Skip to content
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
  • Start your family tree
  1. Blog Home
  2. Discoveries

Ripper Series Part 5 The Whitechapel victims revealed in the 1881 census

The Findmypast team
20 March 2014

Over 125 years after the Whitechapel murders took place, Jack the Ripper's brutal killings still have the power to fascinate and mystify.

There are countless theories about the true identity of the perpetrator and an extensive list of possible suspects has been drawn up by 'Ripperologists'.

With suspects ranging from royal physicians to the author Lewis Carol, the focus of most research seems to be on who carried out the killings rather than the women who died.

At least five women died horrifically at the hands of the Ripper.

Popular culture remembers them solely for their occupation and the terrible events surrounding their deaths.

Little attention is paid to the lives they led and the families they left behind.

The 1881 census offers a rare snapshot of the victims' lives just seven years before they met their tragic end.

It shows that rather than being life-long prostitutes with few family or friends, many of these women, mostly in their forties, had previously been living, at least on paper, respectable family lives.

Ripper Victim: Kate Conway

Catherine Eddowes, who appears on the 1881 census as 'Kate Conway', is listed as a 'charwoman' and was living in Chelsea with her common-law husband, Thomas Conway (a 'hawker'), plus their two children.

Ripper Victim: Elizabeth Stride

Elizabeth Stride, who is believed to be the third victim, had worked as a prostitute in her 20s. But by 1881 (then aged 37), it seems she had escaped that life, and was living in Bow with her husband John stride, a carpenter:

Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride appears in the 1881 census aged 37, along with her husband John.

Ripper Victim: Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman, whose story is perhaps the most tragic, was staying with her parents on the night of the 1881 census with her three children.

She is listed as a 'stud groom's wife'. (Her husband, John Chapman, was living above stables in Berkshire, where Annie and the children later joined him):

Annie and John Chapman's eldest child, Emily Ruth Chapman, died in 1882 of meningitis, aged just 12. In the wake of the tragedy, both parents took to drink, which probably precipitated their separation and triggered Annie Chapman's descent into prostitution.

Annie Chapman, whose story is perhaps the most tragic, was staying with her parents on the night of the 1881 census with her three children.

Ripper Victim: Mary Ann 'Polly' Nichols & Mary Jane Kelly

Mary Ann 'Polly' Nichols, and Mary Jane Kelly (the only victim in her 20s), are not found on the 1881 census, so they may have been walking the streets on the night it was taken.

But Nichols, at any rate, was married with three children at the time of the 1871 census, so once again Hollywood hasn't depicted the reality faithfully.

The decisions that lead to their deaths

According to contemporary newspapers, by the time of their deaths, none of the three victims we found on the 1881 census were living with their husbands.

Poverty was rife in the East End of London, so it's likely that following the breakup of their marriages these women turned to prostitution simply to survive – a decision which, ironically, led to their untimely deaths.

Discover more about the Ripper with findmypast

With a world of information accessible through the 1881 census, travel through time and discover the dark world surrounding the Ripper murders.

You never know what truths are waiting to be found behind one of the most well-documented – yet mysterious – events in our history.