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The bru­tal mur­der of a young girl in 1876 shocked the north­ern town of Black­burn, and its baf­fled po­lice force seemed pow­er­less to ap­pre­hend the killer. En­ter an un­likely saviour in the form of Morgan the blood­hound... JAN BONDESON re­counts an ex­ploit of ca­nine crime-fight­ing and “won­der­ful sagac­ity”.

The bru­tal mur­der of a young girl in 1876 shocked and scan­dalised the north­ern town of Black­burn, and its baf­fled po­lice force seemed pow­er­less to ap­pre­hend the killer. En­ter an un­likely saviour in the form of Morgan the blood­hound... JAN BONDESON re­counts an ex­cit­ing ex­ploit of ca­nine crime-fight­ing and “won­der­ful sagac­ity”.

On 28 March 1876, the seven-year-old Emily Agnes Hol­land told her friends at St Al­ban’s School in Black­burn, Lancashire, that she had just met a nice man, for whom she would run some er­rands. She came home from school and went out to play, but then was nowhere to be found. Af­ter her fa­ther, the me­chanic James Hol­land, of 110 Moss Street, had gone to the po­lice, the rel­e­vant parts of Black­burn were thor­oughly searched, but with­out any­thing com­ing to light. On 30 March, Mrs Alice White, of 73 Bast­well Ter­race, was alerted by a neigh­bour’s child, who had found a strange par­cel in a field, wrapped in news­pa­per. A dog was sniff­ing around nearby, as if in­ter­ested in its con­tents. Mrs White was hor­ri­fied when she opened the par­cel and found the trunk of a small girl, the head, arms and legs hav­ing all been sev­ered by the mur­derer.

An ex­ten­sive search was made, in the hope of find­ing the re­main­ing body parts, but with­out any suc­cess. How­ever, a wit­ness named Richard Fair­clough had seen a man be­hav­ing sus­pi­ciously in a lane at Lower Cun­liffe. He later found a par­cel con­tain­ing two sev­ered legs, per­fectly match­ing the trunk dis­cov­ered ear­lier. Dr Wil­liam Mait­land, the lo­cal po­lice sur­geon, ex­am­ined the body parts. He found ev­i­dence that the lit­tle girl had been vi­o­lated be­fore she was mur­dered. A strong, sharp knife had been used for the mu­ti­la­tion. The trunk and the legs had been wrapped in old copies of the Pre­ston Her­ald, and it in­ter­ested Dr Mait­land that the news­pa­pers were cov­ered with hair. He was cu­ri­ous to find that it was most likely hu­man hair, of dif­fer­ent lengths, colours and tex­tures, all min­gled to­gether. Now who would have ac­cess to the hair of so

Who would have ac­cess to the hair of so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple?

many dif­fer­ent peo­ple? Was the mur­derer a barber?


The coro­ner’s in­quest was opened on 31 March at the Black­burn Town Hall. The mur­der and mu­ti­la­tion of a blame­less lit­tle girl had out­raged the peo­ple of Black­burn, and a large and ex­cited crowd gath­ered out­side. James and El­iz­a­beth Hol­land, the par­ents of Emily, iden­ti­fied the body as hers, from a mark on the back, although the head was still miss­ing. Alice White and Richard Fair­clough de­scribed how they had found the body parts. Mary Ellen Ec­cles, a lit­tle girl at­tend­ing the same school as Emily, had heard her say that she was go­ing for half an ounce of to­bacco for a man she had met in the street. This in­di­vid­ual had worn a bil­ly­cock hat, a mixed cloth coat, a yel­low waist­coat, dirty fus­tian trousers, and wooden clogs. Mr Potts, the Chief Con­sta­ble, said that in his opin­ion, the mur­derer was most prob­a­bly a tramp, but the coro­ner ob­jected that tramps do not of­ten carry news­pa­pers around with them. Three tramps had al­ready been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion, and later dis­charged. The in­quest was ad­journed for a week.

The po­lice had two wit­nesses who had seen the mur­derer: two lit­tle girls aged eight and nine, who vaguely de­scribed him as a scruffy-look­ing tramp. A man named Charles Tay­lor, a vagabond who had been beg­ging in the Moss Street area of Black­burn, roughly matched their de­scrip­tion, so he was ar­rested, and the po­lice could proudly an­nounce that they had a sus­pect in cus­tody. Due to the sus­pi­cions of Dr Mait­land, the po­lice also took an in­ter­est in the lo­cal bar­bers. It was noted that one of them, Wil­liam Fish, of 3 Moss Street, had a pile of old Pre­ston Her­alds in a cor­ner. Fish was a man of low re­pute, who had been in a work­house as an ado­les­cent and had two pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions for larceny; he was 25 years old and mar­ried with two chil­dren.

Some­one sug­gested that dogs should be em­ployed to search the barber’s shops

Although Fish was not charged with mur­der, the lo­cal res­i­dents had strong sus­pi­cions about him. His busi­ness boomed as a re­sult, since many peo­ple came to see him as a cu­rios­ity. As the singing barber war­bled “To­mor­row will be Fri­day, and we’ve caught no fish today…”, a cho­rus of gut­ter­snipes out­side sang back “Yah boo! Barber, barber, who killed the girl?” and “Emily, Emily, who mur­dered lit­tle Emily?” When a woman en­tered his shop, to stand star­ing at him, the star­tled barber asked what she had come for. “To see a mur­derer!” she re­sponded. In the end, Fish had to ask for po­lice pro­tec­tion against the an­gry lo­cals who kept ha­rass­ing him.

When the coro­ner’s in­quest was re­sumed on 7 April, the tramp Charles Tay­lor had just been dis­charged due to the lack of ev­i­dence against him. Sev­eral school­girls had seen the man who lured Emily away, but none of them could de­scribe him prop­erly. The to­bac­conist Fred­er­ick Cox tes­ti­fied that he had sold half an ounce of to­bacco to a lit­tle girl match­ing the de­scrip­tion of Emily Hol­land on the day she dis­ap­peared. The in­quest was once more ad­journed. The po­lice kept look­ing for tramps, and more lo­cal vagabonds were ar­rested, although noth­ing could be found to in­crim­i­nate them. Af­ter sev­eral weeks had passed, the news­pa­pers be­gan to ex­press crit­i­cal sen­ti­ments: were the po­lice en­tirely baf­fled, and would the mur­derer es­cape scot-free? But the Black­burn po­lice found an un­ex­pected ally: a man named Peter Tay­lor, of 72 Nel­son Street, Pre­ston, who was the han­dler of two dogs: the half-bred blood­hound Morgan, and also a clum­ber spaniel. Th­ese two an­i­mals were em­ployed to search the area where the trunk and legs had been found, in the hope of find­ing the arms and head, but with­out the de­sired re­sult.


Some bright in­di­vid­ual sug­gested that the dogs should also be em­ployed to search the two barber’s shops in Moss Street. In the first shop, noth­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing was found, so the an­i­mals were taken to Fish’s shop at No 3. Morgan led the way into the back of the shop, where he stood scent­ing by the door to the stairs. When the door was opened, both dogs gal­loped up­stairs. Morgan first sniffed at some clothes in the back room, but then ran into the front room with a howl, sniff­ing at the fire­place and thrust­ing his head up it. “There is some­thing here!” cried Mr Tay­lor, and af­ter the dog had been pulled away, Emily Hol­land’s burnt skull and arms were found thrust up the chim­ney, wrapped in her re­main­ing clothes. This was the ear­li­est in­stance in Britain where a dog had been in­stru­men­tal in solv­ing a mur­der.

Fish ini­tially de­nied all in­volve­ment in the mur­der, but he even­tu­ally made a full con­fes­sion. Af­ter ab­duct­ing and rap­ing Emily Hol­land in the room above the barber’s shop, he had cut her throat with a ra­zor, and dis­mem­bered the body. He had burnt the head and arms in the down­stairs fire­place and tried to dis­pose of them up the chim­ney in the up­stairs room, but only to be thwarted by Morgan’s sagac­ity. Wit­nesses among the lo­cals had seen a par­tic­u­larly large fire in the empty barber’s shop, as the mur­derer tried to de­stroy the re­mains of poor lit­tle Emily; it was also re­marked, with hor­ror and dis­ap­proval, that the Black­burn mis­cre­ant had later shaved sev­eral peo­ple with the very same ra­zor he had used to cut Emily’s throat. No mo­tive for the mur­der ever emerged, apart from per­verted lust; Fish de­nied pre­med­i­ta­tion, but here he was prob­a­bly un­truth­ful, since a cer­tain de­gree of plan­ning had def­i­nitely gone into the plans for the dis­posal of the body.

As Fish was lan­guish­ing in prison, ru­mours were buzzing about his parent­age, since the good burghers of Black­burn thought that such a das­tardly mur­derer and child-rav­isher must surely be of for­eign birth. Some

thought his real name was Fi­esch or Fi­eschi and spec­u­lated that he might be re­lated to Giuseppe Marco Fi­eschi, who had tried to as­sas­si­nate King Louis Philippe of France. The chap­book Be­trayed by Blood­hounds con­tained an even spicier ver­sion of the an­tecedents of “the mon­ster known as Wil­liam Fish, the fiendish vi­o­la­tor and di­a­bol­i­cal mur­derer of the poor child, Emily Hol­land”. It was con­fi­dently stated that his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was one Ja­copo Fi­esch, a Cor­si­can who was ex­iled af­ter tak­ing part in a Bon­a­partist plot and went to live in Lon­don. His widow re­mar­ried a wicked Jew named Mata­moros, and they took care of the lit­tle daugh­ter Mar­guerite Fi­esch, alias Mar­garet Fish. Mata­moros forced Mar­garet to marry the Ital­ian anar­chist Felice Orsini, who was later guil­lotined for at­tempt­ing to blow up Napoleon III and his Em­press in their car­riage. Wil­liam Fish, their only son, born at Der­wen in 1850, had been forced to en­ter the work­house af­ter his mother had died from a bro­ken heart.

Una­mused by th­ese fan­tasies gain­ing cre­dence among the lo­cals, Mrs El­iz­a­beth Fish spoke out to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the

Black­burn Times: her hus­band was as English as they came, and the son of the block printer Wil­liam Fish, born at Brin­scall near Chor­ley and dead for 10 years. The mur­derer Wil­liam Fish Jr was born at Der­wen on 1 April 1851 and chris­tened by the old vicar Robert Cross, known as the ‘Der­wen Bishop’. Far from be­ing an only child, he had two broth­ers and two sis­ters liv­ing, and his fa­ther’s twin brother was also still alive, at the age of 75.

Wil­liam Fish, the De­mon Barber of Black­burn, was charged with mur­der and com­mit­ted to stand trial at the Lancaster As­sizes; he was found guilty and was hanged at Kirk­dale Prison, Liver­pool, on 14 Au­gust 1876. There was as lit­tle pity or sym­pa­thy for a crea­ture of his de­scrip­tion back in 1876 as there would have been today, and there was ju­bi­la­tion in Black­burn as the de­tested child mur­derer was launched into eter­nity. Fish’s fi­nal words was a pub­lic-spir­ited ap­peal to other would-be killers: “I wish to tell you, while you have a chance, to lead a new life. You can see my bad end through break­ing off Sun­day-school, and through bad com­pan­ions. Those were happy days when I at­tended Sun­day-school. Af­ter I ne­glected it I went from bad to worse, and so I have been brought to this sad end. If I had my time over again I would lead a dif­fer­ent life. It is not too late for you to mend. Avoid those bad cheap jour­nals on which I wasted so much spare time. May we meet in heaven, through God’s mercy!”


As for the half-blood­hound Morgan, he was the hero of the hour. Af­ter the po­lice had been en­tirely baf­fled, this paragon of ca­nine virtue had brought the mur­derer to jus­tice and vin­di­cated the blame­less mem­ory of lit­tle Emily Hol­land. Although the dog had been han­dled by Mr Tay­lor dur­ing its crime-fight­ing ex­ploits and lived with an innkeeper named Thomas Bai­ley, its right­ful owner was Mr James Parkin­son, a lamp and oil mer­chant in Church Street, Pre­ston. And in­deed, in a swift dawn raid, Mr Parkin­son came to call at Bai­ley’s beer­house with a troop of as­sis­tants and se­cured the own­er­ship of Morgan. He ex­plained to jour­nal­ists that the dog was his: this saga­cious an­i­mal had been brought up with the great­est of care, and when Parkin­son got dressed, he could em­ploy Morgan as his but­ler, since the dog could fetch his clothes and boots from the wardrobe. Morgan had al­ways been a highly-strung dog, and in his younger years, he had been dis­posed to at­tack and bite tramps and other scruffily dressed peo­ple. Af­ter Morgan had bit­ten a cer­tain Mr Lamb, Parkin­son gave the dog to a man named Spencer, a res­i­dent of Bolton, for the an­i­mal to be re-ed­u­cated to abol­ish his vi­cious ten­den­cies. But Spencer had il­lic­itly sold the dog to a drug­gist named Smith for 10 shillings, and Morgan had been handed over to a farmer, and then to Bai­ley, who had been tak­ing care of the dog for seven months.

Mr Parkin­son was of­fered £200 for Morgan, but he turned this offer down, in­stead tak­ing £6 an evening from a Black­burn the­atre, where the dog was ex­hib­ited be­fore the cu­ri­ous. Morgan was pet­ted by the peo­ple of Black­burn and Pre­ston, and many sto­ries were told about his won­der­ful clev­er­ness. Mr Parkin­son could em­ploy his dog to fetch var­i­ous ob­jects from his ware­house to his house, he boasted, and if he had dropped a glove in the mar­ket-place, he could send Morgan to re­trieve it. A let­ter to the Dundee Courier praised the pub­lic-spir­ited Mr Parkin­son and his won­drous hound: “I also hope that some pho­tog­ra­pher will give us a pic­ture

por­trait of Morgan and that he (Morgan) will get a sil­ver col­lar with an in­scrip­tion thereon giv­ing day and date when he, with un­wonted dis­play of sagac­ity, handed over that blood­thirsty Fish to jus­tice.” When Mr Bai­ley be­came aware of Morgan’s ex­ten­sive fame, and the dog’s value to the show­men, he took Mr Parkin­son to court at the Manch­ester As­sizes, but Parkin­son emerged as the undis­puted owner of the fa­mous dog.

Af­ter ex­hibit­ing Morgan for sev­eral months, and milk­ing the valu­able an­i­mal for all he was worth, Mr Parkin­son gave the dog into the care of Mr Spencer, who ap­pears to have been an ex­pert doghan­dler. In 1881, when the em­balmed body of the Earl of Craw­ford and Bal­car­res was stolen from the fam­ily mau­soleum in Dunecht near Aberdeen, Mr Spencer and Morgan were called in to help search for it. Mr Spencer told a news­pa­per reporter that, apart from his hero­ism in Black­burn, Morgan had once tracked a pair of poach­ers for a dis­tance of 17 miles, be­ing in­stru­men­tal in cap­tur­ing them. He was op­ti­mistic with re­gard to find­ing the Earl’s kid­napped body: if it was not too deeply buried, the hound would find it. The Earl’s body was re­cov­ered by more con­ven­tional means, how­ever, and a lo­cal poacher was im­pris­oned for steal­ing it.

In June 1884, the body of eight-yearold Mary Cooper was found in shrub­bery in Al­bert Park, Mid­dles­brough. She had been sex­u­ally as­saulted, and her throat had been cut. In­spec­tor Swan­son, of Scot­land Yard, who was put in charge of the case, sug­gested that the cel­e­brated Morgan should once more be called in as an auxiliary crime-fighter. This time, Mr Parkin­son’s son-in-law han­dled the dog, which was trans­ported from Pre­ston to Mid­dles­brough on the rail­way. When led to the shrub­bery where the body had been found, Morgan gave a howl, be­fore sniff­ing around with in­ter­est, and seem­ingly fol­low­ing sev­eral tracks. Noth­ing valu­able came of this ex­per­i­ment, how­ever, and the mur­derer of Mary Cooper was never found.

In 1888, when the news­pa­pers dis­cussed the em­ploy­ment of blood­hounds in the hunt for the elu­sive Jack the Rip­per, Morgan’s great feat of 1876 was men­tioned more than once as a ster­ling ex­am­ple of ca­nine sagac­ity, but by this time, the cel­e­brated Pre­ston half-blood­hound had him­self long since ex­pired.

This ar­ti­cle is ex­tracted from Jan Bondeson’s book Vic­to­rian Mur­ders (Am­ber­ley Pub­lish­ing, 2017).

JAN BONDESON is a se­nior lec­turer at Cardiff Univer­sity, a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to FT and the au­thor of nu­mer­ous books, in­clud­ing Mur­der Houses of Lon­don (2014) and Strange Vic­to­ri­ana (2016). His lat­est book, Vic­to­rian Mur­ders, is cur­rently avail­able from Am­ber­ley Pub­lish­ing.

LEFT: The mur­der of Emily Hol­land, from the Il­lus­trated Po­lice News, 15 April 1876. FAC­ING PAGE: The cover of a rare con­tem­po­rary pam­phlet on the Fish case (re­pro­duced by kind per­mis­sion of Mr Ste­wart P Evans).

LEFT: Morgan and the Clum­ber spaniel rush up­stairs.

ABOVE: Morgan sniffs at the fire­place.

BE­LOW: A por­trait of the barber Wil­liam Fish. All pic­tures are taken from Fa­mous Crimes Past & Present.

ABOVE: A por­trait of Wil­liam Fish, and other scenes from the Black­burn mur­der case, from the Il­lus­trated Po­lice News, 6 May 1876.

ABOVE: Front and back of a con­tem­po­rary cabi­net card celebrating Morgan’s great ex­ploit. Note that the dog is not look­ing very for­mi­da­ble for be­ing a blood­hound cross.

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