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  • Lord Orsam

The Missing Newspapers

The issue of the empty tin matchbox has raised its head again, and, in the process, leads to an important question which goes far wider than just the diary.

By way of reminder, the Maybrick diary contains this line when noting some of the possessions of Catherine Eddowes:

"tin match box empty".

The source of it must surely be from a list of contents of Eddowes' possessions produced at her inquest by Inspector Collard in which we find that same phrase "1 Tin Match Box, empty":

The significance of this is that the contents of Collard's report are not known to have been publicly available prior to 1984 when the Eddowes inquest records were opened in a limited way to the public (effectively just to researchers) and made available to the wider public in 1987 when they were published in Martin Fido's book of that year, repeated by Paul Harrison in his 1991 book.

This is from Fido:

So, it is said, the diary must be a modern forgery, written after 1987.

While I agree that the diary was written after 1987, and is a modern forgery, the "tin match box empty" line is not conclusive proof of this. I've explained this before but, to my surprise, I find that in response to a suggestion that James Maybrick might himself have forged the diary, the question has been asked on one of the boards by a diary defender today: 'how did Liverpool-based James Maybrick -writing his false Jack the Ripper confession – know what was in Inspector Collard's report?'

There is one important thing that everyone interested in the Ripper case needs to understand. This is that we do not know, and probably never will know, what was published in all the newspapers in 1888.

Regarding the tin matchbox, the key date for when this might have been published in a newspaper is 4 October 1888, the day that Inspector Collard gave evidence at the Eddowes inquest. How do we know that his list was not read out in full on that day and then published in an evening newspaper?

The answer is that we do not know this. The reason we don't is that we only have the early evening editions of some of the evening newspapers. The final editions, or 'specials' as they were called, have not survived in all cases.

Crucially, we don't have the 'special' editions of the Star or the Evening News for 4 October which, as these newspapers appear to have employed their own court reporters, would have carried full and probably unique reporting of that day's inquest proceedings. We only have the fifth editions of these two newspapers because these are the editions held in the British Library. Either of these newspapers could have reproduced Collard's list in its entirety in their special editions. If that had happened we wouldn't know about it today. Not everything was repeated in the regional or London newspapers the next day.

We can see the importance of considering the evening newspapers by looking at the Echo of 4 October 1888 which, apart from the Evening Standard, is the only other surviving evening newspaper to carry a report of Collard's evidence that day in its special edition. We find that it is the only surviving newspaper which, when reporting Collard's evidence, states:

'There was some tea and sugar, a piece of flannel, some soap, a cigarette case, and an empty match-box in her pocket.'

This evidence was not reported in a single daily newspaper the next day, nor was it reported in any of the Sunday newspapers. Had we not been lucky enough to have the special edition of that day's Echo, we wouldn't know about this today. We would, in other words, have no idea that Collard even mentioned the empty match-box during his evidence.

The key point is that when Collard gave this evidence he might have been reading out loud the list of contents of Eddowes' possessions. The Star or the Evening News might have reported this list more faithfully by recording it as 'tin match-box, empty'. Hence a 19th century forger might have been able to know what Collard's list stated. I don't say that this is what did happen, because I believe the diary entry was derived from a book published shortly before 1992, merely that we cannot 100% say that the diary is a modern fake because of the inclusion of the tin matchbox, empty line in the diary.

Now, it's true that the question about James Maybrick refers to him as 'Liverpool-based' but the person who wrote this has no problem with Maybrick having made frequent visits to London to murder women so that he (as an innocent businessman who just happened to create a faked diary of Jack the Ripper) could easily have been in London on 4th October to read the London evening newspapers. I'm not trying to say that Maybrick might have faked his own diary of Jack the Ripper, simply that there are far better arguments against that absurd idea.

The short point is that, before saying that the diary must be a modern fake due to the inclusion of 'tin matchbox empty', tempting though it may be to do so, we need to recognize the things that we don't know and one of those is that we don't know if that phrase was published verbatim in a newspaper on 4 October 1888.


18 September 2023

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