Convicted, 7th of March, 1777, of robbing the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford
WHEN Lord Thurlow was Chancellor of England some villains broke into his house, in Great Ormond Street, and stole thereout the Great Seal of England, which was never recovered, nor were the thieves known. We have heard also of a valuable diamond being stolen from the late Duke of Cumberland while going into the theatre in the Haymarket to see the bubble of the bottle-conjurer. It is also a fact that the Duke of Beaufort was robbed of his diamond Order of St George as he went to Court on a Royal birthday; but we have yet to tell that a museum was robbed of its curious medals.
Peter Le Maitre was a French teacher at Oxford, and, being supposed a man of industry and good morals, he was indulged with free admission to the Ashmolean Museum. Thither he frequently went, and appeared very studious over the rare books and other valuable curiosities there deposited. He was left alone to his researches. At one of such times he stole two medals, and at another he secreted himself until the doors (without the keeper's suspecting anyone was there) were locked for the night. When all had retired he came from his lurking-place and broke open the cabinet where the medals were locked up, and possessed himself of its contents; then he wrenched a bar from a window and, unsuspected, made his escape.
The college was thrown into the utmost consternation on finding their museum thus plundered. Some were suspected, but least of all Le Maitre, until it was discovered that he had privately left the city in a post-chaise, and that he had pledged two of the stolen medals to pay the post-boys. This left little doubt but that he was the ungrateful thief. He was advertised and described, and by this means apprehended in Ireland. He had first fled to Norwich, where he sold a variety of gold chains and various valuable coins. He was conveyed back to Oxford, in order to take his trial; and thereon it appeared that two of the stolen medals were found in a bureau in his lodgings of which he had the use, and two more were traced to the persons to whom he had sold them.
He had little to offer in his defence and, on the clearest evidence, the jury found him guilty. Upon argument it was found that no punishment adequate to the crime could be inflicted; and Monsieur Le Maitre paid the penalty of his offence by five years' hard labour at ballast-heaving on the River Thames.