London in the 1860’s and the Curious Case of Slippery Jack

As Sunny explained in her blog yesterday, we have been doing a lot of research as of late in preparation for our Canada 150 Walking tour. Although at first we mostly concentrated on the individuals, I decided yesterday to concentrate more on general London history, what was happening in the city during the 1860 era?

  • 1860: Royal Visit: HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. It was a very brief visit, but the people of London were overjoyed to see a member of the royal family.
  • 1861: Beginning of the American Civil War. There was a period of immense prosperity for Canadians. Prosperity came in the demand for Canadian products such as beef. This was also a time of immense fear for Londoners. An event called the Trent Affair came about, in which tensions between the USA and Britain were extremely high. Many were worried those tensions may become violent and spill into London, Upper Canada.
  • All throughout the decade, ‘Oil Fever’ was hitting Canadians. Many Londoners were making a lot of money through the trade.
  • 1865: There was an epidemic of burglaries – no one could cope. A civilians’ vigilance committee was formed to defend the city against itself.
  • 1866: Fenian Raids – there were threats of an invasion of the area now known as Southwestern Ontario. These raiders hit British forts in the United States in Canada in an attempt to force the British out of Ireland.
  • 1867: Mayor of London is Frank Smith and, of course, CONFEDERATION!

Also, since I know military and political history isn’t for everyone, I also found a very curious and fascinating criminal case from the year of Confederation.

Picture it, it’s 1867 and you’ve been sleeping for awhile when a light tickling sensation on your feet startles you awake. You see a strange man at the foot of your bed, and he just runs away! You run around the house and then notice that all of your furniture is upside down! Terrifying I am sure, but slightly confusing as well.

From 1867 to September of 1868, there was a string of break and enters in the city. A man that went by “Slippery Jack” was breaking into peoples home and piling the furniture of the house in the middle of a room, or turn it all upside down. The criminal made a lot of noise while breaking in on purpose. Eventually ‘Jack’ escalated to waking up the homeowners by shaking them or shouting in their ears. Eventually, they would tickle the homeowner’s feet, but they found it more fun to wake the young women with this method. The entire event made the London Police into somewhat of a laughing stock.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 3.09.54 PM

Image from the book; “This was London” by Orlo Miller page 125.

He remained on the loose and was never caught, but in September 1868, after lying dormant for a while, ‘Jack’ sent a letter to the London Advertiser. The letter explained that he had made a bet with his friends that he could enter into homes without getting caught once a week for a year. Since he had won a considerable amount of money, he offered to pay for any damaged caused by his shenanigans. It was latter discovered that ‘Slippery Jack’ was a member of the Hellfriar’s club and a member of the Imperial Garrison. He was assisted by a London Cabinet Maker, however, did most of the work himself.

While terrifying for the citizens of London at the time, it is a story that is slightly amusing to read 150 years after the fact. It is nice to know that practical jokers still existed 150 years ago.

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