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Newgate Calendar - ALEXANDER DAVISON


Convicted of a Fraud to a Large Amount upon Government

            THE following case of enormity will again show, that as well as the crimes of petty thieves whom death awaits for stealing forty shillings, the greatest peculations, in their turn, become subject matter for our pages.

            Joseph Hunt, a member of Parliament, fled his injured country with thousands—nay tens of thousands—of its money in his pocket. Williers, and some others, whom hereafter we may more particularly note, became defaulters in immense sums, and followed a somewhat similar course; and should they be brought to the bar of justice, they are, perhaps, fined; and pay their ransom with the nation's money! meantime honest John Bull, hearing all these things, will often exclaim "How are we ruined."

            In the case of Mr. Davison, lest we bring down upon us the ire of a great man, we shall confine ourselves to reprinting a regular report of his trial; and merely observe, that we take it from "The News," of the 7th of December 1808.


Before Lord Ellenborough and a Special Jury.

            This long expected case came on to be tried before Lord Ellenborough and a special jury, when the following gentlemen were sworn:


R. Glasson, Esq.
Roughead, Esq.
Jas. Salt, Esq.
Jo. Jackson, Esq.
Rich. Grace, Esq.
Jo. Peales, Esq.
Jos. Scollier, Esq.
Jo. Sloper
Wm. Horton, Esq.
Jo. Kirk.
Jos. Wilson, Esq.
Jas. Swaine.

            Mr. Richardson opened the case on the part of the prosecution.

            The Attorney General followed on the same side. The defendant, in the year 1795, became agent for the Barrack Stores, and an agreement was entered into with General Delancy, the Barrack-master-general. His duty was to purchase all the articles which might be required for that department, for which he himself, in his letter of the 10th of January, to the Barrack-master-general, thought that 2½ per cent was fully sufficient as a commission for devoting his whole attention to the business. He continued in this situation, performing the duties of his station; and certainly no fault could be alleged against him, till the year 1798, when he began to manufacture the articles in demand, in large quantities, and charge them to government in the name of George Watson, who, it will appear, was his apprentice, and a young man about twenty years in his own employ; on these goods which he so sold, he directed Bowring, his principal clerk, to manufacture false vouchers, with a view to defraud the Barrack department; he also influenced John Allen, another clerk in his employ, to give receipts for large sums of money, pretended to be paid to Watson, so as to give the whole the appearance of a fair and bona fide transaction. This practice he continued till the change of the administration, in 1801 or 1802, when it was likely an investigation would take place, and it struck him that it would be advisable to change the mode of rendering his accounts, and soon after that he sent them in without charging the commission of 2½ per cent. on the goods he himself manufactured and sold.

            The jury would observe, however, that the charge of commission now alluded to was made in nine different half-yearly accounts, in each of which the defendant takes credit for commission on the of the purchase made by him. The same charge was also made in his general accounts, which contained the whole sums specified in all his particular accounts; in all of which, of course, this full commission was charged; and it was not till the year 1800, when the defendant had been questioned on these transactions, and when he found these fraudulent practices pressing hard on him, that he thought of restoring these sums of commission.

            He (the Attorney-General) should not have thought of judging so harshly of the defendant if he had not what he conceived a picture of the defendant's own thoughts in his conduct, and in written evidence under his own hand. The defendant, when he underwent an examination before the Commissioners of Military Inquiry, in December 1805, stated, that he had furnished some goods to government himself, but that for these he had charged no commission. This declaration, however, could not apply to the goods here alluded to. Subsequently to the year 1802, the defendant furnished goods to government professedly from his Bedford-street warehouse, and charged no commission on them, because the goods were known to have been furnished by him, were so furnished publicly, and the receipts of Mungo Sheddon, his managing clerk, were given for the price. But should it be said to-day, that he meant this to apply to goods furnished in the name of another person, who, though his own servant, had rendered invoices and receipts in another name? And, after charging commission on these purchases, now say that it was his intention again to credit government with the sums of commission so charged. He should be sorry to hear such a defence set up this day, because it must call from him some observations which he could wish might be spared. But it was said, the defendant intended to debit himself with these sums in another account.

            The Attorney-General had stated, that the defendant was examined by the commissioners of Military Inquiry, and was questioned, whether he had not made some overcharges against government, and had also omitted to give items which he had received. On this occasion, finding that these accounts were to be strictly gone into, the defendant had himself made a strict investigation into the state of his accounts, with the object of correcting any mistakes or omissions which might have crept into them, and accordingly on the 15th of May, 1806, gave in a supplemental account, as between himself and General De Lancey, which begins with stating, on the credit side of the account, a former balance due to the defendant of upwards of nine thousand pounds, and then, by giving, on the other side, a variety of sums with which he should formerly have debited himself, but which should have been omitted, besides wiping away the balance formerly standing in the defendant's favour, of upwards of nine thousand pounds, produces a balance against him of upwards of six thousand pounds, thereby creating a difference in favour of government of upwards of fifteen thousand pounds. Here was a sum produced to government by the defendant, in consequence of his looking into his accounts with a scrutinizing eye, thinking that he could do so with a better grace himself than by suffering it to be examined by the Commissioners. If any person thought, however, that he (the Attorney-General) stated this with a view to create a prejudice against the defendant, he erred. He only stated it for the purpose of showing, that if the defendant had entertained any idea of restoring the sums of commission alluded to, a fairer opportunity than that he had now mentioned could hardly have occurred; and therefore, that to say it was the intention of the defendant to return these sums of commission, which had been unjustly detained, was an afterthought. He was satisfied the defendant had no such intention till after the discovery, in consequence of which the present action was brought, had been made. And why? because he thought the fraud could not be detected, and that he was fortified by the bill of parcels and receipts which he had produced.—Did the Court and jury require any further evidence that the defendant did not intend to restore this commission? If they did, he should give it them. If he had intended to do so, he would have done it immediately. The Commissioners of Barrack Accounts had asked of the defendant to produce his cash account, which referred to these matters. He refused to do so; but, at the same time, he thought it necessary to state an excuse for this refusal, and what was his reason? Because his accounts had all been tendered, settled, and the balance paid. If he had wished to return the sums in question, here was an opportunity. But such was not in his contemplation. On the contrary, when asked to produce his cash account, he says, "You have no right to look into my accounts. They are all tendered, examined, and the balance paid!" Yet he was to be told to-day, that it was in the mind of the defendant to give credit to government in another account.

            Mr. Thomas Bonnar, secretary of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry, produced the agreement, and the subsequent nine half-yearly accounts, with other vouchers rendered to the Barrack Board, wherein he charged large quantities of stores, bought from George Watson, and the different receipts, as proof of payment for the same, signed by John Allen.

            William James, clerk to Mr. Lodge, (the packer employed) proved the various returns made by his employer, of the stores forwarded; and that a great part of them came from the defendant's warehouse in Bedford-street, in the name of Mungo Sheddon, who had been manager of Mr. Davison's army clothing concerns. He knew Watson, who was a clerk in that warehouse; and did not think he was, at the time, in any condition to buy or sell goods. He always considered, that they were manufactured at the Bedford-street warehouse, and belonged to the defendant, though the half yearly returns were made in the name of Mungo Sheddon, the manager; and after wards in that of George Watson.

            John Allen stated, that he came to Mr. Davison's employ in 1800, as a clerk, and the receipts produced to him, dated in 1798 and 1800, he declared he signed by desire of Mr. Bowring, as receiving large sums of money in the name of George Watson. He never knew Watson till he saw him after he engaged with Davison. He was not in any way of business, nor had any means of doing any; he was merely an apprentice. On cross-examination he said the bedding and towels were the only articles furnished, but there was no secrecy observed throughout the whole transaction; they were all manufactured in the warehouse in Bedford-street. Here the case on the part of the prosecution closed.

            Mr. Dallas, for the defendant, made a speech of more than two hours, wherein he appealed to the jury, in very forcible language, on the great propriety of discarding from their minds the abuse which they had been accutomed to read for some months past in the newspapers against the defendant, as his future honour and happiness depended on the impartiality of their verdict. He then took a view of the manner in which the Barrack Department had been conducted previous to the year 1805, when a great variety of frauds had been committed, to the injury of the public; but when General De Lance had been appointed, that evil became the object of his attention. "With a view to remedy the inconvenience, he appointed Mr. Davison sole agent, to buy all the stores, and to transact the whole business, for which he was to have 2½ per cent. commission. In the year 1798 the demand for barrack stores became so great, that the articles could not be procured in the market; and by a new agreement entered into with the Barrack-Master-General, Mr. Davison was ordered to supply them himself. Being an army clothier, he possessed every facility and advantage, and for which he was allowed to charge the commission originally agreed on. These important facts would be proved by General De Lancey, whom he would call, and whose testimony would place his client in a very different light, with respect to his transactions with the public: independent of which he had other witnesses to call, who would also prove that the articles supplied were charged 3 per cent. under the prices charged by others, so that the public gained, instead of losing by the transaction. The defendant employed one thousand workmen, and he acted under a new, positive, and particular agreement; and his reason for making out his accounts in the way that he did, was by the suggestion of his clerk, as conformable to the original agreement, and the Barrack regulation. Lord Ellenborough. —"What do you say to the answer to a question of the Military Commissioners, in which Mr. Davison denies the existence of any other agreement than that first concluded; it will be material for you to observe upon that before you sit down, as you will have no opportunity of doing it afterwards." Mr. Dallas said, that he would not overlook that. The General would tell them that there was a second agreement. Supposing the existence of this, the next question would be, whether Mr. Davison was not entitled to commission on what he furnished from his own stores, as well as what he purchased from others. The charge was for frauds and the defendant must be acquitted, if he either was entitled to commission, or had reasonable ground to suppose that he was so entitled.

            General De Lancey proved that he appointed the defendant as agent to Barrack Stores in the year 1795; he at the time had no knowledge of him, but meeting him at public offices, where he was considered as a very active punctual man in all his transactions. He acted as agent till 1798, when the demand for barrack stores was so great, that he allowed him to supply the articles from his own stores in Bedford-street. The patterns and the prices were submitted to the witness, and approved of. The whole was, except this deviation, conducted on the principle of the old agreement as to the commission. He had no suspicion of his acting fraudulently; on the contrary, he had the greatest confidence in his skill and activity, and he still thought so.

            Cross-examined by the Attorney-General.—Patterns and prices were in most cases sent in and approved of; but he made no enquiries in order to ascertain the prices of the day. He did not make any enquiries among those who had been stated by Davison to have supplied him, about their prices. If the supplies were furnished at a reasonable rate, he did not think it material from whom they came. Being asked, whether he thought it immaterial that the checks should be lost? he answered, that if Mr. Davison furnished the stores at the market prices there could be no harm done to the public. Being asked, whether he relied on Mr. Davison's judgment when it became his interest to raise the prices as high as possible he: he replied, that he never considered it as a certain conclusion that Mr. Davison would raise the prices.

            Attorney-General.—But it was his interest to raise the prices.
            Witness.—I saw no objection to the business, if Mr. Davison did not exceed the prices which others had tendered. Attorney-General.—Mr. Davison checked as an agent; how did you agree that he should charge commission, on his own supplies, as well as on what he purchased?
            Witness.—That depends upon the construction that may be put upon the agreement.
            Attorney-General.—That won't do, Sir.
            Lord Ellenborough.—You must answer the question directly, whether or not you authorised him to charge commission upon the stores furnished by himself.
            Witness.—I did not authorise him.

            General De Lancey, in continuation said, that he never knowingly passed an account where commission was charged on Mr. Davison's own stores; nor would he ever knowingly, pass such an account. He certainly understood that the second agreement gave Mr. Davison no permission to make such a charge; but at the same time Mr. Davison might have made out a case which would require consideration. If such a case had been submitted to him he would have considered it, or referred it to those under whom he acted. But the case never occurred.

            Re-examined by Mr. Wilson.—Nothing was said in the second agreement about commission, as far as he recollected; but he understood that it was not to be charged on Mr. Davison's own stores.

            By the Attorney-General.—He knew that Davison must have furnished stores of his own; but he relied on the accuracy of the accountants, and signed the accounts without examining whether double commission had been charged.

            Examined by the Court.—He did not authorise Mr. Davison to charge double commission, and if Mr. Davison, had done so, he would have considered it as a breach of the agreement. He never knew of the fictitious merchants, Allan, Watson, &c. nor ever knew that false names, were given in. He would have considered it a breach of public duty if he had knowingly passed accounts under such circumstances.

            John Bowring was then called.—He was book-keeper to Mr. Davison at the office in St. James's square. Mr. Davison had various other concerns to a great extent. Mr. Davison began to supply the Barracks in 1795, two or three weeks before he came to him, and from his own stores in 1798.

            Lord Ellenborough told the witness that he was not bound to answer any question that might criminate himself.

            Mr. Davison directed him to make out the account in the name of Watson. He had said nothing about the matter till the witness had suggested the difficulty. What Mr. Davison supplied was from 2½ to 3½ per cent on the average, below the price at which the same articles were procured from other persons. All that Mr. Davison supplied on his own account was made up at the Bedford-street warehouse, where he had carried on business as an army clothier. In the first half year of 1808 the accounts were drawn up different from that in which they had been made up in 1798 to 1802. The reason was, that in the interval of 1802, when no supplies were delivered, he spoke to Mr. Davison about altering the accounts. He had some doubts, whether the commission would be allowed on the supplies from their own warehouse, and suggested the consideration, whether the charge ought not to be withdrawn. At the outset he thought the charge perfectly regular. But he had some doubts afterwards, and mentioned the subject to Mr. Davison. Upon that Mr. Davison advised him to get the accounts back again, and to make the proper alteration; remarking at the same time, that if he erred, he had rather err on the right side. He applied twice to Mr. Starbank at the Barrack-office, but could not get the accounts back again; but Mr. Starbank said, that the credit might be given in some future account. Mr. Davison desired him to keep it in mind, and credit it in the account current with the Barrack-Master-General. No commission was charged in the subsequent accounts for supplies from the Bedford-street warehouse. A supplemental account was given in, but the credit was not: given, owing to a neglect of his.

            Cross-examined by Mr. Garrow.—No memorial was sent in to the Barrack-Master-General, desiring that the accounts might be corrected. Mr. Davison merely desired it to be kept in mind and credited. They had always an open account with the Barrack Master-General. Mr. Davison desired him to get the accounts made out in the names of Watson and Allan, as a matter of form. The first receipts of Allan and Watson had been taken for several half years after the accounts had been delivered in. These receipts were upon stamps, as if they had been regular transactions. When he ceased to charge commission he made Davison debtor to his own house.

            Lord Ellenborough.—Is there any reason why the name of Watson should have been used rather than have the account drawn up in the regular way, except for the purpose of getting the commission?

            Witness—I do not know any except what I have stated.

            Mr. Starbank was next called, who proved that Bowring had called at the office for the accounts, which he had refused to deliver, conceiving it his duty not to part with them. There was a supplemental account given in, in which many errors were rectified.

            Mr. Dallas—Your Lordship recollects that the inquiry did not take place till 1805, whereas the application for accounts was in 1803.

            Lord Ellenborough—"Yes; but in that very year 1803, other enquiries were going on, which might occasion the dread of detection."

            The witness proceeded to state, that he did not recollect that anything had been said by Bowring about improper vouchers. The supplemental account was stated in 1806, and referred back to 1804, the time when General De Lancey left the office.

            Lord Moira was called to character. He had known Mr. Davison for a great many years, but was not particularly acquainted with him till he applied to him to accompany the army which he commanded in the last war, as Commissary-General. He had requested this of him as a favour, and his conduct was punctual and delicate, for he often sacrificed emoluments to which he was fairly entitled. He had no suspicion that he could be guilty of any fraud; for if he had, he would not have applied to him to accept of the office of Treasurer of the Ordnance, which was no object to him, for by accepting this he lost his half pay as Commissary, and the difference between the full pay of the Treasurer of the Ordnance, and the half pay as Commissary, was only 70l.

            Sir Evan Nepean, Sir Andrew Snape Hammond, Sir William Rule, the Hon. Wellesley Pole, Mr. John Martin Leake, Mr. Hunter, Mr. John Cowley, Mr. William Smart, Mr. James Davidson, Mr. Black, Mr. Gilpin, Mr. Long, and Mr. Huskisson, also gave the defendant an excellent character, and declared that they would have thought it very unlikely that he should be guilty of a fraud. The Attorney-General in reply regretted as much as the counsel for the defendant, that there had been any calumnies which had gone abroad in prejudice of the defendant's case; but of this he was certain, that no one would impute to the crown the design of assisting in them; for his own part he had not read them, and he was sure the jury would dismiss them from their minds. He concurred also with his learned friend in desiring, that if the jury could have a doubt upon the case, they should incline the balance in favour of the defendant. As to the character which had been just given to the defendant, it could not in such a case have any weight, except in bringing to one's mind the melancholy reflection, that many men, who have maintained the best character through a great part of their lives, do not put a sufficient value upon the preservation of it, and do omit to take the advantage, and often commit offences, especially against government, with the hope of secrecy and impunity, for the sake of some paltry advantage of private gain. Every man finds friends to give him a character till the very moment when he ceases to deserve it; and that moment has now unhappily arrived for the defendant. With respect to the grounds upon which the defendant's counsel had rested his case, he was not inclined to be dissatisfied with them, although they did not appear to be sufficiently comprehensive. In Lodge (the packer's) account, the names of the merchants occur truly, and there stands the article as goods furnished by Sheddan; Watson's name was introduced afterwards in the Barrack-office return; and it is important that in the first account rendered, this name was written upon an erasure, for most probably Sheddan's name was originally inserted there, and the putting in the name of Watson was an after-thought. What reason has been given for this by the defendant's counsel, except that it was for the purpose of enabling him to charge the commission. For this purpose Bowring is brought forward to volunteer a satisfactory account how the mistake arose, and it will be proper to take him through his whole account, reserving that part in which he is flatly contradicted for the last observation. The reason why he substituted this name, is said to be, that he observed how strange it will be for you to appear to sell goods for yourself; and therefore for mere form sake they fabricate receipts, and for mere form put Davison to the expense of stamps, to make it all appear regular. This fabrication happened after the accounts were delivered, and in 1802 there took place a strong investigation into the public accounts, and from that time he renders his accounts Alexander Davison, debtor to the Bedford street warehouse, and the receipt is by Sheddan for the Bedford-street warehouse. As to the reason for this change, and the application to Starbank at the Barrack office, it is obvious that Bowring has built a false story upon that which is perhaps a true transaction; for it is not true that he stated to Starbank that he wanted to deduct the overcharge of commission. There were other gross errors in the accounts to the amount of upwards of fifteen thousand pounds which were ripe for detection; and upon Starbank's refusing to give up the accounts, he did by a supplemental account give credit to government for various items to the amount of 15,479l. and one may judge of the correctness of what he states without contradiction, by the falsehood of that in which he is met by another witness. His evidence is nothing, without he can show, that he stated to Starbank what he wanted the accounts back for, and he says, he told him it was to correct the commission account; but Starbank says, most certainly he did not so state it. Starbank recommending him to make allowance for errors in some future account, he says, he told Davison; and he said, bear it in your mind and send it in some future account, instead of which he never sent that in, although from the transaction since he had opportunities of correcting it. He, Davison, is then called before the commissioners—his accounts are questioned, and he swears in express terms that he executed his commission on the terms of his agreement made in 1794, and that there was no new agreement, or anything in nature of an agreement, between him and General De Lancey. Now notwithstanding what De Lancey might have thought of the effect of the supposed subsequent agreement, as to charging commission, if Davison felt that a new agreement for commission upon his own supplies was to be inferred from it, how could he have sworn to this? In truth he never looked forward to his present situation. He thought then, and justly too, that it was not discovered that Watson and Allan were fictitious merchants, and supposed that the fraud never would be detected; and therefore never thought of talking of a new agreement then. If this was a mistake, he had opportunities of rectifying it. To-day I put the case upon the fact, that from 1797 to 1802, he did render goods of his own to government, and charged a commission. I thought it might be said to be a mistake, and prepared myself to meet that case. But it is answered for me by the defendant; for instead of showing that it escaped his attention, he has proved by Bowring that it occurred to him as doubtful whether he could charge it or not; that he bethought himself of the error, and intended to settle it. If that was true, how could Davison himself swear, as he did, in the answer to the 36th question of the commissioners in 1805, that he never did render goods from his own warehouse and charge commission upon them. Does he not rather stand in the situation of a man who had done wrong, and thought himself so armed with false vouchers as to be able to escape detection? A second time he has an oppportunity of correcting the error, when on the 23d of November, 1806, he retires behind the trenches of his settled accounts, and makes a balance against himself of 6047l. 17s. 11d. which he pays in about May 1806; and when he is afterwards required to render a cash account, he says, they have no right to call upon him for any inquiry into that account, and holds the commissioners at arm's length, telling them that the account has been settled a long while, and the balance paid. There are, therefore, three occasions on which he had an opportunity of setting the account right, all of which he passes by. What was it that induced him to do this? It must have its true name—it was a gross fraud. It is true, he obtained permission to make "some sort of a change in the agreement" from General De Lancey, which did change his character. By his change of character he took a profit six or seven times greater than his commission. And the additional charge of commission could not be allowed, without De Lancey was imposed upon by false vouchers, which was easily effected. For a general account only is sent into General De Lancey, and there the commission is charged, but it does not directly meet the eye. In the abstract sent to the office, six hundred pounds, supposing that to be the amount of the goods supplied, is charged, and underneath is added fifty pounds for commission; but in the general account it stands as one sum of six hundred and fifty pounds. De Lancey could therefore know nothing of the charge of commission, and Starbank thought all was regular, because he did not know that Watson was not truly a merchant, whose name he saw as the supplier of goods, and not Davison's—This is necessary to be explained, because otherwise De Lancey may be under the imputation, that, notwithstanding he was of opinion, that it would be wrong to charge commission, he must have seen commission charged upon the whole account, and also have known that Davison supplied part at least of the goods. One may be well satisfied, said the Attorney General, that this cause did not call for so long an answer, but it is for a cause of very great importance for the public, and it is not a light case as to the effect which it will have in giving security to the public against frauds in public accounts. It may not be easy to trace those effects immediately; but if frauds are permitted to go unpunished, impunity in one instance leads to the commission of many others, and the example of punishment can alone check the evil. In the words of the indictment, it is now clear, that, with intent to procure to himself an undue commission, this defendant did render to the public-office these false receipts and vouchers.

            Lord Ellenborough summed up the case very carefully, without attempting to recapitulate all his observations upon the evidence, which would lead us back through the greatest part of the foregoing statement. He dwelt with much impartiality and discrimination upon the principal features of the case, and said it was admitted that the vouchers were false, and that the charge for commission could not be allowed. How false vouchers could be used with an honest intention, could not be perceived. Honest ends seldom, if ever, require dishonest means. As to professed intentions of rendering back the money in some subsequent account, if the fraud was once committed by the production of false vouchers, that would not be a defence; but, still, if there was an honest intention of repairing the error, that would strongly beat an appeal to the hearts of all men. This, however, did not appear; for when the defendant had a locus paenitentiae, and might have corrected the error which his recollection brought back to the subject, he did not correct the account. His corrections applied only to 15,479l. for other errors. As to the defence upon the right to charge commission under a new agreement, he said he waited for the evidence with great anxiety, because it was not consistent with his own oath, in the answer to the 6th question; and if such an agreement had been proved, it would have been open to great suspicion of a collusion with General De Lancey. The evidence of that gentleman had, however, disproved that part of the case. After his Lordship had gone through the evidence, the counsel for the defendant took an objection to the information, that it stated that Mr. Davison was entitled only to commission upon the sum charged for the goods, instead of which he was to have a commission on all charges of insurance, freight, and other sums advanced. But his Lordship thought this immaterial, as it was only necessary to state what was material to the fact charged, and as it was charged that he supplied goods to a certain amount, and received 328l. as commission upon the price of those goods, which was true, it was immaterial whether in fact he made other charges and had other commissions. He said he recollected a case of the name of Yate v.——(Yate v. Willan we believe, in East's Report) in which that point was settled. The jury, between seven and eight o'clock, pronounced a verdict of Guilty.

            This trial lasted from nine in the morning until eight at night. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment.


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