The Local People Take Action
The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, also referred to as the Mile End Vigilance Committee, was formed by a group of sixteen East End businessmen and tradesmen on the 10th of September, 1888.
The prime mover in the formation of the Committee - which consisted of sixteen founding members - was local publican Joseph Aarons, who became the Committee's Treasurer, whilst local builder, George Lusk was made the Chairman.
|George Lusk - President||Joseph Aarons - Treasurer|
|Mr. B. Harris - Honorary Secretary||Mr. J. A. Cohen - Committee Member|
|Mr. Reeves - Committee Member||Mr. Haughton - Committee Member|
|Mr. Lindsay - Committee Member||Mr. Jacobs - Committee Member|
|Mr. Isaacs - Committee Member||Mr. Mitchell - Committee Member|
|Mr. Hodgins - Committee Member||Mr. Barnett - Committee Member|
|Mr. Lord - Committee Member||Mr. Lawton - Committee Member|
|Mr. Vander Hunt - Committee Member||Mr. Sheed - Committee Member|
|Mr. Van Gelder - Committee Member||Albert Bachert - Chairman (1889)|
Although the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee is today the best remembered of the Vigilance Committees, it wasn't the first, nor was it the only, such Committee.
From early on in the investigation into the Whitechapel murders, it was apparent that the local community had lost faith in the ability of the Metropolitan Police to protect them.
Numerous letters were sent in to the newspapers from residents of Whitechapel and Spitalfields giving details of criminal acts that the authors claimed to have witnessed on the streets at night, and whenever these acts had been witnessed, there was never a policeman round to report it to.
By early September, 1888, it was being openly suggested that, if the police couldn't maintain order on the streets of the East End, then the local people must do so themselves by forming Vigilance Committees that could organise patrols to keep a watch on the streets at night.
The Star took up the cudgels on behalf of the residents of the East End and led the calls for the forming of such committees in an editorial that was published on the day of the Annie Chapman murder, 8th September 1888:-
Now there is only one thing to be done at this moment, and we can talk of larger reforms when we do away with the centralised non-efficient military system which Sir Charles Warren has brought to perfection.
The people of the East-end must become their own police. They must form themselves at once into Vigilance Committees. There should be a central committee, which should map out the neighborhood into districts, and appoint the smaller committees. These again should at once devote themselves to volunteer patrol work at night, as well as to general detective service.
The unfortunates who are the objects of the man-monster's malignity should be shadowed by one or two of the amateur patrols. They should be cautioned to walk in couples. Whistles and a signalling system should be provided, and means of summoning a rescue force should be at hand.
We are not sure that every London district should not make some effort of the kind, for the murderer may choose a fresh quarter now that Whitechapel is being made too hot to hold him.
We do not think that the police will put any obstacle in the way of this volunteer assistance. They will probably be only too glad to have their efforts supplemented by the spontaneous action of the inhabitants.
But in any case, London must rouse itself. No woman is safe while this ghoul is abroad.
Up, citizens, then, and do your own police work!"
Source: The Star. Saturday, 8th September, 1888.
In fact, in the wake of the murder of Martha Tabram, on the 7th of August, 1888, a local Vigilance Committee had been formed.
The St Jude's Vigilance Committee had been set up at a meeting held by seventy local residents who lived in the immediate vicinity of George Yard, where the murder had occurred.
Twelve men were appointed to act as "watchers", and were tasked with observing certain streets between the hours of 11pm and 1am.
The Committee worked out of Toynbee Hall, and its avowed intent was to provide support to the local police whenever necessary, and to keep carful watch on and report to the committee on disorderly houses and those who caused disturbances in the neighbourhood.
On Monday, 10th September, 1888, The Star acknowledged the existence of this Committee, whilst, at the same time, taking the opportunity to criticize the Metropolitan Police:-
STILL A MYSTERY
The Whitechapel mystery is a mystery still. That is the terrible fact which the Government and Sir Charles Warren have to consider this morning.
The ghoul is still abroad seeking fresh victims, and perchance finding them before next morning's Star is in the hands of our readers.
We on Saturday made a proposal which we are glad to see has already been partially carried into effect.
There is, we find, one large Vigilance and Patrol Committee at work in the haunted districts.
But one is not enough. If there is any public spirit in the East-end, there will be 20 such bodies formed before as many hours have passed.
The Vigilance Association should lend a hand, and the Law and Liberty League, and the popular clubs, should join in. Half a dozen sensible citizens in any street can put the matter through, as it would be put through in New York almost before the ink on this paper is dry.
We are hourly receiving fresh evidence of the utter inadequacy and unskillfulness of the police.
Out of the 2,600 men who are responsible at night for the safety of the inhabitants of London, not a tenth, not a twentieth, are capable of efficient detective work.
To add to the list of clumsy follies which have made Sir Charles Warren's name stink in the nostrils of the people of London, the Chief Commissioner has lately transferred the whole of the East-end detectives to the West and moved the West-end men to the East. That is to say, he has deprived the people of Whitechapel of the one guarantee they had for reposing confidence in their ordinary guardians - viz., that to the refined skill of the detective was being added the local knowledge indispensable when the investigation of criminal or semi-criminal quarters is in question.
Whitechapel, then, is practically defenceless. It must defend itself."
Source: The Star. Monday, 10th September, 1888.
On the 10th of September, 1888, sixteen local tradesmen formed the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee - also described in the newspapers as The Mile End Vigilance Committee.
The prime mover in the formation of this committee appears to have been local publican Joseph Aarons, and the Committee held its meeting in the upstairs room of his public house, The Crown, located at 74, Mile End Road.
It is certain that great indignation prevails in the East End that this obvious means of eliciting information has not been resorted to.
So strong did this feeling become that meeting of the chief local tradesmen was held today, at which an influential committee was appointed consisting of 16 well known gentlemen with Mr. J. Aarons as the secretary.
The committee issued this evening a notice stating that they will give a substantial reward for the capture of the murderer, or for information leading thereto.
The movement has been warmly taken up by the inhabitants, and it is certain that a large sum will be subscribed within the next few days.
The proposal to form district vigilance committees also meets with great popular favour and is assuming practical form. Meetings were held at the various working-men's clubs and other organisations, political and social, in the district, at most of which the proposed scheme was heartily approved, and volunteers enrolled."
Source: The Manchester Courier Tuesday, 11th September, 1888.
The next day, The South Wales Daily news published what amounted to a mission statement by the members of the committee who action, they claimed, had been necessitated by the fact that the police force in Whitechapel was, quite simply, inadequate to the task of bringing the murderer to justice:-
WHAT IS BEING DONE?
Mr J. Aarons, of Mile-end-road, was busy today organising a vigilance committee for the protection of the residents of Whitechapel from any possible future crime of the nature recently perpetrated, and the following notice has been publicly issued:-
"Finding that, in spite of murders being committed in our midst, our police force is inadequate to discover the author or authors of the late atrocities, we, the undersigned, have formed ourselves into a committee, and intend offering a substantial reward to anyone, citizens or otherwise, who shall give such information as will be the means of bringing the murderer or murderers to justice."
Then follow the names of several prominent East-end tradesmen, who have come forward to give their support to the movement."
Source: The South Wales Daily News Wednesday, 12th September, 1888.
A few days later, on Saturday, 15th September, 1888, The West Cumberland Times expressed an opinion that it was truly shocking that, in a city like London, that possessed a large police force, it should be necessary for the task of policing to be performed by ordinary citizens:-
THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
Surprise would be occasioned on Wednesday by the statement which appeared in this journal, and in others, to the effect that it had been deemed necessary, for the protection of life and for the common security, to organise a Vigilance Committee of prominent residents in that part of London which has recently been the scene of some most appalling and mysterious murders.
This necessity has not occurred, let it be mentioned, in a new territory, without laws or government, where society is still in a state of ferment and confusion.
It is in the oldest of civilised countries, in the metropolis of Christian England, whose inhabitants claim to be the most law-abiding people in the world - a metropolis, moreover, guarded by an army of about 14,000 police of all ranks, at an annual cost of about £560,000,
The first act of the committee was to offer a reward for the capture of the man-monster who perpetrated the hideous butcheries in Whitechapel; and the member of Parliament for the division has offered a further reward of £100.
We have surely fallen upon evil times.
Here, in the crowded district of Whitechapel, crimes of an indescribably revolting character follow each other in rapid succession, and the ghoulish assassin remains at large, free to indulge his terrible lust of blood, so that the peaceable residents in the district have found it necessary to take up the functions of the police, for the preservation of the lives of the community, and for the capture, if possible, of the foul, red-handed creature who has his lair somewhere in their midst."
Source: The West Cumberland Times Saturday, 15th September, 1888.
However, as the following newspaper report, which appeared in The People, on Sunday, 16th September, 1888, made clear, the St Jude's Vigilance Association were still policing the streets at night:-
A VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
The St. Jude's Vigilance Association has only been in existence about four weeks.
It is largely composed of working men, assisted by some of the members belonging to Toynbee Hall, its operations being confined to that neighbourhood.
No action has yet been taken as to the result of the watching which has been done by the association.
In an interview with a representative of the press, a member of the committee stated that rows are constantly occurring in the district, and that the police force is too small to deal with the disturbers of the peace.
The night after the murder in Buck's-row, a man and woman disturbed Wentworth-street for more than half an hour. Two members of the committee were present, but no policeman could be found.
Another brawl took place only on Tuesday in the same thoroughfare, and one of the committee who became aware of it looked for a constable twenty minutes before one was found.
It may be added that the police have received some hundreds of letters from all parts of the country offering suggestions of various kinds for the discovery of the murderer. None of the communications, however, help in any way to elucidate the mystery.
A number of persons have also written offering their services, for certain pecuniary considerations, as "special detectives," and give glowing accounts, notwithstanding their previous inexperience in these matters, or of their fitness to undertake the office they seek."
Source: The People Sunday, 16th September, 1888.
On Sunday, 16th September, 1888, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper provided its readers with an insight into the workings of the Vigilance Committee and some of the problems that they were up against as they tried to maintain order in an area where crime was almost second nature to some of the inhabitants:-
WORK OF THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
The first of the four Whitechapel murders having been committed immediately in the rear of Toynbee hall, a Vigilance committee was set on foot to second the efforts of the police in the discovery and prevention of crime.
Since the latest tragedy, the exertions of the committee have been redoubled.
Some of the members in couples now perambulate the districts from midnight until dawn. They observe all that goes on in the streets, report any suspicious proceedings to the authorities, and keep a minute account in writing of everything transpiring, from setting out until their return.
Much voluntary help has been tendered, one of the peregrinators on Thursday night being a military officer residing in Western London.
The secretary expressed his belief to our representative yesterday that the recent East-end murders may be the means of better arrangements being formed than exist at present in the neighbourhood where these atrocities have been perpetrated, for the protection of life and property.
This active member of the committee states (speaking from a quantity of evidence) that no quarter of the metropolis has such an "after dark" colony of loafing ruffians as that of Spitalfields, lying between Wentworth and Bishopsgate streets.
It appears that by day they thieve and cadge throughout wealthy London, and return to Spitalfields and indulge in all sorts of violence and licentiousness, winding up with a "doss."
Source: Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper Sunday, 16th September, 1888.
By this time in September, the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee had become established in the district, and were meeting in the upstairs room of Joseph Aarons pub, The Crown, at 74, Mile End Road.
Local builder, Mr. George Lusk, had been appointed Chairman of the Committee.
As the following article, which appeared in The Eastern Evening News, on Monday, 17th September, 1888, makes clear, their purpose was to assist the police in their endeavours to catch the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders, as opposed to offer an alternative police force to the inhabitants of the area.
Indeed, as can be seen from the article, they were being extremely careful not to antagonise the police, their main purpose being to ensure that a substantial reward was offered in order to bring the killer to justice:-
MEETING OF THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
On Saturday night, a meeting of the Vigilance Committee took place at the Crown Tavern, 74, Mile End Road, for the purpose of considering what steps should be taken to aid the police in the search for the murderer.
In the absence of Mr. Lusk, the chairman, Mr. Aarons, the proprietor of the tavern, was voted to the chair, and, in opening the proceedings, said that he had great pleasure in announcing that Mr. Spencer Charrington, at the brewery adjacent, had, with his usual liberality, responded to the appeal made to him on behalf of his fellow creatures. He had sent a cheque for £5, and he would not have done that unless he had been convinced the amount was for a much-needed object.
In announcing other subscriptions, including £5 from Mr. Lusk and a similar amount from himself, the speaker said that he had been forcibly reminded, during his efforts to obtain subscriptions towards a reward for the apprehension of the murderer, of the great dissatisfaction which existed owing to the withdrawal of Government rewards for the discovery of murder; for, with one exception, every donor had expressed an opinion that it was the duty of the Government to offer substantial reward in such cases, and many persons who were ready to lay down £100 towards any charitable object had flatly refused to subscribe to this fund on the ground that it was the imperative duty of the Scotland Yard authorities and of the Home Office to offer a pecuniary inducement to persons (not the actual murderer) to come forward and give information.
He regretted to say that the police authorities had decided to offer no reward, but, at the same time, it was only fair to reflect that the police probably knew more about the matter than they chose to make public, and that, therefore, they considered reward unnecessary.
Time, of course, might show how the matter stood, and he trusted that the police were right in what they were doing.
Mr. Rogers and other gentlemen having addressed the meeting, the proceedings were adjourned until today, when a definite programme will be arrived at as to the amount to be offered for information."
Source: The Eastern Evening News Monday, 17th September, 1888.
However, as the following report from the Evening Standard made clear, the fact the the Home Office had refused to offer an official reward was making it extremely difficult for the Committee to solicit additional funds:-
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
On Saturday night a meeting of one of the recently formed Vigilance Committees was held at the Crown Tavern, Mile-end-road. The chair was taken by Mr. Aaron, who was supported by many of the leading inhabitants of the district.
In opening the proceedings, the Chairman said that the Committee had been formed for the purpose of considering what steps should be taken for the detection or prevention of crime in the district, and for strengthening the hands of the police, by individual action on the part of the citizens.
A comprehensive circular had been printed and sent round, calling attention to the recent outrages which had alarmed the whole of London, and he had little doubt that, in the course of a few days, the Committee would be in a position to offer a substantial reward for the apprehension and conviction of the murderer or murderers.
He wished it to be distinctly understood that he was in no way antagonistic to the police authorities, who were doing their best, as he believed they always did, to bring the culprits to justice; but inasmuch as their efforts had been futile, the time had arrived when the individual exertions of every inhabitant of the district was necessary to bring about the apprehension of the man who was desolating Loudon (hear, hear).
No man with the slightest feeling in his bosom could contemplate the recent murders without the keenest horror and indignation, and every woman in London was more or less in a state of trepidation and fear, owing to the rapidity with which murder had succeeded murder in Whitechapel.
No one knew where the assassin would commence next, and it therefore behoved every inhabitant to do his best towards the discovery of the wretch in hiding, whose only occupation seemed to be the slaying of his fellow-creatures, selecting his victims from the poorest and most wretched female outcasts.
He had received many subscriptions to the fund started, and he was glad to say that a letter had just reached him from Mr. Spencer Charrington, of the Brewery close by, which was as follows:-
"Anchor Brewery, Mile-end, Loudon, Sept. 15, 1883.
In reply to your letter, asking for a contribution to the reward fund for discovering the perpetrator of the late dreadful murders, I enclose you a cheque for five pounds, and remain,
He had also received a similar sum from Mr. Lusk, the builder, and he himself had subscribed a like amount, and several guineas, half-guineas, and other sums had been cheerfully paid (cheers).
There was one important matter in connection with his canvass, which, he thought, the Press should know, and that was the fact that every one he saw, whether a donor or not, expressed a decided opinion that the government were entirely wrong in declining to offer any reward for information leading to the conviction of an escaped murderer.
Mr. Rogers, one of the Committee, said he could quite endorse the latter remark, for, without exception, he had found every one upon whom he had called thoroughly at variance with the Home Office on the matter; and, in many instances, where he had expected to obtain five shillings or ten shillings without demur, he found that his friends, though willing at all times to give generously to any charitable object, declined to subscribe to the present fund, on the ground that it was the imperative duty of the Home Secretary to issue notification of a reward.
Other gentlemen having addressed the meeting, the Chairman pointed out that the reward would be given to any person, policeman or others, who should get hold of the desired clue, and he felt sure that the successful man would be well rewarded in other quarters.
In the event of the money subscribed not being utilised for the purpose in view, it had been arranged to hand it over to the funds of the London Hospital or some other charity.
The proceedings terminated in the usual manner."
Source: The London Evening Standard Monday, 17th September, 1888.
On the night of Saturday, 15th September, 1888, a journalist took a stroll through the streets of the neighbourhood in which the murders were occurring, and was able to report on the activity being undertaken by the Committee's patrols, as well as on the attitude of the police officers to the amateur detectives:-
On Saturday night I strolled leisurely through the squalid thoroughfares immediately adjacent to the scenes of the recent crimes, and I was really astounded at the attitude assumed by the residents.
They seem determined to take all the work out of the hands of the police.
The number of Vigilance Committees that have been formed is remarkable. The duties mapped out for them will be no sinecure. They will consist in patrolling the streets, noting the various beats, watching how the constable's work them, seeing that the police pay due attention to suspicious characters, calls for help etc., and, in case of neglect, reporting to headquarters, so that formal communication may be made to the police authorities on the subject.
This applies to the private constables, but a similar watch in a somewhat modified degree will also be kept over the superior officers, who will be liable to be reported at the direction of the Vigilance Committee.
The "vigilants" say they "mean business", and evidently they do. They are providing themselves with whistles and truncheons or other weapons, and it will be their duty to patrol the beats of the police between times, so that at no time of night shall a beat be left unprotected.
In case of suspicion, a row, a robbery, etc., they will detain the culprits until the arrival of the police, and in case of resistance, they will sound their whistles for assistance.
For further protection, a reserve force of four members will be stationed at different points, but all within earshot of each other, and, on anyone hearing a signal, he will at once proceed to the spot and assist his fellow members.
These rules, it has been declared at a large and enthusiastic meeting, will be rigidly attended to and enforced.
The police, of course, regard all these preparations and resolutions with a jealous eye.
One worthy sergeant, in an interview the other night, emphatically declared that, "It wouldn't last a month." He added, "They'll get little help - at least, no more help than any one else from our chaps; and if they get interfering with respectable people, our men will run 'em in as a caution for future behaviour."
From this it will be evident to most people that the "vigilants" have not altogether a rollicking prospect before them.
The way in which the latest Whitechapel idea will work will doubtless be watched with much interest all over the country..."
Source: Eddowes's Journal Wednesday, 19th September, 1888.
However, the Committee's main activity was to petition officialdom with a view to persuading the Home Office to offer a reward for information that might lead to the apprehension of the killer, and, to that end they wrote to the Home Secretary, Sir Henry Matthews.
The Morning Post, on Thursday 20th September, 1888, reported on the contents of their letter to the Home Office, and also reported on the reply that they had received:-
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDER
Yesterday morning, a meeting of the vigilance committee, of which Mr. Lusk is president, met at 74, Mile-end-road, for the purpose of receiving the reports of their honorary officers in the matter.
From the statements of Mr. Aarons, Mr. B. Harris, Mr. Cohen, and the president himself, there appeared to be some thousands of the better classes at the East-end who believe that a substantial Government reward would bring about the apprehension of the murderer, and all donors or non-donors to the reward fund, now steadily increasing, were loud in denunciation of the police authorities and the Home-office for declining to offer the reward.
The Secretary said that on the 15th inst. the committee sent a letter to the Home Secretary on the subject, which was to the effect:-
"At a meeting of the committee of gentlemen held at 74, Mile-end-road, E., it was resolved to approach you upon the subject of the reward we are about to offer for the discovery of the author or authors of the late atrocities in the East-end of London, and to ask you, sir, to augment our fund for the said purpose, or kindly state your reasons for refusing."
To this letter he had received the following communication:-
"Whitehall, Sept. 17, 1888.
I am directed by The Secretary of State to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th inst. with reference to the question of the offer of a reward for the discovery of the perpetrators of the recent murders in Whitechapel, and I am to inform you that, had the Secretary of State considered the case a proper one for the offer of a reward, he would at once have offered one on behalf of the Government, but that the practice of offering rewards for the discovery of criminals was discontinued some years ago, because experience showed that such offers of reward tended to produce more harm than good, and the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is nothing in the circumstances of the present case to justify a departure from this rule.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
E. Leigh Pemberton.
Mr. B. Harris, The Crown, 74, Mile-end-road, E."
Source: The Morning Post Thursday, 20th September, 1888.
Although disappointed by the Home Secretary's refusal to sanction an official reward, the Committee were not deterred in their endeavours to raise funds towards a reward, and Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper reported on their progress, which seems to have been quite impressive:-
WORK OF THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
The Vigilance committee has so grown in numbers and its work so increased that the members for the future will transact their business at the Beaumont institution.
They have just issued the following poster:-
"The East-end Murders £50 Reward.
The above is offered as a preliminary reward to anyone who shall give such information as will lead to the detection of the author, or the authors, of the late murders in Whitechapel.
George Lusk, president; J. Aarons, treasurer; B. Harris, hon. secretary."
The latest point settled is to organise a large public meeting to which the local Parliamentary representatives, and other important persons shall be invited, for the purpose of memorialising the Government to offer the terms of a free pardon to any accomplice of the murderer whose evidence may lead to a conviction for the crime.
Subscriptions are being promised, and the committee hope in the course of a few days to increase this reward by upwards of a hundred pounds."
Source: Lloyds Weekly Newspaper Sunday, 23rd September, 1888.
But, the fact that the Home Secretary had refused to consider offering a reward, or of contributing to the reward that the Committee were offering, was met with howls of protest and, in its edition of the following Sunday, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper reported on how this announcement had been received in the district:-
The moment the newspapers containing the letter of the Home Secretary were a read on Wednesday night, a tremendous storm of indignation was roused in the a breasts of the public, and a fierce denunciation of the Home Office authorities was heard at every house and street corner.
Meetings were held at over 40 places for the one purpose of denouncing the letter, which was described by one speaker as the "lamest piece of officialism ever issued from a Government office."
A large meeting took place at 74, Mile-end-road for the purpose of discussing the letter of the Home Secretary, and taking measures for the offer of a public reward for the apprehension of the murderer.
The chair was taken by Mr. George Lusk, the president of the Vigilance Committee, and he was supported by several of the most prominent inhabitants in the district.
Mr. Aarons, the treasurer, announced that he had a tolerably large sum in hand, and he moved that bills should be distributed, and advertisements sent to the papers, offering the preliminary reward of £501, which would be increased as the funds came in.
The motion was carried unanimously, amid much cheering, Mr. Aarons subsequently expressing his conviction that funds would, no doubt, flow in steadily now that the people of Whitechapel knew for certain that they could not rely upon the Home Office for help."
Source: Lloyds Weekly Newspaper Sunday, 30th September, 1888.
On Sunday, 30th September, 1888, the Whitechapel murderer claimed two more victims, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, and that night, the Vigilance Committee held another meeting to discuss the need for rewards to be offered.
The Globe reported on this meeting in its next day's edition:-
At 8.30 last evening, a meeting of the Vigilance Committee took place at 74, Mile-en-road, when Mr. Aarons, Mr. Reeves, Mr. Lawton, Mr. B. Harris, and others spoke for some time upon the subject of a Government reward.
Attention was again called by the speakers to the trouble they had had in getting together even £100 as the nucleus of a reward fund, owing to the prevalent opinion that such a reward should come from the Government; but the treasurer and secretary pointed that, although many hundreds of persons had declined to subscribe to the fund on that ground, yet many who held the same opinion had subscribed for the purpose of bringing the murderer to justice.
Unhappily, the committee had been hampered by the prevalent opinion as to the duty of the Home Secretary and Sir Charles Warren, and the fund was not large enough.
The police had to do in this instance with no ordinary murderer, and the reward should keep pace with his intelligence, tact, and criminal development, so that those who might be able to solve the mystery should not be withheld from prosecuting their inquiries by the knowledge that they would be losers.
A thousand pounds at least should have been offered immediately after the Hanbury-street murder occurred, if not before that time, with an intimation on the part of the Government that such offer was not be taken as precedent.
Resolutions in terms of the above were passed, and the meeting was adjourned until Wednesday."
Source: The Globe Monday, 1st October, 1888.
On 29th September, 1888, George Lusk and Joseph Aarons had written to The Evening Standard to express their opinion that the Home Secretary was mistaken in refusing to allow a reward to be offered.
The newspaper published their letter on Monday, 1st October, 1888:-
As members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, who communicated without result with the Home Secretary with the view of obtaining on behalf of the public at large the offer of a Government reward for the apprehension and conviction of the assassin or assassins in the recent East-end atrocities, we shall be glad if you will allow us to state that the committee do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of the Home Secretary in refusing the said offer, as he apparently believes that it would not meet with a successful result.
If he would, however, consider that in the case of the Phoenix-park murders and the man Carey, who was surrounded by, we may say, a whole society, steeped in crime, the money tempted him to betray his associates.
In our opinion, if Mr. Matthews could see his way clear to coincide with our views the Government offer would be successful.
The reward should be ample for securing an informer from revenge, which would be a very great inducement in the matter, in addition to which such an offer would convince the poor and humble residents of our East-end that the Government authorities are as much anxious to avenge the blood of these unfortunate victims as they were the assassination of Lord F. Cavendish and Mr. Burke.
1, 2, and 3, Alderney-road, Mile-end, Sept 29."
Source: The London Evening Standard. Monday, 1st October, 1888.
Since the Committee's efforts to persuade the Home Secretary to offer a reward had fallen on deaf ears, George Lusk decided to go to the very top, and, in early October, 1888, he wrote to Queen Victoria outlining his case.
The Northern Whig was one of many newspapers that published his letter on Wednesday, 3rd October, 1888:-
The following is a copy of the petition to her Majesty the Queen adopted at yesterday's meeting of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee:-
"To Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen.
The humble petition of George Lusk, of Alderney Road, in the parish of Mile End Old Town, Middlesex, a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works, vestryman of the above named parish, and president of the Vigilance Committee formed for the purposes hereunder mentioned.
Your petitioner, acting under the authority and on behalf of the inhabitants of the East End of London, humbly showeth:-
1. That your Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department has for years past discontinued the old practice of granting a Government reward for the apprehension and conviction of those offenders against your Sovereign Majesty, your Crown and dignity, who have escaped detection for the crime of murder.
2. That in the course of the present year no less than four murders of your Majesty's subjects have taken place within a radius of half a mile from one point in the said district.
3. That, notwithstanding the constitution of the Scotland Yard Detective Office, and the efforts of the trained detectives of such office, the perpetrator or perpetrators of these outrages against your Majesty still remain undiscovered.
4. That, acting under the direction of your Majesty's liege subjects, your petitioner caused to be sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department a suggestion that he should revert to the original system of Government reward.
Looking at the fact that the present series of murders was probably the work of one hand, and that the third and fourth were certainly the work of that one hand, and that inasmuch as the ordinary means of detection had failed, and that the murderer would in all probability commit other murders of a like nature, such offer of a reward at the earliest opportunity was absolutely necessary for securing your Majesty's subjects from death at the hands of the above one undetected assassin.
5. That, in reply to such suggestion, your petitioner received from the Secretary of State above named a letter, of which the following is a copy. (Letter published by us yesterday, signed "G. Leigh Pemberton.").
6. That the reply above quoted was submitted to the inhabitants of the East End of London, in meeting assembled, and provoked a considerable amount of hostile criticism, and such criticism was repeated throughout your Majesty's dominions, not only by the public at large, but, with one or two exceptions, by the entire Press of Great Britain.
Your petitioner, therefore, humbly prays your Majesty as follows:-
That your Majesty will graciously accede to the prayer of your petitioner, preferred originally through the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and direct that a Government reward, sufficient in amount to meet the peculiar exigencies of the case, may immediately be offered, your petitioner, and those loyal subjects of your Majesty whom he represents, being convinced that without such a reward the murderer or murderers of the above four victims will not only remain undetected, but will, sooner later. commit other crimes of a like nature.
And your petitioner will ever pray, &c.""
Source: The Northern Whig Wednesday, 3rd October, 1888.
The Committee held another meeting to discuss the issue on the evening of Tuesday, 3rd October, 1888.
It hadn't gone unnoticed that the City of London authority - within whose boundaries the murder of Catherine Eddowes had occurred - had almost immediately offered a reward for information, and the Committee decided to acknowledge this fact at the meeting-
MEETING OF THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
Last night a special meeting of the Vigilance Committee, of which Mr. Lusk is chairman, took place in the committee-rooms, 74, Mile-end-road, when a great number of persons were present to express their views upon the present want of police organisation in the metropolis, the attitude of the Home Secretary and Sir Charles Warren in refusing to issue a reward for the conviction of the man wanted, and to receive the expected replies from Her Majesty the Queen and the Home Secretary to the petitions presented to them.
The chairman referred with satisfaction to the action of the City authorities in offering a reward.
Mr. B. Harris followed, and the honorary secretary announced further subscriptions, including sums from the Canterbury and Paragon Music Halls, etc., and the receipt of many letters containing suggestions for the elucidation of the mystery.
It was announced that a third letter, sent by the committee to the Home Secretary on Sunday, still remained unanswered.
Several other speakers gave their views on the whole subject, and a vote of thanks to the City Commissioners of Police having been passed by acclamation, the meeting was adjourned, no reply from the Queen having come to hand."
Source: The Globe Wednesday, 3rd October, 1888.
The following day The Star published a brief article that provided a little more insight into the workings of the vigilance patrols in the neighbourhood where the murders had occurred:-
CITIZEN POLICE WITH NOISLESS BOOTS
Under the supervision of the local vigilance committee, upwards of a score of citizen detectives went out on duty at twelve o'clock last night.
The locality is divided into "beats," and by pre-arrangement those who have undertaken the assistance of the regular police meet periodically at central points during the night to report themselves.
Noiseless boots, as from time to time suggested for the force, have been provided for the amateur policemen."
Source: The Star Thursday, 4th October, 1888.
On Friday, 5th October, 1888, The Daily Telegraph published the following lengthy article that provided readers with an in depth look at the workings of the Committee and how the patrols were handled:-
Should the murderer again attempt to give effect to his infamous designs in the Whitechapel district he will require, in the interests of his own personal security, not only to avoid the uniformed and plain-clothed members of the Metropolitan Police Force, but to reckon with a small, enthusiastic body of amateur detectives.
Convinced that the regular force affords inadequate protection to life and property in this densely-populated neighbourhood, a number of local tradesmen decided a few weeks ago to appoint a Vigilance Committee of a novel and interesting character.
The duties of the newly-formed band were twofold.
In the first place, they were to publish far and wide their disagreement with the Home Secretary by offering a substantial reward to "any one - citizen or otherwise," who should give such information as would bring the murderer or murderers to justice; and, in the second place, they were themselves to patrol the most secluded parts of the district in the dead of night with a view to running the criminal to earth.
So worthy a motive they felt confident would at once command the sympathy and support of "the tradesmen, ratepayers, and inhabitants generally."
Unfortunately, however, for the realisation of their hopes, experience has proved that those to whom they appealed were more ready to commend than co-operate. Excluding one or two subscriptions of considerable amounts, they have been compelled to admit that funds have not "rolled" in.
Nor has the suggestion to hold a large public meeting in furtherance of the objects of the vigilants been responded to with alacrity.
Yet, undaunted by these disappointments, the committee have worked persistently on.
Night after night, at nine o'clock, meetings have been held in the upper room of a public-house in the Mile-end-road, placed at the disposal of the committee by the landlord, who occupies the post of treasurer.
The leaders of the movement are drawn principally from the trading class, and include a builder, a cigar-manufacturer, a tailor, a picture-frame maker, a licensed victualler, and "an actor."
Inexperienced in practical police duty, the committee decided to call in professional assistance rather than rely solely upon their own resources.
For this purpose they engaged the services of two private detectives - men who, though unattached to either the Metropolitan or City police forces, hold themselves out as experts in the unravelling of mysteries.
At the disposal of these executive officers are placed about a dozen stalwart men possessing an intimate acquaintance with the highways and byways of Whitechapel.
We are informed that only those have been selected who are "physically and morally" equal to the task they may any night be called upon to perform.
As they were previously numbered among the unemployed, it became unnecessary to fix a high scale of remuneration.
Shortly before twelve o'clock these assassin-hunters are despatched upon their mission. Their footfall is silenced by the use of goloshes, and their own safety is assured by the carrying of police-whistles and stout sticks.
The area over which this additional protection is afforded is divided into beats, each man being assigned his respective round.
Nor is this all. At half-an-hour after midnight the committee-rooms close by Act of Parliament, and thence emerge those members of the committee who happen to be on duty for the night.
Like sergeants of police they make their tours of inspection, and, while seeing that their men are faithfully performing their onerous duties, themselves visit the most sequestered and ill-lighted spots.
The hour at which they "come off" has been variously described as "at daybreak," "when the cock crows," and "when the houses open."
Without questioning the synonymity of the phrases, it appears that usually the volunteer policemen leave their beats between four and five o'clock in the morning.
It should be added that supervision in this way by the members of the committee is not forthcoming every night. The fact that most of them are engaged from early in the morning until late at night in the transaction of their own businesses obviously renders such constant effort physically impossible. If it were practicable there are several who would undoubtedly devote night after night with the utmost willingness to ferreting out the being who has caused terror to prevail in the hearts of thousands of residents in the back streets of the district.
Although the work of the committee has not yet been crowned with success, it is claimed on their behalf that they have gained much information that may be of service hereafter.
By the regular police, it is satisfactory to add, they have not been thwarted in their endeavour to bring the criminal to justice.
Suspicions, surmises, and possible clues are notified to the nearest police-stations from time to time, and one member of the committee at least honestly believes that he is on the right track.
Whether his private opinion is justified by fact, time alone can reveal.
Meanwhile, he and his colleagues are determined to leave no stone unturned, and firmly continue to maintain that the dark places of Whitechapel demand a more thorough watchfulness on the part of the police than is at present devoted to them.
They further report that the number of women of the class to which the victims have belonged has appreciably diminished in the district within the past week."
Source: The Daily Telegraph Friday, 5th October, 1888.
As is plain from the following article, which appeared in The Aberdeen Free Press on Monday, 8th October, 1888, several neighbourhoods had formed Vigilance Committees in the wake of the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.
The relationship between the police and the amateur patrols seems to have been a cordial one, albeit, as the article commented, the fact that their were so many professional and amateur detectives out on the streets at night was leading to some confusion:-
THE POLICE AND THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
The police are displaying the utmost activity, and are receiving useful aid from the volunteer police of the Vigilance Committee.
On Saturday night and last night every nook and corner of Whitechapel district was watched, and every person of at all suspicious appearance was tracked until the reason for suspicion had been cleared away.
The police and the members of the Vigilance Committee work very well together, and as proof of the thorough way in which they have been carrying out their duty, it may be mentioned that in several instances some of the plain clothes constables who were new to the neighbourhood were watched by members of the Vigilance Committee, while they in their turn came under the scrutiny of the detectives.
The Central News says:- The Working Men's Vigilance Committee has been augmented by some 30 men, well acquainted with the locality, these having been appointed by a meeting of working men of the docks district, which assembled on Saturday night at Bow."
Source: The Aberdeen Free Press Monday, 8th October, 1888.
On Friday, 12th October, 1888, The Shepton Mallet Journal published the following report on the methods employed by the Committee's nighttime patrols and on the dangers that they might encounter as they walked the streets throughout the night.
The article also mentioned that Mr. Lusk had received a reply to his letter to Queen Victoria, albeit, since the Home Office had replied on her behalf, the official stance had not changed:-
The volunteer patrols organised by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee lent marked assistance to the police.
Their patrols were tolled off to well-planned beats, many of these amateur policemen being furnished with noiseless boots, a measure which has lately been strongly urged upon the Metropolitan police.
It is supposed that the murderer is armed with a revolver, and, if detected, will shoot at the first person who attempts to capture him; in any case his knife, in such skilful hands, would, if he had the slightest chance of dealing a blow, prove mortal.
The large reward offered has, however, afforded sufficient stimulus to as large a number of strong, able-bodied men as are required for the dangerous duty of tracking down the murderer...
The following letter from the Home Secretary has been received by the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee:-
"Whitehall, Oct. 6, 1888.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department has had the honour to lay before the Queen the petition signed by you, praying that a reward may be offered by the Government for the discovery of the perpetrator of the recent murders in Whitechapel, and he desires me to inform you that, though he has given directions that no effort or expense should be spared in endeavouring to discover the person guilty of the murders, he has not been enable to advise Her Majesty that in his belief the ends of justice would be promoted by any departure from the direction already announced with regard to the proposal that a reward should be offered by Government.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
E. Leigh Pemberton.""
Source: The Shepton Mallet Journal Friday, 12th October, 1888.
Unperturbed by his lack of success, George Lusk wrote again to the Home Office, this time to suggest that the Home Secretary should consider announcing a free pardon for any accomplice of the murderer who would come forward and hand the perpetrator over to the police.
The London Daily News published the reply on Monday, 15th October, 1888:-
The following communication has been received by the Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee in answer to a request that a free pardon might be proclaimed to an accomplice or accomplices of the murderer:-
"October 12th, 1888.
I am desired by the Secretary of State to thank you for the suggestions in your letter of the 7th inst., on the subject of the recent Whitechapel murders, and to say in reply that, from the first, the Secretary of State has had under consideration the question of granting a pardon to accomplices.
It is obvious that not only must such a grant be limited to persons who have not been concerned in contriving or in actually committing the murders, but the expediency and propriety of making the offer must largely depend on the nature of the information received from day to day, which is being carefully watched, with a view to determining that question.
With regard to the offer of a reward, Mr. Matthews has, under the existing circumstances, nothing to add to his former letter.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant
Source: The London Daily News Monday, 15th October, 1888.
George Lusk's correspondence with the Home Office and Queen Victoria ensured that his name was constantly in the newspapers throughout the late September and the first two weeks of October 1888; and, in consequence, he became a magnet for some unsavoury characters.
Around the 12th October, 1888, he began receiving letters that were supposedly written by the Whitechapel murderer. In addition several suspicious characters were asking after him and, on one occasion, even approaching him in a local pub.
Then, on the evening of the 16th of October, 1888, he received a small package in the evening mail.
Opening it, he found inside letter, which was addressed "From Hell" and wrapped inside which was a foul smelling piece of human kidney.
You can read the full story of the From Hell Letter here.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph published the following account of the reaction of Mr. Lusk, and the other members of the Vigilance Committee, to this gruesome package in the following article, which was published on Friday, 18th October, 1888:-
Mr. J. Aarons, the treasurer of the Whitechapel Vigilance Association, made the following statement last evening:-
"Mr. Lusk, our chairman, came over to me last (Wednesday) night in state of considerable excitement. I asked him what was the matter, when he replied, "I suppose you will laugh at what I am going to tell you, but you must know that I had a little parcel come to me on Tuesday evening, and, to my surprise, it contains half a kidney and a letter from "Jack the Ripper.""
To tell you the truth, I did not believe in it, and I laughed, and said I thought that somebody had been trying to frighten him.
Mr. Lusk, however, said it was no laughing matter to him.
I then suggested that, as it was late, we should leave the matter over till the morning, when I and other members of the committee would come round.
This morning, at about half-past nine, Mr. Harris, our secretary, Mr. Reeves, Mr. Lawton and myself went across to see Mr. Lusk, who opened his desk and pulled out a small square card-board box, wrapped in brown paper. Mr. Lusk said, "Throw it away; I hate the sight of it."
I examined the box and its contents, and being sure that it was not a sheep's kidney, I advised that, instead of throwing it away, we should see Dr. Wills, of 56, Mile end road.
We did not, however, find him in, but Mr. Reed, his assistant, was. He gave an opinion that it was a portion of human kidney which had been preserved in spirits of wine; but to make sure, he would go over to the London Hospital, where it could be microscopically examined.
On his return Mr. Reed said that Dr. Openshaw, at the Pathological Museum, stated that the kidney belonged to a female, that it was part of the left kidney, and that the woman had been in the habit of drinking. He should think that the person had died about the same time that the Mitre square murder was committed.
It was then agreed that we should take the parcel and the letter to Leman street Police station, where he saw Inspector Abberline.
Afterwards, some us went to Scotland Yard, where we were told that we had done quite right in putting the matter into Mr. Abberline's hands.
Our committee will meet again to-night, but Mr. Lusk, our chairman, has naturally been much upset."
Source: The Sheffield Evening Telegraph Friday, 19th October, 1888.
By the third week of October, 1888, the members of the patrols were starting to complain of the strain that their nighttime activity was placing them under, and were openly stating that the task of keeping order in the district should be left to the police.
The Western Morning News reported on their complaints in the following article, which appeared on Monday, 22nd October, 1888:-
The grave apprehension under which the inhabitants of the East-End have for many weeks been labouring has now subsided to a sense of security, induced by the unrelaxing efforts and extreme watchfulness of the police.
The members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee are beginning to complain of the voluntary strain which they have imposed upon themselves.
Many of them are feeling the effects of the self-imposed night patrols upon their health, and are talking of leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the police, who, they feel assured, are doing all that can possibly be done."
Source: The Western Morning News Monday, 22nd October, 1888.
The next day, The Nottingham Evening Post reported that the Vigilance Committee had, indeed, given up on the strenuous task of policing the streets by night, albeit, so the newspaper warned, people shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security since the murderer was still out their and might strike again at any moment:-
The Vigilance Committee in Whitechapel have abandoned their task, but the police have in no way slackened their exertions.
Those who have studied the circumstances of the series of crimes in the East End remember that the recurring periods have been about once a month in three concurrent instances.
The police believe that the monster still large in Whitechapel, and that he will return to his fiendish work directly the watchers have wearied in their vigilance."
Source: The Nottingham Evening Post Tuesday, 23rd October, 1888.
However, as the following article, which appeared in The South Wales Echo on the last day of October, 1888, made plain, the Vigilance Committee had not abandoned its task all together, indeed, Joseph Aarons had made an appeal for funds to pay the volunteers to continue their nighttime patrols:-
THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
In appealing for funds to enable the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee to carry on their investigations into the recent murders in the East End, the hon. secretary, writing from 74, Mile-end-road, points out the services his colleagues have already rendered; the payment of men to patrol the streets by night, the first offer of a reward which was made by any organised body, and many important pieces of information communicated to the police.
Owing to the outlay entailed by their work the committee feel themselves unable to continue it unless assisted by subscriptions from the public."
Source: The South Wales Echo Wednesday, 31st October, 1888.
What is noteworthy about the newspaper mentions of the Committee at the end of October and in early November, 1888, is that George Lusk appears to have either taken a back seat, or else had resigned from the Committee, since his name was hardly mentioned over that period.
As far as the other members of the Committee were concerned, they continued to make appeals for funds to enable them to continue their work, but, the fact that the whole of October had passed without any further murders taking place meant that the panic and urgency that had been so evident in the area in September had largely subsided, and the appeals for funds went largely unheeded.
But the, on 9th November, 1888, Mary kelly was murdered in Dorset Street, Spitalfields and, as The Western Times reported, the Committee decided to reconvene, albeit at a different venue:-
The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, who have recently relaxed their efforts to find the murderer, have called a meeting for Tuesday evening next at the Paul's Head Tavern, Crispin-street, Spitalfields, to consider what steps they can take to assist the police in this latter murder."
Source: The Western Times Saturday, 10th November, 1888.
The members of the Committee whose names had been in the newspapers throughout September and October appear to have stepped aside by this time, and the Committee was now being referred to in the press as either "The Whitechapel and Spitalfields Vigilance Committee" or the "Spitalfields Vigilance Committee".
Evidently, the members were very involved in the hunt for the murderer of Mary Kelly, and, at inquest into her death, many newspapers mentioned that "Mr. Vander Hunt represented the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee" at the inquest.
The Dundee Courier, reported on their meeting in its edition of Wednesday, 21st November, 1888:-
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDER
A meeting of the Spitalfields Vigilance Committee was held last evening to consider what further steps should be taken with respect to the East End murders.
On the proposition of Mr Cohen, seconded by Mr Shead, it was resolved that a deputation of five members of the Committee should wait upon Mr Samuel Montagu, M.P., with a view of his having an interview with the Home Secretary respecting further police protection in the neighbourhood, and of obtaining the Home Secretary's sanction to the formation of bodies of amateur detectives.
It was also resolved to appeal to the public for subscriptions."
Source: The Dundee Courier Wednesday, 21st November, 1888.
The Daily Gazette For Middlesborough, on Thursday, 29th November, 1888, reported that the Committee had made an approach to the head of H Division, Superintendent Thomas Arnold, who had, so the paper reported, looked favorably upon their endeavours:-
So general is the feeling in the East End that the murderer will be heard of again before long that the members of the Whitechapel and Spitalfields Vigilance Committee have had an interview with Superintendent Arnold, and submitted to him a proposition to appoint ten men each night to assist the police in watching secluded courts, and to otherwise render assistance.
It is stated that Mr Arnold favours the idea, subject to each man being provided with a card, signed by the secretary of the committee.
The men will carry a lamp, whistle, and stout stick.
An appeal is being made for funds so that the men may be paid for their services, and a member of Parliament has promised £10 10s towards the same.
Source: The Daily Gazette For Middlesborough Thursday, 29th November, 1888.
The Committee appear to have been active throughout December, 1888, and were mentioned as aiding the police in the wake of the murder of Rose Mylett, on 20th December, 1888.
But, by early January, 1889, the new Committee members were evidently feeling the strain, and they duly launched another appeal for funds, which was reported by The Morning Post on Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889:-
SPITALFIELDS VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
A general meeting of the Spitalfields Vigilance Committee was held at the Paul's Head, Crispin-street, last night - Mr. J. A. Cohen presiding.
The Chairman, whilst regretting that the Whitechapel murderer was still at large, remarked that through the establishment of the committee beneficial results had accrued in the shape of a diminution of rowdyism in the neighbourhood, and a decrease in the number of burglaries.
They have been complimented by the superintendent of the district upon the manner in which they had performed their duties, and throughout had been working in perfect harmony with the police.
Mr. Van Gelder, the hon. secretary, stated that the committee were sadly in want of funds, and it was decided to make an appeal for further support.
The statement of accounts showed that during the two months that the committee had been organised, their expenditure had been a little over £9."
Source: The Morning Post Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889.
Thereafter, with no further murders having taken place in the first half of 1889, the activities of the Vigilance Committee petered out, and the patrols were discontinued.
But then, around July 1889, the Committee made a return to the news, this time under the Chairmanship of Albert Bachert, a notorious self-publicist, who appears to have been its only member!
A full history of Albert Bachert and his Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.