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Donald Sutherland Swanson

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  • Donald Sutherland Swanson

    A selection of photographs and transcriptions from Donald Sutherland Swanson's career-spanning file at the National Archives in Kew (the collection formerly known as the Public Records Office).

    I have struggled to get the images to show in the post, so for the minute I have simply put links to them on flickr, I hope people who are interested will take the time to follow the links; anyone with any better knowledge of these things than me please feel free to either pm me with instructions or, if a mod feels like it, to fix the post yourself.

    Swanson's letter of application to the Metropolitan Police, dated March 10th 1868. Addressed from Catherine Court, Seething Lane. (image is the 2nd page).

    'I beg respectfully to offer myself for the vacancy in your establishment as advertised in the Daily Telegraph of today. I am now and have been for several months clerk at the above address, but unfortunately for me my employer will give up business in a few weeks. Should you kindly grant me an interview, I shall be happy to furnish you with most unexceptional references as to character, education and ability; I am 19 years of age and do not so much desire a large salary as a good opening on a moderate one'

    Reference written on the back of the same page, from Swanson's employer at Catherine Court, whose name I simply cannot make out - the closest I can do is Merkle Eser? - reads 'I have every confidence in recommending M Swanson to any situation where intelligence, activity, honesty and steadiness will be appreciated'

    Swanson's own address is given on the letter as 39 King St., Regent St (which I assume should read Kingly Street).

    I have no intention to wade into the whole Marginalia debate on this thread, but to me at least Swanson's signature as visible on this letter does seem to resemble the 'DSS' of the annotation. And there I leave it!

    Swanson's 'letter of recommendation', dated 8th April 1868, signed by two acquaintances of Swanson's from Thurso, presumably neighbours and family acquintances - George Gunn and James McLeod, who both state Swanson was known to them between 1862-1867; Gunn gives no address further than Thurso, Caithness; McLeod gives his as King St, Thurso, Caithness.

    They are signing that Swanson is, among other things, 'Sober, Honest and of Good Temper, and that his connections and associations are reliable'. No pressure then! Swanson's complexion, for those interested in such things, is recorded as Dark, his hair Dark Brown and his eyes as Hazel. No mention of a moustache yet!

    Swanson's Constable's contract, dated 31 March 1868. He would receive his pay every Wednesday, and in addition would receive 40lbs of coal per week if married, or 20lbs per week in summer and 40lbs per week in winter if single (as Swanson was). His uniform for his first year consisted of one Great Coat, one Dress Tunic (a military style jacket), one Cape, two pairs of Trousers, two pairs of Boots, one Helmet, 1 Stock (truncheon) and one Armlet (an identifying band worn around the arm, the precursor of the modern epaulette); in his second year he would have gained an extra Tunic, two extra pairs of Trousers, 2 more pairs of Boots and an additional Helmet. Also includes the detail that he was required to give his Constable's job his full attention, meaning that he could not do any other work (understandably enough); for the same reason, were he married, 'nor shall his wife be permitted to keep a shop'(!)

    Attached to Swanson's Constable's Contract - at least now, although the binding in this case appears contemporary, is a covering slip giving details including his warrant number - 50282 - and his date of joining - 27th April 1868. This now rather scraggy-looking slip followed Swanson around for his entire career, as can be seen from the numerous crossings out as he moved through divisions, beginning in 'A' division (Westminster); it would have already looked quite dogeared by the time 'Chief Supt' was scrawled across the top right hand corner. Along the bottom is a list of Swanson's early transfers and dates (such as joining Y division - Holborn - on 9th September 1970, and then on to K division - West Ham - on 12th December, 1871) but this level of exactitude seems to have been allowed to lapse shortly after, perhaps due simply to lack of space. His promotions are shown by the numerous crossings out in the 'class' category, top right corner, which is now virtually unreadable.

    'Medical History of Swanson Donald S'; 5 feet 8 inches tall, weight and other measurements unspecified. Swanson's age is now given as 20, having celebrated that birthday since his application, and his 'former trade' is given as school master - presumably this was actually the occupation of his former employer at Catherine Court, and Swanson was actually Clerk to the School Master, unless it predates that employment, but that would make him a very young school master indeed. The confusion appears to be that of whomever filled in the form, rather than Swanson's own, as he has already given his occupation as Clerk in his application; it is also recorded as such on the Form of Recommendation above.

    A career-spanning document listing 'Commendations' gained by Swanson, running to three pages with entries from 1877 - 1903, the year of his retirement (2 pages shown here). Includes honourable mentions for ' prosecuting an enquiry respecting some stolen boxes' (1877), for which he received 2, and being 'highly commended by the Director of Public Prosecutions in connection with the arrest of a number of persons charged with offences under the foreign enlistment act' (1896). This last entry reveals that even at this point (by which time he was a Superintendent) he was involved directly in the 'interviewing of suspects'. Also references to 'matters touching on national security' in 1897, no more details here forthcoming - this could of course refer to any number of operations, perhaps involving Irish Republicanism, for example, but I do wonder whether it relates to his work on male prostitution, and the 'national security' line is more a euphemism for 'national embarassment'.

    Page 2 of the same.

    And on the flipside - Swanson's disciplinary record. Entries include a fine in 1868 for being 'absent from the section around 25 minutes after roll call...and in plain clothes without leave'; lack of punctuality appears to have been something of a recurring theme during the early years of Swanson's career, as he was again fined on the 20th April 1870 for being 'late for roll call' and 'climbing over the railings of the section avoid detection' (for which he was fined 2 shillings and cautioned). On a slightly different note he was also cautioned in April 1869 for 'receiving a shilling from a prisoner while in payment for procuring him bail, contrary to police regulations'. Somewhat obscurely this is detailed as being 'partly explained, he refused the money', perhaps meaning he eventually returned it to the prisoner, whether before or after his superior's intervention is unclear.

    Another view of the same.

    The famous 'comparison' of the witness statements in the Chapman, Stride and Eddowes murders. The descriptions are well-known and I will not transcribe them here.

    Another view of the same.

    A complaint letter against Swanson, reads 'Sir How Dare Swanson in presence of Moore another Det[ective] I suppose tell me he would kick me with his foot - I Want and Demand A [sic.] Immediate Answer Or Else the The [sic.] Same Scene Every Day, Yours Respectfully, William Billings c/o Mr Jones, Scotch Lane, Whitefriars Street, Fleet St' (July 1890). Various words have been crudely underlined and some, such as 'respectfully' and the writer's surname, Billings, appear to have been crossed out, although they remain readable; or this may simply be overzealous underlining.

    Pages 2 and 3 of the same.

    The record of the official investigation into Billings' complaint, given no. C11496. Summarises the letter's allegations - 'Complains of Swanson for threatening to kick writer' (presumably the investigating official didn't feel the need to add 'with his feet'!), dated 16th July 1890; the complaint was referred on to Executive Branch on the following day, where it's receipt was acknowledged on the 22nd July, passed on further to the Candidates Department (perhaps a reference to already then planned further promotion) on the same date. Finally signed off on the 28th July, with a note, added by a 'R Anderson' (Robert presumably) thus: 'submit Wm. Billings is the...informant in the "[indecipherable] Row" Case'. Intriguing.

    At the end of Swanson's career record, notification of his retirement, on a pension of 280 a year, 30th June, 1903. Signed off by Melville McNaghten (signature visible middle of right hand column). 'Employed on ordinary duty' for the period of his notice, which as we will see seems to have been a week:

    The final entry in Swanson's file, at the end of his notice period, 7th July1903, his warrant card surrendered and his 'certificate' endorsed as 'exemplary', signed off by Swanson the following day.

    I hope this gives a few others a bit of a fuller picture of one of the figures involved in the Whitechapel investigation, as it has for me, along with cameos for McNaghten and Anderson. There is further digging to be done here, and I fully intend to do it as and when I get the time - I am particularly eager to get hold of the Daily Telegraph advertisement, as well as to make a bit more sense of the whole Billings incident, and the relevance of this 'Row' case. Will post if and when I find anything new.
    Last edited by tnb; 11-20-2009, 04:30 PM.

  • #2
    Tnb writes:

    "Will post if and when I find anything new."

    I should hope so! Meanwhile, thanks for this!

    The best,


    • #3
      I have put together a page on Swanson in the wiki section of the site:

      I hope it is reasonably complete now, though of course there's always more information that can be added. I should say that I found the excerpts posted above by tnb very helpful in writing the page. Note that it relates only to Swanson personally - the Marginalia are not covered.

      Some of the biographical information was new to me - for example, I didn't know that there was another Donald Swanson, also from Thurso and presumably a relation of some kind, who was an Inspector in A Division when DSS joined the force in 1868.

      I hadn't heard the story of Swanson's terrifying encounter with a sea serpent in 1881 either...