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William Kirwan: Sources & Footnotes

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Sources & Footnotes
1) Old Bailey trial transcripts, November 14, 1892. (
2) The Old Bailey transcript of this particular case spells many of the surnames wrongly: "Kirwain" instead of "Kirwan", for example, and "Hardley" rather than "Ardley". When in doubt, I've used The Times' spellings instead, which seem more reliable.
3) Stirling recognised Roberts from her previous visits to The Alfred's Head. He had never seen Kirwan before, but identified him from a photograph shown in court. All the other Southwark witnesses identified Kirwan in the same way.
4) Kelly identified the third man he saw not as Edward Waller, but as a 28-year-old stoker called Henry Lee. The balance of other evidence suggests he was mistaken in this, however, and I'm going to assume it was Waller all along. My reasons for doing so will become clear as the story unfolds.
5) Street names were used more informally at this time, and the names Redcross Street, Redcross Court and Redcross Alley were applied more or less interchangably to describe this one road. I've used its modern name of Redcross Way throughout for the sake of clarity.
6) Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, my source for this remark, actually printed it as "What the ---- are you waiting for?" Given its place in the sentence, I can't think what other word they might have had in mind.
7) This fits McLoughlin's description of Kirwan's drinking habits. "I never knew him to drink to excess," McLoughlin said. "He drank lemonade and beer mixed, very seldom spirits."
8) An Ulster was a popular caped overcoat of the Victorian era, which Roberts must have acquired somewhere in second-hand form. Details here:
9) This remark produced "loud laughter" when Kelly made it in court. It's resported in an unidentified New Zealand newspaper dated December 30, 1892.
10) Kelly identified the three men he'd originally seen following Kirwan as Lee, Balch and Noble, but can't explain how Lee magically turned into Waller between Southwark Bridge Road and The Lord Clyde. Elizabeth Knight, the landlady at The Lord Clyde, said she thought Lee had been in company with Waller, Balch and Noble there, but all four men vehemently denied this. Lizzie Williams testified that Lee remained back at The Lord Clyde as Waller, Balch and Noble led Kirwan off to his death, and prosecutors eventually concluded he had not been involved in the murder.
11) Knight's husband ensured The Lord Clyde had its own solicitor present at Kirwan's inquest hearing, which suggests he was concerned the murder could end up costing the pub its licence. If so, then he - and perhaps the other publicans involved as well - would have had a vested interest in minimising how drunk Kirwan had seemed to be while on their own premises.
12) The Times, October 18, 1892.
13) This is an amalgam of Williams' evidence at the Police Court hearing of October 28, 1892, and the Old Bailey trial that followed. Sources as above.
14) Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, October 23, 1892.
15) Holloway didn't become a women-only prison until 1903.
16) I've omitted a couple of lines of the transcript here to avoid confusion. Waller had mistaken Kirwan for a solicitor rather than a doctor, and that's how he described him when talking to Featherstone. As far as I can see, it was a meaningless mistake, so I've chosen not to muddy the water with it here.
17) I don't know whether the police gave Featherstone anything in return for his co-operation or not.
18) Eliza Ardley, Kirwan's landlandy, said he also wore a gold ring on his little finger, though she could not be sure he had it on when she last saw him. This may have been the ring some witnesses said they saw Kirwan wearing (on his left hand) in Southwark, but if so it appears to have been stolen from his body and never recovered.
19) The Times, October 20, 1892.
20) Langham was coroner for both Southwark and the City of London. On October 4,1888, four years before Kirwan's death, he'd presided at the inquest hearing for Catherine Eddowes, the fourth of Jack the Ripper's five victims.
21) The coroner's jury added a poignant little note of their own to the verdict, saying that, if ever called to serve at an inquest again, "we hope we shall not be put in a mortuary". I take this to mean that Southwark Coroner's Court had no proper jury room available that day, so they'd been forced to deliberate their verdict in its mortuary instead.
22) One newspaper reported that the donkey had been blinded. This happened after the coroner's hearing, but before the police court one. Lloyds Weekly collected contributions from its readers to help Wentworth survive, and he pressed on with his testimony all the way to the Old Bailey trial. The judge there called the donkey's maiming an act of "barbarous cruelty", but said he could not allocate court funds to compensate Wentworth. The RSPCA gave him a new donkey after Waller, Balch and Noble were jailed.
23) The Times, November 21, 1892.
24) In setting these sentences, the judge took note of Waller and Balch's previous convictions. Waller had done a total of 26 months in jail for stealing a couple of pairs of boots and some grapes, while Balch had served a total of 17 years - more than half his life at this point - for stealing. Noble had no previous convictions, but police knew him as the leader of a criminal street gang in Southwark which the Yorkshire Herald said had nick-named him "The Ace of Spades".
25) I can think of two possible explanations for the jury's perverse verdict, but they're no more than guesswork. (1) Given the apparent confusion in Matthews' mind whether Noble was guilty of murder or manslaughter, perhaps the jury feared they must hang all three men or none? If so, they may have felt a manslaughter verdict against Waller was a price worth paying to spare Noble the gallows. (2) We know Waller's friends moved to intimidate at least two of the witnesses against him, so it's quite possible that they got to the jury too. Perhaps a manslaughter verdict was the best they could achieve.
26) You could argue that Waller was responsible for Kirwan's mother's death as well as the doctor's own. On November 12, 1892, the Cheshire Observer reported that the old lady had died in Dublin five days earlier. "Mrs Kirwan, on hearing of her son's sad end, became completely prostrated and never rallied," the paper said.
27) The prospect of al fresco sex with Blanche Roberts recalls a 1973 exchange between David Hatch and Jo Kendall in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again's version of Victorian London. Narrator: "In the sinister alleyways, Nellie Button, her clothes ragged and fithy, her hair unkempt, her face raddled and grimy, plies her trade." Nellie: "Want an 'orrible time, sailor?"
28) Just six years before this case, Robert Louis Stevenson had published a hugely popular novel describing another respectable doctor with a dark secret life. For Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, read William Kirwan and George Allen.
29) Genetics Home Reference (
30) Porphyria has also been linked to the vampire legends of central Europe. The disease can lead to receding gums, creating the appearance of fangs, and sufferers often experience extreme sensitivity to sunlight. Some believe these symptoms were once mistaken for something supernatural, which led to the original vampire myths.
31) A spiked drink like the one our coroner proposes could have produced abdominal pain too, of course. But it would have to be a substance that didn't show in the autopsy.
32) Brewer's Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable suggests an alternative etymology, citing Islington's notorious "Hooley's Gang".
33) I found this story in the Auckland Star of January 16, 1901. They probably lifted it verbatim from a British newspaper, but I don't know which one.
34) Daily Mail, July 23, 1898.
35) Daily Mail, July 30, 1898. The Mail story calls the killer Thomas Darcy, but some other sources call him John Darcy.
36) Daily Mail, August 6, 1898.
37) South London Chronicle, August 13, 1898.
38) Daily Mail, August 14, 1898.

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