THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

63 posts categorized "Crime"

10 July 2018

Spence Broughton: A Ghostly Highwayman

Add comment

Spence Broughton was a highwayman executed for robbing the Sheffield and Rotherham mail in 1792.  His body was gibbeted on Attercliffe Common and, notoriously, it hung there for 36 years.  Thousands flocked to see this gory spectacle and it has remained somewhat of a local legend.  Only four contemporary publications about Broughton are recorded, all provincially printed (probably in York) and extremely rare.  We are delighted to add to this with the discovery of a hitherto unknown broadside: 'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton, which appeared to Miss S---- H----, on Sunday morning, April 15, 1792'. 

Highwayman1'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Broughton’s fate was of his own making; he deserted his family, gambled and committed many highway robberies after all.  However, in this broadside, the highwayman is instead a victim of a seductress, absolving him of responsibility for his crimes and condemning his unfortunate mistress to a life of' 'never-ending tortures'.

The night before his execution, the highwayman appeared as an apparition in his mistress’s bedroom.  Upon waking she saw Broughton’s coffin, flanked by his widow and three orphans.  The widow reportedly cried:
'Most worthless of thy sex, behold the misery thou hast occasioned!  Behold the widow and the orphans thy infamy has plunged into woe! … The blood of a whole family calls aloud for vengeance upon thee!'

The widow then disappeared, leaving Broughton in spirit-form to condemn his mistress:
'If the sufferings of an innocent and virtuous woman cannot avail, I charge thee to mark my words, for surely they must strike thee with unspeakable remorse.  Have thy not delusive tongue occasioned me to relinquish the chastest love for the lewdest dalliance? Canst thou exist on earth without a foretaste of never-ending tortures? … Surely thou canst not behold my mangled limbs without shedding the most heart-rending tears!'

Broughton then disappeared in a ball of fire, leaving poor Miss S---- H---- terrified and the curtains mysteriously soaked in blood.  The landlady admonished and urged her to 'forsake the highway of destruction, and seek the happy path of reformation and amendment'.  The other surviving printed sources about Spence Broughton strike a similarly sympathetic note about his fate; he apparently repented for his crimes prior to execution and that earned him a measure of public compassion.

Highwayman2'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'


This grubby but unique survival adds to the small corpus of provincial printing about Spence Broughton, and to the corpus of highwaymen broadsides more generally.  Popular print in the eighteenth century was saturated by sensationalist tales, infamous criminals and the odd, squeezed-in, moral lesson.  This was perhaps printed just hours before the execution and its extraordinary but decidedly misogynist tale would’ve been avidly consumed by locals.  It was printed cheaply on waste paper – on the back of a Register of Freeholders form - and it cost only a penny.  It could also provide a valuable clue about the identity of Broughton’s much-maligned mistress, whose name has long since been lost.  The initials “S H” may be the printer’s invention but, then again, they may not.  Either way, this is an intriguing piece of printing.
 
Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

Add comment

On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

Related articles

Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning

14 February 2018

A much married man

Add comment

Following our stories about cases of bigamy and trigamy, colleagues suggested that I find a man with four wives for an ‘alternative’ Valentine’s Day blog post.  The British Newspaper Archive provided plenty of examples of four wives, and five, six, seven, and more.  I stopped looking when I found a man with twenty wives!

Lot of Fun B20130-10From Lot-of-Fun vol.2, no.28, p. 8 Images Online

One ‘most sensational’ case stood out from the rest.  Reuben Henry Chandler was born in Bristol in 1849, the son of a cabinet maker.  After leaving school he was apprenticed to an organ builder, then became a joiner before enlisting in the British Army, ‘being of fine physique’.  His father bought him out when he tired of military duties.

In 1870 Reuben married Mary Elizabeth Day in Bristol.  Soon afterwards he went to America and joined the US Navy.  On his return to England he did not rejoin his wife.  Instead he was wed in Bath in 1874 to Harriet Ellen Hales, a married woman who had been deserted by her husband Edwin.  At the time of the 1881 census, Reuben was working as a carpenter in Bath and living with Harriet Ellen and one of her two daughters, a servant, and three lodgers.  Reuben used to leave home for days, and then he disappeared altogether.

Reuben’s next wedding was in July 1885 to Flora Jenkins at St Mary Bitton in Gloucestershire.  The couple settled in Newport Monmouthshire.  In September 1887 Reuben filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of Flora’s adultery with a Richard Hermann, demanding £1000 in damages.

However Reuben and Flora stayed together and in January 1888 were both convicted of letting their coffee house in Newport be used as a brothel.  They then moved to Cardiff where they had a lodger, a master mariner called John Collins.  Reuben helped Flora to pass herself off to Collins as his daughter rather than his wife.  Flora married Collins in 1892 and Reuben attended to give the bride away.

Wedding number four was to Ada Maria Stutt at Bristol June 1898.  Reuben and Ada ran the Lord Chancellor pub on Easton Road until Ada’s death in the summer of 1902 at the age of 29.  Reuben’s stepmother Ann had a dream that her husband’s grave had been disturbed.  She was very upset to discover that Reuben had buried Ada there without her permission and went to the police with Ada’s father to report the multiple marriages. William Stutt wished to claim his dead daughter’s property as her rightful next of kin.

Chandler bigamySheffield Evening Telegraph  1 October 1902 British Newspaper Archive

Reuben’s trial took place in November 1902 at Bristol Assizes.  He was charged on three counts for marrying Ada Maria Stutt, Flora Jenkins, and Harriet Ellen Hales whilst his wife was still alive in Bristol.  The judge Mr Justice Wright commented that it was over 30 years since the first marriage, and said he considered the prosecution to be oppressive and ridiculous.  Reuben was found not guilty.

Reuben then moved to London and set up house with Frances Maria Wheeler.  I can find no evidence that the couple married.  They had twelve children, the last born five months after Reuben died in July 1922 at the age of 73 after a most eventful life.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive

 

04 January 2018

Trigamy - a man with three wives

Add comment

Our last post told the story of a soldier who forfeited his Victoria Cross because he had committed bigamy.  Today we bring you a case of trigamy.

WeddingFrom Thomas Hood, Humorous Poems, illustrations by C. E. Brock (London, 1893) BL flickr

George Meaden was a shoemaker in Marylebone, London.  In March 1842 he married Sarah Cash, a servant, at St Mary's Church. Sarah was the daughter of an agricultural labourer from Lakenheath  in Suffolk. 

St Mary Bryanston SquareSt Mary Bryanston Square from Thomas Smith, A Topographical and historical account of the Parish of St. Mary-le-bone (London, 1833)

In November 1845, George married for a second time, this time in Hoxton.  His new wife was Mary Ann Taylor, daughter of a tailor.  The marriage certificate records that George was a widower.  Apparently George went to measure Mary Ann for a pair of boots and had fallen in love ‘with her feet or her money’.  Mary Ann gave George £800 or £900 to study medicine.

Hoxton St JohnSt John Hoxton from James Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements ... From original drawings by T. H. Shepherd, etc (London, 1830) BL flickr

However, George's first wife Sarah was still alive. According to one press report, George and Sarah had fallen out soon after marrying, when he discovered that she had had a child. They separated and Sarah went home to the country. This may be true, but in 1851 Sarah was working as a cook in Marylebone, describing herself in the census as a widow. And whatever the truth behind the separation, Sarah also committed bigamy by marrying James Ludlow in Reading in January 1852.  Complicated, isn’t it?  And it gets worse.

Depending upon which newspaper you read, Mary Ann either knew about Sarah’s existence all along, or she discovered that George’s first wife was still alive shortly after their wedding.  George broke his promise to get a divorce.  Mary Ann left him, ‘unhappy differences arising between them’.  George agreed to pay her a weekly allowance of £2 but payments dried up when he lost money through speculating in mining shares. In February 1852 George Meaden, chemist and druggist, appeared at the Insolvent Debtors Court, pursued by creditors. 

However, by 1857 George had set up in business as a surgeon in Islington.  He married for a third time in March 1857 in St Pancras to Emma Exall. Both Sarah and Mary Ann were still alive.

St Pancras New ChurchSt Pancras New Church from Albert Henry Payne, Illustrated London (London, 1846) BL flickr

In September 1857 Mary Ann brought forward a charge of bigamy against George.  He appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court ‘very gentlemanly attired’.  Certificates were produced for all three marriages.  The sum set for bail was increased when it was claimed that George was preparing to do a runner.

George claimed that he had married Emma believing that his first wife was dead and that the second marriage was illegal.  But Sarah was found and she attended court.  Richard Morris, who had been a witness at George’s marriage to Sarah, was tracked down in Liverpool for the purpose of identifying George as the man who had taken part in the ceremony in 1842. After it was revealed that Sarah had re-married, she disappeared, perhaps fearing that she too would be charged with bigamy.  As Sarah was not present, the prosecution failed and George was discharged.  He left court with a large number of friends who had attended to hear the case.

By 1860, George and Emma had emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn.  He appears in directories mostly as a physician, but also as a dentist and as a drug store proprietor. Emma died in 1872 at the age of 42, and George in 1882 aged  67.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Chronicle 21 February 1853; Hampshire Advertiser 5 September 1857; The Era 6 September 1857; Clerkenwell News 19 September 1857

 

02 January 2018

Forfeiting a Victoria Cross

Add comment

Documents in the India Office Records shed some light on the story of a flawed Victorian military hero.

The man in question is Edward James Collis, who was serving as a Gunner with the Royal Horse Artillery during the Second Afghan War when an act of near-suicidal bravery gained him the country's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross. The citation in the London Gazette of 17 May 1881 gives brief details of his feat:

' ... during the retreat from Maiwand to Kandahar, on the 28th July 1880, when the officer commanding the battery was endeavouring to bring in a limber [part of a gun carriage], with wounded men, under a cross-fire, in running forward and drawing the enemy's fire on himself, thus taking off their attention from the limber'.

Battle of MaiwandBattle of Maiwand - from Archibald Forbes and Major Arthur Griffiths, Illustrated Battles of the Nineteenth Century (1895) BL flickr

The battle of Maiwand, fought on the previous day, had been a disaster for the British, who lost almost 1,000 officers and men killed in action. As it was deemed impractical to travel back to the UK for the purpose, Collis was presented with the medal at Poona on 11 July 1881 by Sir Frederick Roberts, who had himself won the Victoria Cross during the Indian ‘Mutiny’.

Collis later joined the Bombay Police, marrying a widow, Adela Skuse, on 14 March 1882 and fathering four children in quick succession - Arthur (born on 5 January 1883), Elsie (born 5 May 1884), William (born 11 December 1885) and finally Robert (born 7 October 1887). By the time of Robert’s birth, he was working as a railway engine driver.

Unfortunately the domestic bliss of the family was not to last. Eight years later, on 6 August 1895, the Assistant Commissioner of Police at New Scotland Yard wrote to the Chief of Police in Bombay. He requested assistance in tracing Mrs Collis, as part of an investigation into a charge of bigamy. Collis had left India and married again in Wandsworth on 26 February 1893, his hapless bride having no inkling that he already had a wife and family in far-off Bombay. The un-divorced and still living first Mrs Collis having been located, in November 1895 her errant husband was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour.

Contemporary regulations dictated that he was also obliged to forfeit his precious medal which, in a further sad twist, poverty had driven him to pawn. He is thought to be one of only eight individuals who came to be deprived of their Victoria Cross through subsequent dishonourable behaviour.

Collis Evening Star 26 Nov 1895Evening Star 26 November 1895 British Newspaper Archive 

Collis Worcester Journal 30 Nov 1895Worcester Journal 30 November 1895 British Newspaper Archive

Collis died aged 62 in June 1918, and was buried with full military honours. His medal, which had no doubt brought him both pride and pain, can be seen in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
The Victoria Cross, 1856 – 1920, edited by Sir O'Moore Creagh and E.M. Humphris, - shelfmark OIA355.134.
Correspondence on the Collis bigamy case is in files 2057 & 2081 of the volume IOR/L/PJ/6/409 and press reports can be found in the British Newspaper Archive
Collis’s marriage to Adela and the baptisms of their children can be viewed on the Find My Past website, free of charge in any British Library Reading Room.

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

Add comment

How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

08 August 2017

Duncan Campbell: the Private Contractor and the Prison Hulk

Add comment

In 1776 Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) became the first superintendent of prison hulks stationed at Woolwich.  After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Britain was barred from transporting its felons to the colonies, where they had previously served sentences carrying out non-plantation labour.  The war with America caused a prison housing crisis; gaols in Britain could not cope with the volume of unexpected inmates and so in 1776 the Criminal Law Act, also known as the Hulks Act, was passed.

The act stated that convicts awaiting transportation would be employed in hard labour for ‘the benefit of the navigation of the Thames’.  At Woolwich, major dredging was needed to correct a drift in the river, and convicts provided a cheap workforce.  While their employment had been decided, the matter of housing hundreds of convicts was unresolved.  The state was unwilling to invest in new prisons as they were under economic strain from ongoing wars with both America and France.  A cheap and mobile solution was proposed; disused and dismantled warships, known as ‘hulks’ were to be used to house convicts along the banks of the Thames.

Engraving of Discovery Add MS 32360
Engraving of the Discovery, a prison hulk moored at Deptford. George Cooke after Samuel  Prout, 1826. British Library Add MS 32360; Item number: f. 112-B.

Duncan Campbell, who previously held the contract for transporting felons to Virginia, was successful in lobbying for the management of the hulk establishment. He proposed to use his ships, the Justitia and Censor, to house convicts at Woolwich.  Campbell’s attention was divided during the twenty-year period of his tenure; his niece was married to Captain William Bligh, commander of the HMS Bounty, the family’s estate Saltspring in Jamaica brought in returns of sugar and rum, and he was involved in lobbying for repayment of debts owed by America to British merchants, culminating in a meeting with Thomas Jefferson in 1786.

As a private contractor, Campbell’s management was subject to little regulation; quality of food was poor on the hulks, gaol fever -which became known as hulk fever- periodically ripped through the decks, and few medical or religious services were provided. Prison hulks drew the attention -and criticism- of prison reformers John Howard and Jeremy Bentham and after two years at Woolwich, a committee of inquiry headed by Sir Charles Bunbury in 1778 revealed appalling death rates; men were dying at a rate of one in four.  Despite these shocking figures, the system was allowed to continue, with some small improvements.

The hulk system under Campbell was not stable. He employed deputies and overseers who patrolled the decks of the hulks and the shores of the riverbank but escape and outbursts of violence occurred regularly.  Overseers were said to be afraid to descend the decks at night when lights were extinguished and portholes were shut.  Lacking clear instruction from the Home Office, Campbell was frustrated. In letters to officials, he asked if more could be done for men after they had served their sentences to stop them re-offending but few solutions were provided.  In 1802, Campbell’s contract was not renewed.  The system moved to more direct government control but the temporary measure of housing convicts on prison hulks continued for another fifty-five years, up until 1857.

Anna McKay
Collaborative Doctoral Student at the National Maritime Museum and the University of Leicester
Twitter: @AnnaLoisMcKay

Further reading:

Charles Campbell, The intolerable hulks: British shipboard confinement, 1776-1857, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1994.
Criminal Law Act, 1776: 16 Geo. III, c.59.
Convict transportation & the Metropolis: the letterbooks and papers of Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) from the State Library of New South Wales. Marlborough: Adam Matthew Publications, 2005. Available on Microfilm at the British Library.

Victorian prisons and punishments
1862 Hulk
A Phantom Burglar and the Hulk

18 July 2017

A Court Martial in India

Add comment

Here’s a second instalment in the life of John Thompson born in Antwerp on the tenth day of Floreal, Year Twelve.

Thompson was appointed as ensign in the East India Company’s Bombay Army on 27 March 1821 and arrived in India in August that year.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the European Regiment on 10 June 1822.  An uneventful spell of ten years’ service passed.

Bombay Noc
'Bombay on the Malabar Coast belonging to the East India Company of England.' Reduced version of the engraving by Jan Van Ryne of 1754. Online Gallery 

However on 22 April 1831 the commanding officer of the regiment suddenly ordered an immediate inspection of the money bags and account books of each company.  Thompson was paymaster of his company but was unable to attend the audit as he was unwell.  He ordered his Pay Sergeant to make out the men’s accounts and to insert a debt of 707 rupees owed by Thompson. 

Later that day, Thompson was arrested. He tendered money to pay the debt but this was refused.  On 9 June 1831 he appeared at a Court Martial held in camp near Deesa charged with embezzlement.

Thompson was charged for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman in having embezzled monies entrusted to him for the payment of the men of the 6th Company under his charge. The Court found Thompson guilty of embezzlement but without intent to defraud.  It acquitted him of ungentlemanlike conduct.  He was sentenced to be dismissed from East India Company service and was ordered to make good the deficiency.  The verdict was accompanied by a unanimous appeal for mercy as the members of the Court felt that the punishment they were compelled to award was disproportionate to the degree of offence committed.

Major General J S Barns, Commander of the Forces, confirmed the punishment but put on record his marked disapprobation of the Court’s finding that the embezzlement of public money was not conduct unbecoming the character of a gentleman.  Thompson was struck off the strength and ordered to take passage to England.

In November 1832 Thompson wrote to the Company Directors in London asking to be restored to the service.  On 29 January 1833 his request was rejected.  But the Company decided to grant him an annual allowance of £50 because of the Court Martial recommendation for mercy, the strength of testimonials produced by Thompson, and his distressed situation.

  IOR D 87 p318
IOR/D/87 p.318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case Noc

When John Thompson’s father William made his will on 8 December 1832, he directed his trustees to apply funds from his estate to support and maintain his son John for life.  John’s share of another bequest in the will was to be held in trust for him, rather then paid directly as was the case with his three brothers.  William Thompson was clearly concerned to protect his son from further financial mishaps.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/12/69 no. 31 - Record of service for John Thompson
IOR/L/MIL/17/4/401 pp.68-69 Bombay General Orders – Court Martial of Lt John Thompson
IOR/D/87 pp.316-318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case
IOR/B/185 pp. 128, 392 Court of Directors minutes about Thompson's case

East India Company records series IOR/B and IOR/D are now available as a digital resource.