Henry Matthews





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.


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.


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.


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.


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.







Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten acquired a reputation for being amiable and affable. Dressed for dinner he had style and swagger.   He was the youngest of fifteen children. Perhaps his childhood in a large family taught him to expect attention and this gave him confidence with others.   If that was not enough, Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. His father Elliot Macnaghten was the last Chairman of the East India Company.  Whatever the reasons and influences Melville Leslie always expected his opinions to prevail. In his retirement he translated Ars Poetica into English verse. The work by Horace from 15 BC had existed in English for almost 500 years, and there was even a translation by famous playwright Ben Johnson. None of this deterred a confident policeman who had artistic interests.   Macnaghten was a capable actor who enjoyed the theatre and he was widely read. Those who liked him and appreciated his friendly company would have regarded the old Etonian as a well-rounded gentleman and a credit to his public school.



Before he was appointed to the post of Assistant Chief Constable CID, Macnaghten managed the estates of his father in India. He was employed as a senior policeman at Scotland Yard from 1889 until 1913. He would have been in post earlier if it had not been for the objections of Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner Metropolitan Police. The impact of Macnaghten on the Ripper investigations is negligible. If we accept what Macnaghten says about the Ripper victims, that there were just five and the last occurred in 1888, then the work of the East End murderer was finished when Macnaghten arrived at Scotland Yard in 1889. Macnaghten is important for two reasons. First, he was an important element in the conflict that existed between Sir Charles Warren and his Assistant Commissioner, James Monro, who was also head of CID. Second, Macnaghten in a confidential report expressed an opinion about the Ripper crimes. The report was discovered after his death and has shaped subsequent thinking.

James Monro and Macnaghten had both spent time in India and they were friends. In 1881 Macnaghten had been attacked by the Indian locals who were puzzled as to why just a few Englishmen owned most of the land in India. The locals were poor, which was another reason why they were being troublesome. Monro was Inspector-General of the Bengal Police when Macnaghten was attacked and, according to the victim, ‘left senseless on the plain’.



Sir Charles Warren clashed with Monro in Scotland Yard because, as head of CID, Monro reckoned his organisation was entitled to be independent. James Monro reported directly to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. Monro wanted an ally in Scotland Yard and he suggested that Macnaghten become an assistant chief constable. When Warren objected to the appointment, Monro resigned and friction continued in the Home Office until Warren also resigned. The resignation happened on the day that the dead body of Mary Jane Kelly was discovered. The exit of Warren from the Metropolitan Police permitted Monro to return to Scotland Yard just two months after he had resigned. Monro was free to recruit his old friend from Bengal.   How much is coincidence and how much design is impossible to know but we are entitled to imagine Warren compromised by an indecisive and easily influenced Home Secretary.  The pressure that Warren had to endure throughout his tenure as Commissioner was exacerbated by the resignation of Monro.  Macnaghten became a senior policeman in a city that had an unequal and divided population and he forgot about being beaten up by puzzled and angry Indian natives,. Macnaghten had no previous experience as a policeman but then neither had anyone else at his level.  The amiable, affable and well connected are always able to progress.



Managing those who have more experience and technical skills can be challenging. Macnaghten could be forgiven if he was haunted by the impact of his lack of skills. But he was as opinionated about police work, policemen and murders as he was about the meaning of classical Greek text.  His report on the Ripper murders was written in 1894.   There are two versions. One is held in Scotland Yard files, and the other is a copy made by the daughter of Macnaghten. The obsessive believe they have discovered inconsistencies but the two versions complement rather than contradict each other.   The opinions expressed in the ‘Macnaghten Memoranda’ can be summarised and need to be.  He insisted that there were just five victims and only three suspects of note. He also rejected the notion that Thomas Cutbush was Jack the Ripper.   Thomas Cutbush had serious mental health issues and was suspected of stabbing some women in their bottoms. This led some to believe he might be the Ripper. Cutbush was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1891. Cutbush had odd behaviour, and a knife was found in his possession.  Macnaghten believed that Cutbush had not owned the knife long enough to have stabbed the women. His family challenged both the allegations about the stabbings and the rumour that Cutbush was the Ripper. According to the mother of Cutbush the mental health problems of Thomas did not begin until November 1888 and after the Ripper murders had ended. Although not proven it is believed that Cutbush was the nephew of a Metropolitan Police Superintendent who killed himself because of headaches, insomnia and depression.

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The three suspects that Macnagthen identified were Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kosminski and Michael Ostrog.   Macnaghten claimed that they were more likely than Cutbush to have committed the Whitechapel murders.  In the autobiography by Macnaghten, Days Of My Years, he writes ‘the Whitechapel murderer, in all probability, put an end to himself soon after the Dorset Street affair in November 1888.’  Druitt was found floating dead in the Thames the 31st of December that year but had not been seen after the 30th of November. The actual date is disputed but the difference is only three days. Druitt had been a lawyer but he left the law and became a schoolteacher. At the end of November he was dismissed from his teaching post.  Druitt was both troubled and gay. The offence that led to his dismissal from his job may have involved advances to the pupils.   There is no record though of the reason for dismissal. Druitt was an accomplished sportsman, which for many makes him an unlikely Jack the Ripper suspect.   The day after Polly Nichols was murdered Druitt played cricket for Canford against Wimborne and is reported to have ‘bowled well’. More important than his sporting ability is the lack of evidence against Druitt. Managhten wrote that the family of Druitt believed him to be the Ripper. Macnaghten is not reliable but, assuming this is true, the reaction of the Druitt family may have been a consequence of them not understanding the difficulties of their suicidal son.


Aaron Kosminski was a paranoid schizophrenic, compulsive masturbator and misogynist. The prostitutes in Whitechapel hated him, and it boggles the mind to think the effect Kosminski would have on modern dating services. His paranoia prevented him from accepting food from anyone. He lived on the food that he found in gutters.  He weighed less than seven stone.   Kosminski may have been unpleasant company but he did not have the strength to kill anyone.  His obsession with sex also weakens the possibility of him being a suspect. A man driven by sexual fantasies and a relentless need for physical satisfaction would have not sought relief by disembowelling women wrecked by deprivation.  The Ripper did not have sex with his victims.

Michael Ostrog was a thief and confidence trickster.  Ostrog was Russian and had a beard, which may be why Macnaghten described him as a madman.  He did spend some time in a lunatic asylum but the period was short and it happened because Ostrog did not want to return to prison. The madness was feigned. Ostrog was eloquent in several languages. He was also tall. He was able to pose as an aristocrat. This makes him an unconvincing murderer of poor whores. His ambitious lifestyle and its consequences meant that he had an itinerary incompatible with the Whitechapel murders. Some occurred when he was in prison for petty theft.


Macnaghten not only lacked the experience for his role as a senior detective there is no evidence that he developed the skills of a policeman although he was a member of a committee that investigated the use of fingerprinting.  Macnaghten should not be condemned for his misinformed beliefs.  From his remote position it would have been difficult to distinguish between genuine empirical discovery and canteen rumour. More puzzling is how he has been regarded as the authoritative opinion regarding the number of murders committed by Jack the Ripper. It is Macnaghten that decided the number was five.  Author and broadcaster Martin Fido provided the term ‘the canonical five’. And an assertion by a poorly qualified policeman easily led by the sound of his own voice and the flattery of others is now established as a basic tenet.  Macnaghten had no idea who was Jack the Ripper and neither was he entitled to claim that the Ripper killed five women. Adding the term ‘canonical five’ constitutes irresponsible mischief.  No one knows the identity of the Ripper or the precise number of his murders. It may have been as few as four and as many as fifteen.   Macnaghten died in 1921. In his life he received various honours. He was knighted in 1907 and in 1912 made a Companion of the Order of Bath.  A year later he was awarded the Kings Police Medal.  Macnaghten was a Knight Commander of the White Military Order of Spain and a Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog.  Macnaghten knew how to shake hands with people, grin and gossip. For some time now the powerful have regarded such men as chivalrous.

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.