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Francis Thompson
by Richard Patterson

“Every Scope, by immoderate use, turns to restraint”
The motto of Francis Thompson

“I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled”
The motto of Jack the Ripper

The poet Francis Thompson was born on December the 18th, 1859 , in Preston Lancashire. He died in 1907 aged 48 in London. In the 1890’s he was involved with the Aesthetic art movement, a cricket enthuisast, Thompson’s most famous poem ‘The Hound of Heaven’ described the pursuit of a human soul by God.

In 1888, the publication of two of his poems in Wilfrid Meynell’s Roman Catholic perodical the ‘Merry England’, brought praise from the well known poet Robert Browning. Meynell, and his wife Alice, befriended Francis Thompson and were said to have induced him to enter a hospital for convalescence. In 1893, the Meynells arranged the publication of a collection, of his works called simply ‘Poems’. This collection was highly praised by other writers such as William Butler Yeats and G.K Chesterton. Thompson died of a tuberculosis-related illness in 1907.

The multiple murderer, destined to be known as Jack the Ripper, is believed to have struck in the early hours of August 31st, 1888 with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols in the district of Whitechapel, in the East End. By the 9th of November 1888 Jack the Ripper had killed five women, his last victim being that of Mary Kelly.

In all five murders the nearest landmark is Christ Church of Whitechapel. It was built in 1714 and completed in 1729. It still dominates the surrounding street-scape with its portico and spire.

In the middle ages, when the Roman Catholic Church dominated England, there were in existence areas of land, usually a church and surrounding sacred ground, known as sanctuaries. A sanctuary was a safe harbor for the accused.

Back then, if someone committed murder but reached a sanctuary then they could avoid arrest. It was reasoned that if a suspect was truly guilty then their fate was under the jurisdiction not of the sherrif, but of God. If a suspect could enter sacred ground without suffering a blight from heaven then it was reasoned that they must be innocent.

Only a few sanctuaries were in London. All of the five murders, by the hand of Jack the Ripper, took place within one of these sanctuaries. By 1888, most of the people living in the area had no knowledge of this.

The first murder, that of Ann Nichols, occurred on August 31st. In the Catholic calender of patron saints this date falls upon the feast day of St. Raymond. The patron saint of innocence.

This 13th century Cardinal was also the patron saint of MIdwives, childbirth, children, and pregnant women. Saint Raymund was a missionary who was imprisoned by Moselms in Algeria for attempting to convert the poor. His lips were pierced and his mouth was shut up with a padlock. The lock was only removed when he ate. After being freed Saint Raymund insisted in travelling as a peasant In which manner he died on his way to visit the Pope.

The second murder, of Annie Chapman, occured on September the 8th. This date falls on the feast day of Saint Adrian. This saint was an imperial officer who made himself a Christian before he was baptised. He was imprisoned for this and was then martyred by being thrown into a furnace. His wife kept his hand. Saint Adrian is the patron saint of Soldiers & Butchers. He lived in the East.

The night of the double murders, upon which Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed occured on September the 30th. This falls on the feast day of Saint Jerome. This saint was a scholar who settled in the eastern city of Bethlehem and was known for his short temper. He is the Patron saint of Doctors and Scholars. Saint Jerome translated the bible into a Latin work known as the ‘Vulgate’. Thompson would write upon its affects upon him in an essay on Saint Jerome. Thompson sometimes signed his name Francis Tancred. This was after an eastern crusading knight who captured Galailee in 1099 and set himself up as prince of Nazareth.

The last murder, that of Mary Kelly, occured on November the 9th. This fell on the feast day of Saint Theodore. This saint was a Roman soldier who, after setting fire to a temple, was tortured. In prison Saint Theodore saw visions and was martyred by being thrown into a furnace. He was known as one of the thre great “soldier saints” of the East. Said to have battled a dragon Saint Theodore is the Patron saint of Soldiers.

One possible motive for The Ripper to have killed these five women, and sent letters to the press, was that he thought that he had been chosen be God, and that he thought that he was the voice of God. Perhaps by killing these five women he would be inflicting five wounds upon society’s church, goverment, science,literature, and people.

Perhaps Jack the Ripper percieved himself as a ‘messiah’ who, by killing within a religious site in Londons east upon the feast days of martyred saints, could sin and be forgiven. These saints were all eastern crusaders, and parton saints of Innocence, Butchers, Soldiers, Doctors, and Scholars. The Ripper may have attempted to simulate the key concepts of the original crucifixtion. Perhaps by killing five percieved ‘sinners’ Jack the Ripper was attempting to project the five wounds of Christ’s crucifixion onto a stigmata of immediate social impact. And thus, as a crusading knight, Jack the Ripper could elect himself a key player in an apocalypse and be forgiven of his sins.

Francis Thompson was named after Saint Francis of Assisi, who in 1219 AD traveled with a crusading expedition to the East. In 1224 AD, Saint Francis was the first person to manifest the wounds of the stigmata, bleeding from locations corresponding with the wounds of the crucified Christ. Saint Francis, once a beggar, was, by his request, buried in a cemetary for criminals. The constant bleeding of Saint Francis’s stigmata took two years to kill him.

Thompson’s father was Dr. Charles Thompson and his mother was Mary Morton Thompson, both were Catholic converts. His mother had only recently converted to Catholicism. It had casued her Protestant family to disown her.

On December of 1868, When Thompson was nine years of age rioting between Catholics and Protestants occured in Ashton-under-Lyne, where he now lived. The riot entailed three days of continual fighting in which the army was called in. By the riot’s end 111 houses of the Catholic faithful had been burnt, the interior of the church of St. Anne’s was destroyed. The mob attempted to storm St. Mary’s but a gaurd was posted inside. For a month the entire clergy was oblidged to leave town. It is extremly likely that Thompson’s father would have been pressed to render services by treating the wounded in his own home. It was in this year that Francis Thompson first read the ‘Apocalypse’.

In 1870, when Thompson was eleven years old he entered the Catholic school of St. Cuthberts, Ushaw Colledge in Durnham. As was standard practise in such schools his classmates, to initiate Thompson, whipped him. In 1871, whilst still at Ushaw Colledge, Thompson, then an alter boy studying for the priest hood, unexpectedly seized another boys thurible. This was the device used to hold burning incense. Thompson spun it aound over his head causing the charcoal embers to be scattered, he had previously unhinged the lid.

In 1877 Thompson failed the priesthood. In the Autumn of 1878 Thompson entered his name on the Manchester Royal Infirmary registrar. The infirmary, in which he studied for the next six years as a surgeon, required that its students had a strong physique for the grueling workload. The study of anatomy, with dissection classes was a major part of study from the first semester.

In 1879 Francis Thompson fell ill with a lung infection, Thompson was medicated with laudanum. His mother gave him De’Quincey’s ‘Confessions of an opium eater’. Thompson became endeared to this writer, who also from Manchester, had died the year Thompson was born. De’Quincey published, in 1827, a work titled ‘Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts’. It was an instructive piece upon how a poet could commit murder.

In 1880, after suffering a complaint of the liver Thompson’s mother died, aged 58. It was the day after Francis Thompson’s 21st birthday.

In 1882 Thompson, now addicted to opium suffered a medical breakdown after twice failing his medical examinations. His poetry sent to publishers in secret were all rejected. By 1885 Francis Thompson had failed medical for the third time and after a heated argument with his father over the theft of opium, and possibly, his fathers plans was to soon have a second wife, Anne Richardson. On November the 8th 1885, the night of the argument with his father, Francis Thompson left home for London.

Between 1885 to 1888 Francis Thompson spent the majority of his time as a homeless vagrant living in the Docklands south of Whitechapel. Thompson tried his hands at a number of occupations. As well as a surgeon and a priest Thompson tried his hand at being a soldier but was dismissed for failing in drill. He also worked in a medical factory. This may have been where, apart from his years as a surgeon, Thompson may have procurred the disecting scapel which he claimed to have possessed when he wrote to the editor of the ‘Merry England’ in January of 1889 of his need to swap to a razor for shaving.

The first reports of a suspect in the Whitechapel murders gave the desription as someone owning a leather apron. Francis Thompson later claimed that he owned a leather apron during his homelessness during 1888. Thompson claimed , apart from a suicide attempt involving a ghost, that he fell in love with a prostitute. Even the name of this prostitute is still unknown. It was at the very time of the ripper murders that it is claimed Thompson took to the streets to find her. Previously to this Thompson had recieved indirect news of the publication of his poem ‘The Passion of Mary’ in the ‘Merry England’.

Thompson, still adicted to opium, which is known to produce hallucinations, sent amongst his writing to Alice and Wilfrid Meynell a poem titled ‘The Ballad of the Witch Babies’, never published, it conerned a lusty young knight who roams the midst laden darkness hunting down and disembowling women.

Thompson, who was predominately left handed, wrote a short story, in 1889, his only one. It was named ‘Finis Coronat Opus’ which is latin for the ‘End Crowning Work’. Thompson’s story concerned a young poet who sacrifices a women in a pagan temple. His motive is to gain inspiration for his poetry from the gates of hell and thus achieve fame. Within the story Thompson’s attention to the percieved thoughts of a man in a killing frenzy with a knife is recorded by Thompson to a fine degree. The story continues with the so called ‘hero’ smashing a crucyfix upon an alter after he becomes aware that the entity he has conjured envolopes reality and forces his suicide. Thompson most lauded poem ‘Sister Songs’ records a poets realisation of the birth of a female entity in a visionary trance.

In early 1889 Francis Thompson was sent to the Franciscan priory of our Lady of England. Women were not allowed to enter the guard dog, which attacked Thompson patrolled the grounds. Franciscan monks are still known their swearing to a vow of silence.

Francis Thompson was generaly despised by most of the Meynell children. Thompson’s father cut him from his will worth 1500 pounds. Thompson’s sister, Margaret Thompson changed her name, shifted to Canada and pretended no knowledge of Francis. Any letter he sent Margeret burnt. Margaret’s daughter, who was a nun in 1949 when her mother died said her mother thought Thompson a failure and a disgrace.

Mary Thompson, Francis’s other sister described her brother when she was a nun known Mother Austin. When asked to recall in 1937 Mother Austin told that his eyes were a dark grey with a shade of blue, full of intelligence and light. His hair was very dark brown, so dark as to appear almost black at first sight. His complextion was sallow rather than pale.

A friend of Francis Thompson’s for two years Sarath Kumar Ghosh told of Thompson being of medium height, but very slight frame, which made him taller. His cheeks were sunken giving prominence to a little grey beard that was pointed at the end. His clothing was frayed and he often wore a great ulster coat . Thompson was also noted for his habit of wearing neckties which he was known to adjust with his expression. Many theorists allow that the weapon used to strangle the Whitechapel women was a necktie.

Thompson died in 1907. He weighed only 32 kilograms. Many biographiers upon Thompson have questioned the circumstances of Thompson death and point towards an undiclosed autopsy. When Thompson was buried in Kensal Green cemetary in London no relative and only a dozen mourners attended. Thompson died when it seemed his reputation as a poet was at its height. Within three years a single poem, Thompson’s ‘The Hound of Heaven’ , had sold over 50,000 copies. The Meynell’s, who owned royalties recieved a small fortune. Thompson who considered himself a prophet and wrote of himself as being the Omen in his poem 'Sister Songs is marked by his grave with the words. 'Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven'.

Francis Thompson
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Related pages:
  Francis Thompson
       Message Boards: Francis Thompson 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Francis Thompson 
  Richard Patterson
       Press Reports: Evening News - 22 August 1888