On the 2d of June, 1715, John Bigg was indicted at the Old Bailey, on two indictments, the one for erasing, and the other for altering, a bank note of 100l.
On the trial it appeared that the bill in question was drawn in favour of James White or bearer, and had been signed by Joseph Odam, for the governor and company of the Bank of England: that this bill having been brought to the bank, 90l. was paid and endorsed on it: that it was afterwards brought again, when 25l. was paid and endorsed as before; and the clerks finding that this bill, among others, had been overpaid, were surprised to think how it could have happened, till one Mr. Collins informed them that the prisoner had tempted him to be concerned with him in taking out the letters of the red ink on the notes, by means of a certain liquid; and had even shown him in what manner it was to be done.
It appeared likewise that the prisoner had discovered this secret to Mars, who had seen him make the experiment, had received money for him on the altered notes, and was promised a third part of the profit for his share in the iniquity.
The prisoner did not deny the charge; but his counsel pleaded that Mr. Odam was not a servant properly qualified to make out such bills, unless he had been authorized under the seal of the corporation. They likewise insisted that writing with red ink on the inside of the bill could not be deemed an indorsement; and even if it were so accounted, the fact with which the prisoner was charged could not be called an altering or erasing.
After some altercation between the king's counsel and those of the prisoner, the opinion of the court was that Mr. Odam was a person properly qualified to make out such bills; but a doubt arising respecting the other articles, the jury gave a special verdict.
The judges meeting on this occasion at Sergeants'-inn Hall, Fleet Street, the case was solemnly argued; after which the unanimous opinion of the reverend sages of the law was given, that the prisoner was guilty, within the meaning of the act of parliament; in consequence of which he received sentence of death in December, 1715, but afterwards obtained a free pardon.
From the case of this malefactor we may see the tenderness with which Englishmen are treated in matters which concern their lives. In cases of special verdicts prisoners have the advantage of the opinions of two juries: the first not knowing in what light to consider the crime, the learned bench of judges form a kind of second jury, where, all partiality being set aside, the supposed criminal is judged according to the strict meaning of the law; and, even after conviction, has a chance of obtaining the royal mercy, as happened in the case of the offender in question.
Hence, then, let Englishmen learn the value of those laws by which they are protected, and be devoutly thankful to that Providence which hath cast their lot in a country, the wisdom of whose legislature is the envy and admiration of the universe.