A short investigation into The Crime Museum Uncovered

The death mask of Daniel Good, executed in 1842 for the murder of his wife. Photo: Nell Darby

The death mask of Daniel Good, executed in 1842 for the murder of his wife. Photo: Nell Darby

The Museum of London‘s major autumn exhibition, The Crime Museum Uncovered, opens in October. The exhibition utilises over 600 artefacts from the Metropolitan Police‘s infamous Black Museum to investigate (pardon the pun) the history of detective work and the museum over the past two centuries.

The Black Museum opened in 1875, but the exhibition provides some context by looking at the longer history of policing in London, from the formation of the Met under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.

Although its coverage of pre-20th century offences and convictions is necessarily limited by the smaller amount of artefacts in the Black Museum relating to this period, it then covers events up to the 21st century, from the Krays’ exploits and espionage in the suburbs to terrorism, from the Fenians to the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack.

I am really looking forward to seeing the exhibition when it opens, but have a few reservations about how it presents the artefacts, which I have explored in a piece for History Today here.

I’m hoping those reservations are unfounded; but inevitably, any exhibition that looks at crimes from domestic murders to terrorism has to balance the desire to get good “footfall” with the need to be sensitive about the narrative it explores about crime, detection and punishment.

If you want to get an idea of some of the things that the museum will be showing, Buzzfeed has, perhaps inevitably, produced a good list of 21 Morbidly Fascinating Things From Scotland Yard’s Hidden Museum Of Crime.

The death mask of Daniel Good, pictured above, will be one of the items on show at the exhibition, which opens on 9 October. Tickets can be purchased here.

The death mask of Daniel Good is being exhibited courtesy of the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, New Scotland Yard, and was photographed during the Museum of London’s media briefing on The Crime Museum Uncovered.

 

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The Bow Street Runners and the fortune-telling catoptrical

The Bow Street courtroom

The Bow Street courtroom

In a piece worthy of today’s Daily Mail, in 1800, the Caledonian Mercury reported on the illegal occupations undertaken by some of London’s immigrants.

It reported that ‘some foreigners’ who lived on Oxford Street, near Poland Street, were said to ‘possess a knowledge of the occult science, or, in plain terms, were fortune tellers’.

After a tip-off, John Revett, a Bow Street Runner, was despatched to Oxford Street. On reaching the house, he was ushered up to a chamber which contained a ‘very curious machine, called a catoptrical’ and a tablet on which were inscribed a series of questions.

The catoptrical was supposed to be able to answer these questions, but the audience had to pay a shilling for each question they wanted answered.

Each visitor had to look into a telescope-like barrel, supported on a glass tub, and, by the aid of mirrors, an answer would be shown.

The newspaper reported that only the ‘ignorant’ would have thought this was really magic, as the mechanism for working the machine was clearly visible, one of the ‘foreigners’ working the various figures and letters of the answer.

Officer Revett had been promised a wife for his shilling. He returned to the Bow Street magistrate, Richard Ford, to report this, and Ford duly issued a warrant to apprehend the ‘parties practicing this nefarious imposition.’

It took three officers – Revett, together with Townsend and Sayer – to carry out the warrant on Oxford Street. All, of course, paid their shilling to get their fortunes told first, with Sayer wishing he hadn’t, after he was told his wife would be unfaithful to him.

Unluckily for the ‘foreigners’, ‘no lucky omen gave notice of the approach of the officers of justice’; they were taken by surprise by their clients revealing themselves to be officers.

They were brought, in a coach, to the Bow Street public office at 10pm in the evening, and examined by Mr Ford.

Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison, or Bridewell. Via Wellcome Images (L0002980).

Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison, or Bridewell. Via Wellcome Images (L0002980).

Under the 1744 Vagrancy Act (17 Geo 2, c5), the prisoners were deemed to be rogues and vagabonds, as the act covered ‘persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry or fortune telling’.

They were unceremoniously packed off to Tothill Fields Bridewell to await trial at the next Quarter Sessions.

Before they had left the Bow Street office, however, the prisoners had admitted to Mr Ford that they were French immigrants, and that the government paid to them a regular allowance. This allowance was immediately stopped.

The Caledonian Mercury reported that the fortune-tellers ‘did not have recourse to any supernatural means to foretell what would shortly be their fate.’

Instead, Richard Ford – who, unhappily for them, also acted as superintendent of the Aliens Office – stated by the usual means that he would now use his influence to ensure that they were deported back to France.

Source: Caledonian Mercury, 20 October 1800

JM Beattie’s book The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012) has lots more on Richard Ford and two of his Runners, Townsend and Sayer.