Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

History of Banking in Scotland
Chapter XIV - Murder and Robbery


To persons who are not directly interested in, or, to speak more correctly, who do not devote attention to, economic subjects, the history of banking sometimes seems rather a dry subject. Unlike political history, it does not present an absorbing series of national and world-wide convulsions, involving wholesale slaughter and indescribable misery, and producing innumerable instances of heroism and intellectual greatness. Even ecclesiastical history supplies thrilling narratives of cruelty and oppression, which rival romance, and, at all times, enlists the liveliest enthusiasm in the battle of the creeds. The records of geographical and scientific discovery are also more powerful in riveting the attention and exciting the imagination. But, if our subjects deal in the main with the peaceful progress and economic well-being of nations, and are outside the realm of the startling and the sanguinary, they do at times supply material for stories which might interest the most devoted students of Newgate calendars and detectives' experiences. As illustrating this phase of banking, we shall narrate a few conspicuous instances of crime which occurred towards the close of the eighteenth and in the early part of last century, merely premising that the full details of the second story were never judicially established.

Crimes in connection with banking in Scotland are mostly confined to forgeries; but, although robberies have not been very numerous, some of those which have occurred are rather remarkable. While not an event of the "first magnitude," the robbery of the head office of the Dundee Banking Company was attended by some remarkable features, not least of which was the number of persons tried, condemned, and punished for the offence, while, from beginning to end, the question of their guilt was matter of grave doubt.

The building in which the bank office was situated served a triple purpose, being primarily the public jail, but also containing the guildhall, as well as accommodating the bank. A common entrance gave access to them from the street, the bank being on the street level, with the guildhall immediately above it. The utilitarianism of this conjoint arrangement was surpassed by the Arcadian simplicity which dispensed with any nightly resident on the premises. When the bank closed on Saturday, 16th February 1788, the premises were left under the charge of the jailor, who, having subsequently shut up his prisoners as sheep in their fold, locked the outer door at ten o'clock, and betook himself to more felicitous scenes. The bank office was thus left to solitude, and the proximity of the imprisoned, but unguarded, rascality of the town.

Next morning (Sunday) Peter Stewart, the said jailor, was roused from his balmy slumbers "about eight o'clock, by two boys, to look at a woman who was making a great noise," when he experienced a sensation similar to that of the keeper of the prison at Philippi when he awakened out of his sleep and saw the prison doors open. But like him, also, the Dundee jailor had assurance that his charges were safe. As stated in his evidence at the trial, "he found one leaf of the great gate forced open, which made him afraid lest the prison was broke; but he found it safe. He, however, found the door of the guildhall half open, and a hole made in the floor. He also saw an iron pinch at the side of the hole. He immediately went and told the keeper of the guildhall and the deputy-cashier (or teller) of the bank." On proceeding to the scene, the teller (William Watson) looked through the hole in the floor, which was immediately above the bank, and saw that his drawers in the office below had been broken open. In these drawers he had left about £1000, which is another illustration of the happy-go-lucky way in which they managed affairs in the good old times.

Mr. Robert Jobson, the cashier (or manager), was then called, and an examination of the bank office made. Of the teller's cash, amounting to £998: 13s., notes, gold, silver, and copper, to the amount of £423: 7: 6 were gone; but apparently the rest had been overlooked. The manager's room, which constituted the treasure vault, was found locked; but the key, "which was usually left in the teller's room" (another happy instance of sublime confidence), "was carried off." The door being of iron, "they were obliged to get a smith, with a mason, to force it open, which took up about two hours." Fortunately all was right within.

The bank immediately advertised the robbery, and offered a reward of £50 for information; but it was not immediately forthcoming. According to their minutes, as quoted by the historion of the bank, the directors, " finding as yet no prospect of a recovery of the money, nor even of a discovery of the perpetrators, ordered the above sum to be placed to the debit of profit and loss." However, a tailor called Macdonald, who afterwards played the role of chief informer, professed to be able to reveal the mystery; but, owing to his reticence, nothing could at the time be made of him. One man, Harris or Herries, was arrested, but, being found innocent, was liberated. In the August following, two men, Bruce and Falconar, were tried in the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, for the crime. The jury having by a majority found them guilty, they were sentenced to be hanged. Owing to doubts regarding their guilt, the sentence was twice respited. Meantime, other three men, Dick, Willox, and Howie, were arrested, and tried at Edinburgh in November. The libel was found not proven against Willox and Howie, but Dick was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Doubts again arising, however, a respite was given in his case also to allow of further inquiry.

Alexander Macdonald, the original informant, whose character was, at both trials, spoken of as very bad, was examined at great length. He asserted that the plot had been hatching from the middle of the previous year, when Dick, Willox, Falconar, and Bruce, "complaining of want of money, Falconar proposed to break into Jobson's chest," as they facetiously called the bank office. Consultations went on from time to time, and they made him take an oath which, he was told, they had all sworn, to wit," If I make a discovery, may I never have any share in the blood of Christ." On the night of the robbery they made him promise to go with them; but he made an excuse to return first to his house, "having nothing on him but his shirt." Later, along with a woman and two men, he went to the place, and going up the stair of the guildhall, saw all the men named, and Howie in the hall. Dick and Bruce were lowering Falconar, by means of a rope, through the hole in the floor. He narrated other details which tended to confirm his evidence, but which must be passed over here. "During the time they were all laughing like to split their sides." Returning to the street, Macdonald and the people with him, from the shadow of the pillars, watched the five thieves leave the premises. They had apparently been scared by a woman screaming; but whether this was the disturbance which caused the boys to rouse the jailor from his well-earned repose or not we are not informed.

A great amount of evidence was taken which seemed to confirm Macdonald's tale, but it does not appear that the others who saw the proceedings explicitly identified the prisoners. Notwithstanding the respites which had been granted, the sentence on Bruce and Falconar was carried out at Edinburgh, on 24th December. Consistently throughout they denied all knowledge of the crime. According to a contemporary account, "their behaviour on the scaffold was devout, serious, and becoming; and in their address to the Almighty they implored forgiveness to those by whose testimony they had been untimely cut off." Dick was fortunate enough to obtain a pardon. The witness Macdonald soon came to a bad end. He was tried and condemned to transportation a year later for forging a bill. This raised doubts as to his former evidence; but he vehemently asserted in Court that Bruce and Falconar had been guilty of the robbery. On his way to Botany Bay he was hanged on board ship for mutiny. Nearly a year later another malefactor, under sentence of death for robbery, asserted that he was the actual perpetrator of the Dundee Bank robbery. A respite was granted for three weeks to allow of inquiry; but as it appeared he had fabricated the story to escape his fate, his sentence was carried out. With his latest breath, however, he asserted that Falconar, Bruce, and Dick, were innocent of the robbery.

So ended this melancholy episode, regarding which one has an uneasy feeling of uncertainty as to the justice of the sentence on the unhappy prisoners.

Late in the afternoon of the 13th November 1806, a young Edinburgh sailor, whose ship had come into Leith, started from the latter town to visit his mother and sister in the Netherbow. Although described at a later period as "a very industrious good man," on the present occasion lie displayed that elasticity of conscience which is too frequently shown by people of the present time in their dealings with the revenue departments. He was taking home "a small present "from foreign parts, of a contraband description. Leith Walk, which formed the main part of his route, was very different then from what it is now. Its location and extent were precisely the same, but it was dark and desolate. As he walked on, he saw two men before him. One was tall, and carried a yellow bag; the other was dressed in black. The men were not together. The last mentioned was "dogging" the other—crossing from one side of the Walk to the other, as occasion might require, to avoid notice. So steadily did he pursue his game, that he never observed our sailor lad behind him. The latter's conscience immediately divined that the carrier of the bag was a smuggler, who was being tracked by a custom-house officer. His own guilt, unfortunately, distorted his vision, and enforced on him such precautions for his own safety as prevented him from detecting—perhaps preventing—a diabolical crime.

The first man was no smuggler. He was William Begbie, messenger of the British Linen Company, and was, in accordance with his usual practice, carrying notes of the various banks, to the value of £4392, from the Leith branch to the head office, to be exchanged next day. There is reason to believe that the man who was following him was James Afackcoull, a London villain of the blackest dye; but of such dexterity that, even in his grossest and most daring crimes, he almost invariably escaped detection. Ile seemed to find the comparatively unsophisticated people of Edinburgh as good game; for he paid them repeated visits, which only terminated when his quarters got too hot for him. On the present occasion he had lodgings in New Street, Canongate, but usually spent the day among the Leith taverns. He was now on his way home; but, whether or not he had previously planned the scheme, he turned his present opportunity to the uses of his profession, which was that of pickpocket, thief, receiver of stolen goods, and vendor of stolen bank notes.

The three dramatis personę, at respectful distances from one another, proceeded up the Walk and up Leith Street. Here Begbie appears to have at once crossed Princes Street, to go up the North Bridge. Mackcoull was too great a professor of the light-fingered art to seem to follow. The east end of Princes Street, although then a quiet place as compared with its present bustle, was not a spot for privacy. The Theatre-Royal stood where the General Post Office now stands; and Shakespeare Square, with its roystering taverns and oyster cellars, was built around it. Instead of following his victim directly, he turned along Princes Street, in front of the Register Office. It may be that his guilty thoughts pictured a tragic scene, of which he might well be aware from his frequent visits to the city, enacted within a stone's throw of the spot where he stood and gazed around, to make sure he was unobserved; for in that thoroughfare which is now called West Register Street, but which then was a Kirk Lane, a tutor had cruelly murdered his two young charges. He thought himself unseen—although he was a licentiate of the Church, it may be presumed he did not think of his Maker's eye —but his deed was witnessed from Moultrie's Hill, on which St. James' Square was afterwards built, the view being at that time uninterrupted by buildings. Taken red-handed, he was lynched on the spot, which, after him, was named Gabriel's Place. [Part of the roadway still exists, and bears the name Gabriel's Road. A tree under which, according to tradition, the deed was done, stood in the south-east corner of the grounds of the Royal Bank, until it was blown down a few years ago.]

When our sailor friend observed the "customhouse officer" look about him, "he hove-to and watched him" (to use his own words), as he feared he might be looking for him. However, the "officer" shortly followed his victim up the bridge, and both were soon lost to sight in the darkness; for it must be remembered that the streets were then very ineffectually lighted with oil lamps. The sailor then slowly pursued his way, which lay in the same direction, and saw nothing of the two men. He reached the High Street, and turned down towards the Canongate. When he came to Tweeddale's Close, in which the office of the British Linen Co. was situated, he was surprised and alarmed by seeing the "custom-house officer" run out of the entry with something under his coat. In the excitement of the moment, he seems to have lost his presence of mind; for he could not afterwards tell which way the "officer" went. Rushing to his mother's house, which was close at hand, he stayed only to leave his contraband present, which had so disturbed his peace of mind, and hastily returned to his ship, imagining he had narrowly escaped detection of his smuggling.

Next day the city learnt that William Begbie, messenger of the British Linen Company's Bank, had been fatally stabbed in Tweeddale's Close, and robbed of bank-notes to the value of £4392, Lord Cockburn, who was counsel for the Paisley Union Bank in a subsequent action against Mackcoull, says, "he was found with a knife in his heart, and a piece of paper, through which it had been thrust, interposed between the murderer's hand and the blood "—so premeditated was the deed. Fear of the discovery of his own illegal doings seems to have sealed the sailor's lips. His ship left Leith within a few days, and he did not return to Scotland for years. Various apprehensions were made, but the guilty person was never identified. Later investigations tended to point out Mackcoull as the perpetrator; but his death appears to have interrupted the successful prosecution of these inquiries. The large notes of which Begbie had been robbed were subsequently found in a hole in a wall in the grounds of Bellevue. It is supposed they were placed there by Mackcoull on his return to Edinburgh—he had left his lodgings in New Street immediately after the murder occurred —when he felt himself unable safely to dispose of them for value. It is, perhaps, but just to add that Lord Cockburn's judicial mind was not satisfied with the evidence as to Mackcoull's guilt.

Some years after the sad event we have just narrated, a still more extraordinary, though happily less horrible, crime was perpetrated on the banking community. Early in May 1811, three travellers arrived in Glasgow. The oldest, and seemingly the ruling spirit of the party, was a man under fifty years of age, of average height, stout, with ruddy round face, in which were set large, sharp, dark eyes. He gave his name as James Moffat, and is said to have been "somewhat like a gentleman." Neither of his companions was so striking in appearance. The more respectable-looking of the two was about Moffat's height; the other was thinner and taller, and was dressed like a mechanic. They answered respectively to the names of Stone and Down. Moffat said they were his cousins. The three had left London by post-chaise, and finished their journey by mail coach. Presenting themselves at the house of a widow, named Stewart, who kept lodgings at the Broomielaw, where she lived with her son and niece, they secured rooms for a fortnight, and seemed to live a quiet and retired life.

They early contracted a habit of leaving the house about ten o'clock at night, for about a couple of hours. This, it would seem, was at that period a very unusual time for citizens of St. Mungo to be abroad; but, our friends being Londoners, and seemingly of irreproachable character, no surprise was excited. In these circumstances, it can hardly be wondered that the mysterious disappearance of a small chamber organ from the house should have been attributed by the good widow to some inscrutable dispensation of providence, which had no connection with her respected English guests. We do not mean to say they stole it. Such an insignificant article could not excite their cupidity. But, having a use for its pewter pipes, or rather for the metal itself, they simply did as all great men have done since the world began—they made use of the materials that lay readiest to their hands. However, at best, this is a mere minor part of the business.

As our readers will suspect the character and intentions of our heroes, and as they are already acquainted with the most important member of the party, it is as well, perhaps, that we should introduce each in proprid persond. James Moffat, then, was no other than the old custom-house officer who gave the sailor boy such a fright, and did worse damage still, if all tales be true, to his own soul and poor Begbie's body on the same occasion. He had formed a great plan, and taken to himself two other spirits, who, if less wicked than he, were only so from want of similar natural talents. Their real names, or those at least by which they were principally known to the police, were Harry French and Houghton (or Huffey, as he was colloquially termed) White. They were as precious a pair of villains as remained unhanged. Indeed, White (the "Down" of the present episode) had been specially rescued from the hulks, for the purposes of the present expedition, on account of his mechanical knowledge. The great design which Mackcoull had elaborated was the robbery of the Glasgow Branch of the Paisley Union Bank.

The office which formed the subject of the trio's attentions was situated in Ingram Street, occupying the street floor of a corner house, there being separate warerooms above, and cellars below. It consisted of two rooms, in the inner of which was a vault or closet, with an iron door, which formed the strong room of the branch. Many a time, during May and June, had the three robbers reconnoitred the premises —more particularly during the silent time after ten o'clock at night, when the worthy and unsophisticated inhabitants had retired to rest. At first they had thought that a fortnight would suffice to effect their purpose; but the keys which they had procured from a confederate locksmith in London would not suit. The old-fashioned simple locks baffled burglars who were accustomed to more scientific guards, so Mackcoull set off for London (under pretence of going to Liverpool), to have keys made under his own supervision. White manufactured a key from the pewter pipes of the musical box, probably to get the impression of the wards of the locks. After Mackcoull's return, a little adjustment of the keys seems to have given complete command of the premises. It was now the beginning of July, and, according to notice they had previously given, they left their lodgings, with the ostensible object of going to Bristol. Where they did go does not appear. It would seem, however, that they purposely delayed the execution of the robbery until the Fair week, when the presence of a heterogeneous crowd of questionable characters might serve to divert attention from them.

On Saturday, 13th July 1811, business went on as usual at the branch office. Four o'clock came. Mr. Likely, the cashier, and other officers, had taken their departure; and Mr. Hamilton, the teller, handed over his cash to John Thomson, the porter. On the arrival of a box of retired notes, amounting to about £4000, from the bank's correspondents in Edinburgh —Sir Wm. Forbes & Co.—the porter locked it, with the teller's cash, into the safe, shut up the office, and took the keys to the house of Mr. Templeton, the manager. We have here a charming glimpse of bank office management in the olden time. One does not know whether most to admire the mutual confidence displayed by the staff from the highest to the lowest, or to envy the social conditions that permitted the total absence of supervision in the transference of cash. Sunday passed, no doubt with prolonged doctrinal disquisitions, slightly interspersed with discordant tunes, and added to by domestic catechisings in semi - solitary confinement, amid repressed desires for the return of Monday. The morning came at last, and John Thomson got the bank keys, and opened the office as usual. He unlocked the safe to get out the teller's cash, and then he witnessed a spectacle which must have produced in him sensations more easy to imagine than to describe. The lid of the Edinburgh box was broken, and the remittance had disappeared. The cash drawers had been forced, and their contents abstracted. Everything in the shape of cash, including some base coin, was gone. The bank since Saturday was minus £19,753 : 4s.

Sunday morning had been a busy time with the interesting trio; but it is left to the imagination to picture their modus operandi. They had been seen in the Gallowgate on Friday the 12th July—the day preceding the robbery—but there is no other record of their movements until after the great event was accomplished. A certain David Clachar, who was early astir, saw the three "sitting on a dyke at the corner of Stirling's Road," not far from the bank. They had a large bundle with them, from which they took a parcel of notes, and counted them. They also counted silver coin; and then packing up, proceeded towards the heart of the city. There they procured, with some difficulty, a post-chaise, in which they left for Edinburgh, urging the postboy to speed, on the plea that Mackcoull had a brother at the point of death, whom he earnestly desired to see. Posting thus, early on the Sunday morning, and changing horses at Airdrie and Uphall, they drove into Edinburgh. They dismissed the chaise at the west end of Princes Street—just where Dean Ramsay's monument now stands — being anxious to throw pursuers off the scent. And pursued they speedily were; for no sooner was the news of the robbery circulated, than Clachar and others put the bank authorities on the trail. But the robbers had a good start, of which they did not fail to avail themselves. They were not the sort, however, to neglect their personal comfort. They had regaled themselves, at each stage, with drinking and smoking. Mackcoull, who was well acquainted with Edinburgh, led the way to M'Cousland's St. Andrew Tavern in Rose Street, which he had formerly frequented when he lodged in that street. There they dined—no doubt sumptuously. During afternoon church services they appear to have slipped unnoticed, through the deserted streets, to the Black Bull Inn in Leith Street, then the great centre of the mail coach routes. There they hired another chaise, and proceeded by Haddington and the usual stages to London, taking four horses after they crossed the Border. Their pursuers followed them with great activity; but the necessity for inquiry at every stage gave the villains more than the full advantage of their start. Mackeoull and his associates got to their villainous haunts without interruption. The London police, however, succeeded in arresting French and White; but, by a most extraordinary system of negotiation, Mackcoull managed to save himself, and secure about £8000 of the booty. Through his wife he negotiated a treaty with the authorities, by which he agreed to give up what was left of the money, on condition that the offence would be overlooked, and that his accomplices would be saved from the sentence of death to which they were liable for escaping from the hulks. The amount he gave up, however, was only £11,941. He had the audacity, some years later, to come to Leith and purchase bills on London with the stolen notes, and, when arrested, to sue the Paisley Union Bank for the amount of the bills then taken from him. Strange to say, after prolonged litigation, he very nearly won his case. But at last, his guilt was fully established at the concluding sederunt of his case; and he was arrested, tried, and condemned to death on the criminal charge. A reprieve was granted, however, and he died in the county jail in Edinburgh, on 22nd December 1820, after enduring a period of great mental agony. White was afterwards executed for robbing a mail coach.

Another robbery, [See Historical Sketches of the Town and Harbours of Greenock, D. Campbell, Greenock, 1879, vol. i.] bearing some resemblances to the one just narrated, occurred seventeen years later. In this case too, the operators were London burglars, whose modus operandi shows a scientific finish contrasting strikingly with the criminal manners of the natives as exemplified by the Dundee Bank robbery already described. Indeed, it must be admitted that in all departments of the light-fingered arts, the Scotch could not hold a candle to their metropolitan confreres; and, seemingly, the latter do not appear ever to have considered it worth their while to seek their assistance.

This crime was the robbery of the Greenock Bank on Sunday, 9th March 1828. The office consisted of two apartments on the street floor of the Assembly Rooms, entering by the first door on the right hand of the hall of the building. Further in, on the left, was a newsroom, which, even at that early period of the century, was open on the Sabbath day—a circumstance which facilitated the depredation; for, had the outer door of the building been shut, the scheme would have required even bolder and more precarious efforts than the policy of the "open door" necessitated.

The enterprise was very carefully arranged. Having paid Greenock the compliment of selection for their attentions, the thieves, in the preceding June, deputed one of their number—Henry Sanders, or Saunders (which, it must be confessed, has a somewhat Scottish sound)—to reconnoitre. For the occasion, however, he assumed the name of Eldin, perhaps out of regard for a facetious Edinburgh judge of the time. His practised eye readily saw that the weak points of the Greenock Bank's position rendered it the most suitable for their attentions. Having satisfied himself as to the object of attack, he departed from the scene, probably to consult with his colleagues; but doubtless also because the early and late sunlight of the northern summer made it necessary to delay proceedings until the winter supplied the facility of darkness for their enterprise.

We accordingly find that, on 23rd November 1827, Mr. Eldin returned to his old landlady, bringing a companion with him. They were received joyfully, for Mr. Eldin had been a most quiet, regular, and respectably living man. This style of life was resumed. The lodgers were evidently men of the most sedate—not to say stoical—character. They went to bed at 10, and rose at 5.30, going out every morning to bathe in the salt sea waves at 6 o'clock although it was winter-time; at least they said so—it is not recorded that they were ever seen in the water. Indeed, traducers of their characters insinuate that they employed these early hours to take impressions of the bank locks. It seems that was the only time when no one was on the premises; the messenger, Robert Love, after sleeping in the bank, with his bed against the safe door, going to his home round the corner, probably to get his breakfast; but, as it is more touchingly expressed in the history of the transaction, "to say good-morning to his wife." However that may be, he had a further expedition in view—for every morning, Sunday included, he attended to his interests as contractor for the mail communications between Greenock and Largs, by seeing to the starting of his gig with a small boy as driver. This then was the only time our interesting acquaintances had for making their bank inspection. It was not perhaps as thorough an inspection as official inspectors are wont to make; but, if they did not overhaul the securities for advances to customers, they secured an advance themselves, and verified the cash balance.

But we are anticipating. For after a stay of seventeen days the two scoundrels left Greenock, for the purpose, it was conjectured, of improving their false keys. Their absence was, however, of short duration, and on their return to their old landlady they stayed until 7th January 1828. The worthy lady was confirmed in her good opinion of her lodgers by discovering that they were ironmongers; for, from a cupboard, she heard them filing and clinking metal most industriously. It remained, however, a subject of debate between her and a gossip whether they were in the cutlery or Britannia metal line. But the ladies seem to have had no shadow of doubt as to their being true as steel. They now took to rather a roving life, staying sometimes at one inn and sometimes at another; with occasional disappearances from the town. Thus, laboriously, did they study their enterprise, moving from place to place that they might more thoroughly observe the movements of the denizens of the building, and visiting accomplices to get their keys more delicately adjusted.

At last, after about nine months' preparation, the great enterprise is fixed for the morning of Sabbath, 9th March. On the preceding evening the conspirators bade adieu to their host of the George Inn, but they could not tear themselves away from the town of their adoption without some keepsake for remembrance. So they lay perdu in the town until early morn. The same evening two confederates arrived in separate gigs; and, no doubt, a full council of war would be held to settle final details. The weather was propitious, in so far that it was of so boisterous a description that people were too much absorbed in looking to their own protection to pay heed to the movements of the couple, even if the good people of Greenock had been of a suspicious turn of mind.

On the eventful morning, Robert Love arose from his sentinel slumbers. The conscientious historian relates that he dressed himself, which might almost have been taken for granted; but he says not a word as to ablutions, a detail for which a voucher would not have been amiss. The porter was, however, of sufficiently tidy habits to tuck away his bed and bedding into a corner where they were wont to lie out of sight during the hours of business. Leaving the key of the bank at his house round the corner, he proceeded to his duties in connection with His Majesty's mails, and to conversation with his friends, which the comparative freedom of the Sabbath permitted.

Meanwhile the opportunity for which the miscreants had plotted for nine months had come, and the preconceived arrangements were put in action. The two gigs were in waiting in different streets adjacent to, but out of sight of the bank. The second of the two chief actors (who was endowed with a squint, which seems to have been his principal recommendation, as it enabled him to see things when it was supposed he was looking in a different direction, and who is represented as a lily-livered creature) went in trembling to the newsroom and kept the attendant there looking up the Jamaica papers for a report of a fictitious accident to an imaginary relative, whose ship, he said, had foundered in the Gulf of Mexico. Under cover of this feint, the judge's namesake opened the bank door with his false key; and, entering, soon got access to the treasure of the bank. Not content with the coin, amounting to £1661 : 15 : 6, Mr. Eldin annexed all the notes in the chest. These amounted to £28,354 of the bank's own issue, and £4100:13s. of notes of other banks. These he crammed into two great travelling bags; and, throwing a large cloak about him, carrying booty to the value of £34,116 : 8: 6, he evacuated the premises. Gaining one of the gigs he stowed cargo, and jumping up beside the confederate driver they started, at a rapid rate, for Glasgow. his craven-hearted lieutenant, leaving his phantom relative's fate to the further researches of the kindly librarian, followed so hastily that his gig actually overtook that of his chief.

Reaching Edinburgh, they succeeded early on Monday morning in cashing some of the notes at Sir William Forbes', the Royal, and the British Linen Banks to the amount of about £4800. The teller at the Bank of Scotland, however, was not so easily hoodwinked, and refused the business. So, fearing that further delay might be dangerous, they hired a post-chaise and made for the south with their plunder. Arrived in London they declared a dividend of the entire profits of the undertaking, and dissolved partnership; rejoicing doubtless no less in the pride of their skill than in the material result of so perilous an expedition. And it must be admitted that, if an evil deed can be so described, it was well done.

The sequel was very remarkable. By private negotiations, through a thieves' lawyer, more than half of the stolen money was recovered. It was arranged that a single representative of the bank was to wait in a hackney coach at a secluded spot. This was done, and there a porter delivered to him a box which was afterwards found to contain about £20,000 of the stolen notes. The consideration for this restitution (which, it may be noticed, was the giving up by the thieves of what entailed more danger than prospective profit in the retention) was that prosecution proceedings, on the part of the bank, should be dropped. Here the matter would have ended had not the Lord Advocate instituted inquiries. As it was, our friend Mr. Eldin was laid by the heels, brought to Glasgow, and tried six months after the robbery. The jury, however, brought in a verdict of "not proven," and the prisoner was discharged; Lord Meadowbank, who presided, clearly indicating his suspicions. Indeed, the evidence, though circumstantial, reads so clearly adverse to the prisoner, that it is surprising that he escaped. But he was a clever rogue.


Return to Book Index Page