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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder
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Thomas Briggs was attacked and ejected from a railway carriage in July 1864. His injuries were severe and he subsequently died from them without regaining consciousness. He was a banker and had done well for himself during his life. He was seventy when he died, taking the secrets of the attack to his grave. The alarm was first raised by fellow employees of the bank when they got into the railway carriage and found it spattered with blood. About the same time Briggs was discovered on the railway line and carried to a nearby public house. There was a battered hat left in the carriage which did not belong to Briggs and it was this hat which later led to the German tailor who was executed for his murder.

But was he really the murderer? He seemed too open, honest and mild mannered to have attacked anyone. Franz Muller, while not being very good with money, seems to have been an inoffensive person but there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him. In a chase as exciting as any fiction Muller was pursued to New York by the police and two of the witnesses against him and brought back to England. He had the victim's gold watch - identified by serial numbers - and his hat in his possession. He could have come by them honestly as he claimed but it seemed unlikely especially when the hat which remained in the railway carriage was identified as Muller's.

In spite of this evidence a modern barrister could have probably constructed a defence and enough reasonable doubt to save his client from the gallows. The police seem not to have investigated the sighting by several people of the agitated man on the same train and the two men seen in the same compartment by a friend of the victim. They also seem not to have paid too much attention to the two young men who found the blood in the railway carriage and who had direct links with the victim. Briggs' family believed he had received threats because he had rejected a loan application,

There is enough doubt in the case to exercise the imagination of the observant reader of this fascinating book and plenty of sources listed if anyone wishes to take the story further. It is an intriguing story and I read it in less than twenty four hours. There are copious notes on the text, a list of the dramatis personae and an index as well as illustrations which display well in this e-book edition. The book is well written and as exciting as any detective fiction.
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on 25 July 2017
This is a nice little story shedding light on a unique period in British history. Well told and a real page turner.
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on 4 May 2017
A factual event very well handled. Most enjoyable
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on 7 July 2017
Really enjoyed this book . The twist at the end was not expected.
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on 18 May 2017
Great tale
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 February 2012
The book starts with a page-turning account of the murder of a well-to-do elderly man, Mr Briggs, in a first class train carriage on his way home from work. Some of us remember carriages with no corridor in which one is totally isolated between stations and it was in such a carriage that the crime took place. The book starts with a page-turning description of the crime and evokes the public outrage that such a crime could take place and the lengths to which the police had to go to to apprehend the supposed perpetrator. The story reminds one how difficult communication was prior to the transatlantic cable being laid such that information had to be physically carried by boat often taking weeks to get to North America. The book gives a detailed account of the detective process, then the short trial of the German tailor, Müller, apprehended for the crime by circumstantial evidence. One isn't left certain whether Müller was guilty or not, but he got a surprisingly fair trial for the time with a top barrister, though some of the rules of evidence appear unfair now. The book is a fascinating insight into Victorian life and attitudes and is set at a time when public executions were no longer seen as a deterrent to crime and were soon to come to an end, though it took another century before the death penalty was abolished. I enjoyed the book but after a 100 or so pages began to find my interest waning bogged down in so much detail. Nevertheless I carried on and was rewarded by the later chapters which are a thoughtful discussion of the the justice system and the death penalty.
Like some other reviewers I rate The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House as the better book.
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Mr Thomas Briggs was an upstanding member of society. On a summer Saturday morning, he left his home for work at his bank. Finishing early, he ate dinner with his niece and then returned home on the train at 8pm. At that time first class carriages had separate compartments, two rows of seats facing each other, without any corridor to go from one carriage to another. Questions had already been raised about what a person could do if they were taken ill or needed assistance. What nobody expected was for a first class passenger, travelling on a short journey home,to be murdered. However, that is exactly what happened to Mr Briggs. When the train stopped, passengers alerted train staff to the fact that the carriage had bloodstains on the seat and the door. There was an empty bag, a walking stick and a crushed hat - later found not to belong to Mr Briggs. The carriage door was locked and the police called, but there was no sign of either an attacker or a victim. Mr Briggs was later found thrown from the train and he never regained consciousness before dying.

The crime was shocking, unprecedented and sensational. It was felt that nobody was safe and the police were under pressure to solve the mystery quickly. Inspector Tanner was given the difficult task of solving the crime. Everything seemed to lead to a dead end until a silversmith, appropriately called John Death, identified Mr Briggs watch chain which was brought to his shop and exchanged for another. Tanner was quickly on the trail of a possible assailant and the chase was on.

I do not want to give away what happens in this wonderful book, but it is just like following the criminal investigation as it happened. The author has brought to life the characters and there is a real sense of urgency and concern about false leads, whether there is enough evidence and whether the man they are chasing is simply a victim of circumstances or the murderer. The book has suspicious foreign suspects, thrilling transatlantic chases and is an exciting and interesting read. The author has done a wonderful job of recreating the entire mystery. And what, exactly, happened to Mr Briggs's hat? Highly recommended - this is history at its best.
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on 5 March 2012
Mr Briggs' Hat is a wonderful account of a truly fascinating murder case. Kate Colquhoun delivers the facts with such incredible clarity, yet tells them in a way which would rival any great novelist, creating a perfect balance of evidence and story-telling. The meticulous research is actually breathtaking. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, I might not have cared quite so much about Mr Briggs, but Ms Colquhoun writes in such a way that I felt as though I were unconvering the truth alongside her, and the discovery of new witnesses and changes in direction meant the pages of the book almost turned themselves. By the end of the story, I cared so much, I wanted to march into the courtroom and plead with the jury to see sense.

This is also so much more than a tale of murder. It's a beautiful insight into Victorian life; a brilliant account of man's reflexive fear of change, of a population fragmented by class and politics, and of a time which found itself on the edge of a moral quandary. It's the story of a man whose fate will be determined, not just by the evidence, but by the attitudes of the society in which he finds himself.

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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 May 2011
On 9th July 1864, a murder took place that captured the interest and the imagination of the British public. The victim was Thomas Briggs, a banker in the City, whose body was discovered on railway tracks of the North London Railway line, his watch and hat missing, the first-class carriage he occupied on his journey left spattered with blood and a hat belonging to someone else. What is notable about the incident is that it was the first killing to ever take place on a British Railway, in an enclosed carriage that had no entrance or connecting passageway, but rather only a direct entry from a station platform.

The notoriety of the murder is heightened further by the Victorian public's new-found appetite for grubby crime stories being related in sensational literature, and in the novelty of the progress of a real-life case being relayed in the now readily available newspapers and periodicals. The fascination for the details of the case reaches even greater proportions when it is learned that the chief suspect, a German tailor, has left the country on a slow-boat across the Atlantic. A police detective is dispatched on a faster ship to arrive in the still expanding New York before the suspect, to apprehend him and extradite him back for trial. The Victorian public avidly follow the exciting course of events that unfold before their eyes.

As, nearly 150 years later, should the modern reader following the case as related in fascinating detail by Kate Colquhoun. As you would expect, the book is thoroughly researched - not just for the particulars of the case of Thomas Briggs, intriguing as it is as a murder-mystery, but also for the effort that has gone into putting it into the context of British society during the Victorian era. In addition to what the case tells us about the newly formed police service, the early forensic science of the period and the workings of the judicial system, much is also revealed about the nature of the public, class differences and international tensions, the nature of the press and the literature of the period.

While there is no skimping on historical research and presentation of all the relevant facts pertaining to the case and the social situation that it takes place in, Mr Briggs' Hat is never dull or academic, but highly readable and no less thrilling than any fictional work, covering every angle of what remains an intriguing and involving real-life murder-mystery.
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on 28 May 2011
Mr. Thomas Briggs was an old banker, reliable, hard-working, and dull. On 9 July 1864, after his usual early Saturday quitting time, he had an early supper with his favorite niece in London. He then caught a train for home, in the suburbs of Hackney. He did not arrive. In a crime that would have shocked him thoroughly if he could have read about it the papers, he was murdered on the train and thrown out of the carriage. The news, indeed, drove stories about the American Civil War into back pages, and the outrage remained a sensation as the detectives marshaled a case against the murderer, and through the final justice that resulted. It is all vividly described in _Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder_ (Little, Brown UK) by Kate Colquhoun. Sensational is certainly the word, reflecting the titillation brought by newspaper reports of the crime, the subsequent trial, and the punishment. We do not have the crime's immediacy nearly a century and a half later, but Colquhoun's detailed and exciting account is a sensation in its own way.

She points out that trains were huge and scary machines which sometimes exploded and sometimes ran off the track. The sense of loss of control might have been felt by anyone who entered a carriage such as that of Mr. Briggs; it was a mere box with seats, with no communication or path to the identical box ahead of it or behind. Mr. Briggs boarded the train to go to his home in Hackney, but his compartment had no one in it when it arrived; there was only his cane, his bag, and a hat that was not his, along with plenty of his blood everywhere. His body was found by the side of the train tracks where he had been ejected. He had no hat, and had also lost his gold watch and chain. Detectives were able to trace hats and chains and come up with a suspect, a German tailor, Franz Müller, but just as they went to get him, they learned he was off to New York. The chief detective on the case went to fetch him, and Britons knew that the chase (which has to be one of the slowest of crime chases recorded) was on. Brought back, Müller proved not to be a hulking German psychopath, but was slight and inoffensive. could only report that Müller was slightly built and seemingly inoffensive. Indeed, Müller seemed an unlikely suspect to many. There was only circumstantial evidence against him, but as the prosecutor emphasized during the proceedings, murders do not happen when witnesses are around, so that circumstantial evidence is all there is. Distressingly, there were other possible explanations about the watch, chain, and hats; if there was circumstantial evidence against Müller, there was also circumstantial evidence for his exculpation. He was found guilty, and while the newspapers and public were eager for the ritual confession from the man about to be hanged, Müller maintained his innocence until the last, and even all these years after the event, Colquhoun keeps some suspense about how it was all going to turn out.

The final scenes of justice are just the last of many memorable events evocatively brought back in Colquhoun's colorful descriptions. A final chapter reflects on the changes that have happened since the crime and punishment of the narrative of the book. Britain did away with capital punishment in 1964 (long preceded by other European nations), but public hangings were banned in 1868. Müller said nothing at his trial except to give his initial plea of not guilty; defendants did not at the time testify in their own behalf. The Crown's prosecutors were under no legal obligation to reveal to the defense the material that might have helped toward Müller's acquittal, a requirement that was not in place until 1981. And only in 1866 did the government pass a law requiring that there be some system by which passengers isolated in their carriages might inform officials on the train of an emergency. It's no surprise that we live in a different world now, but anyone interested in true crime or in the social history of the period will find this a vivid recollection of Victorian enthusiasms and Victorian worries.
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