Transported, 17th of March, 1841, for stealing a Bag of Gold from his Employers
THE charge preferred against William Stevenson, and of which he was found guilty, was that of stealing from his employers, Messrs Mercer & Co., of the Maidstone Bank, a bag containing five hundred pounds in gold. For this offence he was tried at the Maidstone Spring Assizes, on the 17th of March, 1841, before Lord Denman, when the following remarkable facts were proved in evidence.
In the month of October, 1839, Mr Mercer wrote to his London agents, Messrs Masterman, the bankers, to remit to him fifteen hundred pounds in gold and five hundred pounds in silver, and that sum was accordingly placed in seven bags, one containing a thousand pounds in gold, another five hundred in gold, and five bags, each containing one hundred pounds in silver, and the whole were placed in a box, of which Messrs Masterman and Mercer had each a duplicate key, and the box was then committed to the care of Wallis, one of the Maidstone coachmen, to be conveyed to that place. The box was duly carried to Maidstone, and the prisoner, who acted as porter at Mr Mercer's bank, was sent to fetch it, and he brought the box to the bank about seven o'clock in the evening, and it was taken from him by Mr Mercer, jun., who unlocked it and took out the bags of coin, and, without examining them, placed them in the strong chest; but he observed that at this time there were only six bags -- namely, one large one, which he supposed contained the fifteen hundred pounds in gold, and the five bags of silver. The next morning, when the money was examined, it was found to be five hundred pounds short of the proper quantity of gold; and on communication being made to Messrs Masterman, the loss of the second bag of gold was discovered.
No clue whatever at this time could be obtained as to the perpetrator of the robbery, and no suspicion was entertained of the prisoner, for he was retained in the prosecutors' service until the following month of January, when, for some act of misconduct, he was dismissed. Shortly after this the prisoner set up in business in the town as a grocer, but some other circumstances which came to the knowledge of the prosecutors induced a suspicion that he was the thief, and a search warrant was obtained and placed in the hands of Faucett, the superintendent of the Maidstone police, who proceeded to the prisoner's house, and, upon searching it, found a number of watches and time-pieces. When the prisoner was told by the officer what the nature of the charge was against him, he denied all knowledge of the robbery and told him he might search where he pleased. The officer then asked what money they had in the house, and about seven pounds in gold and silver were produced by the prisoner's wife. He asked whether they had not any more money, and the prisoner's wife went up to the bedroom with him and produced from between the bed and the mattress a bag containing forty-five pounds in sovereigns and half-sovereigns. He also found an IOU for ten pounds, signed by a person named Merston, who proved that the prisoner had lent him ten sovereigns upon it, and that he was paying him interest.
It was also proved that before the robbery the prisoner had been in receipt of only a pound a week, and that he was in very poor circumstances; and that after he was discharged he had purchased two houses in Maidstone, for which he had paid three hundred and fifty pounds, and the payment was wholly in sovereigns and half-sovereigns. Further, it was shown that the prisoner had taken the grocer's shop and had paid a considerable sum for goodwill and stock-in-trade without having any means to do so, except, as was suggested, by that of having committed the robbery.
Witnesses were called for the defence for the purpose of showing that at the various elections in the Borough sums of money had been given to the prisoner, and it was elicited that a vote was always worth something, and one witness went so far as to say that he considered his vote worth fifteen pounds.
Several other witnesses were examined; but although it was admitted that money had been given to the prisoner, in sums of eight pounds and ten pounds at different times, the witnesses said the money had been given only out of charity, and the evidence did not in the slightest degree show a probability that the prisoner could be lawfully in the possession of the money he had expended.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and his Lordship then ordered the prisoner to be transported for fourteen years.