Untold lives blog

01 July 2021

Theft from an East India Company London warehouse

On 30 November 1814, Truman Wood was convicted at the Old Bailey for stealing from the East India Company 24 lb of paper, value 6s, and 21 lb of tea, value £3.  He was sentenced to be transported for seven years but remained in England on prison hulks.

Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambrose-Louis Garneray circa 1812-1814 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 


Truman Wood had worked for the East India Company as a labourer for sixteen years.  His theft of Company goods from the Haydon Square tea warehouse was discovered when an officer searched an old woman in the Commercial Road on 27 October 1814.  Hidden underneath her petticoats were a bag containing a small amount of tea and some India paper.  After questioning her, the officer went with two colleagues to Wood’s home at 3 Trafalgar Square, Stepney.  There they found several jars, caddies and parcels containing tea. together with a quantity of India paper.  They also discovered £100 in notes, four guineas in gold, and some bags of silver.

Wood asked the officers if they could just take the money, paper and tea, and say nothing more about it.  It would be the ruin of him if the matter came to the Company’s ears.  He was taken before a magistrate and claimed that the paper was a perquisite of his job and that he had bought the tea from a man in the Commercial Road.  The Old Bailey jury found Wood guilty of theft.

Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816 - British Library IOR/E/1/252 p.21 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 16 August 1816, Wood wrote to the directors of the East India Company from the Portland hulk moored at Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth, expressing his ‘sincere and unfeigned sorrow’ for his crime and begging their forgiveness.  He had always tried to conduct himself with the ‘greatest recititude’ in his warehouse duties and in his service with the Royal East India Volunteers.  Before his lamentable lapse, Wood had never been suspected of an illicit transaction.  He had suffered the 'greatest privations and heartfelt afflictions' during his imprisonment.  His wife Jane and two children were reduced to ‘most poignant distress’, which was aggravated by Jane having ‘a Complaint in her breast’ which prevented her from looking after the family.  Wood asked the directors to recommend him for a free pardon.

Wood IOR E 1 251Letter from East India Company to Viscount Sidmouth 17 September 1816 British Library IOR/E/1/251 p.509 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company forwarded the petition to the Home Secretary, Viscount Sidmouth, with a covering letter expressing the hope that Wood might be pardoned.  The directors asked for Wood’s past good character to be taken into consideration, and suggested that the imprisonment he had suffered might be seen as a sufficient warning to others.  They believed that a continuation of his punishment would be the total ruin of his family who had borne the calamity ‘with becoming resignation and propriety’.

The Company’s intervention was not immediately successful. In October 1816, Wood was transferred to the Bellerophon hulk at Woolwich.  However on 10 July 1818 he was granted a free pardon by Sidmouth and released ten days later.

Sadly it appears that Jane did not recover her health.  The burial records of St Dunstan Stepney show a Jane Wood dying of cancer in February 1819.

Wood married widow Ann Blendall in May 1822 in Bethnal Green.  He was buried at Wycliffe Congregational Church in Mile End Old Town in July 1837.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Petition of Truman Wood - British Library, IOR/E/1/252 pp.21-23, IOR/E/1/251 p.509
Old Bailey Online - Trial of Truman Wood 
Home Office records of Newgate Prison and the hulks – The National Archives via Findmypast
Parish registers for East London via Ancestry and Findmypast

 

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