The person who held James Maybrick in their arms as he drew his last breath at 8.40 pm on the 11th May 1889 was not his wife, Florence. It was, In fact, his best friend, George Davidson. We know little about George Davidson up to this point. In Shirley Harrison’s “The Diary of Jack the Ripper” (1993), we are told he came from a well-respected religious Scottish family and was a brother-in-law to aristocracy.
I’ve decided to use this blog post to learn more about the man regarded as James Maybrick’s “most intimate friend”.
SON OF A PREACHER MAN
George Ramsay Davidson was born on the 29th of January 1836 in Drumblade, Aberdeenshire. His namesake father was the then minister for Drumblade. His mother was Jessie Lumsden, daughter of an Edinburgh architect. His siblings were Eliza (born 1831), Mary (born 1833) and David (born 1838).
George’s father replaced Thomas Liddell as the minister of Lady Glenorchy’s Church in central Edinburgh in 1842. However, the Disruption of 1843 meant that he and many of his congregation broke away from the Church of Scotland to join the Free Church of Scotland.
He had to wait until a new church was built at Greenside Place before returning to preaching. In 1846, this was achieved. George and his family moved into 2 Baxter’s Place, a palatial Georgian townhouse just a few doors down from the new church. George Junior was around ten years old at this time.
TO SIR WITH LOVE
George’s oldest sister, Eliza Maule Davidson, married Thomas Clark in 1851, who in 1886 became Sir Thomas Clark, 1st Baronet of Melville Crescent. George was fifteen when they married.
George’s other sister, Mary, married a man of the cloth named Alexander Cusin in July 1866. He later succeeded her father upon his retirement.
LOSS OF FAITH?
In the 1861 census, we discover that George and his brother David William are lodging together in Liverpool, and both listed their occupations as “Commercial Clerk in American Trade.” Did the brothers decide that the family business of faith was not for them?
Interestingly, James Maybrick’s family was also very involved with religion, with father William being an organist for his church for many years. Later, his brother Michael wrote “The Holy City” (1892), one of the most famous religious songs of the era. This could have been the common ground on which their friendship blossomed.
According to Gore’s Liverpool Directory of 1867, George R. Davidson lived at Wood Cottage on Magazine Lane in Liscard.
Using this information, we can search the Electoral Register for 1867. We see this address is confirmed. Not only that, but we can also see his brother is listed at that same address.
We can trace George back to that address since 1864 using Gore’s Directory.
The 1867 edition of Gore’s Directory is when we also see the return of James Maybrick to Liverpool from London. We can reasonably assume their friendship was initially formed on the Liverpool business social circuit around this time. It is known that both men frequented the Palatine Club on Bold Street.
It’s hard to see how their paths may have crossed before this point. James lived and worked in London since the late 1850s / early 1860s, and George seemingly arrived in Liverpool around the same time.
If this is the case, George may have been entirely unaware of his new friend’s previous “marriage” to Sarah Ann Robertson when they first met.
George R. Davidson, a merchant from Scotland via Liverpool born in 1836, was aboard the passenger ship Siberia as it docked in New York on the 18th of November 1867.
This appears to be after the dissolution of his business partnership the previous month.
It seems George’s business had hit some creditor issues in 1866.
His visit to America could have been for a year or so, as he was back in Liverpool and on the Electoral Register in 1869. This time, he was listed as living at Claremont Villa on Wellington Road without his brother. However, he is seemingly no longer there by April 1871, as the Tomkinson Family resided at that address for the 1871 census. I failed to find George on both the 1871 and 1881 censuses.
BACK IN BUSINESS
Around this time, George had co-founded a new business, Barnes, Davidson & Co., commission and American merchants, based at 6 Knowsley Buildings, the same buildings where James Maybrick would later be based. It was also where Butler Gasquoine, the most likely proprietor of Normanston, operated his stock broking business. 1871 Gore’s Directory still has George listed as living at Claremont Villa in New Brighton.
DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS
According to the book “The Maybrick Murder And The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The End Game” (Dolgin & Jones), James Maybrick and George Davidson were listed as guests at the St Charles Hotel in New Orleans in December 1873. James was sent there for business purposes by Gustav Witt. This was before James set up his own company. As George was an expert in American trade, it’s pretty possible George’s business experience in the United States was helpful for James.
ROOM FOR A GEORGE
In the 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877 and 1878 Gore’s Directories, George does not appear with a residential address. However, we find him on the electoral register at hotels. The first was the Marine Hotel (owned by Ann Davidson, who appears to be of no relation) in 1874, then the Alexandra Hotel on Dale Street in 1875 and 1876, and then the Royal Hotel in 1877 and 1878. He may not have been a permanent UK resident during that period but may have wished to maintain a residential address. For example, he could have been in America for long periods and maintained a UK address for admin and electoral purposes.
His business continued to be listed in Gore’s at the Knowsley Buildings address for each of those years. James was coincidentally spending much of his time in the United States around this period.
the EARLY EIGHTIES
During the early 1880s, James Maybrick was firmly established within the Liverpool and US cotton worlds, and his profile was rising. He had married the young American socialite Florence Chandler, 22 years his junior, in 1881. By 1882, he was living in a wealthy suburb of Liverpool and expecting his first child.
George was seemingly living comfortably on Bedford Street in the city’s centre. However, the 1881 census shows, the Dawson family lived at that address.
George’s second business closure happened in July 1885.
It appears that after the dissolution of this business, George struck out alone as a commission agent, basing himself on Rumford Street.
THE DEATH OF JAMES
In February 1889, James and several friends, including George, took a walking holiday in North Wales. Critics of the diary often cite that it demonstrates that James was in good health as the group walked up to twenty miles daily. However, there is evidence to suggest that James obtained arsenic from a chemist whilst on this trip, which clearly illustrates his addictive nature was undoubtedly not abating.
On the 25th of April 1889, James wrote a new will after he destroyed the original one over the New Year period. The new will completely cut his wife Florence out. George Davidson co-signed this version of James’s will as a witness.
Then, on the 11th of May 1889, James died in George’s arms and not in those of his wife or brothers. George was also noted as being present at James’s funeral.
THE DEATH OF GEORGE
George continued to plough on with his own business for almost four years. Until one fateful day in February 1893, he took his own life. The newspaper reports below from The Liverpool Echo clearly state how George met his end in such tragic circumstances.
DEBT IN DEATH
The below was not quite factually correct despite George’s probate stating that he left his sister Mary £316 (equivalent to around £30k to £50k in today’s money).
As the probate grant below shows, George never left a will, so his estate was referred to the ‘Letters of Administration’. This means the probate office issued a grant based on awarding his next of kin his estate, which was, by their records, his sister Mary in Edinburgh.
However, that was not to be the end of the story. Three months later, solicitors invited creditors with claims against his estate to come forward. We can only assume that Mary realised George had died in debt and probably used his estate to appease those creditors.
THE PILLOW WATCH
Intriguingly, a newspaper report detailing the inquest of Davidson’s death mentions that a watch was found under his pillow in his apartment. Could this have been the watch we now know as The Maybrick Watch?
Why would a watch be left in such a place? It could well be that the light ticking helped him sleep. Except reports claimed he had insomnia of late. Perhaps he wanted it to be deliberately found separate from all his other belongings. Perhaps he learned of what the etchings were in the back? After all, a rather strange H93 repair mark on the rear of the watch that overlaps the Maybrick etchings. Did George get the watch fixed in 1893 and learn its sinister contents? Could this have been part of his desire to exit this mortal coil? We will never know. However, we know precisely 100 years later that the Maybrick watch did reach the public consciousness. We are still baffled by its true origins, even today.
PROFILE OF GEORGE
The Liverpool Echo, across various reports, described his physical appearance as 5ft 7ins, stout, with grey hair, a reddish moustache and a ruddy complexion.
George was not as successful in business as his friend James, but he was popular amongst other merchants. He had two ceased businesses against his name before appearing to commit suicide due to money pressures.
We are informed by the same reports that James always kept a bed ready for him at his house and was his most intimate friend. George never married. Was there some Victorian insinuation that perhaps the two men were more than just friends? The fact he never appeared in the witness box at James’s murder trial does seem rather interesting. He also apparently wrote to Florence whilst she was awaiting trial.
We also know the threat of his creditors contacting his family in Scotland was enough to prompt him to take his own life. The letters found in his jacket at his home would strongly indicate these events were connected.
According to Shirley Harrison, Sir Thomas Clark’s family today certainly did not know of the suicide. They suggest this might have been regarded as a great embarrassment and may have been hushed up within the family.
DID GEORGE KNOW SOMETHING?
It has been suggested that perhaps George killed himself because he was burdened by the truth of James Maybrick being Jack the Ripper. There is no evidence to suggest that was the case, but it is an intriguing thought. However, would a serial killer confide in a friend of their heinous crimes? I’m not aware of any such famous examples of this being the case. They might, however, have left a clue that they wanted to be discovered after their death.
What we do know is that when George killed himself, he was penniless and alone. Florence Chandler spent fifteen years in prison and died in a rickety old shack in the middle of nowhere, penniless and alone. Sarah Ann Robertson suffered mental health issues and also died penniless and alone.
It would seem that being intimately close to James Maybrick was not good for anyone’s health.
JACK THE RIPPER: THREADS
Think you know Jack the Ripper? Think again.
In ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’, Jay Hartley presents a compelling fictional exploration of the idea that the infamous serial killer was actually James Maybrick, a cotton merchant from Liverpool. Using a mix of fact and fiction, this historical crime thriller brings to life actual events and characters from the era in a way that will challenge everything you thought you knew about this unsolved case.
With gripping prose and meticulous attention to detail, Hartley paints a vivid picture of Maybrick’s life and his possible involvement in the gruesome murders that terrorised London’s Whitechapel district in 1888.
But the story doesn’t end there. Did one of Maybrick’s family members murder him in 1889, bringing an end to the Ripper’s reign of terror?
This debut novel will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow the clues and try to piece together the truth behind one of history’s most baffling mysteries.
So if you’re ready to challenge your assumptions and dive into a world of intrigue and deception, ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’ is the book for you.