THE mode of plunder practised by this villain at the time of committing his depredations was not common; but now the great metropolis of our country abounds with such insidious robbers. This kind of thieving, in modern times is called SWINDLING, and the latter part of our pages will adduce instances of the tricks of sharpers, passing almost credibility. The fellow now before us was, however, circumstances considered, an adept, and, like our modern swindlers, had a fictitious name; an accomplice, sometimes acting as his footman; a hired horse; and borrowed carriage.
The great qualifications, or leading and indispensable attributes, of a sharper or swindler, are, to possess a genteel exterior, a demeanour apparently artless, and a good address.
Among the various classes of sharpers may be reckoned those who obtain licenses to become pawnbrokers, and bring disgrace upon the reputable part of the trade by every species of fraud which can add to the distresses of those who are compelled to raise money in this way; for which purpose there are abundance of opportunities. Swindling pawnbrokers of this class are uniformly receivers of stolen goods; and, under the cover of their license, do much mischief to the public. The evil arising from them might, in a great measure, be prevented by placing the power of granting licenses in a general board of police; and rendering it necessary for all persons to produce a certificate of character before they can obtain such license, and also to enter into recognizance for good behaviour.
Also sharpers who obtain licenses to be hawkers and pedlars; under the cover of which every species of villainy is practised upon the country people, as well as upon the unwary in the metropolis, and all the great towns in the kingdom. The artifices by which they succeed are various, as for example, by fraudulent raffles, where plated goods are exhibited as silver, and where the chances are exceedingly against the adventurers; by selling and uttering base money, and frequently forged bank notes, which make one of the most profitable branches of their trade; by dealing in smuggled goods, thereby promoting the sale of articles injurious to the revenue, besides cheating the ignorant with regard to their value; by receiving stolen goods, to be disposed of in the country, by which discoveries are prevented, and assistance afforded to common thieves and stationary receivers; by purchasing stolen horses in one part of the country and disposing of them in another, in the course of their journeys; in accomplishing which, so as to elude detection, they have great opportunities, by gambling with E-O tables at fairs and horse-races.
A number of other devices might be pointed out, which render this class of men great nuisances in society, and show the necessity of either suppressing them totally (for, in fact, they are of little use to the public), or of limiting the licenses only to men of good character; to be granted by a general board of police, under whose control they should be placed, while they enter at the same time into a recognizance in a certain sum, with one surety for good behaviour; by which the honest part would be retained, to the exclusion of the fraudulent.
Also sharpers known by the name of duffers, who go about from house to house, and attend public houses, inns, and fairs, pretending to sell smuggled goods, such as India handkerchiefs, waistcoat patterns, muslins, &c. By offering their goods for sale, they are enabled to discover the proper objects which may be successfully practised upon in various ways; and, if they do not succeed in promoting some gambling scheme, by which the party is plundered of his money, they seldom fail passing forged country bank notes, or base coin, in the course of their dealings.
In London a number of female sharpers also infest public places. They dress elegantly, personate women of fashion, attend masquerades, and even go to Court. These, from their effrontery, actually get into the circle, where their wits and hands are employed in obtaining diamonds, and whatever other articles of value, capable of being concealed, are found to be most accessible.
The wife of a well-known sharper is said to have appeared at Court, dressed in a style of peculiar elegance; while the sharper himself is supposed to have gone in the dress of a clergyman. According to the information of a noted receiver, they pilfered to the value of L.1700 on the king's birthday, 1795, without discovery or suspicion.
Houses are kept where female cheats dress and undress for public places. These sharpers generally attend all masquerades, in different characters, where they seldom fail to get clear off with a considerable booty.
The first deception which we find played off by Alexander Day was to take an elegant house in Queen Square, and then to send his pretended footman to a livery stable, to inquire the price of a pair of horses, which he himself afterwards agreed to purchase, and then desired the stable-keeper to recommend him a coachman, a man rather lusty, as he had a suit of livery clothes of a large size by him.
The man was accordingly recommended; but, when the livery was tried on, Day observed, that, as they did not fit him, he would send into the country for his own coachman; but this objection was obviated by the footman, who saying that the clothes would fit, with a small alteration, the 'squire consented to hire the man.
When the stable-keeper saw the coachman he had recommended, he inquired to what places he had driven his new master; and, being informed to the Duke of Montague's, and other persons of rank, he seemed satisfied, though he had begun to form ideas unfavourable to his new customer.
Mr. Day, having kept his coach and horses something more than a week, gave orders to be driven to a coffee-house in Red Lion Square, where he drank half a pint of wine at the bar, and asked if some gentlemen were come, whom he expected to supper. Being answered in the negative, he went out at the back door without paying for his wine, and said he would return in a few minutes.
The coachman waited a long time: but, his master not coming back, he drove to the stable-keeper's, who seemed glad to have recovered his property out of such dangerous hands.
It seems that Day made no small use of this coach while it was in his possession. He drove to the shop of a lace-merchant, named Gravestock, and asked for some Spanish point; but, the dealer having none of that kind by him, the 'squire ordered fifty-five pounds' worth of gold lace to be sent to his house in Queen Square. When Gravestock's servant carried the lace, Day desired him to tell his master to call, as he was in want of lace for some rich liveries, but he must speak with his tailor before he could ascertain the quantity wanted. Mr. Gravestock attended his new customer, who gave him so large an order for lace, that if he had executed it, he must have been a very considerable loser, and the 'squire's liveries would have been gayer than those of any nobleman in London: however, on the following day, he carried some lace of the sort he had left before; nor did he forget to take his bill with him; but the person who should have paid it had decamped.
The next trick practised by our adventurer was as follows: he went to the house of Mr. Markham, a goldsmith, and ordered a gold equipage worth L.50. Markham carried home the equipage, and had the honour to drink tea with the supposed Mr. Davenport, who ordered other curious articles; among the rest, a chain of gold for his squirrel.
Mr. Markham observing that the squirrel wore a silver chain, which he had sold to a lady not long before, began to suspect his new customer; and, waiting on the lady, inquired if she knew Marmaduke Davenport, Esq. She answered in the negative; on which Markham mentioned the circumstance that had arisen, and described the person of the defrauder. The lady now recollected him, and said that his name was Alexander Day, and that he had cheated her of property to a considerable amount. In consequence of this information, Markham arrested the sharper, and recovered his property.
On another occasion, Day went in his carriage to the shop of a linen-draper, named Scrimshaw, agreed for linen to the amount of L.48 and ordered a large quantity to be sent to his house on the following day, when he would pay for the whole. The first parcel was delivered, but the purchaser had decamped when the linen-draper went with the second.
After this he went to the shop of a tea-dealer, named Kenderick, and ordered tea to the amount of L.26. The tea was sent in, and the proprietor called for payment, when Day gave him orders for a farther quantity, which he pretended to have forgot before, and told him to call the next morning, when he should be paid for it by the steward. The honest tea-dealer called the next day, but neither the 'squire nor steward were to be found.
His next adventure was contrived to defraud Mr. Hinchcliffe, a silk-mercer. Day, going to his shop in his absence, left word for him to call at his house to receive a large order. The mercer went, and saw a carriage at the door; and, being told that the 'squire had company, he waited a short time, during which the servant took care to inform him that Mr. Davenport was the son of a baronet of Yorkshire, and possessed a large fortune in that county.
When he saw the supposed Mr. Davenport, he was told that he wanted some valuable silks, and wished that a quantity might be sent for him, to select such as he approved. Mr. Hinchcliffe said that the choice would be much better made by fixing on the patterns at his shop.
Hereupon Day took the mercer in his coach, and on their way talked of his father, Sir Marmaduke, and of other people of rank; and said he was on the point of marriage with the daughter of Counsellor Ward, and, as he should be under the necessity of furnishing a house in London, he should want mercery goods to a large amount.
When they came to the mercer's shop, Day selected as many damasks, &c. for bed furniture and hangings, as were worth a thousand pounds. It looks as if Hinchcliffe had now some suspicions; for he told him that the ladies were the best judges of such articles, and asked if he had not a lady of his acquaintance, whom he could consult. He readily answered that he had, and mentioned a Lady Davenport as his relation, saying, "Send the silks to my house, and I will take her opinion of them."
Mr. Hinchcliffe said he would send them, and permitted him to take with him two pieces of brocade, worth about thirty pounds; but, desirous to know more of his customer before he trusted him with the whole property, he went to Counsellor Ward, and found that his daughter was already married to a gentleman of the name of Davenport. Here upon the mercer went to the house of the supposed 'squire, but he was gone off with what property he had obtained.
It was likewise discovered that our adventurer, having casually met, at a coffee-house, the Mr. Davenport who had married the daughter of Counsellor Ward, had prevailed on him to call him cousin, on the pretence that they must be related, because, as he alleged, their coats of arms were the same.
After a course of fraud, Day was taken into custody in the month of May, 1723, on suspicion of his having robbed the mail; but it proved that he was not the man: however, there were six indictments brought against him for the defrauds.
In his defence he pleaded that his intention was to have paid for the goods he had purchased on credit; and he asserted that he possessed an estate in the county of Durham, which he had mortgaged for L.1200; but no credit could be given to his allegations; nor, even if he had possessed such an estate, would it have appeared that he acted on an honest principle.
After a long trial he was convicted, and sentenced to suffer two years' imprisonment in Newgate, to stand twice in the pillory, to pay a fine of L.200 and to give security for his good behaviour for two years after the term of his imprisonment should be expired.
As it is one professed design of this publication to guard innocent people against the schemes of the artful and designing, we would earnestly recommend it to people in trade never to give credit to strangers from the speciousness of their appearance, or the plausibility of their behaviour.
The villain who can defraud a coach-maker out of a carriage, or even raise money to hire one of an elegant appearance, has nothing to do but take genteel lodgings, and put an accomplice or two into livery, and his scheme usually succeeds. The splendid appearance of the supposed master, and the artful puffs of the servants, generally serve to lull suspicion asleep.
When inquiry is made into the character of a person who is supposed to be a man of honour and fortune, the inquirer should consider whether the person who gives him this character is deserving of that of an honest man: for these artful rogues, when they find any person is suspicious of them, have a method of referring to as great rogues as themselves for a character. The tradesman, then, who would not be imposed on, should take characters only from respectable people, who will never deceive him, unless they have been deceived themselves.