Though Henry Matthews engaged in some questionable activity at the time of the Ripper murders, there is no denying his role in the investigation, for better or worse. Read on to see more about his early views and place in the case.
The Right Honourable Henry Matthews MP was a Conservative Member of Parliament for the marginal constituency of East Birmingham and the Home Secretary between 1886 and 1892. He was involved in the highest levels of the Jack the Ripper investigation, as the crimes occurred during his tenure, and he was responsible for law and order at the time. The police also came under his office.
Matthews was born in 1826 and, prior to his political career, he was a skilled barrister. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn and was noted for being a skilled cross-examiner in several trials, including the divorce case of Sir Charles Dilke, who was touted as a future Prime Minister. Following Matthews involvement in the case though, his political career was demolished. It is said that Queen Victoria herself requested his appointment as Home Secretary because she was impressed with his performance during the trial.
He originally entered parliament in 1868 as an “Independent Liberal and Conservative” in the Dungarvan constituency, only to lose his seat in the 1874 election. In 1886, he would re-enter Parliament, this time as a Conservative MP for East Birmingham. He became the first Roman Catholic member of Cabinet since Elizabethan times.
During his time, he proved to be an unpopular choice amongst nearly everyone, including Lord Salisbury (the Prime Minister) and the Queen! Indeed, his very appointment should have been a bad omen as Matthews was so flabbergasted at being offered the post, he was actually under the impression he had declined it, until the next day, when his appointment was announced.
Due to political constraints, Salisbury could not find a way to dismiss Matthews without risking his marginal constituency seat. He left office in 1892, when the Liberals regained power. In 1895, when the Conservatives regained power, Salisbury avoided reappointing him by ennobling him as Viscount Llandaff. Thus, he entered the House of Lords and lived a private life until his death in 1913.
Henry Matthews and the Ripper Murders
Matthew’s role in the Ripper murders is most noted for his regular clashes with Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The two were political opposites – Warren a Liberal and Matthews a staunch Conservative. The build-up had gone on during the two years preceding the Ripper case.
Matthews was annoyed by Warren’s handling of the Elizabeth Cass case (during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887). Elizabeth Cass, said to be a respectable seamstress, was arrested by the police force by mistake, after she was thought to be soliciting whilst she was out shopping. Her employer supported her throughout the case. She was eventually found not guilty and, after giving a seemingly flippant answer in the House of Commons to a question related to that case, was forced into ordering Warren to hold an inquiry.
Warren had also feuded with his Assistant Commissioner (CID), James Monro, who resigned as the Whitechapel Murders were starting. In response, Matthews appointed Monro head of Special Branch, which was outside of Warren’s jurisdiction.
The feud came to a head in October, when Sir Charles Warren wrote an article in Murray’s Magazine defending himself and the police in relation to the Ripper investigation. For this, he received a formal reprimand from the Home Secretary, which caused Warren to resign the night before the final Ripper murder.
Matthew’s other notable involvement was in appointing Robert Anderson as head of the investigation, following the Double Event on September 30th. Anderson wrote in his autobiography (published in 1910) “The Lighter Side of my Official Life”:
“I had a long conference on the subject with the Secretary of State and the Chief Commissioner of Police. ‘We hold you responsible to find the murderer’ was Mr Matthew’s greeting to me. My answer was to decline the responsibility. ‘I hold myself responsible’ I said, ‘to take all legitimate means to find him’”.
Whilst the police’s failure to catch the Ripper has been blamed on conspiracy or their own incompetence, perhaps it would not be unfair for Matthews to share some blame. He was undoubtedly inefficient and out of his depth in the role, seeming to be more concerned with red tape than results.
Queen Victoria herself wrote to the Prime Minister during the Ripper investigation to complain of his “general want of sympathy about the feelings of the people [is] doing the Government harm”. Salisbury replied with an admission “there is an innocence of the ways of the world, which no one could have expected to find in a criminal lawyer of sixty.”
Warren was not the only one who failed to get on with him, and he was known to keep others at a distance. Perhaps, if he had been more supportive of Warren and the Police, then the investigation would have had better morale and success.
What do you think about Matthews’s role in the Ripper case?
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