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Sergeant John William Reimers

It is a real pleasure, for the first time, to host  a guest writer on this blog. The following informative article written by David Craig unearths some very interesting information about another  Detective at Scotland Yard in the mid-Victorian era: John William Reimers.  David's article also asks for any additional information that readers may have to add to his research on Reimers. Over to David:

Another Detective at Scotland Yard, 1869: Sergeant John William Reimers

by David L Craig, Brisbane, Australia; E-mail:

In researching the family history of my son-in-law, I discovered that his great-great-grandfather was John William Reimers, who was a member of the London Metropolitan Police in the Scotland Yard Detective Department from 1869 to 1879.  This led me to Chris Payne’s excellent book, The Chieftain, about the early days of the Scotland Yard Detective Department.  This contains a number of references to Reimers.  Chris has also written a number of blogs providing more detail about a number of the senior detectives at Scotland Yard who feature in his book.  Chris encouraged me to write a blog about Sergeant Reimers for publication on his website, using the research material I have acquired, to expand the information available on the members of the Scotland Yard Detective Department circa 1869.  An ulterior motive for my writing this article is the hope that one of Chris’ readers might have information that would allow me to fill in gaps I still have in Reimers’ life story.

John William Reimers was actually born Johann Wilhelm Diederich Reimers on 10 March 1830 in Oldenburg Province in, what was then, the Duchy of Holstein.  At the time, Holstein was controlled by Denmark, though most people in Holstein spoke German, not Danish.  Reimers’ parents were Carl Gocheim (or possibly Joachim) Heinrich Reimers and his wife Sophia.  Reimers’ father was a harness maker (and it seems that Reimers is actually a German word meaning harness maker).  This information comes from Reimers’ marriage certificate and his police pension document (from the UK National Archives).  Unfortunately, I have been unable so far to ascertain any further information about his Holstein family.  His Summary of Police Service from The Met Collection, says that Reimers’ occupation prior to joining the London Metropolitan Police was saddler, which would seem to be a logical occupation for someone whose father was a harness maker.

Reimers migrated to England sometime during the 1850s, where he Anglicized his name to become known as John William Reimers, though he variously appears in documents as John Reimers or William Reimers.  I have not yet been able to establish with certainty when he arrived in England, or why he migrated.  He was certainly in England by 1859, as he married in England and joined the Metropolitan Police as Police Constable A-595 Westminster Division (ie Scotland Yard) in that year.

A probable reason for his migration was the political turmoil in Schleswig and Holstein.  These two Duchies tried to break away from Danish control and join the German confederation in the late 1840s.  The army of Schleswig-Holstein, supported by the Prussian army, fought the Danish army in the First Schleswig-Holstein War in 1848-50.  It appears that Reimers fought in this war, presumably in the German-backed Schleswig-Holstein army, and was wounded in the fighting.  The evidence for this is a newspaper report (The Standard, London, 28 August 1862) concerning the trial in the Middlesex Sessions of Fritz Tull, a native of Schleswig-Holstein.  This article says:

The evidence was very ably interpreted by William Reimers, 595A, a countryman of the prisoner’s, who was engaged in the Schleswig Holstein war.

Reimers’ police pension document says that he had a shot wound in left leg, but that he was not injured in his service with the London Metropolitan Police.  So, it seems likely that the leg wound was inflicted during Reimers’ service in the First Schleswig-Holstein War.  As the Danes defeated the Schleswig-Holsteiners in that war, life was probably quite difficult for soldiers from the defeated side in the aftermath.  Many who fought on the Schleswig-Holstein side migrated to other countries after that war.  For example, there were quite large Schleswig-Holstein communities established in the USA at the time by people fleeing the aftermath of the war.  A Second Schleswig-Holstein War was fought in 1864, resulting in Schleswig-Holstein becoming a German State (as it is today), but Reimers was in England and a London policeman by that time.

Reimers joined A Division (i.e. Westminster Division or Scotland Yard) of the London Metropolitan Police as a uniformed Police Constable on 6 June 1859.  He remained in A Division for the whole of his 20 years of police service.  He was promoted to Police Sergeant on 29 May 1867 and transferred to the Detective Department as a Detective Police Sergeant on 28 June 1869, at the time of a major expansion of the Scotland Yard Detective Department.  He was later promoted to Detective Inspector on 2 October 1876, but then demoted to First Class Detective Police Sergeant only a short time later on 26 December 1876.

This demotion appears to have occurred as a result of a falling out with his superior, Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich.  As detailed in Chris Payne’s book and blogs, Druscovich was one of the detectives convicted of corruption in mid-1877, and it seems likely that Reimers may have been unfairly demoted.  As detailed in The Chieftain, Reimers had told Superintendent Williamson in early December 1876 of a conversation that took place between himself and Druscovich in late November that year:

I said, ‘How are you getting on with the turf swindle?’ He [Druscovich] said, ‘Damn the turf swindle! I wish I had never heard anything of it’. He then added ‘I have documents in my hand with which I could smash two’. Just before he said this I had said ‘I believe there is some one else in it besides Meiklejohn’. Then he made the remark about the documents. I then said to him ‘Have you told the Governor so?’ (Meaning Mr Williamson.) To that he replied ‘No, I have not; let him find out like I have done’. I then said to him ‘Surely you will not jeopardise your position for the sake of screening others’. He made no reply.

Just under six months after joining the police service, Reimers married Harriet Stedman on 14 December 1859 at the Church of All Saints, Croydon, Surrey.  Harriet was baptised in Ockley, Surrey, on 17 December 1826, and so was just over three years older than her husband.  Her parents were James Stedman (a farmer) and Hannah Carter, and she was the middle child of ten children.  Reimers and his wife had five children: Carl Bernhard (1860); Wilhelm Inkerman (1861); Horatio Nelson (1863); Nora Sophia Harriet (1866); and Hans James Stedman (1868).  The youngest two children died before their second birthdays, in 1867 and 1870 respectively, leaving the Reimers with three surviving children.

Reimers became a naturalized British citizen on 23 December 1872 (three years after he transferred to the Detective Department), and his three surviving children are mentioned on his Certificate of Naturalization.

Reimers’ police service and cases in which he was involved, both before and after joining the Detective Department, can be followed through a number of sources, including The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 at  and various British newspaper court proceedings reports that are searchable on-line, eg the 19th Century British Newspapers or British Newspapers 1600-1900 databases (accessible through most libraries).

Cases reported in The Proceedings of the Old Bailey that mention Reimers include:

A newspaper report in The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent of 7 October 1871 indicates Reimers had a favourable personal outcome from one case he investigated:

A FORTUNATE CAPTOR – One of the officials of the Detective Department, Scotland Yard, succeeded on Friday week, in arresting a postmaster named Geib, who absconded some weeks ago from Siromberg, in Rhenish Prussia, with a sum of 18,000 thalers. Of this sum 15,000 thalers were recovered. Geib was despatched on Friday to Hamburg, in custody of a Berlin police official. A reward of 1000 thalers falls to his captor, Sergeant Reimers.

Chris Payne’s book, The Chieftain, also contains some references to Reimers.  These include an amusing anecdote about Reimers, as a uniformed Police Sergeant in 1867, cooperating with the Detective Department and getting lost with two others in the London sewers:

The superintendent’s report of events above is dated and timed ‘20th December 1867 12 Midnight’, enabling one to visualise a less-than-happy senior officer waiting in Scotland Yard to receive a late report from a less-than-sweet-smelling Reimers! However, the events do not seem to have had any adverse impact on his career, as Sergeant John William Reimers (born in Germany and by then a policeman for eight years) became a detective colleague of Clarke some eighteen months later.

Another case involving Reimers mentioned in The Chieftain was the investigation with Inspector Meiklejohn of the high-profile theft in 1876 of a portrait by Gainsborough of the Duchess of Devonshire.

Reimers resigned from the London Metropolitan Police on 12 August 1979 after 20 years’ service, all in A Division, and was granted a pension (not then an automatic right) of £86 18s 8d per annum.  His pension document in the UK National Archives at Kew states that he was 5 feet 11½ inches tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.  Unfortunately, there is no known photograph or portrait of him.  The reason given for his unfitness for service on his pension document was adema of the leg (presumably this means oedema/edema, ie swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in the body's tissues).  This may have been a long term result of the shot wound in his left leg.

Reimers must have maintained contact in London with the German speaking community there, because at least one of his sons, Carl Bernhard, attended the German school in the Savoy in London.  His German language skills were also clearly made use of by his employer, as there are a number of references to him translating in case reports.  A number of the detectives in the Detective Department had non-English speaking backgrounds, including Nathaniel Druscovich, though not everyone thought this was a good idea.  Chris Payne notes in The Chieftain that Inspector James Thomson said in 1877:

My individual opinion is that it is unwise to let foreigners have anything to do with our police. They think a great deal of themselves, they take too much upon themselves and they get into difficulties. I was strongly opposed to Druscovich coming to Scotland Yard and I advised them at the time not to have him … I thought there was a good deal of the foreigner in him, because when he first came to Scotland Yard … his English was almost broken English.

The Reimers family had a number of addresses in London during the 20 years he served in the London Metropolitan Police.  At the time of the 1861 England Census, the Reimers were living at 51 Charles Street, Westminster.  By the time of the 1871 Census, they had moved to 89 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster.  They must have moved again soon after that, as at the time of Reimers’ naturalization in 1872, the family was living at 3 St Anne's Terrace, Miles Street, South Lambeth.  Reimers was still living at his 1872 Miles Street address at the time of retirement from the police service in 1879.

Reimers’ 1879 pension document says he intended to reside and draw his pension at 3 St Anne's Terrace, Miles Street, South Lambeth.  However, less than two years later, at the time of the 1881 Census the Reimers family was no longer at that address.  In fact, apart from their eldest son, Carl, who was living as a boarder at 6 Currie Road, Battersea, at the time of the 1881 Census, the Reimers family had disappeared totally from view by 1881.  I have not been able to find any trace of Reimers, his wife Harriet, or his sons, Wilhelm Inkerman Reimers and Horatio Nelson Reimers, in any of the British Censuses from 1881 onwards, or in the readily available censuses or birth, death and marriage records of any country.  Only the one son, Carl Bernhard Reimers, appeared in the English Censuses and London Electoral Registers after 1881.  So it seems that most of the Reimers family probably left Britain sometime between 1879 and 1881, but where they went remains a mystery at present.

After being missing from British records for over 20 years, Harriet Reimers reappeared in the records in London when she died on 1 January 1901 at 110 Fentiman Road, Lambeth.  This is only one street away from where she and her husband were living between 1872 and 1879.  She is listed on her death certificate as a widow, implying that her husband (referred to in her death certificate as John William Reimers, a Police Detective Inspector) died before 1901.  The informant for Harriet’s death certificate was her son, Carl, who was living at 13 Bucharest Road, Wandsworth, at that time.  When John William Reimers died, or where, is not known.  The fate of his sons, Wilhelm Inkerman Reimers and Horatio Nelson Reimers, is also unknown.

Carl Bernhard Reimers remained in London and married Jane Abbey in 1892.  She was the daughter of a family Carl was boarding with at the time of the 1891 England census.  Carl and Jane had a son, also Carl Bernhard Reimers, in 1895.  He died at birth, or very shortly after, and Jane died in 1908.  Carl remarried in 1908, not long after Jane’s death, to Vera Nash Little.  Carl and Vera had two children, Franz John Ludwig W (known as John William) Reimers in 1911 and David Leo Winston Reimers in 1914.  David Reimers was my son-in-law’s grandfather.

I would be very interested to discover more about the life of Johann Wilhelm Diederich (aka John William) Reimers, especially before he joined the London Metropolitan Police service in 1859 and after he retired in 1879.  If any readers know more about Reimers’ life, I would be grateful if they could contact me at the e-mail address at the top of this blog.

2 thoughts on “Sergeant John William Reimers

  1. Mike Vince

    Fascinating research. I had not known about the Holstein war and that a person of German extraction becomes a British police officer. Small world - connections with Chris Payne's ancestor. Hope David has some luck in getting more information about his family.

  2. admin

    Thanks for your comment Mike. There were some other 'foreigners' at Scotland Yard as well. DS Charles Von Tornow, for example, was also of German origin. He came in very handy during 1876 when he accompanied Chief Inspector George Clarke to the trial of Henri de Tourville in Austria and probably made life much easier for Clarke because of his linguistic skills. Chief Inspector Druscovich was of middle-european origin and was regularly used in cases that required forign language skills. DS George Greenham (also at Scotland Yard Detective group), though English, was a good French speaker and was deployed for quite a while to 'protect' Napoleon III when he was living in exile in Chislehurst after the Franco-Prussian War. By the way, I think that Greenham's personal account of his time at Scotland Yard is one of the better police autobiographies of that time.

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