British Military & Criminal History:
1900 to 1999.
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This page provides a brief article about the series of murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. Whilst these fall outside of the 20th century they were important cases, which had an impact beyond the seven people murdered.
I have also provided an account of Sir Charles Warren, the Police Commissioner who resigned over his force's failure in the handling of this case.
Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper was the pseudonym given to the person responsible for the murder of five women, all prostitutes, in or near the Whitechapel district of London's East End. In addition to these five women, several other similar unsolved murders were also attributed to Jack the Ripper.
The murders occurred during the period of August to November 1888.
All but one of Jack the Ripper's victims were killed while soliciting customers on the street. In each instance the throat was cut, and usually the body was mutilated in a manner indicating that the murderer had considerable knowledge of human anatomy.
On one occasion half of a human kidney, which may have been extracted from a murder victim, was mailed to the police. The authorities also received a series of taunting notes from a person calling himself Jack the Ripper and purporting to be the murderer.
Strenuous and sometimes curious efforts (one involving a medium) were made to identify and to trap the killer, all to no avail. A great public uproar over the failure to arrest the murderer was raised against the home secretary and the London police commissioner (Sir Charles Warren), who both resigned soon afterward.
Sir Charles Warren
Charles Warren was born at Bangor, North Wales, in 1840. Educated at Cheltenham, he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1857. From 1858 to 1865 he served at Gibraltar, making a survey of the Rock. He was assistant Instructor in Surveying at the School of Military Engineering (SME) until 1867, when he was selected for special employment at Jerusalem under the Palestine Exploration Fund. From 1868 he was employed on engineer duty at Shoeburyness and Waltham on experiments with heavy ordnance and in charge of Ordnance buildings.
In 1876 he was selected by Lord Carnavon as Special Commissioner between the Orange Free State and Griqualand West, receiving the CMG. In 1878, on the outbreak of the Kaffir War, he was appointed to command the Diamond Fields Horse. For this he received the Brevet of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1878 he was appointed Instructor in Survey at the SME. In August 1882, he was selected for special duty in Egypt, in charge of the expedition to discover Professor Palmer and his companions. For this service he was made a Brevet Colonel and given the KCMG. He resumed his duties at Chatham (the SME) until 1884 and in November of that year he was appointed HM Commissioner for Bechuanaland, where he was completely successful without actual fighting. By his efforts British Bechuanaland was established as a Crown Colony. Warren received the GCMG for his services.
He was next employed to command the troops at Suakin, with the rank of Major-General, but in 1886 accepted the appointment of Chief Commissioner Metropolitan Police which he held during the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, when he was made KCB. He resigned this appointment in 1888, when he was still on the Regimental list as a Lieutenant-Colonel, but in April 1889, he was promoted Colonel and appointed Colonel on the Staff to command the troops at Singapore, which had just been separated from the Hong Kong Command. He held this appointment for five years, being promoted Major-General in 1893 at the age of 53. From 1895 to 1898 he was GOC Thames and Medway District, being promoted Lieutenant-General in 1897. In October 1899, he was given the command of the 5th Division in South Africa under Sir Redvers Buller which was endeavouring to relieve Ladysmith. Warren was in command of the troops attacking Spion Kop and took part in the final relief of Ladysmith.
In April 1900, he was in charge of an expedition to put down a rebellion in north-west Cape Colony, Griqualand West and British Bechualand. He cleared the country between the Orange River and the Vaal and defeated a Boer Force. Order was restored by August, when Warren returned to England. He was promoted General in 1905 and was made Colonel Commandant the same year.
Palestine Exploration Fund.
The excavations carried out at Jerusalem at Lieutenant Warren were not for the purpose of recovering specimens of ancient art; they were intended to elucidate many doubtful questions of biblical archaeology.
The task was entrusted to Lieutenant Warren, who was assisted by three Royal Engineer NCOs: Corporals Birtle, Phillips and Hancock. The difficulties in the way of the carrying out the objects desired by the Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund were enormous, and may be ranked under three heads: obstruction on the part of the Pashas, physical dangers and want of money. The work was begun in the spring of 1867 and continued for three years, after which Warren returned home.
The force, commanded by Sir Charles Warren, arrived in Cape Town in December 1884, and were pushed forward quickly to Langford, were railway communications ceased. Before long Warren had established his column at Mafeking, which was 314 miles from Langford. Forts were built at several points on the road, to help subdue the Boer freebooter. A telegraph line was laid as rapidly as the troops advanced. When the camp was formed at Mafeking, the engineers continued their arrangement for another forward movement as far as Monopolole, 120 miles north of the post, and the telegraph was carried 90 miles of this distance.
The task having been completed, Warren and his force were withdrawn from the district in July and August 1885.
In 1885 Colonel Sir Charles Warren RE, succeeded to the post of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, upon the resignation of Sir E.Henderson. He had during his three years of rule many very difficult and complicated problems to solve. Chief amongst these have been the arrangements to preserve order during the Jubilee festivities of 1887, and the suppression of the Trafalgar Square riots when troops, sent in by Warren to clear the square, opened fire on the rioters.
As regards the manner in which he performed these duties, Sir Charles Warren received two complementary letters, from the Home Secretary Henry Mathews and the Prime Minister Salisbury. Sir Charles also received letters from the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge.
Sir Charles Warren's resignation was debated in the House of Commons during the evening of 14 November 1888, and the Home Secretary Henry Mathews said:
"He was glad to have the opportunity ... to do the fullest justice to Sir Charles Warren. Sir Charles was a man not only of the highest character, but of great ability.... By his vigour and firmness he had restored that confidence in the police which had been shaken after the regrettable incident of 1886....Sir Charles Warren had shown conspicuous skill and firmness in putting an end to disorder in the metropolis, and for that he deserves the highest praise."
Sir Charles Warren died in 1927 at the age of 87.
Sir William Withey Gull, 1st Baronet, 1816-1890, was the doctor to Queen Victoria. In one of the numerous theories about Jack the Ripper, William Gull is mentioned as one of the people suspected of being Jack the Ripper. In this particular theory Gull was acting to prevent a sexual scandal involving Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, the son of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).
To see some Jubilee Medals to Metropolitan Police Officers who would have been on the compliment of "H" Division, which covered the Whitechapel area, visit my Jubilee and Coronation medals page.