The Newgate Calendar - CAPTAIN JOHN BURGH MONTGOMERY, alias COLONEL WALLACE, alias COLONEL MORGAN

CAPTAIN JOHN BURGH MONTGOMERY, alias COLONEL WALLACE, alias COLONEL MORGAN
Convicted of Forgery, but Poisoned Himself the Night before his Execution.

            The circumstances which were proved in evidence against this individual showed that he was to a very great extent implicated in the uttering of forged bank-notes. The unfortunate gentleman, who appears to have been most respectably connected, there can be little doubt had long subsisted upon the produce of his illegal trade; but it was not until Monday the 1st of April 1828 that he was apprehended. He was then charged at Marlborough-street police-office, with having passed a forged 10l. note at the shop of Mr. William Newby, a silversmith, at No.3, Southampton-row, Russell-square, in payment for half-a-dozen silver tea-spoons. The note turned out to be forged after it was paid to Mr. Newby, and the prisoner, having already subjected himself to some suspicion, was taken into custody at a house where he lodged in Great Ormond-street. Subsequent inquiry proved that he had been guilty of other almost innumerable acts of forgery, and several cases having been completed against him, he was committed for trial.

            At the ensuing Old Bailey sessions, no fewer than six indictments were preferred and found against him; and upon his being arraigned upon the 29th of May upon the charges, he at once pleaded guilty, declaring that he had made up his mind to suffer the punishment due to his crimes. At the conclusion of the session, sentence of death was passed upon the unhappy man; and, on Saturday the 28th of June, an order arrived at Newgate that his sentence should be carried into effect. From the time of his conviction, Montgomery addressed himself with great anxiety to his religious offices, and, from his general demeanour, it was believed that he would meet his fate with firmness. Friday the 4th of July was fixed upon as the day on which the sentence of the law should be carried into effect; and on the Thursday night he employed himself in writing several letters, one of which was addressed to Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was his fellow prisoner, and his frequent companion in jail, Mr. Cotton, the rev. ordinary, afterwards visited him, and read to him the celebrated sermon of the late Dr. Dodd. At the hour of locking up, Mr. Harris, the jailor, in whose care he was, searched him, and there was nothing then perceptible to warrant a supposition, either that self-destruction was contemplated by the unhappy man, or that his health was so impaired as to lead to the possibility of his sufferings being terminated by natural means. The last thing he said to Mr. Harris was, "Shall I see you in the morning?" and then, without waiting for a reply, he continued, "If I do not, I shall leave a letter for you." He then shook hands with the jailor, and was left apparently quite cheerful.

            On Friday morning at six o'clock, the door of his cell was opened, and on the bed, stretched at full length, was seen the body of John Montgomery, cold and breathless. The sensation created by this discovery within the jail was most extraordinary; and the assistance of Mr Box, the surgeon of the prison, having been immediately procured, every effort was made to restore suspended animation, and, when that was found unavailing, to ascertain the cause of death. An investigation was immediately set on foot by the sheriffs; but they failed to discover any circumstance from which it could be inferred that the deceased had been assisted in his design, by any person in or connected with the jail. All search to discover the means of causing death for some time proved ineffectual, but at length, in one corner of the cell, a small phial was found, labelled "Prussic Acid," which at once unravelled the mystery of the unhappy man's death. It was supposed that he had carried about his person, ever since he had commenced the practice of passing forged notes, what he looked upon as an "antidote against disgrace;" but, to say the least of it, he must have been exceedingly ingenious to have concealed the poison so long after his apprehension, as he was frequently searched, supposing that he had employed the same drug to destroy himself, which he possessed before his committal to Newgate. Upon an examination of the letters, to which we have alluded as having been written by him on the night before his death, it was found that in one, which he had addressed to Mr. Box, he gave up his body to be dissected, expressing a wish, however, that the heart should be preserved in spirits and conveyed to a female to whom he had long been fondly attached. In that which he wrote to Wakefield, he alluded to their short acquaintance in the jail, and declared that he was perfectly ready to pass into another world; although his letter contained no reference to the means by which the transition should take place. A third letter was found, addressed to the female mentioned in the communication to Mr. Box; but in neither of them was there any allusion to the mode by which he intended to terminate his existence.

            On the following day a coroner's inquest was held on the body of the deceased man, when a verdict of felo de se was returned; and his remains were interred at ten o'clock at night, in the grave-yard adjoining St. Sepulchre's church.

            This unfortunate man, who gave his age in Newgate as only thirty-three, was, in fact, nearly forty years old; but his appearance bore out the assertion which he made. He was born in the town of Naas, in the county of Kildare, about fifteen miles from Dublin. His father had been a corn and flour merchant, and a considerable holder of land; and having by dint of industry amassed a large sum of money, he became a magistrate for the county of Kildare, and was much respected. He had four children besides the unfortunate subject of this sketch, namely, two females, who were respectably married, and two sons, one of whom was a lieutenant-colonel in the British service, while the other was a solicitor, and the senior partner in a firm of great respectability in Dublin. The deceased was early in life of a dissipated turn, and quitted home to take a commission in a foot regiment, which had been procured for him, in order to keep him out of harm's way, He soon retired from the army, however, although he retained the title given to him by his commission. At an early period of his career, he became an adept at forgery; and counterfeited the signature of the Hon. Mr. Neville, at that time M.P. for the county of Kildare, who wrote an extremely cramped and illegible hand, to such a degree of perfection, that that gentleman himself was only able to detect the imposition by the fact, that he had never placed his signature to an instrument like that which had been forged. Young Montgomery escaped prosecution in this instance, on account of the respectability of his family, and he shortly after came to London. He there assumed the airs of a person of fortune; mixed in good society, and for a considerable time lived upon "his appearance." His cheats and swindling were of daily occurrence; and in one instance, having been detected in a transaction of no very honest character, he only escaped punishment by refunding such portion of the money which he had obtained as he had not spent, and by giving up his watch and trinkets to make up the deficiency. He was frequently in prison for debt; first in Newgate, and afterwards in the King's Bench, and after his discharge from the latter place, where he had undergone a detention of three years' duration, he was on the point of marriage with the daughter of a gentleman of respectability, to whom he had represented himself as his brother. Colonel Montgomery, when the fraud was discovered, and the match broken off, at the very moment when it was about to be completed. Being now reduced to the lowest ebb, and having no longer any chance of living upon credit, he resorted to the circulation of forged bank-notes as affording him the only means left of obtaining a livelihood.

 

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