Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Theft due to Influenza!

In January 1892, Joseph Hall who lived in Birchington Road, Kilburn, appeared at the Middlesex Magistrate Sessions. He’d been on remand since the previous October when the jury, after a hearing that lasted five hours, was unable to agree a verdict. Hall had been charged with stealing £5 from his employers, the Grand Junction Waterworks Company. He had worked as a rate collector for nine years, at a ‘large salary’ during which time he spent every Friday at the Ealing office.

Mr Atlas, the chief collector at Ealing, had noticed money had been going missing for some time, so he decided to mark some sovereigns and leave them in the till. He went out for a few minutes and when he returned, found five of the marked sovereigns had gone. He asked Joseph if anyone had come into the office and Joseph said no, no one had. Mr Atlas called a detective who searched Joseph and found the sovereigns and a £5 note in his pocket. Joseph changed his story, saying he now remembered giving change for a £5 note. He had taken coins from Mr Atlas’s till, but forgotten to put the note into the drawer.

In court, Joseph didn’t deny taking the money, but his unusual defence was that after recently suffering a severe bout of influenza he had become forgetful. He even produced two doctors who gave evidence to support this idea. Mr Littler, the magistrate in his summing up, said that if this was the result of influenza, it was a most dangerous disease! This time, the jury found Joseph Hall guilty but recommended him for mercy. He was sentenced to three months hard labour and £25 costs, with an extra month to be added to his sentence if he didn’t pay.

Two weeks later newspapers carried reports that Joseph had committed suicide in Holloway Goal. But the next day they said this was a mistake, he was alive and well and serving his sentence in Wormwood Scrubs!

Joseph Kennedy Hall was born in Islington in 1856, the son of a Parliamentary Association clerk. In the 1881 census Joseph was living with his parents at 89 Windsor Road Islington, and working as a clerk for a colonial broker. In 1887 he married Ella Margaret Alice Elliott at St Mary’s Church in Kilburn. When their daughter was born the following year, they were at 11 Kingsley Road, Brondesbury. By 1891 they had moved to 27 West End Lane and later to Birchington Road.

When Joseph came out of prison they lived for many years with Ella’s parents at 160 Belsize Road. Her father, James William Elliott, was a Professor of Music who composed hymns, anthems and two operettas. Arthur Sullivan invited him to be the editor of ‘Church Hymns’.  James was also a collector of nursery rhymes and in 1870 he published, ‘Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs Set to Music.’ He was the organist at All Saints, St. John’s Wood and then St. Mark’s, in Hamil­ton Square.

Joseph Hall died in 1908. His widow, Ella and her three children were living at 2 Linacre Mansions, Willesden Green at the time of the 1911 census. She and one of her daughters were working from home as writers for a benevolent society. Her elder brother Edward Elliott who lived with her, was a clerk at the office of the same society.

Influenza Epidemics
The reason Joseph Hall gave in court for his ‘forgetfulness’ was probably because he knew about the influenza epidemic which had started in 1889 and spread throughout the world. This is also why he was able to produce two doctors to give evidence in his defence. Influenza had arrived in London at the end of 1889 and this was followed by a second and then a third wave which hit London in 1892. 

Lots of patent medicines were advertised, some more lethal than others!

Godfrey's Amonium Inhaler, 1890's advert

The Illustrated Police News of 20 February 1892 reported a new form of influenza from Hungary. People suffered a very high fever and terrible stomach cramps. They became frenzied, struck out at people, and even tried to throw themselves out of windows.

The paper then told the tragic story of Charles Evans, a 22 years old architect who shared an apartment in Kensington Court Place. Suffering from influenza, he had woken up at 2 am shouting, ‘I am Mad, Mad’. Evans tore his nightdress to pieces and had a terrible fight with his friend. Evans said, ‘I shall have the strength of a madman in a few minutes. I do not want to hurt you, but I am afraid I shall.’

Front page, Illustrated Police News, 20 February 1892

His friend Campbell Moore ran to get help, but when he returned he found that Charles had thrown himself out of the window. On being taken to hospital, it was found that his spine was broken and he died shortly afterwards. On the 19 February, the inquest jury returned a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity.

Various strains of influenza have spread across the world. The worst was the so called ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic of 1918 which killed huge numbers of troops as they returned from War. This pandemic killed more people than any other disease outbreak in history. Contemporary accounts believed that 21 million people died across the world, but more recent estimates suggest that it was much higher, between 50 and 100 million deaths.

It had started in what just looked like a mild spring fever, but then the number and severity of infections rose quickly and some people died within hours. It attacked young adults and the symptoms were so unusual that it was misdiagnosed as cholera or typhoid. The original site of the virus is unknown, but is now thought to be America. It probably came from a variant of a bird virus and the later 1957 and 1968 epidemics were found to have links to an avian strain.

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