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FAC E


James Bloomfield Rush (1800–49) was convicted of one of the most infamous crimes of the nineteenth century: the murder of his landlord Isaac Jermy and attacks on Mrs Jermy and the couple’s housemaid. Known as the ‘Killer in the Fog’, Rush was executed by hanging at Norwich Castle. An hour later, his body was taken down, his head shaved and his death mask cast.


‘A headstrong horse’


Casts of criminals’ heads allowed the study of the criminal personality using physiognomy and phrenol- ogy. The contemporary publication The Stanfield Hall Assassinations! Authentic report of the trial, convic- tion and extraordinary defence of James Bloomfield Rush included a phrenological examination of Rush’s head: ‘His forehead is small and low… altogether the front part of the head does not indicate any mental power… His forehead is narrow; ideality is very deficient, he has no great degree of imagination; his circle of mental vision is extremely limited. The top of his head is flat; benevolence and veneration are wanting; he has naturally no strong religious tendencies… That organ named destructiveness, is full above the ear, it ought to be called impulsive- ness (that which prompts a man to immediate ac- tion)… He is naturally five times more animal than intellectual, and his whole history proves him to have been a gross sensualist – a man incapable of any generous emotion, a low, mean, grovelling char- acter, but of active habits… a headstrong horse…’


The Chamber of Comparative Physiognomy


A wax image of Rush, ‘taken from life at Norwich’, was a star attraction at London’s Madame Tussauds, where it was displayed in the gallery Punch nick- named ‘The Chamber of Horrors’. The room was later retitled ‘The Chamber of Comparative Physiognomy’, though this scientific-sounding title didn’t stick. Rush had more staying power: his model remained on display for over a century.


Read


Crone R. Violent Victorians. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 2012.


Pilbeam P. Madame Tussaud: And the history of waxworks. London: Bloomsbury; 2006.


Alphonse Bertillon From Instructions Signalétiques Album, 1893 L0076890 Wellcome Images


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The telegraphed mugshot


Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) introduced the world’s first scientific prisoner-identification system when working for the Paris police in the 1880s. Although daguerrotypes of prisoners had been taken since before Bertillon was born, there were no standard poses or lighting, and facial features were inconsistently described. Bertillon introduced the familiar front and side


‘mugshot’ while also recording a number of other characteristics. Intending to produce a physical description that could be transmitted by telegraph, Bertillon noted the colour of eyes, hair and skin as well as measurements relating to the prisoner’s height, the length of their fingers, head and feet and the shape of the ear. By 1899, ‘Bertillonage’ was used by police forces in over a dozen countries. However, while the mugshot persisted, Bertillon’s multiple-measurement approach was short-lived. By the middle of the twentieth century it had been replaced by fingerprinting, a system less reliant on data likely to have been collected in many different ways.


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