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The Personal archive of detective who hunted Jack the Ripper to go on show in Sheffield

The unique personal archive of the detective who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper – including a book in which he names the infamous Whitechapel murderer – will be made public for the first time after being given into the care of a South Yorkshire museum.

By Lloyd Bent

Wednesday, 5th May 2021

The private collection of Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson has been entrusted to the National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) in Sheffield by the former detective’s family.

The treasure trove lay undiscovered for decades until Swanson’s descendants discovered an enormous collection of over 150 individual objects; paperwork, photographs, letters, drawings and personal belongings.

Among them was what became known as ‘the Swanson marginalia’; a book, annotated by Swanson, in which he names the person he believed to be the infamous killer, Jack the Ripper.

The marginalia is thought to be a unique artefact revealing unknown details of the case as well as theories and notes on what evidence the Metropolitan Police had gathered – all from the pen of the inspector charged with solving the case.

The marginalia, along with other items from the collection, will form part of a new exhibition, ‘Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds’, which will be revealed to visitors when the museum reopens on Wednesday 19 May.

The exhibition, housed within NESM’s original Victorian cells, explores the intriguing history of 19th crime and punishment from the bobby on the beat to the emerging science of forensics.

The Swanson collection is thought to be one of the most detailed and significant of its kind. It includes official police paperwork and documents from a number of nationally significant criminal cases as well as Swanson’s own personal findings, theories and evaluations, arrest lists and the resources he used to solve some of his cases.

Holly Roberts, curator at NESM, said: “We are so proud to have been given the honour of caring for this outstanding collection, and to help shed light on the achievements of a remarkable man whose story has been largely forgotten.

“This vast collection tells us an enormous amount about what it was like to be a detective in 19th century Britain. Even more unusually, there is so much of his professional career and his family and personal life, offering us a unique picture of what a prominent 19th century detective did in his work time and his down time. It is an amazing addition to our museum and to our new exhibition.”

Adam Wood, executive editor of Ripperologist magazine and author of the definitive biography of Swanson, helped to secure the collection for NESM.

He said: “During my seven years of research into Donald Swanson’s life I realised that he had enjoyed an amazing career, much more than just his known involvement in the Jack the Ripper investigation.

“The 35-year period of the late Victorian era in which Swanson served was one of massive development for the Metropolitan Police, culminating in the dawn of fingerprint detection. Perhaps more than anyone, it was he who epitomised the Victorian detective.”

Bill Swanson, a great-grandson of Donald’s, said: “The Swanson family is delighted that the career of Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson is being exhibited to the general public and will now be on long-term display for all to see at the National Emergency Services Museum, its best publicly-accessible home.”

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