This On Her Majesty’s Service (with notation re not for private use) has an oval VICTORIA/ [CROWN]/ OFFICIAL PAID, a MINISTER OF HEALTH/ VICTORIA/ FRANK STAMP as well as a MELBOURNE/ 6 45/ 11 SE 00 postmark. It was sent from the PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT/ Office of the Board, Melbourne to Dr. W. Sedgwick Saunders, Medical Officer of Health, City of London, England (Figure 1).
The reverse has a London reception postmark of 8.30 P, OC 13 (—)/ AL (Figure 2).
Wiliam Sedgwick Saunders was born in 1824 at Compton Giffon, near Tavistock in Devon, and was educated at King’s College, London. At 19, he started his medical training at St. Thomas’s Hospital and commenced practice in 1846. He then took up a post as Assistant Surgeon with the Royal Fusiliers and served with them in the West Indies and North Africa. Four years later he was appointed Medical Officer at the military prison at Fort Clarence, Rochester, and in 1851 he was posted overseas, when he became ill.
His bad health at this time was a lucky escape, for he had hardly disembarked from his ship when it went down and all aboard were lost. Saunders duly recovered, gave up army life, resigned his commission and chose the quieter pace of private practice in the City of London. From 1874 until 1901 he was Medical Officer of Health and Public Analyst for the Commissioners of Sewers. He was also Medical Officer and Adviser to many of the leading insurance companies of the day. One of his greatest achievements was the tireless work he did to help eradicate the dreaded cholera.
William died on the 18th January 1901 and was buried at the City of London cemetery. The day after his death, the City Press noted: “To him we owe in a great measure the improvement that has taken place in the sanitary condition of the City in the past quarter of a century”. There is a large memorial to him seen in Chapel Avenue, at the City of London cemetery (Figure 3).
Catherine Eddowes was the fourth victim of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Dr. William Sedgwick Saunders of 13 Queens Street, Cheapside, London when examined as a medical expert said he was a doctor of medicine, Fellow of the Institute of Chemical Society, and public analyst of the City of London. He received the stomach of the deceased from Dr. Gordon Brown, carefully sealed, and the contents had not been interfered with in any way. He had carefully examined the stomach and its contents, more particularly for poisons of a narcotic class, with negative results, there not being the faintest trace of any of these or any other poison.
In another case known as the Lusk kidney (ascribed to Catherine Eddowes’ case), there was a write-up in the Liverpool Daily Post of 20 October 1888, and Dr. Saunders who had not seen the kidney in question, was quoted by a reporter: “It is a pity that some people have not got the courage to say they don’t know. You may take it that there is no difference whatever between the male and female kidney. As for those in animals, they are similar, the cortical substance is the same, and the structure only differs in shape. I think it would be quite possible to mistake it for a pig’s”.
George Rusk, a builder who was head of the Whitehead Vigilance Committee, had been sent a half kidney in a box with a note that read: “From Hell/ Mr. Lusk/ Sor/ I send you the half a kidne I took from one women praserved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer (all mispellings as in the note). Signed: Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk. (Figure 4).
You can make up your own mind as to whether this was a cruel joke!