Despite the disruption to the centre of London life caused by the 7th July bombings, the committee were half expecting a thin turnout for tonight’s meetings. We were to be proven gloriously wrong. In fact, this would appear to be one of the most well attended meetings ever. New faces were seen – especially Matt (Guildford) and Gary who commandeered a table stage right. Also, Jack the Ripper Forum’s, Tyler Hebblewhite also made a welcome reappearance, as did Alan Hayday. There were many others there too. As the time approached I, yes, I took to the microphone – Andy Aliffe had a sore throat. This gave me the chance to announce our speaker; Alan Sharp and also claim his book; London Correspondence: Jack the Ripper and the Irish Press as one of the top ten books written on the Whitechapel murders. Committee member, Liza Hopkinson would say the same later on as she conducted the question and answers. A blushing Alan did thus take to the stage.
Anderson was born in Mountjoy Square, Dublin on 29th May 1841. In fact his family were of Ulster stock coming from Derry City in County Derry. They could trace lineage back to the Apprentice Boys of Derry. Anderson’s father was Crown solicitor of Dublin, but despite this they were merely well off bourgeois without being excessively wealthy. Robert Anderson was still able to attend private school and after completing finishing school in Boulogne and Paris returned to Dublin to work in a brewery where he became a cashier.
Unfulfilled in this job it would seem, Anderson felt the tug of academia and applied to read law at Trinity College. Whilst at Trinity he was to develop an interest in sport, especially rugby and cricket those very un-Gaelic of sports. It was also at Trinity that Anderson was to develop a life-long, albeit, decidedly bizarre religiosity after he attended a Revivalist meeting with his sister in October 1861.
This new found Evangelical zeal that had been fostered by the teachings of Dr. John Hall would eventually lead Anderson to pen no less than 19 books on the subject. In one book, Anderson claimed to know the date of the next coming of Christ. Anderson’s family, it will not surprise you, felt quite a bit of concern over these developments. After graduating in 1862 with a B.A., Anderson embarked on an Evangelical tour of Southern Ireland. It must also be remembered at this point, (as it becomes important with Anderson’s later dealings with the Irish Question), Anderson was to always be a devout Ulster Unionist opposed diametrically to Irish independence and those who advocated it.
By 1863, Anderson was appointed to the Northwest circuit Assizes in Ireland. Yet, despite the level head required for a legal career, Anderson’s letters during this period are drenched in religio-maniacal language. Alan would note that during the Whitechapel murders Anderson advocated that the authorities do nothing to protect the women of the East End so as to frighten the women off the street. One must wonder if Anderson was the best man for the job. Or as Alan would tempt; was Anderson’s mind really on the task of catching the Whitechapel murderer?
In 1858 the Fenian movement was formed by two veterans of the Young Ireland movement that had developed out of the twin forces of the potato famine and the continental vogue for liberal revolt of that most significant year 1848. These veterans were James Stephens and John O’Mahony. This was to be based in the U.S. whilst another wing, the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, (later Irish Republican Brotherhood) I.R.B., developed in Ireland led by Stephens. Essentially, the term Fenianism was a generic one as groups and factions splintered and fought each other for control and the destiny of Irish republicanism. Some groups, like those led by later leaders John Devoy and Michael Davitt, would investigate rapprochement with political agencies such as Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish Party. Other Fenian leaders would only see a unilateral approach towards Ireland’s independence – the use of force. Eventually, the Fenian movement would become more influenced by the generalissimo characters such as Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa who trod a more militant line in what became known as the Triangle that formed to unite factions towards armed struggle by the 1870’s-80’s.
In the 1860’s in Ireland, however, the Fenian’s world and Robert Anderson’s world were to collide in 1863 as James Stephens began a Republican newspaper The Irish People with offices near to Dublin Castle. Its circulation and rhetoric were enough to bring it to the attention of the G-men of the Dublin Metropolitan police as well as Dublin Castle. They decided to recruit an informer in the Irish World’s offices. This informer was to be an employee Pierce Nagle who fed them information on all Fenian personnel that were kept in the Irish World’s offices. The resultant raids on those named took place on 14th September 1865. It was a rout!
It wasn’t until the resultant court cases that Robert Anderson was to become part of the orbit of Dublin Castle. Robert’s older brother, Samuel Lee Anderson, Crown solicitor at Dublin Castle, was given the task of preparing the prosecution cases and invited his younger brother, Robert to help him. By 1866 the Lord Derby (Conservative) government moved to take greater control of Irish Affairs and threw the remit of tackling Fenianism toward the Irish Office. Robert Anderson was thus employed in collating the largely disorganised files on the many political groups in Ireland who the Irish Office found objectionable. Anderson would go on to use these files to put together a dossier called The History of Fenianism. He took to his task with gusto and verve.
Bloodied, but unabashed, the Fenians were determined upon an armed insurrection. This they planned during the mid-1860’s and had Stephens at its forefront. The resulting uprising was a disaster largely because of the internecine conflicts and clashing egos. Stephens disliked a Fenian veteran and highly capable military strategist and adventurer called Francis Frederick Millen. Note the name well. Essentially, Millen had been stopped from becoming leading military strategist with the Fenians, a role he was highly capable of. Being a Fenian there was only one option for Millen….he turned traitor! Soon he was singing like a canary in the company of the British authorities. Millen was based in the U.S. and had approached the British Consulate in New York. Anderson was to cultivate a close working relationship with Millen for years and thus always had superb and detailed information on the Fenian’s activities all over the world.
Yet the Fenian’s were such an organisation that certain dedicated groups and cliques could always out-manoeuvre the British authorities and caused immense embarrassment in 1867 when three leaders who had escaped arrest after the Fenian Uprising were sprung from a prison van in Manchester by a large band of Fenians. Soon more dramatic activity was planned. Later that year a bomb blew up the perimeter wall of the House of Detention in Clerkenwell. This was a massive blast causing death and immense damage to the surrounding area. In the resulting chaotic trials a Fenian called Michael Barrett was sentenced to be hanged. It was obvious to all concerned that the Fenians were taking the war to the streets of London. What had been pioneered in Dublin by Robert Anderson needed to be pioneered in Britain.
The government decided to yield to pressure to do something. Its response was to set up a secret police department. At its head was to be Lt. Col. William Fielding. Fielding was to have two deputies; Capt. Whelan and, fresh from Dublin Castle, Robert Anderson. Anderson had moved over to the Irish Office in London, complete with his £50 per annum pension.
Meanwhile in the U.S. another military adventurer called Thomas Billis Beach was making himself known to the Fenian movement over there. Beach had met Irish fighters in the American Civil War and had kept in contact with them as they turned their attentions and skills towards the Irish fight for freedom, including, bizarrely enough, an abortive attempt to invade Canada! Beach himself was an Englishman but threw off any suspicion by claiming to be French. Beach, however, had no intention of helping the Fenians and decided to tell, or, sell, information to the British authorities, namely Robert Anderson. Anderson would cultivate Beach’s information and he would be his master spy going by the alias, Henri Le Caron (or, informant B). Beach did this all for money despite claims to the contrary. He once described the Irishmen that he had to deal with as: “..low, dirty foul mouthed beings worse than niggers”. Nice man Beach!
The 1870’s saw a massive growth in political agitation in the Irish political and social environment. The Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell had taken the small Irish party and turned into a major political force. The issue that the Irish party cherished most was Home Rule, but Parnell knew that the first priority was the plight of the Irish peasantry against the absentee landlords. However, Irish land reform was slow. It did yield results and while hard-line Fenians like O’Donovan Rossa and John Devoy both moved towards violent means with their skirmishing groups, more moderate Fenians like Michael Davitt began to move increasingly within the orbit of Parnell. The development of the indigenous political programme called the New Departure ensured that direct political agitation would be employed over essentially agrarian issues. By 1879 the Land League was set up and this united front fought for Irish land reform. As reforms were slow and life hard, the methods used were wide ranging, such as boycotting and violence against landowners or those who had taken over evicted farms.
The Skirmishing groups at this time had discovered dynamite. Sure enough Le Caron passed this information on to Anderson. This put pressure on the head of the C.I.D., Sir Howard Vincent to set up an anti-Fenian department within the police. This was proposed to be a separate department to Fielding’s Secret Department. This over-lapping departmental remit would cause inevitable friction later on. Gladstone’s new Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt acted swiftly and whilst passing a new coercion bill, he also gave the go ahead for a new Anti-Fenian department, later to become the Special (Irish) Branch, with Chief Constable Adolphus Williamson at its head, and Anderson and Col. Vivian Majindie as deputies. Anderson had now arrived in the Metropolitan police force proper.
The 1880’s saw a massive upturn in Fenian activity; the Mansion house was bombed and so was the House of Commons amongst other places, and all the time dynamite was used. In the meantime, and with potentially damaging consequences, Parnell was actively engaging with hard line Fenians like Alexander Sullivan. All this was being fed back to Anderson via Le Caron and Millen.
This was to prove a pivotal year in Irish politics. A watered down Land Act was passed by the Gladstone government which gained a very angry response from Parnell as it didn’t go far enough. For his pains Parnell was arrested under the Coercion Act and sent to Kilmainham Gaol. A deal was brokered and the resultant Treaty of Kilmainham lead to the release of Parnell but the resignation of the Chief Secretary of Ireland, W. E. Forster. Gladstone replaced him with his in-law, Lord Cavendish. However, soon after arriving in Dublin Cavendish, along with an aide, Thomas Burke were both murdered in Phoenix Park by the Invincible, an offshoot of the Fenians. This too would have drastic repercussions for all concerned in 1888.
Harcourt fancied a change at the top of the Secret Department. Anderson looked good for the job as Fielding moved out, but Harcourt favoured Sir Edward Jenkinson another spook from Dublin Castle. Jenkinson’s tenure would be fraught to say the least and certainly not played with – as the English might say, a straight bat! The infamous 1887 Jubilee plot was to be the most notorious of these escapades. That, however, is another story.
By 1883 the Fenian dynamite war was continuing, the government needed results from both departments. Anderson was supposed to liaise between Harcourt and Williamson, essentially to be the cord that linked both anti-Fenian departments. However, personalities clashed. Jenkinson loathed Anderson. They both would hide information and not share it. Yet it was Jenkinson’s department that yielded earlier results and secured more favours from Harcourt. In turn, Anderson had criticism levelled at his door. Anderson would soon be pushed off the job. As a result, Jenkinson ran his department as his own private interest unfettered by controls or legal measures to curb his whims.
1884 was to be another year of Fenian outrages. One of the most audacious was when the Fenians cheekily planted a bomb in the urinals under the Special (Irish) Branch’s office. As a result Sir Howard Vincent resigned to be replaced by James Monro. Monro also hated Jenkinson and the non-sharing of intelligence became more obvious. The game between the two rival departments was one-upmanship. Monro, a typical Scot, argues that prevention is better than cure in these matters. Jenkinson argues that one should let these Fenian plots mature so as to catch as many as possible. Anderson had been sent to the U.S. to recruit potential informers. He hadn’t recruited one and was sacked from this job also! Basically, Fenian outrages raged throughout the land and the two people most in charge fiddled while Rome burned. Harcourt noted this inertia but the Gladstone government fell over the first Home Rule Bill in 1885.
Eventually Henry Matthews, an Irish Roman Catholic serving in a Conservative/Unionist government, eventually sacked Jenkinson from the Secret Department. Jenkinson burnt, rather than give up, his files the day he left office! Monro was given charge of both the Secret Department and the Special (Irish) Branch and re-employed Robert Anderson. This new unified department was to have its own detectives, one of whom was Chief Inspector Littlechild.
A series of articles had appeared in the Times newspaper in 1887 called Parnellism and Crime. These sought to show a link between Parnell and the Fenians, especially the 1882 murders in Phoenix Park. The articles claimed that they had inflammatory letters written by Parnell. Of course, Parnell refuted these allegations as false and the letters as forgeries. Parnell was of course right. Yet he had consorted with Fenians in the past. Nevertheless, after much pressure from the Irish party and its allies inside and outside parliament, it was decided that a special Commission be set up to investigate the Times’ claims. This Commission was to run throughout the whole of the Whitechapel murders and beyond and would occupy the minds of the aforementioned policemen as much as the murders themselves did.
By 1888 Monro had the twin responsibilities of – not only the new combined Secret Bureau, but was also the Assistant Commissionership of the Metropolitan police. However, Monro clashed with the new Chief Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren. Eventually Monro was to resign, but would retain himself as the head of the Secret Bureau. A new Assistant Commissioner was needed. This man was to be found in the form of Robert Anderson. Anderson had his work cut out. Not only did his new tenure hit the Whitechapel murders scare, but he had been up to his eyes in the background machinations over the Times’ Parnellism and Crime articles. For, even though the forgeries were traced to a malcontent journalist called Richard Pigott, it also transpired, years later in 1910, that Robert Anderson had helped pen the articles. This caused a major scandal in 1910 and Anderson very nearly lost his pension! Anderson’s informant, as always had been Le Caron who would eventually testify on behalf of the Times newspaper during the Parnell Commissions.
Alan would conclude his talk by noting that Anderson had been sent on a rest cure to the continent soon after taking up the role of Assistant Commissioner but had been ordered back to his post after the Eddowes murder. On his way back to London, however, Anderson made a mysterious and inexplicable stop in Paris. Alan asked the question; why? It is highly probable that Anderson kept up a meeting with the Fenian double agent, Frank Millen to try and persuade him to testify against Parnell at the Commissions. However, this could never really have been a viable option as Millen was still public enemy number one after the Jubilee bomb plot. This would have blown Millen’s valuable cover. Anderson had to make do with Le Caron instead!
As Alan had wondered at the outset of this presentation, was Robert Anderson’s mind really on the Whitechapel murder case?
© Alan Sharp – Report by Adrian Morris