Homicide Fair


"The Fair is held immediately contiguous to the Castle, the prison in which the murderer RUSH, is confined. Drums, trumpets, and other instruments have been in full play all day, whilst the most boisterous sounds of revelry proceed from the degraded people who are its principal supporters."- Observer.

The Tradesman of the Observer - a Royal print, as declared by the owner, with lively sympathies (Price 6d. with a Supplement) in any case of horrid murder - the Sunday Tradesman is affectingly touched by revelries of Norwich Fair, a Fair "held immediately contiguous to the Castle, the prison in which the murderer RUSH is confined." As small members of the most enlightened Press of the world, we felt a pleasurable thrill communicated by the emotion of our high-minded and large-hearted contemporary. For he disdains to turn a penny upon homicide; he will not seek for sixpences in the murderer's cell; he will not grope for profit among the nasty doings of Potash. No; he washes his hands of all such abomination; and then, specially cleansed for the occasion, raises them towards heaven, with a delicate mixture of pity and disgust of "the degraded people," who beat drums and blow trumpets at Murder Fair.

The philanthropist of the Observer with all his sublimated goodness, is, nevertheless, a little weak; it may be, a little arrogant. We fear he shares somewhat of the pride too apt to swell the London tradesman, making the metropolitan merchant regard with contemptuous, exacting looks, the country dealer. Surely, this should not be. Because the Observer has a brick shop in the Strand, for the sale of the portrait of a murderer, with the very latest gossip of the condemned cell, - should the "itinerant showman," with his hired representative of RUSH, and drum and trumpet for prefatory flourish, - should he, the humble vendor of excitement, be sternly rebuked by the tradesman householder? "Drums, trumpets, and other instruments," says the Observer, with one tear rolling down his nose, "have been in full play all day, whilst the most boisterous sounds of revelry proceed from the degraded people who are its principal supporters." Very bad; and very saddening this, for Christian men; that atrocity should be turned into profit; that the curse of blood should be made to coin blood money. In such sense drums and trumpets are noisy abominations; rumbling blatant devils, proclaiming a filthy market. Now it is otherwise with the booth in the Strand. Observer beats no drum - bows no trumpet: no; with a truer sense of the dignity of his calling, he sends forth some half dozen vans to mingle, all day long, in the stream of daily pleasure and daily commerce, to tell the lounger and the man of business that the "Murderer RUSH" - "The Fullest Account" - "The Latest Particulars" - with "Portrait of the Assassin" - that all this, and very much more, will be given by Observer (price 6d.) on the Sunday!

Observer, lamenting the atrocities of Murder Fair, says "the exhibition was of the most disgraceful character." Moreover, "an application was made to the magistrates to put down the disgraceful exhibition, and, after some consideration, they declined to interfere." In the like manner that Sir PETER LAURIE would stop Observers' van, though, as in the case of Observer's humble rivals, the authorities have hitherto declined to interfere. "In the next show," says Observer, "is a pantomime, in which Mr. J. B. RUSH figures as Pantaloon." This is, certainly, an unwarrantable liberty even with such a devil as RUSH. Now Observer respects the courtesies of refined life and when he sells the portrait of a murderer, sells the homicide in plain clothes - even in the habit that he wore. "The exhibition," says Observer, ""is one of the most revolting character, but at the same time the most remunerative in the fair." Even as thrifty, but no less philosophic Observer, with hands in his breeches' pockets, standing at his booth in the Strand and gazing at the vans as one by one they departed on their advertising way - even as Observer, with his eye upon that monstrous type - "PORTRAIT OF RUSH" might, if he would, muse confidentially to himself, "This placard is of a most revolting character, but will be the most remunerative for this many a Sabbath."

Thus considered, Observer ought to be more charitable towards his fellow tradesmen, the mummers of the Fair. Granted, that "throughout the Fair the name of the unfortunate man is turned to all sorts of purposes, many of them no less revolting than those just described," - nevertheless Observer enjoys a wider latitude - has, by the power of the press, many more opportunities - (and moreover, has the commercial vigour to employ them) - than the miserable people who dine upon "RUSH as Pantaloon." Observer can turn not only RUSH himself to profit, but can trade upon the innocent creatures, whose undeserved curse it is to be related to him. "A rumour was circulated to-day says Observer, that RUSH's eldest daughter was dying of the shock." The rumour was false; but Observer has here the advantage of the Showman; for rumour, as well as truth, helps to fill a supplement. Indeed, nothing of RUSH, but what doth suffer profitable change in the till of Observer. "At times" - says the proprietor of the booth in the Strand - "at times he whistles!"

And in these days to think that letters should flourish in a murderer's dungeon! For Observer speaks of a bookseller who proposes to "offer RUSH that he will give £500 to each of his children, if he will write a history of his life, in order to its publication in the form of a volume." For the proper dignity of literature, it would of course be necessary to respite RUSH; unless the bookseller, complimenting the genius of the assassin, believes a fortnight time sufficient for the composition of a volume. Surely this is a shocking Curiosity of Literature, that a murderer on his road to the gallows should be waylaid by a publisher. What are the prison regulations at Norwich?

But in every way the reputation of RUSH is to be made a familiar household matter. MADAME TUSSAUD, as the allowed old clothes woman of the exalted and the infamous, has made - says Observer - an offer "for the purchase of RUSH's disguises on the night of the murder." Very right.

"There's a shillings in the web of 'em."

A profitable investment in the loathsome, for the laudable curiosity or an enlightened people! RUSH - having been duly canonised by Observer - has earned his rightful niche in the Chamber of Horrors. The Sunday print having traded upon the portrait of the incarnate devil, the murderer's clothes become a proper pennyworth for the Show woman. They, too, are tangible things, and will keep alive the memory of RUSH when, possibly, even the columns of Observer shall be forgotten, though still fraught and fragrant with the wisdom and religion developed by a contemplation of the Norfolk horror.

Observer having employed his own reporters - ("On Good Friday our reporters visited the scene of the late atrocious assassinations,") - having with the best industry of thrift, made the most of every circumstance, even of the times when RUSH "whistles," - Observer, having accepted the wood-cut of the murderer, as an excellent likeness, and a beautiful, suggestive piece of art, for Sabbath circles, - Observer, dismissing every thought of van and poster, sits down to moralise upon the profitable atrocity. "When better days shall dawn upon society, humanity will recoil with horror from the details of the act." We think so too. Better days will come. Days, when the Observer of the time will not be permitted to drive his van, and advertise his account of the murder, and the murderer's doings, with the murderer's portrait, for the Sunday contemplation of Christian families. In the "better day" the newspaper trader upon assassination, the artist to the condemned cell - will, if he exist at all, take rank with the poor creature who represents RUSH as Pantaloon: with the Showman, who, amid the din of drum and trumpet, calls upon a crowd of clowns - the prim Observer's "degraded people" -"to walk up and see the Murder!" In the present time, we see only this difference between "Itinerant Showman" and Observer; the one exhibits in a country booth; the other bills from a London house. In the booth, you have RUSH as Pantaloon; in the newspaper office, RUSH in plain clothes. The Pantaloon is a disgusting object; but the wood-cut is fine art for families.

And BROWN, JONES, and ROBINSON - excellent people! - would shudder at the thought of disbursing a penny to behold RUSH as Pantaloon; but they will give sixpence to possess him as Observer. And so it will be, until the press be all teachers, and none panders in the "better day", all innocently yearned for by Observer.

Ref: Anon.1849. Punch, or The London Charivari. v16. Saturday 28th April. p155