Sir, - I take leave to claim your attention whilst I
describe an occurrence which I chanced to witness this evening. As I passed
along the Quadrant, I observed a child of tender years and of apparently decent
condition carrying a small parcel, as if she had been employed on some errand,
and in her progress she was addressed by an old man dressed in the garb of a
gentleman. I could very accurately describe the personal appearance and dress of
this person, so as to lead to his identification, if I did not fear that the
superannuated scoundrel might have a wife or child whom the relation of his
misconduct might shock. However, after some pursuit, the child stopped and
entered into conversation with this fellow, and in a few minutes, and after a
seemingly earnest parley, he went off, followed by her, in the direction of
Coventry-street. Seeing this suspicious and revolting incident, I called the
attention of a policeman who happened to be near (C 68), and begged her would
watch the proceeding. The man behaved with exceeding propriety, and appeared to
be quite alive to the grossness of the affair, but he said he had no right to
interfere. At my pressing entreaty he did follow the child, and ascertained from
her that the old vagabond who accosted her had asked her to go with him to a
house in Oxenden-street. you can easily conjecture the object. The policeman
having warned the young creature, recommended her to go home, and I believe she
did so, but in a few moments afterwards we observed the hoary old sinner already
referred to in hot chase after his prey.
Now, Sir, my object in addressing you is, through you, to submit to the Commissioners of Police the propriety of directing that in all cases like the one I have mentioned the police should be authorized to address parties where from their relative conditions of life, judging from appearances, and a disparity of years such as was here apparent, there is reasonable ground for believing that an immoral or illegal object is contemplated. Considering how much exposed the children of the poor are, from the inevitable occupation in labour of the time that in a happier position of life is devoted by parents to their offspring, and remembering the temptation that the wealth and deceitful tongue of the veteran debauchee offer to the innocent and immature female, it seems to me that we are bound to stretch forth a protecting hand to those who are exposed to injury.
I wish to add that the policeman (C 68) told me he was familiar with occurrences like this, and that he was well acquainted with the person of the old malefactor in question.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your very obedient servant,
Tuesday Evening. A MAN.
letter in The Times, November 29, 1849
PERILS OF THE STREETS OF LONDON - A correspondent of the Daily News, signing himself "H.H." has called public attention to one of the worst dangers of our London streets. From his letter it appears that a pretty, neatly-dressed child, eleven years of age, out on an errand, is literally hunted in the very centre of London from street to street, and driven to rush under horses' heads and carriage-wheels for safety; and although the intentions of her persecutor - a man of presence, fifty years of age - as he overtakes her, stops her way, takes hold of her dress, and endeavours to force her into some den of infamy, cannot be mistaken by anyone who takes the trouble to watch him, still the police cannot be induced to use their authority for her protection. The attention of a constable is called to what is going on, but he "can't interfere." He has not seen what "H.H." has. His is on his beat, and if one man will knock another down before his eyes he will act; but in such a case as this he "can't notice it." "H.H." is confident; but the policeman declines to see with another's eyes, and will only act upon the broad probabilities of the case. "He looks like a respectable gentleman, and he would not walk alongside her and take hold of her if he did not know her." "H.H." tells us that if he had exposed the ruffian whom he had at last run down to the crowd which ultimately collected, the follow would have been lynched in the street. Had that happened, the sight of a gentlemanly-dressed man being knocked about would probably have brought some persons to his rescue, great confusion would have ensued, many watches would have been stolen, and a number of really respectable persons, victims of misconception, would have been exchanging explanations before the magistrate the next morning. At the same time, the superior efficacy of punishment when it follows immediately after the offence and is executed on the spot has in all ages been admitted. Not many years ago a lady, who has since achieved literary distinction, was walking in Regent-street with a pretty friend a little younger than herself. A fellow, wearing the daintiest of kid gloves, pursued the ladies with his impertinent attentions, which were becoming intolerable, when at least he performefd a feat he would find some difficult in achieving now - he looked right into the young lady's bonnet. The elder of the two, thereupon having taken the measure of the aggressor, struck out at him straight from the shoulder, and hitting him right between the eyes, sent him rolling on the pavement. The fellow picked up his hat and himself together, and disappeared by a side street, without waiting for a word of explanation.
Penny Illustrated Paper, 28 August 1869