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‘Murder on the Victorian Railway’; A very personal perspective.

Having other commitments last night, I have only just been able to watch a recording of BBC2's "Murder on the Victorian Railway".  If I had known nothing about the case, I think I would have enjoyed it enormously.  It was wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully scripted and well-acted entertainment but I wish that the programme could have been longer, and the production team provided with a larger budget.  Why do I take that view? Essentially,  because I would have liked to have seen the moment portrayed on film when my great-great-Grandfather, Detective-Sergeant George Clarke, arrested Franz Muller in New York harbour on board the sailing ship Victoria.

Franz Muller, 1864
Franz Muller, 1864

Detective-Sergeant 'who' I hear you ask; surely it was Inspector Tanner who made the arrest? Not so, as the court transcript (and Kate Colquhoun's book on which the programme was based) reveal. The arrest, and its description in court was undertaken by Tanner's sergeant who had travelled with him to New York.  Tanner only arrived on the Victoria some hours later, accompanied by the witness John Death, to conduct an 'identification parade'.

George Clarke c. 1864; at that time, a Detective Sergeant. Photo courtesy of John Ashe

It is perhaps natural that my greatest interest in this case centres around the involvement of my ancestor, Detective-Sergeant George Clarke.  Undoubtedly, it was Inspector Tanner who led the murder investigation. But as we all know from 'Ripper Street' and 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' all Detective-Inspectors are accompanied by a faithful Sergeant!

What is certain, is that the Thomas Briggs' murder investigation was  the high water mark in Tanner's detective career. In contrast, it proved to be the launching pad for Clarke's even though he was already some 12 years older than Tanner. By the time that Franz Muller was hanged for Briggs' murder, Clarke had already been put onto his next murder inquiry, the Plaistow Marshes murder.  In 1867, during his investigations into the Fenian Conspiracy, Clarke was promoted to Inspector and then in May 1869, at the age of 51, to Chief Inspector.  The outranked and younger Inspector Tanner retired a few weeks later in 1869 on grounds of 'bodily infirmity' and it does seem that poor health may have inhibited to some extent his progression within the Detective Department.  Nonetheless, Tanner still had sufficient energy in 'retirement' to run a pub in Winchester and to act as Secretary for his Fleet Street-based Lodge of Freemasons until his premature death in 1873.

Between 1869 and 1877, Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke was second-in-command of the Scotland Yard Detective Department, and tackled many of the major criminal investigations in that period, including several murders, serious thefts, arson, frauds and betting offences, the Tichborne Claimant case and the 'Balham Mystery' (the unresolved poisoning of Charles Bravo). Then, in October 1877 he found himself in the dock at the Old Bailey charged with corruption, alongside three of his Scotland Yard colleagues.  Though he was acquitted, there is little doubt that the notoriety surrounding the 'Trial of the Detectives' has placed Clarke's career in the historical shadows, or even (as in last night's programme) completely off the cast-list.

'The Chieftain' a biography of Detective Chief inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011
'The Chieftain' a biography of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke, published by The History Press, 2011

Nonetheless, despite my personal niggle, last night's production team produced an entertaining programme of high quality.  I would like to see more of the same please, but an extended running time and a bigger budget for a larger cast, to ensure that the 'Sergeants' in this world (who may ultimately prove to be particularly interesting) also get a look-in.  In the meantime you might like to read Kate Colquhoun's excellent book 'Mr Briggs' Hat' to flesh out last night's progamme and, of course, my recent biography of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke, 'The Chieftain'.

6 thoughts on “‘Murder on the Victorian Railway’; A very personal perspective.

  1. Mike Vince

    Chris, like you I missed the programme but recorded it. Just finished watching it and found it very interesting. The production was well put together. In respect of Sergeant George Clarke, I thought that I must have dozed off as one does in senior moments! I never heard his name mentioned so I am glad you confirmed he was not mentioned. You are correct that a Detective Sergeant usually does exceptional work for the Detective Inspector in charge. I noticed that the programme did not show the photo of Muller, which is published in Kate Colquhoun's book "Mr Briggs' Hat" yet they did use other illustrations in her book. Keep up the good work on your ancestor research.

  2. Neville Sisson


    I banished television almost two years ago, and do in fact have a licence to not watch TV! Consequently, I didn't/couldn't watch the programme and I know that my self-imposed ban means that I miss some good stuff along with the dross but at least there is i-player which I use occassionally for choice programmes.

    I shall watch 'Murder on the Victorian Railway', as a result of your recommendation, tonight. It makes a nice break from the usual research.


  3. Neville Sisson


    A delightful and intriguing distraction in which I was particularly impressed with the acting of Jim Conway as Jon Matthews, the cabbie; and Genevieve Barr as Mary Ann Eldred, Müller's girlfriend.

    No doubt today's science could determine Müller's involvement or otherwise in a trice.
    thanks for bringing it to my attention.


  4. Vic Tanner Davy

    Hi Chris

    Just came across this post on the Internet today.

    Inspector Richard Tanner was my great great great grandfather.

    Richard and Emma had a son, George in 1863, who lost his Dad when he was just 10. 🙁 As you know, Richard was only 41 when he died. I met George's daughter, Marjorie, my great grandmother and Richard's granddaughter, before she died and I vividly remember her. My grandmother (who gave me the Tanner in my pen name) was born in 1918.

    I had no idea about Richard's involvement in this famous murder investigation and only caught this programme by chance. My Dad followed this branch of the family tree some time ago and he knew that Richard had served with the Met, but he never knew about Richard's most famous case. He would have been so excited by this new information!

    You don't happen to know whether there are any photos/pen and inks of Richard, do you? I don't have a picture of him.

    Thanks for the post and glad that we worked together in a former incarnation to get the railway killer!


  5. Chris Payne

    Hi Vic. Many thanks for your comments. Glad that you found the post useful. I don't have any photos of Richard Tanner but there is a drawn image of him published in Kate Colquhoun's book on the railway murder "Mr Briggs' Hat", which she obtained from one of the few illustrated newspapers available in 1864. You'll find a lot more about Tanner in my book "The Chieftain", and also in Kate Colquhoun's book. I don't know if you were aware that his gravestone is also pictured on the Web (see: . Finally, you may like to know that the friends of The Metropolitan Police Historical Collection (website: have a notebook of Dick Tanner's which records some brief details of his cases, police rewards etc, that is available at the Metroplitan Police Heritage Centre in London. Hope that this is helpful.

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