For those who have previously read the story of Christopher Edwin Theakston you would know that he committed the crime of embezzlement. Unlike many of the convicts who were sent to Australia throughout the years Christopher could certainly not legitimately cry poor as the reason for his actions. For nearly 30 years he had held a trusted and comfortable position as a Clerk (in fact he was Chief Cashier for many of those years) within the Bank of England and, by all appearances, was doing quite well for himself.
Appearances, however, were deceiving. His real situation was actually quite dire and the advice regularly given by Charles Dickens’s character, Wilkins Micawber in the novel David Copperfield springs to mind.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.
Christopher was living outside his means and was most certainly indulging his whims. His financial position was in a miserable state and when he realised he was about to be caught out for embezzling the separate amounts of £1,000 and £100 while working for the Portsmouth branch of the Bank of England he immediately took flight.
Before doing so, however, he gave himself a head start. On 21 March 1861 he wrote a note to the bank and used his frequent attacks of gout as an excuse for why he could not come to work that day. Perhaps testament to the good character his fellow Clerks thought him to have, they believed his note and Christopher was excused without issue.
The day soon passed and the Clerks were still none the wiser. They all departed for home without having found the whereabouts of the missing money that they had been investigating and two particular Clerks, Mr Wyatt and Mr Godden, decided to pass by Christopher’s house in order to drop off the Telegraph and Punch.
Once there, they first spoke to one of his servants who made a “statement” to them which must have incited some suspicion. Then, not long after, they spoke to his son. His son (it is unknown which son this is but it is likely it could’ve been Arthur as he is the eldest) had a letter to pass on to Mr Wyatt but only did so when Mr Godden had gone home.
The letter was not destroyed and upon being presented to the Agent of the Bank of England, enquiries were made and they soon discovered that instead of being confined to his bed with gout, Christopher had in fact left Portsmouth on a train bound for London.
His journey involved different means of transport probably in the hope of throwing the Detectives off the scent. Having departed Portsmouth that same morning at 7:30am, he first got off at the Kingston station. From here he hired a fly and proceeded to Clapham and at Clapham he travelled by omnibus to Regent’s Circus (today known as Oxford Circus). This was the last place that he was spotted and from this point, the trail went cold. Despite having written of the regret and terrible situation in which he’d now placed his children, his escape and journey was made accompanied by “a lady of the town” who went by the name Randall and who he’d previously cohabited. It is the selfishness of this action which, to me, speaks volumes.
A reward was offered by the Bank of England with a notice printed in The Morning Chronicle. The description provided gives a rare glimpse as to what Christopher would’ve looked like in 1861.
47 years of age (but looks older), 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high, pale complexion, grey hair, rather bald on crown of head, full grey whiskers, large features, stout made, is afflicted with gout, and walks lame in consequence, toes turn inward, carries a walking-stick. Dressed in dark clothes, black hat, and, supposed, a sort of Inverness cape.
He had probably chosen London to hide in the hope that he’d blend in with all the other people that lived there but in reality, he and Randall couldn’t stay hidden forever. Just over two weeks later, on 7 April 1861, a Census was taken. All the names of all the people occupying houses had to be recorded. Whether this played a part in Christopher’s eventual capture may never be known but there is the chance that they were spotted and it could’ve helped the Detectives searching for them.
Assuming false names and identities, the couple had been living at 24 Palace Road in Lambeth as Mr and Mrs Wood. Christopher gave his name as Joseph E Wood (interestingly, Joseph was the name of his father) and Randall was named Matilda E Wood (Matilda was his late wife’s name). While Christopher’s occupation was stated to be a ‘proprietor of houses’, funnily enough, his age and place of birth given were correct and not a lie.
On 29 April 1861 (just over a month since he first absconded) the jig was up. His claims in the letter to Mr Wyatt that “I shall be no more by the time you receive this, or very soon after” were nothing but empty words. He’d had a month to end his life (if that’s what he truly wished) but he made no attempt to do so until the very last moment, when the police were bashing down doors in order to apprehend him. It is this fact that makes me believe that he never really had any intention to end his life in the first place.
In spite of his protestations to be left alone to die, Christopher was sent to Westminster Hospital so that his throat could be sewn up. He was kept under constant surveillance by the police in order to prevent him from causing more damage to himself and it was while Joseph Huggett was keeping watch that Christopher made the following statement:
I think they had better let me lie here for three months, as I then shall be well. It will be like three months’ imprisonment, and then, perhaps, they will forgive me, considering the number of years I have been in the service.
Not surprisingly, his thoughts were once more turned towards saving his own skin. Hopeful as he may have been, nothing was to come of it. The Bank of England certainly couldn’t let him off and as Mr Huggett immediately stated to Christopher, once they make allowances for one, they’d be making allowances for all. When the case was examined before going to Court however, perhaps in a show of kindness to him, the Prosecution only brought up the matter of the £100 and not the £1,000.
Once he was fully recovered he was removed (I’m sure much to his dismay) from Westminster Hospital and was sent, by train, to Portsmouth Gaol to be examined by the Magistrates. He was still suffering from gout and he was most likely under a great deal of stress and worry at having to face the consequences of his actions. When he finally arrived he was so weak that it gave concern and the authorities immediately took him to the Portsmouth Gaol Hospital. By 12pm on 31 May 1861, he made his appearance.
By the end of the examination the Magistrates deemed that there was enough evidence and that the case was serious enough to warrant a trial. Christopher appeared at the next Portsmouth Quarter Sessions on 10 July 1861.
Described in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle as one “of superior education” Christopher, evidently, was still suffering greatly and was noted to be “in worse health than before”. The position of trust that he once held and the fact that he would’ve been well-known to the people of Portsmouth most likely contributed towards the trial having “created the greatest interest” in Court. The public (as well as Randall) all crowded into the Sessions’ Room to hear the details of the case and when the charge was formally read, Christopher stated that he was “Oh, guilty, guilty!”.
His counsel made an appeal on his behalf (bringing up his long service to the Bank of England) and stated that Christopher now threw himself on the mercy of the Court. In passing the sentence, the Recorder however felt that the Bank of England had already been quite merciful to him by not pursing the matter of the £1,000.
Christopher Edwin Theakston, you have pleaded guilty to an indictment charging you with embezzling the sum of 100l. from the Bank of England, and you have been very mercifully dealt with by the counsel for the prosecution in the observations which were made, and your counsel has placed before me all the topics which he could suggest, in mitigation of punishment; but I must recollect that you were in a position of great and unusual trust, removed from those temptations which, if they do not excuse, at all events extenuate the conduct of persons who stand in your position. You were removed from them by character, by position, by education and by the actual receipt of money from your employers. It is essential, when a case like this comes before the court, that the sense of guilt of persons should be unmistakably marked by a person sitting in my position, and therefore it is with great pain, recollecting the degradation I shall reduce you to, and remembering those children whom you ought to have recollected before you committed this office, that I order you to be sent to penal servitude for four years.
Sentenced to four years imprisonment but at the same time still being unwell meant that for several months he remained in the Portsmouth Gaol Hospital. By October of the same year it was reported that he was finally transferred from Portsmouth Gaol to Millbank Prison.
Millbank Prison in 1829
From this point on (as also previously stated in my first post on Christopher) the trail runs cold. He was still far from completing his four year sentence so it’s assumed that he remained in Millbank Prison until about 1865. At the same time, given the constant reports of his ill health, one has to wonder whether he in fact died in prison. If this was the case, where is his record of death? Did he actually end up completing his sentence and changed his name so that the shame of his actions wouldn’t follow him? Did he immigrate to another country? What happened to him? How did he spend the latter years of his life? Where in the world did Christopher Edwin Theakston go?
- The quote by Wilkins Micawber courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkins_Micawber).
- Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England); Saturday, 1 June 1861; Issue 3217; Gale Document Number: BB3206069310.
- The Morning Chronicle (London, England); Tuesday, 26 March 1861; Issue 29394; Gale Document Number: BC3207269062.
- Ancestry.com 1861 England Census (database online): Class: RG 9; Piece: 351; Folio: 168; Page: 40; GSU roll: 542620.
- The Times (London, England); Saturday, 1 June 1861; Page 12; Issue 23948; Gale Document Number: CS202414273.
- The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England); Saturday, 13 July 1861; Page. 4; Issue 1976; Gale Document Number: R3208806135. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
- Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England); Saturday, 13 July 1861; Issue 3223; Gale Document Number: BB3206069520.
- The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England); Saturday, 19 October 1861; Issue 3735. Gale Document Number: Y3206704964.
- Photograph of Millbank Prison courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Millbank_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd_pub_1829.jpg).
4 thoughts on “Taking Flight”
A fascinating story Jess……very well written as always.
Thanks Heather! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
What a super story. I hope you catch up with Christopher one day soon.
Thanks Jill! I hope so too. So far he continues to elude me but I know that I’ll find him some day. 🙂
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