Public panic, well and truly assisted by caricaturists of the time such as James Gillray, called for the police to urgently end the so-called Monster’s reign of terror in London during 1788-90.
It had to be stopped but how? Who was he and what terror was he bringing to the women of London? Well he certainly wasn’t attempting to eat them for lunch as satirically depicted by Gillray, but rather acting in an obscene and violent manner, seemingly at random, amongst women in the more fashionable streets of the West-End.
‘The Monster’ publicity had been relentless during 1789 and early 1790 as depicting a savage creature, ‘infecting the streets of London and a terror to all the female race.’ *
The terror referred to began with him accosting young women in the street out shopping or merely walking casually past, possibly in parks or theatrical events. He would upset them with the most foul language that would describe horrific acts of barbarity he intended to inflict upon them. After terrifying them, he would melt away into the background leaving them very distressed.
It was reported as, “A man accosting them in a shivering sort of voice, expressing some thing that is unintelligible, and when he speaks, speaks a most horrid language to them, talks of drowning them in their blood, and of blasting their eyes.”
Source: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 04 October 2017), December 1790.)
At this stage, this anonymous, creepy man had attracted the name of ‘The Wretch,’ and small localised reports were made about him. Reports then began to be received of women not only being accosted in this frightening and obscene manner but being stalked in the street and even struck on the back, head or shoulders and then in some cases, the victims discovering he had used a sharp pointed implement to cut and tear their clothes as well as wound their flesh. For example, Elizabeth Baughan reported:
“I remember being with my sister Frances on Westminster-bridge, on the 6th of December, 1789, about a quarter past seven at night; I was coming towards Parliament-street; I observed a man following us pretty close in Bridge-street; he kept grumbling in a low tone; I could not hear what he said; he came to the side of me, and walked almost to the end of Bridge-street; I saw him very clearly; he endeavoured to push himself between my sister and the rails; he hit my sister about the small of her back, and then he struck me just at the small of my back; he struck me only once; my clothes were cut to pieces, and a streak on my back; it must have been with some sharp instrument.”
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)
Elizabeth’s sister Frances, however, stating in her report that she had actually encountered this man at least two years previously and did know what he looked like:
“I was in Bridge-street with my sister. I heard him say (with his mouth close to my ear) ‘blast you, is it you?’ He swore bitterly all the way. The blow on my back threw me forward, and I turned round and observed him strike my sister, and he kneeled nearly on one knee when he struck my sister, which was with great violence, and he swore at the time; I saw his face very plain, but not at first; and it came to my recollection, that I thought I had seen him, and knew his voice before; I did not know him so much by seeing him that night, as two years before, when he insulted me from the King’s Palace to May’s buildings, and never from that time did I forget him; he insulted me very grossly, in so much that I slapped his face in the park; I cannot positively say it was the same man; but I think it was from his voice and person.
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)
As these reports increased, the media turned ‘The Wretch’ into ‘The Monster’ and the hunt was on to identify him. It was certainly not a time when women would feel confident to report such experiences, even to their family, so it was only when a brave and forthright woman – Miss Ann Porter – reported his serious assault on her, that a charge was able to be levied against him once he was formerly identified:
On January 18th 1790, Miss Porter had gone with her sister Sarah and an elderly friend, Mrs. Miele, to watch a grand ballroom dance at St. James’s, celebrating Queen Charlotte’s birthday. They had arranged to be collected by their father at midnight.
However, Queen Charlotte left at 11 o’clock and the ball finished early, so the ladies decided to walk home as it was not too far away. They had not gone very far along St. James’s Street when Sarah suddenly turned to her sister Ann and said they should make haste and go as fast as they can. The panic in her eyes was enough for Ann not to question why, and shepherding Mrs, Miele along, they quickly got to their house at the far end of the street.
Sarah ran up the steps reaching the front door followed by Mrs. Miele assisted by Ann. Just as Ann had mounted the first step, she felt a violent blow on her hip. She turned around and saw a man staring at her. She quickly turned back, climbed the stairs in haste and went inside, the maid shutting the door immediately.
They all gathered around Ann and saw that her gown and other clothes had been slashed and there was some blood on her hip. This was a man Sarah had encountered before who had used abusive language to her in the street. Both sisters now knew what he looked like. Ann collapsed in a faint, the doctor discovering she had a nine inch long wound on her right thigh running to a depth of four inches and for a time her life was in danger from serious infection.
John Julius Angerstein, a London businessman and Lloyd’s under-writer, was a friend of the Porter family and offered a reward of one hundred pounds for information leading to The Monster’s arrest.
The identity of The Monster occupied a lot of people once the reward of £100 was announced. In particular, a certain German gentleman who worked as as boiler-man in the sugar-house at College Hill in Thames Street had what he thought was a bright idea to capture The Monster and claim the one hundred pounds from Mr. Angerstein. Unfortunately his idea spectacularly misfired as reported in the Chester Chronicle under the headline, The Petticoat Monster.
Yes, it is difficult to read, but it really was his idea “to dress himself as a woman and parade the streets in hopes of being stabbed,” So it explains how he asked his master’s cook for her assistance in passing himself off as a modest and beautiful woman and, “render him a delectable object in the eyes of the monster.“
On his first outing as this ‘desirable woman’ he became confused with the etiquette of passing others correctly on the narrow pavement and when a gentleman and his wife approached, he stepped to the road side rather than the wall – or as the paper put it in parenthesis (“notwithstanding his character, as a beautiful and modest lady, should have secured him the wall”) – consequently, he became tangled up in his petticoats and fell heavily to the ground knocking into the gentleman’s wife.
“You damn drunken old whore, can’t you see?’ cried the man.
Our German gentleman in a very heavy and foreign-sounding masculine accent replied, “I beg your pardon, damn the narrow pavement.” At this exclamation, the wife shouted out, “Oh that’s the wretch who cuts the women!” The husband seized him by the throat and soon others joined him in dragging the man to the police watch house. He was beaten badly and the borrowed clothes were ripped and torn. “I knew The Monster could not be an Englishman,” someone had shouted from the crowd.
He was released and sent home the worse for wear once he explained his plan and now how much poorer he had become having to purchase his master’s cook a new set of silk clothes.
The only published description of ‘The Monster’ to date was that reported in The Times newspaper where they had recounted an attack on two ladies in Leadenhall Street at the beginning of May when he had cut one of them across her shoulder. They said he is, “Tall, dressed in black and has a large nose, rather curved.”
Source: The Times (London, England), Monday May 3rd, 1790. p3.
Isaac Cruikshanks, provided this sketch during May 1790, apparently ignoring The Time’s nose clue!
The breakthrough on identification came shortly afterwards when Miss Ann Porter was walking in St. James’s Park with another lady and a gentleman friend called Mr. Coleman. It was July 18th, 1790.
Ann suddenly became very agitated, much to Mr. Coleman’s concern. She told him they had just walked past the man who accosted and wounded her. Mr. Coleman insisted she must point him out so he could follow him home and have him identified and arrested. She did so and leaving Ann with the lady friend, Mr. Coleman set off to shadow ‘The Monster.’
It seems the man suspected he was being followed and went to different houses, knocking on the door, speaking briefly, then setting off again. Mr. Coleman confronted him but he said he was certainly not ‘The Monster’ and lived in Jermyn Street, St. James’s, fluently giving his full address to Coleman and strode off indignant at such an accusation.
Coleman called at the address he had given and it was false, Coleman had lost him and had let him go.
Then, as luck would have it, he saw the man again very close to the the Porter family’s house in St. James’s Street, so grabbed him quickly and insisted that he accompanied him into the house. He knocked and when the maid opened the door, Coleman pushed the man in with him. The sisters began screaming at the sight of him.
Officers from Bow Street were sent for and they arrested him. Within no time, the police had rounded up a number of women who claimed they had been assaulted and verbally abused by this man and all were able to identify him in a line-up of assorted men.
Indeed it was his mother that lodged at the Jermyn Street address, so that was how he gave that so confidently as his own. The police found he was staying in what they termed a despicable public house in Bury Street where six men, including him, slept top-to-tail in three disgustingly filthy beds.
This middle-sized, sallow featured, long-faced man as described by The British Chronicle, claimed to be a musician working in theatres, but currently in business making artificial flowers. An occupation that did not sit as well as they would have wished for the media portrayal of a monster!
He was identified as Mr. Renwick Williams from Wales and remained in custody awaiting an appearance at the Old Bailey courthouse on July 7th.
Given the previous depictions of ‘The Monster’, you may feel the gentleman pictured above looks a little disappointing. Mr. Nixon’s courtroom sketch, ‘drawn from life’, published on July 9th 1790 was eagerly awaited by the public at large, especially women who lived in fear of him and desperately needed to see what he really looked like.
Below is the original Times newspaper’s listing of those women who were now able to be brought forward as victims of ‘The Monster’ alongside Miss Ann Porter who would be the main thrust of the case against him with all the others listed to be counted as victims into the final sentencing. It’s worth the small struggle with the old-English reporting style to understand the months of panic Williams had caused to so many women out walking in London and not always alone, but some with companions.
However, it was the following day on Thursday July 8th, that the trial began using Miss Porter as the main victim for the process of gaining a secure conviction as this case had clear and convincing witnesses to identify the man and his methods of assault.
This was the charge that was read out:
“RHYNWICK, otherwise RENWICK WILLIAMS , was indicted, for that he, on the 18th of January last, with force and arms, at the parish of St. James, Westminster, in the king’s highway, in a certain public street there, called St. James’s-street , unlawfully, wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously, did make an assault on Ann Porter, spinster, with an intent to tear, spoil, cut, and deface her garments and clothes; and on the same day, with force and arms, in the same public street, wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously, did tear, spoil, cut, and deface her garments: to wit, one silk gown, value 20 s. a pair of stays, value 5 s. a silk petticoat, value 5 s. one other petticoat, value 5 s. a linen petticoat, value 5 s. and a shift, value 5 s. her property, part of her apparel which she had on her person, against the form of the statute, and against the king’s peace, &c”
Source: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 06 October 2017), July 1790
Remarkable, even for the flowery language of self-indulgent lawyers of the period, the opening statement by Mr. Piggott for the prosecution, played with the two extremes of despicable depravity and innocent beauty. First, the depraved Renwick Williams:
” It is an unpleasant task to call your minds to a scene so new in the annals of mankind; a scene so unaccountable: a scene so unnatural to the honour of human nature, that it could not have been believed ever to have existed, unless it had been demonstrated by that proof which the senses cannot resist: but while we are trying the prisoner at the bar, for this unnatural, unaccountable, and until now, unknown offence, we should not forget that he is our fellow being, and give him an attentive hearing. Indeed this case affords a melancholy lesson to our nature, and teaches us not to be too confident of the impossibility of any event, on the principle of its appearing to us to be out of nature.”
Then the contrasting innocent beauty of the victim Miss Ann Porter:
“The prisoner at the bar has made a wanton, wilful, cruel, and inhuman attack upon the most beautiful! the most innocent! the most lovely! and perhaps I shall not trespass upon the truth, when I say the best work of nature!”
The stories of verbal and physical attacks and the many witnesses giving a clear identification of the man at the bar as the so-called monster, made the verdict of guilty inevitable, but to the very end Renwick Williams denied any guilt and even managed to produce witnesses who confirmed he was elsewhere at the time of such assaults so it could not be him but someone who looked like him. He had been working as an artificial flower maker in Dover Street and on the night of the Queen’s birthday ball had not left the workplace at all was the claim, as they had a special order to complete so he was not anywhere near St. James Street and the Porter’s residence.
The Jury chose to disagree and found him guilty. However, it was decided that his sentence should be deferred until the Winter assizes. This meant that all witness would need to appear all over again in a virtual re-run of the trial in December – over four and a half months later – and meanwhile Renwick Williams would be held in custody.
On Monday 13th December, at Hicks Hall Session House in Clerkenwell, London, Williams had a sixteen hour trial with another opportunity to provide alibis for his movements at the times of the attacks in support of his claims not to be the so-called monster. Also this time he was charged with three counts the first being, assaulting with intent to kill, the second, assaulting and wounding, and third, common assault.
His employers, Miss Amet and Mr. Mitchell once more supported his alibis to declare he had been at work during the time of the assault on Miss Porter, but in the end the jury chose not to believe this and he was once more declared guilty.
He returned to the session house the next morning for sentencing with regard to all the offences he had been charged with.
The Chairman made the following declaration of sentence:
“The sentence of the Court on you, therefore, is, that for the assault on Miss Ann Porter, you be confined in Newgate for the space of Two Years. For the assault on Elizabeth Davis, that you be also confined Two Years, to commence from the expiration of the former sentence: and that, for the assault on Miss Elizabeth Baughan, you be also confined for Two Years, to commence from the expiration of the former four : that at the end of the Six Years, you shall find bail for your good behaviour for Seven Years, yourself in the sum of two hundred pounds, and two sureties in one hundred pounds each, and to return in the custody in which you came.”
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)
That is exactly what happened, Renwick Williams served six years to the day in Newgate prison, and in December 1796 was released on bail for his final year. It appears he did behave himself but he was forever labelled as ‘The Monster’ – the broadsides continuing to sell for many years afterwards
In Mr. Dent’s sketch above, he includes Williams hanging on the gallows with the caption ‘The way the Monster ought to be framed.’
Fast-forward ninety-eight years, to 1888, and Williams makes the headlines once more as “The Woman Stabber, Renwick Williams” as the media become frantic with the Whitechapel Murders and Jack the Ripper.
Some referred to him as a ‘The Former Ripper‘ whilst most went back to ‘The Monster’ personae but with one marked difference – in comparison to what was happening to women in Whitechapel, ‘The Former Ripper’ was seen as ..”mild, bland and to all appearance, quite inoffensive” – it’s a strange world when so-called ‘Rippers’ are given a comparative status. Even Williams’s period of offending which was well over twelve months, has been reduced to six in the inaccurate reporting these ninety-eight years later.
The Daily Mail, a year later in 1900, refers to him as a celebrity of sorts commenting, “He was a strikingly handsome man and his portrait forms the frontispiece of Vol III of The Newgate Calendar .” Source:The Daily Mail: Tuesday December 4th, 1900.
Infamy is a strange mantle.