The Real Sherlock Holmes – Detective Jerome Caminada and ‘Criminal Manchester’ | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


The Real Sherlock Holmes – Detective Jerome Caminada and ‘Criminal Manchester’

We love hearing about what people are looking for when they’re busy rummaging around in the Archive. In particular, our bookwormy and cardigan-adoring nature means that we really like hearing about all the various book projects that people are working on.

One such researcher and writer who got in touch recently is Angela Buckley, from Manchester. Angela is currently working on a book entitled, The Real Sherlock Holmes: the Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, which will be published by Pen and Sword Books in early 2014 to coincide with the centenary of Caminada’s death.

Angela has written a fascinating article about her research in the BNA (using the very colourful reports in the series, ‘Criminal Manchester’), and has very kindly agreed to let us publish her piece on our blog.

Jerome Caminada – this image has been republished with the kind permission of the Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives.

Introduction and background
Jerome Caminada was a real-life Victorian super-sleuth whose ground-breaking detective work in the notorious rookeries of 19th century Manchester earned him a place in the city’s history as the first Detective Superintendent. A poor boy from the slums with immigrant parents, he used his intimate knowledge of the criminal underworld as a powerful weapon in his fight against crime. He became one of Manchester’s most effective police officers with an extraordinary number of high profile cases to his credit. He was a master of disguise and developed ingenious methods of detection just like his fictional counterpart whose stories were being published at the height of Caminada’s career.

Victorian Manchester was a dangerous place. With staggering crime rates and grinding poverty, it was one of the worst places to live in the country. Known as a ‘terror to evil-doers’, Detective Jerome Caminada stalked notorious criminals in his quest to clean up the seedy streets of his neighbourhood.

At the same time as Arthur Conan Doyle was penning his iconic Sherlock Holmes stories, Caminada was fighting crime in the rookeries of Manchester’s murky underworld. A master of disguise and using ingenious methods of deduction, he was relentless in his pursuit of all manner of crooks from poisoners and pickpockets to ruthless con artists and cold-blooded murderers. The Archive holds many newspaper articles of his ‘exploits’ but there is one particular report that gives a rare eyewitness account of this legendary detective in action.

In the winter of 1874, a ‘special correspondent’ for the Manchester Evening News conducted a covert study of the city’s criminal underclass. The undercover journalist, accompanied by an ex-convict, led his readers on a journey of exploration through the shadows of the back alleys and closed courts of Manchester’s most infamous streets in order to show them what life was like for the ‘outcasts and pariahs of the community’.

The truth of the rather trite saying that half the world knows not how the other half lives is so generally acknowledged that ignorance of certain phases of life in our city can be pleaded with equanimity by the vast majority of us. We do not take the trouble to inquire what is going on in circles very far below us, and are as little acquainted with the existence led by the poverty-stricken or the vicious in our back streets and courts as if a great gulf divided us.

Manchester Evening News – Friday 16 October 1874


As he followed his guide under cover of darkness through the ‘devious maze of courts and passages’, the journalist encountered some of the city’s most hardened criminals including many colourful characters such as ‘Cabbage Ann’, ‘Irish Kate’, ‘Big Jack’, ‘Johnny the Kid’ and ‘Cockney Charley’.

Manchester Evening News – Tuesday 27 October 1874


He met thieves, professional beggars and cadgers, pickpockets, bullies and pimps. Each night he spent time in their dubious company, noting down the details of their precarious existence in beerhouses, gambling dens, disreputable lodging houses and brothels. He even attended the wake of a notorious pickpocket.

Manchester Evening News – Friday 23 October 1874


The correspondent published his experiences in a series of ten special reports, entitled ‘Criminal Manchester’, in which he described their lives in vivid detail. This extraordinary account is shocking, poignant and above all, a compelling read.

On 30 October, the journalist reported on ‘a Saturday night in Deansgate’ in the centre of the city. A fistfight had broken out between two women and within minutes they were tearing at each other’s hair. The crowd around them soon joined in and before long a ‘free fight’ was underway until one man waded into the mêlée:

‘but it was soon put a stop to by the appearance on the scene of a man who I could see at once had more power over these unruly mobs than they would like to confess. He was of average build, but broadly set, and he “went for” the crowd instantly with a quiet determination that was in keeping with what followed. He had no stick or anything to protect himself, but he parted the women, thrust one among the crowd, and gripping the arm of the other, pushed her into one of the houses. Then, turning to the men who were still quarrelling, he sharply spoke to them by name and told them to “be off.” One who had been engaged in the fight called out, menacingly “All right, you __ Jerome,” but before he could say no more he was seized by the collar, run barrow-fashion down the street, shoved into his own residence, and told to remain inside. To ensure compliance with his orders, this man of prompt and energetic action pulled the door smartly to and ordered the few stragglers to disperse. They tailed off in various directions without further disturbance, and the street was as quiet as before. The whole affair transpired so rapidly that I could scarce believe my sense when I saw a crowd of apparently the lowest ruffians…slinking off, cowed by a single man.’

Manchester Evening News – Friday 30 October 1874


This was a unique sighting of Detective Jerome Caminada at work, a true Victorian super-sleuth and the ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes.

Angela Buckley


Further information
Detective Caminada’s full story will be revealed for the very first time in The Real Sherlock Holmes by Angela Buckley, to be published in early 2014 by Pen and Sword Books,

There is more information about Jerome Caminada at or you can follow the author on Twitter at @amebuckley.


Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.