Why Sir Charles Warren Resigned

Following the discovery of the murder of Mary Kelly, on 9th November, 1888, the beleaguered officers of the Metropolitan Police were rocked by news that their Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, had resigned his position.

It is sometimes stated that Warren had been forced to resign owing to his force’s inability to catch Jack the Ripper.

This, however, was not the case.

Indeed, as the following article – which appeared in The Star; Guernsey, on Thursday, 15th November, 1888 – made clear, his resignation was more to do with the constant undermining of his authority by the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, than it was to do with the failings of his men in their quest to bring the Whitechapel murderer to justice.


The public will naturally look for some fuller explanation of the sudden retirement of Sir Charles Warren than is supplied by Mr. Matthews’s laconic announcement that “the Commissioner of Police, did on the 8th inst., tender his resignation to her Majesty’s Government, and that resignation has been accepted.”

As the whole of the facts are known at the Home Office, and, indeed, are an open secret there, we have no hesitation in printing the following account of the matter, which reaches us from an authoritative source.

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Almost from the very moment of Sir Charles Warren’s appointment (in 1886) he found it necessary to assert his true legal position, which was that he was charged by Parliament with the maintenance of the peace in the metropolis, and that for this purpose he was to make orders under the approval of “the Secretary of State.”

No particular Secretary of State is mentioned in the Act; but no doubt it was found convenient to place the police under the Secretary for the Home Department, and to this no objection has ever been made.


Where the friction arose was in the practice of regarding the police as a department of the Home Office, and thus, practically, putting the Commissioner under the control of the Home Office officials.

The Home Office and the Police are in law two separate departments, with the Home Secretary (for convenience sake) at the head of both of them, although any other Secretary of State is equally competent and authorized to take charge of the police.

As a matter of fact, when on a former occasion there were differences between the Commissioner and the Home Office, the police were put under the Secretary for India (Lord Cross), and so remained for some little time.

It may be stated that during this period no difficulty of any kind arose, and difficulties that had previously existed disappeared.


This is not the first time that Sir Charles Warren has resigned. Virtually it is the third time.

The first occasion was last March; but then the resignation was not accepted.

On the contrary, every assurance was given that the Commissioner would be supported in the policy he had adopted.


Another crisis arose in June, when, it is understood, Mr. Monro, who was then at the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, declared that he would not be responsible for the proper working of his office, owing to certain changes which he alleged Sir Charles to have made.

Seeing that, according to the testimony of those members of the staff and force who had the best means of knowing, no such changes had been made at that date, it would be convenient if Mr. Monro would state what they were.

However, in July it became a question whether Sir Charles Warren or Mr. Monro was to go; whereupon Mr. Monro sent in his resignation, and it was accepted.

So far Sir Charles had no cause of complaint.

A portrait of James Monro.
James Monro. From The Illustrated London News, 8th December 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


But now came a remarkable incident.

Mr. Monro, instead of leaving the public service, was taken on at the Home Office, in some capacity which has never been properly explained.

Mr. Matthews said on Tuesday night that “he was deriving the benefit of Mr. Monro’s advice on matters about crime, and had consultations with him on the whole subject of the organisation of the Criminal Investigation Department (from which he had been removed!) with which he was more familiar than anybody else in the country, and with the administration of which he was now busy.”


How can this be reconciled with Mr. Matthews’s previous statement that “Mr. Anderson was at present head of the Criminal Investigation Department”?

Is not this the explanation? – that Mr. Monro has in fact succeeded Mr. Jenkinson as the Government expert on the subject of Irish crime; that he was acting in that capacity even while he was in Whitehall-place (to the neglect of his proper duties as chief of the C.I.D); and that at the same time Mr. Williamson, his second in command, was also withdrawn from his proper duties for the purpose of assisting in the special work of unravelling the machinations of Land Leaguers, Fenians and Dynamitards?

One need not suppose that these gentlemen were ill employed – quite the contrary; but it is quite conceivable that, in consequence of their withdrawal from their regular functions, the Criminal Investigation Department lost in discipline, in cohesion, and in efficiency.


It is no wonder if Sir Charles Warren formed some such opinion and began to look for a remedy.

There is, indeed, every reason to believe that the department was in a simply chaotic condition; and it may safely be asserted further that Mr Monro is at present employed upon the very same work which he had in hand when Sir Charles Warren joined the force.

His resignation of the headship of the Criminal Investigation Department meant simply that he vacated a position he did not fill, and so left room for the appointment of a real head in the person of Mr. Anderson.

A photograph of Sir Robert Anderson.
Sir Robert Anderson.


It has already been exhaustively shown by the St. James’s Gazette that the ex-Commissioner’s main work at Scotland-yard has been the reorganisation of the machinery of the police force on the principle of decentralization.

He has codified the police orders; he has allotted specific duties to specific men; and so far from centralizing the functions of the force, he has reduced the office work in the Commissioner’s room, so that it does not take more than two hours a day to get through.


So far as the Whitechapel murders are concerned, they, except for a brief period during Mr. Anderson’s absence, have been left wholly in that gentleman’s hands, and he, in turn, has delegated them to Inspector Abberline, who was promoted to that rank by Mr. Monro and is an extremely intelligent and capable officer.


As to the maintenance of order, there is a kind of irony of fate in the fact that Sir Charles Warren, who was on his appointment hailed as the saviour of London from mob law, should now be sacrificed to the clamour of the very men who have all along tried to make mob law prevail.

The man who rendered rioting impossible is thrown as a scapegoat to the rioters.

Is it already forgotten that the sack of the West-end was followed by disorderly meetings in Trafalgar-square, by Socialist gatherings every Sunday in Clerkenwell-green, Camberwell-green, and half-a-dozen places in London?

Where are the Socialists now?

One never hears of them; and this is entirely due to Sir Charles Warren.


But of course, the Whitechapel murders have introduced a new form of panic and given plausibility to a new cry.

Mr. Matthews admitted on Monday night that this cry was unjustifiable.

“The failure of the police, so far, to detect the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders,” he said, “is not due to any defect in the organization of the existing system of police, but to the extraordinary cunning and secrecy that characterise those atrocious crimes.”

But what was the cry?

That both Matthews and Warren “must go.”

Apparently, Mr. Matthews thought he would try whether the sacrifice of Sir Charles would not do for the both of them; and this is how he set about it.

A portrait of Henry Matthews.
The Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. From The Illustrated London News, 14th August, 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Sir Charles Warren – perhaps indiscreetly – wrote an article in Murray’s Magazine on the police force, and put his name to it.

The indiscretion was not in the writing of the article – scores of people in the public service do that every day – but in the frank acknowledgement of its authorship.

According to the code of official morality, if you infringe the regulations under the cloak of anonymity, the master is winked at; but if you are honest enough to avow yourself, then the offence is rank and smells to heaven.


Advantage was taken of this incident to lead Sir Charles into what looks rather like a trap.

It is said – and if it be not true it can be denied – that a private letter was sent to Sir Charles from the Home Office directing his attention to the regulation forbidding public servants to write for the press; and that Sir Charles sent a private letter in reply stating that he was unaware of the regulation, and that if he had been informed of it at the time of his appointment he would not have accepted the position, feeling as he did how absolutely impossible it was for the Commissioner of Police to fulfil his duties unless he was allowed a certain discretion in communicating his ideas to the public.

Here again, Sir Charles may have been wrong; but that is not the point.


Having obtained from him this private statement, Mr. Matthews sprung upon Sir Charles the official reproof of which the public have heard – a reproof which, it will be seen, really compelled Sir Charles either to stultify himself or resign.

That is to say, he had either to resign or continue in the post under conditions which he had declared he would not have accepted had they been imposed on him when he was offered the appointment.


The reproof reached Sir Charles just as Mr. Matthews was answering the question respecting it in the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon.

In answering the question Mr. Matthews quoted only that part of Sir Charles’s letter which referred to his ignorance of the regulations.

Within a few minutes afterwards, Mr. Matthews was in possession of Sir Charles’s resignation, which, however, was not made public until four days later.”