|A Ripperologist Article|
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In February, 1891, just days before the murder of Frances Coles, there appeared a curious news item in several English newspapers to the effect that a West of England Member of Parliament had solved the case of Jack the Ripper. It appears that news of the Coles murder as well as fear of libel action silenced the story. The significance of this story cannot be overstated, however, as it appears to be the earliest sign of the finger of suspicion pointing in the direction of Montague John Druitt. Much speculation has existed concerning the identity of this Member of Parliament and whether he had ties to the Druitt family. At last his identity is known to us. He is Henry Richard Farquharson, Member of Partliament for West Dorset from 1885 until his death in 1895.
The 11 February 1891 edition of The Bristol Times and Mirror contains the following:
I give a curious story for what it is worth. There is a West of England member who in private declares that he has solved the mystery of 'Jack the Ripper.' His theory - and he repeats it with so much emphasis that it might almost be called his doctrine - is that 'Jack the Ripper' committed suicide on the night of his last murder. I can't give details, for fear of a libel action; but the story is so circumstantial that a good many people believe it. He states that a man with blood-stained clothes committed suicide on the night of the last murder, and he asserts that the man was the son of a surgeon, who suffered from homicidal mania. I do not know what the police think of the story, but I believe that before long a clean breast will be made, and that the accusation will be sifted thoroughly.(1)
The significance of this story is obvious: Jack the Ripper is identified as 'the son of a surgeon' who committed suicide.
Although the suicide date is wrong, this description still points to Montague Druitt and is the earliest known definite mention of such a suspect. Montague Druitt was the son of William Druitt, a prominent Dorset surgeon, and he committed suicide on 1 December 1888 or possibly within the following few days.
The same basic story also appeared in other newspapers. The detail that the suspect was the 'son of a surgeon' was, however, rather clumsily removed. The reason for its removal was probably the fear of libel action mentioned by the Bristol reporter, as this detail makes the suspect much more identifiable. On 11 February 1891, the Pall Mall Gazette reported:
There is a West of England member who in private (writes the London correspondent of the Nottingham Guardian) declares that he has solved the mystery of Jack the Ripper. His theory, and he repeats it with so much emphasis that it might be called his doctrine, is that Jack the Ripper committed suicide on the night of the last murder. I cannot give details, but the story is so circumstantial that a good many people believe it. He states that a man with bloodstained clothes committed suicide on the night of the last murder and he asserts that the man was the son of a father who suffered from homicidal mania. I do not know what the police think of the story, but I believe that before long a clean breast will be made and that the accusation will be sifted thoroughly.(2)
The obvious differences between the The Bristol Times and Mirror article and the Pall Mall Gazette article are that the wording 'fear of a libel action' and the description that the suspect was the son 'of a surgeon' are dropped. In the case of the latter modification, the change is a clumsy one. By substituting the word 'father' for 'surgeon', the editor or author has produced either a meaningless or an improbable sentence, depending upon who is meant to be suffering from 'homicidal mania.' If it is the killer who so suffered, as logic would dictate, then describing him as 'the son of a father' is meaningless as every male is obviously a 'son of a father.' The only alternative to this meaninglessness is that it was the father who suffered from homicidal mania. While this is not impossible, it does seem rather improbable and the punctuation of the sentence argues against it as well. Much more likely is that the editor, fearing libel action, wanted to hide the identity of the suspect and so clumsily removed the detail of him being the son of a surgeon. Other newspapers also carried the story. The Hull Daily Mail of 12 February contained the story exactly as reported by The Pall Mall Gazette quoted above. On 15 February, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper ran the same story with only this slight change in the first sentence: '. . . (wrote the London correspondent of the Nottingham Guardian a day or two ago). . . .'(3) In reporting on the Coles murder, The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 14 February contains the following:
It seems almost a queer irony but a few days ago Mr Montagu Williams was reassuring us with the account of an interview which seemed to indicate that the murders were over and still more recently a west of England member has, as mentioned a day or two since, been promulgating a theory that the 'Ripper' had committed suicide.(4)
It seems that the 'West of England MP' story then went quiet for more than a year. But on 26 February 1892, The Western Mail of Cardiff let slip the MP's identity in an article concerning a different suspect who was allegedly being tailed by Scotland Yard:
Mr. Farquharson, M.P. for West Dorset, was credited, I believe, some time since with evolving a remarkable theory of his own on the matter. He believed that the author of the outrages destroyed himself.(5)
Clearly, this is a reference to the story that had broken a year earlier and refers to the 'son of a surgeon' who committed suicide on the night of the last murder. The identity of the West of England member is finally known!
Henry Richard Farquharson, MP
Henry Richard Farquharson was born in 1857 at Brighton, Sussex, to Henry James Farquharson and his wife Fanny Marcia.(6) He was educated at Eton and at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1878, he married Constance Farquharson, daughter of James John Farquharson, who appears to have been a relative. They settled at his estate, Eastbury Park, at Tarrant Gunville, Dorset, about six miles from Blandford, and ten miles from the Druitt home at Wimborne Minster.(7)
Tragically, Farquharson died at sea on 17 April 1895 while returning from a visit to tea and cocoa plantations he owned in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).(8)
Immediately, we see two potential points of contact between Farquharson and Sir Melville Macnaghten: both were graduates of Eton and both owned or managed tea plantations in India or Ceylon. Farquharson, a Conservative, was elected to Parliament in 1885 at the inception of the West Dorset district and was re-elected in 1892. Out of the 1892 contest came a libel suit by his Gladstonian opponent, C T Gatty, in which Farquharson was assessed damages of £5,000, which were subsequently reduced by one-half.(9) Although this libel action occurred after Farquharson's Ripper theory hit the presses, it may be an indication that he was prone to libelous statements, hence the caution on the part of the reporters in the stories quoted above. Indeed, Farquharson appears to have been a quick-tempered man who acted, and presumably spoke, without thinking as the following comment from a Dorset history website illustrates: 'The two kennel lads were almost killed as well - not by the dogs but by Farquharson who had a remarkably quick temper.'(10)