Sergeant John William Reimers

It is a real pleasure, for the first time, to host  a guest writer on this blog. The following informative article written by David Craig unearths some very interesting information about another  Detective at Scotland Yard in the mid-Victorian era: John William Reimers David’s article also asks for any additional information that readers may have to add to his research on Reimers. Over to David:

Another Detective at Scotland Yard, 1869: Sergeant John William Reimers

by David L Craig, Brisbane, Australia; E-mail:

In researching the family history of my son-in-law, I discovered that his great-great-grandfather was John William Reimers, who was a member of the London Metropolitan Police in the Scotland Yard Detective Department from 1869 to 1879.  This led me to Chris Payne’s excellent book, The Chieftain, about the early days of the Scotland Yard Detective Department.  This contains a number of references to Reimers.  Chris has also written a number of blogs providing more detail about a number of the senior detectives at Scotland Yard who feature in his book.  Chris encouraged me to write a blog about Sergeant Reimers for publication on his website, using the research material I have acquired, to expand the information available on the members of the Scotland Yard Detective Department circa 1869.  An ulterior motive for my writing this article is the hope that one of Chris’ readers might have information that would allow me to fill in gaps I still have in Reimers’ life story.

John William Reimers was actually born Johann Wilhelm Diederich Reimers on 10 March 1830 in Oldenburg Province in, what was then, the Duchy of Holstein.  At the time, Holstein was controlled by Denmark, though most people in Holstein spoke German, not Danish.  Reimers’ parents were Carl Gocheim (or possibly Joachim) Heinrich Reimers and his wife Sophia.  Reimers’ father was a harness maker (and it seems that Reimers is actually a German word meaning harness maker).  This information comes from Reimers’ marriage certificate and his police pension document (from the UK National Archives).  Unfortunately, I have been unable so far to ascertain any further information about his Holstein family.  His Summary of Police Service from The Met Collection, says that Reimers’ occupation prior to joining the London Metropolitan Police was saddler, which would seem to be a logical occupation for someone whose father was a harness maker.

Reimers migrated to England sometime during the 1850s, where he Anglicized his name to become known as John William Reimers, though he variously appears in documents as John Reimers or William Reimers.  I have not yet been able to establish with certainty when he arrived in England, or why he migrated.  He was certainly in England by 1859, as he married in England and joined the Metropolitan Police as Police Constable A-595 Westminster Division (ie Scotland Yard) in that year.

A probable reason for his migration was the political turmoil in Schleswig and Holstein.  These two Duchies tried to break away from Danish control and join the German confederation in the late 1840s.  The army of Schleswig-Holstein, supported by the Prussian army, fought the Danish army in the First Schleswig-Holstein War in 1848-50.  It appears that Reimers fought in this war, presumably in the German-backed Schleswig-Holstein army, and was wounded in the fighting.  The evidence for this is a newspaper report (The Standard, London, 28 August 1862) concerning the trial in the Middlesex Sessions of Fritz Tull, a native of Schleswig-Holstein.  This article says:

The evidence was very ably interpreted by William Reimers, 595A, a countryman of the prisoner’s, who was engaged in the Schleswig Holstein war.

Reimers’ police pension document says that he had a shot wound in left leg, but that he was not injured in his service with the London Metropolitan Police.  So, it seems likely that the leg wound was inflicted during Reimers’ service in the First Schleswig-Holstein War.  As the Danes defeated the Schleswig-Holsteiners in that war, life was probably quite difficult for soldiers from the defeated side in the aftermath.  Many who fought on the Schleswig-Holstein side migrated to other countries after that war.  For example, there were quite large Schleswig-Holstein communities established in the USA at the time by people fleeing the aftermath of the war.  A Second Schleswig-Holstein War was fought in 1864, resulting in Schleswig-Holstein becoming a German State (as it is today), but Reimers was in England and a London policeman by that time.

Reimers joined A Division (i.e. Westminster Division or Scotland Yard) of the London Metropolitan Police as a uniformed Police Constable on 6 June 1859.  He remained in A Division for the whole of his 20 years of police service.  He was promoted to Police Sergeant on 29 May 1867 and transferred to the Detective Department as a Detective Police Sergeant on 28 June 1869, at the time of a major expansion of the Scotland Yard Detective Department.  He was later promoted to Detective Inspector on 2 October 1876, but then demoted to First Class Detective Police Sergeant only a short time later on 26 December 1876.

This demotion appears to have occurred as a result of a falling out with his superior, Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich.  As detailed in Chris Payne’s book and blogs, Druscovich was one of the detectives convicted of corruption in mid-1877, and it seems likely that Reimers may have been unfairly demoted.  As detailed in The Chieftain, Reimers had told Superintendent Williamson in early December 1876 of a conversation that took place between himself and Druscovich in late November that year:

I said, ‘How are you getting on with the turf swindle?’ He [Druscovich] said, ‘Damn the turf swindle! I wish I had never heard anything of it’. He then added ‘I have documents in my hand with which I could smash two’. Just before he said this I had said ‘I believe there is some one else in it besides Meiklejohn’. Then he made the remark about the documents. I then said to him ‘Have you told the Governor so?’ (Meaning Mr Williamson.) To that he replied ‘No, I have not; let him find out like I have done’. I then said to him ‘Surely you will not jeopardise your position for the sake of screening others’. He made no reply.

Just under six months after joining the police service, Reimers married Harriet Stedman on 14 December 1859 at the Church of All Saints, Croydon, Surrey.  Harriet was baptised in Ockley, Surrey, on 17 December 1826, and so was just over three years older than her husband.  Her parents were James Stedman (a farmer) and Hannah Carter, and she was the middle child of ten children.  Reimers and his wife had five children: Carl Bernhard (1860); Wilhelm Inkerman (1861); Horatio Nelson (1863); Nora Sophia Harriet (1866); and Hans James Stedman (1868).  The youngest two children died before their second birthdays, in 1867 and 1870 respectively, leaving the Reimers with three surviving children.

Reimers became a naturalized British citizen on 23 December 1872 (three years after he transferred to the Detective Department), and his three surviving children are mentioned on his Certificate of Naturalization.

Reimers’ police service and cases in which he was involved, both before and after joining the Detective Department, can be followed through a number of sources, including The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 at  and various British newspaper court proceedings reports that are searchable on-line, eg the 19th Century British Newspapers or British Newspapers 1600-1900 databases (accessible through most libraries).

Cases reported in The Proceedings of the Old Bailey that mention Reimers include:

A newspaper report in The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent of 7 October 1871 indicates Reimers had a favourable personal outcome from one case he investigated:

A FORTUNATE CAPTOR – One of the officials of the Detective Department, Scotland Yard, succeeded on Friday week, in arresting a postmaster named Geib, who absconded some weeks ago from Siromberg, in Rhenish Prussia, with a sum of 18,000 thalers. Of this sum 15,000 thalers were recovered. Geib was despatched on Friday to Hamburg, in custody of a Berlin police official. A reward of 1000 thalers falls to his captor, Sergeant Reimers.

Chris Payne’s book, The Chieftain, also contains some references to Reimers.  These include an amusing anecdote about Reimers, as a uniformed Police Sergeant in 1867, cooperating with the Detective Department and getting lost with two others in the London sewers:

The superintendent’s report of events above is dated and timed ‘20th December 1867 12 Midnight’, enabling one to visualise a less-than-happy senior officer waiting in Scotland Yard to receive a late report from a less-than-sweet-smelling Reimers! However, the events do not seem to have had any adverse impact on his career, as Sergeant John William Reimers (born in Germany and by then a policeman for eight years) became a detective colleague of Clarke some eighteen months later.

Another case involving Reimers mentioned in The Chieftain was the investigation with Inspector Meiklejohn of the high-profile theft in 1876 of a portrait by Gainsborough of the Duchess of Devonshire.

Reimers resigned from the London Metropolitan Police on 12 August 1979 after 20 years’ service, all in A Division, and was granted a pension (not then an automatic right) of £86 18s 8d per annum.  His pension document in the UK National Archives at Kew states that he was 5 feet 11½ inches tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.  Unfortunately, there is no known photograph or portrait of him.  The reason given for his unfitness for service on his pension document was adema of the leg (presumably this means oedema/edema, ie swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissues).  This may have been a long term result of the shot wound in his left leg.

Reimers must have maintained contact in London with the German speaking community there, because at least one of his sons, Carl Bernhard, attended the German school in the Savoy in London.  His German language skills were also clearly made use of by his employer, as there are a number of references to him translating in case reports.  A number of the detectives in the Detective Department had non-English speaking backgrounds, including Nathaniel Druscovich, though not everyone thought this was a good idea.  Chris Payne notes in The Chieftain that Inspector James Thomson said in 1877:

My individual opinion is that it is unwise to let foreigners have anything to do with our police. They think a great deal of themselves, they take too much upon themselves and they get into difficulties. I was strongly opposed to Druscovich coming to Scotland Yard and I advised them at the time not to have him … I thought there was a good deal of the foreigner in him, because when he first came to Scotland Yard … his English was almost broken English.

The Reimers family had a number of addresses in London during the 20 years he served in the London Metropolitan Police.  At the time of the 1861 England Census, the Reimers were living at 51 Charles Street, Westminster.  By the time of the 1871 Census, they had moved to 89 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster.  They must have moved again soon after that, as at the time of Reimers’ naturalization in 1872, the family was living at 3 St Anne’s Terrace, Miles Street, South Lambeth.  Reimers was still living at his 1872 Miles Street address at the time of retirement from the police service in 1879.

Reimers’ 1879 pension document says he intended to reside and draw his pension at 3 St Anne’s Terrace, Miles Street, South Lambeth.  However, less than two years later, at the time of the 1881 Census the Reimers family was no longer at that address.  In fact, apart from their eldest son, Carl, who was living as a boarder at 6 Currie Road, Battersea, at the time of the 1881 Census, the Reimers family had disappeared totally from view by 1881.  I have not been able to find any trace of Reimers, his wife Harriet, or his sons, Wilhelm Inkerman Reimers and Horatio Nelson Reimers, in any of the British Censuses from 1881 onwards, or in the readily available censuses or birth, death and marriage records of any country.  Only the one son, Carl Bernhard Reimers, appeared in the English Censuses and London Electoral Registers after 1881.  So it seems that most of the Reimers family probably left Britain sometime between 1879 and 1881, but where they went remains a mystery at present.

After being missing from British records for over 20 years, Harriet Reimers reappeared in the records in London when she died on 1 January 1901 at 110 Fentiman Road, Lambeth.  This is only one street away from where she and her husband were living between 1872 and 1879.  She is listed on her death certificate as a widow, implying that her husband (referred to in her death certificate as John William Reimers, a Police Detective Inspector) died before 1901.  The informant for Harriet’s death certificate was her son, Carl, who was living at 13 Bucharest Road, Wandsworth, at that time.  When John William Reimers died, or where, is not known.  The fate of his sons, Wilhelm Inkerman Reimers and Horatio Nelson Reimers, is also unknown.

Carl Bernhard Reimers remained in London and married Jane Abbey in 1892.  She was the daughter of a family Carl was boarding with at the time of the 1891 England census.  Carl and Jane had a son, also Carl Bernhard Reimers, in 1895.  He died at birth, or very shortly after, and Jane died in 1908.  Carl remarried in 1908, not long after Jane’s death, to Vera Nash Little.  Carl and Vera had two children, Franz John Ludwig W (known as John William) Reimers in 1911 and David Leo Winston Reimers in 1914.  David Reimers was my son-in-law’s grandfather.

I would be very interested to discover more about the life of Johann Wilhelm Diederich (aka John William) Reimers, especially before he joined the London Metropolitan Police service in 1859 and after he retired in 1879.  If any readers know more about Reimers’ life, I would be grateful if they could contact me at the e-mail address at the top of this blog.

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Detective Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard and the murky world of defence procurement in the 1860s

Sir Richard Mayne; Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1829-1868)

Sir Richard Mayne; Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1829-1868)

Two weeks after the death in December 1868 of the long-standing Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne, one of the small team of detectives at Scotland Yard, Detective Inspector George Clarke, found himself handling a crime that was linked to a defence-procurement contract. However, it had nothing to do with the purchase of sophisticated (or unsophisticated) Victorian weapons, or the latest version of an ironclad battleship; instead, it concerned a supply contract for 300 loads of elm timber for the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Dockyard.

On 15 January 1869, Antonio Brady, the Registrar of Contracts at The Admiralty, Somerset House, had been told by a potential contractor, Nicholas Maxwell, of an attempt to extract a bribe from him. Maxwell had been informed that he would only secure the timber-supply contract if he paid a £30 fee to a member of the Admiralty staff. The member of staff concerned was William Rumble, the Admiralty’s ‘Inspector of Machinery Afloat’. Antonio Brady promptly contacted Scotland Yard and sought the assistance of the Detective Department and the case was allocated to George Clarke.

Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke, the subject of my 2011 book 'The Chieftain'

Detective Inspector George Clarke, the subject of my 2011 book ‘The Chieftain

The first task for Clarke was to find out more about Rumble and to determine whether he alone was in a position to guarantee a contract, or whether other Admiralty staff members were involved. A meeting between Maxwell and Rumble was arranged at Maxwell’s office on 18 January, where Clarke listened from a side room. Rumble stated that he had an unnamed friend in the Admiralty who was in a position to influence the contractual arrangements. Clarke’s next step was to maintain surveillance of Rumble and to identify any acquaintances. Clarke and Detective-Sergeant Sayer started to follow Rumble for part of each day. Fortunately, it did not take too long to make progress. On 20 January, at Waterloo Station, Clarke saw Rumble meet an unknown man at 10.30 a.m.:
“Rumble went up to him and commenced a conversation – they walked down the back stairs into York Street, and over Waterloo Bridge into Lancaster Place, and there they parted, and [the unknown man] went into Somerset House by the entrance in Lancaster Place.”  (Old Bailey Proceedings, April 1865; t18690405-432)
Rumble’s contact was quickly identified as James Gambier, a  clerk in the Admiralty storekeepers department, who was the first to know when a tender had been accepted, and also had the responsibility to write to the successful contractor. Thus, by delaying the issue of the formal contract letter Gambier could create a window of opportunity to extract a ‘fee’ from the successful contractors.

Clarke and Sayer maintained regular surveillance at Waterloo Station, and confirmed that Rumble and Gambier met there on at least eleven occasions. However, the police had no specific evidence linking Gambier to attempted bribery. A decision was therefore taken, with Maxwell’s agreement, for the £30 ‘fee’ that Rumble had asked for, to be paid to him. Obtaining a £30 cheque from the Admiralty, Clarke cashed it into three traceable £10 Bank of England notes and, at a meeting at Maxwell’s office on 2 February (at which Clarke again listened from the side room), Rumble was handed the money by Maxwell. By 3 February, Maxwell received confirmation that he was the successful contractor. The police had to wait only a short time for the bank notes to filter through the system; one was paid in to the Church of England Insurance Office by Gambier to cover a life insurance premium, and the other two were paid in by Rumble, one to a warehouseman and the other to a wine merchant.

Armed with this information and a warrant, Clarke arrested the two men at Waterloo Station on Wednesday 17 February. Both were taken to Bow Street Police Station and were charged with having conspired to obtain £30 from Nicholas Maxwell by false and fraudulent pretences. A search of the men revealed that both had pocket books; Gambier’s proved particularly interesting, in the form of abbreviations and ciphers that were suggestive of other financial transactions of a similar kind. By the second magistrate’s hearing, Clarke had found a means to translate at least part of the cipher in the pocket books, and it was said, at the hearing, that all the persons whose names were supposed to be identified by initials in Rumble’s notebook had denied being party to any transactions involving the payment of any ‘fee’ to gain a contract (now there’s a surprise!). The prisoners were committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

Rumble’s defence against the charges was that he had “merely acted as an agent, and that he had no intention to commit a criminal act”. Gambier’s defence counsel contended that “although [Gambier] had acted indiscretely and improperly in taking the money from Rumble for giving information relative to this contract he had not contemplated or been guilty of a criminal act”. The jury did not take long to disagree, bringing in a ‘guilty’ verdict against both men who were each sentenced to 18 months hard labour. (The Times 10 April 1869)

The CSS Rappahannock

The CSS Rappahannock

Something that did not appear in any of the hearings or newspaper accounts of the case, was that Rumble had an interesting track record. In an unconnected case, he had been previously charged, in 1864, with an offence relating to the fitting out of a gun-boat for prospective use by the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Originally named the Scylla, it had been sold by the Admiralty in 1863, ostensibly for the China trade, but in reality it had been bought by an agent acting for the Confederate States Navy. Rumble had been put on trial at the Queen’s Bench, Westminster between December 1864 and February 1865, charged with offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act, which included the accusation that he had been actively involved in repairing and fitting out the ship at Sheerness, engaging crew, and being on the ship on its testing voyage to Calais, on which occasion the Confederate flag was raised and the ship re-named as the CSS Rappahannock. (Ultimately, the ship did not go into active service as it was detained in port by the French authorities.) Though found ‘not guilty’ at this earlier trial, Rumble had nonetheless been punished subsequently by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty who had reduced him to half-pay, giving him a motive for his subsequent crime.

The CSS Alabama (Wikipedia)

The CSS Alabama

It seems likely that Clarke and others must have been aware of that situation, and yet the newspapers did not refer to it in their coverage of Rumble’s 1869 trial, perhaps because of the ‘not guilty’ verdict in 1864. Whether any reference to the CSS Rappahannock case was also suppressed, to avoid further embarrassment to the British Government on the sensitive issue of breaches of neutrality during the American Civil War, might also have been a consideration. The ‘Alabama claims’ by the United States, based on the building in Britain and supply of ships to the Confederacy during the American Civil War,  ultimately led to substantial financial reparations being paid by Britain to the USA in 1872.

Further information on the criminal investigations of George Clarke between 1862 and 1877 can be found online, and in my 2011 book The Chieftain.

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Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke and the Irish Ambulance Corps; October 1870

Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke, the subject of my 2011 book 'The Chieftain'

Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke, the subject of my 2011 book ‘The Chieftain’

Between 1865 and 1868, a resurgence of  republicanism within the British- and American- Irish communities saw the development of various plots and schemes to promote the establishment of Ireland as an independent democratic republic.  The groups and individuals adopting this cause have been generically referred to as ‘The Fenians’.  During this period, the law-enforcement agencies, particularly the police on the British mainland (including the small number of detectives at Scotland Yard), frequently struggled to deal adequately with the Fenian threat. This culminated in December 1867 with the Clerkenwell bombing  in which a Fenian gunpowder bomb (which had been set in an attempt to release the Fenian prisoner, Ricard Burke, from Clerkenwell House of Detention) killed and wounded substantial numbers of the public and damaged many properties. However, by mid-1868, the Fenian conspiracy had temporarily ebbed away; partly through lack of funding, but also because many senior Fenians were imprisoned (often as a result of informants), had fled into exile in France or America, or had simply had enough. As a result, my great-great-grandfather George Clarke (then a Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard) was able to concentrate on more conventional detective work, including a couple of murders, as well as numerous illegal-betting cases, baby-farming and abortion.

Michael Davitt. Fenian Arms Organiser in 1870

Michael Davitt. Fenian Arms Organiser in 1870

However, by 1870, some aspects of Fenian activity had resumed, including the acquisition of arms.  In May 1870,  Clarke (who had been promoted to Chief Inspector in 1869) arrested the Fenian arms organiser Michael Davitt at Paddington Station, where Davitt had been awaiting the delivery of a number of revolvers from a Birmingham arms manufacturer. In July that year, Davitt was convicted of Treason Felony and sentenced to 15 years penal servitude

The day after  Davitt’s trial  concluded, the Franco-Prussian War started, on 18th July 1870. Across the Channel, Napoleon III of France declared war on Prussia after years of tension between the combatants. The British Government adopted a formal position of  neutrality in the conflict, and it was not long before the Scotland Yard Detective Department was engaged in helping to sustain the UK position. However, Irish sympathies in the conflict lay with the French (and at that time Ireland in its entirety was part of the UK); a large spontaneous demonstration of popular support was held in Dublin on 19 July and a National Committee was formed on 7 September to provide medical aid and supplies to France, by recruiting an Irish Ambulance Corps. Assembled from various parts of Ireland, the Corps sailed to France on 8 October in a chartered ship, La Fontaine.  In appearance at least, The Irish Ambulance Corps was an humanitarian gesture that was unlikely to compromise Britains’ neutrality in the Franco-Prussian war.

However, on 24 September 1870, The Times [24 September 1870] reported that a London-based Committee, with offices at 7 Bolt Court, Fleet Street, had also been formed to raise money and send out able-bodied young Irishmen to form an Irish National Ambulance Corps in France; also reporting that “upwards of 2000 athletic Irishmen had presented themselves”. By the end of September, police enquiries had been initiated, as 7 Bolt Court was well known to police as a Fenian rendezvous. On 1 October, Inspector Brannan of Holborn Division reported that the London-recruited ‘Ambulance Corps’ was a ‘cover’; that in fact the Fenians were attempting to raise an ‘Irish Brigade’, and that as soon as the men landed in France they would be expected to take up arms for France and join the Foreign Legion. If correct, this would be an offence against the Foreign Enlistment Act, and would also have compromised Britain’s neutral status in the Franco-Prussian conflict. On 3 October, P.C. James Haire went to 7 Bolt Street in plain clothes to investigate the recruitment process. He saw an Irish-American of military appearance in charge, and a clerk. He was told that only Irishmen could join and he noticed that about 40 men applied during the hour that he was there [ Crown Copyright; The National Archives (TNA): Public Records Office (PRO) HO45/8444].

On 5 October the Solicitor-General’s office commented to the Home Office that “there seems scarcely sufficient evidence that the enlistment is for other purposes than the formation of an ambulance corps”, but their attitude was to change on receipt of a telegram from Frederick Bernal, the British Consul in Havre which read “Thirteen men, Irish Ambulance Corps have applied Consulate. Required to bear arms – Refuse – Penniless – What shall I do”? An additional complication was a note received via the Foreign Office from the German Ambassador in London, Count Bernstadt, stating that “He has reason to believe that enlistments of Irishmen for military service in France are being made in this country – requests urgent enquiries”. By then, suspicions started to emerge that the Fenians could potentially be exploiting the opportunity of the Franco-Prussian war to give Irishmen experience of military training and warfare that could later be deployed to the Fenian’s advantage in Ireland.

Clarke had already received his orders from the Home Office; he would be off on his travels again, this time to a country at war where he would be operating ‘undercover’:

“The main object of the Officer’s [journey] is to obtain sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution against the agents here who engaged these men ….Then to return the men by the cheapest route. The men will not be aware that Mr Clarke is a Police Officer and he can therefore deal with them in whatever manner he may deem most advisable”. [Crown Copyright; TNA:PRO HO 45/8444]

The survival of Clarke’s report allows him to tell the story:

“October 19th 1870; With reference to the alleged infringement of the Foreign Enlistment Act, I beg to report that as directed I left London for Havre on Tuesday the 12th Inst. On my arrival at 4 p.m. on 13th I put myself in communication with Frederick Bernal Esq. H.M. Consul, who informed me that about 80 men arrived at that Port, on Friday the 7th Inst. by the “John Bull” Steam Ship from London. Most of these men called at the Consulate, and said they had been induced to leave home for the purpose of joining an Ambulance Corps. 21 of these went on to Caen the following day (Saturday) and 40 more on Sunday; 19 refusing to proceed any further, and remained at Havre in a destitute state till Monday when he paid their passage to Southampton.

I proceeded to Caen on Friday being furnished with a letter of introduction to C.G.Percival Esq., Vice Consul at that place, and had an interview with him the following morning. He stated that a number of men from England had been lodged in the Barracks there for several days, but that most of them had returned to Havre. He accompanied me towards the Barracks and on the way we met several of the men, four of whom said they were penniless and begged to be sent back to England. I paid their fare to Havre and accompanied them there, the others about ten remained at Caen. On reaching Havre I found about 50 at that place; on questioning them they stated they had been engaged by Messrs. McDonald, Cotter, Cotter, O’Hagan and Carmandy, who had an office at Bolt Court, Fleet Street, London, to proceed to France for the purpose of joining an Ambulance Corps, and had each paid 8/- for their passage. They were accompanied on their journey by the two Cotters; on reaching Havre [they] were joined by O’Hagan, who took them to Caen and there lodged them in the Barracks. By this time they suspected all was not right, and asked O’Hagan, who had assumed the command as Colonel Dyers, for an explanation. He informed them they were not required for the Ambulance Corps, but to join an Irish Brigade and fight for France. This they refused to do, and demanded to be sent home. They were confined to Barracks under the charge of the two Cotters, who called themselves Captain and Ensign, and told them they would be required to take the Oath as Soldiers of France, and threatened to place them under arrest if they were not obedient. They remained in Barracks till the Friday still refusing to become Soldiers, when about 48 of them were marched down to the boat for Havre, escorted by Soldiers with loaded rifles, and fixed bayonets, accompanied by the two Cotters and O’Hagan. When on board they were given about 7d. each. These man remained at Havre until noon 17th when I engaged passages for them (52 in number) to London in the Steam Ship John Bull; Mr Bernal giving an Order to the Captain for the payment of their passage money. He also advanced me 453 francs for the purpose of providing them with food and lodgings during their stay in Havre, they being entirely destitute, and in a starving condition, having received but little food since they left London, some having sold the greater part of their clothing. They further complained of being cruelly deceived and badly treated by those who had engaged them; several had left wives and families quite destitute, being promised by McDonald and others, that they would receive pay at the rate of 25/- per week, with rations and an outfit – these promises induced them to leave their houses. McDonald and Carmandy went with them on their outward journey as far as Gravesend. I accompanied these men to London and provided them with food on the passage – their names, addresses, and statements are attached, and several are prepared to give evidence if required.

I beg to add that about 350 men said to form an Ambulance Corps arrived at Havre from Dublin on Wednesday 12th Inst., and were still there at the time of my leaving. A great number of these were about the streets in a drunken riotous state and on Saturday night broke out in open mutiny, refusing to obey those in command, and a guard of Soldiers was called out to quell the disturbance, and I was informed by some of the parties that only about 40 of their number were required as an Ambulance Corps, and that the others must either join the French Army or return home, and I am of opinion from the riotous demeanour of these men, should they remain at Havre serious consequences will follow.I respectfully beg to state that I received every possible assistance and attention from F. Bernal Esq. at Havre, and C.G.Percival at Caen”. [Crown Copyright; TNA:PRO HO45/8444]

The reference made in Clarke’s report to an Ambulance Corps arriving from Dublin on 12th October, was the ship La Fontaine. Several of the men from this ship did go on to serve in a medical-assistance role. However others apparently did not:

“Contrary to the original intentions of those who sent the Ambulance Corps to France, a number of the volunteers, including some Dundalk men, adopted a more active military role soon after their arrival…[including] those who joined the Foreign Legion: they enlisted in the 1st Compagne Irlandaise, Légion d’Étrangère. The Legion had its headquarters at Bourges, numbered 30,000 men, and was attached to the Army of the Loire” [O’Mahony, C. (2000) The Irish Sword 22, 36-50]

The men received rifle and machine-gun training, and learnt how to operate as snipers (‘Franc-tireurs’) and guerilla fighters behind enemy lines. Whether any of the men from Dublin or London later participated in Irish Republican activities is not known.

Having done what he could to return those men who had been potentially duped into fighting for France, Clarke obtained statements (including a full description of events from one of the volunteers, William Costello) implicating McDonald and others involved in the recruitment process. On 21 October, the newly-promoted Chief Inspector Druscovich arrested ‘John McDonald’ believed to be the principal recruiter for the Bolt Street recruits to the Irish Ambulance Corps, whose real name was Joseph Patrick McDonnell. He was brought up before Sir Thomas Henry at Bow Street on 21 and 28 October, on charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act. At the second hearing, Clarke’s witness, William Costello gave his evidence of events. However, after the hearings, no trial appears to have taken place; the case against Joseph Patrick McDonnell was “removed by Certiorari’ (a writ from a superior court directing that a record of proceedings in a lower court be sent up for review) and it is possible that some legal or political mechanism was used to sweep the case under the carpet to avoid political embarrassment. McDonnell had been involved with organisations associated with Irish nationalism since 1862, including the National Brotherhood of St. Patrick, and the Fenians; he had been detained under the suspension of habeas corpus but was probably freed in 1869. McDonnell had also been appointed by Karl Marx as the representative for Ireland on the General Council of the International Working Man’s Association. In January 1872, at the latest, McDonnell was a free man, as newspaper reports for that month indicate that he attended the Association Council meeting. [The Times 22 and 29 October 1870, 4 and 21 November 1870; Leeds Mercury,  January 1872]

The Irish Ambulance Corps investigation, together with the monitoring of James Stephens in Paris, and surveillance operations on foreign refugees seem to have been the closest that the Metropolitan Police got to covert operations during the time that Clarke was a detective. Although Clarke had been sent to France on an ‘undercover’ mission, the object was for him to obtain evidence of criminal activity in the context of the Foreign Enlistment Act, rather than to play a political-espionage role. For Clarke, this appears to have been the last time that he was involved with Fenian investigations that reached court. There were subsequent occasions when his expertise on Irish matters was sought, but his involvement in these did not emerge as headline-making issues. There was a resurgence of Irish terrorism in the 1880s, driven by a combination of Clan na Gael and the maverick, O’Donovan Rossa. However, by then, Clarke had long retired, though his friend and colleague ‘Dolly’ Williamson was still at Scotland Yard, and in the front-line of the policing of this next phase of Irish republicanism.

'The Chieftain' a biography of Detective Chief inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011

‘The Chieftain’ a biography of Detective Chief inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011

[The  primary sources for this article have been mentioned in the text.  For further information on the activities of Scotland Yard detectives in the mid-Victorian period, please see my 2011 biography of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke: “The Chieftain“]



Posted in Victorian Detectives | 2 Comments

Remembrance: Charlie Payne’s letter to “My Darling Boys” 23 August 1917

I think about my grandfather every day.  Not surprising as I’m currently writing a book about him.   However, as he served in the British Expeditionary Force during the latter stages of the Great War, the 100th Anniversary of Britain’s entry to that war (on 4th August 1914) adds a particular poignancy to my thoughts about him. Later today I will be giving a brief talk about one of the letters that he wrote home just before he went into the front line on the Western Front, for the first time.  This letter, which he addressed to his four sons, he placed in a sealed envelope and sent  to his wife Ida, asking her only to open it in the event of his death.  Today seems the right time to introduce it into the public domain for the first time, together with some pictures that I will be using during my brief talk this evening.

Charlie Payne and his family. (click on photo to enlarge)

Charlie Payne and his family. (click on photo to enlarge)

France 23 August 1917

My darling Boys

As the time is now drawing nigh, for me to be sent up to the trenches, where of course I shall be in hourly danger of death (not that I have any presentiment of my death; far from it I go with a good heart and in the firm belief that God will restore me to you, my boys, & your dear mother), but if God wills that I should fall, I should like to leave behind me this little letter which as you grow older I know you will always remember & act up to.

I have not very much to ask of you, my dear boys, and if it is God’s will that I should not return to you, it will afford me great comfort at the last to know that I have left this letter behind as I know it will help you through life & in some degree serve to take my place.

Firstly it will be your sacred duty, my boys, to take my place towards your mother. Be to her all that you can; love her always as she will love you. She has worked & suffered much for you my boys, & should I fall will work for several years in bringing you up without a father’s aid, until such time as you can support yourselves & her.

"In due time perhaps you will marry" (click on picture to enlarge)

“In due time perhaps you will marry” (click on picture to enlarge)

In due time perhaps you will marry & it is only right and proper that you should, but I know, my dear boys, you will always love & help your Mother.

Then again, boys, never never quarrel amongst yourselves. You will find life hard enough, but remember that “Unity is Strength” and if 4 boys such as you will pull together you will overcome all obstacles & get on in the world well; therefore, never quarrel, my boys; but should any differences take place between you, always make them up, shake hands & be “pals” for my sake & your Mother’s.

"Unity is Strength" (click on picture to enlarge)

“Unity is Strength” (click on picture to enlarge)

You, my dear little Ted, will remember me quite well I trust and also my little John, and my dear old “Bighead” too; and I know you will oftentimes talk of me amongst yourselves so that little Rupert may grow up and I shall not exactly be a stranger to him.

Remember always that wherever duty takes me in this terrible War & no matter what dangers I may be called upon to face, you and your dear Mother will be always in my thoughts.

Should any one of you have to go abroad, always keep in touch with & correspond regularly with your brothers & Mother.

Always obey your Mother as you grow up for she will teach you to lead clean & manly lives & in due time to become fine young Englishmen.

I would ask of you, dear boys, always to believe in God & to pray for help & strength to fight the evils of life & to avoid all profanity.

"You will find several people ready to help you" (click on picture to enlarge)

“You will find several people willing to help you” (click on picture to enlarge)

Now my boys, I think this is all I have to say to you & I have little doubt but what you will find some very good friends in the world (your “Nannie” and Grandfather have always been good to me & will continue to be so to you – also my own dear Mother). It is not possible for me now to give you much advice with regard to your future careers but I trust you will find several people willing to help you to get on (your uncles Harry, George & Norman & Bill may be of some assistance to you in this direction. Should you have to be either soldiers or sailors for any length of time – be sailors.

"Be Sailors"; dueing conscription in WW2 there was little or no choice about which service you joined. (Click on picture to enlarge)

“Be Sailors”; during conscription in WW2 there was little or no choice about which service you joined. (click on picture to enlarge)

Finally, boys, always remember that “a boy’s best friend is his Mother”. Therefore be good to her, love her & consult with her upon everything & you will not be wrong.

I would like you to understand, my dear boys, that I have written this not because I have any presentiment of being killed at the front, but because I think it my duty as your Dad & knowing all the dangers ahead of me, to write such a letter which I know will help you in your lives, even although I may be taken from you & I also know that you would like a letter from your Dad.

At the time of writing this (under difficulties in a tent & no pen or ink handy) I am in good health & quite ready to face the dangers that lie before me with a good heart & firm belief that I may be spared to return to my boys and their dear Mother whom I love so well.

May God bless you all.

Your loving Dad

(Pte Chas F. Payne No 25318 2/5th West Riding Regt. (Duke of Wellingtons) B Company)

"Ever in our Thoughts" (Click on slide to enlarge)

“Ever in our Thoughts”
(Click on slide to enlarge)

Charlie survived the hostilities but died on February 11th 1919 from pneumonia (probably initiated by Spanish Flu), contracted while he was serving in the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland. He remains “Ever in Our Thoughts”.

My grateful thanks to Neville Sisson for restoring most of the individual photographs presented in this article.

To read more about the Great War experiences of Charlie Payne go to . My biography of Charlie Payne is currently being written under the working title of ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox‘.

Posted in Charlie Payne's Hatbox, The Great War | 2 Comments

The Beginning of the End of the First World War; Charlie Payne at the Second Battle of the Marne, July 1918.

Charlie Payne (c 1914)

My grandfather, Charlie Payne (c 1914)

I have previously written an account of aspects of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, based on Charlie Payne’s experiences during the  Defence of Bucquoy. Today’s blog involves events some four months later.

The 1918 German attacks against the Allied forces had continued at different points on the Western Front until July 1918. At the onset of these attacks in late March 1918, the German forces made considerable advances on a wide front. For the next three months the Allies would essentially be on the defensive. However, at the height of the  Spring Offensive, and as a consequence of it, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch had been appointed Supreme Allied Commander on 26th March 1918 to deliver better coordination of British and French forces.

Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch (Wikipedia)

Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch (Wikiquote)

In July 1918, Foch received information that a German attack would be made in the Marne area (defended predominantly by French troops supplemented by some Italian and US divisions).  Seizing on this advanced information, Foch requested that four British Divisions be sent to the area to help repulse any such attack. 62nd Division (which included my grandfather, Private Charlie Payne, 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment) was one of the Divisions sent, arriving in the area on July 18th 1918, three days after the Germans had indeed attacked. On July 15th the Germans had made progress in some areas, gaining a foothold across the Marne, but in other areas the French and American troops had defended the anticipated attacks well and had made some successful counter attacks.

On their arrival in the area, 62nd Division’s task (as part of XXII Corps) was to counter-attack the Germans, up the valley of the River Ardre, South-West of Reims. (The actions involved have now become known as the Battle of Tardenois). There was no organised trench system in this open countryside of hills, woods, villages, and fields;  it was open warfare with few or no defensive positions available. On the evening of 20th July, Charlie’s battalion (within 186th Brigade) had been ordered  to support an earlier attack by 185th and 187th Brigades on German positions in the villages of Marfaux and Cuitron.  However,  when Company Commanders and Headquarters Staff went forward to reconnoitre they found an almost impossible position. The two villages lay in the bottom of a valley and attacking troops would have to cross open ground for 800 yards under a withering Machine Gun barrage from enemy positions directly in  front and also from  Machine Gun posts in woodland on higher ground at the S.W. corner of the Bois du Petit Champs, which overlooked the Ardre Valley.  As a result a decision was made to cancel the attack.

It was now realised that the key to a successful advance up the Ardre Valley was to clear the Germans from the wooded ridge overlooking the valley. Thus, on 22nd July, Charlie’s battalion  received orders to clear the Bois du Petit Champs, which contained two battalions of German troops, including many well-hidden machine gun positions.
The wood was filled with dense undergrowth and the Germans were well-concealed.  The Battalion War Diary describes the attritional events that day in some detail. [Charlie was a Lewis gunner in B Company]:

Company Commanders and Battalion H.Q. Staff carefully reconnoitred the jumping off positions in liaison with the French who were holding the existing front line on the eastern edge of Bois du Petit Champs early in the morning. Troops were all in position by 11.30 am and zero hour was at 12.15 pm. Almost immediately the right company (“A”) met with slight opposition and captured one prisoner and were able to get about 250 yards into the wood before they encountered a strong point held by the enemy consisting of 4 machine guns [M.Gs.] and about 20 personnel. After a severe struggle the resistance was overcome and the garrison and M.Gs.  captured. After proceeding another 200 yards they met with similar opposition and captured another 6 machine guns and a further batch of 30/35 prisoners. In this latter operation the right Company (“A”) were assisted by the supporting Company(“D”) as casualties had been heavy. They then pressed on a further 350 yards capturing several isolated machine gun posts for the most part consisting of single machine guns, until they met with really serious opposition from a strong point about the centre of the wood whose exact position was difficult to locate. Having suffered serious casualties they withdrew 300 yards and consolidated their position in a series of posts from the N. edge of the wood to about the centre. By patrols these two companies (“A” and “D”) endeavoured to gain touch with the companies (“B” and “C”) operating on the southern edge of the wood. They were assisted in the consolidation by two platoons of 1/5th Battalion Devon Regiment, sent up by Brigade to reinforce. On the south edge of the wood, opposition was encountered immediately from a Strong Point about 50 yards from the jumping off point just outside the wood. This held up the advance for some time but was finally encircled from both flanks and captured with the help of the rear company (“B”). 8 Machine Guns and 50 enemy garrison were captured. A series of 5 enemy strong points were encountered at the S. edge of the wood all of which were quickly dealt with and the Machine Guns and garrisons captured. These yielded about 20 Machine Guns and 80 prisoners. Isolated small posts were met with and easily overcome, the forward company (“C”) finally reaching its objective at the N.W. edge of the wood after having suffered heavily. After having reached its objective “C” Company was threatened with envelopment by a very strong counter-attack which the enemy launched from the North. “C” Company were eventually surrounded. The enemy captured the most forward post held by 2/Lieutenant Storry. He then charged the other two posts of “C” Company with fixed bayonets. A Lewis Gun was put into action and caused great damage amongst the enemy compelling him to retire temporarily. They came on again using stick bombs freely and got so close and in superior numbers that the positions became untenable. Captain. J.B. Cockhill M.C. withdrew his few remaining men into a shell hole in the open on the S. edge of the wood where they were subjected to rifle and machine gun fire from the wood and from the Valley at Cuitron. A shell burst in the shell hole putting the Lewis Gun out of action, and no other means was open but to retire further. This was done in a westerly direction followed closely by the enemy and finally the elements of the company – 2 officers and 6 other ranks fought their way out to “B” Company’s posts. “B” Company in the meantime had made a strong point about 700 yards in the wood away from the jumping off point and with the assistance of a company of the 1/5th Devon Regiment they consolidated a line from the S. edge of the wood to meet “A” and “D” Companies . The total prisoners taken were 2 officers and 206 other ranks and 41 machine guns. The prisoners belonged to 53rd Prussian Regiment. Our artillery barrage was very accurate and caused many casualties. The troops who were attacked were taken completely by surprise and had only just completed a relief an hour before zero hour. After the attack was launched the enemy artillery reply was negligible but as the afternoon wore on and he became aware of the situation the edges of the wood and all approaches were subjected to a heavy counter bombardment. The new line was consolidated by nightfall and held by the battalion with the help of 1/5th Devons. During the night the enemy pushed out strong reconnoitring parties to locate and endeavour to surprise our line but on each occasion was repulsed. Our casualties during the operation were 5 officers and approximately 150 other ranks. The battalion was heartily congratulated by the Corps, Divisional and Brigade Commanders on a particularly fine fight which had had the effect of greatly reducing the enemy’s power of resistance. The whole operation was carried through with great vigour and all commanders led their men with great dash and determination.” [Crown Copyright Extract from WO 95/3086; War diary of the 2/5th and 5th Battalions Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding ) Regiment. Available at The National Archives: Public Records Office (TNA:PRO), Kew, UK]

Thus, working methodically, the 5th Dukes had surrounded and rushed several German strong-points and, by the day’s end, most of the wood had been secured although C Company was almost annihilated in the process. Marfaux and Cuitron were  soon taken by other battalions within the Division which continued to make slow but significant progress up the  Ardre valley, capturing the village of Bligny on 28th July before being withdrawn from the fray. For Charlie’s battalion, the war diary notes on July 29th 1918 that :

The men were all utterly worn out and exhausted after 8 days of very hard fighting in most difficult country. Their morale was still high but they were physically exhausted. The casualties to the battalion in the weeks fighting had been particularly heavy – about 13 officers and 400 other ranks, leaving only a composite company of about 130 fighters. [Ibid]

Charlie's wife Ida, with their four sons (1917)

Charlie’s wife Ida, with their four sons (1917)

Charlie had been one of the survivors and  reported home to Ida on 2nd August 1918:

My dear Wife. At last I have an opportunity of writing you, & to let you know that I am quite well. I trust you got my whiz-bangs as they would relieve your anxiety on my behalf. I also wrote you a long letter on the 18th ulto., but was “called over the coals” about it by the Censor so do not know whether you would get it. I had no time to write another. Well, my darling, you will see from the papers that our battalion has been in action again (wood fighting similar to last November). We have come through very creditably & succeeded in driving back the Huns to some extent. Of course once more I have lost some very good pals. [Next three lines crossed out, by Censor]…& I am hopeful that during such interval I may be fortunate enough to get my leave – I have now completed 12 months out here- needless of course to remind you. I have received all your letters, I think, dear, & I note all your news. You do not mention your own health so I trust, little woman, you are feeling better….. The weather has been glorious here lately – a little too hot – fitter for picnics than for the devilish work going on out here. God grant it may now soon be over. Love to all upstairs & they must really excuse my not answering letters just yet. Kiss the boys well for me & I hope to see you all soon. God bless you all. Ever yours, Charlie.

He added further information in a letter written on 10 August 1918:

We are now out on rest for a bit – under canvas in a wood & it is like being in Paradise after what we have been through. I thank God, darling, I am safe & well, but I am longing to see you & the boys. I am not far down the leave list & with luck should get home within the next 6 weeks. The news is still good – we have got the Huns on the run, but they fight hard….. You can tell from the papers, dear, in what part of France we have been – I must mention no names here. After the battle we were reviewed by a great French General & thanked by him for our deeds. Our Regiment did splendid work & those who came back have every reason to be thankful. As before, dear heart, thoughts of you & our boys kept me cool & collected in all times of danger & altho’ it was terrible I felt no fear. The Huns would not face cold steel. I shall have lots to tell you when I do come home on leave of my journeyings in France. It is indeed a fair country but the War has made big wastes of parts of it.

General Henri Bertholot, Commander of Vth French Army at the Second Battle of the Marne

General Henri Bertholot, Commander of Vth French Army at the Second Battle of the Marne (Wikimedia)

On the 1st August, as mentioned by Charlie, the surviving members of the battalion had marched past General Henri Berthelot the officer commanding the 5th French Army, under whose orders the successful advances had been made. By then the Germans were in rapid retreat from the Marne salient. The German Field Marshall, Hindenberg, later commented in his memoirs that “it was of the greatest and most fateful importance that we had lost the initiative to the enemy”. However, the 5th Dukes, and other battalions in 62nd Division had suffered considerable casualties in the process. To bring the battalion back to strength, during August it received reinforcements in excess of 400 men.

On 8th August, the British Fourth Army delivered a successful attack near Amiens advancing up to 8 miles on the first day, and starting what has become known as ‘The Last Hundred Days’ of the war. In many British accounts of the War, it is usually this date that has been regarded as the ‘beginning of the end of the War’, but the earlier reversal imposed on the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne, and engineered by Foch with British and American support, was a highly significant turning point, as Hindenburg recalled.

Charlie and Ida Payne, September 1918

Charlie and Ida Payne, September 1918

To capitalise on the Allied successes in late July and early August, the British Third Army organised another major attack to the North, towards Bapaume. Charlie’s Division was involved and between 25th August and 2nd September, the 62nd Division pushed the German forces back another 3 miles. The Allied advance was now developing considerable momentum. Charlie, however, was granted his first, and well-deserved Home Leave since arriving in France 13 months previously.

My biography of Charlie Payne is currently being written under the working title of ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox‘.

Primary Sources:

Payne, C.F. (1903-1919). 1903, 1904 and 1907 diaries, and letters written to his wife Ida Muriel Payne between November 1916 and February 1919. (From the collection of C. C. Payne).

TNA:PRO WO 95/3070. War Diary of 62nd Division.

TNA:PRO WO95/3084 and 3085. War Diaries of the 186th Infantry Brigade Headquarters.

TNA:PRO WO95/3086. War Diary of the 2/5th (later the 5th) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment.

TNA:PRO WO153/747. War Diary of XXII Corps. Operations whilst employed with French Army. pen and Sword

Secondary Sources: (The Battle of Tardenois)

Skirrow, F. (2007) Massacre on the Marne; The life and death of the 2/5th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in the Great War.

Stevenson, D. (2012) With Our Backs to the Wall; Victory and Defeat in 1918. Penguin Books Ltd.

Wyrall, E. (2003) The History of the 62nd (West Riding) Division. (2 Volumes). The Naval and Military Press (Originally published by John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd in 1924/1925).



Posted in Charlie Payne's Hatbox, The Great War | 5 Comments

The London Metropolitan Police and the Congress of Berlin 1878; Some Unanswered Questions

My research interest in  Victorian detectives at Scotland Yard has recently led me to a couple of blind alleys, both of which have some potential links with the 1878 Congress of Berlin.  This conference, under the chairmanship  of the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck initially stabilized tensions that had arisen between the main powers following the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War  by reorganizing the Balkan countries, but ultimately allowed international grievances to fester until they rose to the surface again in the months before the First World War.

I thought that in this blog post I would explain my specific interests in this subject and cast some bait into the World Wide Web to see if any of my readers can help me escape from the information cul-de-sacs that I find myself in.

Superintendent James Jacob Thomson

James Jacob Thomson, former Superintendent of E Division, London Metropolitan Police (c. 1900)

James Jacob Thomson, former Superintendent of E Division, London Metropolitan Police (c. 1900). Photo courtesy of Frederic Le Marcis

I am  investigating the career of James Thomson, who worked in the Scotland Yard Detective Department between 1862 and 1869 (rising to the rank of Chief Inspector) before being appointed Superintendent of E Division (Holborn) in the London Metropolitan Police(1869-1887).   In his retirement statement published in the Pall Mall Gazette on 31 May 1887, Thomson mentioned  that, in 1878, he was relieved of his command and sent by Government on an exceptional mission on the continent.  No other details on this topic were given in the newspaper, but my interest was raised.  Why would Thomson have been sent on such a mission, and what could it have involved?

In 1910, seven years after Thomson’s death, his widow, Martha Thomson,  wrote to Winston Churchill (then Secretary of State at the Home Office) after finding herself and her late husband in the media spotlight after some indiscrete comments published by the former Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Anderson. (Mrs Thomson’s letter is located at The National Archives; reference HO144/926/A49962; Crown Copyright).

Mrs Martha Thomson (c.1900)

Mrs Martha Thomson (c.1900). Photo courtesy of Frederic Le Marcis

In her letter Martha Thomson commented about her husband’s service and mentioned:

“... in 78 [1878], he was chosen by the Privy Council to go to Russia on a secret mission, relieved of his command at Bow Street, and given double pay, with a promise of £500 on his return if he succeeded.  He did succeed, and War was not declared, but one of the Russian Chiefs of Police (who was an old friend) and who had helped him, was sent to Siberia, and Mr. Thomson barely escaped……After his return from Russia, he received a letter of thanks from the Privy Council.  Then, as the £500 was not sent him, he went to his chief, Sir E[dmund] Henderson [Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police] and asked for it. After some months had elapsed, Sir E.H. told him that he had done all he could to obtain it for him, but as there was no ‘Fund’ to draw Secret Service money, he begged him to forego it. Of course it was a great blow to us, as we were comparatively poor, but the position had to be accepted, and he returned to his Division.

Mrs Thomson’s reference to ‘Russia‘ and ‘War was not declared‘ is of particular interest, and seems to draw a specific link with the events leading up to the Congress of Berlin. The Congress  was held at a time when contemporary newspaper reports indicate that there was considerable tension between Britain and Russia with regard to Turkey, Austro-Hungary and the Balkan States, with Germany to some extent acting as a mediator. Newspapers on 1 April 1878 highlighted something of the extent of this tension, reporting that the British Cabinet (under Disraeli as Prime Minister) had agreed to call out the Army Reserves.   War between Britain and Russia was certainly perceived amongst politicians and the British press to be a possibility.

However,  why might Thomson, a former detective and more recently a senior uniformed police officer have been sent out to Russia at this time? Certainly Metropolitan Police records note that Thomson was specifically granted, by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, an absence of “28 days leave…from 15th [April] to 12th [May 1878] inclusive” (MEPO 7/40 12th April 1878).  This was a very unusual time for senior officers to take their holidays (which were generally taken between August and September, and usually for less than 28 days). Such a  period of absence would certainly have been long enough for Thomson to visit Russia and neighbouring countries.  Thomson had previously travelled to Russia when he was leading the Scotland Yard hunt for forgers of Russian rouble banknotes. In addition he is known to have been fluent in several languages, including French which at that time was the language of diplomacy. The timing of such a visit, if it occurred during Thomson’s ‘leave’, would have been shortly before the Congress of Berlin (13 June to 13 July 1878)

Martha Thomson’s reference to a Russian Chief of Police is also of interest.   In St Petersburg (then Russia’s capital city) there were a considerable number of newspaper reports about the acquittal in April 1878 of the nihilist, Vera Zasulich, who had earlier been arrested for the attempted assassination of General Fyodor Trepov, the Police Chief in St. Petersburg.  If this was one reason for Thomson’s visit to Russia, how might that link to the issues surrounding the Congress of Berlin?

By 1910, Mrs Thomson was  in difficult financial circumstances as her husband’s police pension had died with him (as was the custom in those days), and she took the opportunity in her letter to use her husband’s distinguished service (and her own assistance in 1887 in a secret surveillance operation on a Fenian; see Christy Campbell’s book Fenian Fire; 2002) to request some financial assistance.

Internal government correspondence on her letter expressed the viewpoint that “The whole story seems very romantic, if it is not mythical, as I cannot imagine what she means by the Privy Council sending him out” ( extract from memo of 13th April 1910 from R.S Meiklejohn; HO144/926/A49962;  Crown Copyright).  The Home Office  then replied to Martha Thomson on 14th May 1910 indicating that the Secretary of State “regrets that he is unable to satisfy you in any way“, with regard to financial assistance (HO144/926/A49962).

My specific interest is whether or not Thomson was involved in some secret mission in Russia. I think he probably was but I haven’t been able to locate any substantive information to confirm it (apart from that quoted above), or indeed why Thomson’s skills and expertise as a detective and senior policeman might have been helpful.  In addition,  how (as in his wife’s recollections) might he have helped to prevent War?

So having now cast my bait, I would be interested to see what rises to the surface or, to mix metaphors further, I would be delighted to locate anyone who has another piece of information that might fit my incomplete jigsaw of this aspect of James Thomson’s career. Please leave a comment below or contact me directly by email at

Herbert Edwin Clarke

My second ‘Congress of Berlin’ cul-de-sac concerns an aspect of my own family history. Herbert Clarke (known  as ‘Bob’ within his family) was the youngest son of my great-great grandfather, Chief Inspector George Clarke (a senior detective at Scotland Yard’s Detective Department between 1862-1878), and the subject of my recent biography ‘The Chieftain’. In 1878 George Clarke was forced by the Home Secretary (Sir Richard Cross) to retire following Clarke’s acquittal in the notorious 1877 ‘Trial of the Detectives’.

Whether or not George Clarke’s trial had unsettled his family sufficiently to encourage his youngest son to emigrate, I don’t know for sure.  However, some time in 1878 Herbert Clarke left to work in Cyprus and did not return to the UK to visit his family until 1904. He returned to Cyprus later that year and  died in Nicosia in October 1927.

In 1878, as a direct result of the Congress of Berlin, Britain took over the administration of Cyprus as a protectorate, from the Ottoman Empire.  Undoubtedly, the British administration would have led to the establishment of a police force, and military bases on the island and I suspect that Herbert Clarke may have worked initially within either the police or the army.

Possibly Herbert Clarke and his wife in Cyprus.

Possibly Herbert Clarke and his wife in Cyprus.

I have only one photograph that I believe to be of Herbert Clarke, showing a seated man in uniform with a woman (his wife perhaps) standing by.  I do not know whether the uniform is of military or police origin, but one thing for sure is that he certainly didn’t polish his boots before the photograph was taken.  Any comments or information that might add to my knowledge of Herbert (Bob) Clarke would be very welcome. Once again, please leave a comment below or contact me directly by email at



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Saved by the Royal Navy; Genoa 1907

Charlie Payne (right) with two of his work colleagues in Genoa, 1907

Charlie Payne (right) with two of his work colleagues in Genoa, 1907

The book that I am currently writing deals with the life and times of my grandfather, Charlie Payne, covering both his civilian life, and his military service during The Great War (1914-1919). In early March 1907 Charlie travelled to Italy to take up a position as a stenographer (shorthand clerk) with the American Express Company’s office in Genoa. Towards the end of the month, he was already struggling with aspects of life in Italy, as he recorded in his diary, but little did he know then that the Royal Navy would soon come to his rescue:

Tuesday 26th March: …My tobacco is nearly all gone and I cannot smoke the native stuff.  I must make inquiries and see if it will pay me to have some sent out from England.  Cigarettes here are dear and not very good and the cigars are absolutely rotten.  The sooner I learn how to smuggle the better.

Saturday 6th April:….My tobacco gave out today, so I had a “lash out” and treated myself to a 2oz. tin of “Wills Capstan Navy Cut Tobacco”, it costs here almost double the ordinary price, but never mind – it’s good, so here goes for a pipe and d–n the expense….

That tobacco did not last long, but in early May, the arrival in Genoa harbour of a Royal Navy ship put him in much better spirits, and delivered an unexpected windfall for Charlie and his colleagues:

HMS Venerable, a pre-dreadnought battleship

HMS Venerable, a pre-Dreadnought battleship (Wikipedia)

Sunday 5th May:  I have not written my diary up for the last two days because I have had very little to report, but have had a very busy and interesting time to-day.  Hearing that the English cruiser Venerable was in the port, it being a fine morning, after breakfast we hired a boat and rowed out to it and went on board.  We made friends with two of the young officers who showed us into every nook and cranny of the boat.  It is the first battleship I have been over, so I was in my glory, but I have never done so much climbing and jumping about before.  Then they loaded us up with English tobacco and some cigarettes and finally came ashore with us and we showed them the sights of Genoa.  It did seem funny to see English Jack Tars and Marines strolling about the streets.  They had to be on board again by 11 p.m., so we went to the boats and saw them off.  However, we are going to meet them again Tuesday evening.  Their names were Hidman and Craven, the first from Woolwich and the latter from Liverpool. Hurrah! I now have enough English tobacco to last me a fortnight with care.  I would like an English cruiser to come in every week.  Home about 12-30 and thoroughly tired.  I forgot to mention the reason why the cruiser called here is to meet the Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet – Prince Louis of Battenberg, who will arrive on Wednesday when of course she will be off again.

At this point in history, Britain did indeed ‘rule the waves’ and maintained a substantial and strategic naval presence around the world to protect its Empire.  The Mediterranean Fleet helped secure Britain’s access to the Suez Canal which provided the shortest routes from Britain to some of its principal colonial possessions, including India, Australia and New Zealand. Charlie had correctly identified the name of the Admiral of the Fleet in 1907.

Prince Louis of Battenburg (Wikipedia)

Prince Louis of Battenburg (Wikipedia)

Prince Louis of Battenberg (the maternal grandfather of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) was born in Austria and had become a naturalised British subject after joining the Royal Navy in 1868.  In 1912 he was appointed First Sea Lord but, after the declaration of War in August 1914 he became one of the first ‘war casualties’ when he was forced to resign on 29 October 1914, as a result of a surge of British anti-German sentiment. As a consequence, Britain lost one of the most effective officers in the Royal Navy at a critical moment.  Prince Louis later relinquished his German titles in 1917 and took the surname Mountbatten.

Meanwhile, in Genoa in 1907, further bounty was forthcoming from HMS Venerable for Charlie and his friends when, as his diary records:

Tuesday 7th May: …Met the middies [midshipmen] again and took them to the Music Hall and escorted them back to their ship at 11 p.m. They loaded us up with [more] English cigarettes and tobacco.

If anyone reading this blog post has any information on the young HMS Venerable ‘middies’, Hidman and Craven, I would love to hear about them, and I feel sure that the Royal Navy would not wish to press any charges of tobacco smuggling!



Posted in Charlie Payne's Hatbox, The Great War | Leave a comment

25th-30th March 1918: Charlie Payne at the Defence of Bucquoy

My Blog post today covers another aspect of my grandfather’s military service during the First World War.  Ninety-six years ago, Private Charlie Payne’s Battalion, the 5th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment was sent into action during the German Spring Offensive in 1918. Together with other British and Commonwealth units, the Battalion helped to halt a major German attack, during five days of intensive fighting that, in the annals of the First World War, has become known as the Defence of Bucquoy.It provides another illustration of why it is so important to remember and commemorate those who participated in this dreadful conflict.

For several months, a German attack on the Western Front in 1918 had been expected after Russia had surrendered, as Germany was now  able to release troops from the Eastern Front to expand their forces in France and Belgium.   The Allies anticipated a German  attack in Spring, and Charlie and others in his Battalion had been busy during the winter months helping to strengthen the defences in the southern sector of the British First Army Front Line positions (between Gavrelle and Acheville, north-east of Arras). On 21st March 1918, the  German Spring Offensive  started.  Coincidentally on the same day, Charlie’s Battalion was relieved after their usual duration in the Front Line . Charlie just had time on 23rd March to write a short letter home to his wife Ida and their fours sons before he was involved in some of the most desperate fighting during the War:

My dear Wife, I have your letters of the 10th & 15th, but  regret to say, dear, the parcel never reached my hands – it must have gone astray owing to being along with the R. E’s [Royal Engineers]– hard luck – Was there a letter in it? …  Did you receive that 5 franc note I enclosed in one of mine & which I got an artilleryman to post for me? Should like to know in your next. Well, little woman, I was very pleased to learn that son John got over the measles so well & that Dick & Rupert did not take them. Also it cheers me up immensely to learn that in spite of high prices, shortages etc. you manage so well.  – Expect to be on the move a good deal now, but will endeavour to write as often as possible, dear, but must ask you to excuse brevity.  At the moment we are out of the line.  We are still enjoying very fine warm weather here & I trust you are too, dear, as I know you like to get the boys out a bit. So the little chaps are waiting for me to take them out in their new suits – God grant they will not have to wait long.  I likewise am longing for that happy time.  Now that Spring is here, of course, dear, there must be some fighting – in fact, you will see by today’s paper “Johnny” is making an attack – he will catch a cold though, I have no doubt. Give my love to all upstairs, dear, & tell the boys I will try & write to them again soon. It is good to learn that your health stands this extra strain so well, dear, & I believe it will not be much longer necessary for you to work so hard.  God bless you, dear, & keep you all safe. Ever yours, Charlie

The main attack by the Germans (or “Johnny” as Charlie had referred to them in his letter) was unleashed on the Third and Fifth British armies that were holding the Line further to the south of Arras.  In these sectors, the German forces soon made considerable advances on a wide front, driving back the British forces several miles (particularly in the Fifth Army area) and, by 23rd March, considerable gaps appeared in the retreating British front line.  On the same day, the 62nd (West Riding) Division (which included Charlie’s Battalion), was transferred to the orders of Third Army and, on 24th March, received instructions that within the next 24 hours they would have to move to help fill a substantial gap in the British front line in the Third Army sector, near Bucquoy.

The March of the 2/5 Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on 25th-26th March 1918, to defend the Line at Bucquoy

The March of the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment on 25th-26th March 1918, to defend the Line at Bucquoy (Click on map to enlarge)

At 3.05am on 25th March, the Battalion marched from the Etrun area to Ayette, via Warlus, Beaumetz and Ransart. The roads were all very congested with moving troops and guns and the march was a lengthy, slow and tedious one. After arriving at Ayette at 7.50am the Battalion received orders to go on to Bucquoy. The area by now was one mass of artillery, and exhausted men  moving in the direction of the British retreat.  Marching in the opposite direction, the men of the 5th Duke of Wellington’s were instructed to dump their packs  at this stage, leaving them with just their fighting equipment and emergency rations. At 4.30 pm, Charlie’s Battalion  received orders to advance in front of Achiet le Petit to help guard the railway, south-east of the village. Before dusk, parties of the advancing enemy were clearly observed on the skyline in front  of Irles. There were some encounters with the enemy overnight and, just before dawn on 26th March, the Battalion received orders to retreat to high ground between Bucquoy and Puisieux. The Battalion was very closely followed by the enemy in large numbers, especially on the Miraumont-Puisieux Road, where B Company encountered an enemy cyclist patrol 40-strong with light machine guns, but which was dispersed by B Company’s Lewis gun fire (Charlie was a Lewis gunner in B Company). At this juncture, one Lewis gun team in B Company ‘disappeared’ and was probably taken prisoner by the Germans. The Battalion then formed a defensive line 330 yards east of the Bucquoy-Puisieux road, with Lewis guns pushed forward. Despite strong attacks by the Germans, the enemy was held back, and an attempt to outflank the Battalion was frustrated. A further orderly withdrawal of the Battalion was undertaken, establishing a Line running from the south-east corner of Rossignol Wood towards the south-east corner of Bucquoy.  After the withdrawal, the Battalion’s right flank was completely exposed, with Charlie’s Company being some three miles distant  from other Allied troops.

Approximate location of the 2/5th Battalion DoWs north of Rossignol Wood 26th-30th March 1918

Approximate  positions of the companies of the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s and a company of the 9th Durham Light Infantry, in a disused enemy trench system north of Rossignol Wood. These trenches had been vacated by the German forces during February-March 1917 during their strategic  withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. (Click on image to enlarge)

During the afternoon of 26th March, Germans were observed to be occupying Rossignol Wood, directly in front of B Company. The enemy attempted to advance towards the Battalion’s positions in small bodies but were driven off by Lewis gun and rifle fire; considerable casualties being inflicted.  Due to a misunderstanding  created by the difficult communications  between the Battalion and  Divisional Headquarters, during the heat of battle, Charlie’s Battalion (and  others in the same Brigade) withdrew further but, when the error was realized, Tanks were sent forward and the men rallied and advanced to their original positions and the enemy fled. Enemy night patrols were observed and taken prisoner.

On 27th March, the Germans again attacked in the open and by bombing up the trenches.  The bombing strategy again exposed the right flank of the Battalion. B Company and a platoon of the 9th Durham Light Infantry were then turned into a defensive flank and the Battalion’s position made secure. Night patrols were sent out; enemy patrols were encountered and driven off or taken prisoner. By the end of the day, troops from Australian and New Zealand forces had managed to  move into position to the right of Charlie’s battalion, and the gap in the Allied front line had been plugged. On 27th March, Field Marshall Douglas Haig recorded in his diary that  British troops had been attacked at Bucquoy but had vigorously counter-attacked and held the line in spite of enemy attacks repeated 10-11 times. 

A 2011 photograph of the site occcupied by the 2/5th DoWs

A 2011 photograph of the site occupied by the 5th Duke of Wellington’s near Bucquoy. Rossignol Wood is to the right. The village of Puisieux is on the horizon, just right of centre. (Click on image to enlarge)

There was no let-up on 28th March.  The enemy put down a heavy artillery barrage on the Battalion’s front line and to the rear, and attacked at 10.30am along the front. British artillery put down a counter barrage…and a stiff fight ensued but in no case did the enemy succeed in getting to the Battalion’s line.  Time after time the enemy massed to make fresh attacks but was decimated by accurate rifle and Lewis gun fire at each attempt. However, a platoon of D Company was isolated by a German trench- bombing attack, and despite strong resistance, was wiped out. Bomb fighting continued during the afternoon on the right of B Company and the riflemen were concentrated against enemy snipers in Rossignol Wood with satisfactory results. 

On 29th March, the enemy opened up with artillery and trench mortars, and the Battalion sustained some further casualties as a result.  During the day, enemy rifle and machine gun fire were particularly active.  This was replied to by field artillery and Lewis gun fire, and Stokes’ mortars. On 30th March, though somewhat quieter, the Battalion suffered increased shelling and sniping and enemy field guns enfiladed their positions from west of Rossignol Wood, causing serious casualties.

The German army also suffered heavy casualties during the Allied forces Defence of Bucquoy.  German gravestone in teh Rossignol Wood Cemetery, October 2011.

The German army also suffered heavy casualties during the  Defence of Bucquoy. German gravestone in the Rossignol Wood Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, (Photo October 2011).

By now, the German advance in this sector had been halted and the German forces themselves were spent from days of fighting and  the difficulty of maintaining supply lines in an area totally devastated by warfare. It was no doubt with some considerable relief to Charlie and his colleagues that the Battalion was finally relieved during the night of 30th March/1st April , and went into support. During the period 25-30th March 1918, 34 men in the Battalion were killed, 57 missing and 130 wounded. On 1 April the Battalion marched to billets at Henu.

It is difficult today, to imagine the conditions that the men of Charlie’s Battalion must have faced during six days of desperate defence, which was nonetheless successful in stopping the German advance in the Bucquoy area.  The events had started with a  lengthy and exhausting march, followed byintensive engagement with an enemy which had achieved considerable early success in pushing back the Allied forces  between 21st and 25th March. For all concerned, the conditions must have been appalling. Charlie’s Battalion suffered considerable  casualties (about 25% of the men), and encountered disrupted supply lines that would have made it extremely difficult to provide sufficient munitions, food and water during the period. Charlie’s message home on 3rd April 1918 gives little of this away, partly because of the extensive use of the censor’s blue pencil.

3rd April 1918. Since writing the foregoing I have received your further letters & was indeed sorry to learn that Dick & little Rupert took the measles after all, but perhaps it is as well & I know that in your capable hands they will soon get over them. Well little woman, ….[ at this point the censor’s blue pencil intervenes and strikes out 6 ½  lines]… you will see by the papers that the Germans have started their great offensive – but do not be downhearted, dear, – I cannot believe they will meet with success in the end – their losses must be terrible.  We are now out of the line, but of course not for long these days. I note all your other news, dear, but have a lot of cleaning up etc. to do, so please excuse brevity.  How pleased I feel that you keep so well, & I pray God that you may not have a recurrence of your old complaint.  Keep up a good heart, dear.  We cannot do more than that & just leave the rest to God. Ever yours, Charlie.”

It is  deeply ironic that, while Charlie was helping to fight off the German Army, his sons back in the UK were apparently fighting another German ‘export’: German Measles!

If you are interested in finding out more about Charlie’s experiences during the First World War, you will find several other relevant articles elsewhere on my Blog:

Further accounts of events during ‘The Defence of Bucquoy’ can be found in the War Diary of the 5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment available at The National Archives, Kew, London, UK (Document WO 95/3086), and in Wyrall, E. ; The Story of the 62nd (West Riding) Division 1914-1919 Volume 1 pages 143-164.

Posted in Charlie Payne's Hatbox, The Great War | 14 Comments

Lessons learnt from writing a non-fiction book

'The Chieftain' a biography of Detective Chief inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011

The Chieftain‘ a biography of Detective Chief inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011

Two years ago I finally achieved one of the main tasks on my ‘bucket list’:  to complete my research on an ancestor who had worked as a senior detective at Scotland Yard in the Victorian era;  to write a book about his experiences that a commercial publisher would be prepared to take on board, and to see that book on the shelves of  high-street bookstores. Unwrapping the box containing the first copies of the book will always remain with me as a truly memorable experience.

I learnt some lessons  along the way which I thought I would share with other budding authors of non-fiction books.

1. If you get carried away by the fun of research as much as I do, it is essential to discipline yourself.  Don’t go off in too many directions at once and make sure that you file the information you obtain in a structured fashion. For my purposes, I assemble the information that emerges from my research, into a chronological order (relevant to the main subject of the book),  and incorporate cross-references to documentary sources, including photocopies, online databases, and my hand-written or electronically-captured notes. It is extremely frustrating, while writing the book, if you are unable to quickly lay your hands on that newspaper clipping, photograph, website or research notes that you remember discovering or writing a year or so previously. There is really no excuse these days for the muttered “where the hell did I put it” comment.  There are  specific software packages and databases available to help authors organise their research, but I have found that creating a  chronological table of relevant events, cross-referenced to my information sources, is perfectly adequate.

One page in the working chronology of events in 'The Chieftain's ' life

One page in the working chronology of events in ‘The Chieftain’s ‘ life

2. Before you start writing, you need to answer a series of questions about the book, such as the 10 questions posed in Bobbie Linkemer’s blog article at .  If you are going to approach a commercial publisher with your plans, they will expect you to have such information at your fingertips, including a draft book title and subtitle; expected word count; deadline for completion of the text; how many illustrations will be included; why your book will be original; your target market; organisations to which your book should be publicised etc. If you are planning to self-publish, this preparation is still invaluable.  Your ideas will evolve further as you get down to the writing, but I certainly felt better once I had thought about my target audience more, and had set a word limit and time deadline.

3. Writing. You don’t have to start a book at the beginning.  I knew that the subject matter in the second chapter of my last book was likely to be easier to write, and would probably provide a better indication  that the book would contain new information.  So when my potential publishers asked for evidence of my writing, I wrote that second chapter and I was fortunate that they rose to the bait and we agreed a contract.  In addition, I now had a good chapter ‘under my belt’ and felt greatly encouraged as a consequence.

4. We all have different approaches to writing. Once I start, I try to write for at least 3-4 hours a day even when the muse isn’t with me. I will then spend an hour or so ‘polishing’ the text that I’ve produced that day before metaphorically ‘sticking it in a drawer’ for  about a week before taking a fresh look at it.  This won’t work for everybody and you will need to develop your own rhythm.

5. Give yourself plenty of thinking time, both during the research and writing phases. Taking a dog for a walk in the countryside is the main way in which I create the time to mull things over.  Don’t allow yourself to forget the ‘good ideas’ that can emerge!

6. It’s also a good idea to identify at least a couple of constructive people who will be prepared to read and comment on individual chapters and/or the entire text before you submit your final draft for publication. I test out my drafts on at least two readers who have a general interest in the subject and ideally another one or two who have specific expertise on the subject matter of individual chapters.  This can provide an invaluable set of comments that help remove any substantial ‘howlers’ from the text, and give you a good guide about the likely interest of the book to general readers and specialists.  If you are like me, your first draft of the book will be longer than the word count that you set out to achieve.  Cutting the text can be painful but has to be done, not least to reduce additional page charges for hard copies of the book. However, make sure that you save any substantial deleted material as you may be able to use it on your website and blog, to help promote the book.

7. OK, so now your final text is with the publisher. Well done; but don’t waste the time between submission and publication (which can be short, particularly for self-published material). You need to be working to promote your book even if you have a commercial publisher behind you.  If you haven’t already got a website and blog, I would recommend that you do so.  I received excellent mentoring and support for that process from James Kalmakoff at Kalmak Consultancy, and continue to do so. In addition, to help build a target market and to promote my book(s), I use Facebook and LinkedIn and make myself available for talks.

None of this is rocket science, but I hope that my comments will help encourage other budding authors through the process.  I’m now writing my next book, and fitting in research for another, which has been prompted by exciting contacts that I have made via my blog. Keep writing!

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Scotland Yard Detectives in the Victorian Era; Online and other Digitised Resources

As is clear from several of my blog posts, one of my principal research interests is the history of the Scotland Yard Detective Department during the mid-Victorian period;  from its establishment in 1842 until the creation of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in 1878.  Of particular interest to me are the careers of the individual detective officers who served during that era. Having  written a number of online articles on several  of Scotland Yard’s senior detectives during the mid-Victorian era (the majority of them being household names in their time), I felt that it might be of interest to start developing a catalogue of the principal online and other digitised sources of information  for individual detectives. This blog post represents a starting point, which I would propose to update as new information becomes available.

The cult of the fictional Victorian detective, including Sherlock Holmes, has tended to obscure the achievements of those publicly-employed detectives operating in the real world of Victorian London.  Indeed Conan-Doyle and other authors, despite writing some hugely-enjoyable books, have wittingly or otherwise created an image of the Scotland Yard detectives of their day as, bumbling, and frequently unsuccessful agents of the Crown .  They were much more interesting than that. The fictional picture has also been further compounded by some non-fiction  authors in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries who have developed their own ‘true-crime’ parodies of Victorian crime-detection.  To some extent one can almost forgive these  later authors as, in their day, they had little or no access to the original Victorian crime reports (many of which had not been released into the public domain before the mid 1960s), or to readily-accessible archives of contemporary newspapers.  However, some of the texts  produced during this period (which almost invariably do not cite their sources) contain so much misinformation that they are little better in defining the reality of Victorian crime detection, than fictional accounts. However, since the mid 1960s, the release of contemporary Victorian documentation into national and regional archives and particularly, within the last 5 years, the increasing availability of digitised newspapers, and court proceedings (e.g. Old Bailey Online), has transformed the accessibility of primary sources of research material. As a result, other on-line and other digitised accounts of the realities of Victorian crime detection are becoming more readily available.

The digitised sources of information that I have assembled below, concentrate on those senior detectives who served at Scotland Yard between 1862 and 1878.  The information is presented in alphabetical order of surnames.  The ranks attributed to the individual officers are the most senior rank that they achieved during their service  (to the best of my knowledge). Naturally, I would welcome comments, corrections and suggestions of additional sources of information that I should include.

Where substantive published accounts (e.g. e-books) are available, links have been set up to the relevant webpages; these books are also available from most other bookshops and online book retailers. Direct links to courtroom and newspaper accounts of individual crimes have not been included in this short catalogue as that information can readily be accessed by searching existing online databases including Old Bailey Online, The British Newspaper ArchiveThe Times Digital Archive, and British Library 19th Century Newspapers (the last two archives  being accessible free via many public libraries  in the UK)


Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke

Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard, 1877

Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard, 1877

Short biography:

Published biography: ‘The Chieftain available as e-book and as paperback.

Some career highlights: 1864, North London Railway Murder; 1864, Plaistow Marshes Murder ; 1868 and 1876, Suspicious Death at Lymm and the Austrian Tragedy (Henri de Tourville); 1870, Arrest of the Fenian, Michael Davitt ; 1871, Arson in London ; 1877, Clarke’s Arrest and Trial; 1878, Clarke’s Retirement

Other online information sources: Unpublished cases involving George Clarke.

Detective Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich

Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich (1877)

Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich (1877)

Short biography:

Books: Druscovich is frequently referred to in: ‘The Chieftain‘. Also referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘.

Some career highlights: 1867, Fenian Surveillance in Paris ; 1872, Murder of Marie Riel by Marguerite Dixblanc ; 1876, Mutiny and Murder on the Lennie ;  1876-77, The Great Turf Fraud; 1877, The Trial of the Detectives .

Detective Inspector John Meiklejohn (1877)

Detective Inspector John Meiklejohn (1877)

Detective Inspector John Meiklejohn

Books: Meiklejohn  is frequently referred to in ‘The Chieftain‘. Also referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘.

Some career highlights: 1877, The Trial of the Detectives

Detective Chief Inspector William Palmer

Chief Inspector William Palmer, 1877

Chief Inspector William Palmer, 1877

Short biography:

Books: Palmer is frequently referred to in: ‘The Chieftain‘. Also referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘.

Some career highlights: 1877, The Trial of the Detectives

Detective Inspector Richard (Dick) Tanner

(No image available)

Books: Tanner was the lead detective in the North London Railway Murder investigations (1864) and receives comprehensive coverage in that context in ‘Mr Briggs’ Hat‘. Tanner  is also frequently referred to in: ‘The Chieftain‘, referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘ and mentioned in the context of his participation in the Road Hill House murder investigations, in ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher‘.

Some career highlights: 1864, North London Railway Murder

Superintendent James Thomson (Scotland yard detective department 1862-1869; Superintendent of E Division (1869-1887)

Superintendent James Thomson (Scotland Yard Detective Department 1862-1869; Superintendent of E Division 1869-1887). Photo courtesy of Frederic Le Marcis

Superintendent James Jacob Thomson

Short biography: and

Books: Thomson is frequently referred to in: ‘The Chieftain‘. Also referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘. Thomson was the arresting officer  in 1871 of ‘Fanny and Stella‘, the  transvestites, Boulton and Park. (The ‘Inspector Thompson’ [sic] referred to in this book was Superintendent Thomson). ‘Fenian Fire’ [no digitised version available] mentions Thomson’s involvement in Fenian surveillance and other ‘undercover’ activities after his retirement from the police force in 1887.

Some career highlights: 1867, Arrest of Ricard Burke, the Fenian arms-organiser.

[I will be presenting further information about Thomson in a talk at the Police History Society Conference, Hallmark Hotel, Derby, UK, 19-21 September 2014]

Detective Inspector Jonathan (Jack) Whicher

Detective Inspector Jonathan Whicher, c 1860 (Wikipedia)

Detective Inspector Jonathan Whicher, c 1860

Short biography: Wikipedia: Jack Whicher

Books: Whicher  is  mentioned in: ‘The Chieftain‘, and  in ‘The Victorian Detective‘. He was the lead detective in the Road Hill House murder investigations, and is described in much detail in this context in ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher‘.

Chief Constable Adolphus Frederick Williamson

Chief Constable Adolphus Frederick Williamson

Chief Constable Adolphus Frederick Williamson

Short biography:

Books: Williamson  is  frequently referred to in: ‘The Chieftain‘, referenced in ‘The Victorian Detective‘ and mentioned in the context of his participation in the Road Hill House murder investigations, in ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher‘.

Some career highlights: 1867, Fenian Surveillance in Paris ; 1872, Murder of Marie Riel by Marguerite Dixblanc ; 1876, Mutiny and Murder on the Lennie ;  1876-77, The Great Turf Fraud; 1877, The Trial of the Detectives .



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