital towards the end of August, although he remained weak and in considerable pain for some time afterwards.
Wright and Wheatley’s trial took place over several days in September, 1884, the last day being Tuesday 16th September, 1884.
The evidence was quite overwhelming, and both were found guilty.
Wright was duly sentenced to penal servitude for life, and Wheatley was given a sentence of twenty years.