A definition of witness.


Questioned At Mary Nichols's Inquest

Robert Mann was a resident pauper at Whitechapel Workhouse who was the keeper of the mortuary - which, in reality, was little more than a shed in the Workhouse yard.

It was to this "mortuary" that the body of Mary Nichols was taken, and it was Mann who, together with fellow Workhouse inmate, James Hatfield, stripped the body.

He subsequently gave evidence on the third day of the inquest into the death of Mary Nichols, on Thursday, 13th September, 1888.

He testified that he had been in charge of the mortuary, until the arrival of the doctor at two o'clock.

At this point in his testimony, the Coroner, Wynne Baxter, interrupted him to complain that "Whitechapel has no mortuary", adding that what was called a mortuary. What was called a mortuary, he continued, was, in fact, "simply a shed belonging to the Workhouse officials. It is not a proper mortuary at all..."


He appeared again on the fourth day of the inquest, Monday, 17th September, 1888, on which occasion he was subjected to some in depth questioning by the Coroner, who then dismissed Mann's memory and statements as being unreliable.

The Dover Express published a brief summary of his testimony on Friday, 21st September, 1888:-

Robert Mann, an old man in workhouse uniform, said that he was keeper of the Whitechapel mortuary.

He received the body in the morning and left it in the mortuary.

After having breakfast, he returned and, with the assistance of a man named Hatfield, he undressed the body.

The Coroner: "Oh, yes, and the inspector was present while this was done, was he not?"

Witness: "No; we two were alone."

The Coroner (in astonishment): "Surely you make a mistake. Think again."

The witness adhered to his statement, and after some further examination, the coroner remarked that Mann's evidence was quite unreliable. He was subject to fits, and apparently his memory was impaired. (It will be remembered that on a previous occasion Inspector Helston deposed to being present while the body was being stripped)."

Source: The Dover Express, Friday, 21st September, 1888.


Reynolds's Newspaper, published a more detailed account of his testimony on Sunday, 23rd September, 1888:-


Robert Mann, the keeper of the mortuary, said the police came to the workhouse, of which he was an inmate.

He went, in consequence, to the mortuary at five a.m. He saw the body placed there, and then locked the place up and kept the keys.

After breakfast witness and Hatfield, another inmate of the workhouse, undressed the woman.

The Coroner: "The police were not present?"

Witness: "No; there was no one present. Inspector Helson was not there."

The Coroner: "Had you been told not to touch it?"

Witness: "No."

The Coroner: "Did you see Inspector Helson?- Was he present?"

Witness: "I can't say."

The Coroner: "I suppose you do not recollect whether the clothes were torn?"

Witness: "They were not torn or cut."

The Coroner: "You cannot describe where the blood was?"

Witness: "No, sir; I cannot."

The Coroner: "How did you get the clothes off?"

Witness: "Hatfield had to cut them down the front."

A Juryman: "Was the body undressed in the mortuary or in the yard?"

Witness: "In the mortuary."

The Coroner: "It appears the mortuary-keeper is subject to fits, and neither his memory nor statements are reliable."

Source: Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday, 23rd September, 1888.