Sunday, January 30, 2011

February 21, 1868 --- A Missing Clergyman

The Rev. Benjamin Speke, whose disappearance from the heart of London had given rise to great fears (and/or ribald speculation) is found alive in distant Cornwall.  The brother of the famed Nile explorer, John Speke, the clergyman is the rector of a small parish in Devon. On 8 January, he came to London to officiate at a wedding but vanished within hours of his arrival. The only trace was his crumpled hat found in Birdcage Walk, St. James Park. A £500 reward brought in no helpful information.

Londoners wondered fearfully how a vigorous 35-year old man could be abducted from the shadows of Westminster without anyone so much as seeing or hearing a thing. The police take the usual criticism for failing to solve the case or find a body. The less reverent suggested that the cleric had lost himself in the sinful pleasures of the great city. Even his friends suggested he suffered from a mania of some sort which led to "his unwillingness to marry."

All becomes clear in Padstow, when police stop a suspicious bullock driver. In his case, they find numerous disguises and religious writings and the man confesses to being the missing parson. Rev. Speke - described as being calm, composed but dejected - explains that he had hoped to go somewhere where he would not be known, to preach the Gospel to the laboring classes. For weeks, he wandered the Channel coast, reading his Bible on the rocky beaches. A policeman told the Press that Speke "seems to entertain peculiar religious views."

While the Rev. Mr. Speke is apologetic, The Times is quite vexed; the paper chastises the cleric for causing "poignant distress" among his friends while having "terrified the more timid part of the public." Placed in the custody of his family, Rev. Speke was back at his church outside Ilminster by mid-April, "with the permission of his medical advisers."

He conquered that unwillingness to marry.  In 1881, his wife died and he drowned himself the following day. The local paper noted that the Reverend suffered from "hypochondriasis in a very depressing form."

February 20, 1876 --- The Aylesford Affair

A "Dear Joe" letter from home launches the scandalous imbroglio dubbed the "Aylesford affair."

While traveling with the Prince of Wales in India, "Sporting Joe," the 7th Earl of Aylesford, receives a letter from his wife signalling her wish to elope with Lord Blandford, eldest son of the Duke of Marlborough. The Duke had separated from his wife and had been all but living with Lady Edith in her husband's absence. "Sporting Joe" wires his mother: "Send for the children and keep them until my return. A great misfortune has happened." It was only the beginning.

Aylesford returned to London, bent on divorce and spreading word of the Prince's condemnation of Blandford as "the greatest blackguard alive." Lord Randolph Churchill, with typical haste, lurched to the defense of his elder brother brandishing compromising letters the Prince himself had written to Lady Aylesford. Going to the Princess of Wales, Randolph suggests that the release of the letters will insure that "the Prince will never sit on the throne of England."

The Queen, shielded perhaps from the more sordid details, nonetheless called it a "dreadful, disgraceful business." The infuriated Prince, by now on his way home, sent word of his willingness to meet Lord Randolph on the duelling grounds of northern France; a challenge Lord Randolph dismissed as absurd.

Obviously, this could not go on. Prime Minister Disraeli was called in. The Prince's letters were retrieved and burned. The Aylesfords and Blandfords were commanded to reconcile, which both couples did, albeit, in each case, briefly. Disraeli arranged for the Duke of Marlborough to get the post of Irish Viceroy, with the proviso that he take Randolph along as Private Secretary, removing the offending son from society.

The Prince had put out the word that he would not meet Lord Randolph socially - an estrangement that did not end until 1886. By then, "Sporting Joe" had died of drink in, of all places, Big Spring, Texas, where he owned a ranch. Lady Aylesford's son was not allowed to succeed to the title when it was proven that Lord Blandford was the boy's most likely father.

(Illustration of Lady Edith Aylesford)

February 19, 1882 --- Dining with the Prince

The Prince of Wales is host at Marlborough House to a large party honoring favored representatives of the West End theatre community. The guest list includes the great actor-manager, Squire Bancroft, who had earned the Prince's everlasting thanks by casting his former paramour, Lily Langtry, in her first professional role.

Lily had opened in a play called Ours at the Haymarket Theatre on 19 January and the Prince had already been to see the it twice. Written by Tom Robertson, the play is a rather dated effort about the Crimean War; in her memoirs, Lily recalled the play as " silly & old-fashioned." Reviews are kind; the critic from The Illustrated London News is typical, gushing: "most charming ... I unfeignedly believe she will succeed."

Separated from her recently bankrupt husband, Lily's search for a suitable career is motivated by her need for an income. Her first impressions of the theatre life are unfavorable and she soon began "deploring the urgent need of money that had obliged me to abandon my previous mode of life." As one of London's reigning "Professional Beauties," the 26 year old Lily is no ordinary ingenue. Prime Minister Gladstone frequently joined Lily for pre-performance suppers, imparting advice on dealing with critics, "Bear them, never reply." Oscar Wilde wrote the play Lady Windermere's Fan for her although she thought she was too young for the title role.

Despite the reputation of the acting set, the Prince's good friend Lord Carrington thought the dinner was rather a "dullish evening" enlivened only briefly by the well sozzled actor William Kendal "who distinguished himself by singing a very vulgar song which was not favorably received in high quarters."

Squire Bancroft was to be knighted by the ever grateful King Edward VII.  He never regretted bringing Mrs. Langtry before the footlights, recognizing that she had "achieved success far beyond that derived from mere curiosity."

February 18, 1876 --- An Assisted Suicide Thwarted

A curious ad appears in The Daily Telegraph: "To Medical men in need of money, or students well up in chemistry and anatomy. A gentleman engaged in an interesting experiment is willing to give liberal remuneration for professional assistance." 

The advert was signed only W.Q.  A medical student named William Vance replied.  He received a letter back from William Quaril offering £100 if Vance could provide him with sufficient deadly poison to discreetly kill himself.  "It is not absolutely essential that the supposed means should be painless, or even very quick in their results."  In a lengthy exchange of letters, Vance finally agreed to supply chloral.  He helpfully suggested that the man mention to friends that he had a sleeping problem.  The death, when it came, could then be marked off to an unfortunate overdose rather than felo de se.  Alas for the correspondents, a letter was misdirected and opened by the postal authorities who notified the police. 

William Vance was arrested, as was "Mr. Quaril," who was, in fact, Mrs. Helen Snee, a young and  beautiful mother of two who lived in North London with her husband, a traveling beer salesman.  She was a woman of fragile physical and mental health with a "presentiment of an early death."  With her husband often away, she became involved with a local literary set.  She was the personal muse for John Payne, an attorney and hopeful poet.  The latter's biographer writes "out of this frail looking, poetical, ethereal woman, Payne fabricated a goddess." He dedicated a volume of poems to her; the book did not sell well. 

Payne now came forward to defend his "poor little friend" at the Old Bailey.   Mrs. Snee was portrayed as an overwrought, depressive woman who really had no intention of ending her life.  As for Vance, he made the case that he merely intended to take the money and run.  He received an 18-month sentence.  Mrs. Snee got six months.  Justice Mellor spoke sharply that Mr. Snee needs to spend more time with his family.

After her release from jail, she returned to her husband but her presentiment was right.  In the spring of 1879, she died at the age of 34.  The cause of death: phthisis and exhaustion.

February 17, 1856 --- Suicide of a Banker

A body is found on frozen Hampstead Heath, near a bog behind the pub Jack Straw's Castle.  From papers, the dead man is identified as John Sadlier, a respected Irish banker and MP for Sligo. The body is cold and stiff and at its side lay a bottle of "Essential Oil of Almonds" clearly labeled POISON.  He was 42.

At first, the news is greeted with shock. Described as "ambitious to an extraordinary degree," Sadlier had amassed a fortune through investments in railroads and banking, yet he lived simply and shunned the fashionable world. Friends attribute his suicide to overwork; "the unfortunate man's brain had become overexcited by the multiplicity and extent of his speculations." The Sadlier myth is shattered at the inquest with the reading of a letter he'd had left behind at his London home in Gloucester Square. In part, he wrote: "I cannot live. I have ruined too many. I could not live and see their agony." He had just learned that his largest creditor had discovered that many of the securities he held for Sadlier's debts were forgeries.

Within days of Sadlier's death, his Tipperary Bank collapsed, taking to ruin thousands of depositors, most of them poor folk from Ireland's West Country. Angry mobs besieged the local banks but to no purpose but the venting of their anger and tears.  Sadlier had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in the collapse of the railway mania, especially abroad. The Ulster Banner reported: "The feeling of sympathy produced by the first announcement of his fate has been succeeded by a universal burst of indignation." Citing a line from Sadlier's note, "Oh! that I had resisted the first attempts to launch me into speculation," The Times adds, "There are many of the English public who would do well to lay seriously to heart the dying words of John Sadlier."  When Dickens created Merdle, the unscrupulous financier in Little Dorrit, the member for Sligo served as his model.

Curiously, although Sadlier's body was identified at the inquest, many of his victims suspected he'd faked his death somehow and fled to foreign parts to live and enjoy his tainted fortune. As late as 1868, The Times reported that "half Ireland" still believed the legend.

(From the biography, written by James O'Shea - Geography Publications 1999.)

February 16, 1841 --- A Trial in the House of Lords

For the only time in Victoria's long reign, a peer of the realm is placed on trial before the House of Lords. Amid medieval ceremony, James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, more than a decade before his heroics at Balaclava (see 25 October), pleads not guilty to a charge of attempted murder.

The commanding officer of the aristocratic 11th Hussars, Cardigan had shot and grievously wounded a junior officer in a duel on Wimbledon Common the previous September. The duel stemmed from a bitter feud within the officer's ranks of the Hussars, also known as the "Cherry Bums," owing to their tight red trousers. "The Black Bottle Affair" is in full swing; Cardigan had court-martialed a young Captain for placing wine on the regimental table in a bottle he thought "more suited for a pot-house." When The Morning Post published a series of letters from "An Old Soldier," attacking Cardigan, the Earl discovered and challenged the author, Lt. Harvey Tuckett "to afford him satisfaction." Tuckett was shot in the chest while Cardigan was unhurt.

So reviled is Cardigan, that police and the Scots Guards were called out this day to keep order in the streets of Westminster.  Inside, the trial is a farce. The indictment accuses Cardigan of having wounded Harvey Garnett Phipps Tuckett. But Cardigan's attorney, Sir William Follett produces the card which the wounded man gave police, it reads "Capt. Harvey Tuckett." Follett declares: "There is no evidence whatever to prove that the person at whom the noble Earl is charged to have shot upon the 12th of September was Mr. Harvey Garnett Phipps Tuckett." On that ludicrous basis, the Lords unanimously acquit their fellow Peer. The Times denounced the proceedings, suggesting they would only support "the opinion, most dangerous to the aristocracy, that in England there is one law for the rich and another for the poor."

In the evening, the insouciant Cardigan takes his wife to a concert at Drury Lane. After thirty minutes of hissing from the pit, he returns to his home in Portman Square.

February 15, 1894 --- An Anarchist Strikes in London

Less than fifty yards from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich Park, a bomb explodes prematurely killing a young French anarchist.

Some passing schoolboys are first on the scene; they find the man kneeling and bleeding. A park ranger arrives to hear the horribly mutilated man mutter, "Take me home." Taken instead to a nearby hospital, he dies within the hour. The man was soon identifed as 26-year old Martial Bourdin, born in Tours, now living in London and described as "an ignorant sad little fanatic of a tailor." His brother said Bourdin would only occasionally talk politics and seemed to hold no anarchist views. Yet Scotland Yard quickly traced the dead man to the Autonomie Club, in the Tottenham Court Road, the headquarters in exile for anarchists and terrorists from across Europe.

The Club had recently issued a manifesto which proclaimed, in part, "In a struggle like this we hold that all means - however desperate - are justifiable." The incident stuns Britons who had felt themselves safe from the wave of anarchist violence that was sweeping the continent. The Times hopes that police will be much more vigilant in tracking such "cosmopolitan desperadoes," adding, "It is possible to carry the theory of 'liberty for everybody on British soil' a little too far." In Paris, where an anarchist had recently thrown a grenade into a crowded cafe - a grenade traced to the Autonomie Club - the French press sneers at the "tardy awakening of conscience" across the Channel, now that the bombers have struck closer to home.

Scotland Yard undercover agents raided the Autonomie two days after the Greenwich Park explosion questioning the inhabitants but confiscating nothing more dangerous than copious quantities of anarchist pamphlets. Bourdin's funeral in Finchley was a "silent and melancholy" affair. A large crowd actually hooted and stoned the modest funeral procession. No graveside speeches were allowed.

Joseph Conrad used the Greenwich incident, loosely, in his novel, The Secret Agent.

(Sketch from The Graphic)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 14, 1880 --- Valentine' Day

The Queen and her Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli (now Lord Beaconsfield), exchange Valentine's Day greetings. Her Majesty's message is by way of cheering her embattled first Minister whose six-year Government is on the verge of collapse. Her card features a "young Valentine" reposing on a sunny bank.

Disraeli responds with his typical elegance: "Lord Beaconsfield, no longer in the sunset, but the twilight of existence, must encounter a life of anxiety and toil; but this, too, has its romance, when he remembers that he labours for the most gracious of beings!"

The close relationship between Monarch and Minister is one of the treasured themes of the period. Disraeli called her his "Faery Queen." During one of her illnesses, he reminded her, in the required third person, "He lives only for Her, and works only for Her, and without Her all is lost." Yet, keep in mind Disraeli's famous remark to the author Matthew Arnold: "Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to royalty you should lay it with a trowel." Regardless, the Queen accepted it all. Lytton Strachey observed: "Like a dram-drinker, whose ordinary life is passed in dull sobriety, her unsophisticated intelligence gulped down his rococo allurements with peculiar zest."

Not long after the Valentine's Day exchange, Disraeli's Tories were swept from power in a General Election that returned to power the Queen's hated Mr. Gladstone. She wrote a farewell note to Disraeli: "You must not think it is a real parting. I shall always let you know how I am & what I am doing, & you must promise to let me hear from & about you."

Now in his late 70's, Disraeli could not have found his political retirement unwelcome. He had little more than a year to live. He wrote a friend, "I love the Queen - perhaps the only person in this world left to me that I do love."

February 13, 1874 --- The Great Fire at the Pantechnicon

While Sir Garnet Wolseley is off subduing the vexing Ashantis, his furniture goes up in flames when the Pantechnicon, a sprawling five-story warehouse in Belgravia, burns to the ground.

For years, West-End Londoners had stored their valuables there, retrieving them when they returned to the capital for "the Season." The fire - started by a careless strike of a match - erupts in late afternoon and by 7:00 pm the roof falls in. The Times called it "as terrible as it was grand." A collapsing wall kills a 16 year old boy, the only death.

Built in 1830 primarily of iron and stone, the Pantechnicon was advertized as "the largest, the safest and the most fireproof warehouse in the metropolis." It burns for days. So many fire units are at the scene, it was said that only 3 engines and 80 men were left for the rest of London. Not until the 17th can salvage teams enter the rubble while owners of stored property are besieging the proprietors with anxious inquiries. Only a few items are retrieved undamaged; whole libraries are lost, sets of family silver are melted into shapeless form, the rubble includes countless charred pieces of furniture, pianos, carriages etc. Convinced of the indestructability of the Pantechnicon, many clients under-insured their property, if at all.   Others placed their plate and jewels inside luggage rather than pay extra for vault storage. The insurance losses are said to exceed £2,000,000.

The worst fears are for Sir Richard Wallace's art collection, valued at £60,000 but insured for half that amount. The losses, however, proved limited; in fact, a gilt-bronze chandelier left badly charred has been restored and hangs today with the rest of the Wallace collection in Hertford House.

Many MP's are victims of the fire since Parliament is not in session as normal in February due to a General Election called by Prime Minister Gladstone. After Disraeli's Tories swept the Liberals from power, Tory wags suggested that fire loss claims should be filed with Mr. Gladstone.

February 12, 1881 --- She Must Be Crazy

At Christ Church, Mayfair, the 67-year old Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, arguably the second richest woman in the realm, marries a 30 year old "swell," William Ashmead Bartlett.

Heiress to two fortunes, including Coutts Bank, the Baroness had used her immense wealth in numerous worthy causes, earning the name "Queen of the Poor." The well-beloved Lady Coutts had never married and the wedding plans disquieted her friends. The Queen wrote, "Lady Burdett really must be crazy," and Disraeli admitted, "the element of the ridiculous has now so deeply entered her career that even her best friends can hardly avoid a smile by a sigh!" One of the sporting papers, Pink'un, understating the groom's age, posed "An Arithmetical Problem: How many times does twenty-seven go into sixty-eight and what is there over?"

The Baroness was obdurate. Saddened by the recent death of Mrs. Brown, her longtime companion, Lady Coutts had become attached to Bartlett, one of several young men who served as her "secretaries." Frantic Coutts relations tried to scuttle the marriage, bearing tales of Bartlett's previous amours, resulting (allegedly) in at least one child. Derided as a tuft-hunter, Bartlett did make an offer to step aside, and, at one point, the Press declared the wedding was off.  The Baroness contradicted all such reports: "I mean to carry it out." Not even the loss of 60% of her Coutts inheritance for marrying an alien (Bartlett was American-born) could dissuade her.

The wedding portraits in the illustrated papers fail to minimize the age difference. Lady Angela ignored the whispers.  Hadn't she proposed (unsuccessfully) to her neighbor, the 77-year old Duke of Wellington when she was Bartlett's age? The wedding couple leaves by special train for Kent, "where they propose spending a short time in retirement." Taking the pretentious title of Mr. William Ashmead Bartlett-Burdett-Coutts and supported by his wife's still considerable fortune, Bartlett soon became a Tory MP, winning little distinction, preferring rather to raise horses.

Lady Angela's charitable efforts would suffer owing to her reduced circumstances. She died in 1906, outliving the Queen who often referred to her as "that poor foolish old woman." Bartlett never remarried and died in 1921.

February 11, 1897 --- The Waterloo Station Murder

A young fruiterer's clerk, Edward Berry, awaits the arrival of his fiancee's train at Waterloo Station. Miss Annie Elizabeth Camp, a waitress at the Good Intent Tavern in Walworth, is expected on the 8:23. In the station lobby, Berry asks a guard on the platform of the London & South-West Railway if the train from Hounslow is in. "Oh, yes," comes the response, "Dead on time." An unfortunate phrase considering that Miss Camp is found savagely beaten to death, her still-warm body stuffed beneath a seat in a 2d-class compartment.

A distraught Berry identifies the body. In his hands, he is clutching a pair of never-to-be-used music hall tickets.  Miss Camp had not been sexually assaulted. Her purse with only petty cash is missing but not her jewelry, including earrings and a pretty brooch. A man's bone cuff link, found in the blood-spattered compartment, is the only clue to the killer. The brutal crime was committed on one of the busiest rail lines and stuns Londoners. Women are especially shaken, noting that Annie - at 33 and weighing close to 200 pounds -was a formidable woman.

The L&SW line was much criticized for its niggardly £200 reward. The first break in the investigation came a few days later when a bloody chemist's pestle was found on the tracks between Putney and Wandsworth; the blood type matches Miss Camp's. The illustrated papers carry sketches of the fiendish weapon and of a mysterious "moustachioed man in a frock coat" who disembarked at Vauxhall and seems to have disappeared. As always, police quizzed Berry closely but his alibi held. The landlord at the Good Intent denied a rumor that Miss Camp had spurned his attentions.  A London barman named Brown, who had been previously engaged to Annie, had a solid alibi.

Annie's funeral draws a much larger crowd than expected for a women of her station, the curious and ghoulish, no doubt. A glass hearse, drawn by four horses, made its way to Norwood Cemetery. An inquest ran on for six weeks but produced only a verdict that Annie Camp had been the victim of "wilful murder by persons unknown." The tragedy was thought to be a "fearful warning to the thousands of good looking women whose circumstances oblige them to go about alone in London."

Her murder was never solved.

(Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper)

February 10, 1840 --- Victoria & Albert

A rainy Monday morning greets the Queen on her wedding day.  First thing, she writes in her journal: "Monday, February 10 - the last time I slept alone!"

With her mother, the Duchess of Kent, Victoria goes by carriage from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace. She wears white satin, trimmed with English lace; among her jewels, she wears a sapphire brooch, a gift from her betrothed, Prince Albert. The Prince wears the uniform of a British Field Marshal with the Ribbon of the Garter. The Morning Chronicle observed the groom's face "lighted up with joy" while the young bride to be seemed "extremely pale." At the altar, both are well-composed and the responses are quite audible. Pledging to "love, cherish and obey" her husband, Victoria shares "a confiding look" with Albert which the Chronicle scribe thought "inimitably chaste and beautiful."

With the exchange of rings, cannons resound across the London parks. Dickens wrote a friend, "Society is unhinged here by Her Majesty's marriage." The make-up of the select congregation (limited to 300) is much discussed; fiercely loyal to her Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, the Queen had wanted no Tories. Melbourne prevailed upon her to invite the Duke of Wellington, at least, and perhaps five Tories in all. Still, The Spectator grumbled that the young Queen seemed "the Sovereign of a faction instead of an united people."

Following a wedding breakfast (at 2 p.m.), the newlyweds leave for a Windsor honeymoon. The Queen, struck almost immediately with a severe headache, is nonetheless enchanted. She writes in her diary: "His beauty, his sweetness, his gentleness - really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband!" The following morning, she sends Melbourne a happy note after a "most gratifying and bewildering" night. Ribald jokes are told and re-told. The Queen is known to be an avid reader and, in a play on the names of a pair of London newspapers, the wags suggested that to satisfy the Queen, the new Prince has vowed to provide her with a Standard and two Globes every night.

At reports that the Queen was seen up early at Windsor, Greville, the Court gossip and diarist, noted tartly: "This was not the way to provide us with a Prince of Wales." In her journal however, Victoria writes. "We did not sleep much."

February 9, 1848 --- An Old Rake

The notorious Charles, Duke of Brunswick successfully sues The Satirist, a London tabloid which had suggested that he was "habituated to unnatural practices."  The editor offered no proof other than to "advert to the dress and appearance of the plaintiff, as rendering him an object of curiosity." The court's judgment of £1000 will no doubt never be paid but the Duke has the comfort of watching his persecutors dragged off to gaol.

Now in his early forties, Charles had survived a mad and bad youth. Lady Longford describes him coyly as a "Byronic desperado." His behavior had even managed to disgust his uncle, George IV, no mean achievement,. When he came of age, the Duke left England for his native duchy in Germany but the people soon rebelled against his depravities and drove him back to London exile. At one point, there were even rumors that he might make a sally at the young Princess Victoria. Although he was fifteen years her senior, she was taken by him, especially his stylishly long hair. Before the racing emotions could go too far, the Princess' advisors began the search for a more suitable consort.

The Duke's confrontation with the press was not his first. Some years before, The Age had accused him of "imputations so foul and dreadful a nature that no individual, either Prince or peasant, could endure to have them brought forward against him." The editors were unrepentant: "We own ourselves to be the chasteners of that aristocratic viciousness which is overturning the morality of the country." 

The Duke never married and lived out his years in Geneva.  He saw few people owing to his fear of robbers and poisons.  He had his meals prepared by one trusted chef and served to him in locked dishes.  He died in 1873 and left his exquisite horde of diamonds and his American railway bonds to "the people of Geneva."  The monument above celebrates the gift.

February 8, 1888 --- "King Mob"

"King Mob" rules the West End. A bitterly cold winter had idled thousands of dockworkers and building tradesmen. A coalition of Radical groups draws 20,000 people to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers is the Eton-educated Socialist H.M. Hyndman who calls upon the crowd to march with him through the West End with the cry of "Work, Bread, or Blood."

The noisy but peaceful protest turned violent in Pall Mall.  At the Carlton Club, retreat of the hated Tory capitalist, a clubman appears in a window holding his nose in disgust at the crowd.  The response is immediate. Almost every window in the building is smashed. Nearby, Raffini's Tonic Wineshop is looted with predictable result. At Goode's in Mayfair, the windows and the ceramic art on display are left in pieces. Mr. Goode says it would have been worse but for the cowardice of the mob which flees at the first sight of a pistol. Carriages are overturned, occupants terrorized.

It is ninety minutes before Scotland Yard can mobilize its forces to shepherd the weary and wobbling miscreants home to their less salubrious neighborhoods.  Mr. Harcourt, the Home Secretary, admitted the police had been "culpably off their guard." For days, London remained on edge; many merchants refused to re-open their stores amid rumors of vast armies of "the unwashed" readying a renewed offensive on "Property." Press reaction is quick and harsh. The Saturday Review claims the rioters weren't workmen at all, but "the class of loafers who are unemployed for the simple reason that they have never done a day's work in their lives."

The Queen, quick to blame it on Mr. Gladstone, admonished her Prime Minister that "steps, and very strong ones" had to be taken to prevent of recurrence of what she called "a disgrace to the capital." She couldn't have been happy when Hyndman et al stood trial and were acquitted, affording additional opportunities for Socialist rhetoric in the dock.

February 7, 1845 --- Vandalism in the British Museum

Late on a Friday afternoon, the peace of the British Museum is literally shattered when a man, using a chunk of granite, suddenly smashes the Portland Vase.

Considered the "most admired of all the admired" items at the museum, the treasured piece is left in a thousand fragments. Originally known as "the Barberini vase," it had been unearthed near Rome and purchased by the Duke of Portland in 1810 for just over £1000. The vandal - who made no effort to escape - refuses to give his name, hoping "not to involve others in my disgrace." He is soon identified as William Lloyd, in his early 20's, from Dublin.

At his arraignment, Lloyd admitted he had been drunk for most of the previous week and was suffering from "nervous excitement and fear." He freely admitted his action, but insisted he meant no malice but simply acted from delirium. He urged the judge to hand down the harshest possible penalty, for it is "really deserved." However, since the vase is of inestimable value, Lloyd can only be charged with smashing the glass case which contained it. Incredibly, he is fined three pounds. When an anonymous donor paid the young man's fine, Lloyd was speedily released from the Tothill Fields gaol.

The outrage is almost universal; Parliament is encouraged to act in great haste to remedy the law. The Illustrated London News frets: "There are many more fragile artifacts in the Museum to which a fit of delirium tremens and a lump of stone may be fatal."  Over at Punch, the editors envision squadrons of "swells" roaming London's museums, smashing the crockery and slashing the canvases: "It is possible that this sort of amusement may supersede the hitherto aristocratic amusement of breaking windows and wrenching off door-knockers. A morning's lark in the National Gallery would be cheap at £30, if half a dozen were to club together for the purpose."


February 6, 1841 --- The Death of "Little Nell"

Countless tears are shed across Britain at the death of dear Little Nell.  Her passing takes place in the newly published final chapters of Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop. The final scene is as famous - or infamous - as anything in Victorian literature:
She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who has lived and suffered death ... Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead.

Dickens had struggled mightily: "I am breaking my heart over this story," he told a friend. Dozens of readers wrote him begging that Nell be allowed to live. His close friend Macready, England's greatest actor, after reading the final pages, wrote the author, "I have never read printed words that gave me so much pain." It seemed everyone was grief-stricken. Lord Jeffrey, one of the nation's leading judges, was found openly weeping by a friend, "I'm a great goose to have given way so, but I couldn't help it." The Irish champion, Daniel O'Connell threw his copy across the room, more in disgust than grief, claiming Dickens "had not sufficient talent to maintain Nell's adventures... so he killed her." When English ships reached American ports, people stood on the dock shouting, "Is Little Nell dead?" Sales of Dickens' struggling journal Master Humphrey's Clock rose to 100,000, many of them soon tear-stained.

For early Victorians, the open expression of grief was not anything to be ashamed of. By the latter stages of the century, however, the reaction had set in. Fitzjames Stephens wrote that "so many foolish tears had been shed" over Nell. It was Oscar Wilde who had - as he often did - the best line: "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing." Sophisticated 20th Century readers no doubt scoff at the cloying sentimentality of it all, yet the Journal of Popular Culture published a paper- "Erich Segal as Little Nell, or the Real Meaning of 'Love Story.'"

Dickens returned to the death of an innocent youth in Dombey and Son and again his readers sobbed at little Paul's demise. Not all.  In 1861, Augustus de Morgan (who?) wrote:
A splendid muse of fiction hath Charles Dickens,
But now and then just as the interest thickens
He stilts his pathos, and the reader sickens.
(Illustration: The Death of Little Nell by George Cattermole.

February 5, 1851 --- Sensational Disclosures in the Middle Temple

In one of the most shameful cases ever heard at the Old Bailey, a prominent attorney and his wife stand in the dock charged with having committed unspeakable cruelties upon a servant girl.

The accused are George Sloane of the prestigious Middle Temple and director of the Church of England Assurance Institution, and his wife Theresa.  The victim is 17-year old Jane Wilbred, a girl hired from a local poorhouse. Alerted by rumors among the other servants in the Temple, a colleague of Sloane's found the girl living in vile squalor. Fed almost nothing, she weighed but 59 pounds at the time she was freed from her employers.

After weeks of a doctor's care, Jane was strong enough to detail her ordeal to a magistrate's court. Her life with the Sloane's had been a good one until she was accused of somehow frightening their bird to death. She was beaten and, in her words, "From the waist upwards, I was obliged to go about the house exposed." Her food was reduced to bread & mustard. Even worse, in a faint voice, Jane claimed that Mr. Sloane had forced her to eat her own excrement. The official record noted simply, "a great sensation of horror" filled the courtroom.

The shocking details of the case - in the understated prose of The Illustrated London News - had "given rise to a burst of popular vengeance." While Mr. Sloane was freed pending his trial, the London mob awaited no verdict. He was attacked in a cab, "both the windows of the vehicle were smashed to atoms, and mud, spittle, and all kinds of filth (?) were showered upon him through both windows." Mrs. Sloane, who had first fled to France only to be expelled, appears in court shrouded in a black veil appearing "a good deal affected." The Sloanes plead guilty to simple assault but the more serious charge of attempting to "starve a child of tender years" is dismissed on the grounds - at least theoretically - that, at age 17, Jane is not a child and free to leave at any time. The Sloanes are sentenced to a mere two years each in prison.

The Times was outraged at the lenient punishment and branded them both as pariahs: "His name has become synonymous with brutality and infamy. He could not venture to walk the public streets without danger to his life ... In England, they can dwell no more."

February 4, 1864 --- The Great Scandal of the Hour

On the very day of an eagerly awaited suit charging the 79-year old Prime Minister Lord Palmerston with adultery, the plaintiff withdraws his action. "In town and country, nothing was talked of for days than the Palmerston case," complained Lord Clarendon. Political enemies charged that such a "licentious" man could not continue as first minister to "our widowed Queen." Even Palmerston's political allies were shaken; the upright Mr. Gladstone balked at spending a weekend with Lord and Lady Palmerston "in present circumstances."

"Old Pam" stood accused of seducing Margaret O'Kane, an erstwhile actress and now the wife of an Irish journalist.Thaddeus O'Kane claimed that his wife and the P.M. had made love on several occasions at Pam's Piccadilly mansion, Cambridge House. "Mrs." O'Kane had countered first by denying the allegation.  She then added the remarkable bit of detail that she and O'Kane had never been legally married; hence, no adultery. For his part, Palmerston simply denied everything and charged that O'Kane had demanded £20,000 for his silence, suggesting that the plaintiff was merely a disappointed black-mailer. O'Kane insists that he only withdrew the suit to protect his children.  He boasted that he had the evidence that "without a doubt" would have convinced a jury.

The judge, Sir James Wilde, after severely censuring O'Kane, declares: "It is a matter of great satisfaction to the Court that the name of the co-respondent, which is never mentioned in England without a just pride, should have passed from its annals without stain." The Times conceded, with understandable Tory disappointment, "The great scandal so eagerly bruited among the coteries of Vanity Fair in the dull season has at length run its course." 

Disraeli guessed, accurately, that the "absurd escapade" would boost Palmerston's popularity.  The joke went round the clubs, "She may be Kane but is Palmerston Abel?"

February 3, 1858 --- A Cuckold's Revenge

Motivated by jealousy and revenge, a Bristol schoolmaster sets a sinister trap.

The story began ten years previous when two teenagers, John Leech and Sarah Mills, fellow shop-clerks on London's Regent Street, fell in love. But Sarah soon turned her attentions to Samuel Smith, a young clergyman, and they married in 1849. A poorly paid tutor, unable to support a wife, Smith went off to a school in Bristol while Sarah lived with friends in Kent.

Soon, John Leech re-appeared on the scene and lonely Sarah gave in to his importunings and began to visit him regularly in London. By 1851, the cuckolded Rev. Smith had received a lucrative post and retrieved his wife.  They had a large family and a rise to headmaster followed. Yet, Sarah was prone to fits of melancholy, avowing her unworthiness and pleading for unspecified forgiveness. Finally, she broke down and admitted her adulterous past.

Smith is understandably distraught but forgiving; he asks only that Sarah lure her ex-lover to Somerset. She dutifully wrote Leech, bidding him to "come to dear old friend Sally." Wearing widow's weeds (!), she meets Leech at the station in Yate, and then leads him out on to the remote common where her wrathful husband emerges to crack the unsuspecting victim several times about the head and body with a heavy cane. The intervention of some nearby railway navvies may have saved Smith from a murder charge. Although they made their getaway, the Smiths were soon arrested in Bristol and charged with "feloniously maiming."

At his trial, Smith assured the jury that he "deeply laments" his conduct. He confessed that his wife's confession had driven him mad with doubt; were his children his own? He insisted that he only intended "a sound thrashing - no more - in order to solace my outraged mind." Repentance aside, he received five years in jail, a sentence he accepted with "great calmness." Sarah was freed under the principle that a wife, under the coercion of her husband, is not responsible for her actions.

(Illustration: Yate Common)

February 2, 1839 --- A Deadly Wager

   A nephew of one of London's richest men gets a stern lecture - but no more - after his deadly gamble with a London vagrant.  "Nobby" Johnson, a half-witted ex-cabman and chronic toper, had been brought into the Vine Street police station, literally, dead drunk. A doctor summoned to pump the man's stomach said it would be of no use. 

Nobby had been seen that night drinking in the company of William Burdett who was taken into custody at the home of his uncle, Sir Francis Burdett.  Despite his great family banking fortune, Sir Francis was an old Tory radical MP.  In police court, the younger Burdett insists he had only bought the poor fellow a gin out of kindness, a tot to warm up on a winter's night.  But the publican at the Crown & Thistle in Haymarket said he had heard talk of a wager being involved. 

Burdett was ordered to attend Nobby Johnson's inquest.  He tells the coroner's jury that he met Nobby in Haymarket when the man begged for money for a drink.  The notorious drunkard had been apparently banned from almost all the many ginmills in the area.  Burdett's memory of the night is hazy as well but he does not deny entering the Crown & Thistle to buy a pint of gin.  He then brought it outside to Nobby and wagered the man five shillings that he couldn't drink it all.  Nobby drained the bottle in three minutes, pocketed his winnings, and was dead within an hour.  The shillings were still in his pocket. 

The jury verdict: death was caused by apoplexy "in consequence of a large quantity of gin having been administered to him by a young gentleman of high family connexions."  Burdett's conduct had been "reprehensible."  The young man accepted his role in Nobby's demise and admitted he greatly regretted his conduct, "it was an act of great indiscretion."  The coroner expressed his hope that this will serve as a lesson; the young man replied, firmly, "It will be so, I can assure you."  He left in the company of freinds who walked with him to his uncle's mansion in St. James' Place.  Nobby's remains were taken to a pauper's grave.

February 1, 1884 --- The O.E.D.

The first volume (A-Ant) of the Oxford English Dictionary is published by the University Press.  The project was begun by the Philological Society in 1857, setting as its goal "a dictionary worthy of the English language." The Society pronounced that "the first requirement of every lexicon is that it should contain every word occuring in the language of the literature it professes to illustrate."

After two decades of preparatory work, an editor was chosen to handle the monumental task of organizing the material. The task was put in the hands of James A.H. Murray, a north London school master and an active philologist.  Murray contrived an iron "Scriptorium" in his backyard in Mill Hill which he "fitted with blocks of pigeon holes, 1029 in number." He reported to the Society: "With a considerable body of assistants, I have been engaged ... as from all appearances I will be for many months to come, in turning out, examining, sorting and bestowing these materials."  Eventually he moved to larger quarters on Banbury Road in Oxford but never abandoned his pigeon-holes.

The verb to set, for example, with 54 entries soon grew to three times that number, filling 18 pages in the dictionary.  Murray wearily declared, "the language seems not to contain a more perplexing word than set."  While Volume 2 (Ant-Batten) followed quickly, Murray's estimate that the work could be finished in as little as eleven years proved well off the mark.  Eleven years later, the dictionary was only in print up to the letter F.  That volume, coincidentally, contained the (then?) longest word in the English language: floccinaucinihilipilification or the process of estimating something as worthless. 

Murray came under pressure to speed up the work but resisted delegating the task to others.  A friend advised, "The Society won't get its Dicty so well done as if you did it all but it will see the Dicty finisht in 10 or 12 years from now and you alive to work on."  The final volume was not released until 1928.  Murray was knighted by King Edward VII but died in 1915 long before the work was finished.  He had personally edited more than half the 15,487 pages of the completed dictionary.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 31, 1854 --- "Albert's in the Tower"

In the House of Lords, the leaders of both parties rise on the first day of the new Parliamentary session to defend Prince Albert, the subject of unprecedented attacks and rumors.  War fever is running high against Russia.  Once again, the Russians were belaboring England's ally, the Turks.  The Prince, allege his detractors, is pro-Tsar and has treasonably forced the resignation from the cabinet of the popular Lord Palmerston, a leading Russophobe.  Papers loyal to Lord Pam gleefully smear the Prince, charging that he has been in league with "the enemies of England and the subservient tools of Russian ambition." 

A rumor sweeps London that the Queen, discovering her husband's disloyalty, has locked him in the Tower.  A popular street ballad of the day goes:
Jolly Turk, now go to work and show the Bear (Russia) your power.
It's rumored over Britain's isle, that A-----'s in the Tower.
Crowds actually gathered hoping to catch a the glimpse of the imprisoned Prince.  Albert, who was not in prison, wrote to his dear friend Dr. Stockmar, "One almost fancies one's self in a lunatic asylum."  Victoria is sympathetic and worries that the attacks are wearing on the Prince's always fragile health: "With his keen and very high feeling of honor, he is wounded, hurt and enraged by the attack on his honor, and is looking very ill, though his spirits do not fail him." 

Finally, the Queen demands that Prime Minister Aberdeen respond to these attacks, arguing that "in attacking the Prince ... the throne is assailed."  The ineffectual Aberdeen bestirs himself to denounce the "scandalous and groundless imputations cast upon the illustrious Prince."  The Tory leader, Lord Derby, joins in the effort, hoping to silence the "mischievous slanders" that have been given too much attention.  From the Lords gallery, the Queen and her Prince looked on and were cheered by all.  Returning to the Palace, the Queen thought the crowds in Westminster were "very friendly."  The press attacks on Albert subsided, leaving The Times to wonder how any one could have credited "such skimble-skamble stuff."

January 30, 1862 --- "Mad" Windham

After a 34 day lunatico inquirendo, a jury finds the so-called "Mad Windham" to be a person of sound mind "so as to be sufficient for the governance of himself." So ends a process that The Times called "unprecedented for its duration, for the scandalous waste of money which it has occasioned, and for the inexpressible filthiness of some of its details."

William Windham, bearing one of the first names in Norfolkshire, had turned 21 the previous summer, coming into an estate worth some 15,000 pounds a year. The young Windham had been a difficult charge.  Losing his father at an early age, he was raised by a series of tutors, or "keepers." His conduct at Eton had earned him the "Mad" nickname. Dismissed at last, though but a teen, he became a regular figure in London's Haymarket, frequenting the most vile of inns.  At home, he disported himself in the nude, soiling his bed repeatedly.  Curiously, he fancied himself a railwayman, often appearing socially in smoke-blackened clothing. He once clambered aboard a train at Norwich station and blasted the whistle, setting off a dangerous panic in the crowded yard.  The final straw was his wedding to a notorious woman whom he happily shared with a flash chap known as "Bawdyhouse Roberts."  Windham drew up a will - later thrown out in Chancery Court - that would have left his entire fortune to the dubious "Mrs. Windham." 

The family took action hoping to have Windham declared insane.  Only Windham's mother, a sister of the Marquis of Bristol, stood by him.  The Windham estate suggested that the young man needed to be placed under the care of a "good, kind, virtuous friend."  Yet when Windham was questioned before the lunacy panel, including "mad doctors," they were struck by his intelligence and manners.  Windham's lawyer conceded that the young man's lifestyle might disgust some people but if "profligacy and vice are insanity than London's asylums would be filled."  The Lancet agreed with the final ruling, condemning "the blind or perverse confounding of vice with insanity." 

Windham would not survive long, he was dead at 25.  Having lost the splendid family estate at Felbrigg (pictured above), he ended his days as a coachman "in more or less dissipated company."

January 29, 1877 --- A Rogue & Vagabond

Dr. Henry Slade, an American born medium, who had been convicted of being "a rogue and vagabond," escapes to the Continent. 

Slade's case had become a cause celebre for followers and debunkers of the occult. The London Spiritualists Society declares: "He leaves us not only untarnished in reputation ... but with a mass of testimony in his favor which could probably have been elicited in no other way."  During his brief vogue, Slade drew the susceptible to his Bloomsbury rooms by claiming to communicate with the spirit world through his dead wife. What a marvelous woman! Visitors delighted in her rendition of Home Sweet Home on a magic accordion which Slade held beneath his mysterious table.  Beyond her musical talents, Mrs. Slade brought messages from beyond.  Her communications were scrawled on a slate produced, again, from beneath the table.  The charge was 2 pounds a session.

In September 1876, an elderly woman came to Slade hoping for news of a dead friend.  With her were two "family members." Actually, they were (incognito) Professor Lankester of the University of London and Dr. Donkin of Westminster Hospital.  Watching closely - while they simulated the "considerable agitation" of ardent believers - the two doctors observed matters quite carefully.  In a letter to The Times, they concluded that Slade was a fraud who relied on eaves-dropping, sleight-of-hand, and even pencil lead beneath his fingernails.  Slade was soon arrested under the seldom used vagabond laws. 

As he stood in Bow Street police court, a spiritualist journal thought there had been no such proceeding "since the days of Galileo."  Jurors witnessed unique demonstrations.  Slade's table and slate were subjected to the most thorough perusal.  In the end, Slade received three months hard labor but would never serve a day.  The Appeals Court threw the indictment out, claiming the Elizabethan law had been mis-applied.  The tireless Lankester hoped for a new trial but Slade had already left the UK for France and "it is doubtful that his health will permit him to return."  The Times suggested that it was time to let it go: "We may be sure that the persons who can be duped by Slade have only yielded to one form of delusion instead of another." 

Slade continued to practice his "arts" in Europe and in the USA.  He was later caught in an outright fraud and ended his days penniless in a Michigan asylum.

January 28, 1869 --- A Warning from the Lord Chamberlain

Lord Sydney, the Lord Chamberlain, who licenses and oversees public performances, sends a letter of warning to the managers of all London theatres and music halls regarding "the impropriety of costume of the ladies in the pantomimes, burlesques, etc." 

The increasing popularity of decolletage coupled with the introduction of some more provocative dances from the continent had given cause for concern for Her Majesty's official censor. While wishing to leave the matter to the discretion of the managers themselves, he feels he must comment at this time as "this evil has been gradually on the increase [and] has been taken up by the press and public opinion."  It has become so outrageous that, Lord Sydney suggested, "Many who have hitherto frequented the theatres ... now profess themselves unwilling to permit the ladies of their families to sanction by their presence such questionable exhibitions." The critic for The Illustrated London News applauds the move, condemning the current trend of "sensation-effects" aimed at "the grosser appetites of the lowest class of spectators."

Lord Sydney actually solicited suggestions and observations from the West End.  One actress wrote his Lordship that the costumes worn by many of the ladies in the stalls were far more risque than those worn on the stage.  Tomahawk, one of the more radical papers, mocked "My excellent fussy old friend" for trying to regulate the proper limits of female dress, "lest he should be embarrassed at the forthcoming entertainments of the Court by finding the "upper boundary" somewhat transgressed. 

Lord Sydney's warning was all but ignored.  A successor concluded that the effort had been "attended with ridicule and consequently, failure."

January 27, 1872 --- The Euston Station Mystery

A disappearance, a last forlorn letter, and rumors of a strange cult of eunuchs add up to the "Euston Station Mystery." 

L.R. Bauer, a Russian-born salesman for a Birmingham firm is on his way from Moscow to his employer's home office. Arriving in London, he wires from Euston (at 12:50pm) that he should be expected on the night train.  He never arrived in Birmingham. Instead, his employers received a letter.  Bauer writes that he has been abducted and his captors have allowed him to send this one final letter.  He explains that, when a boy in Russia, he had joined a secret society.  Now, due to his failure to carry out "some consequences of my vow," he had been hunted down by "one of these devils in the shape of man."  He closes, "At least I shall not die a villain. Farewell forever. L.R.B."  With Bauer's letter, there is a note, ostensibly from his captors: "The foolish author of the enclosed has informed you right: he is dead."  The note is signed: "A Sufficient Number." 

Bauer's employer, Blews & Co. Gas Contractors, appeals for public assistance in apprehending such "unscrupulous persons." Bauer was described as a man of 26, about 5-foot-6, with light whiskers and a moustache.  The Times called it "An Extraordinary Story."  Could such a daylight abduction really take place "on the greatest railway in the Kingdom and in its London terminus?"  The Daily Telegraph is more sceptical, implying that Bauer concocted the story to cover a defalcation or other problem with his employer.  Blews & Co quickly replied that Bauer's accounts were all in order and he was a much-respected employee. 

Of course, there are theories.  Some thought Bauer just ran off with a woman.  The most frightening possibility involves a hitherto unknown group, "the Sect of the Skoptsy," the last being the Russian word for eunuch.  Suppressed by the Tsars as "especially harmful," the sect requires its adherents have their sex organs removed to preclude the possibility of sin.  Interestingly, in Bauer's last note, he did mention "my pretty girl in Riga" to whom he was betrothed.  Had Bauer's sect-mates discovered this romance and condemned him as a traitor?  Or, had he manufactured the vanishing act rather than to explain the truth to his beloved?  The unhappy girl, who said that her lover seemed apprehensive at their last meeting, sent a picture of "my dear lost one" to the London pictorial papers. 

Rewards were offered; the Russian government became involved.  No trace of Mr. L.R. Bauer was ever found.

January 26, 1885 --- Death on the Nile

In Khartoum, Sudan, Colonel Charles Gordon is murdered in the British Residency by Dervish tribesmen, loyal to their spiritual leader, the Mahdi.  According to the considerable legend attached to the events, Gordon puts on his dress white uniform and armed with a sword and pistol meets his fate.  He was speared and then hacked to death; his head was then severed and hung from a tree, to be stoned by passersby and pecked at by birds. 

By the manner of his death, Gordon became - as Strachey later anointed him, however ironically - an "eminent Victorian."  In a long and mostly obscure prior career. Gordon had won some success in the Sudan.  He was now looked to as "the man" to deal with the rise of the Mahdi - who had massacred an army of 30,000 Egyptian troops with English commanders sent to put him down.  Enthusiastically endorsed by the press, Gordon - now in his 50's - was called out of retirement and sent off to Khartoum.  His orders were to safely bring the British & Egyptian forces out of the region.  Once he arrived, however, he asked for more forces, claiming he could easily crush "the feeble lot of stinking Dervishes."  Soon, he and his garrison of 8000 men were under siege. 

The drama was followed daily in the press; the siege on the southern Nile had lasted for ten months.  The Queen took great interest and demanded Prime Minister Gladstone do something, "You are bound to try to save him."  Instead, Gladstone infuriated many Britons when he actually suggested that the Dervishes may have been "rightly struggling" to drive out foreigners.  The public pressure was too great and Gladstone's government authorized a rescue force.  They arrived, perhaps, two days after the final massacre.  Gordon met his end placidly, "When God was portioning out fear ... at last it came to my turn and there was no fear left to give me." 

The word of Gordon's death and mutilation sent the Queen off the rails.  In a stunning personal rebuke, she sent Gladstone an uncoded wire: "To think that all this might have been prevented."  Gladstone, who was popularly known as "the Grand Old Man," abbreviated to GOM, was now the MOG, "Murderer of Gordon."  The British rescue force withdrew, leaving Khartoum to the Mahdi.  Gordon's revenge would be more than a decade in coming (q.v. September 2)

January 25, 1872 --- Deadly Chocolates

43-year old Christiana Edmunds, the so-called "Brighton Poisoner," is spared the noose; instead, she will serve out her days in the mental asylum at Broadmoor.

In the summer of 1871, a 4-year old boy had died eating some chocolates laced with strychnine. Miss Edmunds came forward at the child's inquest to charge that she had earlier tried to warn the police after purchasing some tainted candies herself from a local sweet shop. The "chocolate creams" had been so obviously tampered with, however, that the candymaker was cleared and the case was left open.

A 20 pound reward brought forward a chemist who thought Miss Edmunds might be the "Mrs. Wood" to whom he'd sold large quantities of strychnine, supposedly to kill cats ravaging her garden. As police probed further, they uncovered a motive for murder in  a pathetic romance. Miss Edmunds had become infatuated with Dr. Charles Beard, a prominent doctor who lived with his wife on the Grand Parade.   Feigning ailments, Christiana insinuated herself into the doctor's care. She visited his home, wrote him "Caro Mio" letters until, at last, Mrs. Beard expressed her displeasure. As a peace offering, Miss Edmunds brought by some chocolates.  Mrs. Beard actually felt forced to eat one.  The scheme failed and her intended victim was merely sickened. 

Miss Edmunds, then frantic to divert suspicion from herself, sent a street urchin out to purchase some more chocolates.  She found fault with them in some way and had the boy return them to the store --- but not before she placed some lethal sweets in the box.  As a result, 11 year old Sidney Barker had died and several other locals were sickened. 

The trial was moved from Brighton to London's Old Bailey owing to the public rage at such callous plotting. Insanity is the only defense: Miss Edmunds' mother swears that the family is "saturated with lunacy." The accused's father and brother had both died insane. Nevertheless, the prosecution portrayed the accused more as a woman with "powers of great connivance and considerable cunning."  The jury returned a speedy guilty verdict and urged that no mercy be shown.  The Brighton Daily News was pleased: "After all, what is death to an insane person."  At word she would be hanged, Miss Edmunds collapsed in the dock, claiming to be carrying Dr. Beard's child.  The charge was disproven after an examination done by a jail matron.  The test had to be delayed when a bailiff, sent off for a stethoscope, returned with a telescope. 

In the days following the trial, a petition was sent to the Home Office signed by many prominent Brightonians, including some physicians.  They appealed for mercy on the grounds of the family history of madness.  The Home Secretary commuted the sentence.  The Times disapproved: Miss Edmunds deserved to hang for her "acts of cold-blooded indifference to life ... mark the most vicious and cruel form of criminality."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 24, 1895 --- The Death of Lord Randolph Churchill

Lord Randolph Churchill dies in his Mayfair home after a long, public battle with the unmentionable disease, syphilis. The story varies. One version has it that Churchill contracted the disease while at Oxford: he awoke, after a night of revelry, in bed with an old whore with "one long yellow tooth in her top jaw that waggled as she spoke." Or was it a Parisian mistress?  Regardless, syphilis is a disease that destroys in stages, offering long periods of remission and apparent health.

The first serious onset came in 1881. A promising MP, Churchill was married and the father of two sons.  He quit public life for several months and, it is assumed, all physical relations with his wife as well.  The disease returned in 1886, the year when Churchill's career peaked as Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Ravaged by mood swings and heavily drugged with digitalis, Randolph's behavior became increasingly combative.  He vexed his colleagues and - over a minor point - suddenly resigned his office.  He was now being treated by a renowned London specialist, Dr Buzzard (!), but no treatment could halt his decline.  The resignation effectively ended any major role he might play in serious politics. 

After 1886, his infrequent appearances in the House of Commons were painful to behold.  After one such rambling, slurred effort, the Parliamentary correspondent for The Times stated that he had witnessed "nothing more tragical ... in our generation."  In Lord Rosebery's poignant phrase, Lord Randolph was "chief mourner at his own protracted funeral."  An 1894 world tour was disastrous. In Japan, Randolph tried to strangle his valet.  In India, his physical collapse was near total.  His final weeks in London were spent in great pain. 

When the end came, the cause of death was listed as "general paralysis of the insane," the unstated left understood.  Winston, his eldest son, recalls racing across snow-covered Grosvenor Square to reach his dying father's bedside.  Ever the defender of his father's memory, Winston Churchill died on the same date, seventy years later.

[Illustration from The National Portrait Gallery]

January 23, 1858 --- The American Horse Tamer

At the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, "the American Horse Tamer," James Rarey gives a command performance for the Queen and Prince Albert. In addition, the audience includes many of the crowned heads of Europe who had assembled in London for the approaching wedding of the Princess Royal. 

Rarey is a slightly built man of 30, a horse-breeder's son from Ohio.  His reputation precedes him as a man who can tame the most intractable steed. His methods are mysterious. For the performance, he requests unbroken horses from the Royal stud and dismisses his audience for fifteen minutes.  Upon their return, they are amazed to see completely docile beats.  Rarey sits astride one unsaddled mount while pounding a drum. The official account notes that the exhibition is "witnessed with the most evident tokens of interest and wonder."

Using the Palace show as publicity, Rarey is soon the toast of England's considerable horse-loving community. While his methods must remain a secret, Rarey insists he used no trickery, no drugs, no mesmeric influence and inflicts no pain on the animals. Rather, he appeals to the "intellect and affections of the horse." For ten guineas a head, 600 people - willing to sign a pledge of secrecy - attend a series of lectures and demonstrations at stables in Belgravia. Adding to his lore, Rarey tames an infamously savage horse, Cruiser, rendering the animal, in the words of an onlooker, "subdued, perhaps saddened, yet mild and contemplative." Rarey met with Prime Minister Palmerston and representatives of the War Office who sought his advice on the training of cavalry horses.

In a final stunt before leaving England, Rarey tamed a zebra brought to him from the Regent's Park Zoo. The Spectator compared him to St. Francis of Assisi: "He has reversed the old rules of discipline and confirmed the most philosophical and spiritual trust in kindness. It is an experience which is very likely to have a material interest on the progress of civilization." Rarey's vogue was short-lived. He traveled across Europe and soon returned to America where he died a young man in 1866.

[Photograph from]

January 22, 1879 --- Isandhlwana & Rorke's Drift

In a day marked both by incompetence and heroism, one British regiment is annihilated by Zulu warriors at Isandhlwana while only miles away, at Rorke's Drift, a much smaller force repels its attackers. Lord Chelmsford commands British forces which have been sent out to crush the Zulu army of Chief Cetawayo.  The Zulu impis had been menacing the encroaching northern settlements of Natal. Leaving the 24th regiment to guard his supply camp at Isandhlwana, Chelmsford moves out in force.  Somehow, the British forces managed to march past a Zulu army of 20,000 men. Despite word sent from camp that the Zulus are advacing, Chelmsford is unconcerned.  By the time a subsequent message reached him - "For God's sake, come back with all your men" - it is too late.  The camp has been overrun.  Chelmsford returns to find the ground littered with the dead, black and white.  The Zulus, using the bodies of their dead as shields, had been able to breach the camp's defensive lines and overwhelm the small force.  500 British and native supporters are dead.  Cetawayo had then sent 4000 Zulus on to attack the field hospital at Rorke's Drift  A sentry in full retreat informed the defenders, "Here they come, black as hell and as thick as grass."  The action continued through the night.  The hospital, is a strongly walled farmhouse and well-situated, commanding a large open ground.  The 100 men held off repeated Zulu attacks, losing only 17 men.  Eleven VC's (the Victoria Cross) were won at Rorke's Drift, more than on any other single day in Army history.  The Zulu dead from the two battles are estimated to be more than 2500.  Cetwayo said, "There are not enough tears to mourn the dead." A shaken Lord Chelmsford wired London and Prime Minister Disraeli: "We have certainly been seriously underrating the power of the Zulu army."  In her journal, the Queen was distraught: "How could this happen we cannot yet imagine." A disgusted Disraeli, who thought the whole war was "unhappily precipitated," ordered the "panic-struck" Chelmsford replaced.  By the time General Wolseley arrived to succeed him, however, Cetawayo's army was finally defeated at Ulundi.

January 21, 1853 --- A Row over the Robe of Office

The antipathy between the two leading statesmen of the Victorian era, Gladstone and Disraeli - is a well-known fact.  It can be well illustrated by a petty squabble that began on this date over the ceremonial robe traditionally worn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Mr. Disraeli had been Chancellor for a year but, with the fall of Lord Derby's Tory government, he must leave the post to his rival Gladstone.  The latter had been named to the post by the new Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen.  Addressing Disraeli as "My Dear Sir," Gladstone opens the correspondence discussing the transition and concluding with a reference to the aforementioned robe: "I shall be very happy to receive it from you ... I remain, my dear Sir, faithfully yours, W.E. Gladstone.

Disraeli did not even deign to reply for several weeks.  In late February, with the more formal heading, "Dear Sir," Disraeli made no mention of the robe. Gladstone, reciprocating the chill, answered with a "Dear Sir" letter of his own. "I adverted at the close of my letter to the Official Robe, but the allusion to it has perhaps escaped your attention. I remain, dear Sir, faithfully yours, etc."

After another week's delay, Disraeli answered, now in the third person, avoiding again any mention of the robe and concluding frostily, "Mr. Disraeli is unwilling to prolong this correspondence."

Now a fully exasperated Gladstone, certain that he would never see that wretched robe, signed off bitterly, in the third person as well: "It is highly unpleasant to Mr W.E. Gladstone to address Mr Disraeli without the usual terms of courtesy, but he abstains from them only because he perceives that they are unwelcome."

Gladstone was forced to reach into his personal "exchequer" to purchase a new robe for the office.  The interested may view Mr. Disraeli's robe on display at Hughenden Manor, his Buckinghamshire estate.

[Letter photocopy from the Bodley Museum, Oxford]

January 20, 1843 --- Assassinated by a Madman

Edward Drummond, Private Secretary to Prime Minister Peel, is shot in the back while walking down Whitehall.  A respected career civil servant, Drummond is an unlikely target; the diarist Greville described him as "as good and inoffensive a man as had ever lived. ... without an enemy in the world." The gunman, who is immediately subdued, is identified as a deranged Scot named M'Naughten who had been stalking Sir Robert Peel for some time.  Since Peel and Drummond were almost inseparable, the assassin apparently mistook his target; he clearly thought he had gunned down the P.M. 

Drummond is carried to his home whence doctors reassure the public that the wounds do not appear life threatening. In five days, he was dead. He lingered in great pain, bearing it stoically; he told his doctors, "That ugly French word malaise expresses most fully my burden."

From M'Naughten's jail cell come reports of "incoherent exclamations as to the destruction of his mental faculties by means of Tory persecutions." Somehow the Queen and the Jesuits are involved as well.  In March, M'Naughten - obviously mad - is found "not guilty, on the ground of insanity."  There is an immediate uproar; Peel called the development "lamentable" and the Queen denounced Lord Chief Justice Tindal whose charge to the jury has become known as "the M''Naughten rule." Tindal told the jurors: "The question to be determined is whether at the time the act in question was committed the prisoner had or had not the use of his understanding, so as to know that he was doing a wrong or wicked act [if not] then he would be entitled to a verdict in his favor." Lord Brougham, one of the foremost legal scholars of the day, argued that M'Naughten may have madly mistaken Drummond for Peel but he certainly knew he was killing a man, an act which the law had forbidden.  

The Illustrated London News claimed that the continued treatment of criminals as madmen would "endanger the personal security of the community."

January 19, 1873 --- The Great Coram Street Murder

Subject to almost daily derision in the press, Scotland Yard finally makes an arrest in the Christmas morning murder of a London prostitute. Harriet Buswell, found with her throat cut, had been last seen with a "pimply faced foreigner, maybe a German." Beset with a string of unsolved crimes, police worked frantically but without avail. The Times joshed that the new popular genre of detective fiction must not be in the Yard's library. A break came when Ramsgate police detained a suspicious crewman from the Wangerland, a German ship that run aground off shore.

Witnesses from London are brought to Kent to view the suspect in a line-up. The ship's chaplain, Dr. Gottfried Hessel, cheerfully agrees to take part, to his regret when each of the witnesses pointed to him as the man last seen with the victim. Other than being German, Hessel hardly matches any of the other descriptions of the likely killer; nonetheless, he is return to London in custody.  The police had trumpeted their success in the papers and a large hissing crowd gathers at Clerkenwell jail for the prisoner's arrival.  With his distraught wife sobbing from the gallery, the chaplain is remanded to jail by a magistrate. 

At Bow Street Police Court, two waiters and a greengrocer repeat their stories, although two of them now concede that the killer was somewhat taller than Dr. Hessel. A maid at Hessel's hotel in Ramsgate said he had asked for some turpentine and a strong brush and she thought she saw some bloody rags in the man's room. Dr. Hessel admits he had gone into London while the Wangerland awaited repairs after her grounding.  He insists however that he was constantly in the presence of his wife.  A hotel bootblack swears that Dr. Hessel was in the hotel on Christmas Eve.  At last, the magistrate declared. "To my mind, it has been conclusively shown that Dr. Hessel was not the companion of the murdered woman on that evening." 

The police are shamefaced.  The Times declared, "A cruel accusation has seldom been brought forward on more flimsy grounds."  The Daily Telegraph set up a fund for Dr. Hessel's legal expenses, raising 1200 pounds, including 30 quid from the Queen herself. While the "Great Coram Street Murder" was never solved, some interesting facts about the chaplain would later emerge.  Anonymous German sources would later reveal that Hessel had a fondness for "the low life" and he had boarded the Wangerland to sail for Brazil to escape mounting debts.

Some new research speculates that the unsolved murder of Harriet Buswell may even be credited to "Jack the Ripper," sixteen years before he stalked London "unfortunates."

[Bow Street Police Court today]