Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era

Khalid Elhassan - August 15, 2023
Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Cartoon depicting a working man held by a policeman while he is forcibly vaccinated. Hathitrust Digital Library

A Victorian Anti-Vaxxer Riot

Dr. Ross peddled conspiracies about the medical establishment’s greed, exaggerated vaccine risks, and cherry picked “evidence”. He also made up sensationalist lies. They included false claims that officials invaded women’s bedrooms to tie them and their children down and forcibly vaccinate them. His efforts triggered a violent anti-vaccine riot. Montreal’s Board of Health estimated that there were 2000 smallpox cases in the city by September 2nd, 1885. Within a few weeks, the numbers doubled to more than 4000. So the authorities took sterner measures. They included the forcible removal of people from crowded housing – mostly in poor neighborhoods, such as predominately French-Canadian ones in the city’s east side – where isolation was impossible. On September 28th, vaccination was made mandatory.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Montreal police forcibly removing those infected with smallpox from the public. Washington Post

That triggered “a howling mob“, primed for weeks and whipped into a frenzy by publications such as The Anti-Vaccinator. They surrounded the Board of Health’s East End Branch Office, and destroyed it. Police tried to intervene, but were routed and chased away by the mob. The anti-vaxxer crowd then rampaged through the city, smashed the windows of pharmacies that sold the smallpox vaccine, and vandalized the homes of health officials. The Central Police Station’s windows were broken, and the chief of police was stabbed and pelted with stones. Rioters fired at the cops, who armed themselves with rifles and bayonets, and fired above the rioters’ heads. Policemen finally clubbed the mob until it dispersed into small groups. They continued the violent assaults and destruction of property around Montreal. Eventually, 1400 soldiers were summoned to patrol the city and prevent a recurrence, and health workers were issued revolvers.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
The Zanzibar Navy’s only ship, the sloop and royal yacht HHS Glasgow. Wikimedia

Forgotten Anglo-Zanzibar War

In the Victorian era, the Sultanate of Zanzibar in what is now Tanzania consisted of the islands of Zanzibar off the East African coast, and the mainland across the water from them. In 1890, the British and Germans divided Zanzibar amongst themselves: Germany got the mainland, while the British got the islands. That same year, Zanzibar’s sultan accepted a British protectorate. Its terms included the requirement that his successors had to be preapproved by the British. When the Sultan died in 1893, the British used that provision to install a puppet replacement, Hamad bin Thawani. He ruled for three years, then died suddenly shortly before noon on August 25th, 1896. It was suspected that his twenty-nine-year-old nephew Khalid bin Bargash had poisoned him.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Zanzibar’s defenders prepare to fight the British. Cultura Colectiva

Khalid immediately moved into the palace in Zanzibar Town, and without British approval as required by the terms of the protectorate treaty, declared himself sultan. The British preferred a more pliant successor, Hamoud bin Muhammad. So they rushed three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and 900 African soldiers to Zanzibar Town. They gave Khalid an ultimatum to vacate the palace by 9 AM, August 27th, or else. He refused, gathered a force of about 2800 men, and barricaded himself in the palace. When the ultimatum expired, the British ships were ordered to open fire, and they commenced a bombardment at 9:02 AM.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Victorian gunboat diplomacy: The bombardment of Zanzibar Town. Wikimedia

The Victorian Era Witnessed History’s Shortest War

By 9:40 AM, the palace and the royal harem next door were on fire, the sultan’s flag had been cut down, and the gunfire ceased. A journalist reported that the sultan had “fled at the first shot with all the leading Arabs, who left their slaves and followers to carry on the fighting“. Others, however, stated that he stuck around for a bit longer. However long he stayed, the sultan was not in the palace when the British reached it shortly after the bombardment stopped. Khalid, with dozens of his followers, fled to the German consulate, where he sought refuge. By that afternoon, the British had installed their favorite, Hamoud bin Muhammad, as sultan in his place.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Ruins of the sultan’s palace and harem after the British bombardment. History of Yesterday

The war had lasted roughly thirty eight minutes, during which time the British fired about 500 artillery shells, 4100 machinegun rounds, and 1000 rifle bullets. Zanzibaris losses were around 500 men and women killed or wounded, while British casualties consisted of a single petty officer, who was injured aboard a warship. The British sought Khalid’s extradition, but the Germans granted him asylum and transported him to German East Africa. He fell into British hands during World War I’s East Africa Campaign, and was exiled to the Seychelles and then Saint Helena. He was eventually released, and returned to East Africa, where he died in 1927.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Nikola Tesla. Pinterest

The Victorian Era’s Revolutionary Changes

Just like the rapid pace of change in our world today bewilders many, the Victorian era witnessed massive and revolutionary changes, not just in Britain, but all over the world. Chief among those changes was the introduction of electricity into everyday life. Across the Pond from Britain, railroads knitted America together, the importance of factories, mining, and finance increased by orders of magnitude, immigrants arrived by the tens of millions, and cities and homes began to be lit and powered by electricity.

Electricity had been around for some time. However, it took Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943), a Serb inventor who arrived in America with four cents in his pocket, to make the things that made electricity a part of everyday life. Among other things, he invented fluorescent lights, electric generators, the FM radio, spark plugs, remote controls, robots, and the Tesla Coil that is used to transmit radio and TV broadcasts. Shortly after Tesla arrived in the US, Thomas Edison hired the brilliant but naïve new immigrant to redesign his electrical generators and perfect his light bulb.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Thomas Edison. Conhecimento Cientifico

A Great Inventor Screwed Over by Another Inventor

Thomas Edison promised Tesla $50,000 if he succeeded in his assigned, but he broke his promise. Tesla did what Edison had asked of him. After he perfected the light bulb and redesigned the generators, Tesla asked for what he had been promised. Edison laughed it off and said: “Tesla, you just don’t understand our American humor. When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke“. Understandably upset, Nikola Tesla took his talents to Edison’s greatest rival, George Westinghouse.

Nowadays, alternating current (AC) lights up our homes and workplaces, and powers up our appliances through wall sockets. By contrast, direct current (DC) is relegated mostly to batteries. In the Victorian era, however, the issue was undecided, and powerful interests fiercely competed to decide whether AC or DC would dominate the world. Alternating current was championed by George Westinghouse, who pushed AC as the best means to bring electricity to the masses. On direct current’s side was Thomas Edison. There was serious money at stake, and Edison had cause to regret screwing his former employee over.

Mysterious Slayings & Crimes Of The Victorian Era
Lord Palmerston. Imgur

The Victorian Prime Minister Who Died While Getting It on With a Maid

Henry John Templeton (1784 – 1865) Lord Palmerston, formally the 3rd Viscount Palmerston, dominated the Victorian era’s foreign policy from 1830 to 1865, when Britain stood at the height of her power. He served as Secretary at War from 1809 to 1828, as Foreign Secretary from 1830 to 1841 and again from 1846 to 1851, and twice as Prime Minister, from 1855 to 1858, and again from 1859 to 1865. In his private life, he seems to have been a randy old goat who tried to get it on whenever and wherever he could, with eventually fatal consequences.

Lord Palmerston is the only British Prime Minister to have ever died in office, and oh what a death it was. On October 18th, 1865, the eighty-year-old Prime Minister, who enjoyed robust health well past his biblical three score and ten, reportedly was getting it on with one of his maids on a billiard table. He seems to have overexerted himself, which led to his demise in the midst of his passionate endeavors, just two days short of his eighty first birthday.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

BBC – Story of Boy Jones Who Stole Queen Victoria’s Underwear

Bondeson, Jan – Queen Victoria’s Stalker: The Strange Story of the Boy Jones (2012)

British Battles – Battle of Kabul and the Retreat to Gandamak

Canadian Encyclopedia – The 1885 Montreal Smallpox Epidemic

Carlson, W. Bernard – Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (2013)

Cheney, Margaret – Tesla: Man Out of Time (2011)

Conversation, The, October 4th, 2020 – Covid-19 Anti-Vaxxers Use the Same Arguments From 135 Years Ago

Courier Evening Telegraph, November 15th, 2021 – Love and Arsenic: The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

Culture Trip – The Story Behind London’s Notorious Girl Gang, the Forty Elephants

Daily Best – What the Hell Has Hollywood Got Against Nikola Tesla?

Darlymple, William – Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (2013)

Deer, Brian – The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines (2020)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Battle of Balaklava

Guardian, The, December 27th, 2010 – Girl Gang’s Grip on London Underworld Revealed

Herrnon, Ian – Britain’s Forgotten Wars: Colonial Campaigns of the 19th Century (2003)

Hertfordshire Life – The Dramatic Life and Passing of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston

Historic UK – The Shortest War in History

History Collection – Here’s the List of Queen Victoria’s Burial Requests in Her Final Moments

Listverse – 10 Unsettling Unsolved Victorian Slayings

McDonald, Brian – Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants: The Female Gang that Terrorised London (2015)

Owlcation – Did Adelaide Bartlett Get Away With Murder?

Social History, 392:2, 248-266 – ‘I Am Just the Man For Upsetting You Bloody Bobbies’: Popular Animosity Towards the Police in Late Nineteenth Century Leeds

Undiscovered Scotland – Madeeline Smith

University of Leicester Academic and Staff Blogs – Dismemberment in Victorian London: The Thames Torso Murders

Woodham-Smith, Cecil – The Reason Why: Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade (1954)