A Notorious Swindler and Bank-Note Forger, who committed Suicide in 1786
THIS extraordinary impostor, whose artifices enabled him to commit unprecedented depredations on the public, was born about the year 1730, in London. His father lived in Monmouth Street, and carried on the trade of a salesman in old clothes. Tired of the tricks and knaveries of his son Charles, the father placed him with a hosier in St James's Street. There he continued for a short time. He robbed his father of an elegant suit of clothes, in which he dressed himself, went to his master in this disguise, purchased about ten pounds' worth of silk stockings, left his address, "Benjamin Bolingbroke, Esq., Hanover Square," and ordered them to be sent to him in an hour's time, when he would pay the person who brought them. His master did not know him; so, to complete the cheat, our hero came back in half-an-hour in his usual dress, and was ordered to take the goods home, which he actually pretended to do. Thus were both master and father robbed. He was, however, soon after found out, and discharged.
As his wits were never long unemployed for some deceptive ends, he issued the following curious advertisement in the year 1775:--
"A partner of character, probity, and extensive acquaintance; upon a plan permanent and productive, fifty per cent., without risk, may be obtained. It is not necessary he should have any knowledge of the business, which the advertiser possesses in its fullest extent; but he must possess a capital of between five hundred and a thousand pounds, to purchase materials, with which, to the knowledge of the advertiser, a large fortune must be made in a very short time.
"Address to P. C., Cardigan Head, Charing Cross.
"P.S. -- None but principals, and those of liberal ideas, will be treated with."
To this advertisement the famous comedian, Samuel Foote, paid attention. Eager to seize what he thought a golden opportunity, he advanced the sum of five hundred pounds for a brewery. The sum soon disappeared, and Foote was wrung with the anguish of disappointment. Price, however, had the impudence to apply to him again, wishing him to unite in the baking trade; the comedian archly replied: "As you have brewed, so you may bake but I'll be cursed if ever you bake as you have brewed!"
After this unfortunate business Mr Price turned Methodist preacher, and in this character he defrauded several persons of large sums of money. Advertising in order to get gentlemen wives, he swindled a person of the name of Wigmore of fifty guineas, for which he was indicted; but, having refunded a part, he effected his escape. These and other fraudulent practices were long the objects of his ambition, though they were all the certain roads to infamy.
We now arrive at that period of his life when he commenced his ravages upon the Bank of England, which ended in his destruction. In the year 1780 (under the assumed name of Brank) Mr Price engaged a servant, a plain, simple, honest fellow, by means of whom he passed his notes without detection. The young fellow observed an advertisement respecting a situation which seemed likely to suit him, so he answered it, but heard nothing of the advertiser for a whole week. One evening, however, just as it was dusk, a coachman inquired for the man who had answered the advertisement, saying there was a gentleman over the way, in a coach, who wanted to speak with him. On this the young fellow was called, and went to the coach, where he was desired to step in. There he saw an apparently old man, affecting the foreigner, seemingly very gouty, wrapped up with five or six yards of flannel about his legs, a camlet surtout buttoned over his chin, close to his mouth, a large patch over his left eye, and every part of his face so hidden that the young fellow could not see any part of it except his nose, his right eye and a small part of that cheek. To carry on the deception still better, Mr Price thought proper to place the man on his left side, on which the patch was, so that he could look askance at the young man with his right eye, and by that means discover only a small portion of his face. He appeared by his disguise to be between sixty and seventy years of age; and afterwards, when the man saw him standing, not much under six feet in height, owing to shoes or boots with heels very little less than three inches high. Added to this deception, he was so buttoned up and straitened that he appeared perfectly lank. He was in reality about five feet, six inches high, a compact, neat man, square-shouldered, inclined to corpulency. His legs were firm and well set; but by nature his features made him look much older than he really was, which, at that time, was nearly fifty. His nose was aquiline, and his eyes small and grey; his mouth stood very much inwards, with very thin lips; his chin pointed and prominent, with a pale complexion. But what contributed as much as anything to favour his disguise of speech was his loss of teeth. He walked exceedingly upright, was very active and quick in his walk, and was something above what we describe a man to be when we call him a dapper-made man.
This simple and honest fellow Samuel, whom Mr Price had engaged, was employed by him to negotiate his forged bills, principally in the purchase of lottery tickets, at the same time never fully disclosing to him his name, person or history. Indeed the plan was devised and executed with uncommon ability. However, Samuel was at last detected, having passed bills to the amount of fourteen hundred pounds. But his principal eluded discovery, and retired with his booty into the deepest shades of obscurity. The poor servant was imprisoned for nearly a twelvemonth, terrified out of his wits at being the innocent instrument of such complicated villainy.
Mr Price, having most probably exhausted his former acquisitions, sallied forth in the year 1782, after new game, with the most unparalleled audacity. For this purpose he obtained his second servant from a registry office, a smart active boy of the name of Power: his father was a Scots Presbyterian, and to ingratiate himself with him Mr Price made great pretensions to religion, expressing a hope that his son was well acquainted with the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Our hero began his ravages upon a Mr Spilsbury, of Soho Square, ordering great quantities of his drops. Wilmot was his assumed name, and he introduced himself to Spilsbury as possessing all the symptoms of age and infirmity. He was wrapped up in a large camlet great-coat; he had a slouch hat on, the brim of which was large, and bent downwards on each side of his head; a piece of red flannel covered his chin and came up on each side of his face, almost as high as the cheek-bones; he had a large bush wig on, and his legs were wrapped over with flannel. He had also a pair of green spectacles on his nose, with a green silk shade hanging down from his hat, but no patch on his eye. It is remarkable that Mr Spilsbury knew Mr Price but not Mr Wilmot; nay, so complete was the deception that, sitting together in a coffee-house, Mr Spilsbury complained to his coffee-house acquaintance of the notes which Wilmot had imposed upon him. Price kept crying out now and then, "Lackaday! Good God! Who could suppose such knavery to exist! What, and did the bank refuse payment, sir?" staring through his spectacles with as much seeming surprise as an honest man would have done.
Price had often been at the shop of a grocer, Mr Roberts, in Oxford Street. Here he now and then bought a few articles, and took many opportunities of showing his importance. One day he called there in a hackney-coach, disguised as an old man, and bought a few things. A day or two afterwards he repeated his visit; and on a third day, when he knew Mr Roberts was from home, he went again, with his face so painted that he seemed diseased with the yellow jaundice. The shopman, to whom he enumerated his complaints, gave him a prescription for that disorder, one that had cured his father of it. Price gladly accepted the recipe, promising that if it succeeded he would very liberally reward him for his civility. In a few days he called again, when he appeared perfectly free from the complaint, and acknowledged his great obligation to the shopman, to whom, after he had expatiated on his affluent circumstances, the short time he had to live in the world, and the few relations he had to leave anything to, he made a present of a ten-pound bank-note. The reader need not be told it was a counterfeit one. At the same time he said that he wanted cash for another, which was a fifty-pound note, and the obliging shopman got change for it from an opposite neighbour. The next day, in Mr Roberts's absence, he called again, and entreated the lad to get other five fifty-pound notes changed for small ones; and when he told him his master was not in the way Price begged he would take them to his master's banker, and there get them changed. This request the servant complied with. The bankers, Harley, Burchall & Co., complied with Mr Roberts's supposed request, and changed them without suspicion, and small notes were that day given for them to Mr Price.
Upon a great many other individuals he practised frauds equally ingenious and successful. In his last attempt on the bank, which ended in his detection, he assumed the name of Palton, pretended he was an Irish linen-factor, and employed two young men to circulate his notes, whilst he, greatly disguised, kept back in obscurity. By means of a pawnbroker he was found out, with great difficulty. On his seizure he solemnly declared his innocence, and before the magistrate behaved with insolence. This detection took place on the 14th of January, 1786. He was soon sworn to by more persons than one, and seeing no way of escape he pretended, to his wife in particular, great penitence; but there was no ground for its reality. The bank fully intended to prosecute him, and there was no doubt of his dying by the hands of the executioner. He was found, however, one evening hanging against the post of the door of his apartments, in Tothill Fields Bridewell.
The depredations of this villain amounted in the whole to upwards of one hundred thousand pounds; and yet, after his apprehension, he wrote a letter to a gentleman whom he had defrauded of more than two thousand pounds, recommending his wife and eight children to his protection.