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New Zealand Observer
New Zealand

8 December 1888

THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS

According to latest accounts from London, the police are still making extraordinary efforts to lay their hands upon the Whitechapel murderer and the whole of the East End swarms with policemen and detectives. And yet, despite all this vigilance, despite all the measures taken to render further murders impracticable, "Jack the Ripper" is still a free man, and doubtless only awaiting a favourable opportunity to recommence operations.

All sorts of theories have been advanced by the papers, home and colonial, to account for the murderer's object. Some of them are so absurd on the face of them as to be unworthy of a moment's serious consideration, but it seems to me the Pall Mall Gazette may not be very far out when it expresses the possibility of the murders being the work of a "scientific humanitarian."

After alluding to the foul slums of London, where, as a correspondent, "S.G.O.", pointed out "tens of thousands of our fellow creatures are begotten and reared in an atmosphere of godless brutality, a species of human sewage, the very drainage of the vilest productions of ordinary," the P.M.G. goes on to say that philanthropists have in vain called attention to these horrors, in vain endeavoured to ameliorate the condition of the poor wretches who are dragging out a miserable existence in the richest city in the world. Something had to be done, and right here steps in the "scientific humanitarian" who, determined to draw the attention of the world to the evil, "asks himself by what means a maximum effect could be produced with a minimum of expenditure in money and in life... There must be blood. That was indispensable. The warning must be printed in letters of gore. But mere bloodshed would not suffice. There must be more than murder. The public cannot be impressed with a mere commonplace killing. There must be mutilation." Having decided on this, the "scientific humanitarian" would naturally select as victims those whose lives were most worthless both to themselves and to the State, and whose habits in life afforded the most ghastly illustrations of the vicious horrors of the criminal's lair.

This is exactly what he seems to have done, the victims belonging to the class which of all others suffers the most hideous and tragic fate in the human lot. None of them found life worth living. All were drunken, vicious, miserable wretches, whom it was almost a charity to relieve of the penalty of existence. He took them to the very centre of the plague spots to the existence of which he was desirous of turning the public attention. There he seems to have killed them with the merciful painlessness of science, so that suffering was reduced to a minimum, and death came as a welcome release to the insupportable miseries of existence. After killing his victims he mutilated them, well knowing that a knife's slit in a corpse makes more impression on the vulgar mind than the greatest cruelties, moral or even physical, inflicted on the living. Then he seems to have waited to see if his action would have the desired effect. Finding his first essay unsuccessful in achieving his object, he repeated it, and again repeated it.

Not, however, until the fourth experiment did he succeed. The sluggish public is roused at last, and the Times and the Morning Post vie with each other in writing articles of almost unmitigated socialism. "We have to consider," says the Times, "how far our social organisation is responsible for the soil and atmosphere in which such crimes are produced." "S.G.O." cries, "At last!" and the Rev. S.A. Barnett exclaims, with a sigh, "Whitechapel horrors will not be in vain if at last the public conscience awakes to consider the life which these horrors reveal." What then is more reasonable than to suppose these horrors may have been produced in this scientific sensational way to awake the public conscience? If this should after all turn out to be the case, the defence of the scientific Sociologist at the Old Bailey will be a curiosity in the history of criminal trials, and may mark the beginning of the scientific era in social development?


Related pages:
  Sidney Godolphin Osborne
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 22 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 19 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 19 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Punch - 29 September 1888 
       Press Reports: St. James Budget - 22 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 18 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 6 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 18 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 19 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 6 October 1888