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 …

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. He teaches annually at the London Rare Book School, University of London. 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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