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George Bagster Phillips: In retrospect

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  • George Bagster Phillips: In retrospect

    To augment Howard's thread about articles relating to Bagster Phillips:

    In reconstructing historical events from the perspective of individuals who were active in their progress, it is essential that the biographer researches the aspects of a person's life that were not directly connected to the subject of interest. It is only then that the whole picture emerges to explain the actions or opinions of that person at the moment chosen to depict. To remain focused and on topic, that vast amount of research is not added to the text, but is in the writer's mind as he develops his character for the reader's understanding of this segment of a person's life.

    History is not just facts and figures. Such delineations never really explain the real context necessary to any understanding and only leave a shallow impression of what actually happened. Human beings make events. Their previous experiences and their personalities, along with their interactions with others are the essence of each page in time. It is what brings the past to the present in a way that we - at this remove - can connect and relate.

    My recent article about Bagster Phillips and the medical evidence in the Whitechapel murders is a long one... and this is after I had edited it twice. Relating the activities of someone so prominent as Dr. Phillips in a complete manner is something that is difficult to compress, without compromising the cataloging of his activities and his interactions with others that made the events unfold. However, I had to leave out a lot of material. In this thread I would like to share some of that information with you about this truly remarkable but little understood man as well as some of the medical evidence in general, presented by himself and others. If there is any real key to this mystery, which interest we all commonly share, this is where it lies.
    I will begin in the next post with my personal reflection of George Bagster Phillips and his character.
    Best Wishes,
    Cris Malone
    "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."

  • #2
    If there ever was a quintessential representative of the Victorian doctor, George Bagster Phillips would fit the bill - practical, stoic and reticent... and mindful of the delicacies his profession had to conceal for the sake of decency. He was the keeper of the flame for morality and abstinence; loyal to those who entrusted him with their correspondence and loathsome of those who would forsake a sacred trust for self promotion. To go even farther, the Puritans would welcome him back to their age.

    As a result, he was a hard man to know on a personal level. He believed that any display of emotion was disarming and a sign of weakness of character and resolve. He was honest to the point of being very curt and blunt with others on occasion, when a bit of diplomacy might have been a better course. But he was able to present himself with social grace and manners in such a way that engendered a deep respect from others... even from the more ambitious of his peers. He was a very charitable man, but he did it discretely and never said, "Look here. Look what I have done."

    As a physician, he was meticulous for detail and accuracy; a definite asset in presenting his evidence at an inquest or in court as police surgeon for H Division, Metropolitan Police. He moved quickly and - although thorough - he was expedient with his time. His in situ examination of Annie Chapman lasted 10 minutes. But beyond the basic mechanics of the evidence acquired and presented by himself, he was not prone to indulge farther. He only thought in the first person, by nature a narrow focus that did not take in extenuating circumstances or even a thought of what others might think or do.

    A good example is his testimony during the Chapman inquest. He was asked by the coroner to estimate the amount of time it took for the murderer to perpetrate the mutilations. Instead, his answer was the amount of time he thought it would take for him to inflict the injuries, and he even added the time it would take to perform the mutilations in a surgical environment as a comparison. He never considered how someone else would act...the real killer for instance, and that this guy wasn't playing by the same restrictions that Phillips had placed on him by inserting himself as proxy. The result was an incorrect assumption by the coroner that they were dealing with a professional when the reality was that Chapman's uterus was simply gouged out like coring the sweet spot out of a watermelon.

    During his post-mortem examination of Chapman's body, Phillips was so focused on what he was doing that when Robert Mann found Chapman's neckerchief and showed it to him, the surgeon took a quick look at it and told Mann to dispose of it. When he arrived at the so-called mortuary, Phillips was irate that the victim's clothes had been removed and the body partially washed... and for good reason. But once he started his examination that was over and done with. He was now busy with something else and the fact that Mann had found the neckerchief and thought the surgeon might want to examine it only impeded him in what he was presently doing.

    To be continued...
    Best Wishes,
    Cris Malone
    "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."


    • #3
      Phillips biograpy

      George Bagster Phillips - a short biography

      George Bagster Phillips was born in Camberwell, Surrey, probably in the first quarter of 1835. He is registered as being baptized on March 19, 1835 at the Clapham Holy Trinity. His parents, Henry Phillips (b.1806?) and Sarah Bagster (b. 1801?) had married in 1827 at St. Clement Danes. George's ties to his maternal lineage are to go beyond his own heredity and his middle name (more about that later).

      George appears to be the middle child of six who survived early childhood. His father, Henry, was an ironmonger ( owner of a hardware store for those of us on the other side of the pond).

      At an early age George seems to be disinclined to chose to follow his father's trade. In the 1851 census, the 16 year old George is found boarding with Mr. William Gilkes, a druggist in Leominster, Herefordshire, where George is serving an apprenticeship as a chemist/druggist. This enables him to later be accepted for medical school. Phillips attends University College of London. Formerly known as London University, it was created as a secular alternative to Oxford and Cambridge. His medical education is broad and he eventually earns licenses in surgery, general practice (M.D.), midwifery (obstetrics) and apothecary (pharmacy).

      George Bagster Phillips is admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons on April 20, 1861. He is placed in the Medical Register on Dec. 19, 1863. Soon after his practice is established, Phillips is appointed surgeon for H Division, Metropolitan Police (1865) and serves in that capacity for the rest of his life. In addition to the normal duties of attending to policemen and prisoners at the stations in his district, he is increasingly called to testify in cases involving poisonings and the improper dispensing of drugs by other physicians or their assistants. It is in this area that he is considered an eminent expert.

      He resides in Guildford, Surrey, until, in 1871, he is found at the residence he would spend the rest of his life - 2 Spital Square. He was not the first physician to inhabit the house. The previous owner had been a Dr. James Edmunds, who, in the early 1860's, had boarded and trained an assistant who would also become one of Phillips' peers- Dr. W.P. Dukes.

      The 1841 edition of London: vol. 1 and 2, describes Spital Square as consisting of "...sober looking brick houses... in the heart of the silk-district of London, the centre from whence that employment springs by which the weavers are supported." By the time Phillips establishes residence there, the 'irregular square' is inhabited by many other professionals and artisans. Situated just outside of the old City, it was becoming the last vestige of a social class that was evaporating from the area to its east.

      Bagster Phillips devoted his life to his work. He would be well settled and into his forties before he would consider matrimony. He courts and marries his own maternal cousin, Eliza 'Lizzie' Toms, the youngest child of his mother's sister, Ann 'Bagster' Toms. The marrage takes place on Sept. 4, 1880 at Kensington. Her father, John Toms, is already deceased. This type of arraingement is not unusual for Victorian times. Eliza was born in 1838 in Chard, Sommerset and would outlive her husband by many years. Bagster and Eliza would never have children. They move in the social circles of their class and contribute to several charaties.

      George Bagster Phillips dies suddenly on October 27, 1897 from apoplexy (stroke). In his will, he leaves his widow 3324, 0s, 2d. Eliza goes to live with her unmarried sister, Sarah Toms in Finchley. Phillips' assistant, Percy John Clark, moves into the residence at 2 Spital Square and remains there until its demolition in 1928. Eliza will go on to live to the ripe old age of 102. She dies on March 25, 1940 at St. John's Home, Clewer.
      Best Wishes,
      Cris Malone
      "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."


      • #4
        Baxter Phillips Timeline

        The following is a constructed time line on the movements and activities of Dr. George Bagster Phillips from the week leading to (and including) the murders of Sept. 30, 1888 and the week after.
        This list may be revised and extended as time allows

        Monday, Sept. 24 -Scotland Yard sends Dr. Phillips and CID Inspector Roots to investigate the murder of Jane Beatmore at Birtley. They leave by train on Monday and arrived in Durham that night.
        Press Association report circulated in several publications on Sept. 25.

        Tuesday, Sept. 25 - Phillips and Roots depart for Birtley by coach on Tuesday morning, in the company of Colonel White, Chief Constable of the county of Durham, and Superintendent Harrison. They study the murder site and then proceeded to White House Cottage where the body of the victim lay. Phillips examines the body that afternoon, noticing the wounds to the face and neck and the wound to the abdomen, which had caused some protrusion of the intestines. After the examination he refuses to answer questions from the entourage of reporters gathered there in anticipation of a big story. He would report to Scotland Yard first.
        Evening Standard, September 26, 1888.

        Wednesday, Sept. 26 - Dr. Phillips returned to Whitechapel when the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman is concluding. He arrives at the Working Lads’ Institute to find that Coroner Wynne Baxter had just given his summary. Phillips submits to a rare interview by a Press Association reporter regarding the murder at Birtley and the startling summary given by Baxter. Phillips relates that he sees both instances as vindication for his reluctance to reveal the details of the mutilations on Chapman. Whether as a result from the firestorm in the press that follows or Phillips' natural reluctance, he apparently never submits to another press interview regarding the Whitechapel Murders.
        Press Association report, September 26, 1888

        Sunday, Sept. 30 - At 1:20 a.m. Dr. Phillips is summoned from his home in Spital Square and asked to report to the Leman Street police station. Another woman had been murdered, this one in a narrow gateway called Dutfield’s Yard. Upon arrival at Leman St. Station, Phillips is immediately dispatched to the murder site in a cab.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 4, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips.

        Phillips arrives at Dutfield's Yard between 1:36 and 1:46 a.m. He examines the body of Elizabeth Stride along with Dr. Frederick W. Blackwell, who has preceded him, and examines the hands of the people detained by police.
        Inquest testimony of Dr. Blackwell as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 1888.

        Minutes after Phillips arrives at Berner St. another murder is discovered in Mitre Square in the old City of London. The City Police Surgeon, Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown, sometime after his arrival at the scene at 2:18 a.m., sends for Dr. Phillips to view the body in Mitre Square due to Phillips’ role in the investigation of a similar murder in Hanbury Street.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 5, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Brown.

        Phillips remains at Dutfield's Yard until some time before 4 a.m., when he leaves for the Leman Street station to file his report. It is not known if his early departure was due to notification of a second murder, but it was unusual for a police surgeon to do so. The body of Elizabeth Stride would be removed to the St. George’s Mortuary at 4:30 a.m.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1888; report of testimony of Detective Inspector Reid.

        At some time between 4 and 5 a.m. Phillips (at the Leman St. Station) is visited by Constable Alfred Long and the duty inspector for the Commercial St. Station. The inspector hands Phillips a piece of apron found in a passageway in Goulston St. by P.C. Long and believed to be connected to the murder in Mitre Square.
        Home Office report of PC 254A, Alfred Long, Nov. 6, 1888; A49301C/Sc.

        Phillips arrives at the Golden Lane Mortuary some time after 5:20 a.m. He hands the apron piece over to Dr. Brown, who places it with the piece found on the body of the Mitre Square victim.
        Lloyd’s Weekly, Sept. 30, 1888. Written inquest testimony of Dr. Brown, filed in the Corporation of London Records Office.

        Phillips assist in the preliminary examination of the body (later determined to be that of Catherine Eddowes) which was underway when he arrived.
        London Times, Oct. 1, 1888

        The physicians later depart the Golden Lane Mortuary with the understanding that the post-mortem would be held at 2:30 p.m. that day. Due to urgency, Brown decides not to wait for the official request for a post-mortem by the City coroner, Samuel Langham.
        Written inquest testimony of Dr. Brown, filed in the Corporation of London Records Office.

        At 2:30, that afternoon, the post-mortem examination is held on the body of the Mitre Square victim. Present are Drs. F. Gordon Brown, Bagster Phillips, G. W. Sequeira and William S. Saunders, public analyst for the City of London. The London Times reports that Dr. Mackellar, chief surgeon for the Metropolitan Police was also in attendance. The inquest would last for four hours.
        Written inquest testimony of Drs Brown,Sequeira and Saunders filed in the Corporation of London Records Office. Daily News, Oct. 1, 1888.

        Monday, Oct. 1 - At 3 p.m. the post-mortem on the body of the Berner St. victim (Elizabeth Stride) is conducted at the St. George's in the East mortuary. Present are Drs. Phillip's, Blackwell, Rygate and Mr. Edward Johnston, Blackwells assistant.The examination is likely postponed to this date in order for Dr. Phillips to attend the post-mortem at Golden Lane on the previous day. Blackwell performs the dissection while Phillips takes notes. The inquest by Coroner Wynne Baxter into the Berner St. murder is already underway without the conclusion of an autopsy.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 4, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips.

        Tuesday, Oct. 2 - Phillips returns with Blackwell to make another examination of the body of Elizabeth Stride to evaluate the discoloration on the victim’s shoulders.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 4, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips. London Times, Oct. 4, 1888.

        Wednesday, Oct. 3 - Phillips may have returned to the St. Georges mortuary to observe the victim's shoulders again. This is speculative, relying on Phillip's testimony that he had observed the marks on the victim's shoulders "on two occasions since."

        At 1 p.m the Stride inquest resumes for the third straight day. Phillips testifies for the first time.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 4, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips. London Times, Oct. 4, 1888.

        Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday, Oct. 3,4,5 ?- At some point between the end of testimony on Wednesday afternoon and resumption of the Stride inquest on Friday afternoon, Phillips, in the company of Drs. Blackwell and Brown, makes a further examination on the victim in response to a question at the Wednesday session concerning the victim's palate.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips.
        London Times, Oct. 6, 1888.

        Thursday, Oct. 4 - The inquest into the death of Catherine Eddowes commences at Golden Lane. Dr. Phillips is not summoned to testify.

        Friday, Oct. 5 - The inquest into the murder of Elizabeth Stride reconvenes for the fourth time. Dr. Phillips is the first witness called. Most of his testimony is in response to questions.
        Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1888; report of inquest testimony of Dr. Phillips. London Times, Oct. 6, 1888.
        Best Wishes,
        Cris Malone
        "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."


        • #5
          Terrific, Cris !
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          • #6

            Hello Cris. Thanks for posting this.

            A great honour for a great man.