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Scotland Yard's Black Museum

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Scotland Yard's Black Museum

Post by Karen on Wed 25 Dec 2013 - 13:06


Mementoes of Several Notorious Criminals. The Greatest Ingenuity That Has Been Misapplied - Ghastly Relics That Make the Observer's Blood Run Cold.

An intensely gloomy sky, a few heavy drops of rain, flashes of lightning, and loud thunder crashing over the great city - these were the very appropriate accompaniments of my descent into that weird chamber, yclept the Black museum, in Scotland yard, wherein are collected the memorials and relics of great criminals and their hapless victims. Ghastly as are his surroundings, yet I fancy that that which most strikes the thoughtful visitor is the terrible misuse of great ability which is here so remarkably evidenced by what is shown.


The police officer will show the ladder invented and used by Mr. Charles Peace, when bound upon his little night expeditions of depredation and burgling. To invent such an exceedingly clever mechanical contrivance argued the possession on his part of endless engineering, carpentering and architectural capacity; to have been able to use it, as he used it, proves him to have been capable of an acrobatic agility which would, in a very literal sense, have placed him at the very head of a performing troupe of acrobats, but which talent, employed as he employed it, landed him only at last upon the "bad eminence," whereon stood the gallows upon which he met his hideous fate. And that Lefroy's talents were of no mean nature, despicable and brutal as was his crime, is distinctly evidenced by the letter he wrote to a friend, wherein, in well set phrases, and in a clear, bold, and not in the least in a vulgar handwriting, he congratulates him upon the admirable manner in which he had acted the part of Mother Hubbard in a pantomime which the poor wretch had written and produced in some hall in the suburbs of London. Brutal as was his crime, contemptible as was his cowardice which he evinced when brought face to face with his terrible but well merited fate, yet, as I read the letter, written in brighter and happier days, I could but say to myself:
"Oh, the pity of it! Oh, the pity of it!" And then take that little dark lantern into your hand and study carefully the extremely able and delicate manner in which it has been constructed, and you will say that the man who could so cleverly convert an ordinary Bryant and May match box into such an admirable bull's eye lantern was surely capable of a higher and better walk in life than that pursued by the mere "common or garden" burglar. Half the ingenuity, half the energy, half the trouble and worse than wasted time would have made that man a wealthy and respectable member of society, and yet the path illumined by the light from that cleverly contrived little lantern has only sufficed to lead him to a prison wherein for years he must labor at the most degrading and unprofitable work that it is possible to conceive.


Very ghastly and very horrible, but still with a fearful interest all their own, are some of the relics that lie scattered about in rich confusion. Lipski's coat and the petticoat of his victim, both saturated and burned with that terrible fluid which he poured down her throat are there, as also is the very bottle of death itself, ugh! how one shudders as one looks. And there is a murderer's diary, written in prison, and which contains advice to those about to marry, similar to but even more forcibly expressed than in Punch's celebrated dictum, "Don't." For it was a woman who had brought him to his horrid end, at least so he says.
On the shelf beside it is the cast of a murderer's head; and whose head, think you? Why, no less a person than the public hangman himself! Grinning, ghastly, horrible as it is, it recalls forcibly to the mind that hangman in Dickens' novel, "Barnaby Rudge," and the craven fear he exhibited when he, the callous brute who had so cheerfully put so many to death, was himself led out at last to face the grisly foe. And then the guide puts into your hand the pistol with which O'Donnell shot Carey, the Irish informer, and there is also the very bullet which was extracted from the latter's body after death.
"Look at this piece of skin, sir," said my kind and courteous guide, putting into my hand a small but very substantial piece of black leather; "that is part of Bellingham's skin, the man who shot Mr. Percival in the lobby of the house of commons." A very pretty Japanese dagger greatly fascinated me - it was so dainty, so beautifully designed, so entirely suited for the adornment of an aesthetic West End drawing room. But its history is a sad one, for with it a sailor had stabbed to the heart a girl who loved and trusted him. And oh! how touching are the relics of these poor female victims, many of them of a terribly low and degraded class. In at least three instances I saw well thumbed hymn books and prayer books in which were scribbled all over the names of the poor dead and gone creatures, and in one instance even the name of the wretch who had taken her sunless, wretched life away. In that ghastly album of photographs I saw much that was of deepest interest, when one took into account the dreadful notoriety which was attached to each celebrated picture.
Tichborne's portrait, taken three years ago, depicted a very thin, pale face bearded man, with not a single particle of likeness to the jovial and corpulent "nobleman" who disappeared from public ken some fifteen years ago. As I was gazing, with mingled loathing and disgust, at these sickening memorials of a bygone and a very wicked past, a something touched my face, and, looking up, I saw with a shudder that a noosed rope was swinging above my head. "Ah, sir," said the policeman, with a grim smile on his face, "that has done some work in its time." "Come," I said to my friend, "let us get out of this," and, with a gasp of relief, we sprang out of the gloomy chamber of sin and death, and out into the sweet wind swept streets, wherein the rain had ceased to fall, and upon which God's sun was shining once again, and all was life and hope and joy, and the Black museum but a dream - a very real and ghastly one, but still, to me at all events, a dream of the guilty, sin laden, deathly past. - London Standard.

Source: The Independent: Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Friday October 18, 1889

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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