‘Some despicable miscreants in town’

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The recent reports of acid attack incidents in London, consequently reminded me of the following article which appears in The Sheffield Mercury, Saturday, October 25, 1823, No. 866, Vol. XVII, p342. Which states: “Caution... There are some despicable miscreants in this town, who at this time are amusing themselves by a depraved and vicious pursuit of destroying the drapery of respectable and unoffending females, as they pass through the streets in an evening, by the dangerous and coward-like use of Oil of Vitriol.

The other evening soon after six o’clock, Miss Addy had a quantity of the above destructive liquid poured upon her, as she was passing under one of the gas lamps, (the light of which was no protection,) at the corner of Charles-street, which immediately destroyed part of her dress; the tattered remnant of it was exhibited at the Town-hall on Tuesday, but unfortunately the offender remains undiscovered, or the Magistrates would have dealt severely with him. An evening or two previous, the dress of Miss Brammall, of Brammall-lane, was destroyed in a similar manner; and the names of other respectable females have been communicated to us, who have sustained injuries of the same kind. A horse belonging to Mr. Holy has likewise suffered severely from the effects of this wanton and barbarous practice. We sincerely hope some of the miscreants maybe detected, that examples may be made to deter others from the commission of such atrocities”.

But whether or not any perpetrators were caught and consequently brought to justice and if so what the sentence(s) were, I know not. Neither do I know if such practices came to a speedy end, or continued on unchecked for some time. Though what the incident does show, does it not, is that there is nothing new under the proverbial sun when it comes to acid attacks on the innocent going about their business.

Yet in the Sheffield case of long ago it appears that the motive was more a mischievous sense of fun on the part of the perps whose purpose appears to have been to damage women’s clothing rather than the wearer for reason(s) best known to themselves; whereas the modern day manifestation seems to be robbery with a horrid accompanying sadistic violence, rather than utilisation of an injury free distraction technique. Thus leaving one wondering as to how a society can end up producing young people with such twisted behaviour in the 21 st century.

Nature or nurture, or some combination of both to varying degrees?

Michael Parker

Robertshaw Crescent, Deepcar, Sheffield, S36