Florence Maybrick

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’

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

THIRTEEN – ‘THEY ALL LOVE JACK, BUSTING THE RIPPER’ – BRUCE ROBINSON

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Most men settle as they age. They become cautious, less ambitious and acquire different habits and opinions. Others take their youth to their grave.  Bruce Robinson is in his seventh decade and wears his hair as if he was still a hippie from the seventies. Like the hippies used to do back then, he swears a lot. Interviewers struggle to keep his expletives at bay.   There is a YouTube clip where the more sober A N Wilson does his best but the effort makes him wilt. Bruce Robinson is the kind of man who will take his youth to his grave. Prior to spending fifteen years researching and writing They All Love Jack he acted, directed films, wrote screenplays and produced novels. He is revered for the film Withnail and I. The film is brilliant but, because of my own misspent youth and some painful memories, I avoid it. The characters in Withnail and I have a withering scorn for a world that is indifferent to their appetites.

They All Love Jack was listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.   Few people associate books about Jack the Ripper with literary merit. They All Love Jack is written in a colloquial and informal style. Not everyone has responded well to the expletives and the free use of uninhibited insults.  The argument is that history should be sober and impartial. Of course, none of it ever is which is why the bias of history is so often disguised with restrained and formal accounts.   The expletives in They All Love Jack exist because that is the nature of Bruce Robinson but they also fit the content.   Robinson uses the language of gangsters to describe the villains of the Victorian establishment.   Swear words and gangsters, whatever their manners, go together.   The British establishment has been a cesspit for a while, and in They All Love Jack its members get what they deserve, contempt, scorn and exposure, which is not bad for a book about a man who killed bargain basement whores.

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Unlike Bruce Robinson I have yet to devote fifteen years and £500,000 to discover the truth about the Whitechapel monster. I have, though, spent 35 years working with those in authority in the public sector. I also have had experience of their private sector counterparts. There were odd occasions when I encountered people who inspired. But most of the time I rubbed shoulders with rogues that were incompetent, self-serving and sometimes corrupt, people who had an exaggerated sense of both their ability and personal entitlement. These flaws enabled them to be indifferent to their responsibilities. The behaviour of powerful officials reflects all kinds of limitations, and any examination of the establishment benefits from knowing what moral and professional failure relates to which consequence. This does not happen in the 800 pages of They All Love Jack.

No book has everything, and if one did, it would be unreadable. They All Love Jack is a fabulous read. The excesses of the powerful should never be mitigated but if we claim corruption and conspiracy for every instance of inexplicable behaviour we misunderstand the casual crimes of those that rule. An individual without power can be abandoned through a bureaucrat doing nothing more than puffing out his chest and taking himself too seriously.  In They All Love Jack there is a good account of how expert opinion was misused and ignored in the inquests held by coroner Wynne Baxter.   Bruce Robinson claims that Baxter introduced the bogus theory of the murderer selling organs to an American to divert attention away from the freemason ritual involved in the murders. Perhaps but Baxter may have been just another official indulging his ego with whimsy and fancy and drooling on about something that would make him sound important.  It happens.

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The rare critics of They All Love Jack dismiss the book as conspiracy theory. If it is then Robinson takes conspiracy theorising to a new and superior level. Its 800 pages provide a lot of detail to back up the arguments. Robinson is good at smelling a rat, and the book is great when it identifies obvious absurdities that have been ignored. The problem with rats is that they run around a lot, and the more you follow their trail the more it makes you sound obsessive and a bit strange. Robinson is right, though, to state that the murders included freemason rituals.   This alone does not prove that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason. Even if he was not, the police and the politicians were worried that he might be and they did take steps to hide the freemason aspect of the crimes.   The British police and politicians were dominated by Freemasons.    The truth about the crimes was spun because there were secrets and because the police needed to keep a distance from an expanding and threatening Press.

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They All Love Jack is far from precise on what is being spun or hid. If an axis exists from incompetence to corruption then one also travels from defensiveness to conspiracy. In the interview that is on YouTube, writer A N Wilson asks Robinson when did the police discover the identity of Jack the Ripper.   In the interview Robinson states 1892 but this is not evident from the book. In 1892 the alleged Ripper abandoned London for the Isle of Wight. He moved almost four years after the death of Mary Jane Kelly the last of the victims in the ‘canonical five’. The move does not establish that the police knew the identity of the Ripper. There are different options. The alleged Ripper may himself have decided he wanted to move to the Isle of Wight, or the police had realised this famous and rich man was the Ripper and applied pressure, or something else which was more complicated and that here needs to be explained.

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They All Love Jack links two conspiracies to the Ripper. Robinson not only identifies Jack the Ripper he claims that his Ripper also framed Florence Maybrick for killing her husband James. Her criminal conviction in 1890 created a scandal.   Over a 100 pages of They All Loved Jack is devoted to this miscarriage of justice. The police may have put pressure on the man they thought killed James to exit London but we do not know if they thought he was responsible for the Whitechapel murders.   There may have been two separate cover-ups by the police. In 1888 the police hid freemason details and in 1889 they protected an establishment figure from being discovered of a murder in Liverpool. Thanks to his detective work Robinson connects the two conspiracies through the man he identifies as Jack the Ripper but the police may have let the alleged Ripper go to the Isle of Wight thinking that his only crime was a murder in South Liverpool.   The Star newspaper in 1888 said that the ‘London Police were rotten to the core.’   Robinson describes the Police as ‘the thug end of the law’. Few would dispute either claim but conspiracies can consist of stumbles and lurches rather than grand plans.

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For many these qualifications will be nit picking.   They All Love Jack is a marvellous book full of barnstorming ambition and daring. There are at least two brilliant ideas that make the book essential. In most Ripper books it is the dosshouse that is imagined as the retreat for the Ripper after his crimes. In They All Love Jack Toynbee Hall is identified as the base for the Ripper, and the notion makes much possible and strengthens the case against the man suspected by Robinson. They All Loved Jack also examines the evidence of witness Packer, the man who remembered selling grapes to the man he thought was the Ripper.   Robinson transforms the statements of Packer into something credible and wipes clean so much rubbish that has muddied previous thinking.

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Not everyone is content to merely enjoy a good read especially when Jack the Ripper is involved. They want what Robinson promises at the beginning of the book. They want the monster to be nailed. A N Wilson is convinced by They All Loved Jack. The case against the Robinson suspect rests on letters that the Metropolitan Police had assumed were a hoax. Robinson thinks the opposite. He went through the letters and discovered that the itinerary and threats mapped the murders.   In his interview with A N Wilson we hear Robinson claim that the match between the letters and the crimes is ‘extraordinary’.   For Robinson reading the letters will have had an impact denied to us that only read an account of the investigation. Credit has to be given for what has been accumulated by Robinson.   No one has built a better case against a Jack the Ripper suspect than the one that exists in this book. But, as impressive as the evidence is, it would not convict anyone. The handwriting on the letters varies, and while handwriting experts mix overcooked intuition and basic mechanics we have to wonder why one person would feel obliged to alter his handwriting as often as happens in these letters. This does not mean that the arguments of Robinson should be dismissed. The explanation would, though, have benefitted from mathematical analysis and formula. The connections are not demonstrated graphically and they should have been.   But there is enough in the analysis of the letters to make readers want to read the book a second time, which is what I will be doing soon.   My need for a mathematical summary to support evidence may have something to do with my age.   It is a dry ambition, and They All Love Jack is a confident flourish of intelligence and style. Its 800 pages are packed with insight, discoveries, scorn for dopes, funny quips and smart comparisons. Only the young have such daring to attack a mystery and history in this way, the young or those men who will take youth to their graves.

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.