The Mysterious Life and Death of P.C. Richard Brown

British Army, Depression, Jack the Ripper, Jews, London, Metropolitan Police, Suicide 32 Comments »

Richard Brown presents a most unusual case, for he was not only a seaman but a soldier
and a London policeman in consecutive order, and, as the old rhyme goes, Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor
. . . . Does his suicide by apparent self-inflicted gunshot in Hyde Park
at midday on Friday, 16 November 1888, 3 days after he was allowed to resign from the
Metropolitan Police and almost a week after the 9 November murder and mutilation of
Mary Jane Kelly, have anything to do with the Whitechapel murders? Could Brown even
have been Jack the Ripper? The Jewish Chronicle of 23 November, reporting on the
coroner’s enquiry into his death, tells us that ‘The deceased was a Jew, and before
joining the police force was a soldier in the British army. He served in the Egyptian
campaign and was decorated with four medals. It transpired that Sir Charles Warren
had shown him great kindness, and the deceased became very depressed when the
resignation of the late Chief Commissioner was announced.’ 

The reported facts about Brown’s Jewish religion and reported relationship with Warren
are tantalizing details that are left out of the reports of the coroner’s hearing published
in The Times, Lloyd’s Weekly News, and The Star at the end of November. The date of
Brown’s suicide fits the criterion many students of the case theorize for the supposed
conclusion of the Ripper’s murder spree—that the murderer did away with himself. 

‘. . . a steady, respectable man’

Brown joined the Metropolitan Police on 16 August 1886 as Warrant Number 72041 in E
Division, according to the ‘E’ Divisional Ledger. E Division covered the West End district
of Holborn with stations at Hunter Street, Gray’s Inn Road, Bow Street, and Waterloo
Pier. The division records give Brown’s birthplace as Adelaide, South Australia, his age on
joining as 32 years, and his army service prior to joining the force as Royal Artillery and
Army Reserve. His height is recorded as five feet nine and a quarter inches. P.C. Brown’s
resignation from the force was permitted on 13 November 1888; Police Orders for that
day reveal that the resignation was permitted under Consolidated Orders, Sec. IV., para
128 to 133, page 488, ‘Not parading on duty; and considered unfit for the Police Force.’
Pay was permitted ‘to the 11th [December]’.

Brown was let go on Tuesday, and on Friday, three days after being allowed to resign,
he apparently killed himself. After telling acquaintances of confused plans to leave
the country, the man shot himself with a pistol he bought on Thursday.

The coroner’s inquest into Brown’s death was held at St. George’s Hospital by Mr. John
Troutbeck, the coroner for Westminster. As recorded in the 20 November edition of The
Times
, Inspector Austin Askew, of Hunter Street Police Station, testified about Brown’s
termination from the police and his character:

[Askew] stated that the deceased was guilty of a slight breach of discipline, and with
others appeared before the Assistant Commissioner, who allowed him to resign in order
that he might preserve his testimonial, and he left the service last Tuesday. He… was
a steady, respectable man, and did his duty fairly well.

Askew said the breach of discipline was that the deceased ought to have gone on parade
for night duty at a quarter to 10, and he neglected to do so.

The Strange Death of Richard Brown

Louis Sidney Torre, of 3, Percy Square, King’s Cross, stated to be the deceased’s second
uncle, there being no other relatives, stated he had known Brown for ‘about ten years,
and last saw him alive on Tuesday, the 13th’ when he was at his house—the same day
Brown had resigned from the police, and thus a traumatic day for the former constable.

Torre said his relative ‘seemed rather despondent, but complained of no trouble.’ Brown
informed him that ‘he had resigned his situation in the police force’ and that he intended
to go ‘either to Mexico or to Africa.’ Torre said his nephew was ‘a sober, steady
man, and [that] he had saved about £130.’

William Richards, a pawnbroker’s assistant, of 34 High Holborn, said that Brown came
to his shop on Thursday and bought a revolver, saying he was going to shoot in a match
with a fellow constable. It was a pin-fire revolver with six chambers. Richards said
Brown loaded the weapon outside the shop. Did it cross the disturbed man’s mind
to commit suicide by shooting himself right there in High Holborn?

Harris Bloom, a dealer of 166 Drury Lane, said that the deceased had supper with him on
Thursday night. The former policeman showed him the revolver, which he said he bought
for protection. Brown told Bloom he was going to California. Note that Brown’s stated
intentions to the dealer in regard to the gun and on his plans to go after leaving England
(if indeed he really intended to leave the country) varied from statements he made to the
pawnbroker’s assistant, Richards, and to his uncle, Louis Sidney Torre.

Police Constable Duncan McKenzie, 593 A, described finding Brown’s body:

[McKenzie] stated that he was on duty outside the Hyde Park Police-station
at midday on Friday when he heard a whistle blown. It sounded like a
policeman’s whistle. Upon going along the footpath leading to the
Serpentine he saw the deceased sitting on a seat with the revolver
produced tightly clasped in his right hand and blood flowing from his
mouth. He was removed to the hospital. No whistle was found.
 

 Map of Hyde Park 1833

Map of Hyde Park, 1833, showing paths to the Serpentine

Lloyds Weekly Newspaper November 25 1888 

Report of inquest on Richard Brown’s suicide in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper,
Sunday, 25 November 1888  

 

Questions arise about this odd tale. Why did McKenzie say he heard a police whistle and
and not a gunshot? Who blew the whistle? Did Brown fire the fatal shot or did someone
else? If Brown did commit suicide, why at midday on Friday in a public park close
to a police station? Was the chosen location for suicide, if such it was, meant to
embarrass the police, or merely the product of a disturbed mind?

Mr. F. W. Parker, house surgeon, stated Brown died three hours after his admission; the
bullet entered his mouth and penetrated his brain. The jury gave a verdict of ‘temporary
insanity.’

A Mixed Army Record

With the help of genealogist Mark Andrew Pardoe, I have now obtained copies of
Brown’s army records. They reveal a mixed history despite his usual steadiness
while serving in the Metropolitan Police.

Brown joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner, regimental no. 4175, in the 11th brigade,
in Liverpool on 8 March 1878. At that time, his age was given as 24 years and 6 months.
He gave his occupation as sailor, his family’s address as 515 Pitt Street, Adelaide, South
Australia, and his father’s name as ‘John’ but, as noted below, research in Australian
street directory and genealogy records has not so far confirmed this information. Royal
Artillery records show Brown had a fresh complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, and
no distinctive marks except for a vaccination mark on his left arm from infancy. His
chest measured 38 inches, his weight 161 pounds, muscular development ‘very good’.

Unlike the 1888 Jewish Chronicle report of Richard Brown’s Jewishness, his religion
in army files is given as Church of England. Two days later, at the artillery depot
at Sheerness, Kent, he was diagnosed with ague and gonorrhoea, and was treated with
quinine and purgatives. He transferred to 11th brigade 12th battery on 15 May. The Royal
Artillery at the time had over 11 brigades with at least 6 batteries each of ca. 200 men.
Gunner Brown first served for 245 days in the unit, for he deserted the artillery while on
furlough at Sheerness on 11 November.

Astonishingly, Brown deserted not to quit the army but to join another army unit.
As noted on Brown’s Statement of Services, he ‘enlisted into 2/5 Foot [i.e., 2nd battalion,
5th Regt. of Foot, Northumberland Fusiliers] as No. 2091 Pte. Richard Brown on 12th
November 1878.’

Contrary to the statement made 7 months earlier on joining the artillery in Liverpool in
which he said he was a sailor from Australia, Brown gave his place of birth as Heligoland
and his occupation as a groom. Heligoland, an island off the German coast, today part of
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, was at the time still a British possession after capture by
the Royal Navy from Denmark in 1807. The land became German in 1890 in a deal
worked out under the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty whereby the British got the rich East
African island of Zanzibar in return for surrendering the coastal island to the German
authorities. The deal was apparently more to Germany’s advantage strategically than
for any intrinsic value that the low-lying windswept island possessed. The Germans
established a naval base on the island and a sea battle of 1914, the opening year
of the First World War in Europe, occurred off it. It could be that Brown’s turnaround in
saying he was from Heligoland might betray European or Eastern European origin rather
than birth in the Antipodes as he told the Royal Artillery in 1878, although it should be
noted that many seamen in this period listed their place of birth or home as Heligoland.

Within six months, the army learned that ‘Private Brown’ was a deserter from the Royal
Artillery. The miscreant was slapped in the guardroom at Chatham on 20 May 1879. He
became non-effective in the Fusiliers on 4 June and was transferred back to the Royal
Artillery while still remaining in custody. He was moved to the ‘Cells’ 24 June and
court martialed. He served 2 1/2 months in the Millbank Military Prison, London,
located where the Tate Britain Gallery stands today, his pay and pension forfeited
at the time of his conviction for desertion.

 Map of Millbank Prison, London, 1862

Map of Millbank Prison, London, 1862

Brown was released 10 Sept., when he rejoined the Royal Artillery’s 11th brigade and was
sent with the brigade to India, landing in India on 28 October.

Brown apparently stayed an exemplary soldier til the end of his army career in spring
1886, after which he joined the Metropolitan Police. His pension was restored 11 Sept.
1881, two years after his release from his time in the brig. 

A Decorated Soldier

Brown landed in India in late 1880 and would fight in Afghanistan, being awarded an
attestation and medal for bravery the Afghan campaign of 1878–1880. According to the
newspaper reports on the coroner’s enquiry, he reportedly won a total of four medals
although so far we have found record of only two. His ‘Military History Sheet’ confirms
that the other medal was awarded for his service in the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt,
on 13 September 1882, described as ‘Medal for Egypt with clasp…Khedive’s Bronze Star.’
Although the note that Gunner Brown won this medal appears on his army history sheet,
mystifyingly, he is not listed in the medals list for the campaign (WO100, War Office:
Campaign Medal and Award Rolls (General Series) 56, Royal Artillery 14 Egypt, 1882).

The battle followed the overthrow of the the Khedive, the British viceroy in Egypt, by
a native force led by rebel Egyptian officer, Colonel Ahmed Arabi in May 1882. Arabi
and his rebel army’s aimed to take over the Suez Canal, recently built in 1869 to
facilitate communications to Asia, and to keep foreigners out of Egypt. After landing
at Ismalia in August and making a night march, British commander Lieutenant General
Sir Garnet Wolseley with 35,000 British and Indian troops surprised and destroyed
Arabi’s entrenched army at the Tel-el-Kebir and restored British rule. 

 The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir 1882

The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, 1882

The redoubtable Scottish poet William McGonagall wrote one of his epic poems on the
battle, and it gives the flavor of the battle in which Richard Brown won his medal, even
if the Scottish bard appears, by my count, to underestimate the size of the British force!

The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir

Ye sons of Great Britain, come join with me,
And sing in praise of Sir Garnet Wolseley;
Sound drums and trumpets cheerfully,
For he has acted most heroically.

Therefore loudly his praises sing
Until the hills their echoes back doth ring;
For he is a noble hero bold,
And an honour to his Queen and country, be it told.

He has gained for himself fame and renown,
Which to posterity will be handed down;
Because he has defeated Arabi by land and by sea,
And from the battle of Tel-el-Kebir he made him to flee.

With an army about fourteen thousand strong,
Through Egypt he did fearlessly march along,
With the gallant and brave Highland brigade,
To whom honour is due, be it said.

Arabi’s army was about seventy thousand in all,
And, virtually speaking, it wasn’t very small;
But if they had been as numerous again,
The Irish and Highland brigades would have beaten them, it is plain.

‘Twas on the 13th day of September, in the year of 1882,
Which Arabi and his rebel horde long will rue;
Because Sir Garnet Wolseley and his brave little band
Fought and conquered them on Kebir land.

He marched upon the enemy with his gallant band
O’er the wild and lonely desert sand,
And attacked them before daylight,
And in twenty minutes he put them to flight.

The first shock of the attack was borne by the Second Brigade,
Who behaved most manfully, it is said,
Under the command of brave General Grahame,
And have gained a lasting honour to their name.

But Major Hart and the 18th Royal Irish, conjoint,
Carried the trenches at the bayonet point;
Then the Marines chased them about four miles away,
At the charge of the bayonet, without dismay!

General Sir Archibald Alison led on the Highland Brigade,
Who never were the least afraid.
And such has been the case in this Egyptian war,
For at the charge of the bayonet they ran from them afar!

With their bagpipes playing, and one ringing cheer,
And the 42nd soon did the trenches clear;
Then hand to hand they did engage,
And fought like tigers in a cage.

Oh! it must have been a glorious sight
To see Sir Garnet Wolseley in the thickest of the fight!
In the midst of shot and shell, and the cannons roar,
Whilst the dead and the dying lay weltering in their gore

Then the Egyptians were forced to yield,
And the British were left masters of the field;
Then Arabi he did fret and frown
To see his army thus cut down.

Then Arabi the rebel took to flight,
And spurred his Arab steed with all his might:
With his heart full of despair and woe,
And never halted till he reached Cairo.

Now since the Egyptian war is at an end,
Let us thank God! Who did send
Sir Garnet Wolseley to crush and kill
Arabi and his rebel army at Kebir hill.

After Tel-el-Kebir, Brown returned with his Royal Artillery unit to India. During this
time, his medical history seems unexceptional except for a contusion obtained in an
accident on duty in Rawal Pindi in November 1882, and a 23-day episode of lumbago
while at Fort Attack in 1884.

Brown remained in India until returning to England on 20 April 1886 and
being transferred the First Class Army Reserve with the rank of gunner on 19 May,
three months before he joined the Metropolitan Police. On his discharge, his character
was noted as being ‘good.’ In his medical history, and the medical staff noted in their
‘General Remarks on his Habits and Conduct in the Service, Temperance, &c. . . Good,
Regular, Temperate.’ 

Where Did Richard Brown Meet Warren?

It is tempting to think that on one of his overseas tours of duty or even in England,
Gunner Brown’s path intersected with fellow British Army man General Sir Charles
Warren, but documentation of their association prior to both being in the Met in 1888
is so far lacking. In what manner did Warren show Brown kindness? And was that
kindness shown by Warren to the younger man while they were in the army or while
in police service? Possibly study of written army and police records, as well as the
papers of the coroner’s inquest on Brown, if still extant, will reveal these answers.

As Jeffrey Bloomfield mentioned in a 2003 article in Ripperologist, ‘The Making of the
Commissioner 1886’, Warren was in Egypt in 1882, having volunteered his services
in the Egyptian Campaign. Did the two men meet at the time Gunner Brown won his
Khedive’s Bronze Star at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir and possibly serve together in the
campaign? After Warren gained fame for tracking down the killers of Professor Edward
Palmer and his expedition in Egypt in late 1882–1883, the general was recommended as
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1886. He took over as Commissioner from
Sir Edmund Henderson on 12 March 1886. Was he instrumental 5 months later in August,
in recommending that Brown to be accepted into the police force? This could be a
possible channel for investigation.

Punch cartoon of Sir Charles Warren 

Punch cartoon of Sir Charles Warren

Brown was discharged from the Artillery on 19 May 1886 and transferred to the
Army Reserve. His discharge date, or rather his transfer to the reserve list, made it 
convenient for him for him to join Metropolitan Police. Of interest to Ripperologists is
an indication in the army records that, on leaving the Artillery, he stated that he was
going to live in London’s East End, since he gave the General Post Office at Bethnal
Green as his postal address. Where was he living while he was in the police, and
specifically during the time of the Whitechapel murders? Would his duties in E
Division have given him an opportunity to be in the East End on the nights of the
murders?  Or could he have been one of the policemen drafted into the East End
at the time of the Ripper scare? These questions represent other areas for research. 

Questions about Richard Brown’s ‘Australian’ Background

Enquiries made for me by Australian genealogist Andrew Peake in Adelaide records have
failed to find Brown’s family at 515 Pitt Street or a father named “John” at that address
as Brown’s army records indicate. The listings failed to disclose an individual or family
who remotely resembled someone connected to Brown. Pitt Street in Adelaide, it turns
out, is a short street connecting two main streets, today filled with commercial addresses
although in the 1870’s it had some private houses. Sydney’s “Pitt St.” is a longer street.
Mr Peake checked directories for Adelaide for 1876 and 1878 but failed to find a family
named Brown or a man named “John” who might have been Richard Brown’s father.

Conclusion

What is the real story of Richard Brown? Was there some type of link between Richard
Brown’s suicide and the Whitechapel murders? Could he even have been the murderer?
His death within days after the Kelly murder on 9 November 1888 and his Jewish
background, given the possible Jewish connections to the case, make the circumstances
of his life and death worthy of study. It is also perhaps odd to note that it was on
11 Nov. 1878 that Brown deserted the Royal Artillery and joined the Second Battalion,
5th Regt. of Foot, Northumberland Fusiliers, that it was also in November ten years
later that he failed to appear on parade as a police constable in E Division of the Met,
was let go from the police on 13 Nov. 1888, and committed suicide on 16 November.
Another oddity is that the contusion Brown received while serving in India in an  accident while on duty, noted on his medical record, occurred on 2 Nov. 1882.

Is it too much to think there may have been a psychological landmark in Brown’s
past that made the month of November traumatic and that caused him psychological
distress? Or do we take it at face value that his desertion at Sheerness in November
1878 and the accident in India in November 1882 had no connection to his actions in
November 1888, i.e., his failure to appear on parade and his later apparent suicide? Was
Brown, as testified at the coroner’s enquiry, really depressed about the resignation of
Warren as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police? Or is there a deeper story concerning
Brown connected to the series of murders that occurred in London’s East End in August
through November 1888?

It might be assumed that our inability to so far to prove his Australian background and
his motley career in the army calls into question a number of ‘facts’ that Brown told
about his background. It is my working assumption that the man’s real name was not
‘Brown’ but some Eastern European name. Research continues into the strange case of
P.C. Richard Brown.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to the late Adrian M. Phypers for alerting me to the story of Richard
Brown. I also thank Alex Chisholm, Andy & Sue Parlour, Debra Arif, researcher
Andrew Peake, Bernard Brown, and genealogist and researcher Mark Andrew Pardoe.

Notes

Jeffrey Bloomfield, ‘The Making of the Commissioner 1886,’ Ripperologist 47, July 2003.

Battle of Tel-el-Kebir at http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/pages/sudan.html

British Army Records, PRO, WO 97 2388, Richard Brown, Gunner, Royal Artillery,
4175 Descrip; Medical History and Medical History; Record of Service (Proceedings of
Attestation).

Christopher T. George, ‘The Mysterious Life and Death of P.C. Richard Brown,’
Ripperologist 49, September 2003. This blog entry is adapted from that article
copyright Ripperologist 2003. 

“Inquest,” Jewish Chronicle, 23 November 1888.

“Inquests,” The Times, 20 November 1888. A similar report on the coroner’s enquiry into
Brown’s death appeared in “A Constable Allowed to Resign,” The Star, 20 November
1888. The Star, 17 November 1888, carried a short report to say that Brown had been
identified as the man who committed suicide in Hyde Park on the preceding day.

Jill Stratton, ed. The Biographical Index of South Australians 1836-1885. Adelaide, 1986.

William McGonagall On-Line, “The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir,” available at
http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/poems/pgkebir.htm

Metropolitan Police, Police Orders, 16 August 1886 [‘Joined the force this day.— . . .
E 489-72041 Richard Brown’]; 13 November 1888 [Brown’s resignation permitted]

Street Directories for Adelaide, South Australia, 1876 and 1878.

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