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Fred Jarvis and the Secret Cypher

Frederick Smith Jarvis was born in South Huish, in Devon, on 4 March 1850, the son of shoemaker Frederick Wooton Jarvis, who, in the previous year, had married an Irish woman from Donegal called Eliza Smith, hence the baby Frederick's middle name.  Within two years of the birth, Frederick senior made a life changing decision which would affect his son's future.  He moved to London with his family and joined the Metropolitan Police Force.

Constable F.W. Jarvis joined the 'N' Division of the Metropolitan Police on 18 October 1852 (MEPO 21/10/3275) at the age of 24.  After fourteen years service, in October 1866, when his son was 16, he was involved in an incident which led to him being sent to prison for three months.  

In the early hours of 28 October 1866, along with P.C. George Davis of the 'N' Division, P.C. Jarvis attempted to arrest a boot & shoe finisher called Henry Cramphorn on the basis that Cramphorn had 'assaulted' P.C. Davis a few moments earlier when that constable called on him at his house in Dalston to inform him that his two sons had been locked up for loitering. 

What seems to have happened next is that Davis and Jarvis smashed their way into Cramphorn's house and gave him a severe beating with their truncheons on account of his insolence when he had originally spoken to Davis.


When Cramphorn was brought to Worship Street Police Court, charged with assaulting the officers, the magistrate, who saw the injuries that had been inflicted on him, while noting that the two constables had barely a mark on them, issued a summons for the arrest of Davis and Jarvis for assault and GBH. 

Cramphorn was acquitted of assault at the Middlesex Sessions on 8 December 1866 but both Davis and Jarvis were found guilty of common assault on the same day (Times, 10 December 1866).  Despite a petition from local residents, which spoke of the 'general good conduct' of the two constables, and character references from the Rector of West Hackney and Superintendent Mott, the officers were sent to prison for three months with hard labour on 17 December 1866 (Times, 18 December 1866).

Both men were dismissed from the police force on 18 December 1866 by Commissioner Richard Mayne (MEPO 7/27).

The assault cannot have been regarded as too serious by the Metropolitan Police, however, for, having served his prison sentence, Jarvis was allowed to rejoin the force immediately, on 1 April 1867, in 'V' Division.

One wonders what Jarvis' 17 year old son thought about all this but one thing is certain; he was red hot keen to join the force himself.  For, on 9 December 1867, falsely claiming to have been born on 4 March 1849, thus pretending to be 18 years of age, Frederick Smith Jarvis joined the Metropolitan Police, becoming a constable in 'A' Division (MEPO 21/10).

Frederick Wotton Smith was forced to retire with a pension on 21 October 1870 due to a disclocated ankle (MEPO 21/10) but his son rose swiftly to the rank of Detective Sergeant within Scotland Yard, which he attained on 15 July 1873 (MEPO 7/35). 

Three years later, Detective Sergeant Fred Jarvis then did a strange thing.  On 3 May 1876 he resigned from the Police Force.  Two years later, however, he rejoined the force (in 'A' Division) as a constable.  What was going on here?

Well, it seems that this resignation corroborates what Jarvis told Lloyd's Weekly News when he retired in September 1897.  That newspaper reported on 26 September 1897:

'About May 1876, Mr Jarvis resigned his post in London and entered on an engagement in the United States where he was employed in doing some valuable secret service work.  The year 1878 saw him return to the yard...'


It is a complete mystery as to what secret service work Jarvis was doing in the United States but it seems that he met his wife, a widow and single mother from Tarrytown, New York, called Fannie Curtiss, while engaged in this activity.   She was the daughter of a hardware merchant, Cornelius Curtiss, and his wife, Rosetta (1870 Census for Mount Pleasant, Westchester, Tarrytown N.Y.).  Fannie must have sailed back from the United States with Fred in 1876 for the 1881 census shows the couple living together in Lambeth along with Fannie's 9 year old son, Walter, the result of her previous marriage to Walter Byron, who had died on 31 December 1872 ( ).

Within three years of his return, on 15 April 1879, Jarvis had regained the rank of sergeant and then achieved promotion to Local Inspector, spending a year in 'W' Division before returning to Scotland Yard as a detective inspector on 19 February 1881. 

Jarvis was, therefore, a Scotland Yard detective when Westminster was rocked by an explosion at the Local Government Office Board office in February 1883, followed in April by the arrest of an American physician, Dr Thomas Gallagher, along with his associates: Bernard Gallagher, Henry Willson, Henry Dalton, John Curtain, William Ansburgh and Albert Whitehead, for being in the possession of explosives.  In his opening statement before the magistrate at Bow Street Police Court, where the seven men were brought on 19 April, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Poland, stated that, 'it would be shown beyond a doubt that a treasonable conspiracy was hatched in America, and that the prisoners now before the court each came to this country to play his part in the matter.' (Times, 20 April 1883).

A week later, it was decided by the British authorities to send Inspector Jarvis to New York to make enquiries relating to the Fenian conspiracy revealed by the evidence in the Gallagher case.  On 27 April 1883, the Treasury Solicitor, A.K. Stephenson, wrote as follows to Sir Adolphus Frederick Octavius Liddell at the Home Office (FO 5/1861):

'It has been determined at consultation with the Law Officers to have certain enquiries made in America with reference to the Dynamite case now going on at Bow Street, and the details of the enquiries have been settled in consultation with Mr Poland this morning.

The officer who will make these enquiries Inspector Jarvis will leave Liverpool tomorrow.

It may be of assistance to him if the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be pleased to direct H.M. Consul at New York to give such assistance to Inspector Jarvis as he may require for prosecuting his enquiries.'

On the same day, Liddell wrote to the Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (FO 5/1861), saying:

'I am directed by the Secretary of State to transmit to you the enclosed letter from the Treasury Solicitor, stating that it has been decided to send Inspector Jarvis at once to America, with a view to making enquiries with reference to the Dynamite case.

I am to request that you will move Lord Granville to be so good as to direct H.M. Consul at New York to give this officer all the assistance he may require.'

Consequently, on 28 April 1883, Sir Phillip Currie, on behalf of the foreign secretary, Lord Granville, wrote to Consul-General William Lane Booker in New York as follows (FO 5/1861):

'I am directed by Earl Granville to request that you will render such assistance as he may require to Inspector Jarvis who will leave Liverpool today in order to make enquiries in America with reference to the dynamite case which is now being investigated before the Police Magistrate at Bow Street.'

This letter was given to Jarvis to take with him to New York.  He set sail from Liverpool on 28 April on the Cunard steamer R.M.S. Scythia which arrived in New York on 9 May 1883. He was described on the ship's passenger list as a 'Traveller'.  Jarvis met up with William Lane Booker at the New York Consul and Booker wrote to the Foreign Secretary on the same day as follows (FO 5/1861 & FO 282/29):

'I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's despatch No. 14 Secret, of the 28th ultimo.

I have seen Inspector Jarvis, by whom the above-mentioned despatch was delivered to me and I shall afford him every assistance in my power in making the enquiries here in reference to the Dynamite Case, which is now being investigated before the Police Magistrate in Bow Street.'

Nothing is known of the inquiries that Jarvis made in New York but he is referred to in a memorandum dated 19 June 1883 which summarises the work done by all the officers on the dynamite case it which it is stated that Jarvis, 'Made inquiries at Plymouth, Birmingham, London and New York to find evidence'. ( HO 144/116/A26493G). However, Jarvis was one of the few officers not to receive a cash reward for the work he did on the case so his inquiries may not have been terribly fruitful. 

The interesting thing about the visit of Jarvis to New York in May 1883 is that it corroborates an allegation made by Michael Davitt that appeared in the Labour World newspaper in the autumn of 1890 relating to the insertion of a British agent, Matthew O'Brien, into the New York Post Office and subsequent illegal tampering with the mail.  According to the Labour World of 11 October 1890:

'Mr 1883, employed one Matt O'Brien to enter the service of the Post Office in New York to tamper with the letters going through that Post Mr Hoare's influence with a Federal post-office official named Newcombe, O'Brien had charge of the keys, and stamps, which enabled him to open what boxes he pleased in the building and use the date stamps of the department for the purposes of the British Secret Service. We assert, and can prove, that O'Brien opened letters by the score....he wrote letters to Irishmen in New York, which purported to come from Fenians and dynamiters in California, St. Louis, and Chicago; and stamped these bogus letter as to make the recipients believe that they were communications which came through the Post Office from the cities we have named.  The men to whom these letters were addressed were invited by the writer to come to the General Post Office and to get other letters which were written by O'Brien as if coming from Fenians and dynamiters from other cities, that would be represented by the stamps which he put upon the envelopes.  This was done in order that O'Brien should see and know the men who were suspected by Mr. Hoare and himself of being enemies of England.  We say that all this was done by Mr. Hoare's direct and explicit instructions, and we charge that this flagrant outrage upon the law of the State of New York, and of the Federal authority of the United States was performed on Mr. Hoare's instructions, and by the aid of money out of the Secret Service Fund of England.' 

The Labour World must have been available a day or two before the 'publication date' of 11 October for the New York Times of 10 October 1890 included a response to the allegations by Post Office Inspector Newcombe, who was quoted as saying (underling added):

'I remember O'Brien very well, it is ridiculous to say that I secured his employment in the Post Office or that he had charge of the box keys and stamps.  He was never an employee of the post office in my time as an inspector, and if he had been caught tampering with the mails I should have had him placed under arrest.  My connection with O'Brien was simply that he was introduced to me by Inspector Frederick Jarvis, a Scotland Yard detective who had been in New York for some months working up an extradition case. Mr Jarvis told me that O'Brien was introduced to him by a letter from the British Minister as an English detective on special duty in America.  I of course tendered the courtesies of my office to O'Brien and he made it his headquarters during the stay.  I took my life in my hands by doing so as I afterwards found out that the Irish revolutionists of this city were after me for assisting an English detective who was presumably on the track of some of the plots.

O'Brien never told me just what business brought him here but my men and I rendered him certain assistance.  I remember going with him on one occasion to Staten Island and another of going over to Blackwall's Island with him.  He never had the opportunity to tamper with the mails.  And to my knowledge was never in any part of the building except in my office.'

As we have seen, Jarvis was not in New York working on an extradition case, as he apparently told Newcombe, although this might have been his cover story.  As it happens, there was an extradition case going on at the time.  A man believed to be James Rothwell, accused of committing forgery in Manchester, who sailed to New York on the same ship as Jarvis - the Scythia -  was held when he arrived in New York for extradition at the request of the Manchester police but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.  Inspector Jarvis played no part in this. It does not seem likely that the primary reason for Inspector Jarvis' visit to New York was to introduce Matthew O'Brien to Inspector Newcombe of the New York Post Office because O'Brien was supposedly being run by William Hoare at the New York Consulate - so perhaps Jarvis was doing Hoare a favour.

In any event, Newcombe's reported comments brought a response from Davitt in the Labour World of 25 October 1890 which said: 

'We assert that Mr. Hoare actually suggested and planned this illegal tampering with the New York Post Office; that Inspector Jarvis, of Scotland Yard, introduced Matt O'Brien to Federal Post-Office Inspector Newcombe, by and through whom O'Brien was enabled to open boxes, open letters, stamp letters and do anything else which the agent of Mr. Hoare was instructed to do, in furtherance of the policy of the Secret Service.'

The sudden inclusion of Inspector Jarvis in the allegation appears to have been a result of what Newcombe had said in the New York Times, rather than any independent information possessed by Michael Davitt, because the Labour World had not mentioned his name until this point. 

In the same issue, the description of the plot continued:

' was arranged by O'Brien that, whenever any of the suspected Fenians called for the letters which O'Brien, by bogus Fenian communications and the aid of the date stamps of the Post Office, informed them would be found at the office, a clerk would hold up a red card as a signal to O'Brien that one of his dupes was at the window.'

Whether these allegations were true or not has never been confirmed.  However, a report of the Post-Office Inspector dated 15 February 1884 confirmed that O'Brien could not possibly have tampered with or accessed the mail although it was correct that he had met socially with Newcombe on a number of occasions from late May or early June 1883.


As we know, when an officer was wanted to track down a fugitive from justice in America in November 1888, it was Inspector Jarvis who was selected for the job.  The passenger list of the Arizona, which sailed from Liverpool on 17 November 1888, reveals that F.S. Jarvis, described as a 'Gentleman' from London, sailed with his wife, Mrs F.S. Jarvis (Fannie Sarah Jarvis).  Strangely, there is no mention on the passenger list of Edward Plant, who was supposed to have travelled with him to identify Thomas Barton. 

The Arizona arrived in New York on 27 November 1888. Jarvis returned to London with Thomas Barton in April 1889.  Jarvis also spent three months in North America between 18 June and 18 September 1892 hunting for evidence and witnesses in the case of Neil Cream.

On 8 June 1896, Jarvis was promoted to Chief Inspector and then retired from the police force on 20 September 1897.  By this time, he had become separated from Fannie who had probably returned to the United States (if she ever came back to London with him in 1889).  Jarvis drew up his will on 5 August 1898 in which he revealed that his relationship with his wife was not good to say the least.  He wrote of Fannie:

'She has treated me in a most unkind manner in fact has been an enemy to me.'

Consequently, Jarvis left his wife nothing in his will.

In Fannie's absence, he had formed a relationship with a woman four years younger than himself called Catherine Arthur to whom he left all his possessions and who, he said in his will, had been 'a great kind friend to me in sickness and health'.  The 1901 census shows Catherine Arthur as a resident at Osborne Mansions in London, where Jarvis was then living, and she appears to have moved to Brighton with him shortly thereafter.

In 1899, Jarvis became one of those few individuals who was able to read his own obituary after reports of his death were greatly exaggerated in the Morning Post of Friday, 13 October 1899, which said he had died two days earlier. Under the headline 'Death of an Ex-Detective Inspector', the story read:

'Mr Fred Smith Jarvis who recently retired from the post of Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard died suddenly at Brighton on Wednesday.'

The story was repeated in the Pall Mall Gazette later that day under the headline 'Death of a Celebrated Detective' which said that Jarvis had 'died suddenly at Brighton yesterday' thus changing the date of his death from the Wednesday to the Thursday.  The report also stated that Jarvis, 'made a speciality of criminal investigation where America was concerned, either as the origin or refuge of criminals, and his special duties included several journeys across the Atlantic.'

The following day, a report of Jarvis' death, which changed the location of his demise to Folkestone and gave the cause as 'apoplexy' was wired to New York and then published in the New York Times of 15 October 1899 under the headline 'Ex-Inspector Jarvis Dead':

'LONDON, Oct 14. Ex-Inspector Jarvis, who retired form Scotland Yard a short time ago, died from apoplexy at Folkestone a few days ago. He often visited the United States on extradition cases, and was a private detective for A.T Stewart for seven years.'

At the time, Fred Jarvis was alive and well, and he ensured that the press were aware of this. Prior to the publication of the story in the New York Times, the Morning Post of 14 October had already published the following correction:

'Mr Fred Smith Jarvis, ex Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard, desires contradiction of the report of his death at Brighton, and says he is in his usual robust health.' 

Nevertheless, regional newspapers continued to publish reports of Fred's death and the Gloucestershire Echo of 16 October 1899 stated that:

'Mr Jarvis arrived in London on Saturday and surprised many of his friends, who had been sending him funeral wreaths.' 

Whether the report of his death was a mistake or a malicious prank is not known.  But it continues to confuse researchers and writers even today.  One thing is for certain.  Having retired from the force only two years earlier, and been an officer in the Metropolitan Police for all but two years between 1867 and 1897, he could not possibly have worked as a private detective for A.T. Stewart for seven years, as the New York Times report claimed.

Fred really did die, less than nine years later, on 14 May 1908 at 126 Western Road, Brighton, aged 58, of mitral valvular disease of the heart and anasarca (a swelling of the skin probably due to liver failure), according to his death certificate. His companion, Catherine Arthur, was present at his death.


Shortly after completing my Suckered! trilogy I came across a curious document in a file of secret service papers from the Irish Office, recorded to have been in the custody of Arthur Balfour, reference PRO 30/60/13/1, in the National Archives.  The document is facsimile of a two page handwritten document as below:

Jarvis 1.jpg

On the left hand page, in two columns, is a list of 50 code names and, beside them, the names of the 50 individuals to whom each codename relates, beneath which is a list of countries and cities, each with an assigned letter of the alphabet, while on the right hand page is a list of phrases represented by code words, together with their meanings. 

All the individuals named on the left hand page are connected in some way with Irish Nationalist activity and, it seems, with the Times newspaper's case against Parnell. Included are Parnell himself (code name: 'James') and other familiar indviduals such as Labouchere (code name 'Frank'), Pigott ('George'), Lewis ('Henry'), Casey ('Arthur'), Healy ('Thomas'), Davitt ('Edward'), Thomas Harrington ('Patrick'), Gladstone ('Emily'), Russell ('Dora'), Ford ('Margaret'), Brennan ('Melbourne'), Byrne ('Sydney'), Tynan ('Donedin') and Sheridan ('Auckland').  Various members of the establishment are also included such as the Attorney General ('Maud'), Hoare ('Rebecca'), Jenkinson ('Charles'), and The Times itself, code named ('Alice').  J.F Walter (owner of the Times), Joyce and Monro are also included in the list.  This was interesting but what really caught my eye was the inclusion of two names together in the list as below.

Jarvis 2.jpg

To my eyes, that looks very much like Jarvis and Shore, who have been code named 'Peter' and 'Paul'.

What was the purpose of this code?  Well a clue can be gathered by the meanings of the series of code words which appear on the right hand side of the page.  Some examples of these, with their meanings are set out below:

Douglas - 'Your cable received will make inquiries and cable you result',

Myrtle - 'I quite concur in the course you propose to adopt.'

Lilly - 'I have written to you fully.'

Planet - 'Do nothing further in the matter until you hear from me.'

Solo - 'Consult ---- and act on his advice.'

Delta - 'I propose to give ---- shall I?'

Scotia - 'I have found ---- had an interview and it is all right.'

Waterloo - 'I have found ---- had an interview he is hostile.'

Other coded phrases include:

'I have persuaded ---- to act with us.'

'---- can be depended on.'

'---- cannot be depended on.'

'I leave at once for ----'

'I hope to be back by---'

'They are attempting to prove ----'

The gaps above would, of course, be filled in according to which persons, places or scenarios were being referred to.

Three phrases at the foot of the page, which seem to be late additions are:

Danube - 'The forged letters'

Vistula - 'The P.P. Murders'

Rhine - 'The Land League'

So it would rather seem that the code relates to some form of secret service information gathering exercise, presumably related to the acquiring of evidence against Parnell, perhaps to use against him at the Special Commission.

A curiosity about the code is the locations that are each represented by a letter.  These are:

A - Denmark

B - Holland

C - Sweden

D - Norway

E - Russia

F - Germany

G - Austria

H - Italy

K - France

I - Belgium

M - Ireland

N - England

O - Scotland

P - New York

There is also a 'Q' and an 'R' which are too faint to read although Q could be America.  It is an odd list bearing in mind one would have expected most of the emphasis to have been on cities in America although it is true that Irish Nationalists did take refuge in Europe.

What else do we know about this cypher?   Well it was sent (back) to the Irish Office by the Foreign Office on 17 November 1891 under cover of a handwritten note from Richard P. Maxwell, a clerk at the Foreign Office, which stated (POR 30/16/13/1):

'Received from Irish Office Cypher & Decypher X No. 74 which has been returned as no longer required.'

Unfortunately, we don't know when it was originally sent to the Foreign Office by the Irish Office or whether it was ever used.

On the reverse of Maxwell's note is a handwritten note by 'T.B.' (presumably Thomas Browning, Balfour's private secretary) to the Registrar at the Chief Secretary's Office saying: 'Please attach this to the latest letter from the F.O. as to the custody of the Cyphers' to which a further handwritten note reads, 'Reply states no such papers in Dublin registry.'

That is all I have been able to find out.

Interestingly, we learn of the use of a similar code in Michael Davitt's 1904 book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (pages 619-221).   Davitt refers to a man called Sinclair, alias Wilson, who we know was Matthew O'Brien.  Davitt says that his papers were obtained by Irish Nationalists after he was forced to flee from his lodgings in New York in about 1893 after his cover as a commission agent was blown.  Those papers revealed that Sinclair was using a code in which Parnell was 'John', Dillon was 'James', Davitt was 'Isabella', Egan was 'George', Labouchere was 'Edward',  Clan-na-Gael was 'Ruby' with the Times being 'Samuel', Soames being 'Kate', Major Gosselin being 'Beatrice' and Sinclair himself being 'Jeremiah'.

Davitt reproduces correspondence from Soames in the period 1891 to 1893, signing himself as 'Kate', in which he uses the code names.

So the code was a practical code of the type that seems to have been used by spies. 

Can we draw any conclusions from any of this?  Could Fred Jarvis have used the code when he went to New York on his mission go track down Thomas Barton on November 1888?    Could he indeed have been the 'high official of Scotland Yard' referred to in a story told by Michael Davitt in The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (p.55)?

After telling story of the exposure of the private detective Joseph T. Kirby, Davitt says:

'Another agent of The Times landed in New York, and went straight to the (then) head of the police force of that city, now dead. His mission was disclosed, his plans were discussed, and the amount of money at his disposal was revealed.  That night our friends were informed of everything that had transpired at the interview.  This was in no sense a breach of police etiquette. The agent from London was not in quest of criminals, nor was he, though a high official of Scotland Yard, on any mission such as would entitle him to a share of international courtesy at the hands of American officials. He was paid to hunt down the political opponents of his London private employers, and the Irishman in the New York police chief's personality was as free as unselfishly serve those he sympathized with as his visitor was to try and harm them for the price of a high retainer.  The sequel was disastrous for the agent, if what was subsequently joked about among the New York police force was well founded. Scores of Parnell, Dillon, Sexton and Davitt letters of a "compromising character" were offered to emissary from Scotland Yard.  One batch, it is said, was disposed of for five thousand dollars.  But this did not end the costly practical joke for the agent. Mr Blank, it was said, woke up in the hotel, after a previous night's "good time," and found himself minus the purchased documents, with a gentle hint conveyed in a serious letter that the sooner he returned to England the better it would be for his state of health. This sadder and wiser Englishman has, I believe, held strongly to the opinion ever since that the police force of the United States was only one of the many branches of the Land League.' 

One can imagine that Inspector Jarvis might have been asked by the secret service to speak to his connections in New York, such as the New York Chief of Police, to establish if any useful information about Parnell could be obtained.  If, however, the official referred to in Davitt's story was Fred Jarvis then it is very surprising that the tale was never mentioned in either the House of Commons or Truth by Henry Labouchere who, with his close connections to Irish Nationalists, must have known of it.  With Labouchere making various allegations about Jarvis's activities in the United States, such a story would have been a perfect way of embarrassing Scotland Yard. 

At the same time, we might wonder if the secret service had a policy of using serving police officers as agents to do its dirty work abroad.  James Thomson's widow claimed in a letter to the Home Secretary in 1910 that her husband, lured by the promise of a £500 payment, was sent off to Russia on a secret mission in 1878 while still the Superintendent of 'E' Division at Bow Street having been relieved of his command (HO 144/926/A49962).  

Before having been appointed to the rank of Superintendent in July 1869, and transferred to 'E' Division, Thomson had been a detective (chief) inspector at Scotland Yard, in 'A' Division, along with the then Sergeant Shore (MEPO 7/31) and had a pedigree in working on Irish dynamite cases. In November 1868, for example, he was rewarded with a gratuity of seven pounds, twelve shillings and nine pence on account of 'duties performed beyond the Metropolitan Police District in connection with the Fenian Conspiracy.' (MEPO 7/30).  Thirteen officers in total received gratuities for this work including Chief Inspector Williamson and Sergeant Shore.

The problem with Mrs Thomson's story is that the Police Orders reveal that Superintendent Thomson was running 'E' Division throughout the year of 1878, albeit that he did take 28 days leave from 15 April to 12 May 1878 when Chief Inspector Wood became acting superintendent for the division (MEPO 7/40).  Twenty-eight days leave might seem like a lot but it was fairly common for superintendents at the time to take one block of 28 days' holiday in a year. 

Thomson could have gone to Russia and back, on his secret mission, but the other problem is that Mrs Thomson said that her husband's mission was authorised by the 'Privy Council' which caused head scratching when she revealed it in a letter to the Home Office.   James Thomson would not be the first man to lie to his wife about what he was going during a period of absence although this view might be unfair bearing in mind that he was certainly employed in a secret mission to befriend General Millen in Paris after he retired from the force.

For completeness, Chief Inspector Wood took charge of 'E' Division on 10 October 1878 'during the illness of Superintendent Thomson' (MEPO 7/40).  The period of illness did not, apparently, last long but was recurring because Police Orders of 22 October 1878 again stated that Chief Inspector Wood took charge of 'E' Division during the illness of Superintendent Thomson.

The Police Orders do not state when a sick officer returns to work so in theory Thomson could have been off work for the rest of the year. 

Could that have been used as a cover for his trip to Russia? It seems unlikely if for no other reason that such subterfuge was unnecessary.  In Police Orders of 25 February 1871, for example, it was stated that Inspector Brannan would be the inspector in charge of 'E' Division, 'during the absence of Superintendent Thomson on duty in the country' (MEPO 7/32).  Why not just use that same formula for Thomson in 1878 if they needed him to perform any kind of special duties?

As for Superintendent Shore, is it possible that he could have been in New York in November 1888 with Inspector Jarvis as some American newspapers claimed in December?   This was discussed in the first part of my trilogy, 'England Sends Her Spies', but let's look at the evidence again bearing in mind the possibility of secret service involvement. 

It will be recalled that the Chicago Daily Tribune of Sunday 16 December 1888 said that Shore arrived in New York 'on Friday last'.  Simon Wood has interpreted this to mean 7 December but the standard meaning of 'last' in the nineteenth century seems to be the one just gone, which would be Friday 14 December. 

Either way, both arrival dates would mean there is no connection between Shore's arrival in New York and the fact that Shore was off sick between 3 and 19 November 1888 because if such sick leave was supposed to be an alibi for Shore's absence from work it does not even cover the first day he would have departed England to arrive in New York on either 7 or 16 December. 

There is nothing in Police Orders to suggest that Shore was absent from London in the period and, as I have pointed out, in 'England Sends Her Spies', Shore's attendance at meetings at Scotland Yard on 27 November and 19 December seems to have been required, meaning that there was only a small window of opportunity for him to have gone to New York and back within that time.  But it was not impossible.

However, if Shore attended a meeting in London on 27 November 1888, it would mean that he could not have been the Scotland Yard official identified by a Philadelphia newspaper as having arrived in New York aboard the SS Elbe on 21 November 1888, referred to as 'Detective Inspector Soyle'.  The passenger list for the SS Elbe does not reveal any such person, although it has to be said there is a tantalising omission of one name due to a torn piece of paper on the list which means that we cannot absolutely confirm this. 

It is true that the physical description given of 'Soyle' seems to match that of Shore (although the eye colour is wrong); Soyle's claim that he has been in the Metropolitan Police for nearly 30 years matches the career of Shore, who joined the force in January 1859, and 'Soyle' seems to know quite a lot about the Scotland Yard investigation. But how could it possibly have been Shore if he was off sick suffering from eczema until 19 November?  And if the eczema was no more than a cover story to allow Shore to travel to New York, why did his sick leave end on 19 November when, if he was 'Soyle', he was still sailing to America on the Atlantic ocean?  It doesn't make any sense.

We also cannot forget the statement by William Pinkerton that Shore had not been in America for some years.  Shore did not have the power of invisibility so such a statement should have been easy to disprove had Pinkerton been lying.  And why would Pinkerton put his reputation on the line for such a foolish lie? Furthermore, if Shore was 'Soyle' on a secret mission to America, why would he even have spoken to a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia? Again, it makes no sense.

When considering the secret cypher, with its inclusion of Jarvis and Shore as Peter and Paul, we should note and consider who is not included on the list.  For while we see the name of James Monro, we do not see the name of Robert Anderson which would be curious if he was in the thick of an operation to send Jarvis and/or Shore to America.  Nor for that matter do we see the name of Inspector Walter Andrews.  If this secret cypher is the smoking gun, it not only clears Andrews from any involvement in the secret service operation but Robert Anderson too.

For those who like conspiracies, though, we may note that we don't have any documentary record of the process by which Fred Jarvis was chosen to go to America to chase Thomas Barton.  It is true that he was the obvious choice, given his background, but the first mention of his selection is in a Home Office letter to the Foreign Office dated 13 November 1888.  Is it at all possible that the Home Office made the decision in order to assist the secret service to insert an agent onto American soil to carry out investigations into Parnell for the Times' case at the Special Commission? 

Well, that does seem unlikely bearing in mind that when Godfrey Lushington at the Home Office was considering whether to support Inspector Jarvis' libel action against Labouchere in 1890, he wrote to the Home Secretary saying, 'if there had been any questionable proceedings on the part of the Government or Public Agents, these might come to light in the course of the trial with damaging consequences.'  (see The Thomas Barton Affair in the Suckered! Trilogy).  If the Home Office had been responsible for selecting Jarvis for reasons other than operational ones, it would have known Jarvis had certainly been engaged in 'questionable proceedings' and Lushington would not have needed to speculate about it. 

Ultimately, we need to know a lot more about the secret cypher, and whether it was ever used, before we can even begin to speculate as to its purpose. 

Yet, conspiracy theorists might be interested in the fact that a long standing shareholder in the London & North Western Railway company, which asked the Home Office to send an officer to America to hunt Thomas Barton, was one William Henry Smith M.P., more commonly known as W.H. Smith (see report in the Times of 21 February 1891 of a half yearly meeting of the proprietors of London and North Western Railway Company at Euston Station during which W.H. Smith said 'I have been a shareholder in this company for a great many years').  W.H. Smith was the First Lord of the Treasury in Lord Salisbury's conservative government, and one of those senior government ministers suspected by Irish Nationalists of being involved in 'fixing' the Special Commission

Given the problems the London and North Western Railway Company was having with Barton's mother-in-law in on-going legal proceedings, the idea that there was any ulterior motive in bringing Thomas Barton back from the United States is fanciful, and rejected by this writer, but one can never stop the conspiracy theorists from believing in conspiracies.


First published: 18 November 2015

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