Crime: Manslaughter and Murder

Shoreditch is an area inhabited by Middle to Lower Class civilians. There would be, no doubt,  some level of crime in the area, such as theft, slavery and more importantly, murder and manslaughter.

In the East End, the most infamous of all criminals of the 19th Century was Jack the Ripper, however, Shoreditch had its own infamous murderers, most notably the London Burkers, a group of criminals who were body snatchers. Body snatching involved digging up freshly buried corpses and selling them on to medical institutes for research and dissection purposes. However, as a result of lack of corpses, thus a high demand for them, John Bishop and Thomas Williams (thought to be the “protagonists”) began to murder innocent civilians, basing their crime on the infamous “Burke and Hare” duo in Edinburgh. Eventually, in November 1831, a worker at King’s College was suspicious of a corpse that was brought to them and so, brought police investigations in, leading to their execution on 5th December 1931. These infamous murderers claimed they had sold up to 1000 corpses, however, never stated the exact amount of people who they had murdered.

It was not uncommon for murder to occur at least once a year in Shoreditch, statistics shows that from the Medical Officer of Health that from the years 1880 until 1915, there were 43 cases of homicide. This means that on average there would be at least 1 death every year. In the 1864 report, the MOH states that “child-murder is a frequent crime”. This was easily backed up in the future statistics whereas the rate of homicide for those under age 5 from 1880 until 1915 was 18 out of the 43. Furthermore, in certain years such as 1880, 1907 and 1913, there were 2 children under the age of 1 who were murdered. These statistics show us how terrifying it was in Shoreditch for its residence, even with the fear of death from disease, there was also a fear of becoming the next victim. An interesting factor in these statistics was next most likely death of homicide, being the age group from 25 to 35 – a total of 14 deaths out of the 43.

Overall, Shoreditch experienced a great deal of murder and manslaughter throughout the 19th Century with no surprise, for it was in the East End of London, well known for the mysterious murders by the serial killer, Jack the Ripper. It would also come to no surprise as much of Shoreditch’s residences were filled with middle to lower class citizens. What came to a surprise however, was the copycat murderers, London Burkers and the age of death as a result of homicide.


King’s Collection:
Medical Officer of Health (all reports from 1848 – 1939):


Mortality and Medicine

Shoreditch, as noted in the 1890 post, was a middle to lower class living area, however, over time, the rate of deaths and main causes of deaths changed as medicine improved.

From 1855 until 1860, the death rates were decreasing (Medical Officer of Health Report 1860) from 1 in every 39th person to 1 in 43rd person dying. This already shows that from within a 5 year time frame that deaths were becoming less frequent. However, this does not give us enough information of the whole time period. In the same report, there was a trend that children under the age of 5 were more likely to die of pneumonia (whereas 263 had died), convulsions (133), whooping cough (118) and measles (90) than small-pox (23) or even from premature birth (49). This is a valuable piece of information as children under the age of 5 tended to be more vulnerable to death; there was a total of 1431 under the age of 5 whereas those above 60 totalled to 608 deaths. However, the deaths of people who were above 60 was more likely to die by bronchitis (132), a disease that would occur as a result of being exposed to pollution or smoke for long periods of time.

Moving on 30 years later, in 1890, the death of children under 5 had dropped to 1,397. This, though it was not much of a drop compared to 1860 still shows signs of improvements. Compared to the 1860 figure, only 455 had died from over the age of 65, showing a massive difference of over 150 despite the 5 year time gap that was changed in the reports. However, when comparing diseases that resulted in death, it showed that bronchitis had only worsened for those above 55 (or above 60 in the 1860 report); in 1860, 132 people had died of bronchitis above the age of 60 and in 1890, 209 died above the age of 55 of the same disease. It is certain that in this case, bronchitis had no no cure throughout this period.

Finally, in 1915, the results showed a total of 290 deaths under the age of 5, a significant change within the 25 year period. This was due to the increase of medical advancements: aspirin was developed (1899) and vaccines were created for cholera (1879), tetanus and diphtheria (1890), and the bubonic plague (1897). This helped the Shoreditch population increase significantly over the 55 year time frame. The causes of death for children under 5 also had a positive result compared to the 1860 report: No child died of small-pox, 22% of the children had died of measles (64) and 11% died of whooping cough (32). However, there showed no improvements in premature births, showing an increase from 49 (in 1860) to 61. This does not necessarily mean that more children were being prematurely born, rather, medicine was not good enough to sustain life at such an age. Similarly so, pneumonia was an issue for Shoreditch’s infants. Though it had resulted in a decrease of death by 1915, it only showed how dangerous it was by looking at the death by disease in proportion to the total deaths. For 1915, pneumonia was 50% of the cause of death for children under 5, making it the deadliest illnesses for infants.

Overall, all three reports show a definite decrease of deaths, proving that the medical advances that were made during the 19th century was helping the lives of the middle to lower classes. However, in some cases such as bronchitis and pneumonia, diseases that had no cure during the time period only worsened. It must also be noted that things such as premature births were still too difficult to help. Thus, even though there definitely were improvements in the mortality rates, it cannot be forgotten that some diseases or issues would not be solved until much later on in the future.