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History of Banking in Scotland
Chapter XI - Forgeries and Illicit Coinage

AMONG crimes connected with banking in Scotland, forgery of the notes of the various banks appears to have been the favourite. So far as one can judge, however, practice did not make perfection; for the imitations do not seem to have been clever, and many of them must have been clumsy work, hardly calculated to deceive any but the most ignorant people. But, perhaps, in those days, that class of person, common enough at all times, formed a considerable portion of the community. Forgeries began soon after the first issue of bank notes; but the period during which the crime was most common appears to have been the second half of the 18th century. The first quarter of the 19th century was also, however, an active time in this special industry. On detection, the culprits were dealt with in the drastic fashion of the good old times. The usual penalty was hanging; but that sentence was sometimes modified to whipping and transportation for life. It need not be supposed that this alternative was dictated by the "quality of mercy." There is more reason to suppose that the physical condition of the prisoner would influence the judgment of the court, whether he should patriotically die for or "leave his country for his country's good" as a prospective sturdy labourer in his Majesty's plantations. It is noticeable that the forgeries were almost, if not entirely, confined to the small notes. While the number of forgeries was large, it does not appear that either the banks or the public suffered heavily by them.

We are indebted to the writer of the Historical Account of the Bank of Scotland for the earliest notices of forgeries. The first of the four cases he mentions occurred about the end of February 1700. "One Thomas Macghie, who was bred a Scholar, but poor, of a good Genius and ready Wit, of an aspiring Temper, and desirous to make an Appearance in the World, but wanting a Fund convenient for his Purpose, was tempted to try his Hand upon Banknotes. . . . By artful Razing, he altered the Word Five, in the Five Pound Note, and made it Fifty." But the "Check-book and Record" were so carefully kept that the villany was soon discovered. The villain himself, however, escaped to try his aspiring scholarship in foreign countries.

"In September 1710, one Robert Fleming, a very poor Man, who taught an English School at Hamilton, was taken up for cheating some poor People with Twenty Shilling's Notes, all wrote with his own Hand, and a dark Impression made like the Seal of the Bank. He was prosecuted for the Forgery; and on his own Confession found guilty, and condemned to Death; but, having been reprived by Her late Majesty several Times, and at last during Pleasure, he after Her Majesty's death obtained a Remission." What inspired Queen Anne's great clemency on this occasion does not appear.

A new forgery of 20s. notes appeared in January 1723; "but tho the Directors took all Pains to discover the Author, and that they had Jealousy of some, yet they could never fix upon any particular Person as guilty."

Another forgery of 20s. notes was discovered about the middle of November 1726. Before announcing the forgery, the bank got a "List of all the Engravers, and such as keep Tailliedouce Printing-Presses in and about the City, and obtained a Warrant from my Lord Justice-clerk for a Search." The search, however, discovered nothing. "But on Sabbath Evening, 25th December said year, Information being brought to the Secretary of the Bank that there was good Ground to believe, that one John Currie, a Bookbinder, was the Forger, at least accessory and privy thereto; and a Bit of Paper being shown him, which Currie's servant found in his Work-house, with an Impression on it . . . of these Words BANK OF SCOTLAND he was thereby convinced." Further search supplied more evidence. Currie was arrested, and eventually confessed to "having done the whole Forgery." His trial, however, had seemingly not been concluded at the time our author wrote, for he closes the incident by remarking, "But whether Currie will be subjected to the Pain of Death, or an arbitrary Punishment, I cannot say."

The absence of a special chronicler occasions a hiatus of twenty-one years in our record; for there is but little reason to suppose that that period was unmarked by experiences similar to those immediately preceding and following it.

The next case of which we have details is that of Archibald Currie, a wright, who was tried, in 1747, by the Court of Session for forging notes of the Royal Bank, and, being remitted to the Justiciary Court, was, on his own petition, with consent of the Lord Advocate, ordered to be banished to the plantations, with certification that, if he return, he shall be whipped monthly till retransported. Three years later, John Young, who had been "a serjeant in Col. Rich's foot " (as he is concisely designated), was executed in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, for "forging and fabricating" notes of the same bank, and "uttering them as true." Some months afterwards a fellow soldier and accomplice was allowed to elect banishment to New England, with the usual notice of the welcome which would await him should he give way to home-sickness. He loved his country, however, not wisely but too well; for we find that he was again apprehended in Edinburgh and duly whipped through that city.

There is record, without particulars, of "a precognition at Banff, in 1765, about a vitiate Note of the Dundee Bank." An advertisement regarding a forged note of the British Linen Company appeared that same year; during which also there was a prosecution of a James Baillie, in Dundee, who was pilloried and transported for forging bank notes. The Thistle Bank notes appear to have been repeatedly forged ; for, in 1768, what is described as "another forgery " was discovered, for which offence Wm. Herries, Ayr, was taken up on suspicion, tried and hanged. Mr. Boase states that he had issued 452  £1 notes, and had in his possession 9677 more, which were burned after his trial. In 1774 both the Bank of Scotland and the British Linen Company advertised forgeries of their notes, and offered £100 rewards for discovery of the offenders. The subjects were the guinea and £1 plates respectively. Next year there was a curious case in London, when Thomas Bell was charged with intending to forge notes of the Bank of Scotland. It is said that he got paper made with the bank's watermark, and asked an engraver to print the notes. The latter, however, being as canny as the Scot, made a preliminary inquiry which stopped the game. The prisoner was, however, acquitted.

The Royal Bank guinea notes were forged in 1776; and, a few years later, the same denomination of the Bank of Scotland was similarly treated. For the latter crime, David Reid, merchant in Manchester, was arrested, and, after a prolonged trial in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary, in Edinburgh, found guilty. The execution took place in the Grass-market, 13th September 1780, on which occasion he made a full confession, delivered a long and solemn warning to the crowd, and generally conducted himself in a manner which is stated to have been "decent and becoming in a very uncommon degree," concluding with particularly appropriate devotions. [Caledonian Mercury, 24th June to 13th September 1780.] Next year another forgery of the same bank's guinea notes was dealt with at the trial of a journeyman watchmaker from Falkirk, John Brown. The jury found it proven that he engraved the " brass plate," but not proven that he adhibited the subscriptions to, or issued any of the three notes produced. The judges "animadverted very severely on the verdict, but," pursues the recorder, [Caledonian.3fercury, 10th, 12th, and 14th March 1781.] "the jury bore it with truly Christian patience."

We now come to a case in which one is apt to feel that the prisoner got more justice than mercy. The culprit, John Macafee, was an ignorant soldier of the 77th regiment, then quartered in Ireland, and appears to have become the tool of some Irish blackguards. He was apprehended at Campbeltown, in 1782, for passing four forged notes in imitation of a British Linen £1 plate of 13th May 1774, the date being altered to 1776. He confessed that he was employed by people in Ireland who professed to have successfully committed forgeries on several of the other banks in Scotland. What is specified as "a bundle" of the forged notes, which he had got a boy to secrete, was found. The paper was coarse and ill-coloured. "We have seen one of them," says the narrator, [Ibid., 6th July 1782.] "and do not think the Public run any risque of being deceived by them." Macafee was tried at the circuit court at Inveraray, before Lord Gardenstone. The jury, by a majority, found him guilty of the forgery or being accessory to it (the former proposition was quite improbable) and, unanimously, of issuing the four notes; which verdict the judge reported to the High Court at Edinburgh. After a careful consideration of his case, he was sentenced to be hanged; and, six months after his capture, was executed in the Grass-market, in a spirit of contrition and resignation.

A forgery of the 20s. note (2nd May 1781) of the Aberdeen Banking Company was discovered in 1783, the notes being uttered in Paisley. In the following May a man named Steven, and his two sons, were tried at Glasgow for the crime. They escaped, however, owing to "a principal evidence" not having come from Ireland, while they were "running their letters" (the Scottish form of habeas corpus), which ran out the day after the trial. The father and the eldest son were, however, recommitted for theft. [Caledonian Mercury, 17th May 1784.] The sequel to this incident is striking. The "principal evidence" was an accomplice, Thomas Moreton, who had decamped. He appears to have been murdered a year or two later, and one of the younger Stevens, Thomas, was hanged at Glasgow, in 1785, as the culprit. He persisted to the last in denying the crime. He walked to the place of execution dressed in black clothes, with "weepers" and a crape hat-band; and his body was delivered to Professor Hamilton for dissection. This was the ninth execution in Glasgow within twelve months.

The guinea note of the Bank of Scotland was again the subject of forgery in 1784. It was dated 1st March 1780, and appears to have been a good imitation. But the paper was common, and there were several small differences from the original. The Bank offered a reward of one hundred guineas. Either thesame or another forgery of this note appeared the next year.

At this time there seems to have been much counterfeit copper in circulation, which occasioned a prevalent refusal of halfpence, to the great inconvenience of the poor. By an advertisement, [Caledonian Mercury, 23rd February 1785. For further particulars see Scots Magazine, 1789, pp. 202 and 256.] thirty Edinburgh merchants intimated their intention to accept all genuine halfpence, but no larger payment than 5-d. in copper at a time. Along with this appeared a supporting notice by the magistrates. The Procurator Fiscal at the same time warned persons refusing "halfpence of his present Majesty's [George III.] coin" that they are bound to receive such in payments up to the amount stated in the statutes, and that they will be prosecuted for refusal. "Similar action was taken by the shop-keepers of Leith, who had at first resolved to accept only the Old Scots halfpence, King William's, and those of Kings George I. and II. Notwithstanding all exertions, however, the poorer people were so alarmed that they refused George III. halfpence in payments or in change, and penalties had to be repeatedly inflicted before the erroneous notion that all these were bad could be removed.

In this year (1785) Neil M`Lean was executed at Glasgow, in the Castle Yard, for uttering forged notes of the Glasgow Arms Bank. We are told that "he appeared penitent, and went to the place of execution with great composure, but laboured under a misconception of the nature of his crime." What the misconception was we are tantalisingly not informed; but if, as seems probable, M'Lean was an illiterate Highlander, he might not understand the sassenach's metaphysical distinction between good and spurious pieces of printed paper; and perhaps felt that a less severe penalty might have sufficed.

Another imitation of the British Linen Company's £1 note, dated 2nd August 1781, and another of their guinea note dated 1st August 1683 [sic, but presumably meant for 178 3], appeared later in the year. "They were both wholly done with a pen, and written on common paper, whereas the real notes, except the number and names, are all copper-plate impressions printed on the Company's own paper bearing the water-mark British Linen Co. on the £ 1 notes, and B. Linen Co. on the guinea note." The usual reward, one hundred guineas, was offered, but we hear of no result.

A somewhat serious forgery of another kind was discovered about this time in Edinburgh. Thomas Mercer, a writer, got three bills of £200 each discounted, one at the Bank of Scotland, another at the Royal Bank, and the third at Forbes' Bank; all of which were subsequently found to have been forged by Mercer.

Hunters & Co., Ayr, advertised a forgery of their guinea note in 1789. "The note is dated 1st August 1781, the written figures in the date and number were very ill done, the features of the impression of the king's head are very unlike the original; it is printed on thinner and coarser paper, of a bluish colour, and without any water-mark, by which it is easily distinguished from the real notes of the Company." [Caledonian Mercury, 19th January 1789.] The usual reward seems to have failed to discover the authors.

An unsatisfactory case also occurred in this year. At a fair in Kilmarnock a countryman sold his horse, and when he was to receive payment he objected to the most part of the notes offered. The purchaser, thus challenged, stept to the door, and did not return. The notes, which purported to be the guinea issue of the Paisley Bank, proved to be forgeries. John Brown, a farmer in Ayrshire, being suspected of the offence, was committed to jail; but there seems to have been some doubt of his identity with the impostor. He was, however, sentenced to be hanged at Glasgow, which fate he met with great firmness and devout behaviour. [Ibid. 19th November 1789. Courant, 3rd May 1790.]

Early in 1790, William Robertson was tried for forgery, or uttering knowingly a guinea note of the Bank of Scotland, and attempting to utter another. He pleaded guilty, and, as a mitigated punishment, owing to his confession, was sentenced to be "banished beyond the seas for fourteen years, and to suffer death without benefit of clergy, in case of his returning before the lapse of that time." Whether the sentence was carried out or not is uncertain, for it appears that he had to be sent to the Royal Infirmary, where the death with which he was threatened may have overtaken him, in which case let us hope that he was afforded all the consolations that man can permit or withhold.

Forged guinea notes of the Glasgow Arms Bank appeared about this time. They were dated 1st April 1784. The paper was of a coarser quality than the genuine, of softer texture, with a bluish cast in the colour. The ink was brownish, and there were other defects. For this crime Wm. Carsewell was tried. In 1798, a number of notes purporting to be guinea notes of "The Company of the Bank of Aberdeen," a company which had no existence, were in circulation. By this artifice the accusation of forgery was avoided; but, of course, it was a case of wilful imposition. As, however, the ingenious culprits were clever enough to preserve their incognito, the courts had no opportunity of discussing the interesting questions connected with their action.

A rather absurd case is recorded by Mr. Boase. "On 25th August 1800, a forgery of the 5s. notes of the Dundee Commercial Bank, all executed with a pen, by one James Martin, was discovered. On the bank applying to the Procurator-Fiscal to prosecute him, the answer was that the prosecution of such offenders was always left to the banks themselves. This the bank declined, on the ground that only eight notes had appeared, and these so badly done, that no person familiar with the genuine notes could be deceived by them." The annoyance caused by so many forgeries led to "an agreement being entered into by the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank that if forgeries were attempted upon the notes of either of them, the trials should be carried on at the joint-expense of both these banks, and it is said they determined to let no offender pass against whom they could bring proof." [Scots Magazine, 1800, p. 574.] Forgeries of the guinea notes of both the Renfrewshire Bank and the Commercial Bank appeared in 1822; and the Dundee Union Bank's £1 notes were forged in 1824; but no particulars are supplied regarding these cases.

A specimen in the author's possession shows a well-executed forgery of the Royal Bank £1 issue dated 1st December 1823. The heavy engraving is fairly good, but the lighter work is imperfect. The bank's seal is represented with considerable minuteness; and the signatures, written date, and numbers are good and natural. The paper, however, is hard, unlike what is used for bank-notes, and does not show a watermark. This must have been a dangerous fraud, likely to impose readily on the public. Perhaps owing to this incident, we find a genuine note of 9th May 1832 of a totally different design; while one of 9th November of that year again shows a change to what, in general aspect, is similar to the current issues; the principal differences being that the custom of stating the amount in the body as "Twenty Shillings " was still continued, and the printing had not yet been changed to colour.

There were many other forgeries, some of which were audacious and well executed, during the 19th century; but we must rest content meantime with having dealt thus fully with what may be called the mediĉval period of Scottish banking.

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