IN our account above, our readers will find the leader of this gang of swindlers upon the pillory at Charing-cross, along with one Brown, another of his disciples. Edward William Roberts, the adept above named, David Cole, the brother of Dorothy Cole, who cohabited with Roberts and passed as his wife, and David Maitland, acting as servant to Roberts, were indicted for a conspiracy to defraud Frederic Norris upholsterer of Cheshunt.
Frederic Norris deposed, that in the month of July, Cole and Roberts came to his house at Broxbourne, and desired that he would come over the next morning, which was on Saturday, to take measure for the carpets, curtains, &c. He accordingly went the next day, and sent in about 20l. worth of furniture. He then thought it prudent to ask for a reference. Mr. Cole mentioned the names of several Lords and Earls, but said you may as well go to my solicitor, Mr. Crawford, No. 1, Charles-square, Hoxton; he has six or 7,000l. of mine in his hands, and will give you satisfaction. He accordingly went there, and Mr. Crawford confirmed this statement, observing that Mr. Cole was a man of large landed property. Cole afterwards gave the witness a draft for 50l. on his attorney, Crawford, which was dishonoured; and in fact, the goods were all moved off in the night, and Roberts was apprehended the next day in the London Road.
By the testimony of Mary Little, and other witnesses, it appeared that the goods were carried to a court near Nelson-street, in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch; some were pawned by Maitland, and others sold to a person of the name of Clarke, by the directions of Cole, in the name of Lidyard. Trott, the police officer, stated, that being upon the watch in Baltic-street, where he knew Cole lodged, he met Roberts going to his lodgings.
The case of the prosecutor being finished, the prisoner Roberts addressed the jury in a very long, and certainly a very able speech, in which he urged with great ingenuity all the topics that he could make in his favour. He concluded by stating that he most poignantly felt his degraded situation; that he had been born to the expectation of independency; that he had been liberally educated, and was a member of an honourable profession; but that finding his talents not adequate to his profession, he had turned his attention to the quiet pursuits of literature, in which he had produced several works that had met the approbation of eminent men; particularly "Considerations on the Laws of Debtor and Creditor," which had been quoted by Lord Moira with approbation. His wife too was a woman of an accomplished mind, and had produced literary works which had been very favourably noticed by ladies of the most exalted rank, who had not only afforded her their protection, but received her at their houses, and themselves repaid her visits. He could mention two in particular, "Delmer" and "The Mysterious Mothers." [Note: By "His wife" meaning the said Dorothy Cole, who received her education in the bar of the Magpie Inn, on Hounslow Heath, formerly kept by her father. Roberts had long abandoned his wife and several children. Of these alleged "literary works" the first only was published. It was the wild effusions of his own brain, to which he tacked the name of Dorothy Roberts. It should have had the alias, Cole; who hawked it from door to door, through the squares and best streets of the west end of London, teasing the rich into subscriptions, under various pretences and pleas of distress. As to the "Mysterious Mother," the same game was played over again. Numerous subscriptions were again paid to her; but Roberts, as it must be seen, was otherwise engaged than to enter upon a development of his announced volumes of mysteries. Roberts received a very liberal education, was bred to the bar, and actually admitted a counsellor at law. — "O tempora! O mores!"]
Of late, however, his fate had been sadly reversed; the hands of oppression had fallen heavily upon him. In June last his wife died; and himself, from the enjoyment even of the luxuries of life, had been dragged to the damps of a cold and solitary dungeon in the Coldbath fields prison. This had produced disease, and the loss of the use of his limbs. From that period he had languished a miserable existence in the sick ward of Newgate, where he had experienced all the grinding oppression to which the unhappy inmates of a prison are necessarily subject. But the only cheering hope which ever entered those walls was now realized, namely, the day that he could face a jury of his fellow-countrymen; that day was now arrived, and he trusted the justice of their verdict would relieve him for further sorrow.
The jury found a verdict of Guilty, and he was ordered twelve months' imprisonment, and to stand in the pillory. On the pillory at Hertford, though this cheat was nearly on a par with that which we have already told, he was handled somewhat less roughly by a country mob; but the populace vented their indignation more through hissing and hooting than by rotten eggs, decayed vegetables, and the kennels' filth.
It must have been noted that a professional name was implicated in the foul transactions which came out on this trial. The gentleman so named, a few days after the conviction we now record, published the following vindication of his conduct, in the form of a letter addressed to the editor of the London Morning Advertiser:
"It appeared in your paper of last Monday, on the trial of Roberts and Maitland, for a conspiracy with one Cole, that he referred a Mr. Norris to me, saying, "that I had 7000l. in my hands, and that upon his applying to me, I confirmed that statement." I absolutely deny ever having authorized Cole to make any such assertion; and I also deny ever having confirmed any such statement. When Mr. Norris applied to me with a draft drawn by Cole, I informed him, that I had not a farthing of Cole's money, nor ever had; that Cole had applied to me to attend him to the Commons to examine his father's will; that by it, it did appear considerable property had come to him in consequence of his mother's recent death, who, it appeared, had been entitled to the rents of the estate for her life. Having known Cole, as a carpenter, who had five or six men working under him about six years ago, and he having frequently informed me, that whenever his mother should die, he would, under his father's will, be entitled to an estate of three or four thousand pounds' value, and he having always said, that, whenever that event happened he would employ no other professional man than myself, I certainly did feel satisfied, that what he informed me of were truths: accordingly, when applied to by Mr. Norris, I told him, that I was authorized to sell or mortgage the estate in order to pay his debt, as well as any other debt which Cole might contract, and that I had no doubt but Mr. Norris would be paid the amount of the bill which he had against Cole.
Maitland I never saw or heard of until after he was taken into custody, and that was by the public prints. Roberts I never saw or heard of, in any way whatever, until introduced to him by Cole, who informed me Roberts had lately married his sister. Roberts said he was a gentleman, who lived at Streatham, and was very desirous of assisting his brother-in-law, Cole.—That it was very inconvenient for him then to do it; but that about a fortnight after last Michaelmas-day, the rents of his estate would be coming in, between 3 and 400l. half yearly; and that if I would, in the meantime, assist Cole with 50 or 100l. it would be of great service to him. From this representation, and with the sole view of doing what I thought an act which one man frequently does for another, I accepted a bill, and afterward others for Cole.
Almost every time I saw him, I plagued him for the title deeds. The answer was, "They are in the hands of a gentleman at Windsor, who lent my father 200l. upon the estate. I'll procure an abstract of the title.'—I told him Mr. Norris had applied to me for the money, and another tradesman, and that an abstract, at least, should be had, otherwise I should be in a most awkward situation. The next time he called at my house, he showed me a letter purporting to have been sent to him from Sir J. Hippesley, stating that he, Sir John, had considered the offer of Cole, respecting the sale of that part of his estate which lay contiguous to Sir John's; and that, if Cole would instantly employ a proper land surveyor on his part, he, Sir John, would do the like, and the money, whatever might be the amount, would be immediately paid. A few days after this letter was shown me, Roberts was taken into custody by Mr. Norris, and proved to be a common swindler. Afterwards he was released on bail.
Warrants having been issued against him for other offences, I endeavoured to find him, did so, and took him into custody. I went to the place at which the estate lay, a few miles beyond Hounslow, found that Cole's father had died possessed of considerable property, that his mother was dead, and that Cole had sold the estate. To the truth of the above narrative I am ready to swear. I most solemnly declare in whatever I have said to others, or done myself for Cole, it was neither from motives of profit nor interest. I mean that right where right was due would have followed; neither directly nor indirectly have I received a farthing, for Cole owes me at this day 17l. upon an old balance; I trust, therefore, after this explanation, the public, and particularly , that part of it which compose individuals to whom I may be personally known, will not think that knowingly I have acted so improperly as to have my name in public prints joined with such names as Cole and Roberts; but will look to the quo animo it was done.
I am, sir, your humble servant,
March 16, 1809."
Note: Swindling has of late years become so common a practice in the metropolis, that writers for diurnal papers frequently amuse themselves in relating adroit performances of this nature, in burlesque, pun, and hyperbole. One of these scribbling wits thus makes merry with a silly tradesman, on being fiddled out of his money.
"SWINDLING SET TO MUSIC.—A country-looking man lately called at a haberdasher's shop, with a fiddle under his arm; and after purchasing and paying for some trifling articles, which he pretended to want, asked to be allowed to leave his purchase and his fiddle, till he did some other business through the town. He had scarcely gone out, when in comes an accomplice, (as it turned out) who observing the fiddle, takes it up and tries it, and is quite charmed with it. "This is the most charming fiddle I have ever met with; is it for sale?—I'd give fifty guineas for that fiddle." He was told it was not for sale, but belonged to a countryman, who had just left it there till he should make some other calls.—"When he comes back for it, try and buy it from him—make the best bargain with him you can for yourself; but whatever you buy it at, I promise to give you fifty guineas for it, and I will call again by-and-by." By-and-by back comes the countryman for his fiddle. "Will you part with that fiddle," says the haberdasher, "I have taken a fancy for it?" The man answered, he had no intention of parting with his fiddle, for he knew it to be a very good one, and did not know if he could get such another. "I'll give you fifty shillings for it," said the haberdasher. "No, no," "Five guineas for it," said the haberdasher. "I'll not take twenty," said the countryman.—In short, after a great deal of chapmanship, the haberdasher got the fiddle at forty guineas; and a happy man was he, as thinking he had made ten guineas by the bargain. But he has been allowed to keep the fiddle, to solace himself for the loss of his money. The fifty-guinea merchant never returned."
"On the 13th of October 1809, a most infamous act of swindling was practised on eight poor infirm widows in the alm-houses, near the New Grove Road, Mile End Road, by a well-dressed man, about 5 feet 2 inches high, stoutish made, hair tied, and light green coat. He went to one of the poor pensioners' houses, and thus addressed them, "You are all widows—a lady has left you eight pounds;" he then took their names down, and inquired who would go with him, saying, the minister and gentlemen were waiting for them, that they must bring 23 shillings in silver to give change, or they could not be paid. One of the poor women borrowed the money, at a neighbouring public-house, and a young woman went with him to Stepney Church; he told her to wait at the porch, while he went and spoke to the clerk, which she saw him do, and supposed all was right; but he told the clerk he wanted to put up the banns of marriage, and the clerk desired him to come when the service was over. He came out, told the girl all was right, and she must go with him; he then asked the unsuspecting girl for the 23 shillings, and decamped with the money. The girl went back to the clerk, where she soon was informed of her mistake, to the no small grief of the poor disappointed pensioners."