Unpleasant Mistakes

By Wednesday the 7th of November, 1888, more than a month had passed since the last murders by the killer who was now becoming universally known as “Jack the Ripper.”

However, his name – or, at least, the name invented for the unknown perpetrator of the atrocities by a journalist – had certainly passed into the consciousness of the public at large, and references to it were appearing in newspapers columns the length and the breadth of the United Kingdom.

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, in its edition of Wednesday, 7th November 1888, featured the following story which made mention of the moniker:-


At Hartlepool on Tuesday, before the Mayor (Ald. Richardson), Mr R. C. Black, and Mr R. Walker, John Jackson was summoned for assaulting Ellen Athey.

The complainant’s evidence was that she and her husband had been quarrelling, and that immediately after leaving him a few words arose between her and group of young men, when the defendant struck her in the mouth, knocking her down and knocking one tooth out and loosening another.

The Defendant denied this.


He said that the complainant, mistaking him for another person, got hold of his arm. He gave her a hard push, which constituted the assault complained of. The woman followed him from one end of the town to the other, and called him such names as “‘Jack the Ripper” and “Leather Apron.”

Eventually a policeman locked her up for being drunk and noisy.

The case was dismissed.


The Lancaster Gazette of that day featured a brief article about another letter that had appeared mysteriously, purporting to have been written by the perpetrator of the crimes and threatening a fresh atrocity:-

At a late hour on Saturday night the following notice was read out to the police, as printed in the informations, at Whitechapel:-

Today a piece of paper was picked up in Spitalfields, on which was written:-

“Dear Boss, – In spite of all your police precautions, and in spite of all the efforts of the Vigilance Committee, I committed another murder last night, and have hid the body away in Osborne Street, headless, legless, armless, and naked.

Yours truly,

Jack the Ripper.”

A view along Osborn Street.
Osborn Street, Whitechapel.


Though the matter is looked upon as a hoax, all constables were ordered to make every inquiry in the neighbourhood to see if anything had been found or whether anyone was missing.

They were, however, specially enjoined to use their utmost endeavours to try and trace the author of the writing.

Special instructions were also ordered to be given to the auxiliary detectives and officers who went on duty at midnight.


On that same day, The Fife Herald, featured the story of a street fight in which the name had turned up:-

At the Burgh Police Court on Friday – before Bailie Inglis – Frederick Chapman, David Jeffrey Robertson, Allan Clark, and Thomas Wren, all tramp labourers, were charged with a breach of the peace, by fighting with each other, one of them flourishing an open knife and threatening to play “Jack the Ripper” to any one who came near him.

They all pled guilty, and were sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment.


Meanwhile, The Glasgow Evening Citizen, featured a letter from a concerned reader who was somewhat alarmed at an overly harsh sentence that had been meted out to two boys who had terrified a group of girls by using the name:-

Sir, – In reading the paragraph in tonight’s Citizen, in which yon give account of two young lads being brought before Bailie M’Laren for following after three little girls, and causing them to be alarmed by calling after them “Jack the Ripper,” I was very much struck with the sentence passed upon them.

Unless there were elements in the case which do not appear on the surface, surely the punishment was excessive – one month’s imprisonment.

I am curious to know to what extent these girls suffered from their fright.


I can easily imagine how these lads, through exuberance of spirits and pure mischief, might call out that abominable name, which unfortunately has been too familiar on the lips of both young and old for the last two months, little thinking, perhaps, they would bring themselves into such a scrape.

Talk about coercion in Ireland and undue severity in punishment of crime!

Why, I believe if the sentence passed on these lads had been inflicted by a resident magistrate in Ireland, it would have made a subject for to found resolutions upon from every Home Rule platform throughout the length and breadth of the land.


However, I think the punishment inflicted in such cases as the above, as well as in the other ease at Maryhill, in which two children are sent to prison, are not likely to have any good effect, but will rather tend to harden their young hearts, and, by association with more hardened criminals within the walls of a prison, be the means of sending them into a career of crime, when they might nave been saved by more lenient treatment -I am. &c.

J. S.

5th November, 1888.