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Dave O 02-21-2009 07:51 AM

Macdonald's District: North East Middlesex
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I had this up once before but it was lost in the crash. This is a description of the North East Middlesex coroner's district, taken from an Order in Council dated 3 May 1888, as published in The London Gazette, 8 May 1888. I believe that Macdonald took office on 1 June that year. This incarnation of the district remained in effect until after Macdonald's death in 1894.

I like this one in particular since it's relevant to the question of who really should have held Mary Kelly's inquest. Kelly was killed in Spitalfields and her body transported to Shoreditch (Colin Roberts once wrote me that the mortuary itself was actually just inside the boundary of St. Matthew's Bethnal Green). Thanks again, Robert Linford, for pulling this and to Stephen Ryder for fixing the table for me!

Dave O 03-29-2010 07:49 AM

Fraud and the evolution of the police as coroner's officers
Old Bailey Online has an account of Thomas Hammond's 1892 trial and conviction for fraud against the County of London:

Hammond was found guilty of altering payment vouchers (amounts and signatures). He was one of three officers operating in Macdonald's district and was a figure in the Mary Kelly inquest.

Throughout the 19th century, there were consistent charges of fraud leveled at coroners, at times unfairly I think. Yet Hammond's case provides a justification for these complaints, and when the London County Council was created in 1889, addressing fraud was on their early agenda of consolidating coronial procedure in Metropolitan London, which had recently been spread over multiple counties.

But what's really interesting to me about Hammond's trial is that, with Macdonald and his deputy Alfred Hodgkinson testifying, it provides an inside look at how Macdonald's court operated. Macdonald talks about holding an average of twenty inquests a week, sometimes as many as "ten, twelve, or even more" inquests a day (far more inquests than could be covered in the press). It's clear that with this kind of workload, the coroner heavily relied upon his officers.

In London, this sort of thing ultimately led to Metropolitan police constables serving as officers in London, apparently on a rotating basis (I assume other counties began following the same practice at this time). I'm not sure exactly when this took effect in the 1890s, but by 1902, Macdonald's successor Dr. Wynn Westcott was writing: I arranged with the Commissioner of Police to give me always a choice of a succession of Police Officers to do the duties of the Coroner’s Officer, and this arrangement gives complete satisfaction to me, and the people in my District. (LMA/LCC/PC/COR/1/55, Dr Wynn Westcott to Alfred Spencer, 25 July 1902.)

Hope this is of interest to some of you.


Dave O 04-03-2010 02:23 AM

A Medical Witness Puzzle: Hannah Rees/Susannah Bees
I've noticed something interesting in Thomas Hammond's trial, linked in the post above. Going over discrepancies in the financial records, Macdonald refers to an inquest for "Hannah Rees", which was held on 17 June 1891. He cites paying a guinea to Dr. Phillips for performing a postmortem. There's no mention of an additional guinea for his testimony at this inquest--this leads me to think he didn't attend, and this would have been the point of Macdonald bringing him up, because the records had been altered to show that he had been paid for testifying. But of course I can't say without having read an account of the inquest. I should say that I'm assuming that this Dr. Phillips is Dr. George Bagster Phillips; this may not be the case.

When I think about possible non-attendance at an inquest and Dr. Phillips, I think of Mary Kelly. There we see that Macdonald hasn't informed Phillips to attend (Phillips has to ask whether he's wanted). I have always thought that, besides indicating to the jury that more medical evidence would be forthcoming, this bit of business between Macdonald and Phillips is an indication that Macdonald initially attended to adjourn the inquest for detailed medical evidence. After all, the cost of medical evidence, as insufficient as it was, had to have been the largest expense of the inquest (Phillips would have received two guineas), and it doesn't make sense that Macdonald would intend to hold the Kelly inquest in a single sitting without informing Phillips to come. Besides justifying the expense, without Phillips present, how could the cause of death in this case be determined?

So naturally when I saw this Hannah Rees case--an examination performed by Phillips but no testimony (apparently)--well, I wondered whether I had got things right. In other words, a look at Hannah Rees might shed some light on the Mary Kelly case. Then I noticed this:

The next witness in Hammond's case was a doctor practicing in Bow named Walter Barber. He cites several cases where he was paid one guinea for inquest testimony, but although there are signed vouchers indicating that he was also paid an additional guinea for performing an autopsy in each of the referenced cases, Barber testifies that he performed no postmortems and wasn't paid for any (Hammond has performed some financial surgery of his own). The last case Barber mentions took place on 17 June 1891, and the deceased was "Susannah Bees".

Same woman, but with a garbled name? Same case, with Barber testifying but Phillips, performing the postmortem, isn't there? If so, how come? I can't find a newspaper account either way, so I'm left with a lot of questions. Did the inquest take place in Bow, where Barber practiced? Bow was K division, I believe.

Does anyone have access to death registries for June 1891? Perhaps the name or (names) can be clarified, at least.


Debra A 04-03-2010 10:38 AM


Originally Posted by Dave O (Post 129307)
Does anyone have access to death registries for June 1891? Perhaps the name or (names) can be clarified, at least.


Hi Dave, interesting stuff.
According to the Morning Post Dec 23 1891 the name was 'Susannah Reeks' and checking deaths on free BMD there is this death registered which seems to fit;

Deaths Jun 1891
REEKS Susannah 38 Poplar 1c 441


Natalie Severn 04-03-2010 11:01 AM

Thanks Dave.Valuable finds.The way these things were conducted may have a lot more significance to the ripper case than at first thought.It may tie in with Phil"s bombshell regarding Dr Bond"s "unsigned ,unstamped" and therefore potentially bogus ,Inquest report on Mary Kelly.On the other hand it may reveal more strange anomolies in the usual ways in which these things were handled.

Dave O 04-03-2010 03:37 PM

Hi Debra and Natalie,

Many thanks for that, Debra. I'll look for Susannah Reeks.

I think the issue with the Mary Kelly inquest was the jury and not an attempt to withhold medical evidence.


Hunter 04-03-2010 06:35 PM


Originally Posted by Dave O (Post 129380)
I think the issue with the Mary Kelly inquest was the jury and not an attempt to withhold medical evidence.

Yes, indeed. Macdonald seemed to have a riot on his hands. He also may have been trying to make a point about efficiency, as opposed to Baxter's penchant for going beyond just determining cause of death.

Thank goodness for us, at least, that Baxter did that or we would have even less to study.

I've always wondered where Hutchinson might have fit in if the Kelly inquest had lasted several days. There would likely not be a debate about him.

Natalie Severn 04-03-2010 07:45 PM


Originally Posted by Dave O (Post 129380)
Hi Debra and Natalie,

Many thanks for that, Debra. I'll look for Susannah Reeks.

I think the issue with the Mary Kelly inquest was the jury and not an attempt to withhold medical evidence.


I have always thought there was a clear injustice in the way Mary Kelly"s Inquest was held, compared with the thorough way in which Baxter conducted his inquests .
The most disturbing part for me is that no reasonable time had been allowed for Mary"s next of kin to be traced.In fact they hadnt been able to trace a single relative on the two days allowed ie the Saturday and the Sunday. So the jury did not know who the murdered girl was or where she came from, or what her age was ---they had only the testimony of Joe Barnett , a man she had lived with and left after bitter rows were reported .The jury did not really know whether Mary Jane or rather "Marie Jaenette" Kelly were her real names.
Add to this the peculiarity over Dr Phillips not having been called,as was expected, to give his detailed Inquest report ,even though Dr Phillips had asked when he would be attending that Inquest to give this report! .
If we add to all this the very different interpretations of the crime scene evidence between the doctors Phillips and Bond , we have a confusing scenario, a confusing set of reports and an inquest that was all over and done with in a single day,two days after the most ghastly murder in the series had been committed with the ripper still very much at large!
Frightful really.

Hunter 04-03-2010 08:30 PM


I have a feeling that the Kelly situation, as far as the coroner was concerned, starting with the body being removed to the Shoreditch mortuary, was politically driven. Baxter seemed to be on the "outs" with some of the powers that be. Didn't help the JTR investigation but since when did professional politicians care about such tangible things. Dealing with political rivalries are more important to them.

We should remember that this was the first murder that Anderson actually took a personal hand in and the results were decidedly different than what was seen in the previous cases... for whatever reason.

Abberline may have retired in '92 more out of disgust with the cronyism going on than for any other reason; though he would state as such. An experienced, capable man such as he had probably gone as far up the ladder as he was going to go.

Dave O 04-03-2010 09:42 PM

Hi Hunter and Natalie,

Ironically, given the issue that a couple of jurors had with jurisdiction, what I think the Kelly inquest needed was even more jurymen. Macdonald has 14, which happens to be the number described as a good number in the second volume of The King's Coroner (1905). I think 14 must have been totally sufficient for most inquests. But the inquests we're interested in here were sensational events, and where most inquests only lasted for one session, the ones we're most familiar with were adjourned affairs--they're not the norm. If you look at the Double Event inquests, the press mentions 17 jurors at the Eddowes inquest, 24 at Stride (this must be an error, the range available to a coroner was between 12-23, but in any case Baxter has completely maxed out the Stride jury, apparently with some difficulty).

Why should Langham and Baxter have followed this procedure? The answer, of course, is to be able to adjourn safely and ensure a verdict. You must have 12 jurors to return a verdict. The adjourned inquest must convene at the time and place specified during the previous session. If it does not, the proceedings "drop", the inquest is over, and you have to start over again. It's true that the coroner has the ability to fine jurors who don't return, but that doesn't help your inquest any--you must find new jurors, who have to hear all the evidence. Witnesses already heard must return, new jurors must take their view of the corpse--which may or may not already be buried, so in some cases you're looking at an exhumation. Besides being a hassle, the ratepayers are going to be burdened with expenses that could have been avoided.

With Kelly, the jurisdiction is questioned--this is a different situation from what the other coroners faced. And of course, it's sensational, lots of public interest. 14 jurors, I don't think, is enough for Mary Kelly. I don't think it was safe to adjourn, given the questioning of jurisdiction.

Really, Spitalfields should be off in Baxter's South East district, because administratively speaking, it's actually part of Whitechapel. This would be remedied after Macdonald's death in 1894.

Hunter, I would disagree with you that Macdonald's holding of the Kelly inquest was politically driven. As Spitalfields, Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green are in Macdonald's district, at no time is Kelly's body in Baxter's district, and without the body, Baxter cannot hold an inquest (because he and the jury must view the body else the inquest isn't valid). It's not politics at work here, just geography and location of body. As Macdonald said, jurisdiction remains with the body, and this is right.

Kelly's case actually comes very close to presenting us with an interesting anomaly--that of the double inquest, and this is because of the misalignment of the North East district. They nearly shipped Kelly's body out of Shoreditch to Whitechapel, in order to throw the cost of burial on the ratepayers there. With the body in his district, Baxter prepared to hold his own inquest (which may have been a brief formality). It's Henry Wilton who averts the double inquest when he pays for Kelly's burial.

So again, as the body moves, a coroner's jurisdiction might shift. When you talk about the bodies that did cross coroner's districts, they seem to be moving from Macdonald's district into Baxter's: Nichols (Bethnal Green) and Chapman (Spitalfields), and in March 1889, Louisa Ellesden (Spitalfields, I believe--Ellesden actually did result in a double inquest).

Anyway, my lunch hour is over. Past over! I am going to get in trouble :)


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