Ernest Parke






In Britain there are two government departments distinguished by euphemisms. The Ministry of Defence collects destructive weapons and uniformed warriors and uses both to kill troublesome foreigners, often in territories where there are natural valuable resources. The Home Office employs a police force to maintain order within the British homeland and to ensure that a comfortable establishment is not made too uneasy by excesses in democracy. Just in case the British people become suspicious the Home Office is denied a government minister. The person in charge of the department is called the Home Secretary. What could be less sinister than that?

Sir Henry Matthews was Home Secretary between 1886 and 1892. Opinion about his suitability was consistent and negative.   The Star newspaper described Matthews as ‘a poor and spiritless specimen of the race of smart adventurers who creep into politics by the back door.’ The rear entrance mentioned in the condemnation could have been a reference to the rumour that Queen Victoria had persuaded Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to appoint Matthews as Home Secretary. Later the Monarch stated that Matthews had ‘a general want of sympathy with the feelings of the people’. Somehow our titled equal opportunities employer and champion of democracy had failed to notice this trait when Matthews was appointed Queens Council in 1868.


Matthews preferred to trust senior civil servants rather than the police but even the men that Matthews relied on were unimpressed by him. Evelyn Ruggles Brise was Private Secretary to four Home Secretaries. He believed that Matthews was ‘quite incapable of dealing with men’. Nothing in the English language is quite as flexible as the word quite and its use by Brise should be noted. Home Secretary Sir Henry Matthews, like his Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, was a Freemason. Both were also members of the exclusive and expensive Athenaeum Club. There is a branch of the Athenaeum Club in Liverpool. The library has 60,000 books, luxurious rooms, and membership costs £1200 a year. Meals and drinks are extra. Most Liverpudlians are unaware of its existence in the centre of the City.


Before he entered politics Matthews was a capable barrister who possessed polished interrogative skills. His cross-examination of Sir Charles Dilke in a high profile divorce case appears to have impressed everyone including Queen Victoria. The cross-examination finished the political career of Dilke and his ambition to be Prime Minister. An ability to pick apart the decisions and motives of others is a blessing to a barrister but it can be an impediment to someone who is required to make decisions and allocate responsibilities. Indeed, Matthews may have felt he was being at his most steadfast and decisive when resisting the urging of others to take action. If there are some bureaucrats who believe that any decision is better than no decision, the majority lean towards believing that no decision is better than most decisions. Matthews belonged with the cautious.



Sir Henry Matthews was born in 1826 in Ceylon.   He never married but was described as charming and a ladies man. Perhaps his ease and confidence amongst both men and women meant he was unable to resist letting people dangle and this conceit or weakness prevailed both in his professional and social lives.  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren liked military uniforms and rank too much to be self-effacing. And he would have objected to being left to dangle by his Home Secretary. Despite a possible tortuous process Matthews approved several initiatives proposed by Warren. These included the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police to include an increase in the number of inspectors and sergeants. There were, though, disagreements between the two men. Whether or not to give a reward for information about Jack the Ripper was a saga of inconsistencies and disagreements that haunted the Home Office from the 4th of September 1888 when the first request for a reward was lodged and refused. Mary Ann Nichols the first victim in the ‘canonical five’ was murdered on the 31st of August.   More serious than the arguments over the reward was the turf war between James Monro and Sir Charles Warren.   The forthright Monro was appointed as Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1886. He was given responsibility for the CID and was also head of the Secret Department, which was known as Section D. The Secret Department managed internal security and monitored the activities of those that the Government regarded as subversives. These responsibilities gave Monro direct access to the Home Secretary.   Warren objected to one of his Assistant Commissioners being independent and having equal privileges. Monro felt he needed to keep his work discreet and, well, secret. Both men had a point, and a talented Home Secretary would have resolved the matter without too much difficulty. The solution, which was a long time coming, was to give the Secret Department managerial independence, and put someone in charge that had equal rank to the Commissioner Metropolitan Police. Instead, Matthews let the two men dangle.


The trio of Matthews, Warren and Monro did not operate as a successful managerial team.   This does not mean that their conflict prejudiced the Metropolitan Police investigation into the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The detection of the Ripper required sharp men on the streets and some luck. Senior policemen are nowhere near as influential as they think. Read the police reports of H Division that are available today, and they provide an account of a methodical but unimaginative approach to crime detection within the Detectives of Whitechapel. Suspects were interviewed when they appeared, and facts were evaluated. In the main, rushes to judgement were avoided. More decisive action by the Home Office, though, may have prevented the deaths of some of the Ripper victims.   This could have included extra police put on the streets sooner and clear instructions for the extra men on the beat.   Additional resources were invested into crime prevention but there is little evidence of a strategy about how those extra resources could be best used.   Monro managed undercover operators and he should have been able to improve the security of the citizens of Whitechapel.   The Secret Department was interested in security but, of course, the poor that walked the streets were not a priority for a Government led by Lord Salisbury. The poor could dangle in their slums.

If the record of Sir Henry Matthews is blemished, he was Home Secretary during a difficult period.   The mistakes made in the Jack the Ripper investigation occurred because of individual failure but also because there was little precedent for what had happened. Apart from trendsetting crime there was agitation on the streets for a socialist revolution. Meanwhile many of the rich and powerful not only indulged in licentious behaviour but were also part of an establishment that imposed a puritanical morality on ordinary people.   The result was a heady mix of sex, violence, indignation and accusation.


Bloody Sunday in Trafalgar Square in 1887 began as a protest against unemployment and the action of the British Government in Ireland. Sir Charles Warren remembered his colonial days and rather than keep the peace he waged war. 400 demonstrators were arrested, and 75 people were injured.   At least Warren and Matthews permitted demonstrations. Monro wanted them to be subject to a complete ban. There was also the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1889, which revealed a male brothel staffed by telegraph boys. The customers of the brothel were rich and included people important enough to avoid prosecution. The affair was covered-up but eventually exposed by Ernest Parke the editor of the radical North London Press. What followed was a main course in Victorian hypocrisy. The telegraph boys received light sentences, and none of their clients were prosecuted.   Parke was sued for libel and sentenced to 12 months in prison for exposing criminal behaviour that somehow did not require punishment. Sir Henry Matthews did not provide a moral lead in the affair. He looked after his masters. This was not difficult because it meant he could relax and do nothing. Matthews took a similar approach in the case of Florence Maybrick. In dubious circumstances Florence was convicted of poisoning her husband James. The arsenic in his body was not enough to kill anyone especially James. He was an arsenic addict that had developed a degree of immunity. The Press and public protested about the absence of evidence in the conviction of Mrs Maybrick.   Nowhere near as fastidious Matthews prevaricated and fudged. Florence Maybrick was left to dangle inside prison for fourteen years.

Matthews left the Home Office in 1892 and used his title as Viscount Llandaff to attend the House of Lords and do very little else in politics. He disappeared from public life. He died in 1913 at the age of 87.   His main concern as Home Secretary was protecting the status of the establishment he served and, just as important, himself.   Twelve months after his death the same people he protected took the British people into the first of two World Wars.

 Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.








In 1887 Matthew Arnold described the ‘New Journalism’ of Victorian newspapers as something ‘which a clever and energetic man has invented’. Arnold felt that the ‘New Journalism’ had generous instincts but was marred through being ‘featherbrained’. Frank Harris edited The Evening News from 1883 to 1887 and increased its circulation from 7,000 to 70,000. He said something similar to Arnold. ‘Kissing and fighting were the only things I cared for at thirteen or fourteen and these are the things the British public desires.’ Over a hundred years later the phrase ‘New Journalism’ was borrowed to describe the American journalism of Tom Wolfe and others.

Not every editor was as cynical as Frank Harris.  Commercial considerations prevailed for all the newspapers but at the Pall Mall Gazette the editor W T Stead was committed to social reform and was famous for his campaign against child prostitution. His campaign had a positive impact. Because of legislation that was nicknamed the ‘Stead Act’, the age of sexual consent was raised from 12 years of age to 16. ‘New Journalism’ had a different style to the dry reports of Parliamentary debates that dominated the pages of The Times and The Telegraph.   The prose was defined by shorter sentences and paragraphs, and the radical newspapers focussed on human-interest stories.  Drawings taken from wood engravings were utilised, and headlines became bigger. The poet Algernon Swinburne was offended by the new and sensational prose. Neither did he care for stories about ordinary people. Swinburne dismissed the Pall Mall Gazette as the Dunghill Gazette.


Not all the newspapers had the same priorities but campaigning editors realised that they could make news and advance political activity and reform by identifying establishment skulduggery.   The periodical Truth was founded by Liberal politician Henry Labouchére.   Truth had one objective, to report financial and political scandals.  In 1887, T P O’Connor established the radical newspaper The Star.  He appointed the talented and principled editor Ernest Parke.  Radical editors, investigative journalists and the fashion for ‘New Journalism’ all combined to hold a neglectful establishment to account. These journalists and their editors felt justified in sensationalising the crimes of Jack the Ripper. They believed that the crimes of the Ripper and the failure of the police reflected an unacceptably unequal society.  As the murders of Jack the Ripper increased, so did the activity of the newspapers.  Extra editions appeared, and the Evening News, The Star and The Echo had to keep their presses operating twenty-four hours a day.


In the years between 1801 and 1821 the annual production of newspapers in Britain had more than doubled from 7 million copies to 16.3 million copies.  In the 35 years before the murders of Jack the Ripper in 1888 the number of newspapers in Britain increased from fourteen to 168.   This happened because more people wanted to read about the latest news and because newspapers became cheaper to produce and distribute. Education was valued by the Government because it was believed that it helped ordinary people to understand their place in society and the merits of their superiors. The education offered was basic and sparse but popular religious Sunday Schools made a significant contribution to the spread of basic literacy.

Before 1695 the content of newspapers had needed Government approval. This meant that there were none.  The first British newspaper, the Norwich Post appeared in 1701.  In the first half of the eighteenth century newspapers were expensive, as much as seven pence but despite the price the number of readers increased.  Newspapers and magazines could be rented from reading societies, and coffee shops and bars also lent newspapers to their customers for a penny.   In 1833 The Exchange Coffee House in Manchester took 130 newspapers a week.  In Liverpool its first newspaper appeared in 1855.

broadside ballads

By the time The Star arrived in 1887 to launch its radical political campaigns it could limit its price to a halfpenny.  The daily and Liberal newspaper Morning Leader also cost a halfpenny.  By 1888 The Times was able to reduce its price to three pence and The Telegraph was on sale for a penny.  Not only were more mills producing paper, they were more mechanised and had lower unit costs.  On the railways the trains could distribute papers at speed and at less expense. There were also more outlets. Newsagents led by the growth of W H Smith doubled in number.  Insulated cable wire was laid under the Channel and the Atlantic, which meant that telegrams could bring news quickly to newspaper offices. The telephone was patented in 1876 and used by journalists from 1879. Most important of all the stamp duty on newspapers disappeared.  In 1800 the stamp duty had been 4 pence per newspaper. Some proprietors published their newspapers without paying the tax. The Government offered a reward to those who reported proprietors that broke the law. The duty was reduced to a penny in 1836 and abolished in 1855.

The Metropolitan Police did not cooperate with journalists during the Ripper investigations for what they thought were sound operational reasons but neither was there empathy between the two professions.   In 1888 Fleet Street was already established as the centre of the newspaper business in Britain. Printing had begun there in 1500.   The journalists were noted for their consumption of alcohol and irreverence. Fleet Street was surrounded by pubs. The area was referred to as ‘little bohemia’. Policemen did not welcome bohemians.


At The Star the owner W T Stead and his editor Ernest Parke were unforgiving towards Sir Charles Warren, the head of the Metropolitan Police.  On the 13th of November in 1887 Warren had authorised police to halt a demonstration in Trafalgar Square of 30,000 against unemployment. The numbers of police and the extent of casualties are disputed but there were a lot of policemen, possibly as many as four thousand. The tactics of the police were provocative, and their implementation was heavy handed.  People were injured, and the newspapers prepared sensational reports to complement indignant editorials.

In 1883 in London there were fifteen morning newspapers and nine evening papers. By 1888 working class readers could choose between the Weekly Dispatch, Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, The Daily Graphic, Reynolds Weekly Newspaper, The Star and others. The radical newspapers regarded the Home Secretary Henry Matthews as an ineffectual ditherer and Sir Charles Warren as a military martinet. The Times and The Telegraph were conservative and more loyal to the Government.   In The Times letters from readers and the odd article suggested that the victims, because they walked the streets instead of staying indoors, were responsible for the crimes of Jack the Ripper.



The Times, The Telegraph and Observer relied on a sober style to appeal to their affluent and educated readers. To achieve commercial success in the popular market editors filled half the newspaper with what was regarded as ‘sensational coverage’ and used a lot of what was left to earn revenue through advertisements.   Advertising had been an established method of earning income from 1750, and by 1888 the advertisements were crucial to the financial stability of newspapers and magazines.   The advertising was relentless and fanciful.  Medical quacks advertising their services and dubious products were a reliable source of income for newspaper proprietors. The Victorian middle class was fashion conscious and provided an expanding market for new creations and inventions. A middle class home was packed with gadgets and ornaments.  Little of that consumption filtered down to the working class but this did not preclude an interest from the poor.  Readers liked looking at advertisements.   The Exchange And Mart was first printed in 1868. It had advertisements and also offered readers the opportunity to sell their own items.   Saturday papers that specialised in football were also popular.  Jack the Ripper may have been killing women but people, mainly men, liked to watch football matches. The FA Cup Final of 1888 was held at the Kennington Oval, and 19,000 football fans watched West Bromwich Albion beat Preston 2-1. The match programme sold for a penny. Referee Colonel Marinden had developed a passion for football at his Eton College.


The political agenda of newspapers in 1888 resurrected the political unrest of the 1840s. That unrest had settled as the economy improved but it returned after the economy faltered in 1876 and the Great Depression arrived.  ‘New Journalism’ was inspired by the need to make money but it would not have happened without social discontent.   More than any other journalist the right wing Tom Wolfe was associated with the American ‘New Journalism’ but its success depended on the radical social and political attitudes of the 1960s.

‘Penny Dreadfuls’ were popular in the 1840s and their success in serialising crime stories would have persuaded newspaper editors of the economic benefits of sensationalism. Pamphlets appeared after dramatic murders and sold as many as half a million copies. Reporting the crimes of Jack the Ripper created business opportunities. The sacrifice of poor, exploited and unfortunate women meant that some households not only had economic security and affluence but their members had a real interest in what was being advertised in the more expensive newspapers and magazines.                          

 Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.