Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 1862 --- Garrotte-Mania

Harsh sentences and stern lectures are handed out to two thugs convicted of garroting their victims. 

The plague of violent street crime - dubbed "Garrotte-mania" - has literally strangled London with fear. The sentences imposed are meant to be exemplary severe --- James Anderson gets life, while his cohort George Roberts receives 20 years, for the daylight mugging of a medical student near the British Museum. The victim had been beaten unconscious, left in the street with his clothes nearly torn away in the frenzy to rifle his pockets. The two men are also believed to have committed the sensational attack on an MP in the heart of Clubland.

London is in the grip of an unprecedented crime wave; street robberies are commonplace, the preferred method being the garrotte, the Spanish means of execution. Working in pairs, the bandits jump their victims from the rear, one pulling a cord or stick across the throat, while the second loots the pockets. The Illustrated London News received dozens of letters from gentlemen, "bemoaning the prevalence of garrotting, and urging that they cannot enjoy a quiet rubber of whist or take their evening tumbler and havanna without running the risk of being strangled and plundered on their way back to chambers."

Many of the perpetrators are men who would have been transported to the Antipodes in the past. However, reformers had abolished transportation. When domestic gaols became overcrowded, inmates were released early - given a "ticket-of-leave." Both Roberts and Anderson are "ticket-of-leave" men, the latter having 17 convictions on his record! From the bench, Baron Bramwell shows no mercy to either: "Utterly destitute of morality, shame, religion, or pity, and if they were let loose they would do what any savage animal would do - namely prey upon their fellows." If tougher sentences don't work, Bramwell will recommend "alterations in the punishment."

Early in 1863, Parliament brought back flogging for convicted garrotters. The Times scoffed at those who felt chronic criminals could be reformed, calling it a "mere delusion, founded upon the weakness or concert of some theorist or some simpleminded gaol chaplain."

The sketch, from Punch, shows the satirical magazine's "patented anti-garrotte costume."

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