There are few offenders whose name and whose character are more universally known than Ikey Solomon; but there are few also with regard to whom more certain information cannot be obtained. The following brief particulars, we believe, are correct; but the difficulty of procuring positive knowledge upon the subject must prove an excuse for the shortness of our memoir.
Solomon was born in the neighbourhood of Petticoat-lane in the year 1785, of poor parents, who, as their name imports, were of the Jewish persuasion. At an early age young Ikey was compelled to exert himself to procure his own living; for it is a custom which exists among the poorer classes of the Jews, that every child shall be early instructed in habits of industry. At the age of eight years, therefore, he was despatched into the streets with a supply of oranges and lemons, which constituted his first stock in trade. The profits of his business as a fruiterer were not deemed by the young Jew a sufficient remuneration for his labours, and the profession of a sham ringer, as it was technically termed, or of a passer of base coin, was added by him to that which he openly carried on, and his youth served him materially in enabling him to escape detection.
At the age of fourteen years, he had acquired considerable knowledge of the general habits of thieves, and he is reported to have practised picking pockets, when opportunity offered, with great success. As he grew older, however, his person and his proceedings became known, and, apprehending that some unpleasant consequences might arise from his carrying on so dangerous a profession, he determined to quit it, and to join a gang engaged in one no less enterprising, but attended with less cause of fear -- that of duffing. By this means he obtained a wide connexion, while the sums which he realised amply repaid him for the change which he had made in his mode of life. The business of a fence, or receiver of stolen goods, in which afterwards he became so notorious, appears, even at this early period of his life, to have struck his fancy; and although the extent of his trade was limited, by reason of his want of the necessary capital to carry it on, his purchases being confined to the produce of the robberies of area sneaks and young pickpockets, he acquired much celebrity amongst his fellows in the same business.
After some time, from some unexplained cause, he quitted this mode of life, and joined a gang of thieves associated at the west end of the town. Always avaricious, he was guilty of unfair play even among his "pals," and the old adage of "honour among thieves" was set at nought by him in his division of the spoil which he obtained in the course of his daily exertions. For this breach of good faith he was expelled the community, and he determined upon making an effort in his own behalf -- single-handed! His good fortune now forsook him, and, after a very short practice, he was taken into custody for stealing a "dumby," or pocket-book. This was the first occasion on which he had any reason to fear the consequences of his numerous thefts. In the city, according to his own account, he had been frequently in custody, but had escaped by feeing the officers! but his apprehension having now taken place in "the county," as it is usually denominated, or beyond the city bounds, he knew that he stood little chance of escaping by such means.
For this offence he was tried at the Old Bailey in the year 1807, being then twenty-two years of age; and a conviction having followed, he was sentenced to transportation for life. He was removed to the hulks at Chatham, preparatory to his being sent to one of our penal colonies, but, by good luck, was permitted to remain in England, in the hope that he might reform. His uncle, it appears, was a slop-seller at this port, where he carried on a considerable, and, it was believed, a respectable trade. Through his instrumentality his nephew was retained in his native country; and, after six years, the fortunate Ikey obtained a pardon. A circumstance occurred, however, in reference to this event, which is worthy of notice. Ikey was not the only person of the same name who had been guilty of an offence against the laws of meum et tuum, confined on board the same hulk. His equally unfortunate namesake, in the year 1813, by the exercise of influence, succeeded in obtaining a remission of his sentence, and a pardon and order for his discharge were sent down to Chatham. By an error, either of accident or design, but which it was we have no means of deciding, our hero was discharged instead of the person really intended. His surprise and gratitude at this unexpected favour induced him, on his return to London, to proceed to the Home Office to express his thanks for his liberation; but here, to his dismay, he was informed that there was some mistake -- that he was not the person intended to be pardoned, and that he must return to his ship. He had prudence enough to do that at once, which he knew he would be compelled to do eventually; but the circumstance operated so much in his favour, that in three months afterwards a genuine pardon in his name was received, which once again sent him to perform his part upon the stage of life.
His first employment was to all appearance an honest one. He was engaged by his uncle at Chatham as a barker, or salesman; and, in the course of a couple of years, he realised a sum of 150l., with which he determined to start in business for himself. He therefore proceeded to London, and in a short time we find him possessed of a house and shop in Bell-alley, Winfield-street. He lost no time in renewing his acquaintance with some of his former associates, and he found that many of them, who had escaped the fangs of the police so long, had now become expert thieves, or experienced housebreakers. His old trade of a "fence" appeared to him the most profitable, and, at the same time, the best in every other respect, in which he could embark, and his desire to deal in stolen goods was soon circulated among his connexions. For this business his general knowledge admirably adapted him, and he speedily obtained as much business as his small capital would enable him to get through. As every transaction, however, increased his means, so his sphere of action became more extended, and ere long he was engaged fully in every species of business which came within the usual course of persons engaged in the same profession. Forged notes, or "queer screens," as they were called, afforded him means of speculation, which produced the most profitable results; but the danger of carrying on this branch of his trade, arising from the vigilance of the officers employed by the Bank of England for its suppression, at length determined him to give it up, and to confine his operations to that which he looked upon as a safer game, the purchase and disposal of the produce of the robberies of his friends.
In this line he was probably one of the most successful in London. Every year afforded him new opportunities of extending his connexion, and the profits which he obtained were enormous. His house was looked upon as the universal resort of almost all the thieves of the metropolis; but so cautiously and so cunningly did he manage his transactions, as to render every effort of the police to procure evidence of his guilt unavailing. His purchases were, for the most part, confined to small articles, such as jewellery, plate, &c., and in his house, under his bed, he had a receptacle for them, closed by a trap-door, so nicely fitted, that it escaped every examination which was made. In the space between the flooring and the ceiling of the lower room, there were abundant means to conceal an extent of valuable property which was quite astonishing.
Solomon's trade was now at its height, and he found that one house would be insufficient to contain all his property. He had been married some years before to a person of the same persuasion with himself; but it appears that constancy was not one of the virtues of which he was able to boast. It suggested itself to him, therefore, that while a second house would enable him to secrete a considerable quantity of additional property, he might also hide there from his wife a new object, to whom his affections had united him. With these double views, he took a house in Lower Queen-street, Islington (unknown to his own family), in which he followed out the plan which he had laid down for his guidance. The lady and the valuables were placed in it.
At about this period, however, a very extensive robbery of watches and jewellery took place in Cheapside, in which there is no doubt Solomon participated, in the character of receiver. The excitement produced by the occurrence raised considerable alarm in his mind lest he should be discovered and apprehended, and he determined on a trip to Birmingham, in order that the affair might blow over. During his absence, his wife, whose jealous animosity had been excited by his frequent absence from home, discovered his Islington retreat, and her anger, as may be supposed, was not expressed to him in the gentlest or most becoming way upon his return.
This discovery, and the still pending investigation of the circumstances of the robbery in Cheapside, created so much alarm in his mind, that he determined to emigrate to New South Wales, taking with him all his property. His arrangements were commenced, but his wife, whose fears pictured to her the sailing of her husband with her rival, and her own abandonment in England, most strongly opposed the plan. Ikey, however, persisted in carrying out his expressed intention, when his apprehension at his Islington abode effectually prevented the fulfilment of his plans. The charges preferred against him were those of receiving stolen goods, and Ikey was committed to Newgate for trial. Property, it was said, to a very large amount had been seized, amongst which many articles which had been stolen were identified. Whilst awaiting his trial, a plan of escape was concocted, which was completely successful, and which was conducted in the following manner:--
It is a part of the law of the land, that every prisoner who is in custody, no matter what his offence, is entitled to apply to a judge of one of the superior courts, to be admitted to bail. The application is made for a writ of habeas corpus upon which the prisoner is taken from the prison, where he is confined, before the judge, in whose presence the matter is to be argued. Solomon's friends determined to adopt this course, and the application being made, the writ was granted, and a certain day was fixed for the argument. The prisoner, in obedience to the writ, was sent in the custody of two officers to Westminster, and as the trio passed Bridge-street, Blackfriars, it was proposed that they should have a coach. The proposition appeared to be anticipated by a man, whose vehicle was near the head of the rank, and his carriage was immediately engaged. The three men entered it, and were driven to Westminster, but when they arrived there, the judge was found to be engaged. An adjournment took place to a neighbouring public-house, and while there, Mrs. Solomon joined the party with one or two friends, and brandy and water was speedily introduced in abundance. The turnkeys were not sparing in their libations, but were interrupted in their orgies by the announcement that the judge was ready. The argument took place, the bail was refused, as it was known it would be, and a second adjournment to the public-house took place. One more glass was swallowed, and Ikey, his wife, and the two turnkeys, once more entered the vehicle. A short ride threw Smart, the head turnkey, into a species of stupor; and in Fleet-street, Mrs. Solomon was so affected by her husband's danger, as to fall into fits. Solomon entreated the under turnkey, who still remained awake, not to take him to prison, until he had set his wife down at a friend's house, and this request, being probably backed by a fee, was granted. The coach, which it is almost needless to say was driven by one of Ikey's relations, proceeded to Petticoat-lane, and there pulling up at a house, the door was suddenly opened. Ikey popped out, ran into a house, the door of which stood open, but was closed immediately after him, through the passage, into a house at the back, and again through an interminable variety of windings, until at length he was lodged in a place of security. The turnkey was almost as stupefied as his fellow at this surprising disappearance of his prisoner, and Mrs. Solomon having speedily recovered from her fits, the two jailors were left to find their way back to Newgate, and to tell their tale at their own leisure. The turnkeys, it is almost needless to say, had been drugged.
This escape was so admirably conducted, that all traces of Solomon were lost, and notwithstanding the most strenuous exertions of the police, no tidings of him could be obtained. For two months, it appears, he lay concealed at Highgate, and at the expiration of that time he found means to quit the country in a Danish vessel for Copenhagen, from whence in about three months he proceeded to New York.
Ever active in "turning a penny," he was soon engaged in his old trade in forged notes, which was here carried on to a great extent. He became convinced, however, that he could make money by other means also, and he wrote to his wife, desiring her to send him a quantity of cheap watches, which he had good reason to believe would turn to good account. In this letter, according to his own statement, he charged his wife to send him none but "righteous" (honestly obtained) watches, and not to touch one which had been got "on the cross;" but it appears she did not act up to his advice, for she was found guilty of receiving a watch knowing it to have been stolen,-- which turned out to be one of those which she was about to ship off to the new world to her husband, to be employed by him in his new speculation. For this offence she was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years; and, in obedience to her sentence, she was conveyed to Van Diemen's Land. Ikey, in his account of this affair, does not scruple to assert, that his wife had in truth been guilty of no offence whatever; and he seeks to confirm his assertion by relating the circumstances under which the watch was obtained. He declares that there were some persons in England who had been so enraged at his escape, as to be determined to revenge themselves upon him by every means in their power. With this view they sought to tamper with one of his relations, then in custody, in order to procure the entrapment of his wife in some supposed illegal transaction. Mrs. Solomon at this time was engaged in the purchase of the watches for her husband, and she consulted some of her friends upon the best means of procuring them. The imprisoned relation about this time was set at liberty, to carry out his scheme, and he being applied to, produced and sold to her the very watch for the possession of which eventually she was convicted. How far this is true, as regards the individual referred to, we cannot say; but we believe it to be impossible that villainy so gross as that which he imputes, could be connived at by any person holding a responsible public situation in the police.
Ikey, it seems, upon hearing of his wife's misfortune, found himself the object of suspicion where he was, and he determined that he would follow Mrs. Solomon; and, having assembled the family at Hobart Town, endeavour to alleviate her sufferings. In this place he proposed to strike out some new pursuit for their support; but he never imagined that the laws of England would pursue him in the very place to which he was about to proceed as a refuge from them.
Upon his arrival at Hobart Town he lived for some time in comparative decency, having opened a general shop, which he conducted with much profit, and having also purchased a public-house, which he let to another person. But he soon found that his dreams of future security were not to be realised. An order arrived from England for his apprehension, and he was hurried off by the next vessel sailing for London, to take his trial for the numerous offences with which he was charged. He had just time to transfer his property to his son before he sailed, and at length, on the 27th of June 1830, he was once more lodged in Newgate, where he was confined in the transport yard, which was considered the most secure place in the prison.
At the following Old Bailey sessions he was indicted upon eight different charges, and his trial came on Friday, the 9th of July 1830. His conduct throughout was remarkable for great firmness, which was increased by his being acquitted on the first and second days upon five of the indictments preferred against him. On the following Monday he was again placed at the bar, and then, on the sixth and eighth charges, verdicts of Guilty were returned. The verdict on the seventh indictment was one of Not guilty, owing to the absence of a material witness in India.
A point of law was raised as to the propriety of these convictions, and the prisoner was remanded, in order that the matter might be discussed before the superior judges. Solomon was kept in suspense during a period of ten months; but at length, on the 13th of May 1831, he received an intimation that the opinion of the judges was against him, and sentence of seven years' transportation was passed on each indictment.
Upon this sentence he was conveyed to the hulks, and, on the 31st of May 1831, he once more sailed from Portsmouth. In obedience to an order made upon a petition which he had caused to be presented at the Home Office, he was conveyed to Hobart Town, where his family was, instead of to Sydney; and, upon his arrival at that place, he found his son still carrying on the business which he had commenced. By good conduct, Solomon eventually obtained for himself the rank of overseer of convicts, and we believe that he still retains that situation.
Some anecdotes of the mode in which he conducted his business in London will not be uninteresting, exhibiting as they do the general habits of receivers of stolen goods.
It may be admitted, as an established fact, that no man who does not possess very considerable connexions can attempt to carry on the business of a "fence "with success. An acquaintance and co-partnery with persons residing at the out-ports, and with the itinerant dealers in jewellery, travelling inland, are necessary to enable them to put off the proceeds of their dishonest dealings; for while by the former, bank notes, and other property, the identity of which cannot be destroyed, can be despatched abroad, by the latter, watches and other articles of trifling value can be distributed among towns and villages in remote districts, from which it is unlikely they will ever find their way to the great mart of London, where they can be recognised. Diamonds, and other valuable stones, may be taken out and re-set according to another fashion, while the settings are destroyed; but in most instances receivers admit no articles into their houses until they are satisfied that they cannot be recognised. In the first of these respects Solomon was amply provided with associates, and he was too good a judge in most cases to permit any possibility of detection to arise. When a large robbery was contemplated, he was always apprised of it, and the place and time were fixed at which he should go and look over its produce. The first thing he said when he met the parties was, "Now I am to offer you a price for these things; first assist in removing all the marks, and then I will talk to you." When the goods consisted of linen or cloth, every means of identification was removed; the head and fag ends being cut off, and occasionally the list and selvage, if they were peculiar. The marks on the soles of boots and shoes were obliterated by hot irons, and those on the linings were as speedily removed by their being cut out, and others placed in their stead. After this, he found no difficulty in vending every species of property which could be converted into apparel, to the numerous ready-made, and slop-shops, in which trade so many Jews are engaged. Watches of great value, which could find purchasers only in large towns, were either metamorphosed by skilful hands, or sent to the continent. If a watch were valuable for its works more than its case, the interior was soon entombed in another. A boot and shoe-maker, some years since, in Princes-street, Soho, was, in one night, robbed of his stock, value 300l.; the whole was carried away in sacks in coaches, and the next morning found its way, before twelve o'clock, to the premises of our hero. By threats and offers to one of the coachmen, who happened to be recognised by a servant in the neighbourhood, as having been at the door the night before, he was induced to give information of the place to which the goods had been conveyed. The shoemaker sent a man to watch the premises, while he went to seek for two officers; the man was in time to see the goods removed to the house of Solomon. When the shoemaker and the officers arrived they entered the premises, but Ikey defied them to touch an article, so carefully had the marks been removed. The shoemaker was compelled to admit that he could not swear to them, and at once saw that he stood no chance of procuring the restoration of his goods. Solomon then said that he had purchased them fairly, but, out of mere compassion for his loss, whether the goods had been his or not, he would sell them for the price which he had paid for them. The robbed man was glad to accept of these terms, and it cost him upwards of one hundred pounds to re-stock his shop with his own goods.
Solomon was allowed to be a most ready and superior judge of the intrinsic value of all kinds of property, from a glass bottle to a five hundred guinea chronometer; how it could be disposed of, and what was the value thieves generally estimated it at. He established among the rogues a regular rule of dealing, which is continued to this day, namely, to give a fixed price for all articles of the same denomination. For instance, a piece of linen was in his view a piece of linen, whether fine or coarse; the same with a piece of print, a silver watch, or a gold one: taking the good, as he used to tell the young and inexperienced thief, with the bad vons. By this plan he sometimes obtained very valuable watches at a moderate rate. He, however, outbid all his opponents in the purchase of stolen bank-notes; this he was for a long time enabled to do, in consequence of his connection with Jews in Holland. All stolen bank-notes which come into the hands of those who buy them, are sent to the Continent, to pass in the way of purchases through some regular mercantile house, when they find their way, by remittances to London houses, into the Bank, where they must be paid. The price given by Solomon for large notes, was 15s. in the pound; and he calculated that on an average he could send them their circuit of safety for 1s. in the pound: thus securing for himself 4s. profit on each 20s., that is twenty per cent., and this is now the regular price for stolen notes with the London fences.
At the time of Solomon's apprehension his chief store was in Rosemary-lane, and he was reported to have had goods of the value of 20,000l. then collected there. A very great proportion of this property was seized, and Solomon bitterly complained of the manner in which he was deprived of his goods. A great portion of the articles were restored to their owners; but as late as the year 1832, a considerable amount was sold, which was avowed to have belonged to this notorious offender.