A “New Face” for Mary Jane Kelly

Jack the Ripper, Joseph Barnett, Liverpool, London, Mary Jane Kelly, Victorian Period, Wales, Whitechapel Murders Add comments

Researcher Chris Scott, a contributor Ripperologist magazine and author of Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands (Apropos Books, August 2004) has long been delving into the mysterious background of fifth Canonical victim Mary Jane Kelly, who was killed and mutilated in 13 Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, on the morning of 9 November 1888. Chris has recently found what he describes as the “fullest account of the Kelly funeral that I have read.”  As students of the Ripper case will know, Kelly was the most grievously mutilated of all of the Whitechapel Murders victims. Her face was literally hacked away, which made identification of her difficult, to the point that some have doubted that the body in Miller’s Court was in fact the woman that locals and friends knew as Mary Jane Kelly. The famous crime scene photograph remains stomach churning for researchers such as myself who have seen it many times before.<br>At the inquest on Kelly, her long-time lover, Joseph Barnett, testified, “I have seen the body of the deceased, and I identify it by the hair and eyes. I am positive that the deceased was the woman with whom I lived, and that her name was Marie.” (Illustrated Police News, 17 November 1888).    The account found by Chris in the St. Peter Port Star, Guernsey, 22 November 1888, is therefore useful to quote in full because it does help to give some humanity to the person who was butchered in that low court in Spitalfields:


The remains of Mary Janet Kelly, who was murdered on the 9th of November in Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, Spitalfields, were carried on Monday morning from Shoreditch mortuary to the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Leytonstone, for interment, amidst a scene of turbulent excitement scarcely ever paralleled even in the annals of that densely populated district where she met her death. On the afternoon of the murder the body of the unfortunate woman was conveyed to the mortuary attached to St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, and there it remained until Monday. Since the inquest a great amount of sympathy for the fate of the deceased has been created, but it remained for Mr. H. Wilton, the sexton attached to Shoreditch Church, to put sympathy into a practical form, and as no relatives have appeared he incurred the total cost of the funeral himself. Mr. Wilton has been sexton for over fifty years, and he provided the funeral as a mark of sympathy with the poor people of the neighbourhood. The body was enclosed in a polished elm and oak coffin with metal mounts. On the coffin plate was engraved the words:- “Marie Jeannette Kelly, died 9th November,1888, aged 25 years.” Upon the coffin were two crowns of artificial flowers and a cross made up of heartsease. The coffin was carried in an open car drawn by two horses, and two coaches followed. An enormous crowd of people assembled at an early hour, completely blocking the thoroughfare, and a large number of police were engaged in keeping order. The bell of St. Leonard’s began tolling at noon, and the signal appeared to draw all the residents in the neighbourhood together. There was an enormous preponderance of women in the crowd, scarcely any had any covering to their heads, and their tattered dresses indicated too surely that they belonged to the very class to which the murdered women belonged. The wreaths upon the coffin bore cards inscribed with remembrances from friends using certain public houses in common with the Deceased. As the coffin appeared, borne on the shoulders of four men, at the principal gate of the church, the crowd appeared to be moved greatly. Round the open car in which it was to be placed men and women struggled desperately to touch the coffin. Women, with faces streaming with tears, cried out “God forgive her!” and every man’s head was bared in token of sympathy. the sight was quite remarkable, and the emotion natural and unconstrained. Two mourning coaches followed, one containing three and the other five persons. Joe Barnett was amongst them, with someone from M’Carthy, the landlord; and the others were women, who had given evidence at the inquest. After a tremendous struggle, the car, with the coffin fully exposed to view, set out at a very slow pace, all the crowd appearing to move off simultaneously in attendance. The traffic was blocked, of course, and the constables had great difficulty in obtaining free passage for the small procession through the mass of carts and vans and tramcars which blocked the road. the distance from Shoreditch Church to the Cemetery at Leytonstone by road is about six miles, and the route traversed was Hackney Road, Cambridge Heath, Whitechapel Road and the Stratford. In the Whitechapel Road the crowd on each side of the road were very great, and there was a considerable amount of emotion manifested. The appearance of the roadway throughout the whole journey was remarkable, owing to the hundreds of men and women who escorted the coffin on each side, and who had to keep up a sharp trot in many places. But the crowd rapidly thinned away when, getting into the suburbs, the car and coaches broke into a trot. Still the number of those who kept up was sufficient to spread the news in advance, and everywhere people stood in groups, or crowded windows to see the cortege pass. The cemetery was reached at two o’clock. The Rev. Father Columban, O.S.F., with two acolytes, and a cross bearer, met the body at the door of the little chapel of St Patrick, and the coffin was carried at once to a grave in the north eastern corner. Barnett and the poor women who had accompanied the funeral knelt on the cold clay by the side of the grave, while the service was read by Father Columban. The coffin was incensed, lowered, and then sprinkled with holy water, and the simple ceremony ended. The floral ornaments were afterwards raised to be placed upon the grave, and the filling up was completed in a few moments, and was watched by a small crowd of people. There was a very large concourse of people outside the gates, who were refused admission until after the funeral was over.

On another front in Mary Jane Kelly research, a Welsh researcher, Jon Horlor, has been delving into genealogical records in Cwmavon, Monmouthshire to try to find out if he can verify Mary Jane Kelly’s husband may have been killed in a mine explosion as the account by Barnett suggests. He has identified a man named James Davies, age 18 who died in explosion at Risca New Pit, Cwmavon, on 16 July 1880. Holor has established that Cwmavon had a number of Irish immigrant families at this period. Joe Barnett testified that he thought the husband was killed in Carnarvonshire or Carmarthenshire.

Both Mr. Holor and Welsh Ripperologist Gareth Williams think that Kelly may have said that “Cwmavon” might have been misheard by Barnett as “Carnarvon” or “Carmarthen.”   Here is what Joe Barnett said about what he knew of Kelly’s background, as recorded in the London Evening News of 12 November 1888:

She said she was born in Limerick [Ireland] but went to Wales when very young, and came to London about four years ago. Her father’s name, she told me, was John Kelly, a “gaffer” at an ironworks in Wales - Carnarvonshire or Carmarthenshire. She also said she had a sister, who was a respectable woman, and that she had seven brothers, six of them at home and one in the Army. I never saw any of these brothers to my knowledge. She said she was married when very young in Wales. . . . Her husband was a collier named David (sic) or Davies, and she lived with him until he was killed in an explosion. I cannot say how long the accident was after the marriage. She said she was about 16 when she married. After her husband’s death she went to Cardiff to meet a cousin, and stayed there a long time, being in the infirmary there for eight or nine months. She was living a bad life with her cousin, who was the cause of her downfall.

Mr. Holor has said that he believes that the man he has identified, James Davies, who died in the explosion at Risca New Pit, Cwmavon, in July 1880, was the “right name, right age, right area (for me!) and right time frame for MJK according to Barnett.” (See discussion threads at http://www.jtrforums.com/search.php?searchid=1062293.) It will be interesting to see if this interesting lead on Mary Jane Kelly’s mysterious background might finally help us to know more about this Whitechapel murder victim’s elusive life history.

On the Yo Liverpool forum, some genealogically minded people have found a number of women named Mary Jane Kelly in Liverpool and have wondered if Kelly might have been from there.  Of course, Liverpool historically has had a large Irish population so the names “Kelly” and even “Mary Jane Kelly” are relatively common. Here is one of the candidates: 1871 English Census–8 Victoria St., Liverpool, near Stanley; John Kelly, 50, joiner; Mary Kelly, 50, Mary Jane Kelly, 18, General Servant; Margaret and Harriet Kaybeck, servants.   Responding to this information I wrote, “If this woman was aged 18 in 1871 that would have made her 35 in late 1888, probably too old to have been the Mary Jane Kelly who lived in Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, who by all accounts was in her mid-twenties at the time of her murder on November 9, 1888.” See the discussion at http://www.yoliverpool.com/forum/showthread.php?41892-Mary-Jane-Kelly-(Wilson)&p=356380.  Also see http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ENG-LIVERPOOL/2006-05/1147649833 

13 Responses to “A “New Face” for Mary Jane Kelly”

  1. Mike Ebertz Says:

    That was a great account. Any other long accounts from Guernsey?

  2. D'Arc Says:

    Of course, Liverpool historically has had a large Irish population so the names “Kelly” and even “Mary Jane Kelly” are relatively common. QUOTE Chris George

    Chris Scott compiled a list of Mary Jane Kelly’s from BMD marriages from 1843-88 and I’d say a full 60 percent were from Lancashire and half of those from Liverpool. Less than 5 percent from Wales.


    Nice account of the funeral. It makes me feel like I was there.

  3. clare Says:

    Interesting. However, James Davies was identified a few years back, as per a Casebook discussion in 2005. Further, Risca New Pit was definitely not in Cwmavon; it was in Risca (clearly). The two are separated by, in modern times, a decent 20-25 minute drive. It’s not to say that he couldn’t have originated from Cwmavon, although there’s no evidence of that to date, but it isn’t accurate to say that Risca Pit was actually in Cwmavon. Thanks :)

  4. admin Says:

    Thanks for your input.

  5. GA Says:

    “If this woman was aged 18 in 1871 that would have made her 35 in late 1888, probably too old to have been the Mary Jane Kelly…” QUOTE Chris

    In 1881, she is listed as being 26. That would have made her 33 in 1888. I believe she is the Mary Jane Kelly born in Liverpool in Dec. 1854 (FreeBMD) so she would have been a month shy of 34.

  6. Gawain Says:

    “Mary Jane Kelly married Robert Wilson - St Nicholas, Liverpool on 9. September 1872. In the 1881 census we have: Dwelling: Penrhyn St 7 Ct “http://www.yoliverpool.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-41892.html

    Penrhyn is the name of a slate quarry in Caernarvonshire “reputedly the world’s largest” and the name of the street for the Mary kelly Wilson family in 1881.


    If you search for Liverpudlians who were born in Wales in 1881 you get several hits on the first page who live on Penrhyn St. Pall Mall is little Wales but Penrhyn has a definite Welsh connection.

  7. Gawain Says:

    Curiously like the Ripper MJK, this Mary Kelly has an indirect link to a “Davies” and ironworks by way of the dwelling next to her court.

    In the 1881 census we have both:
    Mary Wilson
    Dwelling: Penrhyn St 7 Ct 19, Liverpool

    Dwelling: 8 Penrhyn St
    [B]Walter Davies [/B]
    Age: 33
    Spouse’s Name: Rose Ann Davies
    Where born: L Pool
    Occupation: Lab In Iron Works

  8. Steve Bell Says:

    There is no way that a collier from Cwmavon would have worked in Risca/Cross Keys. Why would they need to when they had the collieries of Blaenavon, Talywain,Varteg and further afield Pontypool or Abertillery etc.

  9. Sanfrancis Says:

    New findings on Liverpool MJK since 2011:

    Family connections to East and West End of London, including relative on Thrawl Street in 1887.

    Proof that brother Henry might have actually been called John Henry.

    Tip from Birkenhead police officer of a Mary Jane Kelly begging on the street in the early 1880s that fits Liverpool MJK.

    Relative who worked as a servant for cotton broker, Augustus Agelasto.

    Proof that she died sometime after 1887 putting her death between 1887 and 1890.

    Still no death record for her in Liverpool or Lancashire.

  10. David John Says:

    Thank you for your such an awesome blogs,keep posting such good blogs.

  11. Barbara McNeill Says:

    Just wondering- there seems to be a French connection constantly running through MJK’s alleged life story. Her death certificate gives her name as Marie Jeanette, and this is the name on her coffin. Was she actually half French? Was her supposed journey to France to see maternal relations? And who was the mysterious French woman who had MJK’s dresses in the West End? MJK is said to have had a speech impediment. Allowing for her false teeth distorting her speech, did she also have a trace of French accent mingled with Irish, and possibly Welsh? Should we be searching for baptismal records of a Marie Jeanette in Ireland as well as France? Another thought- “Collyer” ( with several variations of spelling) is a surname. Was this the surname of Mary’s husband, rather than his occupation? Did Mary divulge snippets of her biography in drunken rambling to Joe Barnett, who tried to keep it coherently in his memory?

  12. Barbara McNeill Says:

    Because MJK is believed to have been Irish,both by birth and parentage, it seems to be assumed that she was Catholic, but this may not be the case. If she married a Welshman, he could have been Methodist, and it is MOST unlikely that an underage Catholic Irish girl would be permitted to marry “out”. If she did, this would have caused a major family split. Mixed marriages were still frowned upon in my own youth! There has to be a reason why she was so utterly estranged from her family! So, has anyone been checking the Welsh non-Catholic records for a marriage of these two, and has anyone else wondered if Collyer was the groom’s real name? Another thought; IF she had a French mother, then, although named Marie Jeanette, she was probably addressed as Jeanette, as prefixing saint’s names with “Marie” is a French custom. Jeanette is a diminutive- she may well have been officially named Marie Jeanne. As I have no resources to check on all this, I’m just throwing out ideas in the hope that someone can respond.

  13. Saponarol Says:

    Ancestry turns up 300 Mary Collyers in England. Researchers would have to look at every one and eliminate based on who can be found alive after 1888 and has no other death record, cross- referencing with marriages and married names. It’s a daunting task even if her real name was Kelly, with Ancestry giving some help with cross-referencing your searches.
    The closest thing to Collyer might be Karen Trenouth’s Collis which comes from the alleged Abberline diary.

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