The ingenuity of thieves has been frequently referred to in the course of this work, and many instances have been afforded by a perusal of its pages of the extreme perseverance with which the practitioners in this dishonest calling carry on their proceedings. In the case of Huffey White a striking instance is afforded of the laborious determination of men, whose object was to rob the Glasgow bank; in the instance with which we are now about to present our readers no less ingenuity and determination are exhibited than by that case; and the daring effrontery with which the robbery, the circumstances of which we are about to detail, was committed, must strike them with astonishment.
It was on Thursday, the 24th of March, 1831, that this most impudent robbery was committed; and the circumstance of its occurrence was first notified to the public in a Glasgow newspaper in a paragraph, of which the following is a copy, which being compared with the real facts of the case as they were proved at the trial, will sufficiently inform our readers of the remarkable measures adopted by thieves at this time, first to commit robberies, and then so to conceal the real circumstances attending their commission, as to mislead the public and the police as to the persons, or even the description of the persons concerned in the depredation:--"Another of those dexterous tricks in abstracting a bank parcel from one of the public coaches was on Thursday week successfully practised in a somewhat novel manner. The following is an account of the transaction:-- The parcel in question, which contained notes and gold to the amount of 5,700l., had been entrusted by the Commercial Bank's branch in Glasgow, to be forwarded to the head office in Edinburgh, by the Prince Regent coach, which left Glasgow at noon on the Thursday. The parcel had been put into a tin box, which was, as usual, placed in the boot of the coach, but was missed by the coachman who drives the last stage. It was then found that the stuffing inside had been cut, and a hole made in the body of the coach by piercing it first by a brace-bit, and then cutting out the piece with a saw, by which means the thieves got at the box, which they forced open and rifled of its contents. The paper in which the parcel was packed, with part of one of the notes, were left. After committing the robbery, in order to elude observation, the lining of the coach, which had been cut, was pinned neatly together. We understand that the whole of the inside seats had been taken in Glasgow, four in the name of Mrs. Gordon, and two in the name of Mr. Johnston, but no inside passengers came forward when the coach started. When about three miles from Glasgow, however, two passengers, a man and a woman, were taken up, who continued to travel with the coach until within three miles from Airdrie, and no suspicion was raised against them when they left the conveyance. The notes were principally of the Commercial Bank, and consisted of 20l., 5l., and 1l. notes. A number of them had blue borders of a peculiar description, not generally in circulation, and which will easily be detected. It is said there were about 300l. in gold. Immediately on the intelligence of this daring robbery reaching Glasgow, an officer, accompanied by one of the gentlemen of the Branch Bank at that place, set off in the direction of Airdrie in search of the robbers, but hitherto without success. The driver of the coach is quite unable to give any account of the appearance or dress of the man and woman who were in the coach; but we believe the passenger who assisted them out, has been able partially to furnish one." The latter part of this paragraph is peculiarly worthy of notice, for it turns out that Brown was the outside passenger, and he, no doubt, affecting ignorance of the persons within, endeavoured to gull the police by giving an erroneous description of the thieves.
A long and searching inquiry into all the circumstances of the affair took place, and at length, through the arduous and persevering exertions of the Glasgow police-officer named Nish, the three prisoners whose names head this article, together with a man named Simpson, were committed for trial.
During the period which intervened before the inquiry took place before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, the investigation which had been commenced was carried on by Mr. Nish; but the main evidence at the trial was that of Simpson, who was admitted a witness against his accomplices.
The trial came on at Edinburgh on Wednesday, July the 14th, 1831. It was then proved that the prisoner George Gilchrist was a coach proprietor residing on the road between Glasgow and Edinburgh; and that being aware of the frequent transmission of money by the coach from one place to the other, he formed the design of abstracting the parcel containing it from the boot, and carrying it off. He communicated his object to his brother, and to Brown and Simpson, as well as to two other persons who were to assist them. The parcel of the 24th of March was fixed upon to be attempted; and in order to render their operations secure from observation, the whole of the inside of the coach was taken for the use of the party.
On the 24th of March, William Gilchrist and Brown started from Glasgow on the outside of the coach, and about two or three miles from that place they met with George Gilchrist and Simpson, whom Gilchrist had hired to assist him. George Gilchrist was dressed in female apparel, and Simpson carried a small basket, which contained centre-bits and other instruments of that description. Simpson, on his examination said, "When they got into the coach they put up the windows, when Gilchrist took off the straw bonnet and shawl, and took out the tools; he then ripped up the cloth of the coach, and bored five holes horizontally with the brace and bit; the place between the holes was cut with a chisel; they then attempted to cut the tin box with the chisel, but finding they could not do so, they pressed the lid up with a chisel, and in doing this raised up the lock. They took out two parcels of notes and a packet, which, from its weight, he supposed was gold. They left some parcels in the box, which he believed were bills, and put some of them under the cushion. Having effected the robbery, they pressed the lid of the box down, and it then had the same appearance as if locked. He put part of the notes and gold about his person, and Gilchrist put the rest about him, and again put on the bonnet and shawl. All this occupied about an hour. When at Airdrie, he heard some one say, 'John, get on, remember the opposition.' William Gilchrist said it was Brown that said so, and that he would drive on if he saw any danger. Gilchrist said to witness that no one should get into the coach, and he would keep one side, and directed witness to keep the other; that they would get out in about a mile and a half; and that witness should look out of the window, and Brown would see him: this, he believed, was a signal that all was right; and he thought Brown observed him look out. He was desired by Gilchrist to call out to stop at the first entry on the left hand. The coach stopped at the place, and Brown came down and opened the door, and said to the coachman, 'John, I've got half-a-crown for you.' When they came out, witness carried the basket, and the coach immediately drove off. He and Gilchrist proceeded down the avenue about half a mile, and went into a planting. He saw a man coming down the avenue, when he told Gilchrist, who said he was a friend. The woman's clothes were put into the basket, and Gilchrist put on his own clothes. All the money was put into a silk handkerchief."
The trial continued until twelve o'clock on Thursday forenoon, when the jury unanimously found George Gilchrist Guilty of the charges; by a plurality of voices the libel Not Proven against James Brown; and unanimously finding the libel Not Proven against William Gilchrist. The lord justice clerk then passed the awful sentence of death on the prisoner, George Gilchrist, and ordered him for execution on the 3rd of August.
The prisoner, however, subsequently made communications to the officers of justice, in consequence of which a great portion of the stolen property was recovered, and his punishment was commuted to transportation for life.