Evelyn Ruggles Brise

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

28 SIR HENRY MATTHEWS

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

26 A REWARD FOR INFORMATION

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Follow the money is a hackneyed phrase but it has merit. Money is important to those who have power and perhaps more important than anything else. Both the benevolent economic reforms that followed the Second World War and the oppressive neoliberal reaction thirty five years later were informed by a desire for the rich to make as much money as possible. But scale is important, and there is a big difference between growing a capitalist economy and offering a reward for information about Jack the Ripper. The amounts quoted for the rewards for assistance in his capture varied between £100 and £5,000. To understand why Home Office officials in 1888 were disinclined to offer a reward it is not necessary to follow the money.   There is little to follow.  None of the amounts considered would have meant a budget holder in the Home Office realigning expenditure priorities.

Politicians and senior bureaucrats are not without vanity and conceit.   The reluctance for Sir Charles Warren, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and his Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, to sanction a reward had more to do with a concern about prestige and status than forfeiting actual cash. The average wage in 1888 was around £50 a year. Even skilled men like masons and carpenters earned less than £75 a year.   Six days after the double event when Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed, Sir Charles Warren reacted. He had previously rejected the notion of a reward. His response to the escalation in violence was to raise the stakes and suggest a £5,000 reward.   Eddowes was killed in the City District of London, and the City Police had not prevaricated.  Sir James Fraser, Commissioner City Police, had immediately offered a reward of £500 for information about the killing of Eddowes. For a workman in the 19th Century, £500 would equate to what he would earn in ten years. £5,000 would feel similar to a life-changing win on the lottery today.

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The use above of the word stakes is appropriate.   Policemen and politicians discussed whether a reward should be offered, what the amount should be and if the reward could be complemented with a free pardon for an accomplice who was not the perpetrator. Read today about those discussions and it feels like an analysis of a poker game.   Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary, worried about being described as incompetent by the Daily Telegraph. Weighed down by circumspect advice, Matthews can be forgiven for having difficulty in distinguishing the serious proposal from the bluff.  Perhaps Sir Charles Warren proposed £5,000 as a way of deterring a timid Home Secretary sensitive to the growing criticism in the daily newspapers. Warren may have been ruffled by the £500 reward offered by Sir James Fraser on behalf of the City Police. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner had already had an argument about the writing left on the wall in Goulston Street.  After the writing had been discovered there had been a test of strength between the Metropolitan Police and the City Police.  Perhaps Warren suggested £5,000 because only a large sum could reflect his importance to London policing.  At some point, though, Warren did change his mind about offering a reward.  Maybe he was convinced by his own arguments.  In October, a month after the double event, Warren wrote to Matthews and pleaded that the Ripper case was unique and required a reversal of previous Metropolitan Police policy not to pay rewards. The policy had been adopted in 1884. Warren argued that within the police he could only find one person who thought non-payment of rewards was a good idea.

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Henry Matthews was more inclined to accept the advice of the Civil Servants in his Department. On the 5th of October and before Warren presented his arguments Matthews wrote a memo to one of his four private secretaries. The chap who received the memo was called Evelyn Ruggles Brise.  In his memo Matthews suggested a house-to-house search in Whitechapel, not because he expected a positive result but because he realised some action was required from him. The house-to-house search was not an example of decisive action by the Metropolitan Police but a ruse by a politician designed to deflect public criticism. In the same memo Matthews stated Sir Charles Warren had ‘modified his opinion to a considerable extent’.  In the next paragraph in the memo Matthews revealed the real reason for his hostility to offering a reward. ‘Such an offer so far from conciliating public opinion (and that is admittedly the only reason for the step) would cover me with ridicule and contempt – as having given way to pressure….’

And there we have it. Innocent women were being slaughtered in Whitechapel but the number one concern for Matthews and his advisors with the fancy names was that the public would not realise that their Home Secretary was spineless. The first reward to be offered had been by the Whitechapel MP, Samuel Montagu.   The amount was £100. Montagu was born in Liverpool and educated at the Liverpool Institute, which is now closed but remains a landmark within the City.  Much later George Harrison and Paul McCartney were students at the Institute. Montague became a banker, established a bank in his name but, although rich, he was never as affluent as Paul McCartney.

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The abandonment of rewards in 1884 by the Metropolitan Police rested upon the belief that rewards encouraged people to give false information. The payment of rewards may also have required procedures that were difficult to control.   Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman had been murdered before the £100 reward by Montagu was offered. Nichols and Chapman were the first two victims in the arbitrary ‘canonical five’ but there had also been attacks on other women prior to these two murders. The offer of a reward by Montagu was a response to what was regarded as a murderous epidemic in his constituency.  The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee led by local businessman George Lusk paid for posters that promised ‘a substantial reward for information’. The same poster described the police as inadequate.  After Eddowes and Stride were murdered a £500 reward from the Corporation of London was approved by the Lord Mayor.

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The newspapers in London supported the idea of rewards and believed that the policy adopted in 1884 by the Metropolitan Police should have been rescinded.   To journalists the absence of a reward was evidence that the Home Secretary was a ditherer and the Commissioner Metropolitan Police an unimpressive martinet and autocrat. The popular left wing newspapers argued that the refusal to permit rewards was a consequence of indifference to the plight of the poor.   At the inquest of victim Mary Nichols, the foreman of the jury had said ‘if it had been a rich person that was murdered there would have been a reward of £1,000 offered; but as it was a poor unfortunate hardly any notice was taken.’ George Lusk and Joseph Aarons on behalf of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph and expressed a similar grievance. They believed that a reward would ‘convince the poor and humble residents of our East End that the government authorities are as much anxious to avenge the blood of these unfortunate victims as they were the assassinations of Lord Cavendish and Mr Burke’. In the radical newspaper The Star, the Home Secretary was described as a man who would ‘pose and simper over the brink of a volcano’. The Telegraph concluded that Henry Matthews was a ‘fantastic failure’. Both right and left wing newspapers were united in condemning the reluctance to offer a reward. The division in the Press was geographical rather than political.   Northern newspaper editors were suspicious about money being given away to southerners and also inclined to be indifferent to London politicians.

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Mary Jane Kelly was murdered on the 9th of November. Sir Charles Warren resigned the day before and he departed without a decision ever being made to offer a reward. The murder of Kelly was the most savage of all the Whitechapel murders but it astonished rather than inspired the press. Perhaps there was a consensus that Jack the Ripper had spent his desires and everyone really did expect that his crimes would cease. The silence that followed the murder of Kelly may have a more sinister explanation.   Conspiracy theorists have claimed that there were secrets to hide and politicians, police and the press suppressed additional news about the Ripper and his crimes. Whatever the reasons or circumstances the suggestion of the reward was, after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, no longer a subject for discussion and debate by the authorities.  Today the muddled history of the rewards that were offered, the crimes of Jack the Ripper and the odd silence that descended after the dreadful crime in Miller’s Court inspires more thought and argument than it did at the end of 1888.   It rained and there was no fog the night Mary Jane Kelly was destroyed.   There has been plenty of fog since and not all of it has been in London.

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.