|A Ripperologist Article|
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By ANDREW SPALLEK
In February, 1891, just days before the murder of Frances Coles, there appeared a curious news item in several English newspapers to the effect that a West of England Member of Parliament had solved the case of Jack the Ripper. It appears that news of the Coles murder as well as fear of libel action silenced the story. The significance of this story cannot be overstated, however, as it appears to be the earliest sign of the finger of suspicion pointing in the direction of Montague John Druitt. Much speculation has existed concerning the identity of this Member of Parliament and whether he had ties to the Druitt family. At last his identity is known to us. He is Henry Richard Farquharson, Member of Partliament for West Dorset from 1885 until his death in 1895.
The 11 February 1891 edition of The Bristol Times and Mirror contains the following:
I give a curious story for what it is worth. There is a West of England member who in private declares that he has solved the mystery of 'Jack the Ripper.' His theory - and he repeats it with so much emphasis that it might almost be called his doctrine - is that 'Jack the Ripper' committed suicide on the night of his last murder. I can't give details, for fear of a libel action; but the story is so circumstantial that a good many people believe it. He states that a man with blood-stained clothes committed suicide on the night of the last murder, and he asserts that the man was the son of a surgeon, who suffered from homicidal mania. I do not know what the police think of the story, but I believe that before long a clean breast will be made, and that the accusation will be sifted thoroughly.(1)
The significance of this story is obvious: Jack the Ripper is identified as 'the son of a surgeon' who committed suicide.
Although the suicide date is wrong, this description still points to Montague Druitt and is the earliest known definite mention of such a suspect. Montague Druitt was the son of William Druitt, a prominent Dorset surgeon, and he committed suicide on 1 December 1888 or possibly within the following few days.
The same basic story also appeared in other newspapers. The detail that the suspect was the 'son of a surgeon' was, however, rather clumsily removed. The reason for its removal was probably the fear of libel action mentioned by the Bristol reporter, as this detail makes the suspect much more identifiable. On 11 February 1891, the Pall Mall Gazette reported:
There is a West of England member who in private (writes the London correspondent of the Nottingham Guardian) declares that he has solved the mystery of Jack the Ripper. His theory, and he repeats it with so much emphasis that it might be called his doctrine, is that Jack the Ripper committed suicide on the night of the last murder. I cannot give details, but the story is so circumstantial that a good many people believe it. He states that a man with bloodstained clothes committed suicide on the night of the last murder and he asserts that the man was the son of a father who suffered from homicidal mania. I do not know what the police think of the story, but I believe that before long a clean breast will be made and that the accusation will be sifted thoroughly.(2)
The obvious differences between the The Bristol Times and Mirror article and the Pall Mall Gazette article are that the wording 'fear of a libel action' and the description that the suspect was the son 'of a surgeon' are dropped. In the case of the latter modification, the change is a clumsy one. By substituting the word 'father' for 'surgeon', the editor or author has produced either a meaningless or an improbable sentence, depending upon who is meant to be suffering from 'homicidal mania.' If it is the killer who so suffered, as logic would dictate, then describing him as 'the son of a father' is meaningless as every male is obviously a 'son of a father.' The only alternative to this meaninglessness is that it was the father who suffered from homicidal mania. While this is not impossible, it does seem rather improbable and the punctuation of the sentence argues against it as well. Much more likely is that the editor, fearing libel action, wanted to hide the identity of the suspect and so clumsily removed the detail of him being the son of a surgeon. Other newspapers also carried the story. The Hull Daily Mail of 12 February contained the story exactly as reported by The Pall Mall Gazette quoted above. On 15 February, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper ran the same story with only this slight change in the first sentence: '. . . (wrote the London correspondent of the Nottingham Guardian a day or two ago). . . .'(3) In reporting on the Coles murder, The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 14 February contains the following:
It seems almost a queer irony but a few days ago Mr Montagu Williams was reassuring us with the account of an interview which seemed to indicate that the murders were over and still more recently a west of England member has, as mentioned a day or two since, been promulgating a theory that the 'Ripper' had committed suicide.(4)
It seems that the 'West of England MP' story then went quiet for more than a year. But on 26 February 1892, The Western Mail of Cardiff let slip the MP's identity in an article concerning a different suspect who was allegedly being tailed by Scotland Yard:
Mr. Farquharson, M.P. for West Dorset, was credited, I believe, some time since with evolving a remarkable theory of his own on the matter. He believed that the author of the outrages destroyed himself.(5)
Clearly, this is a reference to the story that had broken a year earlier and refers to the 'son of a surgeon' who committed suicide on the night of the last murder. The identity of the West of England member is finally known!
Henry Richard Farquharson, MP
Henry Richard Farquharson was born in 1857 at Brighton, Sussex, to Henry James Farquharson and his wife Fanny Marcia.(6) He was educated at Eton and at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1878, he married Constance Farquharson, daughter of James John Farquharson, who appears to have been a relative. They settled at his estate, Eastbury Park, at Tarrant Gunville, Dorset, about six miles from Blandford, and ten miles from the Druitt home at Wimborne Minster.(7)
Tragically, Farquharson died at sea on 17 April 1895 while returning from a visit to tea and cocoa plantations he owned in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).(8)
Immediately, we see two potential points of contact between Farquharson and Sir Melville Macnaghten: both were graduates of Eton and both owned or managed tea plantations in India or Ceylon. Farquharson, a Conservative, was elected to Parliament in 1885 at the inception of the West Dorset district and was re-elected in 1892. Out of the 1892 contest came a libel suit by his Gladstonian opponent, C T Gatty, in which Farquharson was assessed damages of £5,000, which were subsequently reduced by one-half.(9) Although this libel action occurred after Farquharson's Ripper theory hit the presses, it may be an indication that he was prone to libelous statements, hence the caution on the part of the reporters in the stories quoted above. Indeed, Farquharson appears to have been a quick-tempered man who acted, and presumably spoke, without thinking as the following comment from a Dorset history website illustrates: 'The two kennel lads were almost killed as well - not by the dogs but by Farquharson who had a remarkably quick temper.'(10)
Farquharson's Suspect and Macnaghten's Suspect: One and the Same?
There are four main characteristics to the suspect described by H R Farquharson:
1. He was the son of a surgeon.
2. He suffered from homicidal mania.
3. He committed suicide on the night of the last murder.
4. He had blood-stained clothing.
Sir Melville Macnaghten in his famous memorandum described his favored suspect as 'a Mr M J Druitt, said to be a doctor & of good family - who disappeared at the time of the Miller's Court murder, & whose body (which was said to have been upwards of a month in the water) was found in the Thames on 31st December - or about 7 weeks after that murder. He was sexually insane and from private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.'(11) This description contains the following characteristics of the suspect:
1. He was a doctor from a good family
2. He disappeared at the time of the last murder.
3. His body was found on 31 December 1888, having been in the water upward of a month.
4. He was sexually insane.
5. He was suspected by his own family.
In his memoirs, Days of My Years, Macnaghten claimed the killer suffered from 'sexual mania' and that he 'committed suicide on or about the 10th of November 1888.'(12)
How well do these descriptions compare? Could they be referring to the same person? It is important to note that we are now not asking how accurate these statements are as descriptions of the real Druitt but rather asking how similar Farquharson's and Macnaghten's suspects are. To say the suspect is 'the son of a surgeon' is close to saying that he was 'a doctor from a good family.' Of course, this detail given by Farquharson does also fit the real Druitt perfectly. Saying the suspect suffered from homicidal mania is close to calling him 'sexually insane'(13) and much closer to calling him a 'sexual maniac.'(14) The detail of his having blood-stained clothing does not fit either Macnaghten's description or the real Druitt. This may have been a fanciful detail added by a reporter, or perhaps by Farquharson himself, in order to sensationalize the story.
It is, however, the assertion that the suspect committed suicide on the night of the last murder that most strongly suggests Farquharson's tale as the basis for Macnaghten's suspect. Druitt did not commit suicide on the night of the last murder. He died on or about 1 December. Macnaghten seems to have known this as he knew that Druitt's body was found on 31 December and that the corpse had been in the water about a month. So why would Sir Melville make the puzzling statement that Druitt disappeared or committed suicide on or about 10 November? The only logical reason is that he incorporated some other information he had received such as Farquharson's tale. Repeated error is one of the strongest indicators of literary dependence. This repeated error strongly suggests that Macnaghten knew of Farquharson's theory and gave it at least some credence. All considered, the similarities are far too close to be coincidental.
Speculation may now come to an end concerning the identity of the West of England Member of Parliament who claimed to have solved the Whitechapel murders. We know that he was Henry Richard Farquharson and that he was from the Druitt family's area of England as he resided ten miles from Wimborne Minster. We may assume that he knew the Druitts and likely socialized with them. He may have passed along his theory to Macnaghten directly or perhaps through a mutual acquaintance. Whatever the source of Macnaghten's information, however, it must have been more than merely Farquharson's theory. Macnaghten indicated that 'certain facts' pointing to the solution of the case did not come into police possession until several years after he became a detective officer.(15) Macnaghten joined Scotland Yard in June 1889 and Farquharson's theory hit the press in February 1891, hardly 'several years' later. Clearly, there must have been later information that also came into Sir Melville's hands.
The significance of the Farquharson story is that it shows Scotland Yard had information concerning Druitt as a suspect at least as early as 1891. Previously, the earliest reference to Druitt as a suspect that could be documented was the Macnaghten memorandum of 1894. Now it is clear that Sir Melville Macnaghten must have known about Druitt within approximately 18 months of joining Scotland Yard and it seems that this information came to him from Druitt's home territory. As noted by author Stewart P Evans, the discovery of West of England member's identity 'carries the Druitt theorising into another phase, signally answering the question of how Macnaghten learnt of him.'(16)
1 Untitled article, The Bristol Times and Mirror, 11 February 1891.
2 'The Fate of "Jack the Ripper,''' Pall Mall Gazette, 11 February 1891.
3 'Remarkable Fiction,' Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 15 February 1891.
4 'London Correspondence,' The Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 14 February 1891.
5 'Tracking "Jack the Ripper,''' The Western Mail, 26 February 1892. According to Stewart P Evans, the 'tailed suspect' was likely Thomas Sadler.
6 Fanny Marcia was the daughter of Rev J Ward.
7 Catherine Lonsdale, wife of John Henry Lonsdale, was from Blandford as was Chief Inspector Frederick George Abberline.
8 'Obituary,' The Times, 24 April 1895.
9 The Times, op cit. £5,000 in 1892 money is worth close to £400,000 today (see www.measuringworth.com).
10 www.dorset-opc.com/TarrantFiles/T.Gunville/TarrantGunville%20History.htm. Farquharson was a breeder of Newfoundland dogs.
11 Ref. MEPO 3/140, ff. 177-83.
12 Melville Macnaghten, Days of My Years. London: Edward Arnold, 1914, 61-2.
13 'Sexually insane' is not a usual Victorian reference to homosexuality, as some have assumed. Although not impossible, there is no reason to assume Druitt was a homosexual.
14 The term 'sexual maniac' in Victorian times was often used to describe violent or homicidal behavior thought to have a sexual basis.
15 Macnaghten, op cit, 54. Emphasis added.
16 Stewart P Evans, private e-mail correspondence with the author.