|A Journal of the Whitechapel Society Article|
|This article originally appeared in The Journal of the Whitechapel Society. For more information, view our Journal of the Whitechapel Society page. Our thanks to the Whitechapel Society for permission to reprint this article.|
A review of a talk by the WS1888 editor Adrian Morris
A change of speaker and a change of venue, but the subject matter for tonight's talk was to be about a subject we know all too well, The Whitechapel murders. Or, one of the major suspects for being the murderer; Montague John Druitt. As our Master of Ceremonies, Philip Hutchinson would make clear as he announced the commencement of my talk, the basis of tonight's talk was to tackle the subject of Druitt's candidacy for being the Whitechapel murderer and why I no longer felt that Druitt deserved to be in the frame!
MONTAGUE JOHN DRUITT
It is well recorded elsewhere the details of Druitt's background; how he was born in the imposing Westfield House in Wimborne, Dorset in 1857 and how he was the second son of the eminent Wimborne surgeon, William Druitt and his wife, Ann. Montague was one of several children. As I would note later on, despite being the second son amongst many girls and an heir apparent brother, William jnr. Montague could have been considered by his family at least, if he had been born into Royalty, as the 'spare'. This assumption on my part will be illustrated later on as the details of Montague's death and familial legacy become clear.
A bright child, Montague showed immediate scholarly promise as a child by gaining a scholarship to Winchester public school. The young scholars of this public school, known collectively as Wykehamists, would have also been grounded in the sporting pursuits as Montague was to gain a lifelong interest in cricket as well as being a good all-round sports person in general. Winchester School was to produce another famous cricketer in the 20th century in the form of the controversial Douglas Jardine - the famous England captain during the 'Bodyline' series in Australia in the 1930s.
Montague eventually went to New College, Oxford University to do a degree in the Classics. He gained a rather lowly academic qualification of a B.A. degree, 3rd Class. This has prompted some commentators to claim that Montague was an uninspiring intellectual character, but it will not be lost on this author, or indeed the reader, that Montague was a devoted sportsman and a gifted orator. After all, Montague had been an effective member of the debating society at Oxford leaning towards state-based overviews of the international world which, rather obviously, favoured British Imperialism whilst particularly mistrusting German expansionism under Bismarck. His family had also been active in the local Conservative Party in Dorset. A relevant point later on when we consider Montague's legal career.
It would be interesting to note the rather peculiar - but by no means unheard of, means by which Montague had to fund his studies both at Oxford and then again for the law. He effectively had to borrow funds from his parents to be deduced - eventually, on the death of his father William Snr. This eventuality was to occur in 1885 when Montague was to receive the relatively small sum (considering the wider estate and who got what) of £500. It would often be the case in the Victorian period for wealthy parents to wholly fund the studies of their children. Montague's standing and role within the Druitt family may have some bearing on the later events that would surround his eventual suicide.
IS IT LEGAL? CASES TO ANSWER
The assumption concerning Druitt's legal career has always been a simple one. This assumption being that he effectively didn't have one. It was often described, (and still is by lazy researchers unaware that a full body of evidence disproving this assumption has existed in the public domain since 1994) that Druitt was 'a failed barrister'. I can prove otherwise. In fact, I can prove that Druitt had, by 1888, the makings of a very successful legal career which was no mean feat during the late Victorian period when no lesser commentator than George R. Simms would note that only one in ten of those called to the Bar actually made a living out of it. He would also note;
"…the life of men who have come enthusiastic to the law and have utterly failed would fill as many pages as are contained in a complete set of law reports."
Difficult times and when Druitt left Oxford in 1880 he would decide eventually on a career in that most precarious of professions - the law!
By 1882 Druitt would embark on the first major step in this chosen career by being admitted into the Inner Temple. By 1885 Druitt would become registered as a barrister and take Chambers at 9 King's Bench Walk. Significantly, Druitt would maintain these Chambers until his death in 1888 obviously as a result of the fact that he was developing a blossoming legal career.
It had always been assumed by later researchers - considering Druitt's healthy funds at the time of his death and that he still maintained his Chambers, that Druitt must have been earning some money from the law in a more indirect way such as taking work as a Special Pleader. This may have been the case, but research conducted by myself and others has uncovered Druitt's growing and successful legal career.
Research by Chris Scott shows that Druitt was already participating in complex civil actions as a junior to a more experienced barrister in a case of planning permission infringement under the Public Health Act 1875; Nankivell vs. The Bournemouth Commissioners in February 1888. In this action Druitt was junior to Mr. Bosanquet Q.C. So, Druitt had managed to begin to climb the legal ladder and actually started to work on building intricate legal cases in the often fraught civil courts.
Yet more evidence was also researched on Druitt's flourishing legal career by the researcher, D. S. Goffee. This time Druitt was engaged in an even more complex case concerning an electoral dispute in Christchurch, Dorset. Druitt had in fact been hired by his brother, William's firm of solicitors in Wimborne to fight a very tricky case on behalf of the local Conservative Party.
The dispute centred round a claim by the local Liberal party that a supplementary (Conservative) tenant in a house mainly occupied primarily by a (Liberal) tenant did not pay a sufficient amount (£100 per annum) towards the local rates to qualify to vote in elections. Such disputes were common in the 19th century ever since the 1832 Reform Bill based electoral rights on rate paying requirements. It wouldn't be until 1928 that full universal suffrage would eliminate such disputes.
The advocates for the Liberal Party in Christchurch had won the first hearing managing to strike the Conservative tenant off the electoral register. However, the Gladstone admiring, but Liberal Party hating Druitt managed to skilfully argue in the High Court in London before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Coleridge that the supplementary (Conservative) tenant did indeed pay the requisite amount of rates thus overturning the original ruling on appeal.
It was obvious that William Druitt Jnr. had employed Montague as a way of throwing business his brother's way and also because Montague was based in London. However, Montague proved his mettle in this long and tricky appeal. The case itself would last from 1st October to 22nd November 1888 - only a short period before Montague's eventual suicide!
Yet, a more pivotal court case that may have proven highly important in terms of Druitt's legal prowess and life and death decisions was researched by me in 1994. This case was to be conducted in the Old Bailey itself in September 1888 by Montague as sole leading counsel for the defence. The case in question was just as demanding on Montague's mental and professional resources as it was to be a case heard in the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) before the wily judge, Justice Charles. Montague was definitely up against it, for, whilst Montague was representing the defendant, the prosecution was being represented by the exceptional Charles Frederick Gill who would later find lasting fame in the infamous Moat House Murder case. As the writer Bill Beadle would note, not even the great Edward Marshall Hall got the better of Charles Gill!
Druitt's case at the Old Bailey was a malicious wounding case; Peter Black vs. Christopher Power. It took place during the month of September 1888 and would have involved Druitt compiling some very detailed information and constructing a complex plea of insanity on behalf of his client, Christopher Power who had attacked a former friend, Peter Black at Black's address in Canterbury Terrace in Kilburn. Druitt, whilst understanding a 'not guilty' plea as being practically untenable, nevertheless fought and got a verdict of guilty - but through diminished responsibility. Montague's skill as a barrister in a high profile case was obvious as The Times carried the case. So we can see that Druitt was far from being a failed barrister. In fact, as the writer and researcher Keith Skinner has often reminded me, Druitt was 'on his way up!'
Not only does this explain Druitt's funds and healthy income after his death; he left £1,300, it also shows that he was, as the writer Philip Sugden was to remark on discovering this research of mine, "continuing to function…" conducting serious and involved legal cases where he would have to be prepared and composed whilst conducting these cases, (the Black vs. Power case in particular), at a time when many Druittists felt he was out and about in Whitechapel killing unfortunates! I personally find the whole prospect of Montague John Druitt being the Whitechapel murderer a fading proposition.
HOW DID DRUITT BECOME A SUSPECT?
One of the contributing factors often used concerning Montague's candidacy for being the Whitechapel murderer is his suicide around the beginning of December 1888. The assumption being very much that his suicide occurred after the murder of, (what has always been assumed to be the Whitechapel murderer's final victim) Mary Kelly. This inclination by some writers to consistently look towards Druitt as a primary suspect was further heightened by the 1894 Macnaghten Memoranda complied by the then Assistant Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police. However, and with full knowledge that this memoranda was a serious and private aide memoir for the Home Secretary to fend off speculation in parliament over the current 'Fleet Street' suspect, Thomas Cutbush, this is still the main piece of suspicion against Druitt.
How serious we take Macnaghten's list that had Druitt at the top must be gauged by how other police officers - some of whom had participated in the Whitechapel murder case, evaluated the list. For instance, Chief Inspector Littlechild would question the seriousness of Druitt as the Whitechapel murderer by acknowledging another competing suspect. Other officers (Abberline and Sir Robert Anderson) would advocate other competing suspects as well.
Eventually we must conclude, as others have done before, that Macnaghten was merely taking a punt at his favourite suspect regardless of whether he believed it or not. As Robin Odell would brilliantly surmise, the police personnel who served on the Whitechapel murder case - especially the high ranking personnel - were the early Ripperologists theorising about this suspect or that. Nevertheless, this still leaves us with the stark but relevant question; Why did Druitt end up a suspect on Macnaghten's Memoranda and how did he end up there?
One must really follow on from serious, and probably, valid speculation by the author's of the 'Good Book' - The Jack the Ripper A-Z (Begg, Fido & Skinner). They postulate that Macnaghten's 'private information' could have been provided by a number of familial and acquaintance connections that linked Macnaghten to the Druitt family themselves via the Elton's, the Mayo's and Walter Ernest Boultbee, who was Private Secretary to Sir Charles Warren, amongst others. This may offer the route the 'private information' may have taken; but what about the validity of that information? Why would the circumstances that surrounded Druitt's death possibly link him to the Whitechapel murders?
We have seen above that mine and others' research has provided an unfathomable amount of evidence to show that Druitt's legal career was flowering by late 1888. The level of intense work this would have involved made it very unlikely that Druitt could have been the Whitechapel murderer. So why did Macnaghten feel Druitt to be 'sexually insane'?
Of course, theorists have speculated that Druitt, who had been sacked from his teaching job at George Valentine's private school just before his suicide for getting involved in "serious trouble", could have indulged in sexual offences against the pupils. This is a highly valid theory and one that in itself seems to answer the reason for his suicide. It is very true that in the period just after the passing of the infamous 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, homosexuality between males, which was a criminal act in Britain, could be seen by the unenlightened as a form of 'sexual madness'. How would that, however, translate to serial murder other than being misinterpreted by those concerned with Macnaghten's 'private information.'
An outside prospect for this notion of 'sexual insanity' could be Druitt's suicide. It had only been until the 1880s that suicides' estates in Britain were allowed to be retained by their family - previously the estates of suicides would be kept by the state. Rather tellingly, the only way around this was to claim that the suicide had been 'mentally ill'. The stigma was still around in 1888 and may explain William Druitt's covert and dismissive behaviour during the investigation of Montague's disappearance. I don't believe, as others insinuate, that William Druitt faked Montague's suicide note, but if he did it would have been for rigid, but understandable, reasons to protect the family from the shame of suicide whilst advancing the notion of Montague's suicide due to some form of mental illness.
For whatever reason and by whatever method Druitt's name eventually appeared on that famous memoranda, the validity of this memoranda has become radically weakened over the years. By 1929 the famous Irish M.P. and newspaper editor, T. P. O'Connor felt, whilst compiling his memoirs, that the theory of a drowned suspect, (T. P. O'Connor thought he could have been a horticulturalist!) was a flawed one. However, this and other evidence shows that the 'drowned suspect' theory was doing the rounds in Scotland Yard after 1888.
WHY DID DRUITT COMMIT SUICIDE?
A supplementary question when considering the discourse thus entered into so far, but by no means unimportant to the wider debate I think you will agree. If, as I have tried to show, Druitt was probably not the Whitechapel murderer, then why did he commit suicide in early December 1888?
Well, we have to look at a variety of potential causes. For instance, the termination of Druitt's employment at George Valentine's school may provide an answer.
George Valentine's school was a very well thought of establishment in Blackheath and, despite many claims, it was not a 'crammer'. It was, however, a sort of finishing school for older boys preparing for the professions; university and the army - basically, the Victorian elites. One wonders if Druitt would have indulged in sexual offences against boys of this age and status if he would have faced some sanction more than just being let go from the school with severance pay. Essentially, despite the relatively low pay, (£119 per annum; £12,000 today) a job such as this would have offered Druitt some serious status within the Blackheath bourgeoisie. A position and class he was both expected to be part of and to elevate himself upwards within. Valentine was a strong influence in the community and Druitt soon began to gain acceptance as he became a high-ranking member of the cricketing fraternity - even becoming a member of the elitist M.C.C. Druitt was employed at George Valentine's school from 1881 right up until his death. Something happened in the final months of 1888 to force Druitt out of this important and vital employment.
D. S. Goffee and WS1888 member, Ted Ball both suggested that Druitt could have been released from Valentine's school over his burgeoning legal career. The serious trouble could have been due to the often dim light employers such as Valentine cast on such extra curricular activity such as another competing career. This is a very serious argument if we look at it properly. Druitt was on an income that would have been just above the minimum wage today. This was common for this form of employment in Victorian times where status was the central element. However, Druitt was beginning to earn serious money if he was practising in the law. Of course it was by no means a strong regular income, but he was establishing a serious portfolio. When Druitt was pulled out of the Thames he had the equivalent of c.£7,000 in today's money* on his body. He had on his body a cheque - possibly for legal work - for the equivalent of £5,000 in today's money. When his estate was initially gathered it totalled £1,300 (£130,000 today). Druitt left no will so his estate went to probate and, as WS1888 member, Trevor Spinage researched, Druitt's estate was further increased to £2,600 2s (£260,000 today). Because Druitt's estate wasn't settled until 24th July 1891 he had posthumously been awarded a share of his mother's estate as his estate had not been settled by her death in 1890 and she too did not leave a will. Add to this also Druitt's share, that the writer, John Leighton noticed he would have got from the sale of some of the Druitt family paintings. Druitt did not die a poor man.
We can very well see that Druitt was rapidly gaining a sound income as his professional acumen was developing in the legal fraternity. This may explain his dismissal from Valentine's school. A loss of interest in the business of the school due to his legal work and a potential clash over this may have caused this dismissal. However, we must still allow for other competing explanations for his dismissal for 'serious trouble'. Sexual misconduct or metal dysfunction could explain both this dismissal and his eventual suicide.
Divorcing the issue of the circumstances of his dismissal from Valentine's school, we still have the reasons for Druitt's suicide. I will make a brusque rejection of the often voiced theory that Druitt was murdered. Probability seems to favour a voluntary suicide based on a weakened state of mind. This is a very common reason for suicide and I feel significantly justified in claiming that this was almost certainly the overwhelming case for Druitt's suicide.
I have reason to believe that Druitt's suicide was what is often referred to as an anomic suicide. The concept of the anomic suicide was first really noticed by the pioneering French sociologist, Emile Durkheim in his classic 1897 work, Le Suicide. Of course, one must recognise the reasons that an individual commits suicide are often tragic and intrinsic, however, Durkheim would recognise suicide as a social fact, that no individual is divorced from the social world and thus, the individual is affected by wider societal pressures. Therefore, anomic suicide would often affect those who are experiencing sudden and drastic downturns in their social fortunes, but, significantly for us, a sudden and drastic upturn in their social fortunes.
We have already seen that Druitt was trying to climb the status ladder within this strict and often constricting late Victorian society. He was limited by a tight income and, we can fairly assume, he was not the favourite child within the Druitt family as he was expected to make his own way at a time when wealthy parents would have routinely helped their children. Furthermore, Druitt's legal career, not only being a potential for friction with his employer George Valentine, would also have increased social pressures on him. The last criminal case he fought was the September 1888 malicious wounding case; Black vs. Power. A significant fact was Druitt's client in this case - Christopher Power, was eventually committed to an asylum. Druitt, who must have been under increasing pressure as he would eventually commit suicide in early December, would have seen the callow irony of this outcome. After all, his mother had been committed to Brooke Asylum in July 1888. There had been instances of suicide within the Druitt family for years. In fact, Druitt's suicide note refers to his mother's mental state saying, "Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother and the best thing is for me to die."
The suicide note could have eluded to the events surrounding Druitt's sacking from Valentine's school, but one gets the feeling that his eventual suicide was as a result of some long-term, (as Durkheim would have termed it), 'personal disequilibrium'. After all, prima facie, Druitt was no worse off financially by being sacked from Valentine's school. And if he had been the subject of some serious sexual misconduct - (still a possibility), then no action seems to have been instigated. The over-expectation by his social peers within a rigidly stratified, but highly competitive society, may have pushed Druitt to the limit. The quixotic nature of his suicide, an almost 'spur of the moment' affair before he could even be bothered to complete his financial affairs, seems to point to the emotional spikes that can seize a depressed person under extreme mental strain - whether that be organic or extrinsic - seems to be a better indicator for Druitt's suicide than guilt over a series of murders in the East End that it is probable he had no link to whatsoever.
In the modern vogue within serious Ripper research, I feel I may have, along with others, removed Druitt from the list of candidates for being the Whitechapel murder. Very much the diminishing case of Mr. Druitt.
* Although there are more direct calculations of what money was worth in the late Victorian times, I would be inclined to favour Jerry White's advocacy of one Victorian pound to £100 modern pounds as it better represents the buying power of these sums.
I am indebted to Trevor Spinage for some extra research he did on Druitt's financial affairs following on from my original talk.