Spy Journal (1882) by way of Wikimedia Commons
On the final day of February 1884, the then residence secretary Sir William Harcourt rose within the UK parliament to reply a query a few collection of bomb assaults on two of London’s main railway stations. He learn out particulars of an preliminary investigation of two bombs, one which had detonated at Victoria Station and one other which had been found, unexploded, at Charing Cross.
The bombs, which had been deposited within the stations’ left baggage places of work, have been of an identical design, and resembled the stays of bombs that had detonated, Harcourt mentioned, in Glasgow, Liverpool and elsewhere in London. The unexploded gadget, found by a vigilant ticket clerk at Charing Cross, and the stays of the bomb that had detonated at Victoria have been rushed to the Woolwich Arsenal.
In accordance with Harcourt, the Charing Cross gadget comprised a “shabby black American-leather portmanteau, two toes by twelve inches”. However what it contained was of specific curiosity. As reported in The Telegraph, it was an “infernal machine” comprised of a clock, a pistol set off mechanism, shifting cogs and bars of a tender, chemical-smelling materials.
An professional was referred to as: Colonel Vivian Dering Majendie, a person whom, The Instances reported, was famend for being “most painstaking in his investigations” into explosive gadgets and the individuals who constructed them.
Majendie, in keeping with the information report, had solely to choose up and make a cursory examination of the chemical bars, so as conclude that they have been – as all suspected – slabs of dynamite. He subsequent turned his consideration to the clock to which the extracted bars have been hooked up, noting that its producer’s stamp indicated an American origin. Lastly, he examined the set off mechanism, shortly figuring out that it had misfired, which was why the bomb had been a dud.
Harmful because the examination had been, the act of coming face-to-face with gadgets designed to kill and able to doing so at any second was simply one other day for Her Majesty’s Inspector of Explosives. This was a title that had been bestowed on Majendie in 1871, reflecting each the esteem wherein Majendie was held and the societal fears of terrorism that have been gripping Britain in that period.
Born in 1836, Majendie had served as an artillery officer within the Crimean Battle (1853-1856) and the Indian Insurrection (1857), earlier than changing into an teacher at Woolwich Arsenal within the 1860s. On this capability, he developed a fame for experience within the composition and meeting of explosive gadgets.
This led, in 1875, to him being appointed to advise the federal government on the wording of the primary Explosives Act. The Act regulated the sale and manufacturing of gunpowder and dynamite – a substance invented within the 1860s for the needs of mining. It had additionally shortly change into the favoured weapon of Fenians (Irish republicans), anarchists, nihilists and different terrorists.
Majendie was additionally adept within the burgeoning self-discipline of forensics – he’s thought to be the founding father of in the present day’s Forensics Explosives Lab (FEL) which – amongst different duties – was on the forefront of the investigations into the Manchester bombing of 2017.
Almost 140 years earlier, the person who laid the foundations for the FEL was tackling a distinct terrorist risk, specifically the so-called “Fenian dynamite marketing campaign” of 1881-1885, which concerned bombs being positioned in public and police buildings, tube stations and barracks, in addition to onboard ships in London, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.
Majendie served as each explosives analyst and detective on this unique “battle on terror”. His investigations into the bomb plots of February 1884 revealed that not solely have been the clock components and explosives used comparable in each the bomb that went off and the unexploded gadget, however that they have been of American make. This led Majendie to the additional conclusion that the origin of the assaults could possibly be discovered on the opposite facet of the Atlantic.
Past unravelling the transatlantic plots of these he referred to as “dynamite rascals”, Majendie additionally suggested the federal government on all method of safety points, from learn how to transform the Tower of London in order to guard it from insurgencies, to measures for securing the proposed Channel tunnel within the occasion of a continental invasion. On this sense, Majendie was greater than only a bomb disposal professional – even when he was the primary particular person in historical past to be recognised as such. He was additionally what may in the present day be loosely termed a “safety guide”.
Regardless of these forays into planning the bricks and mortar of nationwide safety, Majendie’s inventory in commerce remained forensic explosive investigation. As such, in 1894, he topped his profession by investigating the French anarchist Martial Bourdin’s try and detonate a bomb at Greenwich Observatory.
The feeling this created within the UK nationwide press would later lead the novelist Joseph Conrad to pen his notorious 1907 story of anarchist terrorism, The Secret Agent.
As at all times, Majendie offered a sober actuality to the sensationalism that surrounded the bombing. Having examined Bourdin’s wounds and his “infernal machine”, Majendie concluded that the explosion had not been brought on by the bomber tripping over his personal toes (the buffoonish explanation for the explosion offered by Conrad) and as a substitute had merely mishandled the chemical parts of the weapon.
Majendie’s investigation of the Greenwich bombing was one of many final triumphs of his storied profession – he died of a coronary heart assault in 1898. He was each an empirical investigator with a ardour for science and, by way of his safety consultancy, a participant within the panics over anarchist terrorism and overseas invasion that ran rampant in Britain on the finish of the 19th century. Majendie embodied the contradictions of an age wherein progress and rationality competed with societal fears within the midst of the primary “battle on terror” – a person each for and of his time.
James Crossland doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.