The Saffron Hill Murder (10) — Henry Negretti

Although Gregorio Mogni had been convicted of the manslaughter of Michael Harrington, no immediate reprieve was granted to Serafino Pelizzioni.  He remained under sentence of death.  The next phase of the affair was played out wholly in the press: some elements backed the authorities, but others, led in particular by The Telegraph, backed Henry Negretti, who began attacking those authorities with increasing bitterness.  

Henry Negretti. © Grace’s Guide Ltd.

Negretti was a remarkable man.  Born Enrico Angelo Ludovico Negretti in Como in 1818, he arrived in London at the age of twelve and learned his trade mainly with Caesar Tagliabue of Hatton Garden, a barometer and thermometer maker, also from Como.  Negretti married Mary Peet (1827-1895), the daughter of a well-to-do Islington warehouseman, in 1845.  In 1850, he formed an enduring business partnership with Joseph Warren Zambra (1822-1897), whose father was also an instrument-maker from Como, although Zambra himself was born in England.  

The young partners became the only London-based meteorological instrument-makers to win prize medals at the Great Exhibition in 1851.  Before long they were appointed official Instrument Makers to the Queen, to the Royal Observatory, the British Meteorological Society, the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, etc.  They were also pioneers of photography, sponsoring Francis Frith’s photographic expedition to Egypt and Pierre Rossier’s to China and Japan — producing the first commercial photographs of those countries.

James Glaisher & Henry Tracey Coxwell. By Negretti & Zambra. Albumen carte-de-visite, late 1862. NPG x22561. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Among the instruments they made were some for the great aeronauts of the day, Henry Tracey Coxwell (1819-1900) and James Glaisher (1809-1903) — instruments for measuring the temperature, density, and humidity of the atmosphere at altitude — which Negretti would instal and calibrate before take-off.  In 1863, he himself became the first man to take aerial photographs from a balloon in flight — an entertaining account of which he sent to the press.  Coxwell’s mammoth balloon, the car converted to a dark-room, was launched from the gas-works at Sydenham.  The photographs admittedly left “quelque chose à desirer” — in Negretti’s phrase — but “it had been demonstrated that photographic views can be taken at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 feet from the ground” (London Evening Standard,1st June 1863).

London Evening Standard, 1st June 1863. © British Library Board.

Negretti already had a certain celebrity of his own when he travelled to Southampton to greet Garibaldi in April 1864.  Having been Garibaldi’s host ten years earlier, he now took a leading part in the arrangements for the visit.  Arriving in London by train at Nine Elms, Negretti was in the General’s carriage as it took several hours to reach Westminster, so thick was the press of the crowd: “If all South London was in Kennington Lane, the whole metropolis must have been in Kennington Road” (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Friday 15th April 1864).      

Garibaldi Receiving Addresses at the Crystal Palace. Illustrated London News, 30th April 1864.

A few days later, Negretti was Garibaldi’s host at Crystal Palace when thousands more turned out to greet the Italian hero.  To tumultuous cheering Garibaldi thanked “the noble and glorious English nation” for all the help his cause had received: “I admire this noble nation which stands so proudly at the head of the civilisation of the world … I have seen one great thing — half a million of people kept in order by a dozen policemen — plain, simple, policemen, for there are no gendarmes, no mouchards in this country.  They cannot live in its free air … The English-people … have a respect for the laws, which they know are good and just …  Let us imitate them, and admire their noble and splendid institutions” (Dover Telegraph, Saturday 23rd April 1864).

Those words must surely have resonated with Negretti when less than a year later he became aware of Pelizzioni’s plight.  Even before Mogni came to trial, his anger at the monstrous injustice seemingly about to disgrace his adopted country spilled out into the newspapers.  Although not blaming judge or jury, he savaged the witnesses at Pelizzioni’s trial — “The worthy gentlemen who swore … to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, told the judge and jury that Serafino Pelizzoni, Serafino Pelizzoni only, and no other soul (Italian or English) entered the bagatelle room”.  He quoted back verbatim their sworn testimony at the preliminary hearings: William King — “The prisoner and other Italians came into the room”; Richard Millership [sic] — “the prisoner rushed in first; there were several other Italians behind him”; Charles Bannister — “a number of Italians … rushed in”; John Liddle — “Several other Italians followed him into the room”; Alfred Rebbeck — “I saw the prisoner leading his way… There were about twelve or fourteen Italians altogether”.

“There, sir, what do you think of the witnesses?  Ought such creatures to be allowed to take an oath, especially when the life of man hangs upon their veracity? … Excuse me for feeling indignant, but I cannot help it”. 

He then turned to the police and Potter’s identification evidence: “The prisoner, an Italian, with a strongly marked Italian countenance, wearing a moustache, dressed in the peculiar style that Italian workmen adopt, was placed nearest the dying man, along with six or seven Englishmen — none of whom had moustachios excepting the surgeons — for the purpose of identification.  Now, sir, if this statement be true — and I see no reason to doubt it, for one of the surgeons who attended the deceased told me of it to-day — such a mode of obtaining a dying man’s statement, and of identifying a man, is a disgrace to humanity.  I will not say anything as to the man being under the influence of opium at the time.  There sir, I cannot say any more; let your readers draw their own conclusions as to the fair behaviour of the police throughout this affair”.

The letter continued with a bitter indictment of the suppression of some telling pieces of evidence, not least the confrontation between Harrington and Mogni in the taproom and the business of the hats.  “Allow me to say, in conclusion, that I have taken extraordinary pains to get at the facts” (Reprinted from the Times or the Telegraph in the Clerkenwell News, 25th February 1865).   

When Mogni’s conviction did not lead to Pellizioni’s immediate reprieve and release, Negretti resumed the attack: “The police were told on the evening of the fatal occurrence, by Mr [Saul] Worms, a relative of Harrington, that they had got hold of the wrong man.  Mr. Worms told them that Serafino did not do it, but that Gregorio did.  Mr Worms also told them that he had known Pellizoni for years, and that he was incapable of such a crime.  The answer given by the police I will not give you, for I can hardly believe it myself.  The police had Gregorio’s knife delivered up to them on the morning after the occurrence, and all the circumstances connected with it lucidly explained … The police were told that Harrington and Gregorio had a scuffle in the taproom not ten minutes before the stabbing … The police knew that Gregorio and his brother John (the latter bleeding at the neck) came back after the fight and asked for their hats out of the bagatelle-room … the police never seriously attempted to find Gregorio … the above is also the reason why I preferred finding Gregorio myself, in preference to employing the police” (Express (London), 6th March 1865).

Sir Richard Mayne. The Illustrated London News, 9th January 1869.

Negretti was a well-known man and his close connection with Garibaldi had made him a popular one too.  He could not be ignored.  The official response, when it came, was from Sir Richard Mayne (1796-1868), the Irish barrister who had been Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police for over thirty years.  There was already probably some residual ill-feeling between Mayne and Negretti left over from Garibaldi’s visit: Mayne had written somewhat officiously to the reception committee, singling out Negretti by name: “for the reception of Garibaldi on his arrival in London … it is of very great importance that no banners or placards with allusions to political or religious questions should be used”.  It was an unnecessary message: it was Negretti to whom Garibaldi had slipped a note on his arrival saying that the visit was simply to be a thank-you to the British people — he explicitly did not want it to become a focus for political demonstrations.  When the visit was later unexpectedly cut short, it was ostensibly on health grounds, but the reality was that Garibaldi was proving far too popular a messenger of democracy, especially among the working-classes, for the liking of the authorities.  He seems to have been pointedly invited to leave — and as the man in charge of policing the visit, Mayne would no doubt have had a say in that decision.

Mayne instructed Superintendent Andrew Gernon, the man to whom Negretti had delivered up Mogni, to rebut the allegations: “Mr Worms knew nothing of the occurrence with the exception of hearsay … and he now informs me that he has no recollection of speaking to the police on that evening”.  Both knives had been produced in court, but “Inspector Potter could not trace the owners”.  The police knew that Gregorio and Harrington had had a scuffle in the taproom — “This statement is untrue; the police had no knowledge”.  The police never seriously attempted to find Gregorio — “Inspector Potter and Police-constable Fawell, 425 A, were specially employed to find Gregorio … the inspector used every exertion”.  As for Harrington and the identification: “Inspector Potter conveyed Pelizzoni in a cab to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he was placed among a dozen men round the bed of the deceased man Harrington.  Three of the men were strangers from the streets, whom the inspector asked to accompany him to the bedside of Harrington; only one was a constable, in plain clothes; the remainder patients in the hospital.  The dress worn by them all was that of mechanics”.  Pelizzoni was dressed in the same way and there was no peculiarity to distinguish him from the others. “Three of the persons present at the identification wore moustaches”.

Saul Worms now joined in: “Sir, — I was quite surprised see in the papers this day a flat denial of the statements of Mr Negretti”.  He had indeed told the police — “there were three or four of them and many other persons present” — “They had got the wrong man … So impressed was I with this conviction, that I induced my brother to get up a memorial upon the subject to Sir G. Grey [the Home Secretary], which was progressing when Gregorio was produced”.

Negretti refuted Gernon point by point.  Fawell had plainly said in court that he had not looked for Gregorio.  No enquiries at all had been made at Rocco Angelinetta’s premises, where Mogni lived, eat, slept and worked.  Other than Pelizzioni, the only people with moustaches present at Harrison’s bedside were two surgeons outside his line of vision.  

The Times, 15th March 1865.

Mayne and Gernon countered: “Saul Worms, who lives at a very small cottage next-door to the Golden Anchor, was at Kingsland at the time … His opinion was founded on hearsay … He did not write the letter signed with his name, which was written by his brother Louis”.  The brother, Lewis Worms (1800-1875), a broker-cum-auctioneer well-known in the neighbourhood, may well have written the letter — he had written to the national press on legal matters before.  It had no bearing on the issues — and the sneering reference to the “very small cottage” did not play at all well in the sections of the press which were backing Negretti.

A local newspaper, the Holborn Journal, was emphatic: “The old instruction of the solicitor to counsel, ‘No case; abuse the plaintiff’s attorney’, seems peculiarly applicable … The Home Secretary finds he has ‘no case’ against Pellizioni, accordingly he sets on the police to abuse Mr Negretti.  Hence a string of accusations, vilifying that gentleman, and imputing to him motives anything but creditable for the manly and straightforward course he has taken in forwarding the ends of justice, and saving society from the blood-guiltiness of a judicial murder.  Mr Negretti’s answer is complete.  Mr. Inspector Gernon takes upon himself to say that the jury who found Gregorio guilty did so wrongfully, as Gregorio was not in the room … This is certainly cool and audacious in the face of evidence that the hats of three Italians were left the room after the conflict, and returned to them, Gregorio’s among the number … Is Mr Negretti to be slandered and persecuted by the very people who ought to thank him for his public spirit in saving them, the jury, and the judge from fatal error, unintentional doubtless in the two last mentioned, but more doubtful as regards the police?”

Holborn Journal, 18th March 1865. © British Library Board.

“Mr Negretti, however, is evidently man of too much energy and self-respect to put up in silence with this official browbeating, and he has commented upon and answered, paragraph by paragraph, the ‘police statement’ as it is called … Although every circumstance that could be brought to bear against Pelizzioni was fully worked up, and its importance exaggerated, while every point that could raise doubt or throw a suspicion on any other man was as carefully suppressed, we must confess ourselves unprepared for so cool an attempt to make a counter-charge … We should not be surprised to see another list of accusations against Mr Negretti from the mortified myrmidons of Scotland-yard.  We would advise Mr Negretti to treat them with contempt” (Holborn Journal, 18th March 1865, quoting the Morning Advertiser).  

Pelizzioni’s sentence was at last grudgingly respited, but the authorities were still convinced of his guilt.  He was to stand trial again for the attempted murder of Rebbeck.  Opinion was sharply divided: “Mr Negretti has succeeded in saving Pelizzioni from being hanged, but has also succeeded in raising very grave doubts … When we find a person … treating evidence extracted on cross-examination as worthless … it is impossible to treat his estimate of evidence with the slightest respect …  And when so much reliance is placed on the interference of Mr Saul Worms, it cannot but be remarked that the proper and important answer of the police, that what Mr Worms said was mere hearsay … is passed over without the slightest notice; while the immaterial statement that he repeatedly told the police his opinion that they were in the wrong, is urgently insisted on … It must strike anyone familiar with evidence in criminal or in civil cases, that the mere fact of finding but one knife is no proof whatever that two were not used.  And it seems very difficult to believe that Gregorio struck all the three men, and that Harrington, who personally knew Pelizzioni, and whose conduct showed such an utter absence of vindictiveness, should have been mistaken in deposing to his identity … the verdict in Pelizzioni’s case was fully justified by the evidence — and what the learned, careful, and impartial judge who tried the case declared at the time, that he was perfectly satisfied with the verdict, will come to be universally ratified by the force of public opinion” (Bell’s Life in London, 25th March 1865).

The stage was set for Pelizzioni’s second trial.

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (9) — Mogni on Trial

Gregorio Mogni came to trial at the Old Bailey before Sir John Barnard Byles (1801-1884), a judge probably better known for his expertise on commercial law.  Leading for the prosecution was a new figure, Serjeant William Ballantine (1812-1887), who later recalled in Some Experiences of a Barrister’s Life (1882) that “This learned judge possessed great acuteness, but showed very clearly that he was influenced by the strong view previously taken by Mr Baron Martin”.  Ballantine also held the robust view that the police evidence was already “entirely discredited”.

Assisting Ballantine were Frederic Hyman Lewis once more, as well as Morris Oppenheim (1824-1883), a leading figure in the Jewish community who later committed suicide.  Although Montagu Williams had appeared for Mogni in the magistrate’s court, no-one had been retained to defend him on this occasion.  Mr Justice Byles spotted Williams in court and asked him to step in, which although having had no chance to prepare, he did very creditably.

William Ballantine, Vanity Fair, 5th March 1870

Asked to plead, Mogni confessed his guilt but claimed to have acted in self-defence — so technically a plea of “not guilty”.  He opted to be tried by a mixed jury — “I should like half foreigners and half English”.  In his opening remarks, Ballantine said the jury would obviously have already read or heard about the case, but it was now imperative to reach the correct verdict: “it would be a disgrace to the country if an innocent person were to suffer”.  It was a case “unparalleled in the history of our criminal law”, where a man was on trial for a murder of which someone else had already been found guilty. 

The evidence had for the most part all been heard before — there is an extensive transcript on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online website. Eliza Shaw testified again, confirming that the hats of the Mogni brothers had been handed out to her from the bagatelle-room.  Mogni’s brother Giovanni had now been found and was called as the next witness: “I was in the bagatelle-room … after the dispute with the landlord — my brother and a person named Marazzi were in the bagatelle-room besides myself … I could not count how many English there were there, but I believe from about sixteen to eighteen … the door opened, and they began to hit me with sticks … directly I got into the room I received a blow on my head — I received more blows than one; blows and kicks — my face was all covered with blood; I have got a scar on my head now — I saw my brother pull out a knife, and rush up to me and begin to stab right and left — I said to him, ‘Brother, they kill me!’  They were beating me and I saw my brother use the knife”.  He then identified the knife and confirmed that Pelizzioni had not been there.  Previously employed by Angelinetta, he was now working for “Mr. Gatti, the gentleman who is interpreting” (although given as Gatti in the trial transcript, this was almost certainly Carlo Galli).  In response to a question from Williams, he said that the sticks were about as thick as his thumb and about half a yard in length.        

Montagu Williams – A portrait by “Spy” (Sir Leslie Matthew Ward) for Vanity Fair, 1879.

Pietro Maralizzi (Marazzi) added nothing new, beyond suggesting that the sticks were rather larger — and that at least a dozen of the company in the bagatelle-room had been armed with them.  Giovanni Marizzoni (Manzzoni) and Rocco Angelinetta also repeated their earlier testimony, the latter adding that he had known Gregorio Mogni for a number of years and had never previously heard anything said against him.  Cetta (Cetti), Cowland and Caprani (Capriani) all reiterated their evidence about the knife found at the “Bordessa”, as did Pearless the surgeon.

A fresh witness was Giovanni Schiena, a friend whom Mogni had encountered in Birmingham. Schiena helped him find lodgings and Mogni had confessed to him why he had left London — “I stabbed several and one is dead”.  Schiena had written to another friend in London (Pietro Cettoni) to get some of Mogni’s belongings sent on to him, which is what led to his discovery. 

The witness everyone was waiting for was Pelizzioni himself — still under sentence of death.  “He appeared very ill, and Gregorio wept bitterly when he appeared in the witness-box”. Through an interpreter, Pelizzioni stated that he had lived in England for ten or eleven years and spoke some English.  He had been at the “Bordessa” when he received a message that his cousins were involved in a row at the “Golden Anchor”: “I thought to myself to go and make it quiet, and see my two cousins and take them away; directly I went in the taproom I heard a woman scream; she was the landlady … when she saw me she called my name ‘Seraphini’ — she said, ‘My God, don’t let them make no row’ — I said, ‘No Eliza, tell your husband to keep the English people on one side, I shall try to take the Italians the other way’ — she said to me in Italian, ‘Yes’ — I left her, there in the taproom, in a small corner, going through the bar, and I went in the bagatelle-room where I thought the row was; directly I opened the door of the bagatelle-room, just enough to come in, I had a knock on my head and it knocked me down right on the floor”.

Prompted by Ballantine, he continued: “When half of my body was inside and half outside the door, they caught hold of my arm and dragged hold of my coat underneath, and dragged me inside”.  He did not know who had dragged him in, but once inside, the door was shut — “Then I was kept down there till the policeman came — I was knocked by the sticks on my head — when the policeman came, somebody said, ‘I give you in charge of this man’ — I said, ‘Who gives me in charge?’ — there was a woman there and she said, ‘I will give you in charge because you gave me a knock in my mouth and knocked me down by your fist’ … a small knife was taken from me with a white handle; that was taken from me at the police-court, from my right trousers pocket — this is not it (looking at the broken knife)”.

Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey – from The Graphic, 17th November 1877

Once in custody, he had been asked where the blood on his hands had come from: “I put my hands on my head because my head was cut and bleeding”.  Pietro Gugiana then confirmed that he had fetched Pelizzioni from the “Bordessa”.

Henry Negretti related the Birmingham story again, this time describing his rush to the station to catch an express on the basis of Gatti (trial transcript) or Galli (London Evening Standard) having shown him Schiena’s letter to Cettoni.  Negretti, who acknowledged he was personally paying all the prosecution costs, had asked Mogni what had induced him to go to Birmingham.  Mogni apparently replied, “The fact is, I asked so-and-so, naming a party, to lend me some money; he lent me £6, and the £3.17s. that my brother got from Angelinetta I had in my pocket, likewise; I obtained a passport from one of my countrymen and I might have run away”.  Negretti regretted not having mentioned this earlier — “it is a trait in the man’s character — he said, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, the passport I tore up, for fear of being tempted to run away’”.  Negretti thought it had been Bordessa who obtained the passport.

Alf Rebbeck repeated his story, still adamant that it was Pelizzioni who had stabbed him.  The only new detail that emerged was that he had climbed out of the back-window of the pub to collect the improvised weapons, which strongly suggests that they had been filched from Saul Worms’ yard, which backed on to the pub and was piled high with timber of all kinds.  Maria King was similarly still not to be shaken from her story.

Sun (London) – Friday 3rd March 1865. © British Library Board

Williams asked for some time to summon witnesses — but the lunch adjournment proved sufficient.  He agreed with Ballantine on the importance and difficulty of the case, pointing out  that no-one had testified to seeing Mogni strike the fatal blow, and that although Mogni had confessed to using his knife, he had not actually confessed to murder — “these sticks were used indiscriminately, and there is no doubt that both the prisoner and his brother were most cruelly beaten, and therefore it will be for you to say whether he was justified in using the knife … I think it is clear beyond a doubt that for some reason the Englishmen in the bagatelle-room had armed themselves for the purpose of beating these Italians, and if you believe that they were shut in the room without means of egress — if you believe that they were surrounded … then I ask you if you don’t believe that the prisoner at the bar, only out of sheer necessity, took the knife out and used it.  Gentlemen, I think if you came to that conclusion it would amount to justifiable homicide”.

No more defence witnesses were called and Ballantine addressed the jury.  He dismissed the notion that the stabbings might have been justifiable: the offence must at least be that of manslaughter.  Pelizzioni’s pocket-knife had been ruled out as a murder weapon — “the only knife that was pertinent to the inquiry had been clearly shown as belonging to the prisoner at the bar.  That knife was not produced upon the last trial, but it was a most important element.  It must have been ln the hands of the police, and ought to have been produced”.  In the chaos and confusion of that evening, Maria King and Rebbeck might easily be mistaken — especially as Rebbeck had earlier denied that it was Pelizzioni who had struck Mrs King.

Byles also summed up at some length.  He praised Negretti for his “sheer act of humanity”, but firmly pointed out that confessions and reports of confessions were no real proof.  There were two witnesses who had seen Pelizzioni stab Harrington.  “Now, gentlemen, if you think the killing and slaying of Harrington is brought home to the prisoner, find him guilty.  If you, gentlemen, think the prisoner did not, and that Polioni did it, acquit him.  If you do not know which of the two did it, act upon that also”.

The jurymen took nearly an hour to find Mogni guilty of manslaughter, but not of murder.  They recommended mercy on the grounds of provocation and the injuries suffered by his brother.  The judge also gave Mogni credit for coming forward, but the indiscriminate use of a knife had to mean a prison sentence — penal servitude for five years. (Quotations from the trial transcript and the London Evening Standard of 2nd and 3rd March). 

“Here, then, was a state of things absolutely without precedent.  Pelizzioni was in the condemned cell at Newgate, under sentence of death for the murder of Michael Harrington; Gregorio Mogni was in Millbank, about to undergo five years’ penal servitude for the manslaughter of the same man.  The Home Secretary, for the present, positively declined to release Pelizzioni.  What, then, was to be done?  A solution of the enigma was at length found.  There was still, on the files of the court, the indictment against Pelizzioni for attempting to kill and murder Rebbeck … it was resolved to try Pelizzioni afresh for the offence referred to.  The matter was considered of such importance that two judges came down to the Old Bailey to preside over the trial” (Montagu Williams, Leaves of a Life, 1890).

To be continued …   

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The Saffron Hill Murder (8) — Gregorio Found

Following the guilty verdict, events moved rapidly.  On Monday 6th February 1865, the date of Pelizzioni’s execution was set for Wednesday 22nd — just sixteen days away.  On the 8th, J. G. Lewis, accompanied by “Mr Gatti, the looking-glass manufacturer” (probably Galli is intended) and nine other Italians, asked Barker the magistrate to sign a set of formal depositions made to accompany a petition going to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey (1799-1882).  And on that same evening, the news came through that Gregorio had been found — he was now revealed as Pelizzioni’s cousin, Gregorio Mogni.  He had been tracked down by Henry Negretti.   

The (London) Sun, 9th February 1865. © British Library Board

Mogni was swiftly brought to court next day.  Frederic Lewis prosecuted and Carlo Gatti (or possibly Galli) acted as interpreter.  Montagu Williams was appointed to defend Mogni’s interests.  “The prisoner, who is about forty years of age, upon being put in the dock looked somewhat anxiously around him, and then relapsed into a melancholy expression, and occasionally shed tears”.  A fresh magistrate, Louis Charles Tennyson D’Eyncourt (1814-1896) — related to the poet — was well-prepared, if a stickler for procedure.  He had little time for witnesses he thought were prevaricating.

Negretti related: “From information I received I went to Birmingham, and there saw the prisoner working in a carpenter’s shop … ‘You know that your cousin is going to be hung?’  The prisoner said, incredulously, ‘No’.  I answered, ‘Yes he is’ … ‘Is there any means to save him?’  I replied, ‘Yes, if you give yourself up’.  He answered, ‘Come along, I am ready’.  He then took his hat and put on his coat, and in coming downstairs, he said ‘My cousin shall not be hanged for me’”.  Mogni told Negretti that “I went to the Golden Anchor … I drank a great deal of rum … I slapped Mr Shore [Shaw] in the face, because he insulted me very much.  After this Mr Shore and I shook hands together and made peace.  That night there were a great many Italians in the taproom treating each other, and I was nearly drunk.  After a little while, having danced, the English in the bagatelle-room opened the door and challenged the Italians to go in.  They had sticks and pokers in their hands.  The Italians seeing these did not like to show that they were afraid.  Three or four of them went into the room.  After they got into the room the English began to strike my brother, and then we began to defend ourselves and strike with our fists much as we could … my brother was so covered with blood that I could scarcely recognise him.  I thought he would be actually killed, and I pulled out my knife and did all I could to save my own life, and if had not done so, I should never have come out alive” (Quotations from the London Evening Standard, 9th February 1865).

The fighting had taken place “in the bagatelle-room and nowhere else … After everything was finished … we heard that Polioni was in the hands of the police.  We followed them up as far as the workhouse, and afterwards, because I was without my hat, I went back to the Anchor, and I asked Eliza …  She brought me two.  I picked mine out and then I left”.

A statement signed at the police-station, where Mogni had been handed over to Superintendent Andrew Gernon (1824-1885) the previous evening, was admitted into evidence.  This covered the same ground, but also detailed Mogni’s movements after the incident: two nights on the wood-shavings, three days in South London, and then a train to Birmingham.

Frederic Hyman Lewis, by Camille Silvy. Albumen print, 1 February 1862. NPG Ax56825. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Some legal wrangling followed over what charges were to be brought and by whom, with some icy exchanges between Lewis and Inspector Potter — “I beg your pardon, Mr Potter.  You will please to remember that you are in the police, and that I am conducting the case”.  The police would only countenance a charge of aiding and abetting the already convicted Pelizzioni, but Negretti was prepared to bring a private prosecution for murder (Quotations from the London Evening Standard, 10th February 1865).

Matters were adjourned until the Saturday, when Giovanni Marizzoni (here John Manzzoni) confirmed that Mogni had slept on the shavings, but was now allowed to add what he had said: “‘I have had a row and a fight’ … a fight with some English who had used sticks … ‘When I saw myself beaten almost to death I took out a knife and defended myself’”.  He had admitted wounding three or four men — “I perfectly recollect … I am sure he said it was in the bagatelle-room”.  Gregorio had also told him about giving the knife away.  The evidence was interpreted to Mogni, who confirmed its accuracy.  

Pietro Maralizzi (Marazzi) now suggested that after being slapped, Shaw had headed for the bagatelle-room, while Mogni tried to get in by the other door.  D’Eyncourt intervened: he understood that Shaw was never in the bagatelle-room.  Potter instantly — perhaps too quickly — agreed.  

Maralizzi had not actually seen Shaw there, but he had seen Mogni’s brother John (Giovanni) — “His face was covered with blood … there were about twenty people in the room.  Gregorio and John Mogni were the only two Italians … When Gregorio went into the room … he had no knife in his hand, but a little while after … he had one …  I said, ‘For God’s sake, Gregorio, put away the knife’.  He replied, ‘Never mind, let me do what I choose, or we shall not get out alive’”.  Maralizzi had been dragged out, but later encountered Gregorio in Cross Street: “I said, ‘You’ve used the knife’.  He said, ‘Yes, I did, and I’ve wounded three or four’”.  Two knives were produced, and Maralizzi said that to the best of his belief, it was the longer one he had seen (the one found by Cowland), it was certainly not the shorter one (the one found in “The Ruins”).  In answer to Williams, he said, “I saw Gregorio throw a woman down almost immediately he went in.  I should not know her if I were to see her”.

Giacomo Mantova (Mantua, Montoa) recalled meeting Gregorio — “He put up three fingers, and said three, if not four, I’ve wounded.  I knew what he meant”.  Young Cowland was content that the longer knife now produced was the one he had found.  Rocco Angelinetta added that Mogni had disappeared without even collecting his wages, which had been given to his brother.  Cetta confirmed being given the knife, and then a new witness, Joseph Caprani, positively identified it as Mogni’s.  It had been his own until they had swapped knives some months earlier.  D’Eyncourt then fussed over formalities and matters were adjourned again until the following Tuesday (Quotations from the Sun, Monday 13th February 1865).

At the resumption, a frame-maker called Pietro Gugiana testified that after the fighting broke out, he had gone to fetch Pelizzioni from “Bordessa’s”.  D’Eyncourt — “That is a quarter of a mile”.  Lewis — “100 yards”.  D’Eyncourt — “How long did it take you?”  Witness — “Two minutes … There were a great many persons took part in the disturbance … Gregorio was one … I brought Polioni back with me … I saw Polioni enter … Before I brought Polioni … I made a statement to him”.  D’Eyncourt — “That statement you cannot have, Mr. Lewis”.  

Maria King still insisted it was Pelizzioni who had knocked her down.  Gugiana was recalled to state that Gregorio had now grown a beard.  Could this have been the man who had knocked her down? — “l never saw him in my life before”.  D’Eyncourt — “Look at the man at the bar, and then then tell me, on your solemn oath, whether you are prepared to swear that he is not the man who knocked you down?  Witness — Yes.  I never saw him in my life”.  Despite repeated questioning, she would not budge.

Others confirmed that Gregorio had previously had only a moustache and not a full beard.  A barber was sent for.  While Gregorio was being shaved, a lithographer named Benjamin George (1824?-1878) of Hatton Garden, who had prepared a detailed plan of the pub, gave some inconclusive testimony about whether a challenge issued from the bagatelle-room would have been heard in the bar-parlour (Shaw had claimed that it would and that he had heard nothing).  Gregorio re-emerged — “without the profusion of hair that previously was on his face … [he] looked some five or six years younger”.  Maria King was recalled, but still insisted that Mogni was not the man who had knocked her down — “I swear positively he is not the man”.

Montagu Williams – A portrait by “Spy” (Sir Leslie Matthew Ward) for Vanity Fair, 1879.

Under fierce questioning from both Lewis and D’Eyncourt, Rebbeck would not accept that any Italians other than Pelizzioni had been in the bagatelle-room.  Examined by Williams, he continued: “l was sent out … to get some sticks, as I was told there was going to be a row.  I went to the taproom, and I found the Italians all raving — holding up their hands.  There was no row then.  There was, however, swearing and fighting going on”.  D’Eyncourt — I must caution you about your speaking the truth.  You seem to be very uncertain, and just now you said that which was not true.  You must really remember a man’s life is at stake.  Don’t trifle and hesitate.  If you are not certain, say so; but by all means speak the truth”.

Witness — “I was told before the row commenced to get out of the way, or I should get served out.  I afterwards went into the bagatelle-room … I told those inside that there was going to be a row … They said, ‘Never mind; if they come in here we will protect ourselves’.  Someone said to me, ‘What are we to do if they come in here with their knives?  We have only got our hands’.  I went out and got some sticks — about five or six.  I handed them up through a cupboard”.  

Williams — “You have sworn that Gregorio was not in the bagatelle-room when the row began.  Now, if you were about for some time getting a quantity of sticks, how can you say he was not there at all during the row?  Witness — I am speaking of the row in the taproom, not that in the bagatelle-room.  When I got upstairs the Italians were trying to get into the bagatelle-room.  I saw Mrs King fall just as I entered”.  Under further questioning he stuck to his story: “D’Eyncourt — You take, upon your solemn oath, to say that?  Witness — Yes.  D’Eyncourt — A man’s life hangs on your answer, remember that.  Witness — Yes.  He was the only one in the room” (Quotations from the Sun, 14th February 1865).

Eliza Shaw, the landlady, was called for the first time: “I remember the prisoner asking me for his hat.  I said ‘I don’t know anything about it’.  He said, ‘They were in the bagatelle-room’, and someone then gave me two.  I threw them over the bar.  The prisoner and his brother picked them up and went away”.  They had not threatened her and she had seen no knife.

Lewis then took matters in a wholly new direction, which although prefigured in his opening remarks, must have created an absolute sensation in court.  He asked her directly about the exact nature of her relationship with Pelizzioni.  She had known him for some years.  Before her marriage, he often used to come to the pub and help out behind the bar.  

Lewis — “Was he not on intimate terms with you?”  Witness — “Intimate terms?  I do not know what you mean.  He was never on intimate terms with me.  He was friendly with me”.  Lewis — “l must ask you this question — Did you not have a child before marriage?”  Witness — “A child!  What do you mean?”  Lewis — “You know well enough what I mean … l ask you again, had you not a child previous to your marriage with Shaw?  Your sister is here”.   Witness — “My sister, perhaps, can answer the question better than I.  I don’t think it a proper question to put to me.  It has nothing to do with the matter before the court”.  Lewis — “l must repeat my question.  Had you not a child before your marriage?”  Witness — “I decline to answer the question”.  Lewis — “Have you told your husband since your marriage who was the father of the child?”  Witness — “No, certainly not”.  D’Eyncourt — “Have there been rumours about the place about you and Pelizzioni?”  Witness — “There have, but there is no truth at all in them”.  Lewis — “Are you certain that you have not told your husband who is the father of that child”.  Witness — “I am”.

D’Eyncourt — “I do not quite see the object of your question”.  Lewis — “It shows that the man Shaw had a feeling in the matter; and it is worthy of remark that all the other witnesses against Pelizzioni were customers from Shaw’s house … I was about to ascertain whether there was any jealous feeling, but the witness says she has not told her husband who the father of the child was — therefore I’m precluded”.  Witness — “I presume, Mr Lewis, that you wish to put to me a question whether I have had a child by Polioni”.   Lewis — “I don’t wish to put any more questions to you, Mrs Shaw”.

This put a wholly new complexion on the background to the incidents, particularly when it later emerged that Shaw had just assaulted his wife’s sister, Elizabeth Parsons, outside the courtroom, in an attempt to intimidate her.  Parsons was there to testify about the truth of the child, if necessary — but even if the affair did have its origins in a deeply personal feud, it did little to alter the fact of the stabbings. 

Returning to the events of Boxing Day, Eliza Shaw testified that there had been a physical altercation between Harrington and Mogni in the taproom after her husband had been slapped.  This was the first anyone had heard of this — Lewis remarked acidly that “This only shows what the police might have brought forward if they had pleased”.  Rebbeck was recalled again, but nothing further was elicited beyond the fact that he could not see the slightest resemblance between Pelizzioni and Mogni, and he knew them both.  Pearless the surgeon was of the opinion that the larger knife (Gregorio’s) was the one most likely to have caused the wound.  With its point broken off, the smaller one could not have done so.

In their final addresses to the court, Williams stated that the police were much to blame for withholding evidence and that given all the circumstances, the charge could only be one of manslaughter.  D’Eyncourt responded that he would make no comment on that, “even to Rebbeck’s evidence”, but would commit Mogni to trial for murder. (Quotations merged from the Sun and the Morning Advertiser, 15th February 1865).

That same day, questions were asked in the House of Commons.  The Home Secretary was asked if arrangements had been made for delaying the execution, now only a week away.  They had not.  A memorial had been received.  The free-trader John Bright (1811-1889) asked if a memorial were really necessary.  Sir George Grey replied loftily that he did not think it conduced to the good administration of justice that such questions should be asked.  He was not aware that any other Italian had confessed — but two days later Pelizzioni was reprieved until 22nd March.

On Thursday 23rd February, Fred Shaw was duly summoned “on a charge of unlawfully assaulting and beating Mrs Elizabeth Parsons … an assault committed on her in this court … The defendant and his wife were there to give evidence … and [Parsons] was also there, to rebut, if necessary, some of their evidence … some of the persons in court … considered the assault so cowardly that they at once gave their addresses so that justice might be done”.  

The elder Lewis prosecuted: “Had the attention of the Court been called to it at the time there could be no doubt but that the defendant would at once have been committed for contempt of court … there could be no greater contempt than an assault upon a witness to prevent justice being done”.  Elizabeth Parsons testified: “I have been in pain since … My father lives at the Golden Anchor with the defendant, and I am afraid to go to the house to see him as the defendant might strike me.  The defendant is a violent man, and has before threatened me.  I am afraid that he will do me some harm now you see the way he has served me in court”.  Shaw denied all knowledge of the matter, but Jane Redaello had seen “a very hard blow in the chest … The defendant said ‘Get away, you devil’.  He said that in a violent tone”.  Three Italians confirmed her account.  Three policemen, including Baldock and Fawell, said that Shaw had done nothing more than push his way through a crowded corridor.  Barker was unimpressed: “He had not the slightest doubt but that the assault was committed”.  Shaw was bound over “to keep the peace towards the complainant and all her Majesty’s subjects for the next three months” (Quotations from the London Evening Standard, Thursday 23rd February).

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (7) — The Old Bailey

The stage was set for a full trial at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey — the trial that Sir Henry Brackenbury recalled so many years later.  The presiding judge was Baron Martin — the generally amiable Sir Samuel Martin QC (1801-1883), Anglo-Irish Baron of the Exchequer.  Not everyone was as persuaded of his impartiality as Brackenbury had been.

Baron Martin

William Ballantine (1812-1887), whose own involvement in the case was yet to come, recalled in his Some Experiences of a Barrister’s Life (1882): “This learned judge had been a very successful advocate upon the Northern Circuit, where, however, he had not had any experience in the criminal courts, and although essentially humane and kind-hearted, was hasty in forming opinions, and slow in changing them … very early in the case he took a strong view against the prisoner, and summing up in accordance with it, a verdict of guilty was pronounced.  Sentence of death was passed, the judge stating in the course of it that “he had never known more direct or conclusive evidence in any case”.   It would serve no useful purpose to discuss the testimony given by the various witnesses called … it was extremely conflicting, and there must have existed upon one side or the other very gross perjury”.

His thoughts on the handling of the case by the police were no less pointed and his analysis of the testimony fully justified: you could choose to believe one side or the other, but there was no middle ground.  There is a 13,000-word transcript on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online website for those who would like it in full.

A legal heavyweight had been appointed to prosecute — Hardinge Giffard (1823-1921), a future Lord Chancellor, created Earl of Halsbury in 1898, and remembered for the monumental Halsbury’s Laws of England (1907-1917).  His assistant was William Cole Beasley (1816-1888).  For the defence, J. G. Lewis had retained the Irish barrister William Ribton (1817-1889), remembered as a powerful advocate, author of New Trials in Criminal Cases (1853), assisted by Lewis’s son, the rising young barrister Frederic Hyman Lewis (1834-1889).  Also in court, acting as an unofficial assistant to Lewis, was his great friend, the celebrated barrister Montagu Williams (1835-1892), who was also to feature in later events.  Williams later recalled it “as one of the most remarkable cases in my career” (Leaves of a Life : Being the Reminiscences of Montagu Williams, Q.C., 1890).

Hardinge Giffard

Although Pelizzioni could have elected to be tried by a mixed jury — half English, half Italian — he was content with an English one.  Opening for the prosecution, Giffard summed up the known facts “almost in a nutshell”.  The only real issue was whether or not the prisoner was the man who stabbed Harrington. 

Fred Shaw repeated his previous evidence, adding some additional elucidation of the geography of the house.  He had known Pelizzioni by sight for some months, but had never previously spoken to him.  He later rather contradicted that by declaring that “he can speak as good English as I can; better English than he can Italian”.  He was challenged over some inconsistencies, but he had not seen the stabbings, so it mattered little.      

Alf Rebbeck was the next witness — still far from fully recovered.  His evidence remained confusing, especially as he now added that in consequence of something an Italian named John had said to him in the taproom, he went to alert the company in the bagatelle-room that trouble was brewing.  Something had been said about knives and Rebbeck had found time to provide some impromptu weapons — “two blind-rollers, a copper-stick, and a broom-handle”, possibly more, “I don’t know, I did it all in a flurry”.  The salient point remained that he knew Pelizzioni and was quite certain that this was the man who had stabbed him.  John the Italian subsequently turned out to be Giovanni Mogni, brother of the missing man Gregorio — he had also gone into hiding.       

Maria King repeated her earlier testimony about being knocked down.  The button-maker Mellowship, here called Mellership, now said “I saw several other Italians trying to get into the room, but they were forced back … I swear that he was the only Italian that came into the room”.  His earlier statement was read back: “The prisoner rushed in first; there were several other Italians behind him; when the Italians came into the room, the deceased had just finished singing a song”.  Under questioning, he repeatedly denied any collusion: “I have not been talking over this matter with anybody since; not with any of the witnesses or Mr Shaw … it has not been the subject of conversation once between Shaw and Potter and me”.

Stanley backed him up: “The door was shut upon him immediately, he being the only Italian in the room”.  Liddle, the french-polisher, said the same: “No other Italian besides the prisoner got into the room at the time … I swear that”.  And William King: “Seraphini had got into the bagatelle-room; nobody else”.  His earlier deposition was also read out: “The prisoner and other Italians came into the room”, to which he replied, “That is a mistake, because no one entered the room but him … I have not been conversing with anybody about it — I swear that; I have never talked of it in the way of gossip and conversation over a pint of beer … I have never spoken to anybody about the transaction since”.

The policemen Elliott and Fawell repeated their earlier evidence, both adding the familiar refrain, “There was no other Italian in the bagatelle-room besides the prisoner”.  The latter added that he had made enquiries concerning Gregorio, but had been unable to find him.  

Inspector Potter was subjected to what Montagu Williams remembered as “a very severe cross-examination by Mr Ribton, but nothing of any material importance was elicited”.  It did emerge that Potter had been asked to look for Gregorio and his brother.  Curiously, he denied that David Wells, Shaw’s father-in-law, had been assisting him, but then admitted that he had in fact sent for Wells to try to identify some men found at the “Bordessa”.  The prosecution concluded with Pearless the surgeon and Baldock the policeman confirming their previous testimony. 

Ribton’s first witness was Anne Sams, the young woman who had been dancing with Pelizzioni – just a single dance, which they did not finish as she felt giddy.  She did not see him again that evening: “I recollect the row commencing … I saw another man, who I knew by the name of Gregorio, with a dark moustache — he is like the prisoner — I saw him strike the blow at Mr Shaw … Mrs Shaw pushed her husband away, and told him to go into the parlour — Gregorio’s brother was with him — I saw them both rush from the side-box, to open the side-door, to go to the bagatelle-room … I saw Gregorio’s brother … he pushed the bagatelle-room door open … I did not see what was done in the bagatelle-room … Gregorio was the first one that came out … him and his brother — Gregorio came out without a cap … his brother seemed in the heat of passion then, and very white — I saw no blood — I was too frightened to look at him — I went into the side-box where Mr Shaw was first struck — I heard Gregorio … ‘You bloody old bugger, if you come out I will serve you the same’ … Gregorio said that to Mr Wells”.  Shaw then asked her to get a cab — “I had not heard before I went for the cab that anyone had been wounded, and I did not know who it was for; Mr Shaw asked me to fetch it, and I did”.

Cross-examined by Giffard, she added that she had not seen Mrs King knocked down.  She only knew Gregorio by sight.  Questioned further by Ribton, she was at pains to point out, “I am not a girl of the town, and I should not like to be one; I get my living honestly — I did not see any knives … I saw a rush made but I can’t tell how many made it — I never heard that they were using knives at all … I heard they were fighting in the bagatelle-room, and in the dancing-room they were fighting with sticks from one door to the other — I heard nothing about knives that night”. 

Rocco Angelinetta repeated his earlier evidence about Gregorio’s disappearance and then a new witness, Giovanni Marizzoni, testified that Gregorio, whom he knew well, “came to my house … about a quarter to ten at night, and asked me whether I would allow him to sleep on the shavings in my workshop — I said, ‘Yes’, and asked him whether he had left his master”.  When asked whether Gregorio had said anything about the “Golden Anchor”, Giffard immediately objected.  Ribton countered that something said by Gregorio was part of the res gestae and could be given in evidence.  Baron Martin ruled it inadmissible, and Gregorio’s evident admission of guilt went unheard.

Gaspane Mossi (the Gaspar Mossio of the earlier hearing), confirmed that likeness between the two men: “I was in the taproom — there is a passage going into the bar, and I saw Gregorio there; I saw nothing in his hand — he said, ‘You want six Italians; I will have six English’, and then he gave him [Shaw] a punch in the mouth … I was the last Italian who was there … I saw Gregorio strike Mr Shaw, and then go into the bagatelle-room, and in two minutes I saw the people rush out, and a chap held the door not to let them out — I moved opposite — they opened the door and I saw five or six sticks, fighting, and three or four Italians were there — that was the taproom — I did not see anything going on in the bagatelle-room, only they were going from one door to the other — I saw Gregorio with a knife in his hand; he showed it to Mrs Shaw, and said, ‘If you do not go and get my hat from the bagatelle-parlour I will give you one, and afterwards I will give it to your father’: he meant, ‘I will stab you and stab your father’ — he had a knife in his hand … Mrs Shaw said, ‘Don’t be stupid; I will go and get your hat’ … Mr Wells was there, and he said to me and my wife, ‘You had better go out’ — they sent me out at the side door, and I saw no more”.  The point about the hat was of course that if Gregorio’s hat was in the bagatelle-room, he must have been there.

Pietro Maznelli (probably the Pietro Mazzuchi of the earlier hearing) confirmed that Mrs Shaw had given Gregorio his hat.  Gotardo Bercini recalled her saying “Go away, run away” to him.  He had not noticed any knife.

Giacomo Mantua and Francisco Pongini (or Grachomo Montoa and Francisco Ponzini, as they appear in the transcript), confirmed their previous evidence, but the former now claimed (without it being declared inadmissible) that “I saw Gregorio after the row was over, not exactly inside the Bordessa, but in front of the house, between seven and a quarter past — he said he had wounded three men”.   

A new witness called Giacomo Buleti said with the aid of an interpreter, “I saw the bagatelle-room door … I then saw several Englishmen come out with sticks in their hands; then I saw a mixture of English and Italians together, fighting”.  He had not seen Pelizzioni at all.

Again through an interpreter, Pietro Maralizzi said, “I was at the Golden Anchor — I saw Gregorio there — he asked Mr Shaw, the landlord, if it was him that would knock down six Italians — he gave Mr Shaw a blow — there were a lot wishing to get into the bagatelle-room — I do not know whether they did get in … I was caught by the collar of my coat by some person, and was dragged out — Gregorio was standing with a knife in his left hand … I said, ‘For God’s sake, Gregorio, put away that knife’ — he said, ‘Let me alone’ — I do not know what became of him after that —there was great confusion towards the bagatelle-room”.

Another fresh witness was Elizabeth Lambert: “I was in the back-parlour when it first commenced — I do not know a man named Gregorio — I did not see anybody strike the landlord — there was a great row in the bagatelle-room, and confusion — they were quarrelling and fighting — the landlady came in and said that the Italians were in, and three or four of them were using their knives”.  Giffard again successfully objected to hearsay evidence.  She continued: “The landlady ran into the bar-parlour — I had one view just as the door was open, and I saw the Italians and the others up towards the fireplace fighting — I mean in the bagatelle-room — there were fourteen or sixteen Italians in the bagatelle-room … I saw the police drag the man out of the bagatelle-room — I had seen fighting going on only just about two minutes before that — the door of the bagatelle-room was only just pushed open, one ran in and another ran out — fighting was going on then — there was a man passed into the bagatelle-room, and I looked through the door at the time”.

Giffard asked where she was when she saw all this: “In the bar — when you are in the bar you can see the passage between the bagatelle-room and the taproom, you can see the entrance — there are two doors to the bagatelle-room, and I got the glance through what they call the bagatelle-room door … I was looking through the door which leads from the bar-parlour into the bagatelle-room — you cannot see that door from the taproom; that is further on — I saw fourteen or fifteen or perhaps sixteen Italians — there were a great many in there together — I called them Italians — I mean people altogether, I do not know how many Italians were there, but a good many ran in directly I entered, and as I entered — no one went in through the door through which I was looking, and I could not see the other door”.

Giffard was hostile: “Will you swear you were there that night at all?” — “Yes; I saw Rebbeck there after he was stabbed … I saw a lot of fighting up by the fireplace”.  

Libalio Pedrazolli had seen Gregorio strike Shaw: “He told me he would go in and do for the Englishmen — he opened the knife and said, ‘I will go in and settle all the lot by myself; I will clear them out’ — he went in, and I saw him enter the room with the knife open, and there was a scuffle … I could see Gregorio among the English, with the knife open … when I saw the knife open, I went and watched at the door — I could see inside, but could not see what was doing … Gregorio went in at one door, and came out at another”.  Ribton asked him more plainly, “Did you see Gregorio with a knife among a number of Englishmen?” — “Yes, the first time was in the dancing-room; that is at the entrance of the bagatelle-room”.

Dominico Cetta repeated that Gregorio had given him a knife at the “Bordessa” — “I held the knife a little while, and then threw it into the yard … Gregorio resembles the prisoner much”.

Thomas Cowland was Pietro Bordessa’s seventeen-year-old brother-in-law, working as a pot-boy at the “Bordessa”.  It was he who found the knife next morning: “I gave it up to a woman … I thought it was her husband’s — I opened it, it had been lying in the water all night … it looked rusty, but I did not think of this affair … I assisted Inspector Potter to get it again”.  Potter then produced two knives, but Cowland responded, “This is not the knife, nor is this — it is like this only the spring is broken”.  Potter insisted that one of the knives was the one he had been given, but Cowland was adamant: “The knife I found and gave to Inspector Potter, was looser than this”.  Giffard tried to browbeat him, “Do you really mean that this is not the knife you gave to Inspector Potter?” — “This is not the knife”.  Ribton clarified, “Was the knife like that?” — “Just like it — I kept it in my pocket about two hours without looking at it; it was exactly like this but the knife was looser than this”.

If matters were not already sufficiently confusing, a man called George Ayton was another of the company in the bagatelle-room.  Although appearing for the defence, his evidence tallied in almost all respects with what had been said by the prosecution witnesses.  He did add that Rebbeck had “got out at a window at the back, and got some sticks which were broken up, and laid on the bagatelle-board”, but with the unlikely claim that this was after he had been stabbed.  He also said there had been “fighting between the doorways and in the little passage”, but added “I cannot say who by, because there were a great many of them, English as well as other parties”.  Damage had undoubtedly been done to the defence case.  As Montagu Williams later admitted, “the evidence was not particularly satisfactory”.

Five character witnesses were then called, including Charles Galli of Hatton Garden, who all spoke of Pelizzioni as a “humane, good-tempered man, who was not at all likely to resort to the use of the knife” (London Evening Standard, 4th February 1865).

In his final address, Giffard simply reminded the jury that six eye-witnesses had unequivocally sworn to the fact of the prisoner having struck Harrington.  In his own summing up, Baron Martin stated that it was for the jury to determine guilt, but could suggest nothing which might warrant a verdict of manslaughter.

The jury only took ten minutes or so: the verdict was guilty.  Baron Martin approved: in his view Pelizzioni had been convicted on “the clearest possible evidence, and he must say the most direct and conclusive he had ever, in the whole course of his experience, heard”.  Pelizzioni was sentenced to hang.

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (6) — Fresh Witnesses

The adjourned hearing was resumed on the following Wednesday — 11th January 1865.  For reasons unexplained, Alexander Knox was now once more the presiding magistrate.  As Knox had not been present the previous week, Lewis began by repeating all he had said about the missing man and the absence of a murder weapon.  Knox admitted that the absence of a murder weapon was a genuine problem.  Lewis now went further by claiming that Serafino Pelizzioni had only arrived on the scene after the stabbings had already taken place.

A later artist’s impression — from Arthur Griffiths, “Mysteries of Police and Crime” (1898). 

The missing man, now named simply as Gregorio, had been heard to boast aloud about stabbing Englishmen before going into hiding.  This was the same Gregorio who had slapped the landlord Fred Shaw in the incident which sparked off the affray.  Lewis added that the charge of murder was in itself wrong — the normal charge arising from a drunken pub brawl would be one of manslaughter.  “Where was the evidence of malice prepense?  There was no evidence to show that the prisoner knew either of the parties who were stabbed before that night”.

Gregorio had been in hiding ever since.  Why — unless he were guilty?  Lewis also wished to put a few questions to Constable Elliott about the prisoner’s own wound to the head.  Knox interrupted to say that he wanted first to clarify the cause of death.  Was it certainly a knife-wound?  A post-mortem had been carried out and a surgeon from Bart’s testified that stab-wounds were obviously the cause: a blade must have penetrated several inches.

Knox asked if anything had been heard of a murder weapon.  Inspector Potter reiterated that a knife had been found near the spot with blood on it, but admitted he could not connect it with the prisoner.  Under questioning from both Knox and Lewis, Elliott confirmed that Pelizzioni had only been armed with a broom-handle and that he was indeed bleeding from a cut on the head — the result not of the affray itself, but of a blow from a policeman’s truncheon when he was arrested.

Lewis could then at last call upon his Italian witnesses.  Rocco Angelinetta — one of the “Italian gentlemen” already introduced — began by stating that Gregorio was one of his workmen.  He had lived at the workshop premises in St. John Street, but had disappeared without notice on Boxing Day, removing his things that night.  “He was shaven in the same manner as the prisoner, and I should say he was about the same stature”.  He had last seen him about 2 o’clock that day, wearing a round billycock hat and a dark blue coat.

Pietro Mazzuchi had seen Gregorio in the “Golden Anchor” that evening.  He looked very like the prisoner.  He had seen him leave without a hat, but then come back for it and collect it from the landlady.  Francisco Pongini had also been there.  He had seen Pelizzioni arrive “in a peaceable and quiet manner.  He did not knock anybody down going into the house”.

Illustration from Richard S. Lambert, “When Justice Faltered : A Study of Nine Peculiar Murder Trials” (1935).

Dominico Cetta, another picture-frame maker, had been in the nearby “Bordessa” public-house, just round the corner from the “Golden Anchor” at No. 12 Cross Street.  More formally known as the “Three Tuns”, it stood next door to Pietro Bordessa’s mirror factory.  Bordessa had become the nominal licensee some eighteen months earlier.  Known locally as “Bordessa’s” or simply the “Bordessa”, it was a house much favoured by the Italian workmen, although the staff appear to have been English.  Cetta testified that Gregorio very much resembled the prisoner, but then caused a real stir in the court-room.  Before disappearing, Gregorio had come to the “Bordessa” and given him a knife to look after.  Cetta, realising what it was, had simply abandoned the knife in the courtyard of the pub.  This was the second knife found on the morning after the stabbings and had soon been handed into the police.  It had not been produced at the inquest and Potter had conspicuously failed to mention it earlier. 

Angelo Faustino knew Pelizzioni and had seen him in the “Golden Anchor” before the fighting broke out.  He was dancing with a young woman in the dancing-room about a quarter past five, but had then left.  He also knew Gregorio.  He did not think that they looked particularly alike, but they were about the same size.  

Dominico Matteri stated that he had been with Pelizzioni that evening, not at the “Golden Anchor”, but at the “Bordessa”.  He was there when a message was brought to Pelizzioni that there was trouble at the “Golden Anchor”.

Gaspar Mossio, another frame-maker, knew Gregorio by sight — “he resembles the prisoner very much”.  Mossio had been in the “Golden Anchor” at the time of the fight, but not in the bagatelle-room.  He was there when Pelizzioni was arrested.  He had been drinking beer with him earlier, when Pelizzioni had told him he was going to have a dance and then go home.  He had been sober and perfectly peaceable.   

Giacomo Mantua, like Matteri, had been with Pelizzioni at the “Bordessa” when a message came through from the “Golden Anchor”.  Pelizzioni left immediately and Mantua followed on behind.  About ten minutes later he saw him again, now bloodied from the blow to the head.  He knew Gregorio and had seen him later near the “Bordessa” — “Gregorio made a statement to me, and made signs and raised three fingers”.  What Gregorio had actually said was ruled out as hearsay evidence — a rule far more strictly applied to the defence than to the prosecution throughout the proceedings.   

Gotardo Bercini was another of Angelinetta’s workmen.  He confirmed both the similarity between the two men and that Gregorio was in the “Golden Anchor” at the time of the stabbings. 

Lewis said that there was more to come, but he would reserve the rest of the defence for the trial itself.  Knox summed up in a reasonable way, but still felt that the eye-witness accounts of those in the bagatelle-room could not be ignored: “The evidence for the prosecution far outweighed the evidence for the defence, and if for no other reason than that he should send the prisoner to the Central Criminal Court for trial on the charge of wilful murder” (Quotations to this point all from the London Evening Standard, Thursday 12th January 1865, and from this point on from Standard of Tuesday 24th January).

A further hearing the following week simply held matters over until Rebbeck was fit enough to appear.  On Monday 23rd January, although still weak and unable to stand in the witness box, he managed to do so.  Knox was again the magistrate and once again Clerkenwell Police Court and its approaches were densely crowded.

Inside the court, confusion reigned.  Knox began unexpectedly by quizzing the prosecutor Thomas Wakeling.  Everyone had assumed that Wakeling was prosecuting on behalf of the Crown, but Knox now asked him on whose behalf he was actually appearing.  Wakeling admitted that he had been instructed by Frederick Shaw, landlord of the “Golden Anchor”.  When asked, Potter confirmed that he had not engaged Wakeling, nor had he any instructions to do so.  Knox then said to Wakeling, “l cannot allow you to go on with the case”.  After an icily polite but nonetheless heated exchange, he was adamant: “I cannot allow you to go on.  You are not instructed by the Crown, the police, or the complainant.  I saw you in communication with the police during the last examination, and, therefore, did not stop you.  I have since heard that you were not instructed by them … I cannot allow you to go on with the prosecution”.

So far as I am aware, no previous account of the case has mentioned this extraordinary turn of events.  Why had Wakeling gone unchallenged for so long?  Why had Potter not said anything earlier?  And why had Shaw had taken it upon himself to provide a prosecutor?  A suspicion begins to arise that this was not simply a matter of a pub brawl but of a personal feud.  It was a suspicion which was only to gain ground over the coming weeks.

Not only was Wakeling sidelined, but Lewis for the defence had not appeared.  The hearing was nominally on the additional charges of attempted murder relating to Rebbeck and Bannister — and Lewis had already made it clear that he had only been instructed to defend the murder charge.  He was sent for, but after a delay of ninety minutes Knox announced he could wait no longer and began to examine the new witnesses himself.

Rebbeck was heard for the first time: “I saw several Italians, about twelve or fourteen, coming into the bagatelle-room, Seraphino leading.  I had been in there and was coming away from the bar when I saw them.  I was returning with a pipe.  I saw one of the men knock down a woman.  It was not Seraphino that did that.  I then hallooed out ‘No row here’.  I was then at the door.  I then saw the prisoner Seraphino stab me in the right side.  I saw him pull the knife out of me (sensation).  It was very much covered with blood”.

Illustration from Richard S. Lambert, “When Justice Faltered : A Study of Nine Peculiar Murder Trials” (1935).  This is possibly a slightly later building on the same site.

Mr. Knox — “You are certain it was he?”

Witness — “Yes, I know it was him.  I have known him for the past five or six years”.

Rebbeck continued: “l then struck him with the broom-handle.  He made a run at me.  He made another hit and I stepped on one side.  I saw the knife in his hand a second time.  I put my hand to my side where I was stabbed.  This was all in the bagatelle-room”.

Asked if anything else had happened, Rebbeck answered, “Yes, I saw him on Harrington.  I heard an exclamation in the room; I turned my head and saw the prisoner and Harrington fall together.  I then went over with the broom-handle in my hand.  Someone took it away, but I do not know who.  I took hold of the prisoner by the collar and fell on my knees.  I went to pull him off.  I then lost my senses, I believe, for a little time.  I looked up and saw Mr. King and police-constable 425A [Fawell], and another constable with him.  I mean the prisoner by him”.

Asked if he knew why the fight had started, Rebbeck replied, “No, I came out of the bagatelle-room, and all I saw was that the prisoner was rushing into the room at the head of a number of Italians”.

Pelizzioni was allowed to respond at this point.  He said simply, “It is not true that I had a knife in my hand”.  Rebbeck was asked again: “Yes, I saw him with the knife in his hand twice”.  Pelizzioni repeated, “l am innocent; I had no knife”.  Knox turned to Rebbeck: “This is too serious a matter.  I must again ask you did you see the knife?” — “Yes.  I saw it twice, the second time when he ran at me”.  The Prisoner — “That is not true”.

John Liddle, the french-polisher, repeated his inquest evidence, now adding that “Rebbeck fell into my arms in the private bar, and said, ‘I am stabbed’.  I found his clothes were cut, and he said the prisoner had done it.  He was bleeding freely when I opened his waistcoat and saw the cut.  I took Rebbeck to the hospital”.

Constable Fawell also repeated his earlier evidence, but with more detail: “I was called in by Mr. Shaw, the landlord, who stated there was a row in the tap-room.  I went there and found a number of Italians fighting together, and breaking up the seats and chairs.  I got out as well as I could, and having met with another constable we returned to the tap-room.  As soon as we entered Rebbeck, who stood against the tap-room and in front of the door that leads into the bagatelle-room, said ‘I have been stabbed’.  The prisoner was then about opening the door, within hearing, being about a yard away … I have known Rebbeck for years.  I asked him by whom.  Rebbeck pointed to the prisoner, and said, ‘By that man’, who was then opening a door and going through.  The other constable and I then followed through into the bagatelle-room, where we found the prisoner held by Mr. King.  I took a broom-handle from someone, but I do not know whom”.  Fawell then produced the clothes Rebbeck had been wearing, covered in blood and badly cut about. 

Next called was the other victim, the young Charles Bannister, his arm still in a sling: “I was taking some refreshment at the bar, and was requested to step into the bagatelle-room as there was a disturbance at the bar.  I had hardly got in there before the door was opened, and the prisoner and a number of Italians rushed in.  I went to turn round to get away, and I was stabbed.  There were a few English chaps who pushed me forward, and I could not get back.  I was stabbed in the hand, and the knuckle of the little finger was cut off.  I do not know who stabbed me, but I have a witness who saw who did it”.

This was George Stanley, a painter and decorator, another of the company in the bagatelle-room: “I heard a disturbance in the taproom.  I said, ‘There is going to be mischief; keep the door shut’.  Mr. King opened the door, and I saw blood.  Seraphino rushed in.  He was the only Italian in the room.  Bannister was standing next to me, and the prisoner, who wanted to get out of the room, pushed against him, and he fell under the bagatelle-board.  I then saw that Bannister had blood on his hand.  I immediately struck Seraphino on the head with a stick, and he fell on the top of Harrington, and that is the way that the prisoner got on the top of the deceased”.

There are numerous confusing and contradictory points in all this, certainly in Rebbeck’s testimony, about the timing and geography of what happened when and where — none of which were ever fully resolved — but Pelizzioni declined to put questions in the absence of his lawyer.

Hill, the surgeon from the Royal Free, then gave medical evidence about the injuries to Rebbeck and Bannister, their treatment and gradual recovery.  Inspector Potter rounded off the evidence by examining Rebbeck’s clothes and the position of the cuts.

Knox then formally cautioned Pelizzioni in the time-honoured fashion: “he was not obliged to say anything in answer to the charge, but that if he did it might be used in evidence against him at the trial … The Prisoner, in a firm voice, said he should reserve his defence.  Mr. Knox then committed the prisoner to the Central Criminal Court for trial.  The prisoner, who appeared to feel his position acutely, was then removed”.

To be continued …  

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The Saffron Hill Murder (5) — A Number of Italian Gentlemen

A further court appearance had been scheduled for the Wednesday following Friday’s inquest.  A fresh magistrate was in charge, the regular Clerkenwell magistrate — John Henry Barker (1806-1876) — for whom Alexander Knox from Marlborough Street had simply been covering the previous week.  Barker had no doubt been spending Christmas at his family estate at Bakewell, where he lived when not in London.  He was a man who seemed to have built up a rather cosy relationship with the local police.  Wakeling the prosecutor and Guerini, the interpreter, were once more in attendance. This was simply to be a formality, to see what the situation with Rebbeck was.  Hill, the surgeon, reported that “Although out of danger and progressing satisfactorily, he was not yet able to leave the hospital to give evidence”.   

Details of a 1957 BBC radio dramatisation of the case, written by the well-known crime writer Anthony Berkeley, introduced by Francis Iles, and with songs by Anthony B. Cox — all three were pen-names of the same man, Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971). © Radio Times

It should just have been a matter of a further remand, but things were different this time round. According to the London Evening Standard (Thursday 5th January, 1865), “the court and its approaches were densely crowded by Italians and others, who appeared to take great interest in the progress of the case”.  The reason for this was that “a number of Italian gentlemen” had decided to retain a lawyer to act for Pelizzioni.    

The gentlemen were not named, but subsequent references enable us to identify some of them with a fair degree of certainty.  Henry Negretti, as we already know, was the become the chief mover in Pelizzioni’s defence.  We shall hear much more of him.  Also involved was Rocco Angelinetta (1828-1897), a well-to-do looking-glass manufacturer, employing around fifteen Italians — carvers, gilders, and silverers — who lived at his premises in St. John Street.  At least three of his workmen had been in the pub on the fateful evening.  Angelinetta was actually half-English — he was born in Worcester to an Italian father (a barometer-maker) and an English mother.  His wife, Emma Plumb, was also English.

Pietro Bordessa, whom we have already met, was probably involved, as almost certainly was Giacomo Traini, who had married Hannah Worms in 1857 — he was a man known for his local charitable endeavours.   Definitely involved was Charles (Carlo) Galli, one of Negretti’s neighbours in Hatton Garden.  Like Angelinetta and Bordessa, he made looking-glasses, but also, like Negretti, barometers and thermometers.  It was a business founded by his father and at that time employing around ten hands.  Born in Italy some forty years earlier, the younger Galli was a naturalised English subject with an English wife.

Another name mentioned was that of a Mr. Gatti.  This might simply be an error for Galli, but it would actually be surprising if the best-known Italian in London (Swiss-Italian, strictly speaking), the celebrated Carlo Gatti (1817-1878) were not involved.  He was the man who introduced both chocolate and ice-cream to the masses — from stalls, from shops, from cafés — and was by now running the largest ice-importing business in the country (two of his ice-wells survive below the London Canal Museum).  He was also very well-known as a music-hall impresario.  He had begun his London career in precisely these streets and had both a café and a chocolate factory on Holborn Hill at the foot of Hatton Garden.  Impossible to think that he would not have known his neighbour Negretti.  He is also a direct ancestor of my wife’s best friend — so almost counts as family.

The lawyer the gentlemen retained was James Graham Lewis (1804-1873) of nearby Ely Place, father of two brilliant Victorian barristers — the society lawyer Sir George Henry Lewis (1833-1911), and the master chess-player Frederic Hyman Lewis (1834-1889), the latter of whom was also to become much involved in the case.  The elder Lewis was said to have had the manner of a genial sea-captain in court, rather than that of a dry solicitor.  His humanity and compassion were such that he became known as “The Poor Man’s Lawyer”.  The family were Jewish and he would have known what is was like to be an outsider.  It is widely thought that he was the model for the character of Jaggers in Great Expectations.

He swiftly set to work, announcing to the court that despite the inquest verdict he would soon demonstrate through new witnesses, and by cross-examination of the earlier ones, that Pelizzioni was innocent.  He did not think that the earlier witnesses had deliberately lied, but he did think they were much mistaken and had identified completely the wrong man.  There had been another man in the pub that night who looked uncommonly like Pelizzioni.  That man had disappeared on the night of the murder and had not been seen since.  He would produce that man’s master to say so (his master was Angelinetta).  And he had numerous other witnesses to prove that this other man was the real culprit.

Victorian Saffron Hill

It only later emerged that this is precisely what Saul Worms had told the police on the very night of the murder.  He had also named the other man and suggested the police start looking for him.

Lewis intended to begin by cross-examining the previous witnesses.  There was now a pause while Acting Inspector Baldock explained that “owing to some misapprehension the whole of the witnesses that were previously examined were not now present”.   Not to be deflected, Lewis responded that “he would take their depositions at they stood” and begin to examine his own witnesses.

At this point Barker intervened to state that he would now adjourn matters until Rebbeck could appear in person.  Lewis replied that that was all very well, but there had been a great deal of “inflammatory matter” in the press, his client had been vilified, and he hoped the public would now suspend judgement until his evidence was heard.  Barker responded that he had not seen or heard of anything inflammatory in the press — he can neither have read the newspapers nor spoken to anyone who had. 

Facing this sudden adjournment, Lewis said that he “would merely call the magistrate’s attention to one fact”: the prisoner had been arrested on the spot, but no knife capable of inflicting the wounds was found on him.  The house had been thoroughly searched and no murder weapon found.  As for the blood on the prisoner’s hand — it was his own: he had been cracked across the head in the mêlée.  He hoped the press would take notice of all this.  It was quite wrong that he was not to be allowed to continue, “as he had nearly a dozen witnesses in attendance to confirm his statement in every particular”.

Barker was adamant.  Pelizzioni, “who seemed to treat the matter with the greatest indifference”, was remanded for a further week and led away to the cells.  

Cynics, both then and with the benefit of hindsight, regarded this whole exercise, particularly the failure to have the earlier witnesses in court, as a deliberate attempt to shield them until they could get their stories straight before a more challenging examination.  But the counter-narrative was now in the public domain — and from this point on the prisoner began to be referred to by his correct name of Pelizzioni, rather than the Polioni of all the earlier accounts.

Harrington’s funeral took place on the following Sunday.  The entire neighbourhood turned out, no doubt his sister, my great-great-grandmother Ellen Harrington, and her extensive family among them — “The murdered man being a costermonger, there was an unusual turn-out of that useful class of street-tradesmen on the occasion.  First came the hearse, a double-bodied one, containing the coffin in the front compartment and the chief mourners in the second; two mourning coaches followed; and after them a long line of cabs, gigs, donkey-carts, pony-barrows, and a large goods-van, all crammed with male and female occupants, the great majority of the men smoking short pipes. This extraordinary funeral procession, which took from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour to pass any given point, came slowly down Saffron-hill about three o’clock in the afternoon.  The windows in that locality were filled with spectators, and a large crowd of persons in the humblest ranks of life followed the remains to the cemetery.  Although there was no display of feeling, still the affair partook more of a demonstration in the Italian quarter of London expressive of disgust at the foul manner in which Harrington had met his death at the hands of a foreigner than a desire on the part of those who followed to be present at solemn ceremony” (The Sun, Monday 9th January 1865).

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (4) — The Inquest

Pelizzioni was brought before the local police court again on the Wednesday — two days after the stabbings.  This was a formality: proceedings were essentially on hold until news of Alfred Rebbeck came through.  Was the charge going to be one of single or double murder?

Clerkenwell News — Saturday 31st December 1864. © British Library Board.

Inspector Potter corrected something said on the previous day:  Michael Harrington had left a widow and six children, not five.  Mary Harrington, Irish like her husband and then in her late thirties, was present in court.  The magistrate dealt with her kindly — “I deeply sympathise with you in your terrible misfortune.  I am informed that you are a person of sober and industrious habits” — and said that she had only to apply to the Chief Clerk if she needed further assistance.  Elsewhere in the newspapers on this and on following days there were many notes of generous donations made to assist her from individuals across the whole spectrum of the community.

There had been further disturbances in the area and opinion was hardening.  Alongside its brief account of the hearing, the London Evening Standard launched into an uncompromising editorial.  Fighting with knives was cowardly and un-English — a view undiminished by time — I can recall my father (who went to the Italian school on Little Saffron Hill, by the way) saying exactly the same thing to me a hundred years later.  And as for Pelizzioni, minds were already made up: “Forthwith, he gets an Italian gang around him — and Saffron-hill, the most dilapidated and neglected part of London, is a perfect Calabria in that respect — returns to the house, knocks down and stuns a woman, rushes upstairs, and stabs three utterly inoffensive people, who had taken no part whatever in expelling him from the Golden Anchor.  There can be no question about it.  In ordinary cases of murder, involving issues of life and death, we naturally shrink from reviewing the circumstances before they have been solemnly proved in a court of law.  Here, however, the assassin was taken red handed; the deed was witnessed by half a score of eyes; the guilt of the ruffian is palpable, and nothing remains except for justice to deal with him as, we trust, it will deal, unflinchingly and unsparingly.  In England the Thugs of the Continent require to be taught a sharp lesson” (Thursday 29th December, 1864).     

A formal inquest into Harrington’s death was held at Bart’s Hospital on the following Friday before Serjeant William Payne (1799?-1872), long-experienced Coroner for the City of London.  Having been sworn in, the jury were invited to view the body.  Thomas Wakeling again led the prosecution and — once again — the prisoner had no legal representation.  This was queried by the Coroner, but the proceedings were allowed to continue.  Apart from the occasional interjection from members of the jury, the witnesses again went unchallenged.

It was essentially a matter of all the same witnesses saying all the same things they had said in the magistrate’s court three days earlier.  No point in repeating it all, but there had been time for reflection and there were some amplifications, some shifts of emphasis, little differences and anomalies here and there — some of which might better be labelled discrepancies.  The press reports also differ in some details, so precisely what was said remains a little uncertain. 

Fred Shaw, the landlord, now added that his wife had walked away from Pelizzioni when he spoke to her — a point which only became relevant later.  He also now quoted the Italian as saying he could “kill him”, rather than the more ambiguous “settle him” he had previously claimed.  And he now named the Italian who had hit him — one “Gregorri” — adding that “I was about to get over the bar to him, when I was pulled back”.

The first serious discrepancies were introduced by Richard Mellowship, the button-maker. Having previously said that, “The prisoner rushed into the room first, and several behind him, all Italians”, he now claimed that “Only the prisoner got into the room, others were knocked back”.  This was clearly a crucial point — the entire prosecution ultimately rested on Pelizzioni being the only Italian to enter the bagatelle-room.  It was also a radical change of story.  To further confuse matters, the witness also claimed to have seen the knife — the alleged murder weapon — at the “Golden Anchor” on the day following the stabbings.  As the evidence still to come was that no knife had been found there, it is difficult to know what to make of this — unless perhaps the police had been showing a knife around the neighbourhood looking for an identification.

John Liddle repeated his previous evidence, but added that the group in the bagatelle-room had been given some clear forewarning that “that the Italians were going to murder the English”.  He was then challenged by a juryman as to how certain he was of his identification of the murderer — “l might have seen the man before, but should not have known him.  I am positive he is the man who struck Harrington”. 

The policeman Richard Fawell reiterated that he had first seen Pelizzioni in the tap-room and witnessed him “rush into the bagatelle-room”, followed not by a group of Italians but by Rebbeck the potman, who had already been stabbed.  For this to make sense, this must have been before Harrington had been stabbed.  But everything happened very quickly, it was Boxing Day, and clearly a great deal of drink had been taken.  That said, there appears to be no plausible point in the narrative for the stabbing of the third man, Charles Bannister.  The most telling piece of evidence from Fawell was that he returned to the pub after having taken the prisoner to the police-station to search the premises for the murder-weapon — but could not find one anywhere.

Constable Elliott added to his previous testimony that they had to force open the door of the bagatelle-room and also said that when they arrested Pelizzioni he was armed — not with a knife — but with a broom-handle.  Sergeant Baldock noted in passing that the prisoner was quite capable of conversing freely in English.

Although two knives had been found in the vicinity and handed into the police, Inspector Potter chose to produce only one.  It was a clasp-knife with a single blade, smeared with blood, the point of which had recently been snapped off.  It had been found by a little boy in “The Ruins” — the rubble-strewn cleared space between the backs of the houses on the east side of Saffron Hill and the newly-made Farringdon Road.  Close to the “Golden Anchor”, but not quite “just outside” as one newspaper reported Potter as saying.  Charles Pearless, the young surgeon, was of the view that this knife could have inflicted the fatal wound, but probably not unless it still had its point on it.  And as for the blood, he could not tell just from looking at it whether it was human or animal.  There was very little in the way of forensics in 1864 — even fingerprint evidence was as yet unknown.

The Coroner summed up at considerable length, reviewing all the evidence.  It was only in hindsight that the flaws in the testimony began to appear.  He concluded by telling the jury that he did not see how they could do otherwise than to bring in a verdict of “wilful murder” against the prisoner.  There were no mitigating circumstances to reduce the charge to one of manslaughter.  The jury duly and swiftly obliged.  They then generously offered to donate their fees to Mary Harrington.

Things could not have been bleaker for Pelizzioni.  Although a full-scale trial had still to be scheduled, the inquest jury and the press had already found him guilty.  He was destined to hang.

To be continued …      

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The Saffron Hill Murder (3) – Before Mr Knox

A preliminary remand hearing took place on the day following the stabbings at Clerkenwell Police Court before Alexander Andrew Knox (1818-1891), an urbane and well-connected magistrate, also known as a writer and journalist.  The prosecutor was Thomas Wakeling (1824?-1868), a locally-born solicitor.  The surgeon from St. Bartholomew’s called to give evidence was Charles Durrant Pearless (1842-1874), just twenty-four years of age, only recently qualified and very recently appointed.

This was eye-witness evidence given less than twenty-four hours after the stabbings.  There had been little opportunity for the kind of collusion and the possible schooling of witnesses by the police which was later strongly suspected.  One point to note is that although a professional interpreter was present, in the form of Giovanni Guerini, originally from Milan but long resident in London, Pelizzioni or Polioni had no legal representation – it was a remand hearing, not a trial.  The police only had to produce sufficient evidence, which they plainly had, to justify taking matters further, but this meant that beyond an occasional request for elucidation from the bench, the evidence went wholly unchallenged.  A second point is that no Italians at all were called to testify.

The internal geography of the “Golden Anchor” is difficult to reconstruct.  At Pelizzioni’s second trial both a plan and a scale-model were produced to try to elucidate matters for the jury.  It was evidently a warren of a place: among other rooms there were a large bar-parlour with a long bar, a side compartment off the bar, and a tap-room (also known as the dancing-room), accessible from the bar-parlour by a hatch or half-door.  The bagatelle-room was at the back, with a window overlooking Saul Worms’ yard.  It was accessible both directly from an interconnecting door with the tap-room, and by a narrow passage with two steps up to a different door.  A cupboard in the corner of was apparently also accessible from steps leading down to the cellar.  The essential point is that no single witness was in a position to see more than a portion of what was happening at any given time.

London Evening Standard, Wednesday 28th December 1864.

London Evening Standard, Wednesday 28th December 1864. © British Library Board.

The London Evening Standard carried a detailed account of the hearing the following day, under the lurid headline “Frightful Murder and Outrage by Italians in Saffron Hill”.  I reproduce it almost in its entirety.

“Sarafini Polioni, an Italian, of about 33 years of age, was placed at the bar before Mr. Knox … charged with the wilful murder of Michael Harrington … He was also charged with feloniously cutting and wounding Alfred Ribbeck [i.e. Rebbeck] and George [i.e. Charles] Bannister … Inspector Potter, who has charge of the case, was present to watch the proceedings on the part of the police.  At the solicitation of the magistrate Mr. G. Guerine [i.e. Guerini] attended as interpreter.

Mr. Wakeling said the prisoner was an Italian, and lived close to the Golden Anchor public-house … He had grossly insulted the landlord, and was turned out of the house some time before.  On Monday night a lot of Italians got up a disturbance in the house.  The prisoner rushed up stairs, knocked a woman down, and stabbed the deceased.  He had previously stabbed two others, one of whom it was feared was at the point of death.  The deceased made a statement at the hospital as well as the other unfortunate man.  Those statements he proposed to submit as evidence.  The first was as follows: —

“Dec. 26.  My name is Michael Harrington, I was at the Golden Anchor public-house, Great Saffron-hill, about seven o’clock this evening.  I was stabbed in the belly.  The man with a moustache is the man that did it.  God forgive him.  I mean the man now present.  I am on my dying bed.  God forgive him.  I will not sign.  St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.  Witnesses, Thomas A. Potter, Inspector. Richard Fawell, Police-constable 425 A”.

“My name is Alfred Ribbeck … I am potman.  I am 22 years of age.  About seven o’clock this evening there was a disturbance … I went into the room to try to quell it.  An Italian was in the room; that man stabbed me.  I immediately struck him with a stick.  I afterwards gave that man into custody of Police-constable 425 A, Fawell.  This statement is true.  I know I am dying.  The man that stabbed me is now present.  That is the man.  (Signed) Alfred Ribbeck, His X mark. Witnesses, Thomas A. Potter, Inspector.  Richard Fawell, Police-constable 425 A.  Royal Free Hospital, Dec. 26″.

It was thought that the stab which killed the deceased was intended for the landlord of the house.  The following evidence was then taken, which was interpreted to the prisoner: —

Fred. Shaw. —  l am the landlord of the Golden Anchor … I saw the prisoner last evening.  He came about half-past five o’clock.  He was talking to my wife.  He came with five or six other Italians.  He said he could settle me.  He could settle any six Englishmen like me.  I did not speak to him.  He then left.  They did not all leave.  He had been drinking.  He returned in twenty minutes.  I did not see him return.  The other Italians struck me.  Soon after there was a row in the room.  I went out for a constable.  The constable came, and the next thing I saw was the prisoner being taken out by the police.  The constable, Fawell 425, went into the bagatelle-room.  I was pushed into the bar-parlour by some of the customers as the Italians threatened me.  I then saw the prisoner taken out.  I afterwards saw the deceased Harrington at the foot of the stairs leading into the bagatelle-room.  He was not able to speak, and his bowels were all protruding.  I got him into the bar-parlour.  I raised his shirt, and found he had got a serious cut.  He was then taken to the hospital.

Maria King. — … I was with my husband at the Golden Anchor …  I knew the deceased.  He was in the room; the bagatelle-room … with my husband and several others.  They were not playing.  The English people were taking refreshments by themselves.  I saw the prisoner.  I was going out of the bar to go home.  It might be from six o’clock to half-past, and the prisoner met me at the door of the bar and struck me full in the face with his fist and knocked me backwards.  There was then a rush into the bagatelle-room.  I was knocked down.

Mr. Knox. — You were knocked down, and the rush completed it?

Witness. — Yes.

How long did you stop on the ground? — I do not know.

By Mr. Wakeling. — l was stunned.  I saw the constable go into the room and bring out the prisoner.  I did not see the man that was struck.

Sunday Illustrated - 4 March 1923

A much later artist’s impression. From Sunday Illustrated, 4th March 1923. © British Library Board.

Richard Mellowship … — l am a button-maker …  I was in the bagatelle-room between six and seven.  I knew the deceased; he was there, and stood by the side of me.  The prisoner rushed into the room first, and several behind him, all Italians.  I saw the prisoner strike the deceased in the stomach, and the deceased fell to the ground … He had been stabbed and his bowels came out.  I did not see anything in his hand.  I mean the prisoner.  My wife said, “Oh, come away, you will be murdered”.  I then saw the blood.  My wife was near enough to the deceased to have got some blood from him which was on her shawl.  

By Mr. Knox. — l went out of the house, but I was obliged to run in again, as the house was surrounded by Italians calling “Garibaldi for ever!”  When the rush came the deceased had just finished singing a song, and the prisoner, without having a word with him, struck him, and he fell.

John Liddle. — …  I am a French polisher.  I was at the Golden Anchor … about six or seven, when the disturbance took place.  I knew the deceased Harrington.  He sat next to me.  I sang the first song and he sang the last.  It was in the bagatelle-room.  There were some 12 or 14 in the room.  There were no Italians in the room.  The deceased called upon me for a song.  I then gave “The Ship’s Carpenter”.  The deceased sang a song just after it.  The prisoner came in.  I saw him strike Mrs. King.  He met her at the door and struck her and knocked her down.  Then he rushed in and struck the deceased, who had just risen from the first seat near the fire-place.  He struck him on the stomach.  The deceased fell on the floor.  The deceased had not said a word before he was struck by the prisoner.  Two constables came who took prisoner into custody.  Several other Italians followed into the room.  I myself struck the prisoner with a stick.  The deceased said “I am stabbed” when he fell from the effects of the blow.  Whereupon I struck prisoner with a stick; another man struck him and he fell, and we held him till the police came.

Mr. W. King, … — l am the husband of Maria King.  I was at the Golden Anchor … about six or seven o’clock.  I was in the bagatelle-room.  There was a company of us there.  I saw the prisoner there.  I did not see him strike my wife.  I picked her up.  I went out and I found that somebody had struck my wife.  Harrington, the deceased, was there.  I saw the prisoner come into the room.  I was knocked down in the struggle.  I was knocked down behind the door.

Mr. Knox. — Did you see the prisoner and the others come into the room?

Witness. —Yes.  When I got up I saw the prisoner on the top of Harrington.  I laid hold of him and held him till he was given into charge.  I did not see any blood.

Were there any words passed before this took place? — No.

Richard Fawell, 425 A. —  On Monday night, between six and seven o’clock, I was passing down Saffron-hill, by the Golden Anchor, when my attention was called by Mr. Shaw to a disturbance in the house.  I went in.  I there saw the prisoner and several others in the tap-room breaking up one of the seats.  I went out and called 157 G.  We went in, and in going into the bagatelle-room I saw Alfred Ribbeck following the prisoner.  Ribbeck said “That man has stabbed me”.  We went into the room, and found the prisoner in custody of Mr. King.  Harrington was lying in a corner and I was told that he had been stabbed.  I said I would take the prisoner into custody for assaulting Ribbeck.  He became very violent when I told him that he was charged with stabbing Ribbeck.  He answered me something in Italian, which I do not understand.  The prisoner was conveyed to the police-station.  Afterwards I took him to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.  I saw Harrington under the hands of the surgeon.  He was the same man who was pointed out to me as Michael Harrington in the bagatelle-room.

Mr. Knox. — Did you tell him in the bagatelle-room that you took him in charge for the assault upon Ribbeck?

Witness — No, I told him in the street.  He became very violent.

  1. Elliott, 137 G. — On Monday night there was a disturbance … I went in and found the prisoner in the custody of Mr. King.

Faithfull, 157 G. — … I was called to the Golden Anchor.  I saw Michael Harrington, whom I knew.  It was about half-past six or seven.  He was lying in the bar-parlour insensible …  I got a cab, took him to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and delivered him to Mr. Peerless [i.e. Pearless], the surgeon.  I produce the trousers worn by the deceased, which I took off his body; the mark or cut there corresponds with the wound on deceased’s body.

Serjeant Baldock, 1 G. — On Monday night, at about a quarter to eight, the prisoner was brought to the Clerkenwell Police-court, by Constables Fawell and Elliott.  He was charged with stabbing a man.  I told him I should detain him at the station until I ascertained that the man was dead, and if dead he would be charged with murder.  I asked him if he understood English.  He answered “yes”.  I then examined his hands.  His right hand was covered with blood.  There was an old knife upon him, and it appeared not to have been opened for some time.  I pointed out blood on his hands, and he said, “I only protected myself”.  I afterwards told him he was charged with the wilful murder of Michael Harrington by stabbing him in the belly with a knife, and also cutting and wounding two other persons.  He said, “I never use knife”.

Mr. Thomas Potter, inspector G division, — … I conveyed the prisoner in a cab to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, accompanied by Serjeant Baldock and other constables.  I found the man recognised by the officers as Harrington in bed.  In consequence of what the doctor told me I said to Harrington, “Will you listen to me?”  He went off into a doze.  I then said “Can you hear what l am saying?”  He said, “Yes”.  I said “The doctor who is now present says that you have but a short time to live, and I want you to answer a few questions”.  He then said, “If I am to die, God have mercy on me”.  He repeated that several times.  I then asked him to look at several men near the bed.  He said, “Oh, let me be quiet”.  I then said, “’Where are you hurt?”  He said, “In the belly; for God’s sake untie my belly”.  I again asked him to look round the bed to see if he knew anyone.  He then looked round, and pointing to the prisoner said, “That’s the man done it; him with the black moustache.  I hope God will forgive him”.  I then said, “Will you take this pen and sign this statement?”  He said, “No; God bless him”.

Mr. Knox. — Did the prisoner make any statement to this?

Witness. — I showed the prisoner a note I had taken.  He said, “I don’t understand English”.

Mr John Peerless [i.e. Charles Durrant Pearless]. — On Monday, about seven, the deceased was brought to the hospital … He was in a state of great collapse, produced by shock and loss of blood.  I examined him.  I saw four feet of intestines protruding from a wound near the navel … I closed the wounds in the intestines, and returned them.  About nine o’clock the inspector came; at that time the deceased was conscious.  I told him he was dying.  He would not believe it.  At last I convinced him of it.  I asked him if he had got any statement to make.  He said “If I must die, God forgive me”.  I asked if he could point out the man who wounded him.  He replied to the effect that he did not wish to hang him, and hoped God would forgive him as he did.  He afterwards pointed out the prisoner as the man who had done it.  He refused to sign the paper tendered by the inspector.  The prisoner was then removed.

Mr. Knox. — When did the deceased die?

Witness. — About half past three.  I have no hesitation in saying that death was caused by the wound in the bowels.

Mr. Knox to Inspector Potter.  — Has the deceased any children?

Inspector Potter. He leaves a widow and five children totally unprovided for.  He was about 38 years of age, and was a costermonger.

Mr. Knox. Something must be done for her.  Before I leave the court I will give some directions about her.  In all probability the prisoner will have to be brought here on another charge.  I shall, therefore, remand him.  

The prisoner was then removed.

Mr. Knox directed £5 from the poor box to be placed in Inspector Potter’s hands for the use of deceased’s family.

In order to prevent the recurrence of stabbing outrages in Saffron-hill Inspector Potter has placed extra men in that district”.

There are various points to note in all of this.  First is that Harrington had plainly refused to sign the statement, which should effectively have precluded its use in evidence – and certainly have given everyone pause to think.

The small pen-knife found in Pelizzioni’s trouser pocket was plainly not the murder weapon, but no other knife had been found at the scene of the crime.  It later emerged that two abandoned knives had already been found in the vicinity and handed in to the police.  Both had been found at some distance from the “Golden Anchor”.

The crucial point about the evidence from both the Kings, Mellowship and Liddle is that on the day following the incident they clearly testified or accepted that a number of Italians – not just Pelizzioni – had rushed into the bagatelle-room.  The fact that both Liddle and Rebbeck were apparently armed with hefty sticks should also perhaps have been questioned further.

“Garibaldi for ever!” – Evviva Garibaldi! – a curious and picturesque detail.  If it has any meaning at all, it was perhaps a cry for justice.  Some of the Italians apparently followed the arresting officers all the way to the police-station declaring Pelizzioni’s innocence.  When given the chance, other witnesses had a rather different tale to tell – a counter-narrative was already circulating on the streets of Clerkenwell.  And the police knew it.  On that same night, while Harrington lay dying, a man had gone to the police-station not only to declare Pelizzioni’s innocence, but to name the real culprit and to suggest the police start looking for him.  That man was Saul Worms, the man from the cottage next door to the pub.  He was rudely dismissed and ignored.

It is difficult now to recapture the complete hero-worship felt in Victorian England for Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), the Liberator of Italy.  On his triumphant visit to England earlier that year, he had been showered with honours and acclamation – “Garibaldi arrived in England on Sunday.  At the port [Southampton] where his coming was looked for all the town was astir in eager expectation to hail the man whom, of all others, posterity will name the hero of a most unheroic age … All England was present in spirit on Sunday … in spirit all England went out to meet the Ripon, bearing the martyr and confessor of European freedom to our happy shores; all England stood on tiptoe to catch sight of that battle-worn and weather-beaten face and figure; in spirit all England thronged the streets and gathered on the housetops to salute the actual living presence of ideal valour and virtue” (Penny Illustrated Paper, Saturday 9th April 1864).

The admiration was mutual.  In speech after speech Garibaldi paid tribute to English traditions of law, liberty and justice.  The cogent point here is that Garibaldi was a personal friend of Henry Negretti, the instrument-maker of Hatton Garden who was to take such a central role in Pelizzioni’s eventual acquittal.  Garibaldi had stayed with Negretti on a previous visit ten years earlier.  Negretti was there to greet him at Southampton.  They shared an unswerving faith in English justice – a faith which was about to be tested to the utmost.

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (2) – Breaking News

Victorian Saffron Hill, looking south

Victorian Saffron Hill, looking south

London’s Saffron Hill lies on the borders of Holborn and Clerkenwell and runs northwards from Charterhouse Street – a narrow thoroughfare rising gently towards its crest before descending again towards Ray Street.  The more southerly and much the longer part of the street was called Great Saffron Hill to distinguish it from Little Saffron Hill (now called Herbal Hill), which referred to the downslope beyond the summit.  It was memorably the setting for Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist – “a dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen.  The street was … narrow and muddy, and the air … impregnated with filthy odours.  There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children”.  Peter Cunningham in his Handbook for London (1849) reported the area as so dangerous that when the clergy of St. Andrew’s Holborn visited it, they had to be accompanied by policemen in plain clothes.

The area was already becoming known as “Little Italy” from the increasing number of Italian immigrants settling there.  Although there were under 2,000 Italians in London at the time of the 1861 census, well over a third of them were living in this immediate vicinity.  By 1871 there were a thousand more.  These Italian arrivals were (and still are) almost invariably depicted as itinerant musicians, organ-grinders, and penny-ice vendors – but these were simply the most visible of them – in fact the majority were skilled or semi-skilled artisans working in wood, glass, plaster, mosaic, parquet, artificial-flower making (so popular in Victorian England) and other trades – “all stopping up tiny gaps in the London labour market”, as Professor Jerry White has it in his excellent London in the Nineteenth Century : ‘A Human Awful Wonder of God’  (2007).

The Italians were predominantly young men and there were occasional tensions as they caught the eye of the local young (and perhaps not so young) women.  Intermarriage was already not uncommon.  My first cousin (albeit at a few generational removes), Hannah Worms (1835-1923), grand-daughter of a refugee from the Judengasse In Frankfurt, had married Giacomo (James) Hippolito Traini (1826-1906) from Bergamo, an “artificial flowerist” of Cross Street (now St. Cross Street), off Saffron Hill, in a Church of England ceremony in March 1857.  The area was a melting pot.  One of the witnesses at the wedding was Pietro Bordessa (1826-1879), a well-known looking-glass maker, also of Cross Street, himself married to an Englishwoman and in a business partnership with an Englishman, George Eaton (1831?-1886), employing over thirty men.  Bordessa and his young English brother-in-law, as well as a number of his employees, all came to feature in the complicated murder mystery which had begun to unfold.

clerkenwell stanford 1862

Edward Stanford, 1862. ©

The “Golden Anchor”, evidently popular with English, Irish and Italians alike, stood at No. 59 Great Saffron Hill, towards the top of the rise on the eastern side, on the corner of Castle Street (now Saffron Street).  It had entrances on both streets.  Just east of there, the whole area had recently been gouged out and carved through to create the world’s first underground railway line – the London Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863 – still over-ground at this point and running north from Farringdon Station in parallel with the new Farringdon Road, still under construction.  This map from 1862 shows the cleared ground before the railway lines had been laid, with Farringdon Road labelled Victoria Street – a name not in the end adopted.  The freshly cleared ground behind the houses of Saffron Hill was known colloquially as “The Ruins” – an area which was to feature in the case.

The Ruins, Farringdon Road. © British History Online.

The Ruins, Farringdon Road. © British History Online.

Next door to the “Golden Anchor”, at No. 1. Castle Street, was a small cottage with a large yard behind it, backing on to the pub.  The tenant of both cottage and yard was my great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon Worms (1806?-1883), known as Sol or Saul.  At that time in his life, then in his late fifties, he was a dealer in second-hand building materials.  We might dress it up and call it architectural salvage nowadays, but the yard was essentially a junk-yard, piled high with timber at the time of the murder – no doubt much of it from the cleared houses of “The Ruins”.  I shall call him Saul in the following account – that is how he was referred to in the newspaper coverage of the time.  Both he and his yard also had parts to play in the unfolding saga.

"gouged out and carved through". © British History Online.

“gouged out and carved through”. © British History Online.

The newspapers had lost no time at all in picking up on the story of what had happened at the “Golden Anchor” on the Monday evening of Boxing Day, 1864.  By the following morning there were almost identical reports in the London Daily News, the Globe, the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, the Morning Advertiser, and even the Banner of Ulster, all of which had gone to press before news had come through of Harrington’s death in the early hours of that Tuesday morning.  These were picked up on and repeated almost verbatim in newspapers all across the country over the coming days.  The reports can only have come directly from a police briefing.  Right from the outset an official narrative had been framed from which it later became almost impossible to escape.  There was no doubt at all in the mind of the police of the guilt of the young Italian, Serafino Polioni or Pelizzioni – and none of the earliest newspaper accounts contained even a hint of caution in naming him as the murderer.

A slightly more detailed report came later in the day from the London Evening Standard.  I reproduce it in full as it introduces many of the names which were to figure so largely in the newspapers in the coming weeks and months as the uphill battle began to overturn that original narrative.  The verdict had to all intents and purposes already been settled.  To the authorities it was an open-and-shut case.  Only the formalities remained to be gone through.



“Last night the neighbourhood of Saffron-hill was thrown into a state of great excitement by a report that a dreadful murder had been committed.  On the police proceeding to the spot they found that four men had been stabbed at the Golden Anchor public-house, corner of Castle-street, kept by Mr. Frederick Shaw.

London Evening Standard, Tuesday 27th December 1864.

London Evening Standard, Tuesday 27th December 1864. © British Library Board.

From inquiries that were made it appeared that on Saturday night some Italians were ejected from the house for making use of abusive language, and last night some of them entered the tap-room for the avowed purpose of having revenge.  Whilst there they abused some Englishmen, broke the seats, and were proceeding to further acts of violence, when Mr. Shaw went the door and called in Detective Fawell, 425 A, but before he got to the tap-room loud cries of murder were heard.  On Fawell going to the tap-room he found an Italian of the name of Sarsfini Polioni, picture-frame maker, struggling with some men.  At that moment Alfred Ribbeck [i.e. Rebbeck], the potman, said he had been stabbed by Polioni, and blood was flowing from his right side.  Fawell took the man into custody, and he then ascertained that the prisoner had stabbed three other men, named Michael Harrington, Charles Bannister, and William King.  

The man Ribbeck was found be so dangerously stabbed that he was at once conveyed to the Royal Free Hospital, Gray’s-inn-road.  Mr. J. D. Hill, the resident medical officer, said that the wound was so dangerous that the man was not expected to live, on which Inspector Potter, and Acting Inspector Baldvile [i.e. Baldock], 1 G, attended with the prisoner, and Ribbeck pointed him out as the person who had stabbed him.  The prisoner betrayed not the slightest contrition, and treated the matter with the greatest indifference.

Before the prisoner was removed from the Royal Free Hospital information was brought that the man Harrington was dying in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and upon proceeding there it was found that he had been stabbed very badly in the stomach, and that his bowels protruded.  This unfortunate man also pointed out the prisoner as the man who had stabbed him, but although his dying deposition was taken, Harrington said that would not sign the paper, as he freely forgave the prisoner, and he hoped God would too.

Harrington has since expired.

The other two men stabbed by the prisoner were attended to at the Royal Free Hospital, but although their wounds were very deep they were not considered of such a dangerous nature as to detain them in the hospital”

London Evening Standard, Tuesday 27th December 1864.

Briefly to make some introductions: resident at the “Golden Anchor” were Frederick Shaw (1837?-1909), landlord.  Fred Shaw has sometimes been taken to be a rather distinguished Detective Chief-Inspector of that name who had retired in 1856.  This was not the case.  This was a much younger man of the same name, but until eighteen months or so before the present events he had been a police constable, based at Clerkenwell police station.  He may well have been the Chief-Inspector’s son – there is some evidence to suggest so – but whether this was so or not, the landlord of the “Golden Anchor” obviously knew, was friendly with, and was a former colleague of many of the local constabulary.  He had only become a publican on marrying Eliza Hannah Wells (1837-1921) in June 1863 – she and her father David Wells (1799?-1874) ran the “Golden Anchor” and she herself was the licensee until transferring the licence to Shaw in the October after their marriage.  They had a child, Frederick Wells Shaw, in early January 1864.

Just twenty-two years of age, the potman and general factotum at the public house was Alfred Rebbeck (1842-1897).  Alf Rebbeck was part and parcel of the furniture at the “Golden Anchor”, having been born and brought up there in the 1840s and 1850s, when his father was the licensee.  Badly wounded in the affray, he miraculously survived to become the most significant of all the witnesses.  Once the affair was all over, in February 1868, he married a woman who lived next door to the pub – Catherine Worms (1827-1889), my great-aunt, the eldest daughter of Saul Worms.

For the police: Richard Fawell (1831-1889), who arrested Polioni or Pelizzioni at the scene of the crime, seems to have worked in this immediate area throughout his career, before taking an early pension.  He was known locally, somewhat pejoratively, as “Flash Charley”.  He was in plain clothes on the evening of the stabbings and on his own account he just happened to be passing by at the time.  His superior, Inspector Thomas Ambrose Potter (1828?-1875), was to become one of the most controversial figures in the case.  He left the Metropolitan Police not long afterwards to become head of the London & South-Western Railway Police.  An active freemason, he died at Cannon Street Railway Station in 1875.  George Baldock (1826?-1898) was originally from Staffordshire, but knew the area well having served as a policeman there since at least 1851.  He reached the official rank of inspector before retiring in his fifties.

The other victims: Charles Bannister (1844-1912) was a young man of twenty, a stationer (later a jeweller), still living at home on Back Hill with his widowed mother.  His hand had been badly gashed and he lost the use of a finger when a surgeon was compelled to remove a knuckle.  William King of Leather Lane, was a bone-button manufacturer.  He was in the pub with his wife Maria King on the evening of the incident.  Both were to become key figures in the subsequent trials, but I have been quite unable to identify them further.  Initial reports that King had also been stabbed appear to have been either exaggerated or erroneous, as this appears not to have been referred to again.

The young medical officer John Daniel Hill (1837-1875), just twenty-seven, became one of the most respected surgeons in London before contracting erysipelas (St. Anthony’s Fire) after attending cases in the hospital in April 1875.  He died within a fortnight, leaving a widow and an infant son.

To be continued …

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The Saffron Hill Murder (1) – A Trial Recollected

Sir Henry Brackenbury (1837-1914)

Sir Henry Brackenbury (1837-1914)

“Not long afterwards I had a curious experience, and happily a rare one, in that in an English court of justice I saw an innocent man sentenced to death.  A relative of mine, who was a Middlesex magistrate, had got an order for us to see the prison of Newgate.  After going over the prison and seeing the condemned cells, the pinioning-room, the scaffold, and the “Bird-Cage Walk”, that narrow passage under whose uneven flags are buried in quicklime the bodies of the executed murderers, below their initials carved on the stone wall, we said that we had only to see a man sentenced to death to complete the dreadful tale.  The warder told us he thought we could do so if we went to the adjoining Old Bailey, where the Saffron Hill murder case was being tried.  We went there, sent in our cards, and were given seats on the bench.  The trial was near its end: we only heard one or two witnesses for the defence, the reply of the counsel for the prosecution, and the summing up of the judge.

The story of the case was shortly this.  There had been a row in a public-house between some Italians and some Englishmen.  The gas had been turned off, and when it was again lighted an Englishman was found stabbed to death.  The police arrested an Italian named Polioni or Pelizzoni … and it was his trial at which we were present.

The summing-up of the judge seemed to me eminently impartial, and he left the verdict entirely to the jury.  The jury retired, and the prisoner, a small frail man, was taken out of court.  During the absence of the jury darkness came on, and a few lights were lighted in the court.  Presently, after an interval that seemed endless, the jury returned, and the prisoner was brought back into the dock.  I believe there was not a soul in court who did not at that moment pray that the prisoner might be acquitted.  But, in answer to the question put to the jury, the foreman’s reply was “Guilty”.  The prisoner turned pale as death, tottered, and fell back into the arms of the two warders at his side.  Asked by the judge if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed, he was completely unable to speak.  Then Baron Martin put on the black cap and passed sentence of death.

How often has that scene come back to my memory!  The dim light, the hush of expectation, the sigh that went through the audience as the jury pronounced the fateful verdict, the aspect of that wretched man, the judge’s voice, broken by emotion as he pronounced the awful sentence, which ended with the words, “And may God have mercy on your soul!”

We could not speak.  We left the court in silence, and in silence we drove home”.

Brice BookThus the poignant account of the distinguished Victorian army man – General Sir Henry Brackenbury (1837-1914) – “The Thinking Man’s Soldier” as he was dubbed in the title of a 2013 biography by Christopher Brice.  Sir Henry was recollecting an event which had taken place over forty years earlier.  The account appeared in his “Some Memories of My Spare Time”, published in 1909, but the trial he refers to had taken place long before, on 30th January 1865.  The Saffron Hill Murder – one of the most famous cases in British legal history – a case which dominated the newspapers for weeks on end from the morning after the murder itself, which had taken place on Boxing Day, Monday 26th December 1864, through to its final and dramatic conclusion in April 1865.  And it has been endlessly written about ever since.

The interval of time had no doubt clouded the general’s memory a little.  Not everyone was quite so sure of the judge’s impartiality.  And I can find no contemporary reference to the gas in the pub being turned off, but for all the fog of confusion which obscures exactly what happened that evening in the “Golden Anchor” on Saffron Hill, it might as well have been.  There is not a single fact in the case which has not been disputed.

Good Morning, 10th February 1944. © British Library Board

Good Morning, 10th February 1944. © British Library Board

There is confusion even as to what the name of the man found guilty actually was.  He was tried as Seraphini Polioni, but other probably more precise contemporary accounts give Serafino Pelizzioni, with any number of variants in the spelling of both elements of the name.  There is confusion over his appearance – “small and frail” in Sir Henry’s recollection, “ferocious looking” in other accounts.  Confusion as to whether he “tottered, and fell back into the arms of the two warders”, or whether he was actually brawling with them in rage.  Over his age – not wholly certain, but almost definitely in his early thirties.  Over his occupation – Sir Henry thought wrongly that he worked for the famous instrument-maker Henry Negretti (1818-1879) of Hatton Garden – a pardonable error in that it was Negretti who subsequently became the hero of the hour by saving Pelizzioni from the gallows.  Other accounts describe Pelizzioni as a silverer of mirrors, but he was in fact a frame-maker.  My great-great-great-grandfather knew him well.

There is less confusion over the victim: Michael Harrington (1823?-1864), known as Mike to family and friends, a costermonger in his early forties.  He did not in fact die until the early hours of the following morning, in Bart’s Hospital.  And he was Irish, not English: I know this because he was the brother (or possibly half-brother) of my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Harrington (1836?-1890).  He was born in Ireland, she in London a number of years later.

Although there are many other accounts of the case readily available, most of them tolerably accurate (even if prone to occasional error), I shall tell the story again over the coming weeks.  Mainly for entirely personal reasons: my family’s not inconsiderable part in assisting Negretti to save Pelizzioni has never really been highlighted (except by Negretti himself), but also because the case has very often been cast (certainly in more recent times) as a tribal incident – an example of intolerance and probable injustice towards immigrants.  Earlier accounts tend to concentrate much more solidly on the possibility of serious malfeasance by the police and the authorities.  But what appears to be a key element in the full understanding of the case – the apparently very personal relationship between Pelizzioni and Eliza Shaw, the landlady of the “Golden Anchor” has never really been examined.

To be continued.

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