The Gold-Dust Robbery in Barbican
by Inspector F.

THERE is an office at Somerset House, where relatives or friends of soldiers and sailors whom they have not heard of for a time, the lapse of which causes anxiety for their fate, may call one day in each week, and upon payment of a fee of one shilling, ascertain if the friend or relative be living or dead. To speak strictly, may be officially assured if such be the melancholy fact, that he is dead. Those not recorded “dead” in the obituary ledgers, are presumed, of course, to be alive. Deserters from the navy also figure in the lists, the capital letter R (run) being added to the name. In the case of soldiers, D (deserter) is the initial letter. I need hardly say that after a great battle the office is overwhelmed with business. Ten or twelve days after the news of Inkerman reached England, the clerk, whose duty it is to pass his finger down the dreary “dead” column, in search of the name given in, was himself nearly knocked over with fatigue, and the constant monotonous iteration of the formula,— “Fee one shilling Dead No crying here,”—which words are all run into each other, uttered in a breath.
It was many years before Inkerman that I, happening to be in the office, saw and heard a respectably attired woman, accompanied by a youth of perhaps eighteen years of age, a girl one year or more younger, inquire for James Brady, of Her Majesty’s ship Warspite, Captain Lord John Hay, in which Lord Ashburton had sailed to the United States, on a diplomatic mission, I think with reference to the Oregon boundary dispute.
The imperturbable clerk drew his index finger slowly down the column, and stopping at the name, droned out, “Fee one shilling Dead No crying here;” no fee being demandable if the name be not in the dead, run, or deserted lists.
Neither the woman, the boy, or girl cried, that is, wept outwardly, but no one could mistake the expression of mute agony which darkened the woman’s face—that of deep sorrow which paled the countenances of the youth and girl; wife, son, and daughter of James Brady I could not doubt.
They had left the office but a few minutes only when the clerk discovered he had made a blunder. “Some one call those people back,” he exclaimed. “I have mistaken Braly for Brady; Braly is dead,” he added, “but Brady has run.”

The office messenger brought back the three mourners. They were informed by the clerk of the mistake he had made, he adding, that James Brady had run, that is, deserted his ship at New York, under circumstances that, should he be captured, which was highly probable, would without doubt cause his name to figure in the “dead” list. He had struck his superior officer; the memorandum in the Admiralty book did not state the officer’s name or grade; and to avoid a court-martial he had secretly absconded.

This announcement, spite of the clerk’s lugubrious anticipation, had quite a cheering effect upon those to whom it was addressed. The woman said, “Thank you, sir, much obliged,” and the three departed in comparatively good heart.

As nearly as may be it was nine months after this occurrence, which I need hardly say dwelt but faintly in my memory, when the gold-dust robbery, at an eminent gold refiner’s in Barbican, took place. The value of the property stolen exceeded four thousand pounds, and no trace of it could be discovered. Grave suspicion, however, attached to two persons—one a youthful clerk, who slept in the house, the other the night porter, or night watchman, whose duty it was to keep careful guard over the premises.
I was directed to take the management of the case into my own hands. Directly I cast my eyes upon the implicated clerk, I recognised the youth who had accompanied his mother and sister to Somerset House to inquire after James Brady, a seaman on board the Warspite. His own name was Charles Brady,— and either he could not, or would not, give any explanation of anything that had occurred during the night when the robbery was committed. It was proved by a deaf old woman, who also slept on the premises, that Charles Brady, a remarkable steady youth, went to bed at his usual hour—ten o’clock; and as he complained of a cold in his head, the old woman made him a basin of gruel, which she took to and gave him when he was actually in bed. At about three in the morning—this was the porter’s story—he, the porter, fancying he heard a noise in the house, came up from below, and found Charles Brady, with only his shirt and trousers on, lying insensible on the floor of the strong room, as it was called, the door of which, as well as the street door, had been forced, evidently with crowbars used by practised burglars. Near the prostrate young man was found his chamber candlestick, which must have been knocked out of his hand, if he had not in swooning let it fall. Charles Brady had only swooned—not the slightest bodily wound having been inflicted upon him. The porter, William Dean, was obliged to confess that he was asleep when the robbery had been effected. As to Charles Brady, all that could be got out of him was that he had been awakened by a noise below-stairs, had jumped out of bed on the instant, lit a candle, huddled on his trousers, and hastened downstairs, where he saw three men plundering the strong room. They offered him no violence, and he swooned away, remembering nothing else, till restored to consciousness by William Dean, the porter. As to recognising either of the three men, he was positive he could not—could not even give any indication of what manner of men they were—could not say if they were fair or dark, tall or short, stout or thin, had black, brown, or red hair.
This altogether unsatisfactory, incredible statement—for Charles Brady was a very intelligent, observing young fellow, and by no means one to faint of ordinary fright; he had exhibited remarkable courage upon more than one occasion, to his employers’ knowledge;—those employers’ private residence, by-the-by, was at Stamford Hill, but everybody must know that—threw suspicion upon him, which there was really no positive evidence to sustain. “A confederate with the burglars,” the papers suggested. But why, if that were so, did not Charles Brady remain quietly in bed, feign to have slept the night through undisturbed? Why run down stairs half naked, and be found lying insensible—genuine insensibility, the old woman, roused by the porter, testified—upon the strong-room floor?
I could not for the life of me understand it. A slight gleam, which for half a moment showed me a seeming way out of the difficulty, shot athwart my brain, when I suddenly said to him—of purpose suddenly—”I was present at Somerset House, Mr. Charles Brady, when you, with your mother and sister, came there to inquire for your father.
The last sentence startled him, as might the glimpse of a tiger crouching for a spring at his throat. He turned white as stone, trembled from head to foot, and his eyes scintillated with quivering fire. That spasmodic emotion, if I may so call it, lasted scarcely whilst one might count ten; and recovering himself, the young man was calm, unmoved as before. What right had I—nay, how cruel of me—to recall to the young man, himself so perilously circumstanced, the unhappy position of his father—a proclaimed outlaw for whom a reward had been offered? It was this, upon second thoughts, which accounted for Charles Brady’s emotion when I spoke of his father.

Charles Brady and William Dean were remanded again and again, and though no direct evidence worth a straw could be adduced against them, the Lord Mayor intimated that it would be his duty to send them both before another tribunal, a jury, namely, of their countrymen.

The pale, worn, anxious face of the mother, and the equally pale, sad face of the sister, I never missed amongst the auditors, each time the two prisoners were brought to the Mansion House. They were not permitted to hold any communication with the son, the brother, except in the presence of an officer; nevertheless, I was fully persuaded that they truly divined the cause of Charles Brady’s unconquerable obstinacy, in refusing to give the slightest description of the three burglars he admitted to have seen at work.

I followed them home on the afternoon when the Lord Mayor announced that he would commit both prisoners for trial. They resided, as I knew before, in a back room, at a house in Charles-street, City-road. Their means of life was straw-bonnet making for City houses. Poor means, yet the apartment was neatly kept; and I noticed little mementoes of past times, of no value in a money sense, which yet seemed to link them with those by-gone happy days.

Charles Brady had been fully committed to Newgate for trial many days before I could win the confidence of Mrs. Brady and her daughter. A circumstance which they knew I had intended they should never hear of, dissipated that distrust. I begged, entreated they would confide in me; they did so, unreservedly; and from the mother’s lips I heard a narrative of which I present the following abbreviation:—

Her maiden name had been Sophia Lawes; she was a native of’ Northampton, an only child; her father was a boot and shoe maker, in a large way of business, there. He, her last surviving parent, died when she had just passed her fifteenth birthday. He bequeathed all he possessed, which when realized by her bachelor uncle and guardian, Matthias Lawes, in the same way of business as her father had been, but much more prosperous, much richer she meant, amounted to between six and seven thousand pounds. She was a vain, thoughtless, passionate-tempered girl, by her own self-description, and flirted and coquetted with many young men, attracted by the golden glitter of her six or seven thousand pounds. She finally took up with James Brady, a native like herself of Northampton, but who had embraced a seafaring life, and when she married him was mate of the Murray, a large ship trading from London to Australia. The uncle and guardian, Matthias Lawes, one of the easiest tempered men in the world, gave a hesitating consent to the union, which was celebrated with a wasteful extravagance that would scarcely have been justifiable if six thousand pounds had been their annual income, instead of their whole capital. James Brady, carried off his feet by having espoused an heiress of such wealth, disdained a seaman’s life; and they lived an amazing gay life till the money was all gone. This, thanks, Mrs. Brady more than hinted, to the uncle’s munificent generosity, did not come to pass till Charles, their son, had attained his eighth, Caroline, their daughter, nearly her seventh birthday. Then the glittering bubble burst. The uncle and guardian married his cook, and thenceforth Mr. and Mrs. Brady and family had nothing to expect from him. They were even refused admission to his house. Reduced to extremity, James Brady, “one of the best of men, but, like myself, not one of the best of tempers,” remembered his profession as a seaman. The wife and husband, though in their heart of hearts loving each other as truly, if not so ardently as when first married, quarrelled fiercely before parting; bitter, rankling things were said on each side, and since then neither Mrs. Brady nor her children had seen her husband, their father.

“I understand you to say, Mrs. Brady, that neither you nor your children have ever seen your husband since that separation?”
“That is the truth.”
“The children, Charles and Caroline Brady, would scarcely remember the features of their father?”

“I am quite sure they would not.”
“You have heard of your husband since?”

“Constantly. Let me do him the justice to say, that although he could not bring himself to forgive the wicked taunts I flung in his face—to the effect that he had dissipated my property in foolish living—as if I had not been equally foolish, equally culpable with him—every pound he has been able to scrape together has been forwarded to me ‘for the children:’ that serpent-sting was never omitted. One year I received more than one hundred pounds!”
“How came it that he entered before the mast in the Warspite?”
“I know not, precisely; but from a letter which he sent me from Portsmouth, I believe his good, kind, easy nature had been taken advantage of by pretended friends—that he was for the moment destitute, and in a rash hour entered on board the Warspite.
“I understand: you have not lately heard of your once bachelor uncle, Mr. Matthias Lawes?”

“No: not since we left Northampton, now seven or eight years ago. He grossly insulted my husband in a letter addressed to me, offering, if I would resume my maiden name of Lawes, to sufficiently provide for me. Strange as it may seem, I, very far from having been a kind, good wife, resented that insult to my husband more than any that could have been offered to myself personally.”
“It was the cook, mother, not uncle, that wrote, or at least dictated the letter,” said Caroline Brady, colouring and lightening into positive beauty, with the animation of scorn and anger.

After a pause, I expressed in words that which we had mutually understood long before.

“It is your belief, as it is mine, Mrs. Brady, that one of the robbers at the Barbican burglary paralysed, overthrew your son, by declaring himself to be his father?”
“Good God, it must have been so!” ejaculated Mrs. Brady, as she, sobbing wildly, paced to and fro the room. “Yet, how it can have happened that James, with all his failings, can have fallen into such utter perdition, I cannot comprehend.”
“You have friends in London, Mrs. Brady. In truth, you must have, or your attorney would not be so zealous—would not have feed Mr. Bodkin to defend your son.”
“Caroline,” said Mrs. Brady, “do go and ascertain if we may be sure of receiving those straw-plaits this evening. Mr. Meriton, of Lothbury, a Northampton man,” resumed Mrs. Brady, as soon as her daughter was out of hearing— “Mr. Meriton, of Lobhbury, a Northampton man, has been very kind, would indeed have done much more, but that I objected to—. In fact,” added Mrs. Brady, with tearful emotion, “I am much perplexed; entangled, as it seems, in the meshes of false pretence—false everything. This is why I have resolved to confide in you, who can have no possible motive for misleading me.”

“I beg of you, Mrs. Brady, to give me all your confidence. Without you do so, I am powerless. You were speaking of Meriton. I know him well.’’
“You know him for a miserable skinflint, a miserly curmudgeon.”
“I do; and for worse than that.”
“And yet he fees the attorney who defends Charles. And—and, I hardly know how to speak of it, has proposed, in writing, that Caroline should, without delay, not waiting till she knows whether her brother will be acquitted or not, be his, Meriton’s, son’s wife.”
“Can that be possible?”
“True, as inexplicable. What do you say?”

“Nothing at present. Tomorrow, or next day, or the day after that, I may have something to say. Old Meriton is desirous that his cub of a son, his only child, should wed your daughter Caroline without delay?”
“That is so.”
“And your daughter Caroline?”
“She would die first. You now understand how I am circumstanced.”
“Not quite distinctly yet. Only a little about the edges. How long is it ago since you heard of Mr. Matthias Lawes, did you say?”

“About seven years, I think.”

“He is still alive?”
“For aught I know he is alive and hearty. The cook, his wife, died, I was told, about two years ago.”

“O yes, childless: I do not see your drift—your meaning.”

“Nor I, except through a glass, darkly. But I fancy I see a cherub that sees it all. It is a curiously tangled skein which I shall do my best to unravel. Meanwhile you will trust in me?”
“And Miss Caroline, I am quite sure, will not marry that blubber-brained brute, Anthony Meriton.”
“Nothing could induce her to do so. Not so much because of a prior attachment as—as—”

“As repugnance; the natural repugnance of Miss Caroline to be mated with such a brute. I bid you good night, Mrs. Brady. Confide in me, ma’am; it is true I am but a police officer—a detective police officer; but rely upon what I say, that the desire ‘to detect’ crime, fraud, conspiracy becomes a passion with us. That ‘passion’ is strong within me at this present moment.”
The next morning I paid one shilling at Doctors’ Commons for permission to inspect the wills deposited in those venerable archives. One of the ledgers, inscribed L, contained the copy of the Last Will and Testament of Matthias Lawes, Northampton, which said Will and Testament devised to Sophia Brady, the testator’s niece, all of real and personal estate Matthias Lawes might die possessed of. Mr. Philip Meriton, of Lothbury, London, was named sole executor of that Last Will and Testament.

Day was dawning, but eager for more and immediate light, I pressed onwards, and soon found that Philip Meriton had obtained probate of the will, and swore the personals to be under twenty thousand pounds!
Without delay—for I really, though hardly knowing why, felt intensely interested—I applied to certain persons in the Admiralty offices, respecting James Brady, and after a good deal of bother, I ascertained that, thanks to the influence of Mr. Meriton, a very active canvasser and agent for a noble member of the City of London, it was a settled thing that the court-martial, which would necessarily be held whenever James Brady surrendered himself, would—there being in very truth strongly palliative circumstances in the case—merely sentence the culprit to be reprimanded and dismissed the Queen’s service.

I now plainly saw the ins and the outs, the fair side and the seamy side, of Mr. Meriton’s suit on behalf of his son for Caroline Brady’s hand.

Exactly! But supposing that James Brady was really one of the burglars in the gold-dust robberies in Barbican! His wife, son, daughter believed, reluctantly believed, that he was one of those burglars. How disprove that frightful accusation, and at the same time save the son, lying in Newgate? That was the question.
It was solved—solved in a remarkable manner. Perhaps the reader may remember a fire in the spring of 1836, which consumed three houses in Sun-street, Bishopsgate. I was on duty at that fire; and, penetrating into an upper room of one of the flaming houses, I found a man who had not hastened—to be sure there was time enough, coolly calculated—to escape the risk of being burnt to death. I bade the man be smart if he wished to save his life. He obeyed; but not moving very sharply, I took the liberty of giving him a smart shove. The effect was that out shot from his swollen dress, several bags full of gold dust!
“Your name you say is Daniel Rouse?” said I, about an hour afterwards, addressing that individual in a back parlour of the Crown tavern. “You also say, knowing what you say may be used against you, that you and two others are the burglars who committed the robbery in Barbican?”
“I do!— I do! I hope to be allowed to turn King’s evidence.”
“Queen’s evidence, you mean. But I cannot, do not promise anything. Go on. You and one of your mates were landsmen in the Warspite. You often heard James Brady speak of his son, and where he was employed. Arrived in London, you and your fellow-villains conceived the idea of pillaging the premises; and in the event of young Mr. Brady awaking and detecting you in the commission of that crime, one of you would declare you were his father! This you have, in substance, said in presence of witnesses. Do you adhere to that statement, knowing well it may be used against you on your trial?”
“I do; it is the truth.”
“You know Mr. Meriton, of Lothbury?”

“Yes; and he knows me.”

“I thought so. However, we will not speak here of an absent man. I shall faithfully report the whole circumstances; and I believe—I say I believe—that you, Daniel Rouse, will be admitted to give evidence for the Crown.”
Rouse was ultimately admitted evidence for the Crown. His accomplices were convicted—sentenced to penal servitude for life. Charles Brady was restored to liberty; and but that the uncle’s bequest to his mother placed him above the necessity of accepting a servile position, might have returned to his employment at the eminent gold-refiners’. It was but a short time afterwards when the “old folks at home,” at Myrtle Villa, near Northampton, were Mr. and Mrs. Brady. I got some credit for the happy ending of the business—far more than I deserved.

From Experiences of a Real Detective by Inspector F.
Edited by “Waters,” author of Recollections of a Police Officer, Leonard Harlowe, etc.
London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler, 1862. 29-42.