This unfortunate young man, at the time of his conviction, was only thirty years of age, and he had, for a considerable period, carried on business in his profession as an attorney, in Chancery-lane. He was of a highly respectable family, residing in Yorkshire; and the forgery of which he was convicted, was that of a power-of-attorney for the transfer of stock, which formed the subject matter of the settlement of his brother, the Rev. Mr. Peacock, on his marriage with Miss Selina Willmar.
On Wednesday the 21st of September, 1836, the prisoner was placed upon his trial at the Central Criminal Court, upon this charge.
The evidence adduced against him consisted of proof of the execution of the deed of settlement, by which the Rev. W. A. Fountain, Mr. W. Watkins, and the prisoner, were made trustees for Mrs. Peacock, for an amount of 7,814l., in the three per Cent. Consols; and it was further shown that on the 7th of December, 1835, the stock was sold out by the prisoner, through the medium of Mr. Clark, a broker, a power-of-attorney being produced, signed with the names of Mr. Watkins, the Rev. Mr. Fountain, and the prisoner. The two former names subsequently proved to be forgeries; and it was ascertained that there were no such persons in existence as those who purported to have affixed their signatures as attesting witnesses to the execution of the power.
The case for the prosecution being closed, the prisoner proceeded to address the court and jury from a written paper. He began by declaring that he was fully aware of his offence, and had never attempted to deny it; and the feeling by which he was influenced in avowing his guilt thus early was to save his relatives and friends from the pain which a full exposure of all the circumstances of the case must have caused them. He could, however, assure the jury, that necessity, not inclination, had led him to the commission of the act. He found himself surrounded by pecuniary difficulties, and the ruin with which he was threatened would not only have destroyed his professional prospects, but his wife and child, his aged and venerable parents, and respectable family, would have been involved in his misfortune. To save them and himself, he was induced to adopt the desperate expedient by which he was placed in his present situation. He considered, however, that he was only making a temporary use of the money, and that fact, he thought, must be apparent to every one, because, had he contemplated a felony, he might have at once absconded, instead of which he kept his ground for several days before and after the discovery took place. He should not trouble his lordship and the jury with a detail of his complicated troubles; but he was desirous to advert to a few circumstances connected with his life, in order to show the difficulties in which he had been placed. The prisoner then went on to state, that he was admitted an attorney in the year 1830, and commenced business in London under the most cheering auspices, but he had not been long in practice when he lost 1500l. and was further compelled to pay 600l. in consequence of his having become security for a friend. He was then obliged to accept bills, in the hope of being thus enabled to extricate himself from his difficulties; but, unfortunately, this course only added to them, for when the bills became due, being unable to answer them, he was compelled to borrow large sums of money to meet his liabilities, and last year he found that he had incurred debts and suffered losses to the extent of 5000l. A great proportion, however, of the money he had borrowed was expended in the maintenance of his family and the support of his professional respectability. In order to redeem his losses, he conceived the plan of appropriating his brother's property to his temporary use; and such was his misplaced confidence in his own abilities, that he anticipated he should have been enabled, in a very short time, to emerge from his difficulties, and replace the money in the bank. He felt assured that, if he could prove to his brother his ability to do so, he would be perfectly satisfied, and he had not the most remote idea that the Bank of England would suffer any loss by the transaction. All his speculations, however, proved abortive. Loss succeeded loss, and at the time he was taken into custody, he was almost without a pound. Fallen, however, as he was from a situation of respectability to his present degradation, and sunk as he must appear in his own eyes and those of the jury, he nevertheless threw himself on their merciful consideration. His brother was now quite aware that it was his intention to have replaced the stock, and he most solemnly assured the jury that he had firmly resolved to do so. He begged leave to thank the Governor and Company of the Bank of England for granting him time to prepare for his trial, and he begged to repeat that he never contemplated a fraud on that establishment, and that, in fact, he had no intention to wrong any party. He did not, however, attempt to justify his motives, because, whatever might be the intention, it was neither an excuse nor a defence for an offence committed against the laws of God and man: that he had deeply suffered for his crime, the days and nights of remorse and mental agony he had endured might testify, and perhaps it might yet be his fate to suffer the still greater misery of being cut off from the world by a sudden and degrading death, to appear before his offended Maker with all his imperfections on his head, and all his sins to atone for. [Here the prisoner, who appeared deeply affected, was unable for some moments to proceed.] He trusted that the jury would humanely consider the awful situation in which he was placed, and the consequent disadvantages under which he unfortunately laboured. He implored them most earnestly to accompany their verdict with a recommendation of mercy, and that they would weigh and consider well before they decided on consigning a fellow-creature to a premature grave. He trusted that they would not forget he had a wife and child. (Here the unfortunate man dropped his head, and burying his face in his handkerchief, sobbed bitterly.) He hoped the jury would bear in mind, also, his two respectable and venerable parents, one of whom, bowed down by age and affliction, was tottering on the verge of the grave: and it was much to be feared that the grey hairs of his other parent would be brought with sorrow to the tomb. Besides these ties, he had a large circle of friends, to whom his disgraceful end would afford a lasting pang. Let the jury, then, consider all this. Let them weigh well the consequences of their decision, and he hoped that they would be influenced by that humane and merciful feeling which they would wish to see exercised in their own cases. In conclusion, he prayed that the great and merciful Father, who read the secrets of all hearts, would influence their decision in favour of the humble, wretched, and repentant individual who pleaded for mercy before them.
Several most respectable individuals, including clergymen, barristers, merchants, and solicitors, came forward and gave the prisoner an excellent character for strict honesty, honourable and upright dealing in his profession, and the highest respectability of conduct in every relation of life.
The Lord Chief Justice summed up the evidence.
The jury having retired for about ten minutes, returned into court and delivered the following verdict:--"We find the prisoner Guilty; but the jury are unanimous in their wish to recommend him strongly to mercy, on account of his previous good character."
On Monday, the 26th of September, the prisoner received sentence of death; but a subsequent consideration of all the circumstances of the case procured for him a merciful mitigation of his punishment to transportation.