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The Newgate Calendar - JOHN HARRISON


An Assurance Corporation Accountant, who was convicted of Forgery in 1777, but afterwards received his Majesty's Pardon

MR HARRISON was accountant to the London Assurance Corporation, and it was his peculiar misfortune to be acquainted with a Mr Angus Mackey, a merchant in the city in an extensive way of trade, who, by urgent solicitations, prevailed upon the unsuspecting and good-natured man to lend him several sums belonging to the company, solemnly promising to return the money before he would have occasion to make up his accounts.

When the time appointed for the first payment arrived, instead of returning what he had already got into his possession, Mackey urged Harrison for a further supply, assuring him that he was in daily expectation of remittances, on the receipt of which he would return the whole sum that Harrison was deficient in his account with the company; adding that, if he met with a refusal, he must inevitably stop payment, which would necessarily occasion an exposure of Harrison's violation of the trust reposed in him by the company.

In this manner was the unfortunate man pacified for several months, during which time he supplied Mackey with different sums, amounting in the whole to seven thousand, five hundred and fifty pounds; and, to prevent detection, he inserted figures in the book containing the account between the Bank of England and the London Assurance Company, so that the bank appeared to be debtor for seven thousand, five hundred and fifty pounds more than had been paid there.

He sent a clerk with two hundred and ten pounds to the bank, and when the book was returned to him he put a figure 3 before the 2, which made the sum appear three thousand pounds more than was really paid; and similar alterations were made in other parts of the book.

A committee of the company being appointed to meet on Wednesday, the 9th of July, 1777, Mr Harrison mentioned the circumstance to Mackey, and told him that he would be utterly ruined unless the deficiency in the company's cash was made good before that day: but, notwithstanding the life and reputation of his generous and imprudent friend were at stake, he neglected to return the money.

About eleven in the forenoon of the day on which the committee was to be held, Harrison placed several account-books on the table of the committee-room, and had some conversation with Alexander Aubert, Esq., the deputy governor. When the committee was about to be opened Harrison absconded; and about ten minutes after the following letter was received by Mr George Hall, secretary to the company:--

I am distressed beyond expression, having forfeited everything that is dear to me, by an act of kindness to a friend who has deceived me. Enclosed is a state of my account with the company, which tortures my very soul to think of it. I know the Treasury will not forgive me, therefore don't care what becomes of me, as I dare not see them any more. God Almighty knows what will become of me, or where I shall fly for succour. Indeed, Mr Hall, I am one of the most miserable wretches living, but I have betrayed my trust, for which I never can forgive myself. When I parted with the money, it was but for a few days, or I would sooner have died than have parted with it; but, alas I I shall now severely pay for suffering myself to be drawn in to serve a friend who knew it was not my own, and saw the distress of mind it cost me when I did it. Please to present my humble duty to the gentlemen: tell them I can meet any death after this sooner than I can see them again, and am determined not to survive the shame. I am, dear sir, a lost, unhappy being. I am so bewildered that I scarce know what I am doing, but believe the enclosed account is not right, as I don't recollect that I am any way short of cash; but in truth I am not myself.

J. H.

When Harrison absconded he left upwards of one thousand, nine hundred pounds in his desk, and among his papers were found securities on behalf of the company to a great amount, besides a bond given to him by Mackey for seven thousand, five hundred and fifty pounds.

Notice being given at the office that Harrison was at a friend's house at Wapping, Mr Aubert went there in the evening, and found him in a state of mind little short of distraction. Mackey's bond was produced by Mr Aubert, and Harrison assigned it over to him as a security on behalf of the company. He accompanied Mr Aubert to the office, where two persons were ordered to attend him and prevent his putting an end to his life, which there was sufficient reason to suppose he would attempt; and the next morning he was taken before Sir John Fielding, who committed him to Tothill Fields Bridewell. He was re-examined the following Wednesday, and committed to Newgate in preparation for his trial.

He was tried at the Old Bailey in the September sessions, 1777, on an indictment for forgery, consisting of twenty-four counts; on twelve of which the jury pronounced him guilty. The prisoner's counsel objected to judgment being passed, on account of a supposed inaccuracy in the indictment and the matter was left to be argued by the judges.

Having remained in Newgate some months after his trial, Mr Harrison petitioned for the judges to meet, and that he might be heard by counsel. He was advised by an illustrious personage to waive the plea on which his petition was founded, and in consequence thereof the petition was immediately withdrawn. In a few days a messenger came to Newgate and delivered to Mr Harrison the agreeable news that his Majesty had been graciously pleased to grant him an unconditional pardon; and the same evening an order was delivered to Mr Akerman for his immediate enlargement.

Mr Harrison was brought up in a merchant's counting- house, and soon after the expiration of his apprenticeship he began business on his own account, and had a lime and coal wharf at Limehouse, where he carried on an extensive trade; but failing in that business, he engaged himself as a clerk to Mr Smithen, previous to that gentleman's undertaking to construct the Eddystone Lighthouse, and was entrusted with the care and management of all the money employed in that important work. His conduct under Mr Smithen was in every respect unexceptionable; and that gentleman and many other respectable persons used their interest to procure him the office of accountant to the London Assurance Company, in whose service he would in all probability have continued till his death but for his unhappy connection with Mackey.

Harrison had been accountant to the London Assurance Company nineteen years and a half when it was discovered that he had betrayed the confidence reposed in him; and till that period his character was without a blemish, and he was held in the highest esteem by all of his acquaintances.


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