Well Timed Questions

The Sporting Times, on Saturday, 13th October, 1888, published the following letter, which was intended as a tongue-in-cheek response to the letters then appearing in the newspapers from Radicals, who were using the murders as a means by which to question whether the authorities were doing enough to protect the citizens of East London from the murderous maniac in their midst:-


“The subjoined letter has been forwarded to us as a reply of Mr. Gladstone’s to the letter of a Whitechapel Radical, calling his attention to the murders, and asking him his opinion of the murderer:-

To Mr.  ——–  Whitechapel.

Dear Sir

I have read your letter with much interest, and hasten to reply to your well-timed questions, “What do you think of the occurrences in Whitechapel, and what degree of guilt do you impute to the murderer?” As, in the present excited state of the public mind, these questions concern every thinking man, you have my full permission to publish this letter, as a sort of contribution towards allaying a spirit of resentment and revenge, which is greatly to be deprecated, and which is calculated to defeat its own object.

Th Gladstone satue showing its red right hand.
An East End Statue Of William Ewart Gladstone.


It seems generally admitted that the murders – for such they undoubtedly are – were the means for attaining an end, that end being the procuring of certain anatomical “subjects” necessary to the advancement of an important branch of medical science.

That the said means were and are horrible and wicked few will be disposed to deny, and if they were employed for selfish purposes, the guilt of the demon who thus employed them would be deep indeed: but the question is, Were they thus employed?

Hundreds of thousands of women – that is hundreds of thousands of the best and fairest portion of humanity – are daily and hourly suffering from diseases and ailments, the nature of which requires certain “subjects” for properly understanding them and subsequently treating them.


Now, it is not for me to enquire why through some prejudice or culpable exercise of authority those “subjects” are not easily obtainable.

Suffice it to say that such seems to be the case, and if the unknown dispenser of fate in Whitechapel thought that by inflicting a certain amount of sharp, but very transient suffering, in a few isolated cases, he would procure the means of alleviating the woes of thousands, would that not make him stand forth in a brighter, or at least in a less lurid light, and would not a part, aye, and the greater part, of his blood-guiltiness cling to those, whoever they may be, who by repressive action and retrograde enactments have rendered the possession of proper “subjects” impossible to the humbler student of anatomy?

I have had in the interests of nationality and justice to point out extenuating circumstances in crime before, and, I may say, have done so successfully as far as the vast majority of my fellow-countrymen are concerned by analogous reasoning.

Just as I was right before, may I not prove to be right now?


If the Executive of this country would, instead of enforcing fresh enactments upon a shuddering people, employ its influence in eliciting free expression of opinion, who knows but that under the weight of enlightened popular pressure the “subjects” would have been easily attainable, and the poor women of Whitechapel be still alive?


In conclusion, I should be inclined to offer a few words of practical advice.

Let Mr. Matthews and Sir Charles Warren, instead of molesting harmless and virtuous milliners, and forming a Praetorian guard out of the lineal descendants of British watchmen, disguise themselves as the class of women whose society the so-called murderer more particularly affects.

Let them pretend a taste for grapes and haunt the localities where these occurrences have taken place!

They will then, doubtless, have the chance of reinstating themselves in the opinion of their countrymen by capturing the unknown author of those assassinations; while, should they succumb, the state of their bodies will afford precious information to their successors and establish the fact whether the pursuit of science or the lust of blood instigated a series of catastrophes which every right-thinking man must deplore.

Again, thanking you for calling my attention to this interesting, question,

I am, faithfully yours,

W. E. G.
Reform Club, Pall Mall, S.W.”