Isaac Gortz, The Charcoal-Burner
by Inspector F.

IN the palmy days of Fairlop Fair, I often attended that, then, really forest festival. I mean by palmy days, before Hainault Forest was disforested by Act of Parliament. The tradition, the semblance of the ancient fair, still survives, but only as a meagre, pitiable ghost of its former jolly self, skulking away from the commiserative observation of old acquaintances that knew it in prosperity, into gated, enclosed three or four-acre fields, and will, I am told, find a last shelter next year in the inn-yard of the Maypole, Barking Side. A sad tumble-down this from the Fairlop preeminence in rural festivity recognised and honoured by the personal patronage of Queen Elizabeth.
Fairlop Fair has, however, only so far to do with the story of Isaac Gortz, the charcoal-burner, forasmuch that, having gone to the fair on the 1st of July, Friday, 1832, I there saw Isaac Gortz for the first, and, in life, the last time. I, with my friends, had taken refuge from a smart scud of rain in a large drinking booth, crowded with people, and dense clouds of tobacco smoke. One of ours, well acquainted with the locality, called my attention to a group of five persons, four men and one youngish woman. They were as far as might be seated apart from the general company, and drinking with great gusto.

“The stoutish pock-marked man who shells out the shot for all,” said my friend Tom Willett, “is Isaac Gortz, the charcoal-burner. You must have heard of him?”
I said I never heard of Isaac Gortz, the charcoal-burner; and asked to know why it was supposed that I must have heard of him?”
“Only that he is a curious character. They say he is a Lancashire man, and gave valuable information about the Henry Hunt radicals to the authorities in 1819, at the time of the Peterloo business. The story goes that his having done so got wind, the north became too hot to hold him, so he came to Essex, and in reward of his treachery, or loyalty, whichever it may be called, received a Government grant to cut any quantity of wood in Hainault Forest he could make into charcoal. He lives in the forest, about four miles from here, and has made a nice thing of it, I can tell you. Folks say he has ten thousand pounds or more out at interest.”
“Ten thousand shillings more likely. Ten thousand pounds accumulated by the manufacture of charcoal! A likely story that.”
Friend Willett did not see it was at all unlikely. Isaac Gortz obtained materials for nothing, had sometimes a score of men in his employ, a great number of pits always burning, was well skilled in his trade, and—except upon such occasions as Fairlop Fair, or a revel, when he sometimes came out of his shell—was as close and stingy a curmudgeon as ever crawled upon the earth.
I remarked that the man’s mouth was drawn to one side, and that his companions appeared to comprehend his wishes more by the gestures he made; his pointing to an empty can, for example, and nodding in dumb request that it should be refilled. Willett said that was so. Not many months previously Gortz had had a paralytic fit, which had twisted his mouth out of form, and so dealt with his tongue—his traitor-tongue, enemies said—that he could no longer speak so as to be understood, except by people well used to him, and by them far from clearly.
“The stoutish chap nearest him,” Willett went on to say,” is one Hedlam, a stranger in these parts, and a North countryman like Gortz, whose clerk and right-hand man the fellow is. A sly-looking cove, don’t you think?”
“Well—yes, and has lost, I just now noticed, the thumb of his left hand. Who are the others Gortz is treating?’

“One is John Deveson; he was Gortz’s managing man, till Hedlam came and put his nose out of joint. The young woman is Mrs. Deveson. They both board and lodge indoors still. The other man is Charley Wood, sort of under-foreman, and not of much account, bad or good.”

Tom Willett, who evidently felt a strong interest in Isaac Gortz and his belongings, was going into further details of the charcoal-burner’s affairs, when a drunken squabble burst out close to us, and being on duty, and the rain having passed off, I proposed leaving at once . We did so; and for some six months afterwards Isaac Gortz and his companions were, as regarded myself, out of mind as well as sight.

He and his history, so far as I had heard it, were revived in my mind by circumstances in connexion with the robbery of watches and watchmakers’ jewelry at Cunninghame and Son’s, Bermondsey. At the back of their premises was a carriage-spring factory, at which, of course, considerable quantities of charcoal were used, principally supplied, I found, by Isaac Gortz, of Hainault Forest. One of his carts, driven by John Deveson, whose name at once struck me as a familiar one, had remained in the carriage-spring maker’s yard, under an excuse, which proved to be false—till the small hours of the night, when the robbery took place, and had then been hastily driven off, to do which it had been necessary to violently force open the yard-gates. Evidently a novice at burglary-business was Mr. John Deveson, supposing him to have been the robber.

I at once started for Hainault Forest, drew up at my friend Tom Willett’s, Barking Side, found him at home, and asked if he had any objection to show me the way to Isaac Gortz’s dwelling?

“None in the world,” blithely replied Tom, a good-tempered, desultory sort of young man, delighting in activity when it was not business. He would accompany me gladly.

Whilst trotting onward, Willett told me of certain changes that had taken place at the charcoal-burner’s since the last “Fairlop.” That sly, clever customer, Hedlam, was more than ever all in all. Gortz himself  was, and had been for three months at least, wholly confined to his bed, and was calling in his money as fast as possible, as if he meant to carry it with him, laughed Tom. To my inquiries about Deveson, he replied, that both he and his wife had been turned out of house by Hedlam; that they at present lived in a mean hut, at some little distance away; and that his, John Deveson’s, occupation was that of horsekeeper and carter, at about half the wage he earned before Hedlam dug a hole under him, and he floundered into the mud.
I thought it best to first call at the charcoal-burner’s house. The, door was opened by Mr. Hedlam. I recognized him instantly, though he looked four or five years more aged than when I saw him in the booth at Fairlop Fair—ay, four or five rough, trying years. He inquired my name and business.
I gave my name, adding, “I am a detective police-officer, Mr. Hedlam, and—”

A dagger suddenly aimed at Mr. Hedlam’s breast could not have caused him to leap back in wilder alarm, have blanched his face more instantaneously, than did these words of mine.

“A—a—detective police-officer!” he stammered, somewhat reassured, it seemed, by the astonishment at his emotion which my look, if it rightly interpreted my thought, must have evinced. “What—what business can a—a detective police-officer have here?’

“I have no suspicion, Mr. Hedlam—or, to be quite candid, I had no suspicion two minutes ago that my business could directly concern or affect any one now living beneath this roof?”

“Whom, then, are you in search of? John Deveson—John Deveson, for robbery?” he eagerly added, with sparkling, flashing eyes.
“You put queer thoughts in one’s head, Mr. Hedlam. How do you know that a robbery was committed the night before last, in which it is believed John Deveson was concerned!”

“I will tell you why—I will tell you why!” exclaimed Hedlam, rubbing his hands together with exultation, and a yet fierce joy sparkling, flashing in his eyes. “Come in, sir—come in, both. I will tell you why. Yesterday,” continued Hedlam, “yesterday afternoon, John Deveson returned here more than half drunk. He should have arrived by twelve or one the previous night. Some excuse he made to others, not to me, lamely accounting for the delay; and I know that one of our men, peeping through a crack in one of the shutters of his hut, saw him and his wife, late in the evening, counting out gold upon a table. And I know—ah, I know,” he continued, absolutely screaming and stamping with ferocious triumph— “I know that he has hired a chaise-cart, and driven to Romford, to fetch his children from the charity-school there; that half-an-hour hence he is expected back, and then the family will start immediately for London; thence, I surmise, for America. You are just in time, Mr. Detective—just in time—ha! ha!”

First assuring myself that there was no doubt of Deveson’s return from Romford, and that he would necessarily pass Isaac Gortz’s door, I took the liberty to quietly remark that there appeared to be bitter feud between Mr. Hedlam and John Deveson.

“There is—there is bitter feud between us,” unhesitatingly rejoined the man. “The, I hope, soon to be convicted felon has dared to attempt whispering away my character by vilest calumnies—that I take advantage of my influence over my afflicted friend Gortz to make a purse for myself, and the like slanders. But Isaac Gortz will recover his old health—I am sure he will,” added Hedlam, with pious earnestness. “Thank God! thank God!”
“Is Isaac Gortz mending?” asked my friend Willett, who had not before spoken.

“In speech wonderfully. You know that those most intimate with poor Gortz could only understand him by the help of signs, gestures: mark the difference now. He is in bed, which indeed he has not left for many weeks, but is no doubt awake.”
Mr. Hedlam, thus speaking, opened a bed-room door, holding it in his hand, with his back towards us.

“Mr. Gortz,” said he, in a loud tone, “as I suspected, that scoundrel Deveson has committed a robbery, and a detective police-officer is here to apprehend him.”
“Glaad of it-glaad of it,” feebly but quite distinctly replied Gortz; “I—I hope he’ll be hanged.”

Hedlam closed the chamber door, and reseated himself.

“Great improvement, eh?” said he, speaking to Willett.
“Surprising. And his general bodily health? Is that upon the mend also?”

“Yes, since he would have no more to do with doctors. He won’t see one. But he pines to leave here for the bonny North, where he was born. He’ll come round there, never fear.”

“Then it is true he is going to leave?”

“Bless you, yes; and shortly, too. The patent-right of cutting timber for conversion on the spot into charcoal has been sold, and we expect the money in a week or less. Ah, here comes the chaise-cart,” exclaimed Hedlam, “with Deveson and his brats. Don’t let us have any rumpus here, Mr. Detective; it would, perhaps, over-excite Mr. Gortz. His hut is but a little way off; that is it,” he added, pointing through a window to a mean building five or six hundred yards off. “You can easily nab my gentleman there.”

“My gentleman” was easily nabbed—conveyed to London—fully committed for trial; in due course tried, convicted, sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.

From the day John Deveson was taken till that upon which he left the Old Bailey dock a sentenced convict, over five months had elapsed. The Central Criminal Court Act had not then passed, nor, if I remember rightly, been introduced by its author, Lord Brougham.

Having the entire management of the case in my hands, business connected therewith took me twice to the prisoner’s late dwelling in Hainault Forest. His wife, a very decent woman, still abode there. She told me that Mr. Hedlam had been good to her; but added, with a kind of shuddering aversion—if I may so call it—that, but for the children’s sake, she would have accepted neither bite nor sup from him.

At the first of these two visits I had not taken Tom Willett with me. At the second I did; as much, perhaps, as for anything, to have a companion in the drive back again through the forest, as I should inevitably be belated. Isaac Gortz was, he had heard, much improved in health, and would set off for the North the next day, if he was not already gone; all the outstanding moneys having been collected in, and all other business matters settled.

“Ah, by Jingo!” added Tom, as we turned a corner of the road, “he’s just going off! Don’t you see the double-horse fly at the door?”

I did see a double-horse fly at the door of Gortz’s house, and immediately afterwards the still feeble, as it seemed, and well-wrapped invalid assisted into it by Hedlam. The luggage had been previously placed, and the carriage drove off just before we came up.

“A London fly!” remarked Tom Willett. “I should have supposed it cheaper to have hired one from Snaresbrook or Wanstead. But then the old fellow has lots of tin. Hasn’t lost a brass farthing, I hear; got it all in, thanks to clever Mr. Hedlam, without any trouble to speak of. Devil’s children—devil’s luck!”
“I can offer no opinion,” said I, “with respect to Isaac Gortz; but, as far as my poor opinion goes in respect of Master Hedlam, it is that, if he be not a true son of Satan, his black majesty has no family at all.”
Tom Willett quite agreed, and the subject dropped.

I found a London attorney with Deveson’s wife. He had received a ten-pound note through the post from Isaac Gortz, with directions to employ a counsel to defend John Deveson at his trial for burglary. The lawyer was there to hear anything the woman might say in her husband’s defence. I was a good deal surprised at the charcoal-burner’s generosity, which surprise was immensely increased when the woman Deveson—with whom I had dealt as tenderly as duty permitted—informed me that she had received another ten-pound note from Mr. Gortz, as a present to herself and little ones, “enclosed in such a kind note,” she added, again scrutinizing said note in a confused, puzzled kind of way—”enclosed in such a kind note, written, I could take my Bible oath, by Mr. Gortz himself. He says,” she added, “that Deveson will certainly get off, and that he and Mr. Hedlam will stand his friends.”

“Precious queer all that,” Tom Willett and I flashed at each other by the only electric telegraph then in existence. We, however, said nothing till a small routine matter which took me there had been disposed of, and we left the place.

“Them ten-pound notes put the stuns upon me altogether,” said Tom. “I can’t reckon up the business nohow, after what we heard Hedlam say. Can you?”

“Not being a conjuror, Tom, I cannot; but that there is a wheel within a wheel, one of which turns the other, I have no sort of doubt.”

The only portion of the ten-pound note which the Old Bailey attorney could possibly spare John Deveson’s emphatically Old Bailey counsel—the phrase is very well understood, I believe—was one pound one shilling; which one pound one shilling had, in the prisoner’s interest, been much better chucked into the Thames than Mr. Guinea-Brief’s hungry pocket. The indictment laid the stolen property as that of Edmund Cunninghame, instead of Edmund Cunninghame and John Cunninghame, the father and son being partners—an evidently fatal flaw, which Guinea-brief, the moment the prisoner had pleaded “Not guilty,” instantly pointed out.
“I am glad,” said the Recorder, with placid irony—“I am glad, Brother—, you have pointed out the error in time. Had the prisoner been convicted on this indictment, the conviction could not have been acted upon; and the plea of autrefois acquit would have been an effectual bar to a second indictment for substantially the same offence. But at this stage of the proceedings, a recent statute enables me to amend any mere formal error, which I shall do by adding the name of the son, John Cunninghame, which I find in all the depositions returned to the court.”
Guinea-Brief dropped down, extinguished for a time by the sneering smiles of “brother” barristers. Only for a time extinguished—temporary eclipse. The gentleman fortunately had a real brother and good steady voter on the Ministerial side in the House of Commons, and Guinea-Brief not long afterwards got his horse-hair head into the national manger as a colonial judge.

This, I need not say, is merely parenthetical. John Deveson was, as he deserved to be, convicted and sentenced, as before stated. There was a bubbling, broken scream heard from amongst the auditory when the verdict was delivered in; and the pattering of little feet and wailing sobs of children, recognised by me, who knew where the wife and children had been sitting, were painfully audible, immediately the brief, stern sentence had been pronounced. The inevitable penalty of crime, I reasoned with myself, piercing the wrong-doer with the fiery arrows his own hand launched against those nearest and dearest to him. Quite just!

Nevertheless, I felt a good deal relieved when, leaving the court at about the same time she did, Mrs. Deveson accepted my invitation to shelter herself and children from the storm that was pouring down, in a respectable neighbouring tavern. It seemed a proof that she felt I had done no more, if quite so much, as my duty in Rex versus Deveson.

Not very many minutes passed before I was made aware how completely I had mistaken her motive for so promptly acceding to my somewhat out-of-the-way invitation. I noticed her children. The boy, very intelligent, but naturally sad-looking, must have been a little over nine; the girl, a rather plain child, but with expressive black eyes, about two years younger. Their clothes, though poor, thin, scant, were scrupulously clean. I felt an interest in the family, one chief reason being that Deveson himself had been made the tool, dupe, scapegoat, of experienced villains, the greatest scoundrel of all being Parsons, who was· admitted evidence for the Crown, and really convicted him. For all that, he deserved his sentence.
I looked at the woman more heedfully. Her eyes were dry—the fire of rage had quenched her tears: woman’s usual weapon, water-drops, was cast aside; the look was that of a sucked and hungry lioness gathering herself up to spring at her prey. She gulped down, without, I am sure, tasting it, a measure of strong spirit, gave her children a biscuit each, shook their clinging grasp from her skirts without looking at them; her glare, for such it was, continuing fixed upon me—yet an introspective glare—searching the records of her own brain as well as the tablet of my face—considering, comparing both.

“I had hoped,” said I, in considerable puzzlement—“I had hoped that my purely official share in this unhappy business was not, as I am sure it deserves not, to be resented by you.”
“Not at all, not in the least,” was the eager answer; “you have been sincere throughout—have said from the beginning that, but for some flaw in legal technicality, conviction was certain. And there was a flaw,” she continued, flaming into frenzied rage; “a fatal flaw. I am a poor ignorant creature, but I know that as well as you do; and the counsellor whom Hedlam, the villain Hedlam hired, was paid, bribed to destroy that chance, should it turn up.”

“Nonsense, Mrs. Deveson—”

“Sense, sense, sir,” screamed the woman, interrupting. “The bribes were to keep us quiet—he suspecting, yet refusing to believe that we suspected what we do suspect. I see the devilish game as clearly as if the faces of the cards were purposely turned towards me. My husband he has thrust out of his way, but I—I—I—a deadlier serpent in his path—cannot be so easily swept aside.”
“Mrs. Deveson, you well know that I sincerely commiserate your present unfortunate condition, being aware, as I am, of how differently you were once situated; yet permit me to say that the melodramatic, screaming stuff which you—”

“Melodramatic, screaming stuff, do you say?” broke in the perfectly broke-loose woman. “John, come hither; leave off crying, and tell this gentleman your dream. You know what I mean.”

“Yes, mother,” said the boy; “but it was no dream, I am sure it was not. I always said so, though father and you would not believe me.”
“Yes, yes; and fear now that it was but a dream. But tell it—tell the dream to this gentleman.”

“I was punished for a fault,” said the boy, “at the Romford school; I do not quite remember how long ago—”

“I know that,” interrupted the mother; “as near as may be about a week after we were turned out of Isaac Gortz’s house—packed off to the hut. Mark that, Mr. Detective, it is important, very important.”

“Permit your little boy to tell his dream, if dream it be, quietly,” said I, patting the pretty, intelligent youngster’s head.

“No dream!—please God, no dream!” ejaculated the infuriated woman. “Please God, no dream. Go on, go on. No, no; please God, no dream.”

“I ran away from school,” proceeded the boy, “and at about the middle of the night—it had I know been long very dark, and I lost my way—at about the middle of the night I reached home, as I thought, supposing mother, Nelly, and father were there. I was afraid to knock, and there was no light in either of the rooms. So I thought I would open a window very, very gently, that would let me into the kitchen. Then I could creep up to Nelly’s room, tell her all about it, and she would tell mother and father next day. And as Nelly was going herself to Romford school very soon, I might go back with her, for I was sorry, very sorry for having run away.”
“ Go on, go on, child. The dream.”

“No dream, mother,” said the boy. “You and father made me promise never to speak of it. Don’t be angry, mother, dear; I will go on as fast as I can. I opened the window—crept up-stairs. Nelly’s room was empty; her bed was gone. I listened, frightened. At last I heard voices, men’s voices, below. There were also, sounds of digging and of falling stones or bricks—so it sounded to me. The sounds continued, and the men’s voices. I crept out softly, so softly, on the landing, which looks down upon the kitchen scullery, and saw—oh, mother, mother, mother!” burst out the boy in a flood of sobs. “I always told you it was no dream!”
I comforted the boy to comparative calmness, and he brokenly went on.

“I saw Mr. Hedlam, and another man I did not know, digging out a dark, narrow hole in the kitchen scullery, and alongside of that dark, narrow hole lay the dead body, his white face uppermost, and blood nearly all over it, of Isaac Gortz! Then I must have fainted away, for how long I do not know; but when I knew where I was, I crept away, left the house, and was found, as you know, mother, in Farmer Greely’s barn, asleep.”
“The exact story, word for word,” said the mother; word for word. We believed, persuaded ourselves our boy had been dreaming, and had no doubt of it when about midday Deveson called at the house and heard Gortz’s voice speaking in the bedroom in his stammering way; high and much improved, altered.”

“Your husband did not see Gortz?”
“No; Hedlam asked questions in the chamber doorway, and Gortz answered them, or seemed to. Lord bless you,” added the woman, “Hedlam is a clever one, he is. Why, I heard him once imitate the blackbird, so true that you could have sworn it were the real thing itself.”
“No dream, sir,—be sure no dream,” said the boy.

“I am much inclined to believe it was no dream. Yet stay, let us consider for a moment. Let me see—let me see. Of course it was essential that Mr. Gortz should be alive, or the money out at interest could not have been gathered in. I understand so far. But surely one or more of the law-agents instructed to repay the money and get back their bonds or other securities, would have insisted upon seeing Mr. Gortz. Yet, I don’t know. If they got the securities in exchange for the cash, that would be all they would require.”
“Mostly London gents, I have heard, who did not know Mr. Gortz by sight,” said Mrs. Deveson.
“Have they let the house?”
“Dear heart, no! It’s locked and bolted, and the windows barred; Hedlam saying Mr. Gortz would return there some of these days. Do you think,” added Mrs. Deveson, breaking into a brown study, induced by what I had heard—“do you think that if I or my husband’s son should be the means of bringing a murderer or murderers to justice, his father would be let off some part of his punishment?”

Of course my reply was that I could not say. Nevertheless, such a service might be favourably considered by the Home Secretary. Might, or might not.

I laid the facts before my official superiors, and received authority to break into the house, lately occupied by Isaac Gortz, and ascertain if there was any truth in the boy’s story. Truth! It was, we found, true beyond doubt or question. The body of Gortz, unquestionably his body, long as it had lain in the ground, was disinterred, and buried in consecrated ground. The unfortunate man had been murdered. Of that no doubt whatever could be entertained.

A large Government reward was without delay offered for the apprehension of the murderer or murderers; every detective device known to the police was had recourse to; all in vain. We had for many years abandoned the chase as a hopeless one, when by a singular chance both the assassins were dropped upon.
Few people know, or would care to remember if they knew, that at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851, his Grace the Duke of Wellington caused the metropolis to be circled by numerous bodies of troops, none more than nine or ten miles distant. So as to be immediately within call should the multitude of foreigners expected raise a riot, émeute, political disturbance of any kind. Follies of the wise—fears of the brave—happily pass quickly out of memory. Well, in consequence of that order a regiment of dragoons was quartered at Enfield, Middlesex. Their presence, in conjunction with the annual fair, caused an unusual number of shows, exhibitions of various kinds, to be exhibited in that very pretty quiet village. As a rule, I do not much affect such sports, but finding myself one Monday evening at the Crown and Horse-shoes, considerably wearied by a game at cricket, in which I had figured with the defeated eleven, and hearing talk of a surprising ventriloquist whose performances might be witnessed for the small sum of threepence, I determined to make one of the audience.
A very clever fellow, certainly—a gentleman minus a thumb on his left hand, and though nearly twenty years of crime, suffering, and excess had smirched, denatured his features—unmistakably Mr. Hedlam, of Hainault Forest. Not a doubt about it. The audience were witnesses of a scene they had not paid for, which many will still remember.
“James Hedlam,” said I, springing suddenly upon the stage, “you are my prisoner. I arrest you for the murder, nigh twenty years ago, of Isaac Gortz, in Hainault Forest.”
Strength went out of the physically strong man as I spoke, his knees smote each other, and but that he was upheld, he would have fallen upon the boards. Yet even then the innate villainy of the fellow, it surely must be called so, showed itself.
“There—there,” he gasped, with ashen, quivering lips, and pointing with shaking finger to a man hurrying from the stage,—” there—there—seize him. He—he—Richard Sims, was my accomplice—my tempter. I—I will give Queen’s evidence.”

We did not require his evidence. Both the murderers were convicted upon young Deveson’s testimony, corroborated by many circumstantial proofs. Both were convicted, formally sentenced to death at Chelmsford, and both are now at this very day undergoing the commuted punishment of penal servitude for life. John Deveson, I should not omit to state, was liberated after about three years’ penal discipline, and as far as I know, profited by the terrible lesson he had received.

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. 75-93.