The First Victorian Railway Murder

If you wish to take a macabre, bumpy train adventure in Victorian England, you must read this book.

If you came across a book with the title Murder in the First Class Carriage, would it draw you in? Would you have to read more? I did.

It seems a passenger was missing aboard the North London Railway on a humid July evening in 1864. He had boarded in Frenchchurch, but was nowhere to be found by the time the train pulled into Hackney. What was found in his first class carriage roomette was his satchel, an ivory-knobbed cane, and blood pooled on the cushion and spattered on the walls. Where was he and what caused the mess? It was a dreadful unsolved mystery.

It did not stay unsolved for long. The alert driver of a train going in the opposite direction spotted the limp form of victim Thomas Briggs on the embankment between the tracks—his feet pointed toward London, his head toward Hackney. He was still alive, but died in the nearest public house, where he was taken. His death was then known as the First Victorian Railway Murder.

The boys at Scotland Yard had some ideas. They had been collecting their clews. A beaver hat found near the bloody cushions was at first thought to belong to Briggs. They deduced that it did not, but that it must have belonged to the murderer instead. Therefore, Briggs’ own hat must be missing, probably taken by the murderer in addition to some of his other possessions. An alert and suspicious hansom driver came forward with the information that he had purchased a gold watch chain from a man who had come to the door of his residence. The watch was not attached, but the chain was in a distinctive box with the name of Cheapside jewelers. The jewelers were contacted and they remembered seeing the chain connected to a watch that a man had shown them when he came into their shop try for an exchange. They had records with the man’s name: Franz Muller, a 24 year old German tailor, a soft-spoken reader of Dickens. The chase began.

Alas, Muller had recently boarded The Victoria, on sail to New York. This did not stop Scotland Yard. Detectives boarded another ship in hot pursuit. The detectives took along with them one of the jewelers, for identification purposes. Since they were on a steamer, The City of Manchester, they actually arrived in New York three weeks before Muller’s sailing ship arrived. He was identified by the jeweler, Briggs’ watch, which was still on Muller’s person, and more of Briggs’ possessions including the hat which Mueller now wore. He thought he had been clever to cut down the crown of the hat and re-sew the top to it. Muller was returned to England for trial and later hanged in a rowdy public hanging—one of England’s last—attended by fifty thousand, mostly drunk, spectators.

A side note worth mentioning: because of the layout of the first class carriage in which Briggs rode, it was realized that passengers were closed off and vulnerable. New alarm cords were fitted into the cars, cabins and roomettes, henceforth.

If you wish to take a macabre, bumpy train adventure in Victorian England, you must read this book: Murder in the First Class Carriage by Kate Colquhoun, 339 pp. It is a Gold Dagger Award nominee that provides a gripping, accurate, account of the murderous incident—The First Victorian Railway Killing—a crime that was followed in newspapers religiously on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Briggs’ Hat is an almost identical book by the same author.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious Indeed, a collection of stories about the unknown and unexplained. Please click HERE to read more about the book.

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