We have recently published three blogs about economic crime in the modern day and its equivalents in the Old Bailey archives, with special references to the “Ordinary’s Accounts”: the Newgate prison chaplain’s narrative about each condemned prisoner and their crime.
Report OA17520323 of 23rd March 1752 references the crime of Bernard Agnew and accomplices, who “did utter, and publish as a true, a certain false forged Promissary Note of Hand, for the Payment of 25 l. 4 s. (£25.20 in the new money) with Intent to defraud Elizabeth Agnew, Widow”. Bernard Agnew was known as “a Dealer also in forged Seamen’s Wills and Powers. He was doubtless the Contriver of this Forgery upon Captain Andrew Agnew”.
We can surmise that Agnew created the Note with a forged signature of Captain Agnew (deceased), and tried to get Mrs Agnew to pay it out of Captain Agnew’s estate. Penalty: the Tyburn gallows.
Forging a Bill of Exchange seems to have carried less of a tariff than forging a Promissory Note, or Single-Name Bill. Report t16900115-25 of 15th January 1690 relates that Robert Young alias Smith “a Minister, was Indicted together with Mary Young his Wife, for forging a false Bill of Exchange in the fourth Year of King James, in the name of one John Clark upon Jonathan Kendal for 20 l. (£20 in the new money) payable to one Robert Smith, being the Prisoner himself”.
This Bill of Exchange named the accused as a third-party beneficiary of dealings between John Clark and Jonathan Kendal. Young’s wife Mary then went round to try and obtain goods and money against the bills…and Young a Clerk in Hold Orders! Penalty: the pillory and a fine.
In particular Young “was ordered to stand in the Pillory; 1st at the Royal Exchange; 2dly. in Cheapside; 3dly. at Westminster Hall-Gate on the first day of next Term; 4thly at the New-Exchange, and to pay 200 Marks as a Fine. His Wife, Mary Young , for the same offence, ordered to stand upon the Pillory by her Husband at each place, and to pay 20 Mark as a Fine, and both to remain in Custody till all be performed”. The difference in punishment seems extreme for cases that differ only in the number of names on the Bill. Another explanation is that Young, being a Minister, may have availed himself of the mechanism of Benefit of Clergy, under which many defendants found guilty of certain felonies were spared the death penalty and given a lesser punishment.