1838, February 28: The Lucy Scales Assault

On February 28 (which is the most likely correct date), 1838, 18-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister had just left the house of their brother, a butcher in Narrow Street, Limehouse, to walk home. Around half past eight at night as the two walked through Green Dragon Alley, Lucy, who was a bit ahead of her sister at the time, saw some person standing in an angle of the alley... and when she drew close, the cloaked figure spurted blue flames into her face, depriving her of her sight and her senses: she collapsed, and started to have a seizure on the spot. Lucy's sister, who was attempting to hold and protect Lucy could only watch as their assailant walked away without a word, and without attempting further mischief.

        Having heard loud screams so shortly after his sisters had left his house, Mr. Scales came running immediately to investigate; and he and his sister soon had Lucy home. The sister described the assailant to be of "tall, thin, and gentlemanly appearance," enveloped in a large cloak, and carrying in front of him a "bull's eye," or small lantern similar to what the police carried.

        Mr. Scales and Lucy made a report of the incident to the Lambeth office of the police -- the same office that Jane Alsop and family had reported to -- and assault was also investigated... but though several people were taken in and questioned, none could have the incident pinned on them and all were released.

A Word upon the Dating of this Incident

        While I now fully believe this incident happened - I've seen sources within a year of the event that describe it as above - the matter of the date of occurrence is still unreliable. Why?

        The attack on Lucy Scales has been reported for a wide variety of dates in modern sources... to name a few: March 8, February 21, 25, 26, & 28, or even more vaguely 'February 1838,' 'the early months of 1838,' just plain '1838,' or 'five days later' than the attack on Jane Alsop, or even 'years later'! Why all the confusion? It's not exactly easy to say, but a great deal of it has been caused by newer sensational repeating of the Spring-Heeled Jack story; many authors over the past sixty years or so appear to have changed the reported dates for the Alsop, Scales, and Turner incidents mostly dependent on the way they wanted to tell the overall story... so the order of the incidents often got juggled, and since the original reports were very hard to find no one could definitively say that the dates were wrong. Another part of the problem appears to be confusion between the date the incident was reported in papers, the date Scales told the police, and the date the matter may have actually happened.

        For an example, let's look at the earliest reference to this event that I could get my hands on - The Annual Register, or a View of the History of Politics of the Year 1838 - published in 1839, only a year after the event occurred. In this volume, a note is listed for Monday, February 26, 1838, that states Lucy Scales and her brother made their statements regarding the assault at the Lambeth Street police office on this day, with the further note that the assault happened "on the Wednesday last"... which would be February 21, the day after the Alsop incident. On the other hand, the Alsop incident is also listed in this volume on February 20, 1838... the day it occurred. This implies that the authors listed the scales attack on February 26 because they felt that was the day it occurred, and that the note about having occurred on the "Wednesday last" may have just been quoted text from the account they were copying. Of course, February 26 is a Monday, not a Wednesday... so the event couldn't have happened on that day either! Confused yet?

        Given that the date was screwed up before a year had passed, it's not too surprising that it's been inaccurate ever since. I choose to take the date above - February 28 - for two reasons: first, the 28th is the next Wednesday after the Alsop attack that isn't the exact day after; I suspect it's reasonable to assume Scales was not attacked the day after the Alsop affair, or the matter might have gotten more attention. Second, a researcher I trust some - Mike Dash - claims to have seen the one and only actual newspaper report of the Scales attack that all other reports stem from - from the Morning Post of March 7, 1838 - and that report is said to give the 28th as the day. Ultimately though, until I can get a copy of the article that Dash quotes I'm taking his word for the date being right... so I have to consider it unreliable until double-checked (anyone have a copy?).

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