Two repentant convicts

One of the benefits of researching Jack the Ripper is the introduction to the many fascinating characters who lived around the same time. Their stories are largely untold because they were poor. People like William Onion, possibly Britain’s convicted man, who reformed and became a noted street poet. In my unpublished biography of Onion, I note that he was inspired by Ned Wright. They were similar in many ways. Both were born in poverty, were addicted to alcohol, spent time in jail and were violent towards their wives even if Onion’s marriage only lasted a few hours.

Onion met his future wife whilst selling bibles. Wright followed this trade after his conversion to Christianity. He then went around helping the poor, most notably providing free soup and bread at thieves’ suppers. His biography, written by Edward Leach, gives several examples of how he inspired others to repent and providing references to help them find work. Onion could have been one of these successes if he had stayed away from drink.

22 years later Onion swapped alcohol for tea and, like Wright, began using his experiences to help others. We know of at least three people whose lives were literally saved by these two men but cannot count the many others who were inspired to find their way out of poverty.

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