A CAST OF THOUSANDS
BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
Mary Jane Kelly supposedly came to London about 1884 and lodged at a succession of addresses until meeting up with Joseph Barnett in the spring of 1887. Some of the persons with whom she lodged have been allegedly identified. As well as Mrs. Buki (q.v.) another women who gave her name as Mrs. Carthy came forward and spoke to the press, telling them that Kelly had lodged with her in a road called Breezer's Hill after lodging with Mrs. Buki.
Mrs. Carthy claimed that Kelly left her in late 1886 and went to live with a man who had some connection with the building trade. (See Joseph Flemming.) If this chronology is correct, then Kelly cannot have lived with this man for more than a few months, as at her inquest Barnett testified that he had known her for 18 months (i.e. from about May 1887), and that he and Kelly moved in together within days of becoming acquainted.
Breezer's Hill was a short connecting road that ran south from what had been the western end of the Ratcliff Highway, but in 1894 was known as George Street, and later as St. George's Street. (c.f. Mrs. Buki.) Breezer's Hill ran south from George Street into Pennington Street. This area lay just on the northern edge of the London Docks.
In the 1891 census return for Breezer's Hill there is no Mrs. Carthy, but there was a married couple by the name of McCarthy listed who took in boarders who, unusually, are specifically described in the 1891 data as prostitutes. The name McCarthy was a common one in the area at the time. Indeed, a John McCarthy was Kelly's last landlord at Miller's Court and there has been much speculation about the role he played and the nature of his relationship with Kelly.
In press reports his name is usually rendered as McCarthy or M'Carthy, but there are certainly instances where his name is given as John Carthy. Whether there was any family connection between the McCarthys who lived at Breezer's Hill and John McCarthy of Dorset Street is unknown. It has been speculated that the relationship between John McCarthy and Kelly went further than a simple landlord and tenant one. This is not to imply any sexual impropriety but it may be that Kelly was known to McCarthy before she moved in or was known to family members of his. Two features are of interest in this connection:
1) Although John McCarthy denied any knowledge of prostitution among the residents of Miller's Court, the collective testimony of those who lived in the houses there and those who visited them imply that they were almost certainly engaged in at least casual if not habitual prostitution. As the premises of Miller's Court were literally on McCarthy's doorstep, it is difficult to believe that he did not know or at least suspect what was going on. If McCarthy was related to the family of the same name in Breezer's Hill, who in 1891 were demonstrably offering lodgings to prostitutes, this may not be a coincidence.
2) At the inquest, John McCarthy stated that Barnett and Kelly had rented the room from him for ten months (i.e. since January 1888.) Barnett himself said they had lived there for "eight months or longer," since at least March 1888. McCarthy stated that the weekly rent for the room was 4s 6d which is in modern UK money 22.5 pence. We know from many sources that the usual nightly charge for a single bed in Whitechapel at this time was 4d per might which works out as 2s 4d per week.
So McCarthy was charging just over double the cost of living in a common lodging house renting a bed nightly. But McCarthy also said at the inquest that Barnett and Kelly were 29s (£1 9s) in arrears. Now this amount is not divisible by 4s 6d, the weekly rent, so an odd amount must have been paid the last week Barnett and Kelly gave him rent. In fact we can be even more precise. 29s, the amount outstanding at the time of Kelly's death was equivalent to 348 pence. The weekly rent, 4s 6d, was 54 pence. So an elementary division tells us that Barnett and Kelly owed 6 weeks and 3 days rent. This allows us to work out that the last day McCarthy was paid any rent was on the 24th September 1888. The question that arises from this is why would McCarthy allow tenants who had rented from him for less than a year to amass arrears for over 6 weeks? If Kelly had previously lodged with persons known to, or even related to McCarthy, then that might account for him seeming leniency. However, it must be stressed, any link between the family from Breezer's Hill and Kelly's landlord is purely speculative.
Now for details of the family from Breezer's Hill as listed in the 1891 census.
1 Breezer's Hill 1891
John McCarthy aged 36 born Whitechapel
Mary McCarthy aged 29 born Shoreditch
Ellen Forbes - aged 28 born Glasgow, Scotland
Unfortunate (crossed out)
Abey Marah aged 36 born Whitechapel
Unfortunate (crossed out)
Emma Britton aged 29 born Bristol
Unfortunate (crossed out)
Ellen Fallon aged 8 born St George in the East
William Fenely (?) aged 40 born Bristol
"Unfortunate" was, of course, a common Victorian euphemism for a prostitute and although in each case the description has been crossed through these entries are clearly legible. The status and parentage of the 8-year-old girl listed, as living there is not made clear. She may be the offspring of one of the boarders or of a previous tenant. The presence of the visitor, a seaman from Bristol, might indicate that the house was actually being used as a brothel catering to seamen from the nearby London Docks.
There is an odd footnote to the tale of Mrs. Carthy. The press account below, concerning Kelly and her past, is from The Thanet Advertiser (Kent, UK) and is dated 17th November, 1888:
"The antecedents of the victim have been variously stated, but as far as can be ascertained from statements made by persons with whom she lodged, and companions in whose company she usually spent the evenings when residing in the locality in which she was murdered, there is little doubt that she came to London from Cardiff some five or six years ago, leaving in that town those friends whom she has afterwards described as being "well to do people."
She is stated to have been an excellent scholar and an artist of no mean degree. It would appear that on her arrival in London she made the acquaintance of a French woman residing in the neighbourhood of Knightsbridge, who, she informed her friends, led her to pursue the degraded life which has now culminated in her untimely end.
She made no secret of the fact that while she was with the woman she drove about in a carriage and made several journeys to the French capital and in fact led a life, which is described as that "of a lady." By some means, however, she suddenly drifted into the East End. Here fortune failed her, and a career which stands out in bold and sad contrast to her earlier experience was commenced. Her experience of the East End appears to have begun with a woman who resided in one of the thoroughfares off Ratcliff Highway, now known as St. George's Street.
This person appears to have received Kelly direct from her West End home, for she had not been very long with her when, it is stated, both women went to the French "lady's" residence and demanded her box which contained numerous dresses of a costly description. Kelly at last indulged in intoxicants, it is stated, to an extent which made her an unwelcome friend. From St. George's street she went to lodge with Mrs. Carthy at Breezer's Hill, Pennington street. This place she left about eighteen months or two years ago, and from that time seems to have left Ratcliff altogether, and taken up quarters in Dorset street. No one appears to have known anything definitely about her after she arrived at Commercial street.
The unfortunate victim is described as being a woman about 25 years of age, 5ft 7in in height, rather stout, with blue eyes, fair complexion, and a very good head of hair. She had two false teeth in her upper jaw.
Mrs. Carthy states that the deceased when she left her place went to live with a man in the building trade, and who she (Mrs. Carthy) believed would have married her. She, however, was awakened by Kelly some short time ago at two o'clock in the morning, when she was with a strange man, and asked for a bed for the night. On that occasion Mrs. Carthy asked the deceased if she was not living with the man who took her from the neighbourhood. She replied in the negative, and explained her position. From this time she was never seen in the neighbourhood."
Two obvious questions arise from this. Who was the strange man with Kelly when she turned up at Mrs. Carthy's in the early hours of the morning? And, how long ago was "some short time ago" before Kelly was murdered? Both currently unanswerable, both fascinating.