[Henry Mayhew] 'Labour and the Poor', Morning Chronicle, 2 September 1850
Thursday, 7 January 2016
While upon the subject of the amusements of the people of Liverpool, I cannot omit a description of a penny wax-work exhibition which I visited. The middle and upper classes of London have their shilling wax-work, where portraits of notorious criminals and murderers form the great attraction to the crowd of the well-dressed vulgar. The ill-dressed vulgar have their penny exhibition of a similar kind, and it is not at all surprising, considering the example set them, that they should encourage speculators of a still lower class than the renowned entrepreneurs in London, in providing them with waxen portraits of scoundrels and murderers. I never visited the fashionable "Chamber of Horrors" in London, and consequently cannot compare it with the penny wax-work of Liverpool, or state which is the worse and more demoralizing of the two; but as they appeal by similar agencies to the same classes of minds, I should imagine that there cannot be any very great difference in the results produced. Over the door of a wretched-looking house, in a dirty and narrow street leading from Whitechapel, was exhibited, on the day of my visit, a large and wretchedly executed painting of John Gleeson Wilson, leaving the house of Captain Henrichson, in Liverpool, after murdering Mrs. Henrichson, her servant, and her two children. It was set forth in a placard underneath, that the figure of this murderer had been recently added to the others in this "celebrated collection," and that the ad- mission was only one penny. An Italian organ boy, hired for the purpose, and sole musician at this establishment, was stationed inside of the doorway, and was turning the handle of his organ very slowly, grinding most fitful music. I noticed that he was asleep over his work. His hand moved without being directed by his will. The money-taker, seeing me smile, looked at the boy, and discovering his condition, gave him a sudden and rather rough shaking, and swore if he caught him in that state again, "the idle, young wagaboue," he would "sarve him out for it." I was ushered upstairs to a small rooms by a man who acted as guide to the exhibition, and who gave the following account of the various articles and portraits in the rooms which I reproduce in his own words. There were about twenty other visitors at the same time, including some women of the labouring classes, and four boys, or lads, of fifteen or sixteen years of age. The remainder were mechanics, or labouring. people, with the exception of one well dressed man, a foreigner, and apparently either the captain: or the mate of a ship. "These here chains," said the guide, " as you see against the wall, are the hidentical chains worn by John Gleeson Wilson. who committed the brutal and hawfal murder of Mrs. Henrichson, her servant, and her two hinnocent children, and for which he was hung, as he properly desarved to be, and sarved him right, as every hindividual in this Christian country will acknowledge. This is the correct likeness of Mr. and Mrs. Manning, who was hexecuted for the murder of Mr. Patrick O'Connor. You will please to take notice of the beautiful long hair of Mrs. Manning, which everybody as knowed her did greatly admire. This is the true likeness of Reid, the Mirfield murderer. Everybody as sees it confesses it to be a fust- rate portrait. This," he said, pointing to the best executed figure in the room, "is a unfortunate sailor who went on shore front a ship in Greenland, and was left behind by the captain. He was found frozen to death nine years afterwards, sitting hex-actly in the hattitude as he now appears in, with his back covered with snow, and his hands upon his. knees, as if the hunfortunate hindividnal was taking a nap. These two are the likenesses of Bishop and Williams, the Burkers, whose hawful and hodious performances are known to everybody as reads the newspapers. This is Guy Faux, as attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and who was discovered in the coal cellar by the Dook of Wellington and other noblemen and gentlemen, and afterwards hanged at Newgate. This. is the unfortunate Jane Shore, walking about the streets of London, with a white sheet, and a candle in her hand, because she was no better than she should be; and this is a unhappy baker, who was hanged and beheaded for giving her a halfpenny roll, when she was dying of hunger in a ditch in Cheapside. This is John Gleeson Wilson, the most celebrated and notorious murderer as ever lived, who murdered four hinnocent people in the town of. Liverpool, and was justly hung for the same. And this last is a correct portrait of John Gleeson Wilson's father." This last figure was in reality a full-length figure of Punch—the hook nose and then hump on the back being very marked and distinct. It had probably done duty as a sign. for a coffee-shop or eating-house. This concluded the exhibition in the first room, and we were then ushered into a second,, where the only figures were two groups, wretchedly executed in wax. The one represented a drunken family, and the other a sober family. In the first the husband was beating his wife about the head with an empty bottle, the idea being taken. from George Cruikshank's well-known design. In the second, the husband with his wife and children were represented in a comfortable room enjoying their dinner. The faces of the children in both groups were black. Underneath was written " Look upon this picture, and on that," "You have now seen the whole of our hexhibition," said our guide ; "but if any lady or gentleman wishes to see the Chamber of Horrors, which belongs to another proper-ietor, and not to the proper-ietor of these rooms, the charge is twopence hextra." I expressed my willingness to pay the twopence, and five or six more did the same. We stopped opposite a door where the words "Chamber of Horrors" were painted, our guide assuring us that it was altogether a distinct exhibition belonging to a different party, but which they had takers temporary charge of in the unavoidable absence of the real "proper-ietor." We were then ushered up another flight of stairs into a small room, across which a rope was drawn breast high, upon the outer side of which we took our places. The inner part was covered with an old and dirty carpet. A pair of moleskin trowsers hung against the wall, and a child's cot, a small wooden horse, a fender, with fire-irons, and a wash-hand stand and basin completed the list of articles in this room. "YOU will please look at those trowsers on the wall," said the guide. "They are the hidentical trowsers that John Gleesen Wilson had on when he murdered Mrs. Henrichson, her children and her servant.You may see the spots of blood on them at this moment. They have the mark of Mr. Dowling, the commissioner of police, upon them, to prove that.they are the hidentical trowsers of the hassassin, as anybody that doubts my word may find out to be correct by axin' of that gentleman. That fender is the werry fender which the unfortunate servant was cleaning, when John Gleeson Wilson came behind her and murdered her. You may also see the spots of blood upon it. That is the hidentical cot of one of the hinuocent little children, the werry cot it slept in before it was murdered. That ere horse is a toy as was bought for the other child by its unfortunate mother. You see the paper pinned on the carpet; pay particular attention to the blood all around it. On that werry spot Mrs. Henrichson was murdered by the bloody-minded villain; and at that werry wash hand-stand, which you see standing under the window, and in that werry basin he washed his hands after committing his four murders. All these harticles cost the proper-ietor a great deal of money, and they are here exhibited at a werry low charge, for which hope every lady and gentleman is satisfied." Such, without exaggeration, was the wax-work exhibition provided for the people in Liverpool. The guide discovered me making, on the back of a letter, a memorandum of what, I saw, and exclaimed somewhat angrily, " What, you're a takin' on it down, are you? I s'pose you're a lobster or a informer; but this is a legal hexhibition, this is, and you can't stop it anyhow." I explained that I had nothing to do with the law or the police, and made my exit as expeditiously as I could, not without observing, however, that the organ boy was still in the doorway, grinding at his organ, and nodding over it in his sleep.