The extraordinary robbery, for their participation in which these men were convicted, was committed on the 27th of November, 1834, and Banknotes and money to the amount of 4,824l. were then carried off. The whole of the particulars of this most daring burglary were revealed at the trial of the offenders, whose names are above-mentioned, by one of the men who were concerned in it; and they exhibit, probably, more plainly than any case which ever came before the public, the system to which modern thieves have reduced their plans of depredation, while, at the same time, they show the success which but too frequently attends their enterprising attempts at robbery. Few among the "family men," as these experienced housebreakers are commonly called, appear to have been so successful as Jourdan and Sullivan, but few have been able to proceed with the same determination and ingenuity in the execution of their plots.
We have already stated that it was on the night of the 27th of November 1834, that the robbery at the Custom-house of London, for which Jourdan, Sullivan, Mott, and Seale, were eventually convicted and transported, was effected. This extensive depredation was committed in the office of Mr. Frederick Thomas Walsh, the receiver of fines and forfeitures. The office, on the evening before the robbery, was left securely fastened in the ordinary manner; but on the next morning, it was ascertained that the iron safe had been broken open, and property to the value of 4,824l. carried off. The consternation produced in the establishment by such an event, it may be easily conceived, was of an extraordinary description, and upon its discovery instant information was conveyed to the various police-offices in the metropolis of the circumstance, as well as of the numbers and dates of such of the notes as, by memoranda made of their particulars, could be identified. More than a year elapsed, however, before any of the perpetrators of this daring outrage were apprehended. Lea, an officer of Lambeth-street police-office, was the person to whom the duty of making inquiries into the case was deputed, and after the most arduous investigation, carried on with praiseworthy perseverance, he was at length enabled to bring the principal parties to this burglary to punishment.
On Wednesday, the 2nd of December 1835, Jourdan and Sullivan were taken into custody, and the circumstances of their apprehension deserve to be narrated. Lea, it seems, had been long convinced of their participation in the robbery, and had striven hard to obtain evidence confirmatory of his suspicions, and, at the same time, to procure such a knowledge of the "whereabouts "of the objects of his investigations, as to enable him, when a fitting opportunity should present itself, to secure them, and to bring them to account for the long list of evil deeds of which he knew they had been guilty. Keeping them in his eye, he at the same time was anxiously engaged in procuring testimony of their criminality; but, at the moment when this evidence came to his knowledge, he found that his birds had suddenly flown. For two months all his exertions to discover their retreat were useless; but at length chance threw him again upon their track. An assistant to the officer watched a well-known associate of theirs to the Red Lion, in King-street, Holborn, and in that house they were captured on the morning of the 2nd of December. Upon inquiry it was ascertained that they had been staying there during a short time only, and that they passed as mercantile men. They occupied an upper room, where they kept their trunks; and they appeared to be possessed of plenty of money, an excellent wardrobe, and, indeed, they seemed to lack nothing to render their appearance highly respectable. Upon the introduction of Lea to the "gentlemen," they appeared astonished to find that he had discovered them, and, without hesitation, consented to accompany him; but Sullivan declared, that if he had been armed, nothing should have induced him to surrender himself alive. They were instantly taken to Lambeth-street, and Lea then commenced a search through the apartment which they had occupied. In their trunks he found a great variety of housebreaking implements, of the most ingenious construction. Files, centre-bits, spring saws, and every sort of tool used by "cracksmen" were among those which were discovered, while a pair of scales, calculated for ascertaining the precise weight of metals and precious stones, was also discovered to be in their possession. These, of course, were instantly seized by the officer, who, having further examined the room, and satisfied himself that nothing was concealed, retired from the house. A gold watch and a 10l. note were taken from the person of Jourdan, as being calculated to lead to the discovery of further evidence against him; and the circumstances of the apprehension of the two prisoners having been detailed to the magistrates, they were ordered to be remanded.
In the course of the subsequent investigation of the case, information was obtained with respect to the two prisoners, which exhibited them to be most determined and successful thieves. They were both Irishmen, and many years had not elapsed since they were known as common pickpockets in Whitechapel, associating with the very lowest classes of vagabonds in that notorious vicinity. With regard to Jourdan, whose real name was Leary, it was ascertained that four years before he had introduced himself to a Mr. Brace, a baker in Goodman' s-yard, Minories, one of the committee of management of an Irish free-school in the neighbourhood, and placing 12l. in his hands, had requested him to appropriate a weekly sum of five shillings towards the support of his mother (Mrs. Hart) and his half-sister, Mary Hart, who was then a pupil in the school. Mr. Brace at once consented to this, and Leary went away, saying that he was about to sail for America, but that he would soon send more money for the use of his mother, and to carry her and her daughter to meet him at New York. Some time elapsed before anything more was heard of him, but then a letter was received from him, containing a sum of money which Mr. Brace was requested to forward to Mrs. Hart, in order that she and Mary Hart might at once proceed to join him. The amount was amply sufficient to carry them to New York in good style, and thither they proceeded. From that time up to the year 1834 Mr. Brace had neither seen nor heard anything of them, but in that year Leary called to inquire whether there were any letters lying there for him from his mother. He came on horseback, was well dressed, and appeared to be in a respectable position in life; and he accounted for this change in his appearance by saying, that a Spanish gentleman, in whose service he had been, had died and left him a large sum of money; that he had taken the name of Jourdan, and had then just arrived from Virginia, having left his mother at New York. No letters had then arrived for him, and he went away; but shortly afterwards a letter was brought by the post from the landlord of a hotel in New York, announcing the death of Mrs. Hart. This letter was given to Jourdan upon a subsequent visit, and then he expressed his intention to send for his half-sister. Subsequently to this, Jourdan's wife called upon Mr. Brace, and saying that her husband was gone to Birmingham on a journey in pursuance of his trade as a travelling jeweller, requested to be permitted to leave with him a box of valuable papers, which she was afraid of having stolen from her house. They lived then in White-hart-row, Kennington, at a house which they had hired upon the representations of Mr. Brace as to their respectability, and Mrs. Jourdan declared that an attempt had been made to break into it. Mr. Brace expressed his willingness to take charge of the trunk, and it was sent to him; and, in the month of September 1835, Jourdan called upon him and deposited with him 100l. in 10l. bank notes, which he requested him to take care of for him until he should call for it, promising to give him six months' notice of his desire to have the money refunded. The box with its contents was given up to Lea, the officer, and the papers which he found in it, consisting of letters, memoranda, bills of parcels, and other documents, afforded him material assistance in tracing the notes which had formed a part of the booty in the Custom-house robbery, while, at the same time, they bore upon the face of them conclusive testimony of the fact of both Jourdan and Sullivan having for years carried on a system of plunder together, both in England and America, in which they had been highly successful, and by means of which they had amassed a very large sum of money.
Sullivan, it appeared, had been already indicted for a robbery at Macclesfield four years before, from the consequences of which he had escaped by breaking out of jail. He was apprehended in company with a man named Wilson, upon suspicion of having been concerned in a robbery upon the person of a Mr. Stephens, an Irish gentleman residing in Cork, in Vauxhall-gardens. The produce of the robbery, which consisted of notes and bills to the amount of 238l., was found in the pockets of Sullivan, and he was committed for trial for the offence. He managed, however, before many days had passed, to escape from the prison in which he was confined, and subsequently to America, where he joined Jourdan. Wilson, his fellow-prisoner, was tried for the robbery, but acquitted; but the indictment still remained in operation against Sullivan at the time of his apprehension on this charge.
The prisoners had undergone several examinations before the magistrate at Worship-street, when on Tuesday, the 29th of December, a piece of intelligence was conveyed to Mr. Hardwick which left no doubt of their having also been engaged in one or more very extensive robberies of jewels which had just before occurred. It was stated by Lea, that notwithstanding the pains he had taken to search the room which had been occupied by Jourdan and Sullivan at the Red Lion at the time of their apprehension, he now found that he had not done so effectually. Since the prisoners had been in custody at that office, infinite pains had been taken by their friends to procure admission to the room which they had occupied at the Red Lion. Persons, apparently recently arrived from a journey, would drive up in a coach and demand to be supplied with lodgings; but although this and many other ruses were resorted to, evidently with an object, the precise nature of which could not be discovered, all was in vain, and Mr. Proctor, the landlord, refused to admit any strange person to reside in his house. On Monday, the 28th of December, a Mr. Hanson, an old customer at the Red Lion, arrived in town, and, upon his presenting himself to the landlord, he was immediately shown to the long vacant apartment. A fire was kindled by the servant, and, in the course of the evening, the attention of Mr. Hanson was attracted to some brilliant substance which he perceived amidst the flames. With the tongs he drew it forth, and he perceived it to be a brooch, set with splendid pearls, which, however, was much injured by the fire. Further search presented to his view other articles of a similar description; and, in the course of a short time, he picked from the embers two other brooches, seven large brilliants, seven emeralds, one or two of which were of very great value, and about four dozens of small diamonds. This discovery, it may be supposed, excited great astonishment; but, upon its being communicated to the landlord of the house, the mystery was at once solved by his recollection of the former inmates of the apartment. Lea was instantly sent for; and, on his instituting a further examination, he found in a bag, suspended in the chimney, three massive gold chains of foreign manufacture, which he immediately recognised as answering the description of some chains which had been stolen from the warehouse of Messrs. Hall and Co., on the Custom-house Quay, in the previous month of February, when property of the value of nearly 8000l. was carried off. A renewed investigation brought other articles to light, and the anxiety of the strange visitors to the house was at once accounted for, while, at the same time, strong grounds of suspicion were excited that Jourdan and Sullivan had been parties to that robbery, and had secreted the produce of their depredation during their stay at the Red Lion, lest any accidental circumstance should reveal their possession of it.
It would be useless to go through the whole of the evidence which was from time to time adduced at the police-office against the prisoners. A great variety of minute facts were proved, which traced the possession of some of the stolen notes to them; but all doubts which might have existed as to their participation in the robbery, and as to the real circumstances of its commission, were at length satisfied by the confession of Mr. William Huey, a landing-waiter of the Custom-house, to whom also some notes had been traced. This statement was first made to Mr. J. Manning, surveyor-general of customs, and was confined to a declaration on the part of Huey, that he had received the notes which he was proved to possess at a gambling-house. No.1, Leicester-square. Subsequently, however, a more minute and more truthful confession was made by him, in which he gave the fullest account of all the proceedings antecedent to and attendant upon the burglary. This confession led to the apprehension of Mr. Henry Mott and Mr. William Scale, who also held situations in the Custom-house; and, after repeated examinations, in the course of which an enormous mass of evidence was collected, all four prisoners were at length fully committed for trial, on Friday, the 12th of February, 1836.
At the trial of the prisoners at the Central Criminal Court, which commenced on Wednesday, the 2nd of March, Huey was examined at length as to the circumstances of the robbery.
He said that he was a landing-waiter at the Custom-house, and had held that situation since the year 1827. Soon after his appointment he became acquainted with the prisoner Seale, whose office was similar to his own. After about six months, however, they quarrelled, and it was not until June 1834 that their difference was made up. They were then stationed at the London Docks; and after business they were in the habit of frequenting various public-houses. The Duke of Sussex at Peckham, The Royal Mortar, and the Castle in the Old Kent-road, were often visited, but they occasionally went to the Three Kingdoms near the Custom-house. Shortly after their reconciliation, Seale mentioned to him a design which existed to "crack" the Custom-house; and on the same afternoon they met the prisoner Mott at the Three Kingdoms; he was a clerk in the king's warehouse. Mott spoke of the subject as if it were a familiar one to him, and he advised that they should delay the intended robbery until an opportunity should present itself, when they might obtain a larger booty than they could then procure. This was agreed to by all parties, and although they subsequently frequently spoke upon the subject, the execution of their plan was deferred. In the following August, the witness went to see his father at Drogheda. He had previously been introduced to Jourdan and Sullivan, and he knew that the object of their introduction was, that they might assist in the project which they had in view. He met them in Dublin, and they inquired whether he had any means of assisting them in robbing the Custom-houses at Drogheda and at Dublin. He answered in the negative, and returned to London the same day; and on the 4th of September he resumed his occupation. He soon after met Mott and Seale at the London Docks, and the discussion of the subject of the robbery was resumed. After a short time they proceeded to Jourdan's lodgings, at No.3, East-street, Walworth, and acquainted him with their plans. He made various inquiries with regard to the contents of the strong box in the office of the Receiver of Fines, upon which it had been determined their attack should be made, and on the next day went with Sullivan to inspect the place. At a subsequent meeting they declared that it would be easy to commit the robbery; and Sullivan suggested that the best means of effecting their purpose would be to fit the locks with false keys. Mott said that he could procure impressions of one of the keys,-- that of the outer door; and at a meeting which they afterwards held, he produced the key of which he had spoken, saying that he had taken it from the desk of Mr. Billing, in the king's warehouse, who was out on leave. An impression of it was taken in wax by Sullivan, from which subsequently a skeleton key was made. The assistance of a fifth person was now spoken of, and Seale introduced a man named William May, or Morgan, (a thief, and the former companion of Jourdan and Sullivan). At the next meeting Sullivan produced the skeleton key, and said, that he and Jourdan had tried it and found that it would fit, but it was not strong enough, and a new and firmer key was ordered to be prepared. Seale then also showed them some padlock keys, one of which he suggested would open the padlock with which the door was fastened; but after impressions of them had been taken, and trials made with skeleton keys made from the model, it was found that none of them belonged to the lock which they desired to open. A suggestion was then made, that the best way to commit the robbery would be by "stowing away," by which was meant, hiding one of the party in the house, who could, undisturbed, secure the booty and then make his escape. May volunteered to conceal himself, and a proposal was made that they should again inspect the place In order to ascertain whether this could be done. The king's sale was now approaching, and Jourdan said that he should like to know what would be the probable amount of the contents of the box. This, it was observed, might be easily ascertained. One of the party could buy a lot at the sale, and going to pay for it, he could see what money was in the chest, by presenting a note of such an amount as that Mr. Walsh would not be likely to be able to give change without going to the safe. This was agreed to; and a lot of rum having been purchased for 11l., Jourdan took a 50l. note to pay for it. On the 26th of November he Informed his associates of his success in the project which he had undertaken. He said, that on his presenting the 50l. note, Mr. Walsh felt his pockets, and looked into his drawers, but finding that he had not got sufficient change, he went to the iron-chest. Having only one key, he was obliged to wait until the person who kept the other came down stairs; (it is the custom to have a double lock to the iron safes of public institutions, so that they cannot be opened except with the concurrence of two persons, each of whom has a key). He then took out a large cash-box, which he could only move with both his hands, and on its being opened there appeared to be about 3000l. in it at least. Jourdan gave his own name and address to be indorsed on the note which he paid; and having received the change, he went away satisfied with the observation he had made. Mott censured him for giving his own name, and observing that all the particulars were written in a book, it was agreed that when the robbery was effected, the book should be destroyed, by the leaves being cut out and burned. The final plans were then arranged, and it was decided that May should go to the Custom-house at a little before four o'clock accompanied by Jourdan and Sullivan, and that in the confusion which usually prevailed at the time of shutting the offices, the former should enter the Receiver's Office and conceal himself behind the door. On the next morning at nine o'clock, Jourdan and Sullivan were to be again in waiting, and having seen all safe, they were to give a signal to May, so that he might quit the place when the watchmen had opened the doors. Mott was also to assist in this design by keeping the clerks in his office, where they went to sign the appearance-sheet. If May got clear off, they were all to meet at Scale's house at Peckham on the same morning, to divide the booty. These arrangements being completed, they separated, and the witness remained away from business next day, on the pretended ground of ill-health. In the afternoon, Seale, and subsequently Jourdan and Sullivan, called on him and told him, that May had been safely "lodged;" that they had all walked into the passage together, and in the confusion had "flashed" an umbrella, under cover of which May entered the office. They afterwards waited on the esplanade for ten minutes to see that all was right, when seeing the doors locked, they went away. On the next morning, the 28th, witness went to Peckham, and meeting Seale, they went together to the Waterman's Arms, which commanded a view of the road by which Jourdan and the others must go to them. They remained there until they saw them coming, and then they went and met them, and they all proceeded to Scale's house together: Mott was not present. May then produced the money from his pocket, and it was divided into six equal parcels: it consisted of 4700l. in notes, 122l. in gold, and about 50s. in silver. May detailed to them the manner in which he had committed the robbery. He said, that as soon as he was locked in, he set to work: he found the key which opened the Receiver's lock to the chest, and employed it; but he was compelled to break open the other lock. Having done so, he took out the money and put it into his pockets. He next tore out the leaves from the book, and he now produced them. One of them bore the name "Leary, East-lane, Walworth," and that with the rest was burned. The whole party then tossed for choice of the lots of money, because some contained more gold than others; and the selection having been made, Jourdan and Sullivan claimed something for expenses. A 20l. note and some silver were paid them, as well as the 10l. note marked "Leary," and they with May went away. Seale then took the three remaining shares up stairs, saying, that he should send them out of town; and on the same evening he said that they were sixty or seventy miles off. In about a month afterwards, however, he told the witness that they were at Leicester, and he went and fetched them. The lots were then counted over, and the share of each was 743l. in notes. The witness further stated, that he disposed of all the notes under 20l. in amount to Jourdan at 20l. per cent, discount, and subsequently all under 100l. in value upon the same terms; and that having done so, he concealed the remainder in Camberwell churchyard, where they remained for several months. Seale then introduced a person who undertook to dispose of some of those which were left, on the Continent; and a portion of the notes was given to him, and he brought back cash. Seale took away what was left of his money, and the witness retained 900l. in three notes of the value of 300l. each. These he concealed in the panelling of one of the doors of his house, by boring a hole with a centre-bit, and then having introduced the notes, filled up the remaining space with a cork; and on his apprehension he disclosed the place of their concealment, and they were seized by the officers.
On his cross-examination, the witness declared that he had no object in making this disclosure, but that of saving his friends from disgrace. He did not desire to screen himself from punishment; but having committed so heinous a crime, he felt called upon to repair the mischief he had done so far as he was able.
In the course of this and the following days, a vast body of testimony was produced, which proved the transmission of a great part of the stolen notes to the Continent, and their negotiation there: the intimate connexion and acquaintance between the prisoners and Huey about the time of the robbery was also shown, and a great variety of other corroborative evidence was adduced.
The prisoners declared that Huey's story was untrue, and had been invented by him to screen himself; and attempts were made to show that at various periods of the transaction Jourdan and Sullivan had been at places which forbade their implication in the robbery. Other witnesses gave Mott and Seale a good character; but the jury, on Thursday night, found all the prisoners "Guilty," but recommended Mott and Seale to mercy.
On Tuesday the 8th of March, the prisoners received sentence of transportation for life; Jourdan and Sullivan being informed that they would be sent to a penal settlement, where they would be compelled to undergo the most severe and painful labour; while Mott and Seale were told that upon their arrival in the colony to which they were about to be sent, they also would be severely punished, by their being worked in road-gangs.
The distressing nature of Scale's position was rendered doubly painful by the sudden death of his wife on the Saturday after his conviction. The wives of all four prisoners were allowed a last interview with them on that day in Newgate. One of those who availed herself of the privilege was Seale's wife, who went there soon after ten o'clock on the above morning. She had a long interview with her husband, and appeared very much affected on being apprised by him that it was probable he would be transported for life. She afterwards proceeded home; but had scarcely entered the house where she had been lodging since her husband's incarceration, when she dropped down and almost instantly expired.
The convicts were subsequently conveyed to the penal settlements, where they were immediately placed in the positions of painful punishment which had been described to them by the learned judge at the time sentence was passed upon them. Reports afterwards reached England that Sullivan had escaped from custody immediately upon his arrival in Sydney. It appears that he secreted himself on board a Dutch vessel bound for England. But the period during which he retained his freedom was short; for the captain discovering him, put back to Hobart Town, and he was conducted to a place called Goat Island, from which no subsequent effort enabled him to retreat.