18 September 1888
From a correspondent
When nights and mornings begin to grow chill with the dews of September there are usually troops of homeless wanderers bivouacking by the Kentish waysides, ready to take up the work in which more or less remunerative labour may be found for all hands. This year, however, their customary haunts are comparatively deserted, and it would seem as if some subtle system of communication must have warned them against the fruitless errand from City dens to rural scenes, where casual labour is not in demand. Hop growing, in mid Kent at least, has been a failure this season; but instead of being overwhelmed by incursions of clamorous crowds, for whom no continuous work can be found, several of the more fortunate growers whose crops have not been rendered worthless by blight or mould, are unable to get all the labourers they want, though villagers in hundreds have shut up their cottages and betaken themselves to the hop gardens, attracted by the prospect of higher wages than other local industries afford. Fathers, mothers, and children can all earn something at this occupation, and as even the youngest members of these families are more expert than the poor vagabond who take to hop picking as a last resource, one might expect to see hosts of the latter wandering about from one blighted district to another in the vain search for employment. Such a failure as is indicated by the determination of many prominent growers to let their hop vines stand untouched rather then incur the expense of gathering an unprofitable crop, must mean that hundreds thrown out of their temporary employment by which they hope to stave off starvation in the winter months. Of this, however, there are no signs in the districts most frequented by these nomadic toilers, and there are fewer idlers to be found about the Kentish lanes now than in ordinary seasons, when an abundant harvest offers employment for all who are willing to toil. The clustering blossoms that have not yet been swept by winds that blight or wreathed in the cold mists that bring myriads of evils in their train are ripe for the gleaners' hands, and must be gathered quickly lest in a few hours the dreaded enemy should attack them; and thus where hop picking has begun at all it is being prosecuted with an energy that absorbs all the labour available.
A blight which shrivels up the blooms as if they had been scorched by fire leaves traces not to be mistaken by anybody; but none save an expert can estimate the evil wrought by more insidious agencies. A plot devastated by mould may seem as fair and green as the healthy plantation beside it, but a skilful grower could mark the difference, though he were led blindfolded between the vines. He would not need to touch the clusters or to test them by the keen sense of smell. His ear, made sensitive by long practice, would be a guide more infallible than the eyes of untrained observers. The wind playing among festoons of healthy catkins rustles every petal with a pleasant sound like its whisperings among the dry particles of ripe oats; but blossoms that are clammy with honey dew or powdered with the mould that rots them so speedily away to and fro with a dull motion in which there is no more music than seaweed makes as it drifts on a waveless tide. The presence of a more destructive foe, however, cannot be always detected by outward signs until his ravages have spread far and wide. There is nothing to indicate it but a pallor of leaf and flower, the hue of which becomes more sickly until it turns suddenly black, and a whole plantation may be withered in a day. In some hop gardens that had escaped blight and mould and honey dew there was promise of a yield abundant and of good quality until two days ago. then rime, closing resembling frost at night, cold, dense fogs during the early hours of morning, and scorching sunshine at noon did their work. Born of these conditions came the long winged fly, and following him the myriads of tiny insects that are known as lice. Taking one of the catkins which has lost the rich green of health without putting on the tawny hue of ripeness and turning back its petals one by one, we shall find these vermin devouring the aromatic yellow pollen of the flower, and depositing in place of it a poisonous mucous that blisters and blackens the whole surface. In other catkins are found scores of tiny red spiders whose bite seems death to the sensitive hop blossoms, and the larvae of other moths cut into their hearts. In several gardens of the Hadlow district none of these deadly foes were present a few days ago, and now their destructive work goes on more rapidly than the deftest fingers can pluck the blossoms. From the Medway valley about Maidstone and Farleigh, across the hills to Sittingbourne, throughout a district in which hop gardens are in ordinary years most fruitful, the ravages of diseases have so long preceded ripeness that there are hundreds of acres on which no blossoms are left worth the trouble and expense of gathering, while over the few miles of less fertile gardens round about Hadlow growers are working with feverish haste to get their crops in while there is yet time to save them from wholesale destruction. There hop picking had not fairly begun before Wednesday, and now at the close of the week few vines are left standing on any farm except where blight and mould have anticipated the harvest.
Of all enemies to be dreaded the last has this year proved most formidable. Whether it come clothes in white or red there is no possibility of resisting its insidious attacks. Taking form hold of the calyx, it creeps quickly from petal to petal, shrivelling them into shapeless masses that bear no resemblance to the full and healthy hop cone. When mould spreads extensively in a plantation the grower who values his reputation puts a cordon round the affected vines and forbids them to be picked. In other gardens equal care does not prevail, and the only anxiety is to strip the plants while there are enough healthy blossoms on them to hide the mould. It is no easy matter, for the aromatic quality of hop pollen grows more pungent with ripeness, and catkins that have been prematurely nipped by mould possess it not. This disease, however, ceases to spread when once the hops have been picked, and in process of drying a skilful manipulator will manage so to disguise all traces of it that only the most acutely sensitive taster can detect the presence of mould. Years ago a widespread failure of the hop crop meant enormous profits to the fortunate few who managed to secure the blossoms of their vines untainted, but foreign competition now sweeps that hope away. Except the prospects of a goodly corn harvest there is nothing to compensate Kentish farmers for a loss that cannot be counted by less than hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling. Over what area the ravages of diseases have extended it would be difficult to estimate. On some plantations injury is only partial, while on others scarcely a single vine seems to have been spared from contamination. In every district yet visited by me I have found some growers who, lamenting the havoc caused by blight and mould in other districts, were ready to declare that their own crops had been but lightly scathed. But I have noted at the same time that clusters ripe and ready for the picker still clung to the vines, and heard that wanderers in search of work had been directed to distant gardens because in this particular neighbourhood the patches worth gleaning would barely furnish occupation for the villagers. About Maidstone, Farleigh, Hunton, and thence across the Medway's tributaries to Paddock Wood, there is little attempt made to disguise the fact that gardens ordinarily prolific of the best hops will not pay the cost of picking. The poor outcasts who, in spite of all warnings come thither, in hope of finding employment, have gone on disconsolate to find what occupation they may in the cornfields. No great encampments or bivouacs of motley crowds are to be seen in the accustomed haunts. Only in some districts widely scattered are hop pickers busy at work from morning till night stripping fragrant clusters from the uprooted vines, and there the majority of workers are country folk. The only people who will make money this disastrous season are the merchants whose warehouses are stored with priceless pockets of hops that have not lost the fragrance imparted to them of summer skies.
The coroner's inquiry into the circumstances of the murder of Mrs. Nicholls, at Whitechapel, was resumed yesterday by Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, at the Working Lads' Institute, Whitechapel road. Further evidence was taken and a juryman expressed the opinion that the Home Secretary should have offered a reward. The inquest was adjourned until Saturday.
RESUMED INQUEST ON MRS. NICHOLLS
THE QUESTION OF A REWARD
Mr. Wynne E. Baxter (Coroner for South East Middlesex) yesterday resumed his inquest at the Working Lads' institute, Whitechapel road, into the circumstances attending the death of Mary Anne Nicholls, who was found murdered in Buck's row, Whitechapel, on the 31st ult.
Dr. Llewellyn said that after he had given his evidence on the previous occasion he visited the mortuary, and made a further examination of the body. He found a scar of old standing on the forehead. He did not believe that any portion of the body was missing.
Emma Green, of New cottage, Buck's row, said that she was a widow. She occupied the house next to that where the deceased was found. Her daughter and her two sons lived with her. On Thursday. 30th ult., she retired to bed about 11 o'clock. Her daughter went to bed at about the same time, but her sons previously. She slept well, and did not remember waking before the police knocked at the door. She would certainly have heard screams had there been any. They often heard noises during the night, and very rough people passed through the street. She did not believe there was a disorderly house in Buck's row.
Thomas Eade, a signalman on the East London railway, said that on the 8th inst., at about noon, he was in Cambridge Heath road. When in front of the Forester's Arms he saw a man walking along on the opposite side of the way. There was something peculiar in the man's appearance that attracted his attention. He caught sight of a large knife partly concealed in the man's trousers pocket. Three men stood by, and he called upon them to assist him in arresting this suspicious looking character. One of the men said he was willing to do so, but his two companions refused. The consequence was the man walked on unmolested. He saw that he had attracted the witness's attention and he hurried away, being soon lost to view. The man had not been arrested. He was about 5ft 8in high, and about 35 years of age. He had a dark moustache and dark whiskers. He wore a low peak cap, a short dark brown jacket, and a pair of light overalls over a pair of dark trousers. The man walked as though he had stiff knee. He was apparently a mechanic. The overalls were perfectly clean. He was a muscular or stout man.
Walter Purkiss said he lived at Essex Wharf, Buck's row, where he was manager. The wharf was nearly opposite the spot where the deceased was found. Only he and his wife slept in the front of the building, his children and the servant sleeping at the back. He went to bed on the night of the occurrence at about a quarter past eleven, his wife having retired previously. He was awake at various times during the night, but he did not think he was awake between 2 and 4. At the latter hour, he was called up by the police. His wife was awake when the police arrived, and she had been awake for about an hour previously. Neither he nor his wife heard any sounds during the night. He would certainly have heard a disturbance had any taken place.
Edward Mulshaw said he was a night watchman, employed by the Whitechapel District Board of Works. He was in Winthorpe (sic) street during the night of the 30th ult. He went on duty at a quarter to five in the afternoon, and remained there until five minutes to six on the following morning. He was watching some sewage works. Sometimes he dozed at his post, but he did not think he slept between three and four o'clock on this particular morning. He saw nobody about and heard no noise.
John Thain, police constable 96 J, said that on his beat he was not brought any closer to Buck's row than Brady street. He passed the end of Buck's row about every thirty minutes. Nothing occurred within his knowledge on the night in question until about 3.45 a.m., when he was signalled by a constable's lamp in Buck's row. He saw the deceased, and Police constable Neill sent him for the doctor. He searched the surrounding neighbourhood, including the railway lines, but found no traces of blood.
Robert Paul said he lived at 30 Forster street, Whitechapel. On the Friday he left home just before a quarter to four, and on passing up Buck's row he saw a man in the middle of the road, who drew his attention to the murdered woman. He and the man examined the body, and he felt sure he detected faint indications of breathing. the body was partly warm, though it was a chilly morning. He and the man discussed what was best to be done, and they decided that they ought to acquaint the first policeman they met with what they had discovered.
Robert Manns (an old man in workhouse uniform) said he was keeper of the Whitechapel mortuary. He received the body in the morning and left it in the mortuary. After having breakfast he returned and, with the assistance of a man named Hatfield, he undressed the body.
The Coroner - Oh, yes, and the inspector was present while this was done, was he not?
Witness - No; we two were alone.
The Coroner (in astonishment) - Surely you make a mistake. Think again.
The witness adhered to his statement, and after some further examination, the coroner remarked that Manns' evidence was quite unreliable. He was subject to fits, and apparently his memory was impaired. (It will be remembered that on a previous occasion that Inspector Helston deposed to being present while the body was being stripped).
James Hatfield, another old man, also in the workhouse uniform, said he assisted Manns to strip the body, and he described how this was done. They cut some of the clothes and tore others, to get them off. He and Manns were quite alone. The deceased did not have any stays on.
A juryman (indignantly) - Why when we in the yard you showed me the stays. You even put them on to show me how small they were. (Laughter.)
The witness said he had no recollection of such a thing, and the Coroner remarked that it was useless to examine this witness further, as he, too, evidently had an impaired memory.
Police Inspector Spratling said that after the body had been found he made various inquiries in the neighbourhood, though he did not call at all the houses in Buck's row.
The Coroner - Is there any further evidence?
Inspector Helston - No, sir.
The Coroner - Is any further evidence likely to transpire?
Inspector Helston - Not to my knowledge, sir.
The Coroner then asked the jury whether they would like to adjourn the inquiry on the chance of some further evidence being forthcoming.
A Juryman (warmly) - I want to say that we think the Home Secretary should have offered a reward. Several horrible murders have been committed, and the neighbourhood is in a state of great alarm. The fright has even made some persons ill, and yet Mr. Matthews offers no reward. If a reward had been offered after the first of these terrible outrages we think the monster would have been caught, and then the others never would have been committed. If the victims had been rich instead of poor, a large reward would have been offered.
The Coroner - I don't think you have any right to say that. I understand that the practice of offering rewards has been discontinued.
The Juryman - Then it ought to be revived. People say the money might get into undeserving hands; but what matter if it did? All we want is to capture the perpetrator of these horrible murders.
The Coroner - I agree with you that they are horrible, and in my opinion the first of the series, of which little notice was taken, was the most horrible of all.
After some further discussion the inquest was adjourned until next Saturday at two o'clock.
At Woolwich Police Court yesterday a labourer named Edward Quinn, aged 35, was placed in the dock before Mr. Fenwick, charged with being drunk at the police station. His face and hands were much bruised, and when charged he was much bloodstained. The magistrate was about disposing of the case briefly when the prisoner remarked that he had a complaint to make, and stated as follows: On Saturday I was at a bar down by the Arsenal at Woolwich, having a drink. I had stumbled over something in the street just before, and had cut my face, and knuckles, as you see, and I had bled a good lot. While at the bar a big tall man came in and stood beside me and looked at me. He got me in tow, and gave me some beer and tobacco, and then he said, "I mean to charge you with the Whitechapel murders." I thought it was a joke, and laughed, but he said he was serious, and pointed to the blood about me. I said, "Nonsense, is that all the clue you have got?" He then dropped the subject, and took me for a walk until we got to the police station, where he charged me with the Whitechapel murders.
Mr. Fenwick - Were you not drunk?
Quinn - Certainly not, sir.
Mr. Fenwick - You will be remanded until tomorrow.
Quinn - This is rather rough. I am dragged a mile to the station and locked up, and I am to wait another day with all this suspicion of murder hanging over my head.
Mr. Fenwick - I will take your own bail of £5 for your reappearance.
Quinn - I object to the whole thing. Me murder a woman! I couldn't murder a cat. (Laughter.) The prisoner was then released on his own recognisances.