Secret Commissions
An Anthology of Victorian Investigative Journalism
  • Publication Date: September 12, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781551113302 / 1551113309
  • 320 pages; 6" x 9"

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Secret Commissions

An Anthology of Victorian Investigative Journalism

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781551113302 / 1551113309
  • 320 pages; 6" x 9"

Lurid, controversial, and vulnerable to accusations of titillation or rabble-rousing, the works of Victorian investigative journalism collected here nonetheless brought unseen suffering into the light of day. Even today their exposure has the power to shock. As one investigator promised, “The Report of our Secret Commission will be read to-day with a shuddering horror that will thrill throughout the world.”

Secret Commissions brings together nineteen key documents of Victorian investigative journalism. Their authors range from well-known writers such as Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, and W.T. Stead to now-forgotten names such as Hugh Shimmin, Elizabeth Banks, and Olive Malvery. Collectively, they show how unsparing descriptions of social injustice became regular features of English journalism long before the advent of American-style “muckraking.” The reports address topics as varied as child abuse, animal cruelty, juvenile prostitution, sweat-shops, slums, gypsies, abortion, infanticide, and other controversial social issues. The collection features detailed chapter introductions, original illustrations, a historical overview of investigative reporting in the nineteenth-century press, and suggestions for further reading.

For an excerpt from Secret Commissions, please see a post on our blog.


“This is a book full of amazing stuff—Victorian in its facts, but contemporary in its themes. Great reporters doing great stories.” — Nick Davies, investigative reporter, The Guardian

“A superbly annotated anthology that establishes without doubt the origins of modern investigative journalism in the mid- to late-nineteenth-century press. Stephen Donovan and Matthew Rubery’s selection of articles from the late 1840s to the turn of the century makes compelling reading, demonstrating the innovative techniques of the journalists and the shocking nature of their exposés.” — Joanne Shattock, Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature, University of Leicester

“As this collection of specimens of investigative journalism convincingly illustrates, ‘More is required of the Investigative reporter than sightseeing’! Donovan and Rubery’s thoughtful and provocative introduction is full of fresh perspectives and links to provide an historical and critical context for what follows: a rich cornucopia of examples from across the period and press—dailies, popular weeklies, and monthly reviews, in which a developing definition of fact-based and witness-based journalism may be gleaned.” — Laurel Brake, Professor Emerita of Literature and Print Culture, Birkbeck, University of London

List of Illustrations
A Note on Money

  1. ANGUS REACH, “Labour and the Poor: The Manufacturing Districts” (1849)
  2. HENRY MAYHEW, “Labour and the Poor: The Metropolitan Districts” (1849)
  3. CHARLES DICKENS, “A Sleep to Startle Us” (1852)
  4. HUGH SHIMMIN, “Liverpool Life” (1856)
  5. JOHN HOLLINGSHEAD, “London Horrors” (1861)
  6. MARY CARPENTER, “On the Treatment of Female Convicts” (1863)
  7. JAMES GREENWOOD, “A Night in a Workhouse” (1866)
  8. “A.B.,” “Baby Farming” (1870)
  9. HENRY LABOUCHERE, “Inside Newgate” (1872)
  10. J. EWING RITCHIE, “In a Gipsy Camp” (1879)
  11. GEORGE R. SIMS, “How the Poor Live” (1883)
  12. W.T. STEAD, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” (1885)
  13. ANNIE BESANT, “White Slavery in London” (1888)
  14. BEATRICE POTTER, “Pages from a Work-Girl’s Diary” (1888)
  15. ELIZABETH BANKS, “In Cap and Apron” (1893)
  16. HERBERT CADETT, “Massacre of the Innocents” (1895)
  17. ROBERT H. SHERARD, “The White Slaves of England” (1897)
  18. MARY HIGGS, “The Tramp Ward” (1904)
  19. OLIVE CHRISTIAN MALVERY, “The Edge of the Street” (1904)

Further Reading

Stephen Donovan is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Uppsala University, Sweden.

Matthew Rubery is Reader in English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.