2nd February 1856.
Charles Dickens knew the London detective Charles Field well, describing him as: ‘A middle-aged man of portly presence, with a large, moist, knowing eye, a husky voice, and a habit of emphasising his conversation by the air of a corpulent fore-finger, which is constantly in juxta position with his eyes or nose’.
It was in 1842 that the Detective Division was formed at Scotland Yard, with Inspector Nicholas Pierce as its first chief.
Charles Frederick Field was one of the best known of the early detective officers and credited with apprehending in 1851, Charles Gill who was charged with sending a threatening letter to Lord John Russell, of 6, Downing Street, London, intending to ‘fire an ounce of powder into his skull’.(1)
After his retirement Field was employed in private practice and Today in 1856 he appeared in a news supplement of the News of the World.(2)
The News of the World from its inception was always involved in lurid details of crime and the cause celebre at that time was the trial of Dr Palmer of Rugeley, Staffordshire, who was charged with poisoning three people.
However Field, in that Paper, for some reason was still described as an ‘Inspector’ which glory as a private investigator, he tended to trade on.
The Metropolitan Police authorities however, took a dim view and he had his pension temporarily withheld despite his role in the case being restricted to looking into Palmer’s previous financial activities. The police, after retirement, have never hung onto rank, unlike army or naval officers.
It was about this time that the detective genre began in literature with the appearance of Sergeant Cuff in Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone,(3) and Inspector Bucket in Dickens’ Bleak House, who tracked down the infamous murderer of Tulkinghorn.(4).
Less known are the detectives in Trollope’s, Eustace Diamonds, namely Bunfit, and Gager described as a young detective…very clever, and certainly a little too, fast…who declared [in the case to track stolen diamonds], that the Bunfit theory ‘waren’t on the cards’.
Their boss, an ex-Army officer, as common then, was the ‘Argus’ eyed Major Mackintosh.(5)
Later in the century, these fictional and real detective were to be over-shadowed by the first appearance of Conan-Doyle’s’ Sherlock Holmes, in the ‘The Study of Scarlet’, a hero still today.
(1) Reported in the News of the World 16th February 1851.
(2) Field was accompanied on his rounds by Dickens who picked up lot if information about the seedy side of London, later used in his novels. Inspector Bucket was said to be based on Field.
(3) T.S. Eliot described the Moonstone as ‘the first and greatest English detective novel’.
(4) Inspector Bucket was featured on a Player’s Cigarette Card of the 1930s.
(5) P 474-485 The Eustace Diamonds. A.Trollope
Ref: wikipedia.org/charles_frederick_field. Picture Ref.
Ref: ric.edu/faculty/reporter/chasfield, concerning Inspector C. F. Field. Picture Ref for Cigarette Card.
Ref: Description of Field quoted in Begg & Skinner 43, where Field is referred to as Inspector Wield.