The Saffron Hill Murder (12) — Aftermath

Elsewhere in London on that Easter Saturday it was Boat Race Day (Oxford for the fifth year in succession), while at Crossness Pumping Station all the great and good were gathered for the formal opening by the Prince of Wales of Bazalgette’s extraordinary sewage system — the official photographs of course taken by “Negretti & Zambra”.   

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

Press reaction to the trial verdict differed markedly: the Daily News reflected that the system of the police being both investigators and prosecutors needed amendment — “That they have not in this case made us all unwittingly guilty of a judicial murder we must thank fervently Mr Negretti … when the Home Office, which has twice prosecuted Pelizzioni, with unaccountable indecency refused to prosecute Gregorio, Mr Negretti undertook the painful duty himself, and, in spite of all official obstruction, at last triumphed in establishing the truth — he should at least be reimbursed for all his considerable costs”.  This was something which did in the end happen, and there was also a public subscription got up to honour his efforts, which according to the Morning Post had reached nearly £100 within a couple of weeks.  

The Birmingham Journal, on the other hand, was incandescent: “Mr Negretti, in advancing a general charge of conspiracy and fraud against the police in the affair of Pelizzioni, was probably little aware … Pelizzioni has been acquitted amid vociferous exclamations of delight, and for what, forsooth?  Because five people, exclusive of the murdered man, swore positively that he was the murderer … Either five men perjured themselves, or Pelizzioni is guilty.  They could not have been all of them mistaken … The next step will probably be to propose Pelizzioni for the next vacant Garter, with a free pardon to Mognio and a grant of land because he went to the public-house with the deliberate intention of using a knife, first provoked, or attempted to provoke, a row, by slapping the landlord’s face, and then ‘put a knife into the belly of the first man he met’ …  A result has been attained, but it must not be rashly concluded that the verdict of the jury has been an infallible one … every motive existed to hoodwink justice … As it is, one man receives five years’ penal servitude, a punishment less than would be awarded for stealing a post office letter, and the other gets off altogether … They have been tried, and have been fortunate; but it is really absurd that, because Mr Negretti was in some way mixed up with Garibaldi, and is supposed to represent a popular cause, and because he made an attack on the police, the verdict recorded is to be considered a triumph of innocence, and a subject of congratulation.  Pelizzioni escaped punishment in the teeth of the very strongest criminatory evidence ever advanced, probably, in a Court of Justice against an individual on so grave a charge, and has been acquitted … it is not always safe to rely on verdicts of juries” (Birmingham Journal, 22nd April 1865).  The Dublin Weekly Nation of 29th April took a similar line: “The police just now are very unpopular in London — they always are unpopular in rascaldom …  the verdict is gravely unsatisfactory … under these circumstances it may be submitted vox populi is not vox Dei”.

The Illustrated Times disagreed: “Pelizzioni, but a few weeks since lying under sentence in the condemned cell at Newgate, has been pardoned and set at liberty … The verdict of acquittal was hailed with loud applause from the auditory … popular instincts are by no means unfrequently right.  The public, as represented by the crowd at the Old Bailey, saw something more than even the removal of a noose unjustly placed around the neck of a fellow-man.  They perceived, as did the jury, that of two sides of a story one only had been presented on the trial at which the prisoner had been sentenced to die, and upon which the Judge, Mr Baron Martin, had uttered the memorable words, ‘If I could be certain of anything in this world, it would be that Pelizzioni committed this murder, and that Gregorio did not’.  It is not the fault of this excellent judge … It is the fault of the very nature of human testimony — of the retention or suppression of the evidence of important witnesses — of the manner in which the prosecution was conducted.  The public who cheered so loudly at the last trial hailed what they knew to be a defeat of the police.  They knew that Pelizzioni had been captured and charged by police-constables, and that the police had selected and arranged the evidence.  On the other hand, the exculpation of the convict was due to the wisdom and energy of a private individual (Mr Negretti), who had not only discovered the actual culprit but brought him to confession.  Nor could it be forgotten that, even after Gregorio had been convicted, the chief of the metropolitan police had involved himself in a public discussion in the columns of the press, wherein he sought to vindicate the acts of his subordinates, already proved before a competent tribunal to be wrong.  Therefore, what the public cheered so heartily was not the mere acquittal of a wretched Italian, but a triumph of justice”.

At the end of the trial, Negretti had been mobbed by well-wishers determined to shake his hand.  Later in the year, the Clerkenwell News carried a translation from an Italian newspaper: “The scene enacted at the English court of justice was utterly unparalleled in its annals; when the sentence of not guilty was pronounced by the jury, our Signor Negretti had some difficulty making his way through the crowd of Englishmen, who are always ready to applaud a good action, be it the work one of their own countrymen or that of a foreigner … our King, Victor Emmanuel, has, through the Italian minister in London, the Marquis d’Azeglio, conferred on Signor Negretti the honourable title of Cavaliere, a distinction never more worthily deserved nor more gracefully bestowed” (Clerkenwell News, 4th December 1865).  

The Italian equivalent of a knighthood then for Negretti.  There was to be no such honour forthcoming from the British establishment, although, quite apart from the present case, one was surely merited for his services to industry and to science, not to mention his well-attested philanthropy.  Negretti’s own view of the establishment was probably reflected in a letter published in the Sheffield Independent (12th July 1865) supporting the candidacy in the forthcoming general election of the feisty John Arthur Roebuck (1802-1879), generally guaranteed to be hostile to any government of the day, whatever its colour.  He was the only M.P. who had given him any support at all in the Pelizzioni affair, many others, craven then as now, declining to offend the Home Secretary: “He is a good and independent man, and such a man ought to be elected”. 

The same piece in the Clerkenwell News also brought an update on Pelizzioni, whose travails were not at an end: “Broken in health, after four months of imprisonment and mental anguish, Pelizzioni was received at the house of Mr. Golly [Galli], of Hatton-garden, a gentleman who had greatly interested himself in the poor prisoner’s behalf.  When sufficiently re-established in health, he was sent to Italy; but no sooner had he set foot on his native soil, than he was seized and imprisoned as a raffrettario, that is to say, for having evaded the conscription”.  On the intervention of the Italian ambassador he was soon released, but on travelling to his native village near Lake Como, he “found that an elder sister, who had brought him up from a child, had gone mad on hearing that he was condemned to death for murder in England.  The poor woman is still insane; and Pelizzioni is at home, working for his own support and for that of his unhappy sister”.  He appears to have died at Como in 1904.

The ill-feeling that the case had brought about lingered on.  There was outrage in some quarters when it emerged that none of the policemen in the case had been either disciplined or charged: some in fact had been promoted.  Then, in the following year, two police-officers were given prison sentences.  They had beaten up Rocco Angelinetta in the street, the only reason apparently that he had taken “a prominent part in the defence of Pelizzioni, and wrote to the newspapers impugning some of the statements made the police”. 

Morning Advertiser, 16th April 1866. © British Library Board

I suspect that something similar happened to my great-great-grandfather, Lewis Worms, who had conspicuously not confirmed the police account of Harrington’s identification of Pelizzioni.  In 1867 he was prosecuted for assaulting a police constable and convicted solely on the word of three officers, one of whom was certainly lying: “The defendant begged that the case might adjourned for the production of more witnesses, but Mr. Cooke declined to accede to his application, and he was locked up” (Holborn Journal, 21st December 1867).    

Alf Rebbeck, as we know, subsequently married Catherine Worms, eldest daughter of Saul Worms, but I have been unable to discover what happened to the widowed Mary Harrington and her children.  As for Gregorio Mogni, he appears to have returned to Italy immediately on the completion of his sentence, married there, and died near Lake Como at the age of seventy or so early in 1894.  For all their troubles, Fred and Eliza Shaw stayed together, but handed the licence of the “Golden Anchor” back to her father a year after the murder.  Fred worked as a market gardener for a time, but then returned to his original trade of harness-maker, which he had been before becoming a policeman and then a publican.  He ended his days as a night-porter, while Eliza worked as a stay-maker from time to time.

The case itself became a touchstone, right from the outset, for those like Alfred Hutchinson Dymond (1827-1903) who were campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment: “If, to obtain the total abolition of capital punishment, Englishmen will exhibit one half the vigorous determination that Mr Negretti displayed on behalf of his humble and wrongfully convicted compatriot, it will not be long before official blindness and popular ignorance will alike yield to the influence of reason and truth” (The Law on its Trial, 1865).     

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.

Henry Negretti died at the comparatively young age of sixty-two.  “The deceased gentleman was the warm friend of his countrymen in London, by whom he was greatly beloved, and his loss will be felt by many a charitable institution no less than by those scientific coteries of which he was an ornament” (Morning Post, 30th September 1879).  Almost his last public act had been to seek official help for Pelizzioni, living in Italy with a shattered constitution and devoid of means.  

Justice had been done – at least we think so.   It is very difficult indeed to think otherwise.  But no-one had been closer to the events in court than Montagu Williams and in Leaves of a Life (1890) he expressed a lingering doubt: “The case was perhaps the most remarkable one that I ever took part in.  I have never been able to make up my mind as to the truth of the matter.  Did Gregorio sacrifice himself for his cousin and friend? …  Certainly, according to the testimony of Mr Negretti, like Nisus of old, Gregorio practically exclaimed: “Me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum [Me, me, I am here, I who did this, on me turn the sword]”.   

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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