I’ve been too sick today to do any proper research, so thought I’d write about detectives who were forced to retire because of disease or infirmity. My illness will not, of course, lead to my retirement (one needs a job for that) but I thought it would be a fun subject for a blog post.
Although the word detective conjures up images of tracking down criminals, laying in wait to catch a thief, or (as did often happen) chasing suspects all over Britain, Europe and the world, we rarely stop to think about the long-term effects of such work on the men who did it.
Being a policeman in nineteenth-century London was tough. Hours were long, weather inclement and clothing often inadequate. One look at the old uniforms at the Metropolitan Police Museum makes those long damp English nights seem all the more chilly.
Detectives had to provide their own clothes and many could not have afforded an extensive wardrobe. Most policemen were worn down physically by years on the beat. Others suffered broken bones or head injuries from violent encounters. An unlucky few were killed in action.
Although the detectives of the Detective Department at Scotland Yard were free from regular beat duty, it seems that they retired for the same reasons as men in uniform. There were several different reasons given (“debility,” “bodily infirmity,” and “ill health”) but all boiled down to the same thing – they were worn out. Of the 23 detectives whose pensions are recorded in the archives, 14 list the reason and all 14 men suffered from physical deterioration.
Obviously, much about the physical stamina of the men depended on lifestyle, diet, constitution, and other hereditary factors. Most had spent years on the job, however, and it is difficult to overlook the physical tax such work had on their bodies. On average each had served between 20 and 30 years on the force, having spent a significant portion of that time in uniform before being promoted to the rank of detective.
Detective Inspector Henry Locker had lost both his sight and his memory by the time he received a pension in 1860.Superintendent John Haynes retired based on “Injury of the legs and Chronic Rheumatism” in 1856, aged 50. Chief Inspector George Clarke, was released for “age and long service,” (he was 59) in 1878.* Most of the other men were described as suffering from general “ill health.” These totals do not include the men who died while serving and were thus not entitled to pensions. Detective Inspector Davey, for example, died of typhoid while on inquiry in Naples in 1876.
Although policemen are not traditionally considered members of the labouring classes, the physical toll that police work took on many of them is difficult to ignore. Although there is no information on how long these men lived after retirement it is obvious that many would have not have enjoyed good health in their later years.
* Although this is the official statement, George Clarke was implicated in a serious scandal that brought down several senior detectives at Scotland Yard and caused the subsequent reorganization of the Detective Department into the CID. Clarke was the only senior detective found not guilty of perverting the course of justice at the Old Bailey in October 1877.
** This post is the result of independent academic work and is intended for future publication by the author. Please do not reproduce the content of this blog in print or any other media without permission of the author (reblogs excepted). Any questions or concerns can be directed to Rachael Griffin via the Feedback page.