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  #1  
Old 02-26-2013, 12:29 PM
Paul Slade Paul Slade is offline
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Default The Borough Mystery - Samuel Langham (coroner)

Four years after presiding as coroner at Catherine Eddowes' hearing, Samuel Langham handled another murder inquest - that of a Victorian doctor called William Kirwan. I've just written the case up on my website here. The story's bare bones are these:

The Borough Mystery: Dr William Kirwan
Dr William Kirwan, a Victorian doctor, was strangled to death as he wandered the slums of London's notorious Southwark borough. Kirwan turned up there in the small hours with an alcoholic street whore one October morning in 1892, seeming barely to know who he was. He'd left a Canning Town pub perfectly sober the previous night, but never made it home. We don’t know what happened to him during that missing night, but we do know it got him murdered just a few hours later.

Kirwan’s companion, Blanche Roberts, had been drunk for several days by the time she met him, but he allowed her to lead him round by the nose nonetheless. Many of the eyewitnesses who watched Kirwan stumble round Southwark that day assumed he was drunk too, but the autopsy ruled that out. The murder trial that followed was hotly reported in the press, which badged Kirwan’s story
The Borough Mystery to reflect everyone’s puzzlement at why a respectable professional man like him would take such insane risks.

PlanetSlade’s latest essay reconstructs Kirwan’s last day, looks at the gangland intimidation which saved his killers from the gallows, and asks what led Kirwan to Southwark in the first place. With the help of a modern-day London coroner and a family doctor, we also discuss what today's medicine can make of the surviving evidence, and offer some surprising conclusions.


Readers (and comments) are always welcome. Thank you.
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  #2  
Old 02-26-2013, 08:08 PM
Mayerling Mayerling is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Slade View Post
Four years after presiding as coroner at Catherine Eddowes' hearing, Samuel Langham handled another murder inquest - that of a Victorian doctor called William Kirwan. I've just written the case up on my website here. The story's bare bones are these:

The Borough Mystery: Dr William Kirwan
Dr William Kirwan, a Victorian doctor, was strangled to death as he wandered the slums of London's notorious Southwark borough. Kirwan turned up there in the small hours with an alcoholic street whore one October morning in 1892, seeming barely to know who he was. He'd left a Canning Town pub perfectly sober the previous night, but never made it home. We don’t know what happened to him during that missing night, but we do know it got him murdered just a few hours later.

Kirwan’s companion, Blanche Roberts, had been drunk for several days by the time she met him, but he allowed her to lead him round by the nose nonetheless. Many of the eyewitnesses who watched Kirwan stumble round Southwark that day assumed he was drunk too, but the autopsy ruled that out. The murder trial that followed was hotly reported in the press, which badged Kirwan’s story
The Borough Mystery to reflect everyone’s puzzlement at why a respectable professional man like him would take such insane risks.

PlanetSlade’s latest essay reconstructs Kirwan’s last day, looks at the gangland intimidation which saved his killers from the gallows, and asks what led Kirwan to Southwark in the first place. With the help of a modern-day London coroner and a family doctor, we also discuss what today's medicine can make of the surviving evidence, and offer some surprising conclusions.


Readers (and comments) are always welcome. Thank you.
Hi Paul,

I just read the article on William Kirwan's murder, and found it very well done. Interestingly, there was another mystery (from 1852, however) called by William Roughead, "The Secret of Ireland's Eye" which involved a suspect named William Kirwan. An artist, he took his wife out to "Ireland's Eye", a small island in the sea, and she died - he claimed by accidental drowning. He was tried for her murder but acquitted. This Kirwan would end up leaving Ireland for the United States. There is a legend that he came back to the area as an old man. Most people who study the case feel the jury was as perverse in freeing Kirwan there as that jury in the "Borough Mystery" in only finding manslaughter verdicts against the three killers.

I looked over the site, and was reading about Catnach and the criminal broadsides. The poetry is lamentable (and not for stirring up thoughts of grief and penetence - except for reading bad poetry). The illustrations are mostly bad (some are repeatedly used). I noted that the one about Dr. Palmer did have a likeness that looked like him. The opening of the one about John Tawell purposesly uses the word "quake" to titivate the reader into recalling that Tawell claimed to be a Quaker (he had been thrown out of the religion for his forgery charges in 1814). I also liked your quoting Jonathan Goodman's "Bloody Versicles" in your commentary. I have a copy of that book from Jon that he autographed.

I added the site to my "Favorites" List. Keep it up!

Jeff
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Old 02-26-2013, 09:18 PM
Paul Slade Paul Slade is offline
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Thanks, Jeff. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. I came across the other William Kirwan when I was researching my guy, but I don't know much more about him than that. I'll dig out the story and read it properly when I get the chance.

You're right when you say the gallows ballads sheets aren't likely to win any poetry prizes - or design prizes either, for that matter - but I think they have a certain rough charm nonetheless. I like to imagine Catnach and his mates knocking out the doggerel one minute, slapping down a stock illustration the next and then hurrying out to the scaffold to sell their wares with a bit of Del Boy patter.

The best of Catnach's writers, of course, was John Morgan. Providing you judge his verses as song lyrics rather than literary poetry, I think Morgan songs like Mary Arnold and his double-entendre masterpiece The Beautiful Muff still stand up pretty well today.
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  #4  
Old 02-26-2013, 11:05 PM
Cogidubnus Cogidubnus is offline
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Quote:
Four years after presiding as coroner at Catherine Eddowes' hearing, Samuel Langham handled another murder inquest - that of a Victorian doctor called William Kirwan. I've just written the case up on my website here. The story's bare bones are these:

The Borough Mystery: Dr William Kirwan
Dr William Kirwan, a Victorian doctor, was strangled to death as he wandered the slums of London's notorious Southwark borough. Kirwan turned up there in the small hours with an alcoholic street whore one October morning in 1892, seeming barely to know who he was. He'd left a Canning Town pub perfectly sober the previous night, but never made it home. We don’t know what happened to him during that missing night, but we do know it got him murdered just a few hours later.

Kirwan’s companion, Blanche Roberts, had been drunk for several days by the time she met him, but he allowed her to lead him round by the nose nonetheless. Many of the eyewitnesses who watched Kirwan stumble round Southwark that day assumed he was drunk too, but the autopsy ruled that out. The murder trial that followed was hotly reported in the press, which badged Kirwan’s story The Borough Mystery to reflect everyone’s puzzlement at why a respectable professional man like him would take such insane risks.

PlanetSlade’s latest essay reconstructs Kirwan’s last day, looks at the gangland intimidation which saved his killers from the gallows, and asks what led Kirwan to Southwark in the first place. With the help of a modern-day London coroner and a family doctor, we also discuss what today's medicine can make of the surviving evidence, and offer some surprising conclusions.

Readers (and comments) are always welcome. Thank you.
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What a fascinating case Paul...Thank you so much for posting details here

Every good wish

Dave
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  #5  
Old 02-27-2013, 01:51 PM
Lechmere Lechmere is offline
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Yes that was an interesting read.
The first pub Kirwan visited, the Aberfeldy, must have been the Aberfeldy in the eastern part of Poplar, just over the River Lee from Canning Town. It’s still there and don’t think there were any other Aberfeldys in the vicinity. I mention it as I used to go in there a lot in the mid 1980s.
I wouldn’t have expected to see a well dressed doctor in there then.
For Kirwan to comfortably drink in those areas he must have been lone of those people who are drawn to that lifestyle.
That explains his pub crawl the next morning.
Judging by his attire, my best guess is that Kirwan met Roberts and took her to a cheap hotel or lodging house. He sounds like one of those sad punters who gets sweet on the prostitute just because he has had sex with her and took her around with him like she was his girlfriend.
I would put it down to too much drink.
His pawning of his stuff all the time must have been to raise instant money for drink and women. Probably he usually went for more expensive ones than Roberts but that night it was late and he probably had the urge as he crossed the river.

Interestingly those terrible Southwark streets are quite close to where George ‘Toppy’ Hutchinson lived in the 1890s. He was used to living in some of the worst areas of London.
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Old 02-27-2013, 11:54 PM
Dave O Dave O is offline
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Hi Paul,

I enjoyed your article and website quite a bit. Thanks for posting here.

Best,
Dave
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Old 02-28-2013, 01:13 PM
Jon Guy Jon Guy is offline
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Fascinating article, Paul.

What a brutal story, and the swines blinded the young lads donkey. Pleased to see that people contributed to buy him another one.
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Old 03-01-2013, 01:30 AM
Lechmere Lechmere is offline
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I’ve checked out some of the details, and it is a bit odd.

Kirwan left his lodging at 212 Brixton Road, Stockwell (SW9 6AP) at 11 am and went to work in Plaistow (near Upton Park) rather than Canning Town.
The distance is about 10 miles.
Kirwan finished work before 5.30 pm and went to visit a colleague at 200 Barking Road (E6 3BB) and hung around, leaving finally supposedly to go home at 10.15 pm.
At 10.45 pm he walked into a pub called the Aberfeldy (E14 0QD) where he was a regular, which seems strange. It was miles from where he lived and not that near to where his colleagues worked on Barking Road. It cannot have been a very salubrious establishment. He was with an unknown stranger.

The current Aberfeldy is on the corner of Aberfeldy Street and Blair Street. In 1892 it was about 50 yards further south, on the corner of Aberfeldy Street and East India Dock Road (this was definitely the Aberfeldy involved in this case as its location on East India Dock Road is mentioned in the Old Bailey record.
The old terraced housing in this area was replaced, probably due to bomb damage, in the 1950s, by temporary prefabs and the pub rebuilt. The prefabs were used to re-house residents from the streets around Teviot Street, which is in the northern part of Poplar, going towards Bromley-By-Bow. This area had also been heavily bombed in the war.
The prefabs were supposed to last ten years, but were only demolished in the mid 1990s. New houses now surround the Aberfeldy and the original community which had remained intact from before the First World War was finally broken up and dispersed.
I suspect that these new houses will last less time than the prefabs.
Here is the Aberfeldy – yesterday – I happened to be passing!
Name:  aberfeldy 1.JPG
Views: 997
Size:  183.3 KB
Besides being a regular in the Aberfeldy, Kirwan also had a pawnbroker’s ticket from St Leonard’s Road which is further west in Poplar.

He left the Aberfeldy at 11.15 pm and was next seen in Southwark at 5.30 am.
The distance to where he was next seen (Newington Causeway) is 5.7 miles.
The distance from the Aberfeldy to his house was 7.6 miles. The route would take him down Borough High Street and Newington Causeway.
How did he get to Southwark at that time of night?
The construction of Tower Bridge had not been completed so he would have to have crossed the river via London Bridge.
If he intended to get back to Brixton Road then he was leaving it a bit late.
Kirwan was 42 but probably was ‘older’ than that. One of his assailants, Noble referred to him as ‘the old gentleman’, and another, Waller, described him as an ‘old toff’. I doubt he would have wanted to walk it
I doubt there would have been many cabs at that location and at that time of night. There wouldn’t be now for sure!
I doubt buses were running, nor trams – if they were installed at this time. The nearest station was probably Poplar and I think the trains went to Liverpool Street from there which meant a longish walk to London Bridge and anyway would the trains have been running?

This map shows the likely route from 200 Barking Road (A), passed the Aberfeldy (B) (I just realised I have misplaced this letter - it should be to the east of the A12), over London Bridge to the Borough, where he was killed (C). He never got home to 212 Brixton Road (D).
Name:  kirwan map 2.jpg
Views: 740
Size:  70.1 KB

Last edited by Lechmere : 03-01-2013 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 03-01-2013, 10:20 AM
Paul Slade Paul Slade is offline
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Thanks for the kind words, everyone. It's the odd pat on the back that motivates me to keep turning out the PlanetSlade stuff, so it's much appreciated.

Special thanks to you, Lechmere, as your own research has added a lot of useful detail to my own (rather broad) descriptions of relative locations in West London. Canning Town, Plaistow and Poplar are all right next-door to one another, but I probably should have been more precise in spelling out just where one ends and the next begins.

Your reference to Kirwan working in Plaistow that day is new information to me, and I'd be really interested to know more about that. I see the current Plaistow Hospital is placed between Upton Park tube and Barking Road, so would that have been the site?
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Old 06-03-2013, 11:34 AM
Paul Slade Paul Slade is offline
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I just chanced across a reference to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Reigate Squire, which features a murder victim called ... William Kirwan.

In this case, Kirwan is not a doctor, but a Surrey coachman, killed by his employers after an attempt to blackmail them. There's no resemblance between the plot of the story and the real Kirwan's death, but the timing is interesting.

Our William Kirwan was murdered in October 1892, and his killers brought to trial that November, so all the newspaper coverage was concentrated into those two months. Reigate Squire first appeared in the June 1893 issue of The Strand magazine, which suggests Conan Doyle may well of been working on it - or at least planning it out - as the real Kirwan's murder was dominating the headlines.

This could just be a coincidence, of course, but the timing's so neat it suggests another explanation. Casting about for a name to give the victim in his latest Holmes story, Conan Doyle picks up the morning newspaper and decides to borrow the name of a real murder victim whose colourful case is all over the news. As a crime writer, Conan Doyle would surely have been intrigued by the real Kirwan's behaviour, so perhaps this was his own little tribute to the case's fascination?
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