A Lady Detective: 1891

Cover of "Dorcas Dene, Detective, &c." 1897

Cover of “Dorcas Dene, Detective, &c.” 1897

A press representative gives an account of an interview with one of these ladies, as follows:

You would never have dreamt from her appearance that she was engaged in such a hazardous profession at all. There was nothing forward or fast about her, her dress was quite modest and neat, while in conversation she was as charming a companion as one could wish to meet. And her face so innocent, and guileless, and sweet it looked! It had not only been her fortune it had enabled her to carry through without suspicion many an intricate case, and had saved her life many a time. She gave a short account of some secrets of her profession.

“You must understand,” she said, “that detective work has always been a passion with me. At boarding-school I went fairly mad over detective stories, and a favourite amusement with us girls used to be to unravel a case from which the main facts were culled from Gaboriau.

“It always delighted me to unearth mysteries, and when I came across a hair-raising record of inscrutable crime, with burglars, poisoners, and faithless women moving about as in a play, that was a thing which made me delirious with joy. My father meeting with reverses, I had to cast about to earn my own living, and feeling that my forte lay in detective work, I made up my mind without a moment’s hesitation to enter this some what strange profession.”

“Did you find it difficult to make your way?”

“Not a bit. I entered at a peculiarly lucky time. There were few lady detectives then, and there are few now. It is quite a mistake to suppose that there are lady detectives employed at Scotland Yard. There are none. It is true that some female police are in the pay of the Home Office, but that is quite a different thing.

“These were introduced on this wise. Some years ago it used to be customary for ticket-of-leave-women to report themselves once a month at the police station of their respective districts. This was a great injustice to these women. The stain of crime was thus ever upon them, and this soon got noised abroad, and prevented them from earning their living in an honest, respectable fashion. The Home Office saw this, and so several female police were appointed to keep an eye on these women, thus saving them from the disgrace of making periodical visits to the district police stations. You must not suppose that lady detectives are the rough, tawdry set of women you might be inclined to think. Some of them I could name are most highly educated ladies, and one is a lady of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she studied with high distinction.

“Of course we employ women for all sorts of work— to sweep crossings, to beg from house to house, to sell flowers or matches, at a certain corner, opposite a certain house, just to see whether Lady So-and-so or the Honourable Tom Noddy is in the habit of paying visits there. Some women are born actors in cases such as these. One under my direction was as neat and cunning a hand in cases requiring menial work as you ever saw. Some time ago I had a big case on, and I set a woman to watch a house in a West End square. The lady we were watching would not stir. We suspected she was there, but had no evidence. Our case was proved in a very remarkable manner.

“The detective posed as the poor, broken-down female crossing-sweeper with as pretty a cough and as woebegone a face as mortal could assume. For a whole week she wielded the broom in front of the house, being several times completely drenched with the heavy rains. In the middle of a downpour of rain a figure in muslin appeared at the window, espied the poor crossing-sweeper, and hastily throwing up the window, threw out a few coppers inside a tin box. This very tin box was what we wanted, and played a most important part in the conviction. It proved that on a certain day she was in the house, and that again led us on to other discoveries which were startling.

“Lady detectives assume all sorts of roles. I have been in my time a barmaid, a waitress in a fashionable hotel, a lady’s-maid, and even a char-woman. Bless you, I don’t mind the inconvenience at all. As I told you, detective work is a passion with me. A lady detective must be prepared to rough it, must not be over nice as to food or apparel, and must have none of that too rife article about her called ‘womanish fears.’ For my part I don’t see why a woman should have any more fear than a man. I never had any fear, and I’ve been in some pretty perilous fixes, I can tell you. When I see anybody on the street and want to follow, I never care whether I have money in my pocket or not. I just jump into a cab, pass the cabman my card, and the thing is all right. The cabby calls next morning and is paid double fare. No, I never carry any weapons, only this small whistle.

“I remember I had tracked a terribly exciting case. The man was before me, and I charged him with the crime. In an instant a revolver was pointed at my head. ‘Fire if you dare,’ I said quite calmly ‘do you think I came here without assistance? Do you see this whistle? If I blow, twenty men are into the room.’ He was completely cowed, and was subsequently captured.

“Now, as to the cost of cases, unlimited supplies of money are spent. I have stayed a whole summer at a splendid Brighton hotel, watching a young spark who was suspected of forgery. I could tell you every shilling he spent. In fact, sometimes I met him at the dinner table, and the simple fool has paid for drives, dinners, etc., for me while I indulged in a professional flirtation. We never can tell how much any case may cost. So much depends on circumstances. Firms employ me in some queer jobs to watch their clerks and see how they spend their evenings. In many cases I have done poor clerks a service by recommending in my report a rise of salary to a man whom I saw was almost driven to dishonesty through having to live on a miserable income. I have often been touched by some of the cases I have handled. There is a great deal of poetry in crime if one only had the eye to see it.

“To watch a clerk costs about a guinea a day, with all expenses extra. I have received as much as £1,000 for a single case. Little bills of £400, £500, and £600 are quite common. A confrere of mine has just agreed to proceed to Moscow to investigate a case for a fee of £500. In addition to this she will receive another £500 as expenses. Some lady detectives earn as much as £500 a year. Disguises,” and here the lady detective laughed, showing a row of pearly teeth as white as milk, “well, I have got a well-stocked wardrobe. Sometimes I need to go about as a collector for charities, and then I am dressed quite sober and prim. I stick at nothing, though I can hardly forgive myself for having taken the chair at a mothers’ meeting and led the devotions. I have dresses as expensive as the most fashionable lady could wish for. I very seldom make up, save by changing the fashion of my hair and my bonnet. This makes a wonderful difference. I have a wide acquaintance with the best solicitors in London, and have received from some of them some charming presents. Just the other day I had the satisfaction of handling crisp notes for £75 as a single gratuity. Would I advise ladies to go in for detective work? Well, that depends on the lady. Recently I advertised in a London morning paper for an assistant. The next post brought me seventy replies. Only half-a-dozen were in any way suitable, though the whole seventy, no doubt, imagined that all the dash, ‘cuteness,’ and daring of the detective genius was theirs.”

Just at this moment a messenger conveyed a telegram to the lady detective. She scanned it.

“I must be off,” she said, “here is a telegram from Inspector Moser, wanting me to start for Paris at once. I always like to execute commissions for Moser. No matter how difficult the case is, Moser tackles it and, if Moser fails, no detective need look at it in England.”

In a few minutes a hansom is at the door, and in a few hours the lady detective will be on the Paris boulevards.

Bruce [NZ] Herald, 16 January 1891: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Inspector Moser was Maurice Moser of Scotland Yard. By 1894, he had apparently retired, according to the heading on this piece he wrote for The Strand on the history of handcuffs.

Mrs Daffodil was charmed by the lady detective’s statement that “There is a great deal of poetry in crime if one only had the eye to see it,” a notion she has always espoused. There is a rhythm and a satisfying symmetry when a plot is going well that rivals anything by Byron, Keats, or Shelley—none of whom, one can confidently assert, ever had occasion to assist police with their inquiries for a carelessly conceived morceau or an improper anapest.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




1 thought on “A Lady Detective: 1891

  1. Pingback: Week-end Compendium: 30 January 2016 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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