Crime and Punishment Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
Crime in 1901BigamyPetty CrimeMurder*  


The Yarmouth Beach Murder Trial
The trial of Herbert Bennett was perhaps the most celebrated murder case of 1901. Mary Jane Bennett had been strangled on Yarmouth beach in September 1900, and it was her estranged husband who stood trial for her murder. He was found guilty and hanged at Norwich prison in March 1901.

The Yarmouth murder case - link to an enlarged version

The case was notorious for the campaign waged in the press to convict Bennett. Witnesses were actually paid by the newspapers to give their story before the trial. This is probably one of the earliest examples of trial by 'gutter press'. Another interesting feature of this case was the early use of photographic evidence. A gold chain had been found in Bennett's lodgings in London. This was the same chain as that shown on a photograph of his wife taken on the beach two days before her murder.

Bennett and the gold necklace - link to an enlarged version

Murder in Spitalfields
An interesting contrast with this 'lower middle-class' murder is the killing of 28 year old Mary Ann Austin in May 1901. She was stabbed to death in a common lodging-house in Dorset Street, in the heart of Spitalfields, east London, an area made notorious in 1888 by the Jack the Ripper murders.

Follow this link for more on Spitalfields.

Although married with two small children, Austin appears to have been working as a prostitute or 'unfortunate' in the language of the day. A number of women living in this area are described in the 1901 census returns as 'unfortunates'. At first, the local press seized upon the story, the Eastern Argus and Hackney Times reporting it under the headline 'Horrible and Fiendish Murder in Whitechapel. Revival of Jack the Ripper Scare'. Eventually her husband was arrested and charged with the murder, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. The police ceased their investigations and Austin's murder was never solved.

There were 341 homicide cases in England and Wales in 1901 and 28 people, two of whom were women, were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Of these, 15 were executed, 1 was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and the remainder, including the women, had their sentences commuted to penal servitude for life. Most murders, then and now, were committed using a knife or blunt instrument.

By the 1970s, there were on average 467 homicides a year in England and Wales, compared to an average of 389 in the 1870s. However, given the relative population sizes, this shows a higher homicide rate in late-Victorian society than in the late 20th century.