Today I am thrilled to be hosting Guest Blogger Angela Buckley, whose new book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, will have its official launch in London next week. She has taken time out on a hectic blog tour to tell us here of a dilemma many of us, as researchers, face – how to ensure we deal with the stories of the dead in a sensitive fashion and why she believes Detective Caminada’s story must be told.
The first time I visited the grave of Jerome Caminada in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, I had mixed emotions. I was excited at the prospect of uncovering the story of this exceptional detective, which had remained hidden for almost a century, but at the same time I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Is it fair to rattle bones that have been long since buried and bring the dead back to life?
Jerome Caminada was born in Manchester in 1844 to immigrant parents. A child of the slums, he overcame staggering odds to become one of the city’s finest police officers, reaching the lofty heights of Detective Superintendent. He was an extraordinary man: a fearsome law enforcer who was never afraid to tackle the most daring and desperate of criminals, but also a man with a compassion for others and a deep sense of social justice. I began my journey into his past with his memoirs, published at the end of his 30-year-long career.
Nineteenth century police memoirs are essentially work histories, rather than accounts of domestic life, and Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life by Jerome Caminada is no exception. In this weighty tome, he recounts ‘over fifty stories, dealing with all manner of crime and criminals’. I used contemporary newspapers and court records to reconstruct his cases, and although the accounts often differed, I was able to re-discover his adventures as he tackled thieves, pickpockets, cunning swindlers and even cold-blooded murderers, on the streets of his city. But it wasn’t until I dug deeper into his personal circumstances that I really began to bring Detective Caminada truly back to life.
Jerome’s parents were Francis and Mary Caminada. His father was a cabinetmaker of Italian descent and his mother was an illiterate textiles worker, with her roots in Ireland. Both families had been among the masses of workers who had migrated into the city of Manchester in the wake of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century. Their meagre existence was totally precarious and when Jerome was just three years old, his father died of heart disease, leaving his mother alone with the surviving four of her six children. There was still worse to come and the family was forced to move into one of the worst rookeries in Victorian Manchester, later described by Jerome as ‘a very hot-bed of social iniquity and vice’. It was in these crime-infested streets that Detective Caminada developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the shady characters and nefarious criminals who lived there, which would become one of his most effective weapons in fighting crime.
The terrible suffering of his family, who experienced further devastating losses and grinding poverty, instilled in Jerome great empathy for others and kindness to those less fortunate than himself. Throughout his career, he never failed to help individuals in genuine need and to plead their cause, whatever they had done. His faith and hope in humanity kept him going in the most difficult of circumstances, in both his professional and personal life. It has been a challenge to bring Detective Caminada back to life but now that his story is ready to be heard once again after a century of silence, I am proud to have rattled his bones!
My sincere thanks to Angela. The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com