Thursday, 20 April 2017

The horrible murders, attempted suicides and frighful execution of William Bousfield

The 1856 Death Register for Quarter 2 (April to June) unusually records the demise of no less than 8 Bousfields, a surname one would have thought was reasonably rare.  The strong showing for such an uncommon surname was triggered by no less than 5 unnatural deaths in a single family; in the early hours of Sunday 3rd February Sarah Bousfield and her three children, Anne (6 years old), Eliza (4 years) and John William (a mere baby of 8 months) were murdered at their home, 4 Portland Street, in St James, Westminster. Later that morning their father William confessed to the killings. He was hung for his crimes on March 31st in front of Newgate prison, by the notoriously incompetent public hangman William Calcraft, in one his most famously bungled executions. Retribution was swift enough in the mid nineteenth century for a murderer and his victims to be recorded side by side in the death register.   

The Quarter 2 Death Register entry for Bousfield records the murder of William's family as well as his execution 

The Berkshire Chronicle of Saturday 9th February carried a full account of the murder of Sarah Bousfield and her children and the apprehension of the murderer. As the newspaper made clear, it did not require Sherlock Holmes to solve the horrific murder as “on Sunday morning, shortly after seven o'clock, a man, who is described by the police as being about 34 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches in height, and of repulsive aspect, presented himself at Bow-street Station, with a particular request that he might see the inspector on duty.” His request was made to Police Constable Alfred Fudge, badge number 68F, by whom he “was at once introduced to Inspector Dodd, to whom he stated, with the most perfect calmness and composure, that he had murdered his wife. He said that he had that morning killed her by stabbing her in the neck with a chisel, and that in consequence of that act he was now desirous of delivering himself into the hands of Justice. There was nothing in the man’s demeanour to induce the inspector to suspect that he was labouring under a delusion of any kind, and he determined therefore that he would take down his statement and then proceed to the locality mentioned in it for the purpose of inquiring into its truth….” After taking Bousfield’s statement Inspector Dodd and a couple of Constables made their way to Portland Street (now gone, but once a side street off Oxford Street, between Berwick Street and Soho Square). It took a long time of loud knocking to rouse anyone inside the house. Someone, probably a servant, eventually allowed them in and called the householder, Mr John James, Sarah Bousfield’s father, father-in-law to the murderer and, of course, grandfather to the slaughtered children. Mr James found Inspector Dodd on the stairwell with a bull’s eye lantern in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other. Dodd told him to come down at once as “'we have got the man who lives in the parlour; he looks very suspicious, as he is covered all over in blood.” John James opened the parlour door by putting his finger through a hole and pulling back the bolt. Inside the room his daughter lay on the bed with her throat cut, quite dead and cold already, along with the bodies of her two youngest children. On a separate bedstead lay the corpse of six year old Anne.  Almost immediately Mr James Hathaway the police surgeon arrived to examine the four bodies. The Morning Chronicle of 6th February gives an account of the inquest into the murders and details Mr Hathaway’s findings:

I found the deceased woman quite dead, with an incision in her neck from three to four inches in length. It was a clean cut wound. I found three incisions on the right arm, and four on the left, evidently to open the veins, but very little blood had flowed from them. There were two children on the bed quite dead. I then turned to a press bedstead in the room, and saw another child lying on it quite dead, with two incisions on the right side of the neck. Eliza Bousfield had two incisions on the right side of the neck. John William Bousfield, the infant, had two incisions on the right side of the neck and one on the lower part of the left ear. The bodies were quite cold, and I am of the opinion that they had been dead some hours. I made a post mortem examination of the body of Mrs. Bousfield. I found a punctured wound on the left cheek, and penetrating through the cheek. On the lower lip there was a lacerated wound.  I then came to the wound in the neck which was a clean incised wound about four inches in length dividing the skin integuments and all the soft parts. The carotid artery was nearly divided. There was also a small would above the larger one about an inch in length. On the front of the left shoulder was a clean cut would about an inch long. There was a cut through the nightdress corresponding with the wound. On the left elbow were two other punctures, and, also one at the back of the bend of the elbow. They were all superficial. On examining the right arm about two inches above the bend of the elbow inside there was another punctured wound, also superficial. There were no marks of wounds on the hands. The heart and other viscera were healthy. The cause of death was the division of the carotid artery.


Sarah Bousfield no doubt often sold newspapers with lurid headlines from the shop at 4 Portland Place,
never realising that she would be the subject of some of the most sensational stories of the 1850's
Dr Hathaway’s conclusion was that the perpetrator had, bizarrely, initially tried to bleed his victims to death, using a sharpened chisel to open veins on their arms and only when this did not work did he finish them off by slitting their throats with a razor. Both the chisel and the razor were recovered from the room. At the inquest neither the coroner nor the jury could understand how healthy adults or children could be killed by bleeding from the veins in the arms, surely they would put up a struggle or at the very least cry out? One of the jurors asked if there was any sign of chloroform having being used. Dr Hathaway eventually had to admit that he could not tell if the wounds of the arms of the victims had been made pre or post mortem. The modus operandi of the murderer was not the only puzzle, the motive for the killings was just as perplexing; “every one who is acquainted with the family is at a loss to account for the motive which prompted the brutal murder, as there was no poverty, and the murderer never evinced the slightest indication of mental aberration,” as one newspaper put it.  The man most likely to be able to shed light on the matter was John James and he was the first called to provide evidence at the inquest held just two days after the murders in the board room of St Ann’s workhouse Poland Street. The first grim business of the day was for the jury to view the bodies of the four victims. Once this was over the inquest proper convened. So strong was the public interest in the case that a temporary barrier had to be erected across the boardroom to keep the press of onlookers back from the jury and witnesses. The Coroner, Mr St Clair Bedford, called for John James who was led into the court in an ‘extremely agitated’ state. He was so distressed that the coroner called for a chair and allowed him to give his evidence sitting down. He told the coroner that his daughter “and her husband lived on very good terms” with their three young children in the parlour of 4 Portland Street where he occupied some upstairs rooms and lodgers occupied various other rooms. His daughter ran a shop, selling newspapers and tobacco,  from the front parlour and his son in law occupied himself occasionally as a supernumerary in the theatre earning a shilling or eighteen pence a night. Out of paternal solicitude Mr James, a carpenter and joiner, supplemented his daughter’s income as Bousfield’s wages in the theatre and her profits from the shop were not enough to keep the family. This dependence on her father caused tension between the couple “when she had two children she wished  him  to get work, and when the third child was born she begged him daily and hourly to get something to do, and be independent of me,” James told the inquest.  Nothing unusual had occurred on the Saturday night, James had popped downstairs to see his daughter at about 10.30pm and found Bousfield  “standing with his back to the fire. I said to him ‘Is Sarah in or out?’ and he answered ‘She has just gone out’. She came home at half-past eleven o'clock, with the boy, who had a new hat on, of which he appeared very proud.  I talked to her for some time and that was the last I saw of my daughter.”  One of the lodgers, Mary Ann Bennett, had a different story to tell the inquest about the relationship between the couple; she told the inquest that “Bousfield and his wife sometimes had words which was because he was out of employment.” She also told the court that the couple had not slept together since the birth of the baby eight months before and said “I have heard he was jealous and I have heard Bousfield say many times he did not like the young men who came to the shop. He also said he thought his wife was too free with them. .. She was a very pleasant woman in the shop, and many persons would come into the shop if she was there, but not if he was...He was not jealous of one particular young man.”   The jury’s verdict was wilful murder against William Bousfield.

Bousfield went on trial at the Old Bailey on March 6th. It was a swift affair in front of Mr Justice Wightman.  The newspaper coverage of the trial was perfunctory, partly because no exciting new details of the crime emerged and partly because the attention of the papers were occupied by a new and more fascinating murderer, Dr William Palmer of Rugeley, the Prince of Poisoners.  Bousfield  pleaded not guilty and according to the Yorkshire Gazette “appeared completely bowed down with grief, and being accommodated with a chair, buried his face in his hands, and remained in that  position during the entire trial.” The defence were keen to cross examine PC Verres who had watched over Bousfield after his arrest and who confirmed that the prisoner had thrown “himself forward to hit his head against the wall, and when pulled him back, said,  ‘Kill me at once.’ He then said, ‘Send for a doctor- send a doctor to my poor wife’ and afterwards said, ‘put me in a cell.’” Out of this poor evidence Bousfield’s counsel tried to construct a defence of insanity. The jury were not swayed, taking just a few minutes to reach a verdict of guilty to the charge of murder. Justice Wightman “then passed sentence of death in a most impressive manner, holding out no hope of mercy. The prisoner, on hearing the sentence, nearly sunk to the ground, and had to be assisted by two of the turnkeys from the dock.”
 Ironically 31st March was the date set for Bousfield’s execution; as it was also the day after the signing of the treaty of Paris which put an end to the Crimean War the London mob were out in force and in a jubilant mood engaging in impromptu celebrations. For the mob there was no better way to commemorate peace than by attending an execution and 5000 people got up early and walked to Newgate to the accompaniment of church bells tolling for the peace to make sure they had a good view of the 8.00am execution. Under the headline ‘Attempted Suicide and Frightful Execution of Bousfield’ the Examiner for Saturday 5th April carries a commendably well written and harrowingly detailed account of the events of that day (which I quote in full):

On Monday morning, in the midst of the public rejoicings for the announcement of peace, William Bousfield, who was convicted of the murder of his wife and three children at Soho, was executed in front of the Old Bailey. The scene was most horrifying – the unfortunate man was literally dragged to the scaffold, and struggled for his life with the executioner with the desperate energy of despair. Since his conviction the wretched man persevered in maintaining a sullen and morose appearance, pretending at times no recollection of the murder and that the whole was a dream to him; and, although repeatedly spoken to by the Rev. Mr Davis on the subject of his crime, who (says the reporter of the execution) to awaken some latent feeling of remorse and penitence in him, pictured the horrible scene that must have been present to him on the night of the murder, when he must have sat for hours with his lifeless and bleeding victims around him, before he gave himself up, all that could be got from him was, "Pray don't talk about it; it is a horrid dream." He moreover feigned that he committed the murders without the slightest knowledge of the atrocities of which he was guilty, but his previous profligate career, combined with a feeling of jealousy which he unjustly entertained in reference to his wife, lead to the conclusion that his conduct at the close of his life was hypocritical and deceitful.


On Saturday afternoon, after the culprit took his final leave of his two sisters, he continued to exhibit the same sullen demeanour he had exhibited throughout, and when visited by the sheriffs, and told he must prepare to undergo his sentence, made no reply. About four o'clock he was sitting on the end of his bed-stead, facing the fire, but at some distance off, watched closely by the turnkeys, who had been in constant attendance upon him; at the time he appeared dejected and lost, but suddenly he started up, rushed forward, and threw himself forward on the fire, his entire face being beyond the upper bar of the stove. His neckerchief catching fire assisted materially in burning him severely in the lower part of the face and neck. A turnkey seeing the movement, immediately pulled him from off the fire, and with assistance of other officers he was secured, and Mr Gibson, the prison surgeon, was sent for. He ascertained that the injuries Bousfield had thus inflicted upon himself were not of a dangerous character, although causing the face to be much swollen and burnt; remedies were immediately applied to reduce the wounds- lotions being constantly applied; but from that time the wretched man refused to speak or receive any food, exhibiting an utter prostration and helplessness, the only nourishment that he could be induced to swallow being some milk, and on Monday morning a glass of wine. All attempts to induce him to listen to religious instruction ceased, and during the whole of Sunday he exhibited the same state of helplessness. In that state he remained the entire night, watched by several turnkeys, and frequently visited by Mr Weather head. His appearance is described by the sheriffs and those in attendance upon him as truly hideous, the lower part of the face being swollen and burnt to a fearful extent. To reduce the swelling, the attendants, under the direction of Mr Gibson, constantly bathed the wounds with cold lotions, a piece of linen being placed round the lower part of the face.
Outside Newgate on execution day
At half-past seven the sheriffs, Messrs Kennedy and Rose, with their undersheriffs, arrived at the prison, and at a quarter to eight, accompanied by the governor and the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary, proceeded to the prisoner's cell. On entering the cell the wretched murderer was seen sitting on a chair supported by two men, in an entire state of prostration and apparently dying, the attendants from time to time wiping the froth that kept constantly oozing from his mouth, but not a sound or word escaped him. At a few minutes before eight o'clock Calcraft was introduced into the cell, and proceeded to pinion the arms of the prisoner. At this time he appeared so exhausted that Mr Sheriff Kennedy called upon Mr Gibson, the surgeon, to examine the state of the prisoner, who reported that his pulse was in a very low state. Restoratives were in consequence administered, but with no apparent effect, and the fatal moment having arrived, the sheriffs gave the signal for the procession moving towards the scaffold. The officers, who had up to this time supported the body of the wretched man on the chair, endeavoured to raise and induce him to stand on his legs, but without success, such was his apparent, but, as it subsequently turned out, assumed, utter helplessness that, but for being supported, he would have sunk in a mass to the ground; and it became evident that to get him to the scaffold he must be carried. One of the turnkeys took hold of his legs, and another carried him by the armpits, and in that listless state, nearly doubled up, he was carried to the foot of the scaffold, the sheriffs and undersheriffs heading the dismal procession, the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary reading the burial service, the prison bell tolling during the time. The signal of the approaching scene was caught up by the mob outside, amounting to some four or five thousand persons of the usual grade to be seen at executions.
On the procession arriving at the door, formerly known as the debtors' door, from which the steps are erected leading to the scaffold, a difficulty arose as to the manner in which the wretched man could be carried on to the scaffold and placed under the beam while the executioner was adjusting and fixing the fatal rope. A high-backed office chair was obtained from the office of the governor, upon which the wretched man was placed, up to the last moment exhibiting the same helplessness he had done throughout and in that state he was carried on to the scaffold by four of the officers belonging to the prison, and placed under the drop. Calcraft the executioner, who exhibited an unusual nervousness and terror, lost not an instant in putting on the cap, and adjusting the fatal noose and as soon as he had secured the rope to the chain, suspended by the beam, he ran down the steps, and, without any signal, withdrew the fatal bolt, the chair dropped from under the wretched man and the became suspended, but scarcely two seconds had elapsed before he exhibited a convulsive strength and power to the utter astonishment of all who had seen his apparent utter prostration for previous forty-eight hours. His shoulders and arms were raised upwards, his legs being thrown in various directions to obtain a footing in which he soon succeeded, by placing his right foot on the right edge of the scaffold, and by an extraordinary effort succeeded in placing his left foot close to it, and kept that position until one of the turnkeys went on to the scaffold and pushed down the legs, Calcraft, in apparent terror, running from under the scaffold. The sheriffs and other officials attempted to stop him, but he persisted in getting away, insisting the man was dead. His struggles at this moment became most fearful, and the crowd kept on yelling and hooting. In a few seconds more, for the second time the wretched man succeeded in placing both feet on the left side of the scaffold. The sheriffs, and particularly Mr Alderman Rose, became so horrified and indignant that they insisted on Calcraft being compelled to return and put an end to the fearful scene. The Rev. Mr Davis succeeded in allaying Calcraft’s terrors, and he went under and pulled the leg down and hung to them a short time; but on his letting go of them the wretched man for the third time succeeded in getting to his feet on to the edge of the scaffold; when on their being removed be dropt for the fourth time, and after a severe struggle, which had lasted upwards of ten minutes, he ceased to exist. 
William Calcraft - the man who couldn't hang


During the whole of this horrible scene the tumult and yelling amongst the crowd were terrific. The body having hung the usual time, at nine o'clock it was cut down by Calcraft, who was received with groans and hisses. The features in death were truly horrible. To account in some manner for the extraordinary conduct of Calcraft it appears that on Saturday he received an anonymous letter advising him to go to the Horse Guards and get a helmet to wear on the occasion, as the Kent street roughs were determined to shoot him, to put an end to any more executions.-A Court of Aldermen was held on Tuesday, at which it was ordered that a statement made by Alderman and Sheriff Kennedy, confirming the above-described horrible details, should be referred to the Gaol Committee, for them to inquire into the circumstances and report to the Court.   

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Other Andrew Ducrow; Andrew Ducrow fils (1842-1863) Rangiriri Cemetery, North Island, New Zealand


Commemorated on the Ducrow Mausoleum, on the same panel as his father (and below the famous epitaph ‘Erected by a genius for the reception of his own remains’, generally read as a piece of self aggrandisement by the deceased showman himself but almost certainly the words of his wife Louisa) is his youngest son. The full inscription reads: 
 
Also of
Andrew Ducrow
Ensign 40th Regiment
Youngest son of the above
Who died of wounds received whilst gallantly leading his men
In the attack on Rangiriri New Zealand Nov 20th 1863
He is mentioned in despatches as being
If not the first certainly one of the first
To enter the enemy entrenchments
He died greatly beloved and deeply regretted by
His brother officers and all who knew him
This tablet is erected to commemorate his noble death
And as a small tribute of a great love by his sorrowing parents
Peace to the memory of the brave
Born 18th June 1843 died 23rd December 1863

 
Louisa Ducrow gave birth to her youngest son on 18 June 1842, four months after the death of her husband and named the baby after his recently deceased father, Andrew Ducrow. She baptised him in November at St Johns in Waterloo. The baptismal register gives no indication that Andrew Ducrow père was dead; in the Quality, Trade or Profession column he is listed as an equestrian (an unsuitably vigorous trade for a corpse). Andrew Ducrow fils did not however remain sans père for very long. With her husband buried for little more than two years Louisa Ducrow married John Hay, on 24 February 1844, and Andrew fils and his three siblings acquired a stepfather. Some sources say John Hay was a brewer, but it is far from certain that he had any money. When he moved his new family from Lambeth to the more upmarket Albany Street, an extension of Great Portland Street, on the Regents Park estate, he may well have been spending what was left of Andrew Ducrow’s £60,000 fortune (in the 1851 census his occupation was simply listed as Gentleman, a career involving little or no remuneration. A decade later in the 1861 census he had become an hotelier).  Certainly by 1847 John Hay was in dispute with the executors of Ducrow’s will; he was no longer willing to spend at least some of the money set aside in the will for the upkeep of the Mausoleum. Ducrow had left £500 to meet his funeral costs, £800  “to be expended in or about the erecting or enlarging, or adding to or altering the monument then erected over his vault and for the purpose of placing inscriptions on the said monument,” and a further £200 to be placed in trust in the 3% bank annuities, the dividends to be used in “repairing, renewing, and decorating his said vault, monument, and obelisks or columns, and the inscription thereon, and planting and keeping up, and spreading such shrubs and flowers about or upon the same.” The £500 for the funeral had presumably long been paid out but perhaps there was still something left of the £800 and certainly the whole of the £200 to be invested in the 3 per cents. Louisa, or more likely John, were reluctant to tie up good money for the purposes of providing flowers for Ducrow’s tomb and one of the other executors, Oscar Byrne, felt obliged to take the matter to law. In June 1847 the case was brought before the Court of Chancery and brought to a swift conclusion when the defendant’s counsel raised no objection to any of the provisions of the will, effectively conceding the case.

Andrew Ducrow baptism record from St Johns, Waterloo 
 
We know nothing about Andrew Ducrow fils life growing up in the household of John Hay at Albany Street. The marriage between his mother and the gentleman hotelier was childless but all four of the Ducrow offspring were still living at Albany Street according to the 1861 census.  We know that Andrew fils was already in the army by the beginning of 1861 as according to the London Gazette he was appointed ensign by purchase, taking the place of former ensign Henry Swanson, in the regiment of the 40th Foot on the 15th January. Shortly afterwards he travelled with his regiment to New Zealand where he saw active service in the land wars, taking part in the invasion of Waikato and losing his life at the key engagement of the campaign in Rangiriri, being shot in the left knee on 20 November and dying two days before Christmas after having his leg amputated.  

DEATH OF ENSIGN DUCROW - It is with great regret that we announce to our readers the death of Ensign Ducrow at the Queen's Redoubt, at a quarter to eleven o'clock yesterday morning. As our readers already know he was one of the brave fellows who were wounded at Rangiriri, and whose wound was so severe that his leg had to be amputated. It was at first thought that he would recover, but at last he sank under it, and is now no more. His remains will be brought into town to-day, and we presume they will be buried on Saturday. Ensign Andrew Ducrow entered the service in the 40th Regt. on the 18th January, 1861, and shortly after embarked from England for this colony. In May last he went to Taranaki, and returned with the rest of the troops. This as might be expected from his youth and rank, was the first active service he had seen, and unfortunately it is the last. He was generally respected by his brother soldiers. His death increases the number of officers lost to the British service, and their sorrowing relatives, by the attack on Rangiriri, to no less than six.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

 
St Johns, Waterloo
FUNERAL OF ENSIGN DUCROW - The remains of this unfortunate young officer, who was severely wounded at Rangiriri, and whose death we reported a few days ago, were interred yesterday in the Auckland cemetery. Although the rank of Ensign Ducrow did not entitle him to the same honours at his funeral as would be paid to those in a position above him, and whose services had made them more conspicuous for the part they had taken in the war, yet we are quite sure the attendance upon his obsequies was none the less sincere. It must, indeed, be a matter of regret that this gallant young gentlemen should have fallen at so early an age, as he was a promising officer; and might have achieved distinction for himself and done the state good service. Like Lieutenant Colonel, Austen, Ensign Ducrow had, through his relatives, just come into a very handsome income for his rank. From the enjoyment of this, however, he has been debarred; but he leaves behind him the name of being one of those who bravely fought for their country at Rangiriri and suffered.

It was arranged that the funeral procession should leave the Albert Barracks at half past 3 o'clock, and at that hour two or three hundred persons assembled there. This weather, although threatening, kept fine, and all the preliminaries; having been arranged, the procession started from the Albert Barracks about four o'clock, the band, of the 50th Regiment preceding it, and playing the Dead March. The following was the order of the procession:—

Firing party, consisting of forty men from the several detachments in garrison, under the command of Ensign Toseland.  Band of 50th Regt. The Coffin, drawn on a gun carriage, with six horses and drivers of the Royal Artillery. Pall Bearers; Mr Jones, Royal Engineers Department; Staff Assistant-Surgeon O'Connell; Ensign Green, 14th Regiment; Lieutenant Hobbs, 40th-Regiment; Chief Mourners. Lieutenant-Colonel Nelson, 40thRegiment; Lieutenant Burton, 40th Regiment; Staff Assistant-Surgeon Dempster, Detachment of troops in garrison,  Officers of Militia. Officers of the Regular Troops, 7 Officers of the Royal Navy, including Lieutenant Downes and Lieutenant Hotham, both wounded at Rangirirj.  Mr Whitaker, Premier. His Excellency the Governor, and General Galloway. &c, &c, &c.
 
The road to the burial ground was pretty thickly covered with spectators. On reaching the cemetery the usual funeral service was read by the Rev. Kinder, garrison chaplain, and three volleys having being fired over the grave the assemblage dispersed. The remains of Ensign Duerow were laid beside the rest of the dead heroes of Rangiriri, whose last resting place is now mournfully denoted by a row of fresh mounds of earth, unornamented as yet by those tokens with which the living seek to perpetuate the memory of the dead.  The following was the inscription on the coffin: ENSIGN ANDREW DTJCROW, 40th REGIMENT, DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION. 20th November, 1863, AGED 21 YEARS.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

Most of his money went back to his mother and John Hay but he bequeathed his gold signet ring to his friend Lieutenant Burton who was still wearing it 33 years later as a prized souvenir of his departed friend.

Andrew Ducrow, probate register

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Colossus of Equestrians; Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842) Kensal Green Cemetery


WITH the exception of Philip and John, the two Astleys, equestrian annals cannot, we believe, furnish a finer instance of a more consummate horseman than the late Mr Ducrow. Those who are familiar with the feats of this description , which are recorded in ancient pages as having been performed by the Centaurs of Thessaly, the horsemen in the Campus Martius at Rome - the equestrian heroes of Olympic days—and, at a later period , the Arabs of the desert have, witnessing his performance, unequivocally acknowledged that the former, however marvellous, found themselves altogether surpassed in the perfect and masterly powers of skill and display exhibited by Mr Ducrow in handling the reins,  taming his steeds , and managing them with a control as absolute as it was extraordinary. (The Scotsman - Wednesday 09 February 1842)

FUNERAL OF MR. DUCROW. The funeral of Mr. Ducrow took place to-day. An immense crowd collected to witness the procession, and as early as 11 o'clock the York-road, in front of the deceased's residence, was nearly impassable. Six mutes were stationed at the door during the morning. At half-past 1 o'clock, the mournful procession moved on in the following order:— Undertakers and men on horseback, six mutes on horseback, plumes of black feathers carried by men on foot, three of the deceased's favourite horses, nearly- covered with black cloth, the hearse drawn by six horses, four mourning coaches drawn by four horses each, and eight mourning coaches drawn by two horses each, containing the relatives and friends of Mr. Ducrow, amongst whom we noticed Mr. Macready, Mr. Webster, and several others of the most celebrated individuals in the theatrical profession. Several private carriages followed in the procession. It was rather a remarkable circumstance that the state carriage of the Speaker and the carriages of the members of the House of Commons, who were going to Buckingham Palace with the Address, should have arrived at the end of Bridge -street exactly at the moment the funeral was passing. The number of persons was very great in Parliament street at the time, and it was ludicrously supposed by some that the state carriage of the Speaker, which followed immediately after the carriages in the funeral procession, was the one that belonged to the deceased, and used by him at Astley's Theatre. On arriving opposite Whitehall the horses in the Speaker's carriage became very restive, in consequence of the noise in the dense crowd, and it was with some difficulty that the police could preserve order. No accident, however, occurred, and the assemblage soon afterwards separated. (London Evening Standard - Saturday 05 February 1842)


Andrew Ducrow’s Graeco-Egyptian mausoleum was supposedly designed for his first wife Margaret who died in 1837 but the famous equestrian fully intended the extravagant memorial to receive his own mortal remains in due course. He remarried in 1838 and it was his second wife Louisa who was responsible for the epitaph says that he lies "within this tomb erected by Genius/for the reception of its own remains." The exuberant mausoleum does its best to exhaust the whole range of Victorian mortuary symbolism. Wreaths and inverted torches form the iron railings around the tomb, there are draped urns, broken columns (including one with a hat and a pair of gloves draped across it), Egyptian columns, angels, winged horses, a beehive (masonic symbol of industry), military colours lowered over an infantryman’s cap, sphinxes, seashells, and melancholic females in figure revealing drapery. Even in 1856 it was considered to be over the top. A critic in The Builder called it “a piece of ponderous coxcombry."

Ducrow was five feet eight inches in height, of fair complexion, and handsome features. Exceedingly muscular and of prodigious strength, his figure was yet graceful in outline and perfectly symmetrical. He was accomplished as a contortionist, and could twist his shapely limbs into the strangest forms. Doctor Barker, lecturing in the School of Surgery at Edinburgh during visit of Ducrow to that city, recommended his pupils use all means to see the great equestrian, “as they would then be able form a judgment of what the human frame was capable of as regards development, position, and distortion.” With all his impetuosity of temper and speech, Ducrow was yet thoroughly kind-hearted and liberal. (Leinster Independent - Saturday 02 March 1872)

Andrew and his brother John taking a pair of mares to dinner
Andrew Ducrow was born on the 10th October 1793 at the Nag’s Head in Southwark. His father Peter was a circus strong man from Bruges known as the Flemish Hercules who could “lying on his back…with his hands and feet support a platform upon which stood eighteen grenadiers.”  Andrew and his siblings were brought up to be performers (his brother John became a celebrated clown); they started learning the trade at the age of 3 moving from vaulting to tumbling, dancing on the slack and tight rope, balancing, riding, fencing, and boxing. By 1808 at the age of 15 Andrew was already chief equestrian and rope dancer at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre at a salary of £10 a week.  His rope dancing might have been good but it was for his innovative equestrian acts that he became famous. At the age of 19 he was performing the ‘Flying Wardrobe’; dressed in rags and behaving like a drunkard he cantered around the ring making false falls from the horse and gradually removing ripped jackets and torn waistcoats until he revealed himself as the star rider of the show. The frisson detectable beneath the laughter as Andrew removed his clothes perhaps inspired the later development of the act where Andrew and his sons would dress in flesh coloured body stockings and strike poses known as ‘plastiques’, designed to show off their physiques, whilst balancing on the rump of white stallions. Even the Queen was a fan; in the weeks preceding the coronation Ducrow had saved her life after her horse bolted in Hyde Park according to a quite possibly apocryphal story.


HOW DUCROW SAVED THE QUEEN. A SCENE IN HYDE PARK. According to a story told in the "Live Stock Journal," Andrew Ducrow, the circus performer, and proprietor and once leasee of Astley's, is credited with having saved her Majesty’s life, or at any rate with having rendered her valuable assistance. All the horses in the Royal stable destined to carry ladies are regularly ridden and schooled by a lady rider, and are never supposed to be used unless they are quite tractable and have had plenty of exercise. About a couple of months before her coronation, that is to say about May, 1837, the Queen was riding in Hyde Park, and so it happened was Andrew Ducrow, who was very fond of going there. On this particular occasion, the story goes, he was mounted on a very fine horse which he had just purchased, and proposed to use for circus purposes, and he was just riding it to see what its temperament was, and in what department it was likely to shine. Ducrow was going along, when his ear —accustomed to the beat of a horse's hoofs—at ones recognised the sound of a horse galloping behind him, and looking round he saw that a lady's horse had bolted with her. To guide his own horse into the line of approach to leap from his saddle and to seize the bridle of the runaway was but the work of a moment, and then the equerries and grooms came up. Ducrow "gentled" the horse, which remained quite quiet, while the lady, who was none other than the Queen, was assisted to dismount, and was taken away in a carriage to Buckingham Palace, as Ducrow subsequently discovered. After the Queen had been driven off Ducrow was, for the first time, made acquainted with the fact that the lady whose horse he had stopped was none other than the Queen of England. Ducrow, who was quite a cockney, having been born in Southwark towards the close of the last century, though his father, Peter Ducrow, was a Belgian, was in no wise disturbed by the information, but simply said, "Lawks, if the Queen wants a perfect hack, why don't she let me find her in 'osses?" A little later he was much astonished and gratified at receiving a scarf-pin representing a courier, while within a few days there arrived an order for Mr. and Mrs. Ducrow to witness the Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. (Blackburn Standard - Saturday 09 April 1898)

After travelling and working in France and Belgium Ducrow returned to England to create the spectacular horse shows that led to him being dubbed the Colossus of Equestrians. At Astley’s he staged equestrian dramas like his famous version of ‘Mazeppa’ and novel routines like ‘the Courier of St Petersburg’ (“A rider straddled two cantering horses while other horses bearing the flags of the countries through which a courier would pass on his way to Russia passed between his legs.”)

Miss Woolford was almost as accomplished an equestrian as her husband 

Mr Ducrow's most celebrated and best acts of horsemanship were the "Moor defending his Standard," a "Tar’s Vicissitudes," the " Courier of St Petersburgh " the " Wild Indian," the "Peruvian," the "Tyrolean Shepherd and Swiss Milkmaid," which last character was performed on all occasions by Miss Woolford, who indeed, before she became Mrs Ducrow was for a long time the chief attraction of his theatre, and drew crowds by the accustomed gracefulness of her action, and the skilful management of her steed. The deceased has two children by her. Miss Woolford was very early a  debutante at Astley’s, and many theatrical people of about thirty years standing will remember her at the Amphitheatre under Astley s management as a little girl with a long crop, and of intelligent and pretty manners. She had two brothers also at the same time with her on the stage, who have since died in America; she hears an amiable and good character; her age is about twenty seven, and she had been married to Mr Ducrow about four years. (The Scotsman - Wednesday 09 February 1842)

Andrew working with the beguiling Miss Louisa Woolford before she became the second Mrs Andrew Ducrow
So successful was Ducrow that eventually he became co-proprietor of Astley’s; it was the responsibility of ownership that killed him. With a staff of 150 and weekly expenses of £500 when “on the 8th of June, 1841, the Amphitheatre was totally destroyed by a fire which broke out at five in the morning... Ducrow and his family narrowly escaped with their lives; a female servant perished in the ruins. The stud at this time consisted of some fifty horses, two zebras, and a few asses and mules; of these scarcely any were rescued. The total loss was estimated at thirty thousand pounds. Ducrow was ruined, or believed himself to be so. His mind gave way under the pressure of his misfortunes.” (Leinster Independent 1872).  According to the 1900 edition of the Dictionary of National Biography “Ducrow's mind gave way ...and he died at 19 York Road, Lambeth, on 27 Jan. 1842. His funeral, attended by vast crowds of people, took place on 5 Feb. in Kensal Green cemetery, where an Egyptian monument was erected to his memory. Notwithstanding his losses he left property valued at upwards of 60,000l.”



WILL OF ANDREW DUCROW. The testator appointed Mr. Oscar Byrne, Mr. Serle (boatbuilder), and Mr. Anderton (common-councilman), his executors, bequeathing to each £100. Amongst the legacies are, to Mr. D. W. Broadfoot, his brother-in-law, £300; to Mr. Joseph Hillier, £300; to Margaret and Louisa, his sisters, £200 each; to Master Chafe (commonly called Le Petit Ducrow), £200; there are a few other and smaller bequests. The residue of his property, consisting of £47,560, three-and-a-half percent’s, his household furniture, pictures, articles of vertu, and his stud and paraphernalia, to Mrs. Ducrow for life; after her death, to his son and daughter, Peter Andrew and Louisa. The will makes no provision for the possibility of posthumous issue; but as all is left in the power of Mrs Ducrow, the omission is immaterial. The sum of £800 is left for the decoration of the family tomb at Kensal Green; £200. in the three-and-a-half per cents, to remain, the interest being dedicated to the purpose of purchasing flowers to adorn his monument. It is a singular fact that Mr. Ducrow has not mentioned his mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, in his will, he has, in fact, relied upon the affection of his widow. The elder Mrs. Ducrow received a liberal annuity from her son, and that will continued. The stud are now at the Amphitheatre, Liverpool; it is understood that Messrs. Grisell and Peto will rebuild the theatre in the Westminster-road, and that Mr. Batty becomes the lessee; but the rumour that the stud of the deceased equestrian will be sold is wholly unfounded. On the contrary, it may confidently relied upon that the horses and company, under the direction of Messrs. Hillier and Broadfoot, will appear the metropolis on Easter Monday. Every groom has been given a suit of mourning; and Mrs. Ducrow has presented each executor with a splendid diamond ring. The melancholy anecdote connected with the parting between Ducrow and Le Petit Andrew: the boy bade him goodbye last October ere he started to join the company Liverpool. Mr. Ducrow gave the child a crown, kissed him, and said, Attend to your duty, be a good boy; you’II never see your papa again.” The prophecy was verified; the adopted son was summoned to town to attend the funeral. The number of individuals employed in the Amphitheatre, including actors, musicians, scene-painters, equestrians, grooms, helpers, &c., exceeded one hundred and fifty; the weekly expenses were seldom less than £600. How enormous, then, must have been the receipts that, in a few years, enabled the deceased to accumulate a property to the value of nearly £60,0001! The situation of Mrs. Ducrow renders it probable that her accouchement will take place in June. It understood to be her intention not to resume her professional exertions. The Amphitheatre has, therefore, lost, at one blow, its two brightest ornaments. A few days before his death, Mr. Ducrow's health appeared re-established; he determined to visit Liverpool to play for the performers’ benefit, and announced his intention of representing The Dumb Man of Manchester. He was persuaded to abandon this idea and appear in the Grand Russian Entree. The 7th instant was fixed for his debut; his dresses were packed, and everything prepared for the journey, but a few hours before the fatal blow came, the day which he had selected, he was a corpse and a tenant of the tomb.— Observer. (Dublin Morning Register - Tuesday 15 February 1842)

Reflections in the mausoleum's eye


Monday, 20 March 2017

Wearing Prince Albert's Ring; Queen Victoria's widowhood and the Albert Memorial


"So, Albert goes with the Queen to Windsor after the [wedding] ceremony?"
"He'll go further before morning."
"How so?"
"Why, he'll go in at Bushy, pass Virginia Water, on through Maidenhead, and leave Staines behind."

So went one of the many jokes following the wedding of Queen Victoria to Franz August Karl Albrecht Immanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, or Prince Albert as he became known to his English subjects. Victoria has initially been offered the choice of Albert or his older brother Ernst as potential consorts in 1837 when as an 18 year old she ascended the throne. But she was immediately smitten by the ‘extremely handsome’ piano playing Albert. As she was Queen, protocol demanded that the proposal of marriage came from her. Victorian values were a long way off establishing themselves in 1840 and the Queen of England proposing to and then marrying a penniless foreigner offered the wits of England a chance to excel themselves in scoffing, sneering and ribaldry.

“I say, I say, I say what are Prince Albert’s wages?”
“I don’t know, what are Prince Albert’s wages?”
“A quarter of a crown a day and a whole sovereign at night….”

“I say, I say, I say why is the Queen England’s  most famous composer?”
“I don’t know, why is the Queen England’s most famous composer?”
“Because her overtures to Prince Albert are known all over the world.”

The MP Dillon Browne was buttonholed at Ben Morgan’s in Maiden Lane about the controversial Corn Laws which banned grain imports into Britain and kept the price of bread artificially high.  Someone eventually asked “What is the use of all this botheration about the Corn Laws? Has not the little Queen - the saints preserve her - settled the question by opening her port for the reception of foreign seed?"

Albert had the last laugh though; Victoria was devoted to him and despite her later reputation the pair must have had a reasonably satisfactory sex life to produce nine children. Even the wedding night was a success, Victoria wrote in her diary “I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert ... his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again!”


She was, of course, bereft when Albert died at the age of 42. His most enduring traits were immortalised in the phallic Albert Memorial, the most erotic tribute a widow ever made to a lost husband.  The Memorial statue of Albert is by John Henry Foley and Thomas Brock.

The Albert Memorial: even the sculptural rendering of the four continents is erotically charged.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Splendour in the dust; David Roberts (1796-1864) West Norwood Cemetery


DEATH OF MR. DAVID ROBERTS. On the afternoon of Friday last an elderly gentleman walking in Berners Street fell down in fit of apoplexy. To the people who went to his rescue he was able to utter only two words-Fitzroy Street; he never spoke afterwards, and he died at seven o’clock on the evening of the same day. It was a Royal Academician—David Roberts; kindly, canny Scot, well-to-do, amazingly clever in his own sphere of art, and liked by all who knew him. (Glasgow Saturday Post, and Paisley and Renfrewshire Reformer - Saturday 03 December 1864).
The fatal Friday afternoon stroll would have been a short one. David Roberts had lived at 7 Fitzroy Street since at least the late 1830’s. If he followed the most direct route from his home he would have headed due south into Charlotte Street ambling along for about 350 yards before turning right into Goodge Street, then walked straight on for 150 yards or so before making a lethal left turn into Berners Street  and collapsing somewhere along its couple of hundred yards of pavement. He had walked less than half a mile in total; even for a man in his late sixties it wouldn’t have been a perambulation of more than 10 minutes. The breathlessly croaked words “Fitzroy Street” were the bathetic final utterance, his wholly unremarkable last words. They served their purpose it seems; he was conveyed back to his home by a gaggle of rescuers to die on the dot of 7.00pm. 
“Apoplexy: A venerable term for a stroke, a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), often associated with loss of consciousness and paralysis of various parts of the body. The word "apoplexy" comes from the Greek "apoplexia" meaning a seizure, in the sense of being struck down. In Greek "plexe" is "a stroke." The ancients believed that someone suffering a stroke (or any sudden incapacity) had been struck down by the gods.” (medicinenet.com)
David Roberts RA
“From the late 14th to the late 19th century, apoplexy referred to any sudden death that began with a sudden loss of consciousness, especially one in which the victim died within a matter of seconds after losing consciousness. The word apoplexy was sometimes used to refer to the symptom of sudden loss of consciousness immediately preceding death. Ruptured aortic aneurysms, and even heart attacks and strokes were referred to as apoplexy in the past, because before the advent of medical science there was limited ability to differentiate abnormal conditions and diseased states.” (Wikipedia)

Apart from the interest which attaches to him an artist, and which is to be measured by the amount of his actual achievements, there is another interest which belongs to his career, and which is to be measured by the amount of difficulties he had to overcome. He who began humble house-painter, and ended as Royal Academician, has not a little to boast of. He too belongs to that proud phalanx of men whose biographies touch most keenly all young ambition,—the self-made men who from small beginnings have fought their way upwards to fame, to wealth, and to station. (Glasgow Saturday Post, and Paisley and Renfrewshire Reformer - Saturday 03 December 1864)

He was born at Stockbridge near Edinburgh on October 24 1796, the son of a shoemaker. His career as a housepainter began at the tender age of 10 when he was apprenticed to Gavin Beugo, a decorator. Along with fellow apprentice and life long friend David Ramsay Hay he studied art in the evenings. As a young man he became a scenery painter for James Bannister’s circus on North College Street in Edinburgh joining them on tour as a stage designer and painter at a salary of 25 shillings a week and occasionally standing in a clown when required. In 1817 he moved to work as assistant stage designer at the Pantheon Theatre. When the theatre failed he was forced back into house painting. When the opportunity arose he returned to the theatre working at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow and Edinburgh, positions which eventually lead to offers of work in London from the Coburg Theatre (now known as the Old Vic), the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Whilst working as a successful stage designer and scene painter he began a parallel career as a fine artist exhibiting a painting of Dryburgh Abbey at the British Institution and contributing two paintings to the first exhibition of the Society of British Artists.     

It is a fact to be noted that David Roberts was in art wholly a self-educated man; he received but one week's instruction, when a boy, in the "Trustees' Academy," Edinburgh, where he is said to have made copies of two hands. We believe indeed that very little can be supplied to an artist by any special teaching; but in Roberts's nature there must have been unusual vital force, or he neither could have accomplished the immense quantity of work which we know that he performed, nor have taken the high standing that was so readily accorded to him by his contemporaries. (The Reader. February 1865)

"The Orient that appears in Orientalism, then, is a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire. […] The Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe."    Edward Said 'Orientalism'.
While his career was in the ascendant, his private life was descending into catastrophe. In 1819 whilst working at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh he had met an actress, Margaret McLachlan, with a fine figure and blond ringlets, who claimed to be the daughter of a gypsy and a highland clan chief. The infatuated pair married on 3rd July 1820 and just under a year later Margaret gave birth to their only child, Christine. He was 24, Margaret was 22. The marriage was not happy, Margaret turned out to be a drinker and secret tippling led eventually to chronic alcoholism. He was mortified by a wife who reeked of port and whisky and after eleven years of marriage the situation became intolerable to him. By now living in London he sent his wife back to Scotland in 1831. By one of those ironies which would be viewed as contrived if it appeared in the pages of a novel, his best friend from his days as an apprentice, David Ramsay Hay, was also married to an alcoholic though he ‘consoled’ himself with a mistress. On the eve of Margaret’s drunken departure for Scotland, he wrote to Hay; “If you do not know our cases are almost parallel. Yours is not as bad as mine, having some consolation. The state of my nerves is such I can scarcely write. But thank God she leaves tomorrow—I hope for ever.”  

But the estranged Mrs Roberts still cast a shadow over his life. "I thank God I have had but one grievance, but that one has been a very sad one," he wrote. In 1854, in a bid for an increased allowance, Margaret started legal proceedings against him, which ended in a formal separation. Roberts was angry enough to call her "that brazen-faced monster", yet he seemed also to realise that his own ambitions, which took him so often away from home, may have contributed to his wife's decline. In one letter he writes: "I fear our sorrows are in most instances of our own creating." But after Margaret's death in 1860, he wrote of her to Hay with warmth and sadness. "I confess it, I loved her to the last, and I have every reason to believe she knew it." (TheScotsman 08 July 2006)

The Works of the Late Mr David Roberts. —" The Flaneur," in the Star, writes "The late David Roberts RA left behind him 976 sketches, the originals all his great and best known works. Amongst them are all the celebrated sketches of the Holy Land Pictures, intended to form a gallery of these sketches for public exhibition, as was done in the case of Mulready's sketches. Mr Roberts has also left behind him a remarkable book of sketches, with explanatory notes attached, forming quite a panoramic history of his life. Against the first of these is a memorandum, to the effect that the picture was sent to the Scotch Academy and refused, and that it was then sold to the artist's frame maker — and never paid for.  (Dundee Courier - Wednesday 14 December 1864).
David Roberts - Abu Simbel
His improved position gave him more leisure for travel, and he visited most of the countries of Europe in search of picturesque subjects, even extending his wanderings so far afield as Egypt and Syria. Towards the close of his life he was content to paint the more familiar beauties of England, and almost the last work on which he was engaged was a series of views on the Thames. He was a very popular artist in his day, though his reputation has now suffered a not undeserved eclipse. (Walter Armstrong, Dictionary of National Biography Vol.48 1885-1900).  

He first began to travel in 1824, visiting Normandy and producing a painting of Rouen Cathedral which he sold for 80 guineas. He made further visits to France and the Netherlands during the remaining years of the 1820’s. In 1832, after sending his wife to live in Scotland, he ventured further afield, travelling to Spain and, significantly his first taste of the East, Tangier. After J.M.W. Turner convinced him to give up his work in the theatre and concentrate on landscape painting he resolved to travel to the near east. In August 1838 he set off on a long tour of Egypt, Nubia, the Sinai, the Holy Land, Jordan and Lebanon, recording every step of the way innumerable drawings. When he returned to England he spent seven years producing a series of lavish illustrated books of the scenes of his travels in the orient.
Abu Simbel - David Roberts
Change is the great monarch the universe; time, the sword of its dominion and empires, like men, are as the dust of its feet. Change ruled over the palaces of Tyre, and sat in the halls its desolation. Where is Gazna once the capital of a mighty empire. Shall we ask the waters the Lake Aspbaltites where they hide the thirteen cities of which Strabo speaks?—or make populous again the city of Veii, which has been a solitude for nineteen hundred years. I have been led into these passing reflections upon contemplating the remarkable "Drawings of the Holy Land, &c, David Roberts, A.R.A.." If any productions of this celebrated painter could have increased our estimation of his genius, certainly the magnificent drawings we have just seen are calculated to do so. The artist has brought to these great and momentous subjects a mind of equal grasp, a nobility of conception, and a vastness of execution absolutely wonderful. It is truly wonderful; it is truly surprising, how, the space of a few inches, he has been able to impress the spectator with a feeling of immensity, with a perfect appreciation the colossal order of the architecture; indeed, the columns, entablatures, pilasters, and inscriptions, seem upon so stupendous a scale, that might almost fancy that we hear the architect, in the golden fame of his triumphs, boastfully-asserting, " Other men build for a day; I build for eternity." Alas! the columns still survive; but they ungratefully conceal the name of their founder. (Yorkshire Gazette - Saturday 24 October 1840)

He was a very happy man. This must have been evident to all who had any acquaintance with him, for his genial temper manifested itself in his face, and his voice, and the mirth of his conversation. He had the enjoyment which belongs to the inclination and habit of industry, without the drawback of the stiffness, and narrowness, and restlessness which too often attend it. In the last autumn of his life, when he was absent from his regular work, and staying at Bonchurch with his daughter and son-in-law and their family, he occupied himself with cleaning and renovating his old sketches, conversing gaily all the while. His health was good; his fame was rising, as appeared by the constantly increasing prices given for his works; he was blessed in family affection, and rich in friends. He was passing into old age as happily as possible when he was struck down by a death which spared him the suffering of illness, infirmity, and decline. On the 25th ult. he went out from his own house in apparent health, and cheerful as usual. As our readers know, he staggered and fell in the street, and died at seven the same evening…. David Roberts, the Royal Academician, will be regretted far and near, and his death recorded as one of the grave losses of a grave year. (London Daily News - Thursday 01 December 1864)

David Roberts probate record - Joseph Arden was an old friend and fellow associate of the Society of Antiquaries, Henry Sanford Bicknell of Clapham Common was his son-in-law, married to the beloved Christine and father of her nine children.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The devil and the book duster; the extraordinary London life of Mohammed Ali Khan (or perhaps Daood Mukranee) 1857-1863?

The Hanwell Asylum

On Wednesday the 12th February 1862 Mr G.S. Brent, deputy coroner for West Middlesex opened an inquest at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum into the death of 37 year old inmate Henry Todd. Todd, by occupation a book duster at the British Museum, had died the previous Sunday, drowned in the river Brent whilst fleeing from a ‘devil’ known to the staff and other inmates of the asylum as Mohammed Ali Khan.  The first witness called to give evidence was Anna Todd of 32 Little Guildford Street, Russell Square, who, according to the Morning Chronicle of 13th February “identified the deceased as her husband, employed at the British Museum up to Friday week, on which day he came home very much excited, on account of the conduct of another employee towards him. He had previously complained of giddiness in the head; and he had been since Christmas last under the medical care of Dr Knightly of Russell-square. He never went to his work again after that day. On Tuesday of last week he left the house during her absence, and exhibited such marked symptoms of lunacy, that the neighbours removed him to St. Giles's Workhouse; and on the following Thursday it was deemed advisable to remove him to Hanwell asylum”.  Dr William Begley, medical superintendent in charge of the male side of the asylum deposed that Todd “was admitted on last Thursday as a very noisy and violent case of acute mania. He fancied he saw devils and that they were pursuing him, and mistook a black patient (Ali Khan) for one, and became exceedingly violent and terrified. On Saturday he appeared a little quieter, and on Sunday he wanted to leave the asylum, and declared that he must go to the librarian of the British Museum”.
 
Even though Todd had wanted to leave the asylum on Sunday, on Monday morning the attendant in charge allowed him to go into the open grounds to get some fresh air. The Dublin Medical Press reported that Todd, who had “made the most positive assertions as to his interviews with devils, and insisted that a fellow maniac Ali Khan, personified Satan himself”, was horrified to run into Khan in the grounds. Todd took flight, running “across the fallow ground, obviously for the purpose of escaping from the asylum. Three of the attendants immediately pursued him, but he outran them, climbed over the boundary fence, plunged into the river Brent, to ford it, and was drowned”.  The first of the three pursuing attendants to arrive on the scene was one Higgenbottom, who threw himself into the river after Todd and “made a desperate attempt to save the unfortunate lunatics life. His attempt however was fruitless, and he only succeeded in recovering the body after life had become totally extinct”. The jury highly approved of the conduct of Higgenbottom and suggested that the owners of the asylum might want to reward him. The jury’s verdict was death by misadventure, The Dublin Medical Press’ scathing, “scarcely a week passes that we have not to record such occurrences… in some of the English Asylums, held up in high places as models for imitation in Ireland. It is quite clear that this man lost his life neglect of proper precautions.”

The imposing facade of India House in Leadenhall Street where Ali Khan proposed starving himself to death
Mohammed Ali Khan had first come to London in the winter of 1859/60 when he had stationed himself in front of the old East India House on Leadenhall Street with the intention of using the old Benares tactic of dharna bait'hna to force the company to address his grievances. In dharna bait’hna a creditor posts himself at the door of the debtor, often with a dagger or poniard visible, with which he threatens to take his life if the debtor does not settle. If the debtor proves to be particularly recalcitrant the creditor may starve himself to death in an effort to shame him into paying. Ali Khan’s tactic failed miserably; the streets of mid Victorian London were full of the malnourished semi destitute who were slowly starving to death and who slept rough in the portals of grand buildings and in these circumstances his protest was essentially invisible. At some point in the early months of 1860 he resolved to try something more dramatic. The Globe of Monday 09 July 1860 tells what happened when Ali Khan went to the House of Lords:

POLICE INTELLIGENCE Westminster. Mohammed Ali Khan, stated to be a dependent of the Nawab of Joonaghur, India, was charged with attempting to commit suicide by cutting his throat. William Allan, porter at Westminster Hospital, having been sworn interpreter, John Drake, Police Constable 101 A, said that on the 28th ult. he was on duty below the bar of the House Lords, where the Lord Chancellor, the judges, and some the Lords were hearing appeal cases; the public were admitted to such cases, and among other persons he noticed the defendant come at a quarter past one. He remained there quiet with the rest of the people, standing about five yards from the witness, till twenty minutes to two, when the Lord Chancellor rose from his seat to adjourn the inquiry. Witness then heard strange noise behind him, and turning round saw the defendant in the act of cutting his throat with a knife (produced). Witness immediately seized his arm, took him into the lobby, secured a number of papers which the defendant had in his hand, and conveyed him to the Westminster Hospital, whence he had brought him in custody to the police-court that morning. Mr. Arnold inquired whether the defendant called out anything at the time he cut his throat. The constable replied he called out “Allah! petitiona! Allah! petitiona!” The papers were here produced, and were for the most part petitions to persons high in office, complaining ill usage at the hands of the Hon. East India Company. Mr. Arnold asked whether any of the accused's friends were present. Mr. Moran, an inspector at the House of Lords, said every inquiry had been made, but none could be found. The defendant had some presumed claims upon the East India Company, and had once before been to this country, and had & free passage given him back to India, but had returned to England, and had been offered another free passage to his native country, which he had refused to accept, as he said the company owed him money. A gentleman, however, was present well acquainted with the facts the case, who would throw some further light upon the matter. Mr. Arnold, having observed that found in one of the papers that the accused spoke about destroying himself, asked the gentleman to step upon the bench, and after private interview' with the magistrate. The next witness, Mr. William Slater, house surgeon, Westminster Hospital, was called, and said the accused was admitted to the hospital at two o’clock on the 28th ult, and was found to be suffering from an incised wound the upper part the throat. He was immediately attended to, and had been in the hospital ever since. Mr. Arnold inquired what Mr. Slater thought was the state of the accused’s mind. Mr. Slater replied, not being able to understand the defendant’s language, could not form a decided opinion on that point, but, as far he could see, he was perfectly sane. Mr. Arnold asked what was the depth of the wound? Mr. Slater answered, it went nearly down to the windpipe. Mr. Arnold inquired whether, if it had been deeper, it would have proved fatal. Mr. Slater replied, not immediately. Defendant was then asked what he had to say; and replied, through the interpreter, that Colonel Long had sent him from the Bombay Presidency to England, to prosecute some claims he had against the East India Company. He had been in the East India House three years, but no one would listen to his petition, nor to the ‘Victoria petition’ he had drawn up. Mr. Arnold directed the porter to tell him that he (Mr. Arnold) heard he had been offered free passage back to India, which he had rejected. The interpreter gave the accused’s reply,  that that statement was true, but he wanted his rights—which he had come to England for—and if the East India Company would satisfy his claims and give him a free passage would go back. The defendant was then remanded for a week.

The Nawab of Joonaghur, the man who dismissed Ali Khan from his service

In August Ali Khan was back in court, where despite pleading guilty the Judge took pity on him after hearing how he had walked from India to Trieste to pursue his grievance against the East India Company.  The Illustrated Times of Saturday 18 August 1860 takes up the story:

Attempted Suicide in the Lords.— Mohammed Ali Khan, thirty-four, pleaded guilty to charge of having attempted to destroy himself. The prisoner is the Indian who attempted to cut his throat in the House of Lords. He had, it appeared, some claim on the Nawab of Janegar, as hereditary officer, and laid that claim at £2OOO, and to obtain it had come to this country, having first been to Bombay, where he was offered to be put into the native police by the British authorities, who had no power to interfere in consequence of Janegar being an independent principality. From India had walked through Persia to Moscow, then to Vienna, and finally to the point where the General Steam Navigation boats returned from, and one of the captains brought him to this country about two years ago, and the East India Company had done all they could for him, as also had the authorities of the Strangers’ Home; but, although they killed and cooked the food after the Mohammedan style, he objected to stay there, on account of its not being in accordance with the rules of his sect. A gentleman from the India House said that they had wished to send him back to his own Nawab, but he did not wish to go.  Mr. Commissioner Kerr— That I can well understand. If he went back there, his claim would soon lose him his life. The gentleman said the company had desired and tried to get him to go back to his Prince. The Commissioner said—lf you had succeeded you would, to my mind, have been guilty of manslaughter. The poor fellow, upon hearing about being sent home, expressed by action that he should have his arms cut off, and then his throat cut, and, putting his hands together as if supplicating not to be sent, in an earnest tone addressed some remarks to the Bar who were nearest to him, and pointed to the jury and the bench. Mr. Cooper said he understood the prisoner to moan that, if his petition was seen and agreed to by the jury and his Lordship, should have justice done him, and be safe. After some further conversation the Commissioner said he thought the poor fellow’s claim was just, and he should respite judgment and see what could done with him.

By this time news of Ali Khan had time and sufficient exposure to make its way back to India where the Bombay Gazette carried out its own investigations into his claims. By September the story that resulted from this investigation was being reprinted in the British papers, such as the London Daily News of Friday 07 September:

THE ATTEMPTED SUICIDE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS. The Bombay Gazette thus alludes to the case of the Mahomedan who attempted to cut his throat in the House of Lords a few weeks since: "The Mahomedan who is reported in the home papers to have lately attempted suicide in the House of Lords in London is apparently one of those cunning Indian knaves who would rather live upon their wits than by the sweat of their brow, and whose antecedents in Bombay were not unworthy of his late knavish trick in the presence of the peers of the British realm. It appears that his real name is Daood Mukranee, and not Ali Mahomed Khan, a which he has assumed in London; and so far from being the adopted son of the late Nawab of Joonaghiar, in Kattiwar, as alleged by him, he was no more than a common domestic in the late Nawab's household; but, being a man of shrewdness, and withal of an aspiring and daring mind, he took advantage of the confusion in which the late Nawab left his affairs, fabricated some documents, gained some adherents to his plans, and presented himself before the British authorities in Bombay as the adopted son of the late Nawab, and claimed their assistance to his succession to the musnud as the rightful heir instead of the late Nawab's brother, who, he alleged, had forcibly dispossessed him, not only of the musnud, but of very large sums of money likewise. The government of Bombay, it seems, at first lent a willing ear to his tale, but subsequently, either deeming him a madman or that there was a probability of his having been dispossessed of some wealth but in which they had no right to interfere, they ordered him to be placed under the surveillance of the police, and granted him an allowance of 45 rupees a month. This evidently did not satisfy his ambition, and having begged a passage on board of an Arab vessel proceeding to Muscat, on pretence of being desirous of visiting the tomb of the Prophet, he found his way to England, where, from his subsequent statement, he fared 'like a lord;' was lionised for awhile, and returned to Bombay in the full anticipation of successfully carrying his cunning schemes into execution. His hopes, however, were doomed to be disappointed, as the government would not have anything to do with him, further than continue his monthly allowance of 45 rupees, but on what ground this allowance was made does not appear. He remained comparatively obscure for about eighteen months, drawing his allowance, but giving the police executives a good deal of trouble by his mysterious doings. All at once, however, he disappeared from Bombay a second time, and no tidings were heard of him, until the home papers brought by the last mail reported his attempt at suicide in the House of Lords. That attempt is no more than one of his old knavish tricks, for which, it is to be hoped, he will be whipped at the cart's tail-the only reward which his cunning roguery deserves."

A closer look at Mohammad Mahabat Khanji II, the Nawab who precipitated Ali Khan into a life of exile 

During this time Ali Khan continued to live at the Strangers Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders on West India Dock Road in Limehouse. The foundation stone of the Strangers Home had been laid by Prince Albert in May 1856 and it had opened for business the following year providing shelter and religious instruction for Lascars, East Indian sailors who manned the clippers and other ships that sailed between the Port of London and the entrepôts of the orient. Despite his kindly treatment at the Strangers Home by October Ali Khan was once again threatening to commit suicide and found himself brought up on charges at the Thames Police Court brought by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Marsh Hughes, the governor of the home. The magistrate told the court that he had no power to punish a man merely for threatening to take his own life and accordingly dismissed the charges. At a later trial Lieut.-Col. Hughes described Ali Khan’s stay in Limehouse after he had been discharged by the magistrate. He told the court:

The Strangers Home in Limehouse
I have known him [Ali Khan] 5 years.  I speak his language. From what he has told me I understand he was formerly a dependant of the Nawab of Joonaghur, who is an independent prince or chieftain. I saw him in Cold bath-fields Prison in October. I invited him to come to the Home at the expiration of his sentence. He came on the 18th October, and I admitted him. I had several conversations with him, and he told me that if Sir Charles Wood [1st Viscount Halifax and Secretary of State for India]  did not give him justice be would cut his throat before Sir Charles's eyes and throw the petition over his head. In consequence of that threat I obtained a warrant against him, and was brought up at the Thames police-court on the first of November. He then promised that he would keep in the Home, abstain from going to the India House, and from making any further attempt at suicide. Believing his word I took him back. On Christmas day he left, and I understand he says that gave him pork to eat, which is not true. We allow no pork to be brought into the Home, and all the food is cooked by Mahometans. In order that he might have nothing to find fault with, money was given to him to buy meat from the Jewish butchers, and he could see it cooked or cook it himself. This he accepted. When he was ill Dr. Condor ordered him rice, sago and arrowroot, which were prepared for him by a Mahometan cook. His prejudices were consulted in everything. On Christmas day, according to custom, we gave the inmates an English dinner —roast beef and plum pudding—but everything was purchased and cooked by Mahometans. They were all delighted except Mohammed Ali Khan, who was very angry. He said he must have some fish, which was accordingly provided for him, and he ate it. After dinner some tobacco was given to them, and all were pleased but the prisoner, who refused the tobacco and left the Home immediately. I have not seen him since. He might have remained if he chose, and I have authority to send him to India if he will go. I have no reason to believe that he is insane, except that he labours under some delusion about having a claim on the Government. There is no foundation for that notion. (Morpeth Herald - Saturday 16 February 1861)

The Great Hall of the Strangers Home in West India Dock Road - the Daily Graphic
The reason for Ali Khan’s reappearance in court in February 1961 was that on the 5th February he had made his most audacious suicide attempt yet. On the day of the state opening of parliament he had waited patiently in Whitehall for the Queen’s coach to draw level with him and then rushed out into the roadway calling to her majesty whilst attempting to cut his throat. In the official records of the Old Bailey PC A424 Richard Flawn gave the following evidence at Ali Khan’s trial:

I was on duty on 5th February, as Her Majesty was proceeding to open the Houses of Parliament—I saw the prisoner step out from the crowd as the Royal carriage was passing—he was, as near as I can guess, about four yards from the carriage—he had this envelope in his left hand, suspended from his thumb with a string—he was holding it out in his left hand—he made use of some words which I could not distinctly understand—I thought it was, "Me no protection, me justice"—I did not perceive where his right hand was until I seized hold of him by the shoulders and turned him round—I then saw his right hand sawing at his throat with a knife, cutting across his throat—I knocked it out of his hand immediately—the knife was at his throat at the time I turned him round—he was then bleeding from the throat; he bled more on the way to the station—I took him at once to the King-street station, which was close by—this (produced) is the knife; I picked it up—on searching him at the station I found this quantity of papers in his coat pocket—this small bone was rolled up in the papers—I afterwards took him to the Westminster Hospital—his wound was dressed at the station-house; he was bleeding at that time.

Mohammed Ali Khan in the official annals of the Central Criminal Court showing he was aquitted
William Travers the house surgeon at Westminster Hospital testified that he had treated Ali Khan’s injuries; he testified that the two inch wound in the Indian’s throat was superficial and presented no danger to his life. Ali Khan grew excited as the doctor was giving his evidence and interjected that he “brought my bitter enemy near me, who has tyrannized over me.” Mr Travers explained to the court that Colonel Hughes called to see him one day; he was the only person; there was a little excitement when he saw Colonel Hughes.” The jury’s verdict was that Ali Khan was not guilty of attempting to commit suicide but his happiness would have been shortlived; he soon found himself evicted from the Strangers Home and admitted to the Hanwell Asylum where he terrified Henry Todd into killing himself. The final chapter of Ali Khan’s story is recounted by Joseph Salter, a missionary who worked amongst London’s Lascar sailor community and who recorded his experiences in  ‘The Asiatic in England: Sketches of Sixteen Years among Orientals’ published in 1873. He tells us that whilst in Hanwell Asylum Ali Khan spoke to a missionary who had helped him for a number of years:

“Padre,” he said to the Missionary, “where should I have been if it had not been for you, and yet I have brought so much disgrace on you by my wild acts? You must ask the people of England to forgive me, and I hope God will forgive me too. This was said in review of the attention he had received from the Missionary, notwithstanding the trouble he had given to him. He had consoled him in the hospital, assisted him in his defence, was interpreter at his trial, was a constant visitor at the lunatic asylum, and prepared the way for his coming to the Asiatic Home; and finally escorted him to Southampton and saw him safely out of England.


Where was he going? Not back to India and the Gujarati principality of Junagadh. Despite the Bombay Times assertion that Ali Khan was really Daood Mukranee (and therefore most likely a Hindu and not a Muslim at all), his final wish, according to Salter, was “to go and die at Mecca”. His ship from Southampton was bound for Jeddah. We lost sight of Ali Khan here, embarking on the south coast; whether he made it to Jeddah or Mecca or continued his wanderings in other countries is unknown. Ali Khan disappears from the historical record.