Black Tom

Prison is no place for the paranoid; solitude and time have conspired against many a jealous husband or wife.

Tom Smithers had good reason to be suspicious.  In 1824 he had been apprehended on one of the night searches of the lodging houses in Kent Street, convicted as a rogue and a vagabond and given three months on the Brixton treadmill.  During his punishment his wife had never been to see him and, following his release, he found she had abandoned his old quarters.

Morning Chronicle, 1824.

Morning Chronicle, Saturday 11th September 1824, from where this story is taken.

He made enquiries and was told she was living with a ‘gentleman’, to whose lodgings he proceeded.  On arrival he saw his spouse, who instead of receiving him with open arms, took her a pair of bellows and flung them at his head, swearing if he did not vanish out of her sight she would annihilate him.  At that moment a man appeared armed with a broom covered in mud, with which he gave Smithers a dab between the eyes.  His name was ‘Black Tom’, an African who earned his living by sweeping the crossings at the corner of Union Street in Southwark.

Faced by a ferocious wife and her broom-wielding lover, Smithers took his grievance to the magistrate at Union Hall who summonsed the lovers before him.  On being asked why he had assaulted the complainant and harboured his lawful wife, Black Tom replied: “Your Honour, I pick up the lady, not tinking she had another husband; and as me and she agree, I no like to part her, for she be a very good woman to me.”

At this point Mrs Smithers, ‘a fine, copper-coloured damsel’ burst breathless into the court. Hearing Black Tom’s declaration in her favour, she ran towards him, and clasping him round the neck, imprinted about a dozen smacking kisses on his pouting lips, that resounded through the room.  They were pulled apart, and Black Tom opined that although it would be a hard struggle for him to give up such a beautiful creature, yet, as she was married, he “suppose” it must be so.  The magistrate replied he was in the right road for Brixton if he did not.

“Oh, your Honour, me give her up now,” declared Black Tom.  “I no want her again; me go off to my business in the road; me no like Brixton; God forbid me see de treadmill.”

Tom was making a hasty retreat when the magistrate called him back, cautioning him not to medal with other men’s wives in future.  Smithers and his wife meanwhile, took each other by the arm, the latter rather fickly declaring, as they left the court, that after all there was none like a husband.

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