Hello again readers. Here is my final contribution to WeSeWriMo 2015 and serial or episode 8 of 8 in this August 2015 writing challenge. I have been presenting regular accounts of murder mayhem and robbery on the railways over this last month of August. Included have been blogs about the first railway robbery, first great train robbery and first railway murder. All of the early railway companies were set up by businessmen as a faster, cheaper and better way of moving their goods. On the Stockton and Darlington Railway it was coal, on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway it was cotton. An unintended bonus for these companies was a huge and sudden rise in the use of railways by passengers with resulting large revenues. The new railways had cut hours off journeys by horse drawn coaches and canal boats. Soon the railways were offering passenger only trains and organising excursions. The first such was to take excited customers to the races at Newton. Race meetings and Fairs always attracted large numbers of criminals and now they too were travelling by train. The likes of card sharpers, thimble riggers and pick-pockets now found new victims and they could not easily escape from the bounds of their fast-moving train carriage. In short the railways were rapidly becoming a dangerous place, especially for those travelling alone, those with money or something else that a criminal or perverted mind might desire to take – including a ladies honour!
The newspapers were filled with accounts of railway robberies and violent assaults, with one of the worst recorded being recorded against Thomas Briggs. Some criminals were now travelling on a train purposefully to commit a robbery and they carefully selected their victims. They were usually travelling alone in a carriage and were seen as vulnerable and not likely to defend themselves. The carriages on the railways had no connecting doors or corridors. Those inside a compartment had no means to contact the guard in case of any emergency. The doors were not automatically locked upon departure and could be opened at any time. This allowed some criminals to make their escape before arriving at any station. They could also dispose of any evidence, valuables, or even a body through the carriage door. In short a railway compartment could be a very frightening place to be, especially if the only other gentleman seated with you decided to make his move. The newspapers spared no sensitivities in describing the injuries of the males who had been assaulted and or robbed. They did however write much more carefully should a lady be involved. They would give little detail, especially if the incident was of the type ladies feared worst, an indecent assault or worse. For some ladies there was one particular fate worse than death and some quite literally chose to risk death before dishonour and try to escape from the compartment they were trapped in. The newspapers never used the r word in their reports. They did use such terms as “feloniously ravishing” or “felonious assault.”
The first recorded felonious assault took place quite early in the history of the railways. The Strand, a London newspaper carried a very small column in its Police Intelligence column on Sunday February 2nd 1840. It reported an attack inside one of the carriages of the Eastern Counties Railway by Richard Bradshaw. The unfortunate first victim was called Mrs Sarah Cullum. In 1864 came a number of incidents. In February 1864 a man called Whitehead was indicted for indecent assault in a railway carriage. He was sentenced to two months imprisonment and had to pay a fine of £25.
It was also wrong to assume that a lady might be safe if she stepped into a carriage already occupied by ladies and gentlemen. There was no way of knowing when the other ladies might leave the train….. and criminals and ruffians did not always travel alone. The Strand, London England reported a particularly nasty encounter in its edition of September 13 1864. This concerned a young lady travelling across London and who missed the 8.30 train from London Bridge. She then had to wait for the next train to Balham at 9.45pm. Being alone at such late hour she took precautions and entered a compartment in a third class carriage already occupied by two other females and three men dressed as gentlemen. By this time it was dark outside and there was no lamp in the carriage. The two other women got out at Crystal Palace, leaving her with the three “gentlemen.” The Strand recorded what happened next,
“On the train starting again one of them spoke very rudely and she went away and stood against the off window. One of these fellows then went towards her and pulled at her by the shawl. Not succeeding he then stooped down and caught hold of her leg, endeavouring to drag her on the ground, putting his hand up to her knees, and had she not held on by the window she must have been pulled down. She screamed out and knocked in vain with her umbrella against the next compartment, whilst the other two brutes sat laughing at her distress. She strove to attract the guard’s attention at Gypsy Hill, but they kept possession of the window, and in the hurry of passengers and darkness her attempts were futile. At Streatham she made a determined effort to call the guard but they pushed her violently against the other side of the carriage; they then all got out together, slamming the door, calling out to the guard “All right!” The young girl alighted the train at Balham, terrified and crying, and obtained the aid of a porter, who saw her part of the way home.”
A spirited defence had saved the girls honour but not every female survived such an encounter. There are records of young women seen joining a train but who failed to arrive at their destination. The Daily News London England detailed another railway outrage with fatal results it its edition of November 17th 1864. Two young ladies, one Janet Lamb and a girl called McClaren were travelling on the North British Railway with one unknown travelling companion, a young man the worse for wear of. They should have left the train at Cupar station but did not. As the train left the station and accelerated away both ladies decided to jump outof a moving carriage. The girl McLaren jumped out first and was sent spinning down the embankment but survived. Janet Lamb then jumped but as she did so her head collided with an iron mile post and she was killed instantly. The reason for the jump was explained by the newspaper,
“The girl McClaren adds that the carriage lamp had gone out and that the man who was their fellow traveller was molesting them – leaving the inference to be drawn that they both rushed out of the carriage to prevent him taking liberties with them.”
As the century neared its close came reports of the first murder of a woman on the railways. Miss Elizabeth Camp was seen boarding a train at Hounlsow. Her body was found when the train arrived at its destination, hidden beneath the seat in a carriage compartment. Was this a railway robbery, a felonious assault or both? The newspapers failed to explain and to this day her murder remains a mystery.
Sometimes women were not the victims of crime, they were occasionally known to use the railways to commit offences themselves. Some prostitutes were known to visit stations to pick up men. One such was Mary Reynolds of Oldham and she was known to travel on trains with her clients. An empty compartment could be put to good use and afforded secrecy to any gentleman who might be concerned for his reputation. Some ladies of the night knew how to make money from lone travellers. They could extort money from men by threatening to call the guard and reporting them for an imaginary indecent assault. Without any other witnesses it would be the word of a “lady” against a gentleman. There could only be one outcome, the guard would call the police, the man would be arrested and brought before a magistrate. It was therefore much cheaper to hand over a handful of coins than have ones reputation and honour dragged through the courts.
Concern about crime and incidents on the railways had become so bad that by 1862 the Railway Travellers Handbook printed the following advice to single travellers,
“In going through a tunnel it is always as well to have the hands and arms disposed for defence so that in the event of an attack the assailant may immediately be beaten back or restrained.”
If travelling through a tunnel was considered dangerous for a gentleman, it must have been a terrifying experience for a lone female in a railway carriage. The very thought of what might happen in the darkness and smoke and confusion would be enough to give any lady palpitations!
Copyright@ Mike Sheridan 2013 All Rights Reserved
All text in this blog is my work and created from in-depth research from primary sources. Most of my 8 blogs about murder, robbery, mayhem and mystery will be used to create my third true crime book. No part may be used copied or quoted without my permission.
This blog completes my participation in WeSeWriMo 2015. I have enjoyed the challenge and achieving my target of creating 8 written episodes for an audience. I hope those who have read my blogs had as much fun reading them as I had researching and writing them! You read about my new book here first and have been able to read some of the most important chapters for free!