Friday, 1 October 2010

Hackney Wick Station - Site of First UK Train Murder 1864

Hackney Wick station is near the scene of the first railway murder. The victim, Thomas Briggs of 5 Clapton Square, was returning from dining with his niece in Peckham in July 1864 and had the misfortune to meet his murderer on the train. Two clerks discovered a compartment sticky with blood at Hackney, but Franz Muller had slipped away unnoticed to return to his lodgings at 16 Park Terrace. The victim was discovered on the line between Bow and Hackney Wick and was brought initially into the Mitford Castle public house (now the Top o'the Morning) in Cadogan Terrace and subsequently taken home where he died. A hat belonging to Muller was discovered in the compartment. In the next few days, a Cheapside jeweller came forward with Briggs's missing watch and chain, and a description of Muller. The theft was to pay for Muller's emigration to America, and he departed soon after on the Victoria, but the police went to New York by a faster boat and were awaiting his arrival in New York. He was returned to England and hanged at Newgate Prison...


A murder was committed last Saturday in a carriage on the North London Railway. Mr. Thomas Briggs, chief clerk in the bank of Messrs. Robarts, Curtis, and Co., Lombard-street, left the Fenchurch-street station, by the 9.45 p.m. for Hackney, where he resided.

On the arrival of the train at Hackney, the compartment in which he had travelled - the centre one of a first-class carriage - was found to be covered with blood, which in some places lay in pools. There were in it a walking-stick and a leather bag, both belonging to Mr. Briggs; and a hat, bearing the maker's name, which the murderer or one of the murderers had left behind. Shortly afterwards the insensible and almost lifeless body of Mr. Briggs was found lying between the lines by the driver and the stoker of an engine which was returning from the Hackney-wick station to Bow, and it was removed to an adjacent tavern. The head seemed to have been battered in by some sharp instrument; the clothes were covered in blood; and the broken link or hook of a watch-chain hung to a buttonhole of the waistcoat, the rest of the chain and the watch being missing. 

The wounded gentleman was quite insensible. On the left side of the head, just over the ear, which was torn away, was found a deep wound; the skull was fractured and the bone driven in. On the base of the skull there were four or five lacerated wounds; there were more wounds on other parts of the head. Stimulants were applied with a view of restoring consciousness but to no purpose, and Mr. Briggs, having been removed to his home, died on Sunday night. The money which Mr. Briggs had in his pocket had not been taken, but his watch was missing. It appears that the crime was committed between Bow and Hackney-wick. The distance between these places is traversed in about five minutes, so that in that brief space the deceased was attacked, robbed, and thrown out of the carriage. The next compartment was occupied by some ladies, but they did not hear any cries, although on the arrival of the train at Hackney they called the notice of the guard to the circumstance that some blood had been spurted through the carriage window on to their dresses as the train came from Bow. 

 The chain belonging to Mr. Briggs was on Monday exchanged at a silversmith's in the City for another, by a man who is thus described:- "Age thirty; height, 5 ft. 6 or 7 in.; complexion sallow; thin features; a foreigner - supposed German; speaks good English; dress, black frock coat and vest, dark trousers, and black hat." This person took in exchange for Mr. Briggs' chain, a square oval secret-link gold Albert chain, with knot-pattern twisted key, swivel seal, and a plain gold finger-ring, white cornelian stone, oblong shape, engraved head. A reward of £300 has been offered for the apprehension of the murderer or murderers. 23 July 1864 The murder of Mr. Briggs in a carriage on the North London Railway, on Saturday week, was, there seems little doubt, committed by Franz Müller, a German tailor. The manner in which the crime was traced to him is curious. He was in the habit of calling at the house of a cabman named Matthews. Two days after the murder he visited this house, and produced a box containing a gold chain, which he said he had just purchased. He fastened the chain to his watch and gave the box to Matthew's little daughter. Matthews, happening some time afterwards to look at the box, saw inside it the name and address of Mr. Death, the jeweller, at whose shop he was aware Mr. Briggs's chain had been exchanged.

The box was taken to Mr. Death, who identified it, and, a photograph of Müller having been produced, he at once recognised the man's features. The cabman was shown the hat left in the railway-carriage, and he declared it to be the one which he had himself bought for Müller some months ago. Müller left the Thames for New York in a sailing-vessel on Thursday week. This fact was ascertained by means of a letter which he wrote from on board that ship and sent ashore by the pilot, who landed at Worthing. Last Wednesday Inspector Tanner, of the metropolitan force; Mr. Death, the jeweller; and the cabman, left Liverpool in the Inman steamer City of Manchester in pursuit of Müller. Mr. Tanner is armed with the necessary warrants for the apprehension of the culprit, and bears despatches from Mr. Adams, the American minister in London, so that any proceedings in America will be facilitated to the utmost. The City of Manchester will in all probablility arrive out sooner than the Victoria, and every precaution will be taken to secure Müller's arrest. If the New York Associated Press boat is seen off Cape Race telegrams for the Canadian stations will be at once forwarded, and then chances in favour of Müller escaping will be few indeed...


  1. Thomas Briggs was my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather. Do you have any photos or know the whereabouts of any photos of him? Every now and then I do more research into his life and death but I can't find any photos of him, only his murderer.

  2. Hi Christine

    Wow! Small world... I havent seen any images though we shall keep an eye open for some and contact you...At least they caught the chap...

  3. Christine we have no way of contacting you...Have you seen the plaque for Thomas?

  4. I am researching this murder story for an MA project. Any documents, photos etc. would be much appreciated.

  5. sent your email address to his Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter... You cant do an MA without speaking to her... Good luck

  6. Hello. I've just found your blob trying to find out anything about my Great Great Grandfather - a hairdresser living at 16 Hertford Place, Haggerston in 1864 - Samuel Rondeau. Does anyone know how I could find out anything about his life in Hackney?



  7. Try the 'Hackney Archives' maintained by Hackney Council...