Shackles and rattles and whistles–oh, my! Before the days of Kevlar, body cams, and radar, 19th century police were equipped with the most modern technology of the day. Let’s take a look at the cutting-edge crime-fighting equipment of the Victorian era.
The Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives houses an extensive collection of artifacts tracing the history of British policing, including some wonderful videos that show period tools in action.
First up, noise was an early constable’s best ally. From shouting, “Stop, thief!” to striking nightsticks against cobblestones, 19th century police had several noisemakers to choose from to startle evildoers and alert their comrades.
One of the first tools was the rattle, a wooden instrument that produced a loud clacking audible hundreds of feet away.
It was joined mid-century by the whistle—still used by police today. The police whistle has a featured role in Cold-Blooded Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle #3):
This video from the GMP Museum lets you hear what these tools would have sounded like:
Chasing down criminals in the dark alleys of Victorian cities was made a little easier thanks to the bullseye lantern.
Although period illustrations likely exaggerate the amount of brightness given off by these lanterns, they were a vast improvement over fumbling about by moonlight.
The artifact details for this lantern from Maine explain its workings:
This portable police lantern was an oil lamp with a lens to focus light and a shutter to darken the flame without extinguishing it. There are folding handles on the back and a clip for attaching it to a belt or strap. The shutter is marked with “B. Putnam,” “1888,” “G.D.B.P.”
Once you’ve caught your criminal, you can restrain him (or her) in handcuffs and leg irons. In 1894, retired Scotland Yard inspector Maurice Moser wrote an article on the history of handcuffs for The Strand Magazine, which you can read, along with its illustrations, at Project Gutenberg.
In addition to the rattle and whistle, you can see videos of period cuffs and lanterns–and much more—at the GMP Museum & Archives.