A definition of witness.


She Had Left Him Seven Years Ago

William Nichols was the estranged husband of Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Having been traced by the police in the aftermath of her murder he was taken to the mortuary, where he identified her body.

The East London Observer reported on his identification and reaction in its edition of Saturday, 8th September, 1888:-


Inspector Abberline, having stated that the butchers bad been summoned, a juryman asked if the husband could be produced. "Yes," said Inspector Abberline, and immediately after the inquiry had been adjourned till Monday he proceeded to find the husband, and brought him to the mortuary.

The husband of the woman, William Nicholls is a printer's machinist, and he came to the mortuary dressed in a long black coat, with a black tie, trousers of dark material, and a tall silk hat. He carried an umbrella, and looked very quiet and very gentlemanly. He is very pale, with a full light brown beard and moustache.

So soon as the lid of the shell was removed, he looked at the contents, and then, with a shudder, turned to Inspector Abberline and said it was his wife.

He stated that she was nearly 44 years of age, but it must be owned that she looked nearly ten years younger, as indeed the police first described the body.

The husband, who was greatly affected, exclaimed on recognising the body, "I forgive you, as you are, for what you have been to me."

He removed one element of doubt in the case — i.e., whether she had been assaulted and her teeth knocked out, as stated, prior to being murdered. The absence of the front teeth was, he said, of old standing. He was in attendance at the resumed inquest on Monday."

Source: East London Observer, Saturday, 8th September, 1888.


The East London Observer went on to publish a transcript of his testimony at the resumed inquest into her death, which was held at the Working Lads' Institute, on Whitechapel Road, on Monday, 3rd September, 1888.

The newspaper began by reporting how "He was in attendance at the resumed inquest on Monday, which was marked by an even larger attendance of witnesses, and by the presence of a large crowd outside the Institute, eager to catch a glimpse of any of the prominent people figuring in the case.

To the right of the Coroner sat the police, with the husband and father of the murdered woman; to the left the jurymen, and in front a miscellaneous collection of reporters, telegraph boys, messengers and penny a-liners."

It isn't difficult to see why its was that William Nichols seemed a little apprehensive as he rose from his seat and walked forward to give his evidence before the crowded Coroner's court:-


William Nicholls, of 2Q, Coburg-road, Old Kent-road, next came from his seat near the police, dressed as on Saturday in his long black coat, black tie, and dark coloured trousers, and looking exceedingly pale.

His evidence was given very quietly - so quietly in fact that it sometimes failed to reach the jurymen.

He was a printer's machinist, he said, and it was eight years ago that he separated from the deceased. He last saw her alive about three years ago.

The Coroner:- "Have you heard of her lately?"

Witness:- "No, sir. I have not."

The Coroner:- "When was the last time that you heard from her?"

Witness:- "I have never heard from her at all."

The Coroner:- "You don't know what she was doing for the last three years?"

Witness:- "No, air, I don't."

A Juryman:- "It has been stated that you were summoned for her maintenance by the Lambeth Guardians, and that you refused to pay because she had been living with another man. Is that true?"

Witness:- "Yes, with another man, or men, I had her watched."

A Juryman:- "You don't know whether she lived with that man up till recently?"

Witness:- "I think not."

Mr. Horey [Foreman of the jury]:- "How long is that ago?"

Witness:- "It is about seven years ago since I was summoned."

Mr. Horey:- "Did she leave you, or did you leave her?"

Witness:- "She left me, as she had done on many occasions before."

Mr. Horey:- "Had she any cause for leaving?"

Witness:- "She left of her own free will."

A Juryman:- "Have you seen the body?"

Witness:- "I have, and I recognised it as the body of my wife by her missing teeth, and by the mark on the forehead which she had when a girl, and which was made larger when she was knocked down by a cab in Lambeth and was taken to St. Thomas's Hospital."

Mr. Horey:- "It has been said that she left you because you took up with a nurse some years ago."

Witness:- "No, sir, that is false. I have a certificate of my boy's birth two years after that."

Mr. Horey:- "You lived with her for twelve or thirteen years, and then parted?"

Witness:- "She left me on five or six different occasions."

Mr. Horey:- "The summoning job which has been spoken about did not refer to a blacksmith at Camberwell, did it? I mean that that was not the man she was living with then?"

Witness:- "No; it was another man.""

Source: East London Observer, Saturday, 8th September, 1888.