The charge preferred against this person, and of which he was found guilty, was that of stealing from his employers, Messrs. Mercer and Co., of the Maidstone Bank, a bag containing 500l. 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: --
It seemed that 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, upon the money being examined, it was found to be five hundred pounds short of the proper quantity of gold, and on a 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, but no suspicion was entertained of the prisoner, and 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, and some other circumstances coming 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 superintendant of the Maidstone police, who proceeded to the prisoner's house, and, upon searching it, he found a number of watches and time-pieces. When the prisoner was told by the officer what was the nature of the charge 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 got any more money, and the prisoner's wife went up to the bed-room with him, and she produced from between the bed and the mattress a bag, containing forty-five pounds, in sovereigns and half-sovereigns. He also found an I O U for 10l., signed by a person named Merston, who proved that the prisoner lent him ten sovereigns upon it, and that he was paying him interest.
It was also proved that before the robbery the prisoner had only been in the receipt of a pound a week, and that he was in very poor circumstances; and it appeared that after he was discharged he had purchased two houses in Maidstone, for which he paid 350l., 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.
Mr. Sergeant Shea made a powerful address to the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and said that the sole evidence by which it was sought to convict him of the crime imputed to him was his being in possession of an amount of money which the prosecutors chose to consider he could not have been possessed of by his own means. The learned counsel said, however, that he hoped to be able to satisfy the jury that the money the prisoner had spent was his own property.
Some witnesses were then called 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 15l.
Several other witnesses were examined, but although it was admitted that money had been given to the prisoner in sums of 8l. and 10l. at different times, the witnesses said the money was only given out of charity, and the evidence did not in the slightest degree show a probability of the prisoner being lawfully in the possession of the money he had expended.
Lord Denman then summed up the evidence, and went through the whole of it in the most careful and impartial manner, and concluded by leaving the case in the hands of the jury, who, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict of "Guilty."
The learned judge, addressing the prisoner, said that no person who had heard the evidence adduced could doubt, for a moment, that he was guilty of the offence imputed to him. It was a very serious one, and he felt himself called upon to pass a severe sentence. His lordship then ordered him to be transported for fourteen years.