Notes on Hallie Rubenhold's "The Five" (2019) - Part 4. Catherine Eddowes


Chapter 14. The Ballad of Kate and Tom

Page 255: Still, this did not discourage Kate's attachment: she was, according to an account of events in the Black Country Bugle, completely 'infatuated with the handsome, poetical Irishman'. Aunt Elizabeth eventually gave her an ultimatum: either she finished the affair with the penny-ballad salesman, or she left the house.

The Black Country Bugle article was published in 1995 and cited no sources. On page 265, the author acknowledges that its veracity "has always been questionable". The information for which it is cited here has never been confirmed from any earlier sources. For comments on the reliability of the article, see under page 265 below.

Pages 261-262: In the early hours of the morning of 9 January 1866, spectators bundled in scarves and shawls began to gather in the yard at Stafford Gaol. There had not been a hanging for a 'crimson crime' for some time, and so they had risen especially early and come from the surrounding towns and villages to watch this murderer, Charles Christopher Robinson, twitch and wiggle like a fish on a line. ... Among those elbowing and jostling for a good view of the drop, Kate and Thomas Conway had set out their pitch. ... this hanging would have been of particular importance to the couple, as Charles Christopher Robinson was Kate's distant cousin.

The only source for the presence of Catherine Eddowes and Thomas Conway at the execution is the article published in the Black Country Bugle in 1995. For comments on the reliability of the article, see under page 265 below.

Pages 262-263: Wolverhampton Archives possesses a copy of one of the only publications believed to be linked to the pens of Thomas Conway and Kate Eddowes: A Copy of Verses on the Awful Execution of Charles Christopher Robinson, For the Murder of his Sweetheart, Harriet Segar, of Ablow Street, Wolverhampton, August 26th, written to be sold at the hanging in 1866.17
Note 17 (on page 371): Jarett Kobek, the author of 'May My End a Warning Be: Catherine Eddowes and Gallows Literature in the Black Country' ( builds a case for attributing the ballad to Kate Eddowes and Thomas Conway.

Jarett Kobek, who first identified the verses, does not suggest that Catherine had any hand in writing them. He suggests that the odds of their being connected to Conway are "50/50". For comments on the reliability of the Black Country Bugle article on which this possibility depends, see under page 265 below.

Page 265: If the Black Country Bugle is to be believed, Kate and Tom's ballad turned an exceptional profit that day. The couple fared so well that they were able to 'return from Stafford in style, booking inside seats on Ward's coach with the proceeds'. The takings allowed Conway to invest in a donkey and cart and order another four hundred copies from his printer in Bilston, which they then sold 'at their regular pitch on the following Monday'. Conway is even said to have rewarded Kate 'with the price of a flowered-hat'. 'Such was their lifestyle', continues the piece, 'that they lived for a spell in lodgings at Moxley', a village outside Wednesbury. This stroke of good fortune was what Conway had been hunting for over the years. Rather than resting on his laurels, it is suggested that he set his sights on a permanent move to London, 'where his rhyming talents ... would be even more fully appreciated'.18 The veracity of the Black Country Bugle's account of the couple's lives has always been questionable, but Conway's pension records do support the suggestion that the pair began to spend more time in London from this period.
Note 18 (on page 371): Black Country Bugle, January 1995.

The sole source for the claims that Catherine Eddowes and Thomas Conway wrote and sold ballads and that they attended the execution of Robinson is an article entitled "'Kidney' Kate Eddowes - Jack the Ripper victim who once sold penny ballads at Bilston market", which was published by the Black Country Bugle in January 1995. A transcript of the article can be read at Casebook. The article appeared under the name Aristotle Tump, the pseudonym of the late Harry Taylor, the founding editor of the Bugle [see this article by his son from October 2019]. Taylor's writing often concerned stories about historical crimes in the West Midlands. One of his other pieces involved a verse inspired by a local story about a suspicious death, entitled "The Terrible Doom of Jack the Ripper", which was supposed to have been written by a well known local composer of ballads, and to have been extremely popular in the area up to the turn of the century. In that case it appears that Taylor invented both the story and the ballad writer, and also composed the ballad himself [see discussion at Jack the Ripper Forums].

As the author acknowledges, the veracity of this article is questionable. No sources are cited, and repeated inquiries about it by Jarett Kobek to the editorial staff of the Bugle went unanswered [see his dissertation at Casebook]. Kobek also notes that the "extreme specificity" of the account of Conway's activities after the execution raises suspicions. In fact one part of the narrative can be definitely disproved. The article states that after the execution Conway ordered another 400 copies of the ballad "from Sam Sellman, the Church Street printer." Although (as Kobek notes) there had been a printer of that name in Church Street in 1851, it is now known that he gave up his business in 1857 and was living in Penn as timber merchant by 1861 [see posts by Gary Barnett at Jack the Ripper Forums]. This demonstrates that at least part of the article is fictional, albeit based on historical research. Therefore it is not safe to accept any of the article's other claims without corroboration from other sources.

The only part of the story that has been confirmed from contemporary sources is that Conway sold what were described variously as "cheap books of lives written by the old pensioner" [Evening Express and Star, 4 October 1888], "small biographical pamphlets, written by Conway" [Nottingham Evening Post, 5 October 1888] or "pamphlets relating to this own history" [Evening Telegraph, 5 October, 1888] [see Jarett Kobek's dissertation and posts by Debra Arif and Gary Barnett at Jack the Ripper Forums].