Victorian London - Crime - Violence and assault - fines


MONEY is the prime joy of life; the greatest blessing invented by man for the enjoyment of his fellow. It is the one thing which imparts to its possessor a will of his own - which insures to him what certain people, in their affectation of gingerly terms, call the despotism of cruelty - the sovereignty of wickedness. Profound and untiring have been the studies of law-makers to invest the man of money with this high privilege; which, to the self-complacency of the man with a purse, and to the confusion of the rogue without it, is illustrated every day and every hour in happy, independent England! Great should be the gratitude of the subject towards a government that proffers so many sweet inducements to become a holder of "property" - that preaches from a thousand places, and in a thousand different accents, the surpassing loveliness of ready-money.
    Reader, we will assume it for granted that you take not an unseemly pride in the structure of your nose - in the whiteness and regularity of your teeth. Your nasal promontory may, in reality, be first cousin to a note of interrogation - your teeth may be mis-shapen straggling bits of ebony; no matter for that, it is our good pleasure to slit your nose in twain; and for your teeth-there!- do you not feel two of them sticking in your windpipe, and, look - there is the third fallen on the pavement!
"Shameful!" - "infamous!" cry the mob. "Here, police, take charge of the ruffian - away with him to judgment!" Confidently slapping our pocket, with a somewhat gladsome trip, we hasten to the magistrate. We are in the awful presence of justice - the whole history of what is called "the assault" is affectingly narrated - and great is the silent indignation of all around; when, with one movement of our hand we rebuke the mob, for we show that we have had nothing we cannot settle for, and that, if it has pleased us to slit a man's nose, and knock out three of his teeth, such luxury is in no way beyond our means, for we have the money to pay for it. Hence we calmly take out our purse, and blandly inquire of the magistrate  -"How much?" Whereupon Justice weighs the mutilated nose and extracted teeth of the complainant in her golden scales, and answers -"So many shillings." Well, like a gentleman, we pay for what we have had, and, adding the inch to our height - allowed to every man who can really pay his way - we swagger from the office. It is true, if we had no money, we must take our seats with vulgar paupers in her Majesty's van for Tothill-fields or Clerkenwell; but, not having committed an assault "beyond our means," we are quite free - if we can afford it - to begin again. Now, is this not a delightful "right of property?" Is not this a most exquisite philosophy of the law of fines that makes assault purchasable? - that classes "slit noses" with pine-apples, to be duly bought by those who can afford and have a taste for them? Is not here an inducement to obtain money, when it shall award to a man full despotism over the eyes, noses, teeth, of his fellow-countrymen? Marylebone affords a recent case of the fine privilege invested in five pounds:-
"Elizabeth Bond (a respectable female), stated that on the previous night, as she was passing by Marylebone-lane, she was accosted by the prisoner (William Rains, a boot and shoemaker, living in Marylebone-lane,) who told her that lie had been looking for her for some time, and that having at last met with her, he would tear her liver out and do for her; he then kicked her three times with great violence, and also struck her some severe blows. She screamed out 'Murder' as loud as she was able, and on a constable coming to her assistance the prisoner was conveyed to the station-house.
"Mr. Rawlinson inflicted a fine of 5, and in default of payment two months' imprisonment. The penalty was paid in the course of the afternoon."
William Raines, has, doubtless, been imprudent. The assault in the present case is a luxury a little beyond his means. He has very foolishly incurred an expense only to be borne by his betters; nevertheless, as like an honest man, he has duly paid for what he has had, there can be no ignominy, no positive shame in any transaction for which mere money is considered an ample equivalent.
We would, however, for the convenience of those inclined to assaults, have a table of charges published by the Magistrates, and duly exhibited in a conspicuous place in every police-office. Thus, no man of limited means might, so to speak, commit an assault in the dark ; but, knowing the exact cost of every injury, might first consult his pocket, that the liveliness of his temperament should not betray him into unexpected pecuniary difficulties.
Let us, for a moment, assume a list of prices, published under authority:-
        A pair of black eyes . . 0   10   0 
     With broken nose . . . 1   10   0
     For every tooth knocked out, up to four* - 1 1 0
     A broken skull . . 2   2   0
     Kicking a woman in the abdomen, with sundry other blows . . . 5  0  0
     A dislocated arm  . . . 3  0   0
     Ditto leg - 3  10  0
Miscellaneous from .  . .  1  0  0 to 1  10   0 
     N.B.-No trust. VIVAT REGINA!
             * (A handsome allowance if extracting a greater number.)

    A simple, straightforward notice like this, would enable the lovers of assault to know what they were about. As it is, we must confess it, they are shamefully at the mercy of the magistrates - all of whom differ from time to time in their valuation of eyes, ribs, arms, legs, and noses.
We have, besides this, an idea which might be profitably worked upon. In London there are Benefit Clubs of every description: clubs for portraits-for hats-for beds-for blankets-yea, for coffins ! - Now, why should there not be an "Assault Club?" It might be called - 
Let us assume that the club shall number, say fifty members; that the subscription shall be not higher than sixpence a-week. Well this gives one pound five-we will say a clear one pound per week deducting all expenses of officers. This sum will allow the drawing of at least one handsome assault per week. Now it is hard, deed, if among fifty men there should not be every seventh day one man, at least, desirous of committing an assault upon some man, woman, or child of his acquaintance. It may he argued, in opposition, that the man drawing the prize may at the moment have his hands clear of any injury, real or fancied. Well - w hat more easy than to transfer his right to any "United Brother," who may, at the moment, burn to blacken the eye, or smash the nose of his neighbour?
In the vanity of our heart, we really think this hint worth attending to. Might not also the magistrate of the district become an honorary patron of every such institution?        Q.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1842


J. WILDE is charged at Clerkenwell with beating ELLEN HARRIS insensible. The fellow made use of a stone, whirling it about the woman's head in a handkerchief. The woman was shockingly beaten; nevertheless, the ruffian was charged only 5 for the damage committed. This - unfortunately for the dignity of property - he could not pay; he could not afford the recreation of beating young women's heads with stones; therefore, as a check to his extravagance, he was condemned to two months' imprisonment with hard labour. A brief retirement this from the world, for the better contemplation of the rights of property. With 5 in his pocket, WILDE would have been free as a bird, and his fingers undefiled by oakum. However, the ruffian had committed another crime for which no money could be received in recompense. He had slightly hit - with the self-same stone - the sacred person of a policeman. Upon this, the villain was sentenced to an additional month's captivity, no money being taken by Justice as golden ointment for the hurts of her officers. The moral of this is : You may beat a woman if you can afford to pay for it; but money is of no avail if you smite a policeman. Hence, by a metaphor, the stone in the ruffian's handkerchief may be considered as the stone of Justice, and therefore one of the brightest jewels out of the British Crown.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1848