Writing about the British public, the anonymous author of this satirical article from Punch remarks:
We are a trading community – a commercial people. Murder is, doubtless, a very shocking offence; nevertheless, as what is done is not to be undone, let us make our money of it. Hereupon, we turn a murderer into a commodity, and open an account with homicide.
The author then goes on to attack newspapers and periodicals for sensationalising crime in general and murder in particular. Noting that public executions were now illegal, he writes ‘we gibbet in newspapers’ instead (a gibbet being a gallows), leading us to ‘insensibly merge our horror and our curiosity.’
The early 19th century saw a doubling of the urban population in England, with no corresponding increase in the level of housing available. As a result, the poorest tended to live cheek-by-jowl, with fights and petty crime being a common result. The new daily and weekly press – able to publish cheaply and in large volume for the first time in history – picked up on the public’s mingled fear and fascination at urban crime, filling their pages with lurid accounts drawn from initially dry court reports. Perhaps the most infamous of these newspapers was the Illustrated Police News, which hit a peak of popularity – and notoriety – during the period of the Whitechapel Murders (also known as the 'Jack The Ripper' murders) of 1888-91. In the four years after the last murder, the Police News somehow still managed to get 184 front-page stories out of the scandal.