A Wholesale Bank-Note Forger, convicted at the January Sessions at the Old Bailey, 1809, and executed before Newgate
JOHN NICHOLLS, a tradesman, of Birmingham, was capitally indicted at the Old Bailey, January, 1809, for putting off and disposing of forged bank-notes, knowing them to be such, with intent to defraud the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. One note in particular, for five pounds, No. 7484, was charged in the indictment, and alleged to have been put off by the prisoner, with the guilty knowledge imputed to him.
On the 25th of November an Italian, named Vincent Alessi, who lodged at the Lemon Tree, in the Haymarket, and affected the exterior of a foreigner of distinction, was detected in putting off a forged five-pound bank-note at the house of a Mr Taylor, a publican, in Holborn. Upon inquiry it was discovered that he had put off another five-pound note of the same manufacture while prosecuting an amour with a Miss Neads, in Soho, and that the note was detected by Mrs Dearlove, to whom it was afterwards tendered in payment for some wine. On searching his lodgings more counterfeit notes were found, and it was suspected that he was connected with some wholesale depredators. He was in consequence interrogated as to the fact, and he immediately confessed that he had bought the notes of John Nicholls, who lived at Birmingham, and had given him six shillings for a one-pound note, twelve shillings for a two-pound note and thirty shillings for a five-pound note. The solicitor of the bank, thinking it would best serve the ends of public justice, advised that Alessi should be admitted an evidence for the Crown, and through his means the wholesale dealer convicted. This was acceded to on the part of the Crown, and means were instantly taken to detect Nicholls. This could only be done through the medium of Alessi, who, on the 10th of December, his own detection being kept secret, wrote to the prisoner, informing him that he was about to depart for America, and that he should want twenty dozen of "candlesticks" marked No. 5, twenty-four dozen marked No. 1, and four dozen marked No. 2. The word "candlesticks" was understood between the parties to mean bank-notes, and the figure mark, the value of the notes. The prisoner wrote for answer that he should be in town the following week, and if that would be in time he begged a line to that effect. Alessi wrote a second letter, saying that the following week would do exceedingly well, as he did not mean to leave England till after Christmas.
This interview being arranged, four police officers stationed themselves in a room at the Lemon Tree, adjoining that in which Alessi was to receive the prisoner, so as to see and hear everything that passed. The prisoner was punctual to his engagement. He brought with him the notes, and took six shillings in the pound in payment for them. When that transaction was finished Alessi put on his hat -- the agreed signal for the officers to advance -- and they rushed in and secured the prisoner. At first he said he had found the parcel containing the notes in the street, and then that he had received them from a friend at Birmingham. On searching the prisoner other forged notes were found, and the letter written by Alessi giving the order. The notes given by the prisoner to Alessi on the above occasion were precisely of the same manufacture as that stated in the indictment -- and which Alessi said he had bought of the prisoner -- and as those found at Alessi's lodgings.
Alessi underwent a severe cross-examination by Mr Gurney, the prisoner's counsel. He said he had been backwards and forwards between Italy and England for the last fifteen years, but that he had been only five months and a half resident this last trip, during which time he had followed no other business than that of putting off forged banknotes. He met the prisoner at Birmingham to which place he went to purchase hardware, as an adventure to Spain. The prisoner told him the bank-notes in question would pass current out of England. He knew persons were hanged for forging bank-notes, but did not understand that they were for passing them off. He could not say whether he had betrayed the prisoner from a sense of public justice or to save his life. He did not think he should be hanged. He confided in hope, and it was the last thing a man should lose. He had seen another man at Birmingham who also was a dealer in counterfeit notes.
Baron Thompson summed up the evidence, and the jury instantly found the prisoner guilty.
He appeared to have made up his mind, from the time of his apprehension, for the worst fate that could await him. On his trial he conducted himself with great fortitude; and with resignation from his condemnation to the moment he was launched into eternity.