Victorian London - Crime - Violence and assault - garotting / mugging

Returning about midnight homeward, by Regent's Park, two young men, one about 5ft. 7in., the other 5ft. 5in. or 6in., rather fashionably dressed, going in the same direction, accosted me as I passed between them, when, after a few remarks on the weather, &c., in an instant I found myself prostrate, and, recovering, as from a shock, with my pockets rifled, I struggled and threw one or both over, but found my mouth bandaged round with some machine composed of strands of whipcord or whalebone, and my head constricted as in a vice. Immediately I was again felled, by a blow from behind, as from a life-preserver, and, on again rising I heard distinctly the footsteps of the Thugs running away at perhaps 60 or 70 yards distance. Having power just barely sufficient to call "Murder!" it occurred to me that chloroform was used on their infernal mask; and, in about three minutes, three policemen came to my aid, one of whom said he had met the runaways near the toll-gate, who then affected to be drunk, or "fresh," as he termed it, and that "one challenged the other to run towards the turnpike for a sovereign." "This," said the constable, "put me off my guard, as I thought they were 'gents' after dinner."

from a letter to The Times, September 25, 1850

Sir, - I trust you will kindly afford me your valuable assistance towards placing that portion of the public residing in the suburban districts of London on their guard, and also enable me to call the attention of the Commissioners of Police to the fact, that highway robbery, with violence to the person, is in this year 1851, likely to be as common, and, in consequence of the mode of effecting it more easy and free from detection that it ever has been within the present century.
    On Saturday, the 1st inst., when returning home at night, and as usual walking quick, I was, without any warning, suddenly seized from behind by some one, who, placing the bend of his arm to my throat, and then clasping his right wrist with his left-hand, thereby forming a powerful lever, succeeded in effectually strangling me for a time, and rendering me incapable of moving or even calling for assistance, although there was plenty at hand, whilst a second me easily rifled me of all he could find. I was then violently thrown on the ground, or rather I found myself lying there when I came to my senses. Two passengers, one a neighbour, raised me up, when we were immediately joined by a policeman, and by two more in less than a minute; but as I could not express myself coherently at first, the men had plenty of time to escape, and pursuit was impossible.
    I believe the approach of these persons disturbed the men, for they did not get all I had about me, and I escaped the finishing rap on the head usual in these cases. I could give no description of the thieves, as I saw neither distinctly.
    Now, this robbery was committed on one of the most frequented highways out of London, viz., Hampstead-road, within a few yards of Haverstock turnpike, and within three miles of Temple-bar, in sight of two other passengers, the gatekeepers, and within hearing and almost within sight of three policemen.
    But the worst is that I have been obliged to call in medical assistance, and am still under medical treatment, for this violence brought on a return of an old complaint with tendency to an effusion of blood on the brain, besides giving a great shock to the entire nervous system; and I am convinced that an application of this human garrotte to an elderly person, or any one in a bad state of health, might very easily occasion death.
    There are many men in this very district, and others who occasionally visit their friends here, who are in the habit of walking home after dark, hitherto without a thought of danger. In a case like this carrying firearms or a life-preserver, &c., is useless, for the attack and strangulation are too sudden.
    Therefore, I think, Sir, it is not too much to ask whether the police authorities ought not to render us more security for life and property in what may now be fairly termed part of London itself; for since this most cowardly and atrocious system of Thuggee has prevailed, we have no more protection, if so much, than our forefathers had on Hounslow-heath a hundred years ago.
    In conclusion, I wish to say that the present police force apparently keep as good watch as they can over this neighbourhood.
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
 Middle Temple, Feb.11.        JAMES BROOKSBANK

a letter to The Times, February 12, 1851


Sir, - Observing in your paper of to-day a letter from a gentleman who was nearly strangled and robbed of his watch by this abominable practice, I think it right to say that about a month since I was treated in exactly a similar manner. This was also in a public thoroughfare, and within a few yards of a publichouse that was open. I suffered considerably for some days from the constriction of the throat I had endured. I applied to the police, but they could not succeed in tracing the parties, although I believe they have a suspicion whom one of them is who perpetrated this and various other outrages of a similar description. The difficulty is that the sufferer scarcely ever sees his assailant, as he is seized round the throat from behind. It certainly is high time that decisive steps should be taken to put a stop to these serious outrages, which I believe are much more common that most people are aware of.
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Lincoln's-inn, July 17.

Sir, - I wish to add my testimony to that already given in your paper with respect to the cowardly system of Thuggee now being carried on in the streets of London. About three weeks back I was returning home along the Haymarket about 12 o'clock at night, and, having occasion to turn aside up a court, I was suddenly seized round the throat by one ruffian, while another snatched my watch and struck me on the head with a life preserver, or some heavy instrument, rendering me senseless . . . 

letters to The Times, July 19, 1851




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Punch, September 27, 1856


Punch, December 27, 1856

THE BAYSWATER BROTHERS (whose height is respectively 6 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 11, and the united breadth of whose shoulders extends to as much as 3 yards, 1 foot, 5 inches) give, respectfully, notice to the Gentry and Public of Paddington, Kensington, Stoke Newington, Chelsea, Eaton Square, and Shepherd's Bush, that they will be most happy, upon all social and jovial expeditions, such as dinner and evening parties, as well as tee-total meetings, to escort elderly or nervous persons in the streets after dark, and to wait for them during their pleasure, so as to be able to escort them home again in safety. No suburb, however dangerous, objected to. and the worst garotting districts well known, as the Brothers, both BILL and JIM, were for several months in the Police Force. - Terms, so much a head per hour, according to the person's walk of life. A considerable reduction on taking a party of twelve or more. Distance no object. Testimonials, and ample security given. For further particulars, Apply to B.B., Royal Humane Society, Trafalgar Square.

Punch, January 31, 1857

Elderly Gentleman thinks that Garotting's come to a pretty pass when it's openly practised in broad daylight. Where are the Police?

Punch, March 14, 1857


Mr. Punch has not yet been informed that the counsel for the very few Garotters upon whom MR. JUSTICE BRAMWELL passed a sufficiently severe sentence have had interviews with SIR GEORGE GREY, in favour of their clients, and of course it logically follows that Mr. Punch is not aware that the Home Secretary has commuted the sentences. He may think that MR. JUSTICE BRAMWELL has been sufficiently lenient, and the public, for once, will concur with SIR GEORGE GREY. But perhaps MR. JUSTICE BRAMWELL, who is an acute gentleman and good at irony, drew his charming picture of the gaol life, the warm room, the comfort, and the light work, by way of promoting a change in our present system of prison discipline. If so, Mr. Punch is inclined to accept this service to society, and to abstain from observing that most of the scoundrels sentenced last week got off in a way which must please their friends and imitators, as was proved by the number of garotte assaults which took place on the night after the sentences.


ONE of the thieves' terms for Garotting is "putting the hug on." They would have been nearer the truth, if they had said "Thug" in this instance, considering the love of violence and murder that seem to be inherently connected with the pursuit.

Punch, December 6, 1862


Punch, December 6, 1862

TOMKINS (loq.) "Let 'em try it on again, that's all."

Punch, December 13, 1862


ALL around my neck, I wear a spiked steel collar,
A revolver and a bowie-knife I carry up my sleeves,
And if any one should ask of me the reason why I wear them,
I'll tell him 'tis to guard myself from these garotting theives.

Last night in walking home a skulking vagabond addressed me,
Says he, "Pray what's o'clock?" and, not intending any pun,
Full in his ugly face I let out my left, and floored him,
Observing as I did so, "My dear friend, it's just struck one!"

So, ruffians all, take warning now, and keep respectful distance,
Or a bullet, or a bowie-knife clean through your ribs I'll send:
Well armed, we'll straightaway shoot or stab the rascal who attacks us,
If SIR GEORGE GREY won't protect us, why, ourselves we must defend.

Punch, December 20, 1862


OH, Meet me by moonlight alone,
And then I will give you the hug,
With my arm round your neck tightly thrown,
I'm as up to the work as a Thug.
Behind you I softly will creep,
And taking you quite unawares,
On my prey like a tiger I'll leap;
If I happen to choke you, who cares?
I'm out with a ticket of leave,
Which by gulling the chaplain I got,
And I'm free to maim, murder and thieve,
For a cove he must live, must he not?
So meet me by moonlight alone,
Kind stranger, I beg and entreat,
And I'll make all your money my own,
And leave you half dead in the street.

Punch, December 27, 1862

Punch, Almanack, 1863

Brown and Jones return home to the Suburbs, with safety, taking front and rear rank alternately.

Punch, January 10, 1863

The Science of Garotting and Housebreaking

CRIMES, like some other diseases, are often epidemical. They appear from time to time in new forms and in strangely gathered force, rage awhile, and then die away; their coming and their going being equally inexplicable, or at least unexplained.
     A few years ago the garotte broke out suddenly, like a new plague, infested the streets with danger, infected the community with half-shameful apprehensions, and disappeared without leaving a hint to settle our bewilderment. Winter after winter passed, and the garotter came not again. He was no more heard of than Paul Jones or the Black Death; when suddenly no place was safe from his atrocities. The long summer nights had scarcely ended, the doors of that most civilizing Exhibition at Bromptoll were not yet closed, when we were surprised by the most inclement ruffianism that ever disgraced a nineteenth century. Once more the streets of London are unsafe, by day or night. The epidemic has come upon us again, and we are just as unprepared and as helpless as before. The doctors who are appointed to regulate our social system are taken by surprise, and the public dread Las almost become a panic.
    It is certainly not to increase the panic that this paper is written ; but simply to expound from the lips of criminals themselves, and for the information of honest men, the most approved and successful methods of burglary and the garotte. The subject is not a pleasant one, and I feel almost apologetic for the slang that I must write. On the other hand, what I have learned amongst burglars and garotters in my prison ministrations may be useful at a time like this; and for the rest, we should remember that dread may encourage the propagation of moral as well as physical disorders. To fear the plague is to be half dead of it; and by the time a gang of desperadoe have intimidated no whole city they have become to other rogues so glorious that they are sure to be imitated, and imitated by bungling ruffians more dangerous even than the original practitioners. This has been shown already in the rise and progress of the garotte system of robbery. At first, it was a scientific operation, abundantly cruel, but not absolutely murderous; the intention was neither to kill nor to maim. The audacity of the system, its novelty, and the difficulty of guarding against it, terrified the public; and this terror gave the very best testimony that could be borne to the merits of a practice already too inviting to crime. Rogues with a good heart for such work but no skill, rude unhandy villains, took up the trade, and now it is carried on with a ferocity more than brutal.
    We have been told, and the statement is curious if true, that the garotter first acquired his art in a convict-ship, where her Majesty’s jailors Practised it on him occasionally, whenever he became very outrageous. Findiug how easily he was subdued by this by this method, and how little it injured him if coolly applied, the convict noted the trick, with an eye to business when he should become a ticket-of-leaye man. Perhaps it is because the lessons they have received were all at their own sore cost that regular garotters work with great care. They practise upon each other frequently before they venture into the streets - not only to acquire the art of garotting in every possible position and attitude, but that they may learn how long and with what degree of force they may hug their victim's throat without elldanrrering his life or seriously injuring him. They consort in companies of three - a "front stall," a "back stall," and a "nasty man." These designations are perfectly significant of the part each man is expected to play. The "nasty man" is, of course, the actual operntor; and, accordingly, he is the leader in all enterprises, and takes a larger share of the plunder.
    A regular gang doe not often make speculative ventures. They call that "throwing a chance away,“ meaning that they run extraordinary risks. Only when the rogues are "hard up," or made audacious by drink, or encouraged beyond their cooler judgment by such a run of Success as they have achieved in London lately do they “throw a chance away.” The favourite method is to select a promising victim, mark his incoming and outgoings, and await a fair opportunity of time and place. By many unsuspected means, as well as those which are open to everybody, they get to know that such and such a man carries a good "stake" about with him, in money, watch, jewellery, &c., and that he is Generally to be found walking in a certain direction at certain seasons. He is marked. Time and place are fixed for the deed; but opportunity is never forced. If success appears doubtful on one occasion, they wait till another comes round, and will dog one man for nights and even weeks together. At Iast fortune favours the unjust, and the thing is done. The “front stall" walks a few yard in advance of the prey; it is his duty to look out for dangers ahead. The "back stall" comes on at a still further distance behind, or sometimes in the carriage-way - aloof, but at the victim's side. Immediately in his real' walks the "nasty man," approaching nearer and nearer, with steps which keep time with those of him whom he follows. The first stall lifts his hat from his head in token that all is clear beyond; the second stall makes no sign to the contrary; and then the third ruffian, coming swiftly up, flings his right arm round the victim, striking him smartly on the forehead. Instinctively he throws his head back, and in that movement loses every chance of escape. His throat is fully offered to his assailant, who instantly embraces it with his left arm, the bone just above the wrist being pressed against the "apple" of the throat. At the same moment the garotter, dropping his right hand, seizes the other’s left wrist; and thus supplied with a powerful lever, draws him back upon his breast and there holds him. The "nasty man's" part is done. His burden is heIpless from the first moment, and speedily becomes insensibIe; all he has to do is to be a little merciful. An experienced garotter knows immediately when his prey is insensible (or so he boast ), and then he relaxes his embrace somewhat; but if symptoms of recovery should follow too rapidly, the hug is tightened forthwith. Meanwhile the stalls are busy. Their first care after the victim is seized and safely held, is to take off his hat and their comrade’s too; hats awkwardly kick about in the scuffle, and it is obviously not well for the garotter to leave anything that is his on the field of strife. This operation is assigned to the "front stall," and is simple enough; but he has sometimes to perform another and a far more onerous one. ShouId the "nasty man" have a "tumble," or, in language a little plainer, should he find a difficulty in "screwing up" his subject, it is the duty of the "front stall" to assist him by a heavy blow, generally delivered just under the waist. The screwing up is easy after that, and then the second stall proceeds to rifle the victim's pockets. This done, the garotter allows his insensible burden to drop to the ground, carefully avoiding a fall, lest that should arouse him.
    I once allowed a thief, whom I visited in his cell, to garotte me. We had a clear understanding that I was not to be made insensible; but he explained that it was necessary that he should screw me hard if I wished to experience the sensation of the garotted, and to know how speedily the trick could be done. I submitted to this view, and in a marvellously short period found that I had gone through almost all that the "nasty man" inflicts in an ordinary way. The operation was exactly what I have above described it; it occupied a few seconds only; and yet, had I been held a few seconds longer, I must have become insensible. As it was, I was wholly helpless, and my throat was not easy again for severaI weeks afterwards.
    Although this is the most approved mone of garotting, there are others - as may be seen from the police reports which have made the newssheet so hideous lately; it is obvious, moreover, that circumstances must sometimes oblige the best regulated gangs to vary their tactics. A "nasty man" will sometimes work alone, lying in wait in a door-way, or at a street corner. More brutal and inexpert thieves press the fingers of both hands into the victim's throat; others use a short stick, which is passed across the throat from behind, and hauled back at both ends - a plan seldom adopted, though, and one that is of no avail to long-armed ruffians. Another set of thieves, who go the shorter way to work of pouncing on the wayfarer and stunning him with a blow, are not garotters at all; and are as much despised by regular practitioners as both parties are execrated by everybody else.
    Sometimes garotters select largely frequented thoroughfares for their work, tnlsting in that case to the very boldness of their guilt; but, as a rule, they prefer late hours and lonely ill-lighted places. They are very shrewd in the election of their subjects, and profess to be able to tell at a glance whether a man is worth "planting."
    Garotters are not without expedients to avoid suspicion, should they be interrupted by a passer-by. Their victim is then their friend; and their friend is intoxicated, they are sorry to say; and the stranger will be good enough to pass on, perhaps, as otherwise the police may observe their friend, which would be awkward. Or they pretend that he has been taken suddenly ill, or is in a fit; and starting off, one to fetch a cab and another a doctor, the rogues make good their escape.
    Women are seldom garotted; and their exemption Is due, perhaps, to some spark of manly and generous feeling which even a garotter may cherish. There are other motives, to be sure. The unhappy creatures who are or should be the thieves' wives, resent the practice of this outrage on their sex, and many of them have a bitter experience of it; for when they offend their lords, those rascals sometimes "screw them up” by way of punishment. Then, again, women are more difficult to deal with, and more adept at an outcry, than men: such of them as carry money or jewels worth the risk of penal servitude, are rarely found alone in unfrequented places; and it was Adam and not Eve who swallowed the core of the apple. 'The pomum Adami in a woman's throat is so small that it is difficult to choke her on the safest principles of the garotte, and in fact it is safest altogether to allow her to go unmolested.
    Garotters declare that more perjury is committed in convicting them than any other class of malefactors. They admit that a prosecutor may generally swear to the identity of the "stalls" with a sure conscience, but seldom or never to the "nasty man," because he keeps out of sight as much as possible from the beginning and at the moment of attack is always invisible to the sufferer. Possibly there is some truth in this, though not enough to add much to the uneasiness of society.
    This uneasiness has been much increased by the observation that garotte robberies, numerous as they have become of late, do not exhaust the energies of our more desperate criminals. Burglary also is alarmingly frequent; and for that, too, there appears no immediate remedy beyond the courage and caution which every man may exercise in his own defence. In aid of these, a little information may be useful, if not exactly agreeable.

Cornhill Magazine, 1863

Illustrated Times, 1863



A PARLIAMENTARY return just issued affords us the gratifying information that the Garotters' Act of 1863, punishing attempts at robbery, accompanied by violence, with flogging, has not been allowed to remain a dead letter. In the first year of the operation of this salutary measure, under its beneficent provisions, according to the document above referred to, 19 prisoners were flogged in England. Three of those ruffians underwent the unpleasant application of the cat-o'-nine-tails in Coldbath-fields Prison, one at Horsemonger-lane Gaol, three at Kirkdale (Liverpool), one at Salford New Bailey, four in Birmingham Borough Prison, four in Leeds Gaol, one in the County Gaol at Reading, and two at Durham. Out of the three rascals who experienced the ecstasies of deserved flagellation at Kirkdale, there was one, a young villain of 19, who, in addition to four years' penal servitude, had been sentenced to fifty lashes. These appeals to the only tender feeling which a Garotter has, were addressed thereto with such vigour that the subject of them was completely subdued, and became so deeply affected that the surgeon in attendance was obliged to order him to be taken down from the whipping-post by the time that he had writhed under thirty-six.
The infliction of useless pain, however, is to be deprecated, and the pain inflicted on the nineteen villains flogged in 1863 under the Garotters' Act was not so useful as it might have been rendered. It has had little publicity beyond that given to it by respectable papers, and its exemplary effect, which constitutes its use, has been proportionally limited. Yells and shrieks have, indeed, not been wasted on the prison air, wherein they have doubtless made a desirable impression on many ears; but their vibrations, arrested by walls, have not extended to the atmosphere of thieves' houses of call, and other haunts of the felonry iii the slums. There are objections to public flogging similar to those which would apply to surgical operations. But one thing might be done to give the roughs, who are inclined to be Garotters, some idea of what the flogging inflicted on a Garotter is. An elaborate photograph of the face of every such criminal condemned to be flogged taken whilst he is experiencing the sensations excited by the scourge, at the moment when his features are contorted with their strongest expression. What a pretty portrait-gallery might thus have been derived from rthe nineteen Garotters who were flogged in 1863! The police might distribute copies of these sun-pictures amongst those whom they would be calculated to edify; and engravings from them might be published in the low illustrated papers which are principally devoted to reports and narratives of crime.
The utilisation of flogging, thus effected, would soon reduce the statistics, so painful to many an amiable mind, of the infliction of that cruel punishment on the poor offender who, for the sake of a little money, or a watch and chain, has only crushed somebody's windpipe or knocked his front teeth down his throat, or cracked his skull without

Punch, April 8, 1865

No less than six roughs, two of them garotters, convicted at Manchester Assizes, of robbery with violence, were sentenced  the other day by MR. JUSTICE LUSH, to be, in addition to penal servitude, flogged with the cat-o'-nine-tails. ... If there is in his [the criminal's] nature any degree of latent sympathy, inactive from want of imagination, it can be stimulated to due activity only be a whipping which will give him considerable pain. All that pain is economy of pain; of so much pain as it saves respectable people from suffering by brutal violence. ... Some of the six scoundrels whipped at Manchester, being pachydermatous, made a show of bravado. To preclude  this in future, let all such offenders be sentenced to be flogged two or three times.

Punch, August 18, 1866



Punch, January 11, 1868



Punch, October 26, 1872


    MESSRS. P. A. TAYLOR and JACOB BRIGHT, in deprecating the flagellation of garotters, cannot be said to sympathise with their kind; for they sympathise only with scourged rascals, and not at all with maltreated and maimed honest men. It is to be wished that the garotter's kind could be made to sympathise with the garotter, when he is under the lash, with a perfect sympathy. Then they would feel his stripes in their own persons, and, in effect, would be the whole of them flogged at once. Animal Magnetism is still in its infancy, but the day may come when it will be so perfected as to enable a skilled mesmerist to place any number of criminals convicted of robbery with violence en rapport with each other; so that one flogging will do for them all. This would save executioner's labour, and greatly diminish any brutalisation which may be the effect of its performance on some warders.
The brutalisation possibly arising from this cause would be minimised by the contrivance of a whipping-engine or thrashing-machine, wherewith garotters could be steam-flogged; a device which would have the advantage of inflicting stripes with a certainty of uniform force, graduated to order, and unmitigated in any ease by weakness of mind or muscle.
It is gratifying to think how much superior in humanity we are to our ancestors. Otherwise, with our modern mechanical knowledge and resources, we should long ere this have been provided with a penal apparatus worked by steam, and consisting of a cylinder into which a rogue could he thrust at one end in a state of nature, and presently turned out with his back scored, his ears cropped, his nose slit, and his forehead branded, at the other.
But we have too much of the milk of human kindness to employ such machinery as our savage forefathers would have been sure to invent and use for penal purposes, if they had been able. A model, however, of the machine above suggested might be made and exhibited at South Kensington.

Punch, November 9, 1872

A gang of garotters in Lambeth, led by a youth known as "The Black Prince" has devised a new method of relieving victims of diamond rings. One of them seized the jewelled finger and hammered it with a heavy instrument, which broke the bone; the finger was then twisted round till it came out of the socket. Here the operation was interrupted and the garotters had to decamp with only a gold watch and chain. Three of them have been remanded at Lambeth Police Court, where they appear to be no strangers.

Illustrated London News, July 5th, 1873



see also James Greenwood in In Strange Company - click here