JOSEPH PLANT STEVENS
A Trickster, who was transported for robbing a Guileless Farmer, 25th of May, 1831
THIS fellow was one of the class called "magsmen." The robbery of which he was convicted sufficiently explains the name, and affords a good specimen of the arts of London sharpers. The trick to which he resorted has now become very stale and is sufficiently notorious; but flats are still to be found who foolishly submit to be robbed with their eyes open in the same manner.
At the Surrey Sessions, on the 25th of May, 1831, Joseph Plant Stevens was indicted for stealing thirty pounds from the person of Thomas Young, a farmer and hop-grower of Sevenoaks, Kent.
The prosecutor, who was an elderly man, stated that he was proceeding along Bishopsgate Street, when he was accosted by a well-dressed young man of diminutive stature, who asked him if he was not a hop-grower from Kent. The reply being in the affirmative, the stranger and he then entered into conversation, which turned to politics. After discussing the then all-absorbing Reform question, they proposed to call at the Three Tuns, in the Borough, near to which tavern they had now arrived, to have some gin-and-water. While they were drinking it the young man spoke of the respectability of his own family; he said he was a native of Brighton, and that he had come up to London to make some inquiries respecting a rich relative, from whom he had expectations. While sitting in the room conversing on the subjects alluded to the prisoner walked in and, seating himself at the same table with them, called for a glass of brandy-and-water. He affected to be a stranger. After sipping a little of his liquor he began to talk on the question of Reform. After he had passed a high eulogium on the King and his Ministers he began to talk about himself, and commenced by saying that he was a very lucky fellow, a Chancery suit having just been decided in his favour; he added that he had eight hundred pounds then in his possession, and that he had fallen heir to eight hundred pounds per annum by the decision of the Court.
The farmer, perceiving him take a roll of what appeared to be bank-notes out of his pocket, advised him strongly to put up the money again, telling him at the same time that London was infested with sharpers, and that if he did not take great care he would assuredly be "choused" out of it by some of the knowing ones, who lurked about in all quarters in search of their prey. The prisoner spoke in a broad country dialect. After the farmer had given him the advice just mentioned, the short young man, who no doubt was in league with the prisoner, said to the latter: "This is a nice steady old gentleman, and I think the least you can do is to present him with a gown-piece for his wife, as some acknowledgment for his good advice." The prisoner at once assented to the proposition, and, taking a guinea out of his fob, said that he thought it better to give the farmer a guinea for his wife, and she could then please herself as to the pattern. The prisoner desired the farmer to give him his purse, in order that he might place the guinea with the rest of the money. The farmer very foolishly did as he was required, and the result was that the prisoner, by a dexterous movement, slipped some tissue-paper into the purse in lieu of six five-pound notes which had been previously there. So skilfully was the trick managed that the farmer did not discover he had been robbed until some time after, when, visiting Mr Stevens, a hop-factor, in Union Street, and recounting to that gentleman the kind treatment he had experienced at the Three Tuns, the discovery was made of the tissue-paper being substituted for his Bank of England notes.
The jury found the prisoner guilty. After the verdict was delivered it was stated to the Court that a poor man from Oxfordshire, who was then in court, had been robbed by him in the previous November under similar circumstances.
The chairman said there was no doubt that the prisoner was one of a gang of thieves who had committed many robberies of this description; and, as it was necessary to make an example in this instance, the sentence of the Court was that he should be transported for life.