Ellen was enjoying her rare evening of freedom. She was Sat with Sarah, in the back room of the Pure Drop, one of her favourite public houses. She shared lodgings with Sarah and her Husband Charles and considered them as close as any family she had. Sarah was well on her way to getting drunk, not an uncommon situation but she was always pleasant company and often found contentment in her cups.
As they laughed and chattered an older man approached. He looked serious, even grim. Appearing to know Sarah he asked if he might join them, an offer hastily accepted when he offered to buy them both another cup of ale. Sarah seemed relaxed around the man but there was something to him. Far from being out to enjoy a drink of an evening in the company of an old friend. he seemed so sombre.
A few more cups were poured by the landlady and Sarah and the gentleman, she now knew was called Bill started to dance. There was a certain, uncomfortable intimacy between them and Ellen, feeling both out of place and in fear of witnessing her married friend’s indiscretion excused herself, almost unnoticed to the dancing pair, as she left, she noticed bill had moved his hand to the back of Sarah’s neck, apparently about to draw her in for a kiss. She hastened her exit.
As she crossed the threshold onto the busy street, she heard a cry come up from behind her. “Police! Murder! Police!”, recognising its source to be from the room she had just vacated and fearing at such a proclamation she hurried on down the street and home.
Mary Ann Reed
The landlady stepped into the back room. Chatting briefly with the two ladies sat at the bench. Sarah had become one of her best customers and whilst often drinking to excess was never any trouble. The prim little figure next to her she knew to lodge with Sarah but had no idea of her name. She knew the type though, proper little things, prone to complaint and gossip and good for little else. None the less she exchanged pleasantries and filled their cups.
As she left the back room into the main bar she almost bumped into a large man, bearded and grim. Not unattractive but certainly well into his fifties. He offered his apologies and stepped past her into the back room. Mary heard conversation start as she left.
A couple more times she attended the ladies, now joined by the grim gentleman in the back room. Everyone seemed happy enough and even the man appeared to have relaxed considerably.
She saw Sarah’s lady friend leave the back room and went to check if Sarah and her gentleman companion needed any further service. What she found shook her.
Sarah lay on the floor in a pool of blood, unmoving with eyes wide. The gentleman was sat on the bench crying and running the razor across his throat in repeated and deeper strokes. It was all Mary could do to flee, screaming “Police! Murder! Police!”.
The bottle was empty. Bill groaned as he sat in the tiny, rented room, the candle would be out soon too. No rum and no light! As always, his thoughts drifted to Sarah, her youth and energy, she had showed him such joy, and then, in leaving made the fall all the harder. Anger rose in him, who was she to have such control over him? Without thinking he threw the empty bottle, smashing against the wall and smashing the image of Sarah conjured in his mind.
At the sound of the bottle breaking Ann, with whose family he lodged burst into the room. She was bristling with rage. She told him to go find some air and his senses and not to come back until he had. As he left the room, as an afterthought he picked up the razor from his washbasin and slipped it, sheathed in its leather case, into his pocket.
He knew where she was, he always knew where she was. Always just out of reach. He made his way to the Pure Drop. Pushing past the crowded bar and groups of men and women enjoying their evening. Anger flared again, rage at the happiness he was denied and now they were mocking him with their fun. He took a breath, calmed himself and asked the boy at the bar if he had seen Mistress Jupe this evening, the lad gestured at the back room.
As Bill stepped into the room the sight of her felt like a hammer blow to the gut. He steadied himself and she smiled as he approached. He asked if he might join them. Seeing some reluctance, he followed quickly with an offer of more to drink.
As he sat the years melted away, it was like they were still together and in love. They chatted and joked. Suddenly a fiddler struck up from the main room and Sarah sprung to her feet, extending her hand inviting him to join her in a waltz. As they danced the warmth of her body and her familiar scent was crippling to him. He had never known pain like this. He raised his hand to the back of her neck to draw her for a kiss. Then the anger flared, what was he doing? In a couple of hours, she would discard him again and go back to her foppish husband. Tomorrow night he would be alone and drunk in his dingey room, still hurting. He felt the weight of the razor in his pocket. He could end this, no more pain, she would never have this control over him again. He gripped her neck and heard her moan, and in one motion drew the razor hard across her throat.
He allowed her limp form the drop to the floor, blood pouring from the wound, He staggered back and landed hard on the bench. Now there was only one thing left to do. He took the razor to his throat and began to run it in slow strokes from left to right. The fog began to clear, and he realised he had killed her, sobbing he started cutting deeper. Somewhere he heard a scream, and then darkness.
She was in a good mood. Ellen was not good company the prudish little thing with piggy eyes, but she had a belly full of ale and could make her own company. A night away from her tawdry husband and his constant whining was something to celebrate if nothing else. Mary the landlady came over and they exchanged some jokes.
She liked Mary, and she liked the Pure Drop. Suddenly she heard a familiar voice at the doorway to the back room. She smiled. It was Bill! He unlike her husband was certainly not boring. He would offer her some entertainment for the evening. He approached and asked to join them, offering a cup of ale, noticing her cup was empty she gratefully accepted.
He looked older than when she had last seen him. He did not offer much detail about his current circumstances, but Sarah very much enjoyed reminiscing over their brief affair. Reminding her there was more to life than her very dull husband. Ellen did not say much and was clearly uncomfortable.
The night wore on and a fiddle struck up a waltz. She leapt from the bench with a squeak of joy. Inviting Bill to join her. He always was a fabulous dancer. He joined her and he appeared to tremble, as they embraced, she could smell sweetness on his breath and heard a deep sigh. She heard Ellen mumble something unlikely to be important. She felt Bill’s hand lift to her neck, her heart quickened in anticipation. The hand grew firm, and painful. She moaned “wait! No!” suddenly there was a searing pain in her head, she couldn’t breathe. And then darkness.
The night and the Trial
On the night of 24th September 1894 Sarah Jupe died. Apparently murdered by her former lover William Rogers.
Rogers was a Merchant Seaman of almost thirty years’ service. He had several fines and one custodial sentence for assault whilst drunk but largely his career went well. Serving on ships like the Exeter, Susan, and Fanny.
Three years previously Sarah had left her husband for Rogers, they lodged together for some months before Sarah realised that whilst she did not care for her husband Charles at all, the lifestyle he afforded was essential to her.
On the night of the 24th Rogers had failed to take his own life with the swift response of the police surgeon on duty. His first words on regaining consciousness were “is she dead? Revenge”. He offered no other statements that night or after.
In the trial that followed the Judge, frankly, antagonised every witness. Demonstrating a bigotry that would have even staunch conservatives of the time steadying themselves on the furniture. He did however treat the prisoner to complete civility even when sentencing death. Rogers appeared in the dock a broken man and seemed entirely unaffected by the sentence.
William Rogers sentence was carried out on 12th December 1894.
There were several factors to this case that interested me. Firstly, that it is not more widely known even in local legend. Murder, even in 1894 was extremely rare in Southampton. There had been an increased police force in most major cities of England owing to the Ripper killings in Whitechapel some years prior.
An additional charge was levied against Rogers which almost certain contributed to his death sentence. He attempted to kill himself. There is a certain irony here. In failing to kill himself the state decided to do it for him.
The charges also appeared to consider Sarah Jupe as chattel (moveable property) more than a person and the sentence was heavier because Rogers technically destroyed another mans property. He almost certainly would have received a custodial sentence had he murdered his own wife or a single woman.
The judge accused the witnesses of profound cowardice. Including one man who responded to the cries of the landlady, saw the body on the floor and ran. The accusation was that “all of you are perfect specimens of cowardice however the last witnesses were women, you sir have no excuse and have demonstrated an effeminacy only to be expected in homosexuals and Frenchmen!” For those keeping score that’s sexism, racism, and homophobia in one statement.
This case also raised the question of temporary insanity due to a broken heart. It was explored robustly using what I presume represented the best knowledge of the age. I havent encountered many Victorian cases where mental health has been considered without consigning the individual to an assylum. It appears to have been a genuine consideration that the man may require help not penalty. A consideration is is clear would not be made for a woman in the same situation.
I had a really hard time looking into the deeper history of Sarah. I Think she was born Sarah Glasspool in 1861. This fits with the report that she as thirty-three at her death and that both her husband and William Rogers were seventeen years her senior.
William Rogers appears to have been born in Poole however I couldnt find details of his parents. He appears to have lived with another family until the age of twenty when he signed on to his first ship. When he was living in Southampton thirty years later the family he was lodging with also appear to have been from Poole.
The narrative above includes a narrative flourish which I have tried to extrapolate from the reports I read. Rogers guilt was established by lawful process however the narrative provided by the papers at the time were extremely biased against him. Reading between the lines there were two victims that night, Sarah who reads very much like a victim in life and death. A mother of one, married the year her son was born and thus I suspect tied into a marriage she never would have chosen. She appears to have found love outside of her marriage but the financial, familial and societal bonds to her husband were too much for her to break, she tried and failed.
William “Bill” Rogers reads as a lonely man, having spent a life at sea. His record indicates he was a grafter, with little else to do between duties he took to drink and the occasional fight. He found a beautiful young woman who found him interesting and realised that there was something very important missing from his life. Something he hadn’t previously noticed. She was as miserable as him with her lot but together they found some peace. He tried to understand the decisions Sarah had to make but they were complicated decisions and he was not a complicated man.