Chasing Monsters: The First Official Detectives

Please welcome my guest Angela Buckley. Her fascination with Victorian crime began with her own family – while researching her family tree, she came across thieves, poachers, brawlers and even a brothel-keeper. Angela enjoys writing about the Victorian underworld and in this post, is on the right side of the law for a change.

On 6 April 1842 PC William Gardiner of the Metropolitan Police (Wandsworth Division) was following a routine inquiry about a robbery when he came across a gruesome scene, which would not only shock the nation but also lead to a fundamental change in British policing.

The constable had been walking his regular beat when he was called into a pawnbroker’s shop on Wandsworth High Street to investigate a theft – coachman Daniel Good had stolen a pair of black trousers. PC Gardiner went to the estate where Good was employed straightaway, arriving around 9.30 pm. The estate buildings were closed for the night, but after making inquiries at the main house, he entered the stable, where he found Good. The meticulous police officer decided to search the premises for further evidence of the robbery and, when he pulled back some hay, he discovered the dismembered body of a woman – Daniel Good had murdered his estranged common-law wife, Jane Jones.

H Division Whitechapel Detectives

H Division Whitechapel Detectives. Public domain.

Good fled the scene and a manhunt ensued, which involved police across London desperately searching for the ‘inhuman monster’. For several days, Good moved about the capital, with the police always one step behind. He managed to stay at large for ten days, despite several sightings, until he was finally captured in Kent, almost by accident, when a former officer working on the railway spotted him.

During the frantic hunt for Daniel Good, the press followed the ineffective and futile efforts of the Metropolitan police with close attention and the general public was scandalized by their apparent incompetence. Handbills and posters had been circulated, but the investigation was dogged by a lack of communication between the separate police divisions. Also, there were no official detectives at this time.

The Metropolitan Police had been created 13 years earlier, in 1829. By 1842, the force of 3,800 officers covered a 15-mile circuit of London, mostly dealing with petty crime and public disorder. Although there had been 22 homicides since the creation of the new police, including the high-profile murder of Lord William Russell in 1840, the police were ill equipped to respond effectively to such serious crimes. Pressure mounted and when, six days after the execution of Daniel Good, a man tried to shoot Queen Victoria, there were even more clamours in the press for a detective force.

On 15 August 1842, the Detective Branch of the Metropolitan Police was formed at Scotland Yard, comprising two inspectors and six sergeants, led by Inspector Nicholas Pearce, who had played a prominent role in the Daniel Good case. For the first time in British police history, the focus shifted from crime prevention to the detection of criminals.

Old Scotland Yard, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Old Scotland Yard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The first official British detectives were recruited exclusively from within the ranks of the Metropolitan police. They were mostly of working class backgrounds – originally labourers. Accustomed to manual work in their youth, the men were physically strong, which was a significant advantage on the dangerous streets of the Victorian underworld. The early detectives were determined men – they were ambitious and committed to self-improvement, often having taught themselves about the law. There was no formal training for detectives in the nineteenth century and so the earliest recruits had to learn on the job. With previous experience of working undercover in special circumstances, they relied on their instinct and common sense, developing skills in surveillance, deduction and rudimentary crime scene investigation. Later, rookie detectives shadowed their more experienced The first detectives worked at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in Scotland Yard and initially their duties were similar to those of their uniformed counterparts – they investigated thefts, fraud, forgery, prostitution and assaults.

They were not restricted to specific jurisdictions and could be called upon to follow inquires anywhere in the capital and throughout the country, reporting back daily to the police commissioners. They worked on average 10-11 hours a day and if they were on a major case, they were required to work until its conclusion. Their demanding workload was compensated by higher pay, with detective inspectors earning £200 a year – an increase of £84 from the standard salary.

Scotland Yard - Sketches by Boz, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Scotland Yard – Sketches by Boz. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, detective departments were established in other cities and towns throughout the UK. Often beginning with one or two talented individuals, they eventually created their own detective divisions, comprising several ranks and specialising in serious crime. There were no formal tests for transferring into the detective team, and selection was based on personal recommendation and a proven aptitude for detective work.

In the early 1900s, formal training and crime investigation techniques began to be introduced and detectives developed a more methodical and co-ordinated approach to solving complex cases and tracking down dangerous criminals, like Daniel Good.

If you would like to find out more about Angela’s work, you can visit her at:

If you are interested in learning more or purchasing Angela’s book, it is available at:

Here is a brief snippet about the book:

On 6 December 1886, Arthur Foster leaves the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester with a pocket full of gold and a lady bedecked with diamonds on his arm. He hails a hansom cab unaware that a detective has been trailing him as he crisscrossed the streets of the city. As the cab pulls away, the detective slips inside and arrests the infamous ‘Birmingham Forger.’ The detective is Jerome Caminada, legendary policeman and real-life Victorian super-sleuth. A master of disguise with a keen eye for detail and ingenious methods of detection, Caminada is at the top of his game, tracking notorious criminals through the seedy streets of Manchester’s underworld. Relentless in his pursuit, he stalks pickpockets and poisoners, unscrupulous con artists and cold blooded murderers. His groundbreaking detective work leads to the unravelling of classic crime cases such as the Hackney Carriage Murder in 1889, secret government missions and a deadly confrontation with his arch-rival, a ruthless and violent thief. Caminada’s compelling story bears all the hallmarks of Arthur Conan Doyle and establishes this indefatigable investigator as one of the most formidable detectives of the Victorian era and The Real Sherlock Holmes.

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