John Williams (who would later go on to become Sir John Williams) was born on the 6th of November, 1840, in Carmarthenshire. His father died when he was only 2, leaving Williams to be brought up by his mother, a strong matriarcial figure who continued to work the farm on which they lived on her own.
John was prepared for a career in the Church, but took an interest in science, attending the University of Glasgow in 1857 to study mathematics. In 1859 he was apprenticed to surgeons and apothecaries in Swansea before attending University College Hospital London in 1861 to study medicine.
Williams was clearly quite the student, gaining his MRCS, MB and MD in addition to winning a gold medal for pathology before establishing a general practice in Swansea. In 1872 he married Mary Elisabeth Ann Hughes.
In the same year he was appointed assistant obstetric physician at University College Hospital and went on to have an extremely successfull career in London, becoming wellknown as a doctor, surgeon and teacher. In 1886 he was made a court physician and in 1894 he was made a baronet.
Aside from his surgery, Sir John Williams is probably best known for his love of Welsh culture and literature, being a great collector of Welsh books. In 1903, after retiring from London practice and moving back to Wales, Sir John made arrangements to donate over 25,000 books from his personal collection to the National Library of Wales - becoming one of the foundation collections. In 1924 a gigantic marble statue of Sir John was donated to the National Library of Wales. A marble bust of him occupies the entrance hall and an oil painting hangs outside of the council chamber.
Sir John was first suggested as a possible Ripper suspect in 2005 by Tony Williams (an actual relative) in his book "Uncle Jack". His theory is that Williams, in an attempt to find a cure for his wife's apparent infertility, stalked Whitechapel looking for women of a similar age whom he may have been familiar with from his clinic in Whitechapel (where he was an obstetrician), killed them, removed their uteri which he took back to the hospital to study. Williams goes on to suggest that Mary Kelly was John Williams' lover (uncovering some evidence that he may have known *A* Mary Kelly that may or may not have been the Mary Kelly killed by the Ripper) but isn't quite clear on why he killed her. Maybe she knew what he was up to and could identify him, or perhaps it was simply because he had been tempted by her in the past. The author then offers up a suggestion that Mary Kelly was some kind of "trespass offering" - a coded signal to his fellow Freemasons that he had finished his work.
Why did Williams believe that his illustrious ancestor was Jack the Ripper? In amongst Sir John's belongings in the collection of the National Library were a knife and three slides containing "animal matter". In addition, there is a letter where Sir John indicates that he will be in Whitechapel on the 6th of September 1888. There is also a notebook listing patients in which Sir John has noted that he has performed an abortion on a "Mary Ann Nichols" in 1885. From this Tony Williams sets out to prove that his ancestor is Jack the Ripper.
Is there any evidence that he is the Ripper? In short - no.
The problem with the theory is that it is utter conjecture. Certainly, Sir John is revealed to be a rather cold individual but there doesn't appear to be anything overtly murderous in his character. The fact that Sir John gave up nearly all public work between 1888 and 1892 is cited as supposed proof of a post-Ripper nervous breakdown but the author then goes on to prove that Williams claimed to be in poor health, to be concentrating on his private practice, working for the royal family and campaigning for the National Library for Wales. Surely it's more likely that, with his health not being what it was, that he was merely lessening his work load (after all, public work was not as well paid as private work and certainly not as prestigious as royal work!)? The knife and slides in the National Library of Wales are treated with suspicion, but what is strange about an eminent surgeon having a knife in his collection of belongings? Or microscope slides of matter that he may have studied? Williams' appears convinced that the knife was the Ripper's knife. His evidence? Dr Thomas Bond's opinion that the knife the Ripper used was "a strong knife, at least six inches long, very sharp, pointed at the top, and about an inch in width". This causes him to opine:
"This is the knife I had held in my hand back in the reading room of the National Library in Aberystwyth. I am sure of it." (Uncle Jack, page 202).
At no point is it suggested that Dr Bond's description could have applied to a great many knives in London at that time!
Between pages 195 and 197 Williams' outlines what Sir John's actions on the night of Mary Ann Nichols' murder were. The only trouble here is that it is complete fiction - no evidence has been raised in the book to substantiate this (indeed, the liberal peppering of words and phrases like "perhaps", "does he/she" and "we don't know but" further reinforce the fact that this is nothing more than speculation).
In the end while there is some evidence to suggest that Sir John Williams may have worked in an infirmary that some of the canonical Ripper victims may have attended at the time of the murders, and that he may have known *A* Mary Kelly, there is very little to suggest that he was Jack the Ripper.Our thanks to Iain Wilson for compiling this suspect review.