Orsam Books

Bunny's Aunt

On 21 March 1889, Florence Maybrick made an ill-fated visit to London to liaise with her paramour, Alfred Brierley, at Flatman’s Hotel in Henrietta Street.

But what was her cover story?

In opening the case to the jury at Florence’s trial, Mr John Addison, for the prosecution, said:

“…the reason she gave her husband for going to London was that she had an aunt who was going to undergo an operation under the care of Sir James Paget and her aunt wanted her niece - that was herself, to be present, and she was going to London for a week for this purpose.”

Mr Addison should have proved this claim during the trial but failed to do so.  His information was derived from a written supplementary witness statement of Dr Arthur Hopper, prepared for the Treasury Solicitor in the first week of July 1889, which was based on what the doctor had been personally told by the Maybricks on 1st April 1889.  But Dr Hopper was never asked about it in the witness box. As he hadn’t touched on the subject in his evidence at the inquest or the magistrate’s hearing, the only publicly available information about Florence’s cover story for many years was contained in Mr Addison’s opening speech. 

From the published trial transcript, which covered Mr Addison’s opening speech, the story made its way into the secondary literature on the case.  In his 1957 book, ‘This Friendless Lady’ (p.56), Nigel Morland said that Maybrick:

‘accepted his wife’s reason for her intended departure as her desire to take care of an aunt who was to be operated upon by Sir James Paget. 

Similarly, in his 1977 book, ‘A Poisoned Life’ (p.33), Bernard Ryan stated that Florence:

‘told her husband that an aunt was to undergo an operation, and that she had had asked Florence to stay with her for a week or so during her first days of recuperation’.

The forger of the Diary of Jack the Ripper, who likely used one of these two books as a source, believed, as a result, that Florence had told her husband that she was off to see her aunt in London. Hence we find it stated in the Diary (on page 52) that:

‘Will give the bitch the impression I consider it her duty to visit her aunt. She can nurse the sick bitch and see her whoring master ha ha.’

However, it wasn’t true!  

Florence never claimed to be going to London to see her aunt.  She claimed to be going to London to see her godmother, Countess de Gabriac.

The truth can only be found in the supplementary witness statement of Dr Hopper, a copy of which, for about a hundred years, was locked away in a private file in the National Archives.  In that witness statement, Hopper said:

'On Monday the 1st April Mr Maybrick called and asked me to come and see Mrs Maybrick.  I went and found her in bed in a hysterical condition. Mr Maybrick was there …They both told me that the cause of Mrs Maybrick’s visit to London was that the Countess de Gabriac Mrs Maybrick’s Godmother had had to come to London to see Sir James Paget and that she had called Mrs Maybrick to stay with her. Mr Maybrick asked Mrs Maybrick why she did not stay at the Grand as she had said, and she replied that the Countess liked to live in lodgings and dine at the Hotel.' 

The ‘c’ at the end of ‘Gabriac’ looks like an ‘l’ so that it reads ‘Gabrial’.  It’s possible that it was indeed an ‘l’ and that the statement (of which only a copy provided to Mr Addison survives) was wrongly transcribed from the original. 

 

Either way, the Countess de Gabriac was originally Miss Florence Phelan, the daughter of James Phelan of New York and Paris, who was born in 1842.  She married the Count Horace de Cadoine de Gabriac, an officer of the French army, in 1861, and thus acquired her fancy title. [This information can be found in Richard Jay Hutto’s 2018 book ‘A Poisoned Life’, although he failed to realize that she was the woman who Florence went to visit in London in March 1889].  The Countess was a friend of Florence Maybrick’s mother, the Baroness von Roques (a title she acquired after she married the Baron Adolph von Roques), which no doubt explains why she became her daughter's godmother following Florence's birth, believed to have been in 1862.

After the Diary emerged in 1992, a team of researchers crawled all over what Shirley Harrison refers to in her 2003 book as ‘those thrilling Maybrick boxes at Kew’, looking for corroboration of the entries in the Diary amongst hitherto unpublished documents in the Maybrick files at the National Archives. Dr Hopper’s witness statement could be seen for the first time.  It was as a result of seeing this statement that Paul Feldman stated in his 1997 book (p. 74) that:

‘On 19 March both Florrie and James told Dr Hopper that Florrie was going to London to accompany her aunt, Countess de Gabrielle, on a visit to Sir James Paget, the surgeon.  

As we can see, Feldman had spotted the reference to what he thought was ‘Countess de Gabrial’ and changed that to the more likely ‘Countess de Gabrielle’, although he was wrong about that, and he was also wrong about the date of the conversation. He gets the date right shortly afterwards when he says (p.75):

'Next day, 1 April, Hopper visited Florrie and found her hysterical in bed.  James had been questioning her about her trip to London and they both told him that she went there to visit her aunt, Countess de Gabrielle'.

What he completely failed to mention on both occasions was that Countess de Gabrielle was not Florence’s aunt.  As was clearly stated in Dr Hopper’s statement, so that Feldman (or his researcher) cannot possibly have missed it, Florence and James had told Dr Hopper that Florence had been to London to accompany her godmother, not her aunt.

 

The error is repeated in Robert Smith’s book the ‘True History of Jack the Ripper’ in which he states (page 150, footnote 110), ‘It is true that, on 19th March 1889, James and Florence told Dr Hopper that she was going to London to accompany her aunt, Countess de Gabrielle, on a visit to Sir James Paget, a surgeon’.  He gives as his source reference Bernard Ryan’s 1977 book but Ryan said nothing about the ‘Countess de Gabrielle’ so that he must have been relying on Feldman, especially as he repeated the same error about the date of the conversation.

Ironically, the true relationship of the Countess to Florence (without getting her name right) was spotted by the authors of 'The Last Victim' (1999), Anne E. Graham and Carol Emmas. They wrote:

'First she told her husband that her godmother, the Countess de Gabriel, who was over in England from Paris, had asked her to accompany her to see Sir James Paget, an eminent surgeon, and that they would be staying in the Grand Hotel.' 

No-one seems to have spotted the inconsistency between that statement and what is written in the Diary. 

Yet, that inconsistency reveals a fatal mistake made by the forger of the Jack the Ripper Diary.  Relying on a secondary source which was itself relying on a barrister’s erroneous summary of the evidence, the forger believed that Florence told her husband she went to London to see her aunt.  Mr Addison, the prosecution counsel, who introduced the error, was probably confused by reference in the trial documents to an ‘aunt’ who had indeed been visited by Florence when she went to London in March 1889, but that was James Baillie Knight’s aunt (Margaret Baillie, 'Aunt M'), not Florence’s aunt.

 

James Maybrick would not have made such a mistake if he had written the diary entry at the time.  He did not, in fact, make a mistake when he (and his wife) told Dr Hopper on 1st April that she had been London to see her godmother.  It is another incontrovertible, unequivocal and undeniable mistake made by the forger which proves the Diary to be a forgery.

 

LORD ORSAM
1 AUGUST 2020