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 …

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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