Monday, October 31, 2011

November 5, 1887 --- The Brewer's Brother

A drunken Guy Fawkes Day celebration at the newly opened People's Palace brings Frederick Charrington, the militant tea-totaling scion of a famous brewing family, into the fray. Falling in with an evangelical set at school, Charrington had been impressed by the scriptural advice - "Ye must be born again." When, outside a London pub, he witnessed a drunken husband knock his wife into the street, Frederick's conversion was complete. "With the same blow you have knocked me out of the brewery business."

Charrington renounced his right to a family fortune in excess of a million pounds and began his career as a temperance advocate. He won his first notoriety by standing outside London music halls, heckling the clientele and carrying a sign that read: "THIS WAY TO THE PIT OF HELL."

The Queen had only just opened the People's Palace in Mile End Road that May to serve as a social center in the teeming East End. The giant Anchor Brewery, owned by the Charrington family, was just over the road.  Frederick Charrington and others had successfully sought a ban on the sale of ale and spirits at the Palace. Frederick's brother, Spencer Charrington MP, who managed the brewery, saw the way around that and announced the bar tab was on him.  He invited the 600-man strong Tower Hamlets Volunteers to a gala dinner.  He provides - at no charge - "no less than ten 36-gallon barrels of ale, and an enormous quantity of whisky, besides gin and other spirits, etc."

In an outraged letter to the Queen, Frederick described the conduct of brother Spencer’s invited Volunteers as "shameful and abominable" and begged that steps be taken to prevent the recurrence of "such demoralising scenes." Although the Palace trustees suggested that there had been "great exaggeration" in what the Press labeled an "orgy", they agreed that "in the future, no intoxicating liquors will be allowed upon the premises."

Charrington's close friend and hagiographer, Guy Thorne called it a "signal success": “Determined to stamp out the abuse of drink, [Frederick] not only memorialises the Queen of England, but achieves his purpose in so doing. It is an astonishing record.”

Sign from barclayperkins.blogspot.com

November 4, 1865 --- The Baker Wedding

At Wren's masterpiece, St. James', Piccadilly, in a ceremony performed by a minor curate before only the required two witnesses, the celebrated Nile explorer Samuel Baker weds "Florence Finnian, of this parish, spinster."

In fact, the new Lady Baker is a 25-year old Hungarian woman that Baker had purchased at a Turkish slave market in 1860. The exact price was a secret that died with him. Baker made the “purchase” while on his way out to Africa.  A wealthy sportsman, widowed with four daughters, Baker had left England, telling his family, "I am going to Khartoum and thence, God only knows where."  Baker was dismissed by his rivals as a dilettante, nonetheless, he managed to discover (and name) Lake Albert (for the late Prince) and the spectacular Murchison Falls (for the president of the Royal Geographical Society).

Newly returned in triumph to London, Sam and Florence planned this secret wedding to legitimise their relationship. In his best-selling memoir, Baker had already praised "the devoted companion of my pilgrimage to whom I owed success and life - my wife." Despite shared hardships from malaria to pestilential conditions to tribal attacks, he wrote proudly, "She was not a screamer." At one point, a tribal leader had demanded "the little white woman" as hostage to permit Baker to go further into his domain. Baker quickly produced a previously hidden revolver which convinced the chief he would be wise to accept a compass instead.

Their mysterious marital status aside, the Bakers were the great "lions" of the season in London society. Sam is acclaimed by the RGS and knighted by the Crown. However, word was passed to him that Lady Baker would not be welcomed at court; certain details had reached the Queen's attention and she disapproved of the dubious relationship. The great Livingstone had dismissed Florence as "the mistress" and a British consular official reported from Africa that he knew of no "Mrs. Baker."

Sam was not pleased and wrote a friend: “Should I find that the world follows the example of the Queen, I shall give up my country and go elsewhere. For years I have been happy without the world, when we have been together with a poor hut or a shady tree for home, and thus with her I can be happy again and lay down the world at will.”

In 1869, Baker et ux returned to Africa where they were active in the (at times, brutal) suppression of the slave trade. They returned in 1873 to live out their days together in Devon.

November 3, 1894 --- A Great Scene at The Empire

It's Saturday night at the infamous Empire Theatre of Varieties, Leicester Square's most popular music hall. Along the Empire's promenade would stroll some of London's finer ladies of the evening, all hoping to catch the eye of one of the raffish (and generally well-off) gents who lined the men's bar.

Tonight, however, there's something new at the Empire, a flimsy canvas screen has been placed to separates the sexes. The theatre had been under attack from the so-called "prudes on the prowl," headed by the euphoniously named Mrs. Ormiston Chant. She had gone before the London County Council to denounce the Empire as "an habitual resort of prostitutes." She spoke of going "undercover", if you will, to visit the Empire whilst wearing her "prettiest evening dress." She had been accosted almost immediately, finding the crowd entirely of an "immoral character."

Mrs. Chant and her ilk were denounced in the racier papers as "moody fanatics" with "greasy minds." Still, the women forced the L.C.C. to act and the screen was grudgingly installed. It fails its first test. A group of military cadets from Sandhurst, led by, of all people, 19-year old Winston Churchill, tears down the offending partition. Amid the melee, Churchill proclaims "Ladies of the Empire, I stand for Liberty!"

In his droll autobiography, My Early Life, Winston recalled: “In these somewhat unvirginal surroundings, I made my maiden speech. Mounting on the debris ... I addressed the tumultuous crowd, 'You have seen us tear down the barricades tonight; see that you pull down those who are responsible for them at the coming [municipal] election.'” Never publicity shy, Churchill added, "This episode made a considerable stir, and even secured leading articles in most of the newspapers." And some unfavorable comment; the Bishop of London wrote The Times to say he never expected to see a descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough greeted by a "flourish of strumpets."

The Empire rioters failed to achieve their goal. The Empire and other such music halls were to be cleaned up, if slowly. 

Mrs. Ormiston Chant from womenshistory.about.com

November 2, 1877 --- The Astley Belt

18,000 people jam the Agricultural Hall in North London for the sixth and final day of "The Great International Pedestrian Tournament." The surprising winner is the unheralded William Corkey of Bethnal Green. The marathon walking events, known as "wobbles" owing to the peculiar gait of the contestants, are the rage of sporting (read: Gambling) London. Promoter Sir John Astley put up a £1000 purse and a bejewelled belt to attract 18 of the foremost competitors, including the fabled American Edward Weston, easily the pre-race favorite.

The Yank (right), known to his countrymen for walking from Maine to Chicago, took to the boards with his customary arrogance, engaging in his "usual buffoonery." On Day 3, however, a twisted ankle hobbled the great man. Though he returned to the course valiantly, demonstrating "that remarkable freshness for which he is characterised," Weston soon faded. The race came down to a two man battle between Corkey and "Blower" Brown, the latter's nickname coming from his distinctive and quite audible breathing patterns. Brown held a two-mile lead on Day 3 but Corkey - staying on the track for five hours straight – seized the lead by midnight of Day 4 and held it the rest of the way.

In addition to the ample prize money, Astley upgraded the sport by pampering the "pedestrians" with commodious tents for their periodic rest periods and providing hot food and medical care as well. The expense is returned by increasing public interest. A raucous crowd awaits the finish; The Times correspondent reports they "seemed to be well-acquainted with the principle contestants, judging from the manner which they cheered their respective favorites."

In the end, Corkey took the £500 first prize with a total of 521 miles (87 miles a day on average!). Brown is "walker-up" with 506 miles. Weston disappoints his partisans with a lackluster total of 365 miles.

He was recovered by January to begin a bid to walk 2000 miles in 1000 hours. Stepping off from London in driving snow, he made it 75 miles to Folkestone the first day. Alas, hampered by another injury - he was knocked down by overenthusiastic fans in Wimborne Minster - Weston fell 22 miles short of his goal.

November 1, 1887 --- Miss Cass v. The Constable

A London bobby's trial offers some salacious diversion for those sated with Jubilee festivities. The night of 28 June, PC Endacott had arrested a young woman walking unescorted along Regent Street. Elizabeth Cass was taken to Police Court, charged with soliciting and, despite her tears of denial, jailed overnight.

At arraignment next day, Endacott testified that he'd seen Miss Cass frequently in the area "annoying" gentlemen, three of whom complained to him but none of whom were in court. Elizabeth's employer, a respectable dressmaker in Southampton Row, stated that Miss Cass had been in London but six months and was hard-working and quite moral. The magistrate, forced to dismiss the charge, launched into some questionable obiter dicta, “If you are an honest girl, don't walk in Regent Street at night after 9:30, for if you do next time you will be sent to prison or fined.”

Miss Cass became an instant heroine for feminists and police-bashers of all stripes. The magistrate was condemned for his "utterly unjustified" remarks. The harassed Home Secretary reluctantly ordered an inquiry which led to the indictment of PC Endacott for perjury. Though the constable is on trial, it is poor Miss Cass who must defend her virtue. She's asked about an embarrassing dalliance with a married man in her native Durham, which prompted her move to London. She insists there were "never immoral relations." In the end, the defense concedes that Endacott might have made an honest misapprehension on a dark, crowded street. Fortunately for Endacott, the judge, Sir James Stephens, a perjury scholar, directs an acquittal. Stephens adds that if this happened every time a bobby's charge was disproved, "in a very little time you would have all the police in London committed for perjury."

PC Endacott is reinstated while Miss Cass leaves court with the best wishes of all, e.g. The Times: "She has suffered in a manner which must command universal sympathy." The Saturday Review rebuked "the prurient mob of both sexes which pounced on the first version of the story and hastened to enlarge it with all the greasy nastiness they could rake together."

Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 31, 1842 --- Under His Protection

The Old Bailey courtroom is crowded with the fashionable. Expecting titillation, they are not disappointed. 19-year-old Alice Lowe is charged with stealing several items from the home of Lord Frankfort, 2nd Viscount de Montmorency.

Alice had been introduced to Lord Frankfort by a rather disreputable "actress." For two months, he kept Alice in his Paddington flat; in the term of the day, she was "under his protection." She was not allowed out, she saw no visitors. In September, she bolted. Lord Frankfort's minions traced her to Soho where she was arrested for having pilfered and promptly pawned two gold snuff boxes, a gold toothpick case and "various other articles of very considerable value."

The ribald Press had a field day. 36-years old, separated from his wife, his reputation for lechery well-established, Lord Frankfort is easily lampooned. The prosecutor, however, attempts to point out that m'Lord's morals are not at issue. On the witness stand, Lord Frankfort admits he kept and slept with Alice.  He boasts that he spent some £300 on her, but he denies he gave her the items in question. At one point, Alice collapses in a fit of hysteria when the prosecutor refers to her as "a gay woman," a slip for which he is sharply cautioned from the bench. The case for the defense is brief. Might a person of his Lordship's temperament, after a good dinner and a bottle of wine, whilst fondling with the prisoner, make her a present of the jewelry, and afterwards forget it? In fifteen minutes, Alice is acquitted to wild applause.

The respectable papers found the entire matter distasteful. The Spectator frowned at "the indiscriminate sympathy of the London mob." The Morning Post added its disapproval: “It really seems to be forgotten that the vices of Lord Frankfort, however disgusting or outrageous, cannot have had any such miraculous power as that of converting the vices of the defendant into virtues ... When we read of decent-looking people struggling to shake hands with the acquitted woman of the town, and exclaiming 'God bless you, my girl!' we recognize, with much pain, an exhibition of French and a repudiation of English sentiment and manners.”

A decade later, the incorrigible Viscount went to jail for his efforts to employ "a system for the debauchery of women in their own homes." 

The Old Bailey Online.

October 30, 1888 --- Persona non Grata

The British Ambassador to Washington is handed his passport, if effect, he is sent packing for London. Sir Lionel Sackville-West (right) had been a popular envoy, much seen in society and whose embassy duties were handled by his beautiful though illegitimate daughter.  But he had fallen victim to dirty politics, American-style.

1888 was an election year in the United States.  A "Mr. Charles Murchison of Pomona, California" claiming to be an English-born American, wrote Sir Lionel asking which Presidential candidate would best promote Anglo-American harmony. In an answer clearly marked "Private" - though no less indiscreet - Sackville-West wrote: “Any political party which openly favored the Mother-Country at the present moment would lose popularity... the party in power [i.e. Democratic President Grover Cleveland] is, I believe, still desirous of maintaining friendly relations with Great Britain.”

The "Murchison letter" was a Republican trick to embarrass the President with Irish-American voters, traditionally Democratic. Sackville-West's response was immediately made public, only days before the election.  Republicans gleefully tagged Cleveland as "England's man." It was a free-for-all, a chance for the American papers "to pull the tail of the English lion."  Even Democratic papers fumed; The New York Times headlined: SACKVILLE MUST GO.

The State Department declared that Sackville's continued presence would be incompatible with "the dignity, security and independent sovereignty of the United States." Even the British press quickly abandoned the poor man; The Spectator found him "clearly deficient in discretion," while at the same time dismissing the Americans as "spoiled children." Prime Minister Salisbury cannot forestall the humiliation. 

The Foreign Office - rather lamely - declared that Lord Sackville was returning home for personal reasons. The Ambassador's elder brother had conveniently just died, leaving him the title of 2nd Lord Sackville and possessor of the sprawling estate at Knole. Sackville-West never returned to diplomatic service. In Washington, those items of furniture and art which the Ambassador had declined to ship home to England were placed on auction. According to one report, "Persons high in the circles of society trampled on one another to get in their bids."

Whether by dint of the Murchison letter alone, the Republicans took the White House in 1888.

October 29, 1851 --- The Bloomer Ball Fiasco

A much publicized "Bloomer Ball," is held at the Hanover Square Rooms in Mayfair.

"Bloomerism," of course, is named for the American feminist Amelia Jenks Bloomer who - seeking to end the "tyranny of the corset" - endorsed a loose-fitting costume.  The Bloomer ensemble was described thusly in one contemporary account: “A velvet coatee ... buttoning tight around the waist, but open, showing a frilled shirt front at the bosom, the sleeves fitting the arms closely and the skirts descending to the knee; the 'bloomers' are exceedingly full to the knee, but tight from there to the ankle, where they are drawn close.”

For several weeks in advance of the ball, a small group of American women, in full "Bloomer" attire, had been attracting much curiosity. They strolled Piccadilly and held thinly attended, but well-reported, lectures to promote the advantages of such "easy flowing drapery" for both comfort and health: "How can you expect the heart or lungs to perform their function when you allot to them half the space provided by their Creator?"

The "ball" is touted as an opportunity to demonstrate how much easier it is for ladies to dance "unencumbered." Unfortunately, the strangely-clad women are far outnumbered by curious young men.  Punch found the Bloomerists an easy and frequent target for ridicule. Here, in the style of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall":
And at night along the pavement, near the corner of the Square,
At each new alighting Bloomer, stood a noisy crowd to stare;
But the crowd was disappointed, seeing what it witnessed then;
Scarcely half-a-dozen Bloomers, nearly seven hundred men.

Every Guardsman in town on leave, it seems, turned out for the Bloomer Ball.  Soon, the young men are quite bored and drunk. A food fight of sorts erupts in the refreshment area and there are numerous other scuffles among the more ardent guests. The Illustrated London News labels the event "a decided failure," adding haughtily that the ladies in "bloomer" costume are "not exactly of the class of persons who should be taken as models, either in their dress or conduct." The Times sniffs, "A Bloomer Ball may be a very good thing, but we would rather see less men and more ladies, and have them better behaved."

A sketch from Punch

October 28, 1848 --- The Sea Serpent

The Illustrated London News publishes the first sketch (left) of the great "Sea-Serpent" which had been spotted by the crew of HMS Daedalus in the South Atlantic.

The drawings are based upon the descriptions provided to the Admiralty by the ship's commander, Capt. Peter M'Quhae R.N.  Some 300 miles off the African coast, the gallant officer had observed a beast of "extraordinary dimensions.... its head appeared to be four feet out of the water, and there was about sixty feet of its body in a straight line on the surface."  Capt. M'Quhae hails the artist for “most faithfully" recapturing what it was he saw from the quarterdeck.

The sketches prompt an immediate sensation and a vigorous debate. The letters columns in both the popular and scientific journals are soon filled with corroborative testimonials. Soon, however, the great paleontologist Richard Owen, who had coined the word "dinosaur," wrote to The Times to assert that the creature was nothing more than a large sea lion, stranded by the melting of an Antarctic ice-flow. While he graciously conceded that such a beast could be "readily mistakable" for a sea-serpent, he concluded airily, "A larger body of evidence from eye witnesses might be got together in proof of ghosts than of the Sea-Serpent."

The good Capt. M'Quhae, his honor and eyesight impugned, joined the epistolary fray; he insisted the beast had been "coolly and dispassionately contemplated" by several veteran seaman who know a seal when they see one.

Punch has the last word with an item headed MISSING: THE GREAT SEA-SERPENT. Anyone espying same is urged to contact their office for the monster "had been going lately to great lengths [and] friends fear that he may have come to an untimely end."

The Daedalus sighting spawned numerous copycat claims of serpents and "sea snakes."  In 1861, the Victorian naturalist Philip Henry Gosse concluded that "immense unrecognized creatures of elongate form roam the ocean."

October 27, 1864 --- The Railway Murder

Franz Muller, a 25-year old from Cologne, working as a tailor in London, is placed on trial at the Old Bailey for Britain's first railway murder.

In July, Thomas Briggs, a 70-year old chief clerk at a Lombard Street bank, was found along the tracks of the North London line between Hackney Wick and Bow. He had been beaten and robbed.  His skull fractured, Briggs died within hours. The murder weapon had been the dead man's own heavy walking stick and a blood-spattered 1st class railcar (Carriage No. 69) testified to the brutal struggle. The Times called it "one of the most atrocious crimes to ever disgrace this country." The Spectator called the interest in the murder "excessive."

The killer had left a helpful clue for police; a felt, beaver hat, popular with Germans. Within days, a Cheapside pawnbroker named Mr. Death (!) reported a man with a German accent had hocked a watch-chain. The chain was identified as belonging to Mr. Briggs. Rewards posted by the Bank and the railroad coaxed out more clues, including information on the vital hat, which led police to Muller.

By then, however, Muller had sailed for America. Scotland Yard detectives went by a faster steamer and had been waiting a week when the suspect sailed into New York Harbor. Reporters almost foiled the trap, hiring an excursion boat which met the incoming ship; newsmen cried out, "Which one's Muller the murderer?" Arrested in his cabin, with Briggs' watch in his possession, Muller was returned to England amidst widespread public excitement. He was jeered and hooted from Liverpool to London.

Muller told police that he bought the watch on the docks in London and had been with a Camberwell prostitute the night of the murder. Prosecutors presented evidence claiming that Muller had been seen that night at Fenchurch St. Station where - they theorize - he saw Briggs consult his gold watch and conceived his lethal scheme.

Muller was ably defended, the legal bills paid by the German Legal Protection Society.  Nevertheless, he is quickly convicted and sentenced to die. He left the dock in tears. Despite a plea for clemency from many German interests, Muller – having first made a full confession - was hanged at Newgate in mid-November.

October 26, 1857 --- The Thames Carpet Bag Mystery

After a month of wild speculation, a baffled London coroner's jury writes off the "Thames Carpet Bag Mystery" to "person or persons unknown."

On the night of 9 October, the toll-taker at Waterloo Bridge helped a woman through his gate carrying a large carpet bag. He remembered her as short, sallow and with a gruff, masculine voice. The next morning, some boys boating on the Thames found the bag on a bridge abutment. It had been lowered with a rope to avoid a splash, but the current had washed it on to the footings of the bridge.

Inside the bag were 23 bones, minus the skull, and a full suit of blood-soaked clothing bearing the holes left by a series of savage knife wounds. For days, the Press provided explicit details. The sex, for example, was determined by "a portion of the anatomical structure of the male - rudely mutilated - still adhering to the arch of the pubis." The man had been dead for three to four weeks, his flesh roughly cut away from the bones which were then preserved in brine.

Medical experiments are the first focus of speculation. The head of the Royal Medical Society denounced such suspicions as "simply absurd," claiming the body had been crudely butchered by someone "entirely ignorant" of anatomical studies. Others suspect the victim may have been the "unfaithful accomplice" of some foreign agents. Adding credence to that surmise is the fact that the clothes are of French or Belgian manufacture.

It was hoped that the socks, "of peculiar make and material," might provide a vital clue. The victim’s clothes were hung on a line strung up at the Bow St. Police Station.  Lines of people – many claiming to be anxious relatives of various missing persons – passed in parade.  Most were merely "morbidly curious." Adding to the ghoulish atmosphere, several people brought in skulls hoping to match the head with the body. This troubled The Illustrated London News: “Such facts set men thinking upon the amount of unknown crime that exists in our enormous and overgrown metropolis - our province of houses.”

Not even a reward of £300 could solve what was to remain London's greatest mystery until the Ripper struck in Whitechapel.

Sketch courtesy of the JTR Forums.

October 25, 1854 --- The Charge of the Light Brigade

On the Crimea, at Balaclava, Russian troops have overrun hillside positions formerly held by Britain's Turkish allies.  The Russians are preparing to haul off the captured guns. The British commander Lord Raglan issues a written order: "The cavalry [is] to advance rapidly to the front, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns."

The Light Brigade, previously inactive this day, is led by the vainglorious Lt. Gen. James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Raglan's order is carried by a Capt. Nolan to Lord Lucan, both Cardigan's superior and his detested brother-in-law. Nolan happens to detest them both. From their position, Lucan and Cardigan cannot see the hillside guns but only the main Russian artillery, at the end of a long, narrow valley. Nolan, vaguely waving his sword, shouts at a disbelieving Lucan, "There are your guns, sir!" Cardigan tells Lucan that the charge is madness and he shall not bring a man back alive, but Lucan responds, "I cannot help that." Cardigan gives the quiet order, "The Brigade will advance."

As Raglan looks on in horror, the Light Brigade charges directly into the muzzles of the well-placed Russian artillery.  Capt. Nolan is among the first to die. Incredibly, men and horses get through, and rout the Russian gun crews in savage hand-to-hand combat. 673 men attacked, fewer than 200 survive. Lord Cardigan, shaken but unhurt, retreats to his yacht off shore for a champagne supper, telling friends, it was "a mad brained trick [but] no fault of mine." A French officer, who witnessed the attack, says, "C'est magnifique. Mais, c’est ne pas le guerre."

By December, Tennyson, the Poet Laureate had penned his unforgettable Charge of the Light Brigade. The second stanza reads:

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October 24, 1885 --- A Bigamist in the Dock

At the Old Bailey, a philandering meat salesman is found guilty of bigamy.

31-year old James Malcolm lives with his wife in Islington but in his business travels he enjoyed taking upon the pose of being a wealthy shipowner, "Captain Macdonald." Miss Emma Dash and her mother, while taking the sea air on the Brighton Parade that March encountered the charming "Captain" who received permission to call on them that afternoon. After two days of courtship, he proposed to Miss Dash. He said he was sailing in a few days and keenly wished for Emma to accompany him; he pressed for and won a speedy response. The two were wed on 4 April.

After a connubial weekend in Chichester, "Macdonald" left for London to supervise sailing preliminaries. He failed to return and soon his distraught "bride" realized her plight. But for a chance meeting in London with one of the wedding guests, Malcolm might have gotten away with it. "Hello, Mac," the chap cried out. Malcolm insisted that there had been some mistake. The man, however, returned with Emma who, after nearly fainting, made pathetic hysterical appeals for her "husband's" return, "Donald, don't deny me; if you say you are the man I will forgive you." Malcolm again calmly insisted it was all a most unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Finally, Miss Dash's family, the scandal notwithstanding, filed charges.

The evidence is persuasive: "Macdonald's" supposed ship is the Kaikoura, a New Zealander familiar in the meat trade; the handwriting samples match; and Malcolm -whose luck seems to have been rather bad - had even been seen by a coworker that first weekend in Brighton. Finally, and most damning, a young lady from St. Alban's came forward, after reading reports of the trial, to identify Malcolm as the persistently ardent "Captain Macdonald" who had also wooed her.

Pronouncing a sentence of the maximum seven years, Mr. Justice Field thundered: “By fraud, by lies, by delusive hopes held out to that young woman [Miss Dash], you succeeded in inflicting upon her an injury which will never end until she dies.”

Sketches from The Graphic (newspapers.bl.uk)

October 23, 1887 --- The Arrest of Mr. Blunt

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, an ex-diplomat, a poet, an Arabist, and an English supporter of Irish nationalism (as well as a first-class philanderer), is arrested in Woodford, a village near Galway, for leading a tenant protest. 

Lord Clanricarde owned over 50,000 acres in County Galway; he rarely left London, preferring to leave the hard business of managing his estates - and evicting his tenants - to his agents, many of whom were shot at, or worse. From the safety of the Albany in Piccadilly, Clanricarde said, "Do they think they will intimidate me by shooting my bailiffs?" As Blunt arrives in the West country, he is met by police, to whom he declares, "It is my duty to hold this meeting." A violent fracas ensues; police took Blunt into custody while 30 people are hurt in a stick and stone wielding melee.

Blunt served two months in jail. He exulted in his sufferings, proclaiming himself the first Englishman in "all the 400 years of English oppression" to take the Irish side. The Times dismissed him as a "mischief-maker" whose "social position and intellectual gifts aggravate the offense." Only two weeks before his arrest, Blunt had been a weekend guest at a house party also attended by the Irish secretary, Lord Balfour. The two men clashed angrily. Blunt thought Balfour "clever and light in hand, but with a certain hardness and cynicism which are not altogether pleasant." Balfour refused to intervene in Blunt's case, "I am sure Blunt himself would be disappointed." Prime Minister Salisbury wired Balfour, who happened to be his nephew, "I was delighted to see you had run Wilfrid Blunt in," adding later, "The great heart of the people always chuckles when a gentleman gets into the clutches of the law."

Blunt's revenge on Balfour would be delayed. Blunt had a cousin, Lady Mary Elcho, who - as it happens - was the daughter of an earlier mistress, but not his child. Unhappily married, Lady Mary had a longstanding platonic relationship with Balfour. In 1895, Blunt invited Mary Elcho and her three children to come out to Egypt. In his secret diary, he wrote, "I was happy here before she came, but this is more than heaven." Within days of her arrival, he crept to her tent, where she "fulfilled my extremest hopes." A letter to Balfour was on her nightstand. Balfour, it is believed, died a virgin.

October 22, 1888 --- The Parnell Forgeries

A Special Parliamentary Commission opens hearings on charges that the Irish leader, Charles Stewart Parnell MP, is directly involved in violence against Crown forces.

The Times -unswerving in its antipathy to the gentleman from County Wicklow - had run a lengthy series entitled "Parnellism & Crime" including printed facsimiles of two letters signed by Parnell. In the first, the Irishman noted that his public disapproval of the Phoenix Park murders (see 6 May) was done purely for political motives; privately, he gloated that the slain Irish Secretary "got no more than his deserts." In the second and more incriminating letter, Parnell encouraged more violence, "This inaction is inexcuseable [sic] ... Let there be an end to this hesitency [sic]."

Parnell condemned both the letters as "villainous and bare-faced forgeries" and left it at that but both his supporters and enemies demanded a full inquiry. The letters had been acquired through Richard Pigott, an ex-editor from Dublin of dubious repute. An old colleague of Pigott’s, now settled in Nebraska, read an account of the proceedings and noted the misspelled words. He wired London: "Dick Pigott is the forger."

After weeks of hearings, Pigott (above) finally had center stage. Parnell's fearsome counsel, Sir Charles Russell, working from not much more than Pigott's inability to spell, soon left the forger in tears. During a weekend recess, Pigott fled London, leaving a signed confession, admitting he forged Parnell's signature against a window pane. He soon blew his brains out in a Madrid hotel room.

In his dramatic summation, Sir Charles, a quavering finger pointed at the table where sat The Times’ editors and their counsel, declared: “In opening this case I said that we represented the accused. My Lords, I claim leave to say that today the positions are reversed. We are the accusers; the accused are there!”  The Times insisted that the overall conclusions of their series had gone unchallenged but the newspaper’s reputation had been sullied and worse, £200,000 had been wasted in legal fees. The expense set the stage for a buyout of the paper by its hated rival, Lord Northcliffe.

Parnell got a rare standing ovation on his return to the Commons but his restored reputation was short-lived. (see 15 November).

Piggott, drawn by Spy, in Vanity Fair.

October 21, 1892 --- Dr. Cream

"The Lambeth Poisoner", Dr. Thomas Neill Cream is found guilty at the Old Bailey for the murder of Matilda Clover, one of his (at least) four prostitute victims. Glasgow-born, Cream had emigrated to Canada where he took his degree and embarked upon "a career of malpractice and murder."  When one of his patients died during an abortion, he fled to the U.S. In Chicago, he served time for helping to poison a woman's husband with strychnine for the insurance.

Upon his release, he sailed for London, where, in October, 1891, he opened a clinic in Lambeth for "girls of the town." Within two weeks of his arrival, two women were found dead of strychnine poisoning. Cream added blackmail to his sins by writing to prominent gynecologists, signing himself "M. Malone," and accusing the physician of poisoning the young women: "It is just this - £2500 sterling on one hand, and ruin, shame and disgrace on the other. I am not humbugging you." One doctor, William Broadbent forwarded the letter to Scotland Yard.

In early 1892, two more unfortunate women were found dead in a shabby room above a pub at Elephant & Castle; the inquest verdict -- they had been poisoned with nux vomica, a.k.a. strychnine. Three weeks later, aided by a young woman's description of a man who gave her some pills, which she wisely tossed into the Thames, police arrested Dr. Cream.

The London jury takes but a quarter-hour to convict and Judge Henry "Hanging" Hawkins condemned Cream to the gallows for his "unparalleled atrocity." The Times put Cream amongst that "certain number of moral monsters whom it is the first duty of society to hunt down and to destroy."

At his hanging, as the bolt was thrown, Cream reportedly shrieked, "I am Jack the …”  It is pretty certain, however, that Cream was in an Illinois prison at the time of the Whitechapel murders, but some "Ripperologists" think they've got their man.  They point to some handwriting samples that seem to match. For devotees of the bizarre, the eminent Sir Edward Marshal Hall, who defended Cream on an earlier bigamy charge, said the man claimed that he had an underworld double, whom he often used as an alibi. Not to ruin a very good theory, but Illinois officials do insist that Dr. Cream (Inmate 4274) remained their guest at the prison in Joliet until mid-1891.

October 20, 1854 --- The Lady with the Lamp

The War Office - in the face of almost daily newspaper accounts of the ghastly medical conditions facing the British Army fighting in the Crimea - announces that Florence Nightingale will be dispatched along with 38 hand-picked nurses.

The 34-year old Miss Nightingale, who runs a fashionable nursing home in London's Harley Street, had written the Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, pleading to be sent out, "I do believe that we may be of use to the wounded wretches." The Government had opposed sending women to the war zone, fearful more, perhaps, for their virtue, than their stomach for such gore. However, news reports of the Sisters of Mercy who were tending the wounded allied French soldiers, forced a change of policy, announced by Lord Herbert: “Miss Nightingale, who has, I believe, greater practical experience of administration and treatment than any other lady in this country, has, with a self-devotion for which I have no words to express my gratitude, undertaken this noble and arduous work.” Numerous prominent ladies were quick to volunteer, however, with Miss Nightingale's concurrence, those without medical training were rejected as "of no use whatsoever."

With her nurses in tow, Miss Nightingale arrived at Scutari in November, coming face to face with indescribable conditions. She had been directed to report to the Chief Army Medical Officer at the hospital in Scutari, "under whose orders and direction you will carry on the duties of your appointment." Of course, her clashes with her military superiors are now legendary. A repeated foe was Dr. John Hall, the Inspector-General. After the war, he was made Knight Commander of the Bath. Miss Nightingale thought the K.C.B. should stand for "Knight of the Crimean Burial Grounds."

"The Lady with the Lamp" is given credit for almost halving the death rate among the wounded. Modern historians are more skeptical; Byron Farwell suggests Miss Nightingale's activities proved "counter-productive," serving more to harden the Army Medical Corps against change. Regardless, after the war, Florence Nightingale was honored by the Queen who presented her with a golden brooch which read "Blessed are the Merciful."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 19, 1856 --- The Surrey Gardens Tragedy

Eight people are crushed to death at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall when panic sweeps a crowd gathered to hear "the Cambridgeshire lad," the Rev. Charles Spurgeon.  Just 25, Spurgeon has established himself as the "most wonderful preacher" in England.

It is a Sunday evening fund-raiser to help the young Baptist build his dream tabernacle. The crowd is estimated at 14,000 in a hall designed for 10,000 with thousands more outside. The preaching has not even begun when people start surging toward the exits in terror. Some say they heard a cry of "Fire!"  The jammed balconies began to sway. The stairways and limited exits are soon an horrific mass of tangled, desperate people.

To calm his flock, Spurgeon appears on stage. A call for "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" goes unanswered as the choir has fled the gallery. The cleric's choice of sermons, Proverbs 3:33, "The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked," is hardly reassuring. He shouts above the din, "There is a terrible day coming when the terror and alarm of this evening shall be as nothing." He soon faints and must be carried to safety by his deacons.

Spurgeon remained too unwell to attend the subsequent inquest. His assistants blamed un-named "wicked designing men" who had a wish to disrupt Spurgeon's message. The press attacks are immediate.  Many noted the fact that Spurgeon's flock behaved no better in a crush than a music hall mob. Men were seen to knock down women and children to get to safety. The Spectator said Spurgeon proved "quite unable to control his multitudes," The Illustrated London News claimed that Spurgeon had "degraded the pulpit to a far lower level than that of the broadest buffoonery of the stage," The Times reminded him, "There are limits to all things, even hearers," and The Saturday Review actually accused Spurgeon's minions of continuing to "hand round the begging box" despite the tragedy.

His ministry recovered; in 1861, Spurgeon opened his Metropolitan Tabernacle south of the Thames which held but 6000 souls. He often referred to the Surrey Gardens disaster, claiming he had been hardened in "a burning furnace."

The Rev. Mr. Spurgeon at theologue.org

October 18, 1865 --- The Death of "Old Pam."

Two days before his 81st birthday, Lord Palmerston dies at Brocket, his home in Hertfordshire. Palmerston had been Prime Minister for more than six years and had been preparing for the new session of Parliament. An autumn chill led to mortal fever. He lingered for about a week, rallying one morning for a full breakfast of mutton chops and port, expressing the wonder that he "waited so long to discover what a good breakfast it is." At one point, with the end now certain, Palmerston was asked by his doctor if he believed in Jesus Christ. Palmerston, like Winston Churchill, went to church for weddings and funerals, glibly replied, "Oh, surely!" His final words are a delirious ramble about diplomatic treaties.

Few Britons alive can remember an England without Palmerston who had held numerous key government posts since 1809. Gladstone, his Cabinet colleague but also a frequent critic, told his wife the news made him "giddy ... it made my head spin." The Queen expressed her regrets, but noted in her diary that Palmerston was a "strange man [who] often worried and distressed us." He had tried to seduce one of her ladies-in-waiting.  Lord Shaftesbury, whose wife Minny was almost certainly Pam's illegitimate daughter, called him “A grand pillar appointed, under God's Providence, to which all the vessels of State were linked ... It is now cast down; the ships are set afloat and will drift in every direction.”

Neither the 13,000 word obituary in The Times nor Dean Stanley's eulogy at the burial in Westminster Abbey make any mention of Pam's questionable private life. Instead, the Dean spoke of Palmerston's "unfailing trust in the greatness of England," obliquely leaving other matters "in the unseen world ... known to God alone." The Spectator felt the customary pieties were unnecessary, for "There was little if anything in him of that class of virtues by which the Christian is distinguished from the manly and generous Pagan."

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 17, 1845 --- His Lordship & the Butcher Boy

A butcher-boy, wrapping meat with some scrap paper purchased from a rag-shop, discovers an unopened envelope addressed to the noted Lord Ashley. Inside, he finds a £100 note, a clergyman's donation to Ashley's Scottish Pastoral Aid Society.

The curious youth turns the find over to his employer, Mrs. Anstee. Her solicitor advises that Lord Ashley must be informed. The great man's instructions are clear: the money must "be returned to me, forthwith." The irony here is that Ashley (later and better known to history as the benevolent 7th Earl of Shaftesbury), an outspoken leader in reforming the workplace and public health, displays some typical aristocratic hauteur when confronted with an actual living member of "the lower orders."

So, off goes the butcher's wife to Grosvenor Square and from here our story varies. In newspaper accounts, with headlines such as HONESTY REWARDED?, Ashley is accused of making "insinuations tending to implicate the poor woman." Threatening prosecution, he dismissed her with neither thanks nor reward. Stung by the rare attacks on his character, Ashley responded with a letter to The Times. Admitting he discarded the letter believing it to be a circular, he still cannot understand why, since the envelope was clearly addressed to him, it was opened by a mere "shopboy." Denying insinuations of any kind, the nettled nobleman declared that the matter had been settled "very amicably."

While the incident caused no lasting damage to Ashley's reputation, for the moment at least he was an uncustomary target of the hostile Press. The Times pitched into him for his "utterly thoughtless, heartless, ungracious and silly" behavior. Given the way Lord Ashley handled his correspondence, the leader writer declared that he would "rather send 100 pounds through Mrs. Anstee's shopboy than through the noble member for Dorsetshire."

October 16, 1847 --- Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by the hitherto unknown author "Currer Bell" goes on sale in London. It is quite literally an instant success. Of course, the author is Charlotte Bronte, eldest of three sisters writing daily in their father's Yorkshire vicarage. A collection of poems (by "Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell") published at their own expense had sold but two copies. Charlotte's manuscript for a novel titled "The Professor" had passed through several disapproving hands before W.S. Williams, a reader at Smith Elder gently rejected it. Encouraged, she sent him another novel - postage due! - and an enthusiastic Williams passed it on to George Smith who read it and ordered its immediate publication.

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive: The Examiner calls it "a book of decided power," The Atlas finds it "not merely a work of great promise ... a work of absolute performance." Thackeray - at the height of his Vanity Fair fame - praised it. "It interested me so much that I have lost (or won if you like) a whole day in reading it." Queen Victoria read it and - alas not for publication - called it "intensely interesting." On the other hand, The Spectator found the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester "hardly proper" and, in general, decried the book's low moral tone. The most damning review came in the conservative Quarterly Review which deplored a "pervading tone of Godly discontent." The reader found Jane to be "the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit" and, in a gratuitous aside, the critic concluded that if (as speculated) the author is a woman, she must have "forfeited the society of her sex."

Charlotte dedicated the second edition to Thackeray, hailing him as "the first social regenerator of the day." It was ill-advised as Thackeray was similarly situated as Mr. Rochester - that is, trapped in a marriage to a madwoman. Malicious gossip swirled that "Currer Bell" was Thackeray's governess or, worse, his mistress. Informed of the unintentional scandal she'd caused, Charlotte stated: "Fact is often stranger than fiction! Of course, I knew nothing whatever of Mr. Thackeray's domestic concerns... but I am very very sorry that my inadvertent blunder should have made his name and affairs a subject for common gossip."

October 15, 1840 --- Napoleon Goes Home

With representatives of the British and French governments looking on, the body of the great Napoleon is exhumed from his tomb on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. Foreign Secretary Palmerston had acceded to French requests for surrender of the body, hoping "those full grown children [might] think less of other things."

The somber process begins at one in the morning in "Napoleon's Valley," where the Emperor was laid to rest in 1821. It takes eight hours to reach the vault, 11 feet below the earth. The 4-by-8-foot sarcophagus is raised and sprinkled with lime and holy water. The lead coffin is opened, inside is one of wood, and inside that, a tin box. A Catholic priest intones the appropriate liturgy as the last lid is raised.

The official report states: "His features were so little changed that his face was recognized by those who had known him when alive." Dr. Guillard, a French naval surgeon, examines the body literally from head to toes, "the skin of the toes was a dull white and the nails were still adherent." Bonaparte's body is replaced and resealed and borne by cortege with full military honors to the waiting frigate, La Belle Poule.

More than a million people packed Paris when the Emperor's body arrived in December. The Times described it as a "fine spectacle," but added disapprovingly: "While the rest of Europe has been taught by sad experience to reprobate the name of Bonaparte as the greatest disturber and destroyer of mankind known to modern history, France regards him as her patron and her idol. Why is this?"

In 1855, during the first visit to Paris by a British monarch since Henry VI in 1431, Queen Victoria paid her respects at the tomb of the bitter enemy of her grand-father's time. Several aged French generals were seen to be weeping. The Annual Register recorded: "It can scarcely be supposed that Her Majesty was equal to the associations the scene was calculated to produce ... The incident was moralized upon long after by the thoughtful of both countries."

Painting by Haydon (see April 4).

October 14, 1838 --- A Curious Conversation on Caning

The Queen records in her journal one of her more unusual conversations with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Not yet twenty years old, Victoria is fascinated by the urbane Melbourne and her journal is filled with her accounts of their talks on subjects ranging from society to religion to literature. Today, they discuss flogging.

The P.M. tells Her Majesty that while at Eton, a school famous for the unspared rod, he was often flogged with '"amazing effect." The feared headmaster, Dr. Keate was said to birch ten lads a day, except on the Sabbath. As for Melbourne, he says of his private tutor, "I don't think he flogged me enough, it would have been better if he had flogged me more." When the Queen offers that flogging is degrading and must be disliked by the young lads, Melbourne confides mysteriously, "They don't like the pain of it."

The insinuation takes on added interest with revelations by his most recent biographer, Philip Ziegler, that Melbourne had a "curious, obsession with beating and 'discipline', particularly involving girls or women." His own marriage a disastrous failure (his wife ran off with Byron and went mad; his only son, a half-wit, died young), Melbourne took a succession of mistresses with whom flagellation was a frequent theme. To one of them, Lady Brander, he wrote: "A few twigs of a birch applied to the naked skin of a young lady produces with very little effort a very considerable sensation."

Melbourne was hardly alone in his interest in what was known as "the English vice." A whole sub-genre of pornographic literature flourished to cater to those with an interest in "the rod," stories supposedly authored by "Lady Termagent Flaybum" or "Lady Harriet Tickletail." The most famous customer of the "birching parlors" of London was the poet Swinburne. He described one such establishment where "two very young
girls... pretend to be schoolmasters and whip fearfully severely, belaboring their clients across their knees like children." In his diaries, Mr. Gladstone recorded that he scourged himself frequently for his sins. He found "the pleasure and the pain simultaneous and the first superior."

Photograph from The Guardian (Getty Images)

October 13, 1858 --- The Great Bell

After a startling series of misadventures, the great bell is finally raised in the clock tower at Westminster. Using 1800 feet of chain and working at a giant windlass for thirty hours, workmen hoist the 13-ton bell to the clock room, 190 feet above the Thames. The bell is nicknamed "Big Ben," for either the Clerk of the Works, Sir Benjamin Hall, or - perhaps, more likely -the popular prize-fighter, "Big Ben" Gaunt.

The new Houses of Parliament (rebuilt after the fire of 1834) had re-opened in 1852, without a clock. Amateur horologist Edmund Denison had his machinery ready by 1855, awaiting only the great bell. Cast in Teeside, the bell was singularly ill-fated. It was dropped while being loaded aboard a ship for London. When the bell arrived at Westminster, officials soon figured out it was too wide for the shaft. As charges flew back and forth, even worse news came in: the bell had cracked during practice ringing and had to be broken up and entirely recast. While three tons of bulk were lost, the bell still won't fit in the shaft and must be raised on its side, then righted in the clock room to be then hoisted the final 40-feet to the bell tower. The Illustrated London News comments with relief, "It was an arduous and anxious affair for all engaged."

However, the problems don't end yet: the bell proved too heavy for the framework, too loud for MP's who complained of deafness, and, incredibly, a year later, it cracked again. Denison, now under fire from all sides, returned as good as he got. In fact, The Times announced they would print no more of his letters, "pouring out peals of jarring abuse."

The bell obviously had to be repaired in place and it was. A quarter-turn seemed to do the trick. With few interruptions, the bell has since tolled the hour and heralded news of great events. The bell actually intones a portion of Handel's Messiah, with an accompanying prayer, reading:


Lord, through this hour,
Be thou my guide,
That by thy power,
No foot shall slide.

October 12, 1882 --- The Chunnel

A War Department "Blue Book" is published which effectively scuttles any plans to bore a tunnel beneath the roiling waters of the English Channel (nicknamed "Lake Vomitorium"). Queen Victoria had endorsed one early "Chunnel" proposal on behalf of "all the ladies of England." However, when Prince Albert mooted the idea to Palmerston, the PM responded, "You would think very differently, Sir, if you had been born on this island."

It wasn't until 1880 that Sir Edward Watkin MP, a railway baron in Kent, lined up investors on both sides of La Manche. Their test boring had advanced some two kilometers off Dover. But all worked stopped when questions were raised in Parliament on the wisdom of giving up the security England had enjoyed for centuries beyond "the great ditch."

A Special Commission was asked to report on whether and how the tunnel could be rendered useless to an invader. The Blue Book plan would cost millions: it calls for a fortress, manned by 10,000 men, at the English entrance, a huge portcullis to seal the tunnel, sluice gates to flood it and "irrespirable gases" to be pumped into the air ducts. Even with all that, the Duke of Cambridge, the Commander-in-Chief, protests "most emphatically" against any tunnel. The Duke adds that there is more to fear than some neo-Napoleon in France; don't forget that only defenseless Belgium stands between the rising Prussian army and the tunnel entrance at Calais.

Not only the military took to the ramparts, The Nineteenth Century Review carried a petition signed by Tennyson, Browning, Cardinal Newman and the Archbishop of Canterbury, among others from all fields. The London mob added its disapproval, expressed by stoning the windows of the offices of the tunnel builders. The Blue Book puts the cork in the bottle for tunnel fever; The Times believes it will "close the whole question ... for a long time to come," while The Spectator says it should "dispose of the scheme until the Millennium," a prediction off by only a decade.

October 11, 1879 --- Tabloid Libels

Adolphus Rosenberg, the editor-publisher of gossip sheet called Town Talk, is arrested for libel. For months, he had been printing articles alleging trouble between Edward Langtry and his wife, "the Jersey Lily." Rosenberg labeled Mr. Langtry a "dummy husband" and suggested divorce was imminent. Finally, Rosenberg printed the provocative disclosure: "A petition has been filed in the Divorce Court by Mr. Langtry. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Lord Lonsdale and Lord Londesborough are the co-respondents."

While the Prince's two-year relationship with Mrs. Langtry was no secret to the haut ton, such an allegation in a "gutter" publication could not go unchallenged. Mr. Langtry, ever the compliant husband, takes the stand to deny Rosenberg's charges, "There is not a single word of truth in them ... I am now living at home with my wife."

Unable to make his bail, Rosenberg remained in jail, his paper went unpublished. Rosenberg's trial, was eagerly awaited; would he attempt to prove the truth of the allegations? Would the Prince be called? Strangely, neither occured. Rosenberg, instead, began his trial by apologising, claiming he had been misled by a source whom he would not identify. His attorney suggested that the parties maligned would have been well-advised to have ignored the whole thing. He added, not without irony, to be sure, they might instead "rely upon their own consciousness of perfect purity, and upon the domestic happiness which they continue to enjoy." Calling the apology "absolutely worthless," Langtry's counsel demanded harsh punishment: "He has imputed adultery to a lady of position and implicated some of the highest persons in the land." Found guilty, Rosenberg received an 18-month sentence - without hard labor - and a lecture from Mr. Justice Hawkins who accused him of "pandering to filthy appetites."

Of course, the stories were, by and large, true. Inevitably, the Langtrys soon went separate ways; he went off to his doom beset by the bottle and bankruptcy and died in an asylum, she went on the stage.

Lily Langtry by Poynter

October 10, 1898 --- The Brothers Chrimes

Scotland Yard cracks, what Crown prosecutors will call, a plot of "as consummate infamy as had ever been concocted in the annals of crime."

From an office in the very shadow of the Old Bailey, the aptly-named Chrimes brothers sold via mail-order "Lady Montrose's Miraculous Female Tabules." Advertized in less-scrupulous publications, the pills are guaranteed to end a pregnancy. In two years, some 10,000 women bought the worthless pills but the ladies could hardly complain to the authorities since such abortifacients are illegal.

Greed proved the three brothers' undoing when they added blackmail to fraud. Hundreds of their clients received a letter - inside three envelopes to insure privacy - signed "Chas. J. Mitchell, Public Official," addressed to "Madame".  It read:


"I am in possession of letters of yours by which I can positively prove that you did on or about --- commit, or attempt to commit, the fearful crime of abortion by preventing or attempting to prevent yourself giving birth to a child. Either of these constitute a criminal act punishable by penal servitude, and legal proceedings have already been commenced against you and your immediate arrest will be effected unless you send me, on or before Tuesday morning next, the sum of 2 pounds, 2 shillings."

The letter writer also required, in writing, a "solemn promise on oath as before God that never again, by whatever means, will you prevent, or attempt to prevent yourself giving birth to a child." A mail-drop was set up near Trafalgar Square and a hapless clerk hired to pick up the mail and bring it down to Brighton. The whole scam collapsed when one such letter arrived for a warehouseman's wife in the City and her husband opened it and went directly to police. The unknowing clerk is arrested as he arrives on the 10th to pick up the day's mail (with over £240 enclosed).

Watching from a safe distance away, the Chrimes brothers bolt but can't elude "the Yard." Richard and Edward were found in Penge while Leonard got as far as Cornwall. The two elder Chrimes brothers got 12 years each. Leonard, the youngest and least involved, got 7 years.

The mail, meantime, kept piling up; in one three day period, the scam netted £800. Wrote one woman, pathetically, "I will promise that I will never do wrong any more, for Christ's sake. Amen."

October 9, 1848 --- Caught in the Cabbage Patch

William Smith O'Brien M.P., whose short-lived Irish rebellion ended ignominiously in the Widow McCormack's cabbage patch, is sentenced to the traditional fate of the traitor: "You [will] be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution and be there hanged by the neck until you be dead; that afterwards your head shall be severed from your body, and your body divided into four quarters, to be disposed of as Her Majesty shall please; and may God have mercy on your soul."

Although still reeling from the murderous famine, Ireland was not immune to the revolutionary "Spirit of '48" which toppled the French King and produced the Chartist rising in England. Newly mobilized "volunteers," unarmed and hungry, listened eagerly to incendiary speeches. In mid-July, the British began rounding up the leaders.  Harrow-educated and a Protestant, O'Brien was one of the last to keep his freedom.

His "army" soon dwindled to a few dozen, including the ubiquitous informers and provocateurs. At Ballingarry, Tipperary, O'Brien's forces surprised a police detachment, which took shelter in Widow McCormack's farmhouse. When the rebels tried to set the house ablaze, the besieged police opened fire; several men were killed, the remainder fled. O'Brien was reportedly taken crawling on all fours across a field. The Times, nothing if not consistent in its opposition to Irish independence, exulted: "What chance have they of a successful rebellion out of such miserable materials...O'Brien crawling among the cabbages is an emblem of the national degeneracy."

Convicted of treason, O'Brien tells the court, "I have done only that which, in my opinion, it was the duty of every Irishman to have done." At the announcement of the medieval fate awaiting O'Brien, the crowd outside the Dublin court is described as "wild with grief." There are many calls to spare O'Brien; The Illustrated London News predicted, "Living he will be harmless; but dying the traitor's death, he will become dangerous."

The sentence commuted, O'Brien was transported to Tasmania where, unlike many of his countrymen, he kept his word not to try to escape. Pardoned in 1856, he returned to Ireland but avoided political involvement.

October 8, 1871 --- The Stockwell Murder

The Rev. John Selby Watson - a respected scholar and former longtime headmaster at the Stockwell School in South London - murders his wife, bashing her head in with the butt of a pistol. He then stuffs the body into a small closet off his library; he tells a curious servant that the blood red stains on the carpet were caused by spilled port.

The 67-year old cleric spent the next two days getting his affairs in order, leaving strict instructions for the disposal of his books and papers, including a translation of Valerius Flaccus "which I think deserves to be published." On the third day, he took to his bed with prussic acid, leaving a note: "In a fit of fury I have killed my wife. Often and often she has provoked me and I have had to restrain myself, but my rage overcame me and I struck her down." Well trained in the classics but no so much in chemistry, Selby-Watson underestimated the dosage, and survived the suicide try to be charged with murder.

The brutal, calculated slaying, according to a contemporary account, cast "a distressing gloom over all thoughtful minds." He pled insanity, claiming a melancholia brought on by the loss of his job after 25 years and a difficult married life. Even friends of Anne Selby-Watson described her as "always fretful."

When an unsympathetic jury of Londoners sentenced Selby-Watson to die, the Home Secretary was besieged with appeals for mercy, many citing the murderer's age and scholarly accomplishments. The Press objected: The Times groused, "There are other murderers besides clergymen ... if extremity of temptation be once admitted as a bar to execution, a dangerous hope might be opened to criminals," and The Spectator decried "sickly sympathy... not creditable to English moral feeling," and wondered who was to plead the dead woman's case. In plainer language, The Globe inquired, "Would the same sympathy have been felt if a Mr. Mick Connor had knocked his wife's brains out with a pick-axe?" Nonetheless, the sentence was soon commuted to life.

Rev. Selby-Watson died in his hammock in prison on the Isle of Wight in 1884. He makes The Dictionary of National Biography with the unique listing of "author and murderer."

Penny Illustrated Paper

October 7, 1896 --- A Lady Kleptomaniac

Walter Castle, a prominent tea merchant and financier from San Francisco, California, and his wife, Ella, are accused by London police of shoplifting. In the couple's suite at the posh Hotel Cecil in the Strand, police found purloined furs, watches, clocks, brooches, even toast racks from the hotel dining room.

The influential Castles call in the U.S. Ambassador but the police are unmoved. At Marlborough Street Police Court, bail is set, and incredibly met at the unheard of figure of £40,000 ($200,000). The charges are greeted with disbelief in America. Castle's brother tells the San Francisco newspaper that Americans are routinely treated in "the most impudent manner" by London shopclerks. The Governor of California and several representatives of British firms on the West Coast cable their support, vouching for the respectability of the young couple.

By the time the case comes to trial, however, defense counsel makes the startling admission that Mrs. Castle is a kleptomaniac, subject to "a temporary overthrow of her mind." Doctors are lined up to testify as well as affidavits from America, swearing to her past thievery, even down to swiping vegetables at a stand. The charges against Mr. Castle were dismissed although Scotland Yard remained unconvinced that he was really unaware of his wife's crimes in a hotel room filled with her booty.

Mrs. Castle pled guilty, begging for mercy. Instead, she got a 3-month sentence and was led off, in hysteria, to Wormwood Scrubs. A pardon was immediately applied for at the Home Office. The Press is in full outcry; Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle - creator of the great Holmes - wrote The Times in protest: "It is to a consulting room and not to a cell she should be sent." After three days in gaol, Mrs. Castle was freed and ordered, with her husband, to leave England with the "least possible delay." In December, Mrs. Castle entered the Philadelphia Polyclinic Hospital where her condition was diagnosed as "disordered menstruation, hemorrhoids and uterine irregularities" which the doctors suggested could be the cause of any number of manias, including thievery.

Back in England, questions were asked in Parliament why a rich American woman was freed while poor shoplifters received lengthy jail terms. 

Punch (adapting Shakespeare) concluded:

That in a Castle is kleptomania
Is in a cottage rank larceny.

October 6, 1896 --- A Quaint Funeral

On a truly awful day - windy, cold and raining throughout - the poet, artist, designer and Socialist William Morris is laid to rest in the Oxfordshire village of Kelmscott. Three days before, he had died in London at the age of 62. His last understandable words were "I want to get mumbo-jumbo out of the world."

Toward that end, Morris' well-planned funeral is exceedingly simple; The Spectator called the rites "quaint and unusual." The body - laid in an unpolished oaken coffin - and the mourners travel by rail from Paddington to Oxford, changing there for a special train to Lechlade. Carried by "four countrymen in moleskins," the casket is placed aboard a bright yellow harvest cart, with red wheels, and decorated with green boughs, for the four mile journey to the churchyard. One mourner - Cunningham Grahame, a colleague of Morris' later days - described the funeral for The Saturday Review; the church had been decorated for the harvest festival, festooned with pumpkins, carrots and corn, "such as he himself perhaps had planned, not knowing he himself would be the chiefest first fruit." In the muddy churchyard, despite Morris' wishes for no official Church of England burial service, the vicar of nearby Little Faringdon, a mate from Morris' old public school days, says a few brief prayers.

Among the many wreaths is one from the Socialist Democratic Federation, "In memory of a Beloved Comrade." A leading S.D.F. paper, The Clarion wrote simply, "What Socialist will care for any other news this week...He was our best man, and he is dead." One of Morris' doctors later asserted, "I have no hesitation in saying he died a victim to his enthusiasm for spreading the principles of Socialism." The Times, in its obituary, dismissed the "unpractical extremes" of Morris' politics choosing to concentrate on the man's other contributions; "Most of us find something in the nature of a monument to Mr. Morris in the better taste of our domestic surroundings."

At the grave, Morris' widow Jane appears "very broken down," his oldest daughter, Jenny, sobs quietly. Joining them are townspeople, some members of the Art Workers Guild, and in their workclothes, the employees from Merton Abbey, Morris' print works near London. W.R. Lethaby, a young disciple, wrote, "It was the only funeral I have ever seen that did not make me ashamed to have to be buried."

Photo at poetsgraves.co.uk

October 5, 1869 --- An Exhumation

By torchlight, a small group of men unearths the coffin of Lizzie Siddal Rossetti in Highgate Cemetery. From it, they then remove a volume of poems that the grieving author had interred with his wife in 1862.

Absent from these bizarre proceedings is the poet himself; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, having authorized the exhumation and paid the two guinea fee, had fled to Scotland. He wrote Swinburne, "I have undergone so much mental disturbance on this matter."

Rossetti's guilt over his young wife's death never left him. At 17, Lizzie had become his model. Their long relationship ended in an unhappy marriage. Rossetti shared his affections with Jane, wife of his friend William Morris, and carried on openly with Fanny Cornforth, whom he had met at the infamous Argyll Rooms. Lizzie's unhappiness deepened when the couple's first child was stillborn. In February, 1862, Rossetti came home to find his wife in a laudanum-induced stupor. Oscar Wilde told the story that Rossetti, in disgust, handed her the bottle, sneering, "There, take the lot of it" and stormed out of the flat. Lizzie was found dead in the morning.

A coroner's jury ruled her death to be accidental but Rossetti knew better. At the burial, Rossetti placed the poems, bound in gray calf leather, in the coffin by Lizzie's head. Rossetti wrote: "I have often been working at these poems when she was ill and suffering and I might have been attending to her and now they shall go."

But, by 1869, Rossetti had decided that poetry, not painting, was his milieu. At first, he tried to recreate the buried poems from memory but confessed he'd been "going mad" from the effort. The retrieved volume, entwined in Lizzie's famous long red hair, was stained and discolored. Soaked in disinfectant and dried page by page, the poems were saved and published in 1870.

Ironically, Rossetti's volume was so savagely attacked (in a famous article entitled "The Fleshly School of Poetry"), he too tried suicide with laudanum, but failed.

Regina Cordium (Queen of Hearts) by Rossetti (1866)

October 4, 1843 --- An Old Man to the Gallows

Protesting his innocence and cursing his accusers, 84 year old Alan Mair is hanged in front of the Stirling court house for the hammer-beating murder of his 85 year old wife.

Neighbors told of the old couple's constant arguments and how the old man frequently withheld food from his wife.  Still, everyone was shocked when one night he took a hammer to the woman. In his youth, Mair had worked for the Earl of Selkirk, moving to America where he made a small fortune in the wool trade. Returning to Scotland, most of his money was soon squandered in petty legal squabbles, leaving Mair a poor man and decidedly misanthropic.

Although Mair had received the required death sentence from Lord Montrose, few Scots expected him ever to hang. Sir James Graham, the Secretary of State for Scotland, however, refused to intervene, declaring "the law must take its course."

After a sleepless night, Mair is found in his cell with "tears streaming through his bony fingers" which covered his eyes. He begged the jail Governor, "Oh, dinna hurt me ... An'oh! when I gang to the gibbet, dinna keep me long - just fling me off at once." Carried to the waiting noose, Mair uses his chance for some final words to harangue the raucous crowd: "I pray that God may send his curse upon all connected with my trial - I curse all the witnesses with all the curses of the 109th Psalm." His muttered imprecations continue even after the black hood is placed upon his head. For several seconds after the bolt is thrown, Mair struggles horribly with a free hand tearing at the strangling rope.

The decision to hang such an old and probably deranged man horrified many. The Spectator offered mock thanks to Sir James Graham for sending a message of deterrence to Britain's octogenarians.  The weekly condemned the hanging as "an act of barbarism... which will stand as an instance of national debasement."

October 3, 1864 --- The Adorable Menken

Amid unprecedented hype, the American actress Adah Menken - infamously billed as "The Naked Lady" - opens at Astley's Amphitheatre in London's West End. She stars in Mazeppa, a melodrama based on one of Lord Byron's lesser known poems. In the spectacular climax, a "naked" rider is lashed to the back of Byron's "fiery untamed steed of Tartary" which then gallops around the arena.

Menken-mania had swept the States and she made a much-publicized arrival in London two months before opening night. The city was plastered with life-sized posters of a naked woman on horseback; Miss Menken (fully clad!) rode daily in Hyde Park, where "her equipage was much admired."

Advance sales were no doubt increased when a prominent critic publicly lectured Astley's management that "the public morals are not yet so sunk as to tolerate a performance which would be hooted everywhere, save in a Yankee audience." An offended Menken answered, defending her own "classicality," while at the same time admitting, "My success created a host of imitators, and some of these ladies, I hear, have adopted a style of drapery inconsistent with delicacy or good taste."

Opening night is sold out with more than a few fashionable swells in the front stalls. It is a triumph. Not naked at all but clad in a skintight pink silk body-suit, "the Adorable Menken" takes repeated curtain calls, bringing the Yankee custom of "blowing kisses" to the London stage. Even the critics are prey to the excitement save for the obligatory hand-wringing over the scant costume: The Times: "The lady's costume is certainly not one Queen Elizabeth would have recommended to her maids of honor;" The Daily Telegraph: "A considerable amount of a symmetrical figure is somewhat lavishly displayed;" The London Review: "She looks like Lady Godiva in a shift."

In July, 1864, Menken returned to America, reportedly in disgust, "for she fully realized that the respectable portion of the British public turned its back on her." She returned in 1867, again in Mazeppa.  Whilst in London, she conducted a scandalously public affair with the poet, Swinbourne. In 1868, only in her early 30's, "the Menken" was dead of a combination of rheumatism and an overfondness for brandy.

October 2, 1874 --- The Regent's Canal Explosion

A tremendous blast shatters the pre-dawn stillness across North London. According to The Spectator, "All London was at the window in its nightdress on Friday morning." The explosion occurred just after 5.00 a.m. in the Regent's Canal aboard the Tilbury, a barge hauling nuts, coffee and "the perilous combination of two or three barrels of petroleum and about five tons of gunpowder." The explosion could be heard 25 miles away and dead fish rained from the sky in the West End.

The three hapless bargees aboard the Tilbury died of fearful wounds but incredibly there were no other deaths or serious injuries. It could have been so much worse had the accident happened a few miles to the East where the barge glided through the sleeping slums of Camden Town and Islington. Instead, it takes place near the North Gate to Regent's Park beneath the Macclesfield bridge. The bridge contained most of the blast, however the rush of the air knocked out windows as far away as St. John's Wood.

The homes along the Park's northern terraces are heavily damaged. The streets are soon filled with the dazed occupants and the curious drawn to the scene; one distraught homeowner complained to The Times that the crowd appeared quite too merry for the occasion. As people wander through the rubble and confusion, imagine the plight of the creatures at the nearby Zoological Gardens. According to one report, the explosion "caused great commotion amongst the animals ... and their howling added considerably to the excitement." Thank the Lord that the glass cages housing the zoo's collection of poisonous vipers were not damaged for Friday is their-feeding day and the idea of more than a hundred hungry snakes loose in the capitol city proved troubling for many, even as an afterthought.

The inevitable inquest which followed concluded that the blast was caused by the bargees striking a match to light a morning pipe or cook their tea, the flame igniting the "vapors of the benzoline." The canal managers were condemned for gross negligence in permitting the "highly imprudent and improper" practice of carrying petroleum and gunpowder aboard the same barge.

The Times had the last word, "This explosion has revealed the fact that London has for years been traversed in some of its most populous and wealthy quarters by fleets of torpedoes."

October 1, 1874 --- The Queen is Not Amused.

The Diaries of Charles Greville are published in seven volumes and cause immediate excitement. A longtime courtier, going back to the Regency, Sir Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville had died in 1865, leaving a coded diary rich in period detail. 

The published diary was read avidly for its comments on society and prominent personages that were seldom flattering. The Queen is particularly angry at references to her uncles and predecessors.
 
Greville  on George IV: "a more contemptible, cowardly, unfeeling, selfish dog does not exist than the King!"

On William IV: "distinguished by a thousand extravagances of language and conduct, to the amusement of all who witnessed his strange freaks... something of a buffoon."

Even worse for the present Monarch, Greville remarked upon the coolness between the Queen and her eldest son, the Prince of Wales: "The hereditary and unfailing antipathy of our sovereigns to their heirs apparent seems thus early to be taking root and the Queen does not much like the child."

The Queen denounced Greville's diary as being in "disgracefully bad taste." She wrote to Prime Minister Disraeli; she calls the diaries "dreadful and really scandalous... the tone in which he speaks of royalty is most reprehensible." She demanded the P.M. ensure that the work is "severely censured and discredited." While Disraeli agreed, telling the Queen that "the book is a social outrage," he could do little more.

In private, Victoria admitted William IV was "undignified and peculiar and not highly gifted," but, she insisted, "very honest and anxious to do his duty." The Quarterly Review, staunchly conservative, joined in condemnation: "If contemporary history cannot be written without the aid of such memoirs, we had rather do without contemporary history - we can wait!" On the other hand, the liberal Edinburgh Review praised Greville for his "inimitable penetration and ... felicity of style, the rarest qualities."

The Greville diaries are published almost simultaneously with the official Life of the Prince Consort by Theodore Martin. In a letter to Mr. Gladstone, Victoria boasted that the anointed Albert's Life is "so pure and bright, [it] presents a favorable and useful contrast to this most scandalous publication."

A sketch of Greville from the National Portrait Gallery.