By Alexander Chisholm
Statistics compiled for Joseph Loane's Sanitary Reports - more recently given wider currency in Bruce Paley's "…The Simple Truth" - provide a valuable corrective to the popular image of Whitechapel as a murderous abyss, typified by Jack the Ripper's autumn of terror. They clearly testify to a scarcity of murder in Whitechapel, and provide compelling support for Superintendent Arnold's belief that; "With the exception of the recent murders crime of a serious nature is not unusually heavy in the District." (MEPO 3/141 ff. 164-5) But closer examination of Loane's 1887 report reveals statistical subtleties masked by the now widely published and much quoted extracts. Subtleties which clearly show that Loane's findings do not, as is frequently assumed, confirm the total absence of murder in Whitechapel in 1887.
Joseph Loane, M.R.C.P. Ed., Dip. Public Health, Cambridge; Associate of the College of State Medicine; Member of the Sanitary Institute, was Medical Officer of Health, Instructor in Vaccination and Public Vaccinator for the Whitechapel Union. As such he was required to furnish a report for the Whitechapel District Board of Works' "Thirty-Second Annual Statement from Lady-Day 1887, to Lady-Day 1888."
With Lady-day being 25 March, this Statement would initially seem to cover the period including the Lipski murder, any Christmas-week murder, and Abraham Potzdamer's murder of his wife and subsequent suicide in Backchurch-lane on 1st February, 1888. However, Loane's report is dated February 21st, 1888, and entitled "Report for 1887" and so may reasonably not include Potzdamer. Batty St., the scene of Lipski's crime, although under the jurisdiction of H Division of the Metropolitan Police, was in the Parish of St. George's-in-the-East and so out with Loane's district. And the Christmas-week murder is now believed to have been the product of confused reporting following Nicholls' murder. The apparent absence of these from the statistics in Loane's calculations can therefore be readily explained.
In introducing his "Report for 1887" Loane briefly compares district birth and death rates to postulate: "The natural increase of births over deaths is 970" and "the Whitechapel death-rate for the year 1887 was 21.8 per 1000, which is the lowest rate ever recorded in the district." The bulk of the report, however, concentrates on an "Analysis of the Causes of Death of the 1602 Residents" in order to assess the local impact of various diseases and provide the Board of Works with comprehensive District mortality statistics. Central to this analysis are the statistics presented in Table M of Loane's report. And it is Table M which Bruce Paley reproduces to support the claim that "in 1887, the year before the Ripper murders, out of eighty recorded homicides in London, not a single one took place in Whitechapel." (Paley p. 70)
But while Table M, "Whitechapel Districts Deaths for 1887", certainly records 0 Homicides, it also presents a total of 1602 deaths. In contrast Table B, "Deaths Registered in the Whitechapel District during the year" - which simply records the number of deaths registered in Whitechapel's five sub-districts of Spitalfields; Mile End New Town (Whitechapel Infirmary); Whitechapel Church (London Hospital); Goodmans Fields, and Aldgate - presents a total of 2246 deaths. This apparent discrepancy is accounted for by the deduction, from the total 2246 deaths, of 755 non-residents whose deaths were registered in the district, and the addition of 111 residents whose deaths were registered out with the district. So the 1602 deaths in Table M do not amount to the total number of deaths in Whitechapel during 1887. They merely represent they demise of classified Whitechapel residents, whose deaths could "influence the District mortality statistics."
Although the vast majority of the classified non-resident 755, omitted from Table M, died in the London Hospital, (Whitechapel Church sub-district), even if every one had been foully done to death their demise would not have altered Loane's findings in the slightest. He would still have recorded 0 Homicides. This would not have resulted from any determined under-reporting of murder, but simply because the deaths of non-residents could have no bearing on District mortality statistics.
Similarly, of the 319 Coroner's Inquests held in Whitechapel during 1887 only 179 were held on district residents and so recorded among the statistics in Table M. This leaves 140 Whitechapel Coroners Inquests into the deaths of non-residents, which are not included in Table M, and for which Loane gives no indication of verdict or cause of death.
It may be worth noting here that had an Annie Millwood type attack and subsequent death of a classified resident occurred in Whitechapel during 1887 it would not have altered Loane's homicide figures. Even a Whitehall type torso would not increase the homicide statistics in any similar report for the dual reasons of lack of identity, and the fact that the coroner's jury could only return a verdict of "found dead." (DT 23 Oct.1888)
Similar statistically obscure inquest verdicts are referred to in one-time Chief Constable Frederick Porter Wensley's reminisces of "Forty Years of Scotland Yard." Wensley, a constable drafted into Whitechapel during the Ripper scare, comments that; "Murder was probably more common than the official statistics showed; for bodies of people, who it is likely had been knocked on the head, were frequently found in the streets, often near disreputable houses. Unless there was obvious evidence of foul play, the inquest verdicts were usually indefinite." (Wensley p. 14)
Whatever the impact of such imponderables, it remains clear that Loane's statistics do not confirm the absence of murder in Whitechapel during 1887. They simply state that no death of a Whitechapel resident was thus recorded. Further research to identify the precise criteria used to establish residency, and determine how this would relate to Whitechapel murder victims, needs to progress before any meaningful comparison can be drawn between Loane's statistics for 1887 and events in 1888.Sources
Unless otherwise stated all quotes taken from:
Report for 1887, by Joseph Loane, in "The Board of Works for the Whitechapel District's Thirty-Second Annual Statement", Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.
Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth, by Bruce Paley, Headline Books (1996)
MEPO 3/141, Public Records Office
Forty Years of Scotland Yard, by Frederick Porter Wensley, Garden City Publishing Co. New York (1931)
The Daily Telegraph 23 October 1888.
Lloyd's Weekly News 5 February 1888.