Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Census Records Reveal Details of Ripper Victims

Some of Jack the Ripper's victims appear to have been living respectable domestic lives just a few years before their murders, according to census records that went online today.

The company findmypast.com trawled records of Britain's 1881 census for information on the five women generally accepted as victims of the Ripper: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. All were killed between August 31 and December 20, 1888, in London's East End, where they worked as prostitutes. Their bodies were horribly mutilated.

The records reveal that several of the victims were living with husbands and children in 1881, apparently resorting to prostitution only later, following the disintegration of their marriages. According to newspaper reports of the time, none of the victims was living with their husbands at the time of their deaths.

Catherine Eddowes, who was 38 in 1881, appears in the census as "Kate Conway" (below) and is listed as a "charwoman" living with her husband John Conway, an Irishman listed as a "hawker," and their two children.

Annie Chapman, then 40, was living with her parents but listed as a 'stud groom’s wife.' Her husband, John Chapman, was living above stables in St Leonard’s Hill, Berkshire; later in the year his wife joined him there. But in 1882 the couple’s 12-year-old daughter Emily died of meningitis and both parents began drinking heavily. The marriage ended in 1884. It seems that Annie Chapman was then forced onto the streets to support herself.

Elizabeth Stride, 37, was living with her husband John, a carpenter, in 1881. Unlike the others, Stride, who was from Sweden, had already been registered with the police as a prostitute, at the age of 22 in Gothenburg.

The other two 'canonical' victims of the Ripper, Mary Ann Nichols and Mary Jane Kelly, do not appear on the census, suggesting that they were already out walking the streets on the night the census was taken, April 3, 1881.

However, Nichols, who was 43 at the time of her murder, was married with three children at the time of the 1871 census.

"Some people treat the Jack the Ripper story as a bit of a game," says Alex Werner, a Museum of London historian who curated a recent Jack the Ripper exhibition at the Museum in Docklands. "It wasn't a game. It was a crime against real people in the East End, people who had fallen on really hard times, who had gravitated to the East End as a place where they could earn some kind of living as a prostitute."


"Jack the Ripper and the East End" (Museum of Docklands), Podcast Tour: Part 1

"Jack the Ripper and the East End" (Museum of Docklands), Podcast Tour: Part 2

A War Between Science and Love

Here's the trailer (below) for the upcoming film Creation, which is based on the book Annie's Box by Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson Randal Keynes and shot in part at Down House, the Darwin family home in Kent.

The film, which opened the recent Toronto International Film Festival, stars real-life couple Paul Bettany (in photo above) and Jennifer Connolly. Visit the film's excellent website here; The Hollywood Reporter has a glowing review here; the Los Angeles Times previews the film here. Roger Ebert has some interesting things to say about the film in his online journal, as does Eugenie Scott at Panda's Thumb.

Can it possibly be true that Creation is having trouble finding a US distributor because Darwin's theory is, according to Jeremy Thomas, the film's producer, "too controversial for American audiences"? His assertion that "outside of New York and LA, religion rules" is patently absurd. Thomas's comments smack of a disingenuous marketing ploy. . .they're just too ridiculous to be sincere. How unfortunate, since all signs are that the movie is superb and can stand on its own without the whipping up of a fake controversy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"A Wonderful Dog"

The Victorians adored dogs, which were by far the most popular domestic pet of the era, and perhaps no breed was more beloved than the Newfoundland, a frequent subject of artists such as Sir Edwin Landseer, Arthur Batt, George Earl, Samuel West, John Emms, and George Stubbs. Generally depicted with great sentimentality, the breed featured in countless paintings, songs, and poems. (See my previous post on a life-size sculpture of a Newfoundland named Bashaw by Matthew Coates Wyatt here.)

The newly restored Landseer work shown above, "A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society" on loan from Tate Britain, is the centerpiece of "Pets and Prizewinners: An Exhibition Depicting the Development of Victorian and Edwardian Canine Art" on display at the Kennel Club Art Gallery in London through January 2010.

As noted in Landseer's Wiki biography, "so popular and influential were [his] paintings of dogs in the service of humanity that the name 'Landseer' came to be the official name for the variety of Newfoundland dog that . . . features a mix of both black and white; it was this variety that Landseer popularized in his paintings celebrating Newfoundlands as water rescue dogs, most notably Off to the Rescue (1827), A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society (1838), and Saved (1856), which combines Victorian constructions of childhood with the appealing idea of noble animals devoted to humankind—a devotion indicated, in Saved, by the fact the dog has rescued the child without any apparent human direction or intervention."

The valour and intelligence of the Newfoundland were regularly hailed in the press, as in this article from The Times, 1 October 1859:

"A WONDERFUL DOG. -- On Sabbath last two local preachers, belonging to the Primitive Methodists at South Shields, went to preach at Usworth, a colliery village some eight or nine miles off. They finished the labours of the day a little after 8 o'clock, and soon after set their faces homeward. The evening had passed, and night, robed in her starry stillness, had approached, giving the two preachers an opportunity of conversing on the sublimities of the stellar regions.

"They had not proceeded far in their interesting conversation when they were overtaken by a large Newfoundland dog, and some time elapsed before they took any particular notice of the animal. They pursued their way and still the dog followed, when they thought it necessary to drive him back, as he appeared to be a valuable animal, and his owner might come to some loss should he stray away from home. Notwithstanding all the means employed, the dog followed, keeping the two preachers ahead at a respectful distance.

"They continued on their way, and came through some fields which lead to the main road. When coming through one of those fields, the dog passed them, making a whining noise as he came by, which, by their interpretation, sounded like a mark of disapprobation at their driving him back. Before they came to the hedge at the bottom of the field they heard the dog growling and barking, and upon advancing a few steps further, they were terror stricken at beholding three men in the hedge ready to pounce upon them. Two leaned back in the hedge, and the other slunk down, as the dog snarled and the two preachers passed by. The preachers went on quickly, leaving the dog in front of the rascals.

"After they had got about a mile further the dog came up to them again, and appeared pleased, as if he had found his master. They determined that he should follow, and that, when they separated, the one he followed should take him home, give him his supper and a night's lodging, and take him back the next day. They went on and down the railway, and as soon as they turned off the line to come into a lane leading into the town, the dog turned round and took his departure home, leaving the two preachers in safety, and thankful for his sagacity and protection." -- first published in The Newcastle Daily Express

Above, Landseer's Saved; below, sheet music with similar imagery for a song by Henry Russell celebrating Carlo, the Newfoundland dog that saved a child who had fallen overboard from a ship on the Atlantic.

Recommended Reading

Deborah Morse and Martin Danahay, eds., Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture (London, Ashgate Press, 2007)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Salmagundi #11

The film The Young Victoria, which tells the story of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne, her first shaky steps as monarch, and the courtship that led to one of the most famous romances of all time, will open in the U.S. on November 13. It stars Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend and was produced by Sarah Ferguson and Academy Award winners Martin Scorsese and Graham King. Read my previous post on the film here.

A catalogue to the collections housed in the Brontë Parsonage Museum is now accessible online. This is a landmark achievement in the history of the museum, allowing global access to information on more than 7000 items, including books, manuscripts, letters, paintings, drawings, furniture, household items, and personal possessions belonging to the Brontë family, their friends, and associates.

A yellow-and-white-gold pin designed by Queen Victoria to commemorate her faithful ghillie John Brown after his death in 1883 (shown at left) has fetched £5,760 at a Bonhams auction in Edinburgh. The pin, which shows a likeness of Brown and his initials on one side and the royal monogram on the other, made ten times its estimate after what was described as "frenzied" bidding. It was designed by the queen to be given to her Highland servants and cottagers, to be worn by them every year on the anniversary of Brown's death (27 March).

And speaking of Bonhams . . . on 8 October the firm will auction an important nineteenth-century emerald and seed-pearl necklace that was reputedly worn by Maharani Jindan Kaur (1817-1863), wife of the Maharajah Ranjit Singh and mother of Duleep Singh, who became a godson of Queen Victoria. The necklace, which features 50 carats of emeralds, is expected to sell for about £35,000. A plaque was unveiled in July 2009 in a West London cemetery to commemorate the maharani, a formidable woman who fought two wars against the British in the mid-nineteenth century. Read more about the unveiling of the plaque here. Read my post about the fascinating and tragic life of Duleep Singh, the last maharajah of Punjab, here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Queen Victoria vs Zombies

To coincide with the release of A. E. Moorat's Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, a "blood-curdling and hilarious historical zombie mash-up novel" and "alternative history . . . packed full of blood, guts, and flesh-eating zombies," publisher Hodder & Stoughton is sponsoring a short film competition. Send them your Victorian-inspired zombie short film or animation and you could win £100 of Hodder books. For information and a look at the first chapter of the book, click here.
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