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Te Aroha News
New Zealand
12 January 1889

The Whitechapel Atrocities

London, November 16
The state of excitement into which the East End was thrown by the seventh mysterious murder in Whitechapel simply beggars description. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday no stranger could be said to be safe in the neighbourhood, especially after dark. Cries of "Jack the Ripper" were raised on the faintest pretext, and despite the large forces of police about it took them all their time to prevent some innocent person being lynched. One amateur detective, a fool of a doctor in a painfully obvious disguise, narrowly escaped being torn to pieces. He had been poking about the scene of the murder for some time asking curious questions and attracting a good deal of suspicion by his theatrically blacked face, when a woman shrilly shouted "That's him, that's Jack the Ripper." In an instant the crowd fell upon the unfortunate fellow like furies. The police tried vainly to protect him, and it was in a half killed condition a posse of 20 constables eventually got him to the nearest police station. The following excerpt from the "Daily News" gives a vivid picture of the scene in Spitalfields and Whitechapel on Sunday evening last. A heavy fog had shrouded the city like a pall for the greater part of the day, but towards night it cleared somewhat. The correspondent made his way back with considerable trepidation. A "Star" reporter had narrowly escaped being nominated as the mysterious Ripper, the previous evening, and the attitude of the populace was generally threatening to decently dressed strangers. Fortunately, at this time, there were plenty of missionaries about. There seem, he writes, to be hundreds of people to whom the subject of the latest tragedy is still fresh in its horror, and who are flocking in and out of the murky little street, full of the all absorbing theme, or huddled together in little groups under the flickering lamps, listening to anybody who has anything to say about it, or can give the latest rumours of arrests made or suspicious characters seen. The public houses of course are all full, and as the doors swing open every now and again one can hear that the babel of conversation going on there is all about the murder. Flaring naphtha lamps are throwing a lurid glare over barrows of walnuts and piles of apples, and lighting up the uncouth crowds engaged in eager discussion, while three or four hoarse throated fellows, flaunting crimson advertisement sheets and bright red covered pamphlets, are braying out inducements to the "the Whitechapel Blood Book - the Book of the Whitechapel 'Orrors, only a penny." Two stalwart policemen are still stationed like a couple of mutes at the head of Miller's Court, from which the general public are still excluded, though the wretched inhabitants of this dreary little nook flit in and out, seemingly not greatly affected by the notoriety into which their little burrow has suddenly been dragged.

It is a dreary, dismal scene presented here in the misty gloom of this November evening and it is all the more gruesome and depressing from the revolting conversation of many of the people, especially of a line of rough looking fellows who stand with their backs against the wall opposite the head of Miller's Court, smoking short pipes, chaffing the crowd, and bandying unseemly jests about the shocking occurrence. As early as four o'clock in the morning, it is said, people began to drop round to have a look at the scene of this latest horror, and all day long they have come and gone, and still they are clustering here, and streaming in and out. But the main thoroughfares look very quiet and deserted, at all events to those familiar with them only on weekdays. The gaslights flicker feebly over the sloppy pavement, and there is a clammy fog in the air. It is six o'clock, and bands of street preachers are beginning to make themselves heard through the dusky streets. Yonder is the clear, pleasant voice of a young girl rising into the gloomy night, rendering with great pathos and expression one of Mr. Sankey's most melodious ditties. Sweetly and tremulously her voice soars out, and then perhaps fifty people round her catch up the chorus, some of them taking their parts with great precision and effect. The chorus dies out, and again the bright young voice swells out with evident emotion and passers by stop and listen, and rough jests are hushed. It seems as though every few paces in this neighbourhood of Spitalfields street singers and preachers are doing their best to take full advantage of the solemnising effect of these successive tragedies. "There is no doubt," says a City missionary, "that the impression has been very profound among these unhappy women. We have had special meetings for them, and at the very outset of our efforts we got thirty four of them away to homes, and we have had a good many others since. I knew the poor girl who has just been killed, and to look at, at all events, she was one of the smartest, nicest looking women in the neighbourhood. We have had her at some of our meetings, and a companion of hers was one we rescued. I know that she has been in correspondence with her mother. It is not true, as it has been stated, that she is a Welshwoman. She is of Irish parentage, and her mother, I believe, lives in Limerick. I used to hear a good deal about the letters from her mother there. You would not have supposed if you met her in the street that she belonged to the miserable class she did, as she was always neatly and respectably dressed, and looked quite nice and respectable."

"You have been at this work a good many years?"

"Seven years in this neighbourhood."

"And do you find the state of things improving in any degree?"

"Well, I think there is a little improvement - some little improvement. I have been out and about the streets at all hours; and have sometimes found a shocking state of things. I remember a year or two back going out one night and finding eleven women who had crept for shelter into the staircase of one house. They were quite destitute, and were sleeping here. The opening of the refuges of one sort and another has done something to reduce the numbers found in this way, but there is still a deplorable state of things."

Out into the darkness again and round into this lane, where the poorest of all the lodging houses are to be found. What a queer world it is. But down into the very deepest depths little bands of devoted men and women make their way with perfect impunity. They trundle in their harmoniums, distribute their books, and set up singing and praying; and it seems as though the most hardened ruffians and the most abandoned profligates dare do nothing more at the most than assume an air of stolid and sullen neutrality. Push open the door! What a picture for a Doré! The huge coke fire, the sleek looking, sprawling cats basking in its glow, the dark, uncouth shadows in the background, the men stretched in sleepy indifference on the kitchen forms, the rows of women with bandaged heads and gaunt, haggard figures seated under the flaring gas, singing with the fervour of cherubim, and the grimy, half clothes, curly headed, roguish little imps of children pitchpoling about the sawdust floor, or sandwiched in between their mothers, piping up with their shrill little voices in the general chorus. What a strange phase of life it is! Out again into the murky lane and we are stopped by a singularly repulsive looking little woman, whose face looks as though it has had a terrible blow that has flattened it all in. She wants a word or two with her friend the missionary. Where he has "gone" to? She cannot get out half a dozen words before she bursts into tears. She bares her skinny arm to show how thinly she is clad and how wasted she is, and she tries to blurt out the history of her wrongs. Twenty long years, and now "he" has gone, and she is left alone to fight her own way, and she sobs and cries, and begs for the missionaries' help. A few more peeps into the kitchen, where other bands of workers are gathered, and in one of which a young lady, bereft of eyesight, is offering up a prayer of piteous earnestness for the ragged company seated amid the pots and pans of the lodging house kitchen. Out again, and once more there is a plea for the missionaries' aid. Her sister, alas!, has got into trouble. Oh if the missionary would but try and get them married! "A very common task," says the missionary. "During my seven years I suppose I have managed to get a couple of hundred married under such circumstances at least." Away again up into a comfortable, clean, and tidy little room in a block of model dwellings. Here is an exceedingly respectable looking young woman, who has been helped out of this lodging house life. Her husband had committed forgery, and she was plunged from comfort and respectability down into the deepest depth. Just in time they found her and helped her up again, and here she is in a decent little home and work found for her. One who has dipped here and there into that awful lodging life can well understand the fervent gratitude of this poor girl, who hardly seems to know which to be most thankful for - the help out of the lodging house kitchen or the recovery of her only child from bronchitis, "We keep on dragging them out," says the missionary, "but others keep on streaming in." What this part of London would be without such work Heaven only knows!