Convicted in 1812 of feloniously stealing a Large Sum of Money from Sir Thomas Plomer, his Majesty's Solicitor-General, and pardoned on a Case reserved for the Opinion of the Twelve Judges
MR BENJAMIN WALSH had long been known in the City of London as a dashing mercantile character. In co-partnership with Mr Nisbett he contracted with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a lottery of fifty thousand tickets. This proved, to such a man as Walsh, a very lucky speculation. He rubbed off his debts by a Statute of Bankruptcy, and soon procured for himself a seat in the Parliament of his country.
Walsh and Nisbett bustled through their broken fortunes and, from the counting-house desk, the former, as we have already observed, was placed in the seat of a legislator for his country. There, among "the great men, the grave men, and the sage men of the land," he beheld a fair field for the exercise of his talents. Elevation to rank and power soon wipes away every former stain of reputation, and effaces each blot of character.
Among the dignified of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas Plomer, it seemed, had not a whit worse opinion of his brother Member, Walsh, than if no lottery contract had been made, nor any bankruptcy against him issued forth. In short, Sir Thomas entrusted him with a very large sum of money to purchase Government securities; but Walsh laid it out in the stocks of the United States of America in his own name, and ran off towards that land of refuge for the guilty. He was, however, fortunately overtaken by the arm of justice at the port from whence he intended to fly his native country,
Walsh was pursued, by the solicitor of the duped knight and a Bow Street runner, to Falmouth; to which port it was discovered he had fled by stopping his letters, under a government order, at the General Post Office. Young Members of Parliament were fond of franking the letters of their friends; and it appeared that Walsh was so very tenacious of this prerogative that, in an ignominious concealed flight, he still endorsed his letters "FREE B. WALSH."
This degenerate legislator for his country was, like the meanest felon, arraigned at the bar of the Old Bailey, charged with feloniously stealing twenty-two bank-notes of one thousand pounds each, and one bank-note for two hundred pounds, the property of Sir Thomas Plomer, Kt., with intent to defraud him of the said sum of money; in other counts of the indictment the offence was variously charged, to which the prisoner pleaded not guilty.
Mr Garrow, in stating the case on the part of the prosecution, observed that if it had been possible for the prosecutor in this action to have extended indulgence or commiseration towards the unfortunate prisoner at the bar, the honourable and humane feelings and character of the prosecutor would have most willingly abstained from the present prosecution; but from the nature of the case he was called upon to discharge an important public duty which was indispensable. The prosecutor was his Majesty's Solicitor-General, and had long been acquainted with the gentleman whom he had now the painful duty to prosecute. His father had been a director of the Bank of England, and from this the prosecutor was induced to trust the prisoner as a stockbroker. He then proceeded to state the case as it appeared in evidence, from which he concluded, that at the time of the prisoner's getting the means into his power, it was his intention to perpetrate the felony.
Sir Thomas Plomer, being sworn, stated that he had for many years employed the prisoner as a stockbroker, and in the month of August last apprised him that he had made a contract for the purchase of an estate, for which he was to pay at Michaelmas, and it would be necessary for him to sell out stock to a considerable amount. The prisoner advised at that time to postpone selling out, as he expected a considerable rise in stock, and the longer he postponed it the better; but in November the prisoner urged him strongly to sell out, as stock would fall considerably, saying he had consulted the most intelligent persons upon the subject. In consequence of this he gave him authority to sell out stock to the amount of thirteen thousand, four hundred pounds of three per cents., and eighteen thousand, six hundred pounds of reduced Consols. On the following day he called at the prisoner's office in the city, who told him he had made the contract for the sale, and it was agreed to be transferred on the Wednesday or Thursday following, which accordingly took place. He then consulted the prisoner on the best way of disposing of the money until he should want it, and he advised the purchase of Exchequer bills, but it was then, he said, too late in the day for that purpose. The next day the prisoner called at his chambers at Lincoln's Inn, and gave him a cheque on Messrs Goslings, his bankers, for twenty-two thousand pounds, for the purpose of purchasing these Exchequer bills, and he promised to return with them that day at four o'clock; this was on Thursday, the 5th of December. He returned about half-past four, appeared agitated, and complained of an asthma; and after a little pause told him he had made the contract with Mr Trotter, Mr Coutts's broker; but the Exchequer bills could not be delivered until Saturday, as they were locked up in the bank, and Mr Coutts was not in town; and that he should call on that day at three o'clock. At that time he produced six thousand pounds in Exchequer bills, which he said he would lodge with his bankers, along with the receipt for the balance. He afterwards inquired at his bankers, and found the Exchequer bills for six thousand pounds were lodged, but no receipt, and he never saw the prisoner after until he saw him in Bow Street.
William Ewins, clerk at Goslings & Co.'s, proved the payment of the cheque for twenty-two thousand pounds to the prisoner in person; Mr William Hannan proved the purchase of six thousand, five hundred pounds in Exchequer bills, by order of the prisoner; and George Hankley, his clerk, proved the delivery of them to the prisoner.
The case on the part of the prosecution being closed, the prisoner declined making any defence.
Mr Scarlet, for the prisoner, in addressing the Court, hoped he would not be understood to entertain any other sentiments of this offence than a conviction of the moral turpitude of the prisoner -- and he was satisfied the prisoner himself entertained no other sentiment, and felt all the contrition belonging to such a crime -- but it now became his duty to make such objections as occurred to him. First, there could be no charge of this sort for stealing the cheque, for it was in evidence the prosecutor had given it to the prisoner for a specific purpose; and it was not altogether misapplied, for he had purchased some Exchequer bills, and the law did not allow the act of felony to be in part separated. The second objection was under the statute of the second year of the reign of George II., by which the security intended by the legislature was to such property as was still available to the party himself -- in this case the prosecutor had parted with all control over the cheque by delivering it to the prisoner. Thirdly, the felonious intent of the party taking was not in itself sufficient to constitute a felony when the party to whom the property belonged had relinquished his control over it. In support of these objections, he referred to several cases in point.
After some observations by Mr Garrow, Mr Scarlet and Mr Alley, it was agreed that the jury should find a verdict subject to the future judgment of the twelve judges upon the Chief Baron's report.
The Chief Baron acquiesced in this arrangement, and then, addressing the jury, adverted to that part of the evidence which went to show the previous intent of the prisoner to commit the felony; observing, at the same time, that it was impossible, upon such evidence, not to find the prisoner guilty; who, in consequence of the objections made by his counsel, would have all the benefit of the judgment of the twelve judges hereafter.
The jury immediately returned a verdict of guilty.
During the whole of the trial the prisoner was much affected. The court was exceedingly crowded from an early hour, and several Members of both Houses of Parliament attended to witness this extraordinary trial.
The judges who presided at the trial of Walsh, by no means satisfied with the verdict, reserved a case for their brethren. The result of their opinion will be found in the following report of the Lord Chief Baron, and the pardon of the Prince Regent: --
THE LORD CHIEF BARON TO MR SECRETARY RYDER
February 15, 1812
SIR, -- I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, that Benjamin Walsh was indicted before me at the last sessions held at the Old Bailey, for stealing from Sir Thomas Plomer a certain order for the payment of twenty-two thousand, two hundred pounds, and also stealing bank-notes to that amount.
The facts of his having formed the design of converting this money to his use, and of actually so converting much the greater part of it, were proved without contradiction.
But doubts having occurred to Mr Justice Le Blanc and myself (Mr Justice Chambre being absent from indisposition), the case was reserved for the judges to consider whether the facts proved amounted to the crime of larceny.
The argument of counsel concluded last night; and the case was considered by ten judges present (two being confined by illness), who were of opinion that the facts proved did not, in estimation of law, amount to felony.
The prisoner having been convicted of that offence, I am humbly to recommend him as a proper object of his Majesty's pardon, I am, etc.
(Signed) AR. MACDONALD.
BENJAMIN WALSH--FREE PARDON
In the Name and on Behalf of his Majesty.--GEORGE, P. R.
Whereas Benjamin Walsh was, at a Session holden at the Old Bailey in January last, tried and convicted of felony, but judgment was respited; We, in consideration of some circumstances humbly represented unto Us, touching the said conviction, are graciously pleased to extend Our grace and mercy unto him, and to grant him Our Free Pardon for his said crime: Our will and pleasure therefore is, you cause the said Benjamin Walsh to be forthwith discharged out of custody; and for so doing this shall be your Warrant.
Given at our Court at Carleton House, the 20th day of February, 1812, in the fifty-second year of our Reign.
By the Command of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, in the name and on the behalf of his Majesty,
To our trusty and well-beloved our justices of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and County of Middlesex, the Sheriffs of the said City and County, and all others whom it may concern.
The Commons expelled Walsh from his seat in their House; and he was again made a bankrupt, whereupon poor Sir Thomas found himself entitled only to a pitiful dividend under the second commission.