Victorian journalists often described people as ‘coloured’, providing clues for modern researchers. In the reports of violence involving sailors and accidents involving entertainers, trickery and fraud as detailed on pages 064 and 163, and murders (pages 088 and 091) there are occasional humane touches such as the Mayor of Swansea signing a petition to reprieve Thomas Allen in 1889 (page 088) and the treatment of Charles Arthur (page 091). What has been exposed in the 1880s newspapers is a range of occupations often outside stereotypes.
Henry Yeatman was a ‘coloured man’ employed by St Helens Corporation who brought the body of a drowned eleven-year-old from the canal. His job was not detailed (Liverpool Echo, 13 June 1882).
When the Manchester Evening News of 2 February 1882 reported gunshots being fired in a Bolton pub, one of the witnesses to this attempted murder was William Cisco. This must be Isaac William Cisco, a member of the American Wilmington Singers, who settled in Bolton and raised a family in the 1880s.
The Lancashire mill town of Accrington had a large house – Hyndbarn House. A ‘negro’ named Thos Davies called there, begging: and struck the dog and the housekeeper. He was sentenced to six months with hard labour, and his ‘pedlar’s certificate was cancelled’. (Bolton Evening News and Manchester Evening News, 28 April 1882.)
George Rose and William Wilson were ‘coloured men, described as acrobats and knockabout dancers’ working at the Grand Theatre, Liverpool and charged at the police court with the theft of £60. They were sent to prison for six months with hard labour (Manchester Courier, 14 October 1884).
The murder of Margaret Askin in Liverpool in 1885 was reported in several newspapers. George Thomas ‘coloured seaman’ from British Guiana had purchased a revolver and so the charge was premeditated murder. The ‘Toxteth Tragedy’ also reflected social life in that the pair had lived together before Thomas went back to sea. The 28 year-old Thomas met a dignified end on the scaffold (Burnley Express, 21 November 1885; Liverpool Echo, 16 November 1885; Liverpool Mercury, 9 December 1885).
The identity of the man clad in fishing gear, found in the North Sea in mid-1888, remains unknown and newspaper reports suggest he may have been lost from a Scarborough or a Grimsby vessel (Manchester Courier, 4 August 1888).