Hello again readers, here is my episode 6 of a planned 8 concerning Crime on the Railways 1830-1899. Climb on board, its time to depart!
Saturday afternoon 9th July 1864. At three o’clock Thomas Briggs left the bank of Messrs Roberts, Curtis & Co where he worked as a chief clerk. He proceeded to his niece’s residence at Peckham where he dined. He was seen into an omnibus in the Old Kent Road by the husband of the niece at half past eight o’clock. Before parting he intimated that he would proceed to the City then take the train from Fenchurch Street to Hackney where he lived. That was the last time he was seen alive.
When the 9.45 train from Fenchurch Street arrived at Hackney, a gentleman entered a first class compartment. He found blood on the cushions, the floor and on the windows and called the guard. In some places were small pools of blood. Inside the carriage the guard also found a gentleman’s hat, a walking stick and a small leather bag. Some ladies who had travelled in the adjoining compartment then called for the guard. They informed him that blood had spurted through their carriage window onto their dresses after the train left the station at Bow. The guard telegraphed this information to the station master at Bow, a Mr Kebble. First impressions were that some-one had committed suicide and thrown himself out of the window onto the line.
As this discovery was being made the driver and stoker of an engine had discovered a body lying in the six—feet way near the Mitford Arms Tavern between Wick station and Bow locomotive works. The stoker left the engine and found the body of a gentleman saturated in blood and apparently dead. He called the driver then ran down the bank to the Mitford Arms Tavern and aided by the landlord and several persons they carried the gentleman into the Tavern.
“When got there and laid on a couch, suspicions of foul play were at once aroused, for his head seemed to have been battered in by some sharp instrument. His clothes were covered in blood, and the broken link or hook of a watch chain was hanging to a button hole of his waistcoat. Neither watch nor the other part of the chain was found, and this at once led to the supposition that he had been plundered. The landlord gave information to the police, and sent for medical assistance. Mr Brieton, surgeon of Old Ford, soon arrived and was followed by Mr. H Garman surgeon and Mr Vincent Cooper. These gentlemen examined the unfortunate man who was quite insensible. On the left side of the head just over the ear, which was torn away, was found a deep wound, the skull was fractured and the bone driven in. On the base of the skull there were four or five lacerated wounds, there were more blows on other parts of the head, and the medical gentlemen expressed their surprise that the unfortunate sufferer should be alive, the wound over the left ear being sufficient to cause death. Stimulants were applied with a view to restoring consciousness but to no effect.”
The police arrived in the form of Inspector Kerressey of K Division from Bow station . He immediately began searching the gentleman for clues to his identity. In the breast coat pocket a packet of letters were found, all addressed to “T Briggs, Esq, Messrs Roberts, Curtis and Co, Lombard Street.” The Inspector sent off a messenger to the bank to learn where the gentleman lived. In his trouser pockets he found £4 and 10 shillings in gold and silver and his coat pocket contained a silver snuffbox. The messenger sent to the bank discovered that a Mr Briggs worked there and he returned with a home address to Mr Kerressey. An officer was despatched to the address given to convey sad news to his family. The gentleman’s son and other members of the family proceeded to the Mitford Tavern where they identified the injured man beyond all doubt. The family doctor a Mr Tomlin was also in attendance and owing to a large and boisterous crowd outside the tavern, it was decided to take the injured man back to his home at 5 Clapton Square Hackney.
“Through Mr Briggs Junior the police ascertained that when his father left home on the Saturday morning he wore a gold watch with an Albert chain and a gold eye glass attached to aa hair guard. On examining the waistcoat it was seen that a watch had been torn from the waistcoat pocket, and the chain had been broken short off the link which still held to the waistcoat pocket. The gold glasses were also missing. Mr Briggs Junior also identified the hat, stick and bag which were found in the compartment as those belonging to his father. The police having got a description of the watch and gold glass, forwarded it to all the police stations in the metropolis with the facts of the outrage, and then proceeded with Mr Kerressey to examine minutely the carriage in which the crime was committed. The carriage was brought back to Bow and placed in a shed which was thhen secured.”
The carriage had three first class compartments, one showed signs of deadly struggle having taken place with clotted pools of blood on the floor and cushions. One side of the carriage was found to be smeared with blood as it if had been spurted as the train flew by. The windows were down and on the brass handles were marks of a bloody hand. This fact seemed to imply the door had been opened to throw the body out. On the step beneath the door a portion of the hair guard attached to the gold glasses was found. On the floor of the compartment one of the broken links of the watch chain was discovered.
Mr Briggs did not regain consciousness and died at a quarter to twelve on Sunday 10th July 1864. There had been a number of serious assaults and robberies on various railways before but nothing like this. Mr Briggs became the first ever murder victim on the railways and his death and violent assault in a first class carriage caused a wave of revulsion and comment about the safety of travelling by train. The Daily News ( London, England) carried a detailed report in its first edition of Monday July 11th and gave some hope to wary and frightened passengers,
“Up to the time of this being written, Mr Inspector Kerressey were resolutely making every possible inquiry, with a view of capturing the guilty person or persons, and it is hoped that before long some clue will be obtained which will led to their apprehension.”
In a later edition the same newspaper unknowingly revealed the discovery of a key clue that would eventually help to crack this case,
“The hat found in the railway carriage turns out to be that of the murderer, he having taken Mr. Briggs hat in mistake.”
Mr Brigg’s hat, his Albert watch and gold chain would all eventually be traced and would lead to the identification of the UK’s first railway killer. The murderer would eventually be discovered and chased across the Atlantic Ocean to New York by a determined police officer.
It is not possible to bring the full story in this short episode / chapter. For those who are seriously interested I strongly recommend Kate Colquhoun’s excellent book “Mr Briggs Hat”, available from all good book stores and Amazon. It is one of my own personal favourite true historical crime books.
Copyright@Mike Sheridan 2015 All Rights Reserved
All text herein is my own work and has been created from primary sources, specifically old newspapers from 1864. I have not taken any text at all from Kate Colquhoun’s book nor any other book, article or website. No part may be copied stored used or quoted without my prior agreement. The various episodes will form the basis of my third true crime book and should be published by Christmas 2015.
Illustration shows Bow Street Police Station in 1864 with the murderer delivered pending his trial. ( Penny Illustrated News)
NEXT EPISODE that is 7 of 8 should be …. Railway Station Assassination Plot!