The Bank of England – First Fraud Case

More on the first recorded case of fraud at the Bank of England by Mr Robert Astlett in 1803 expanding on yesterdays post.  It is taken from The History and Antiquities of London Volume 3 and published in 1839.

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The Bank of England – First Fraud Case

In the year [1803], an extraordinary instance of embezzlement and fraud was discovered at the bank, on the part of Mr. Robert Astlett, a principal cashier, and one of the most confidential servants in the company’s employ. The detection arose from circumstances communicated to the directors by Mr. Bish, the Stock-broker and Lottery-office keeper, in Cornhill, who had been engaged by Astlett to dispose of some Exchequer bills, which on examination, Mr. Bish had found to have previously passed through his own hands, and been delivered in to the Bank. It appeared in evidence, that Astlett had the custody of all Exchequer bills brought into the Bank, till a sufficient quantity was collected to arrange in bundles, and deliver to the directors in the parlour, where the bundles are counted, and a voucher for the delivery of them given to the cashier.

In conformity to this practice three bundles to the supposed amount of £700,000. had on the 26th of February, been transferred to the parlour, and the proper entry made under the signatures of two directors; yet as counting the bills, it was seen that the vouchers had been given for £200,000 more than the bundles contained. For the felonious embezzlement of three of those bills, of £1000. each, Astlett was put co his trial at the Old Bailey, on the 8th of July, when it was proved by his counsel, that the purloined bills were not valid; inasmuch as they had not been signed by a proper officer, as required by an act of parliament.

The prisoner was therefore acquitted; but he was detained in custody by order of the court, in consequence of it being stated that the bank directors intended to issue a civil process against him for £100,000 and upwards, money paid for bills, which he had converted to his own use.

On the Thursday following, July the 14th, at a half yearly general court of proprietors, (which was held at the Bank for the purpose of declaring a dividend,) the chairman entered into a detailed and satisfactory explanation of the manner in which Astlett had imposed upon the directors, and been enabled by interlining sums, and other artful contrivances, to carry on his frauds without suspicion. He also stated that the actual loss was about £320,000 a sum nearly amounting to the entire dividends of the half year; but that the affairs of the company were in so prosperous a state that they should be able to divie as usual: about £78,000. likewise, of the above sum, he expected the Bank would be able to recover.

Previously to the return of the sessions, the directors departed from their declared intention of issuing a civil process, and Astlett, on the 3rd of September, was again tried for a criminal offence. The indictment was founded on the act of the 15th of George the second, chap. 13, and he was charged with the felonious embezzlement of property and effects of the Bank of England. The same ground of objection was taken as on the former trial, against the validity of the bills, from their want of a proper official signature; but this was over-ruled by Mr. justice Le Blanc, and the jury having brought in a verdict of guilty as to the facts, the point of law was reserved for the decision of the twelve judges. That decision was pronounced at the Old Bailey, on the 16th of February, [1804], by Mr. Baron Hotham, who stated that the objection had been ably and legally discussed; but that the judges were of opinion that the bills in question came properly under the denomination of the ‘effects, meant by the statute; and that the prisoner, by having been found guilty of the embezzlement of them, was subjected to the pain of death.’ This sentence, however, was not executed, and Mr. Astlett remained a prisoner in Newgate for many years, having but lately been discharged by means of a pardon.

Excerpt from The History and Antiquities of London Volume 3 and published in 1839.

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Further reading and external links

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