Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Frederick Schmidt


Alterer of Bank-Notes

When persons sin out of ignorance there is great room for pity, and when persons suddenly become guilty of evil through a precipitate yielding to the violence of their passions there is still room for extenuation. But when people sin, not only against knowledge but deliberately, and without the incitement of any violent passion such as anger or lust, even as nothing can be said in alleviation, so there is little or no room left for compassion.

Frederick Schmidt was a person born of a very honourable and wealthy family at Breslau, the capital of the Duchy of Silesia in the north-east of Germany. They educated this their son not only in such a manner as might qualify him for the occupation they designed him, of a merchant, but also gave him a most learned and liberal knowledge, such as suited a person of the highest rank. He lived, however, at Breslau as a merchant for many years, and at the request of his friends, when very young, he married a lady of considerable fortune, but upon some disgust at her behaviour they parted, and had not lived together for many years before his death.

He carried on a very considerable correspondence to Hamburg, Amsterdam and other places, and above a year before had been over in England to transact some affairs, and thought it, it seems, so easy a matter to live here by his wits, that he returned hither with the Baron Vanloden and the Countess Vanloden. It is very hard to say what these people really were, some people taking Schmidt for the baron's servant, but he himself affirmed, and indeed it seems most likely, that they were companions, and that both of them exerted their utmost skill in defrauding others to maintain her.

The method they took here for that purpose was by altering bank-notes, which they did so dexterously as absolutely to prevent all suspicion. They succeeded in paying away two of them, but the fraud being discovered by the cheque-book at the bank, Schmidt was apprehended and brought to a trial. There it was sworn that being in possession of a bank-note of L25 he had turned it into one of L85, and with the Baron Vanloden tendered it to one Monsieur Mallorey, who gave him goods for it, and another note of L20. It was deposed by the Baron Vanloden and Eleanora Sophia, Countess Vanloden, that Schmidt took the last mentioned note of L20 upstairs, and soon after brought it down again, the word "twenty" being taken out; upon which they drew it through a plate of gummed water, and then smoothing it between several papers with a box iron, the words "one hundred" were written in its place. Then he gave it to the Baron and the interpreter to go out with it and buy plate, which they did to the amount of L40. It appeared also, by the same witnesses, that Schmidt had owned to the Baron that he could write twenty hands, and that if he had but three or four hundred pounds, he could swell them to fifty thousand. It was proved also by his own confession that he had written over to his correspondent in Holland, to know whether English bank-notes went currently there or not. Upon which he was found guilty by a party-jury, that singular favour permitted to foreigners by the equitable leniency of the Law of England. Yet after this he could hardly be persuaded that his life was in any danger; nay, when he came into the condemned hold, he told the unhappy persons there, in as good English as he could speak, that he should not be hanged with them.

For the first two or three days, therefore, that he was under sentence, he refused to look so much as on a book, or to say a prayer, employing that time with unwearied diligence in writing a multitude of letters to merchants, foreign ministers, and German men of quality and such like, still holding fast his old opinion that his life was not in the least danger; and when a Lutheran minister was so kind as to visit him, he would hardly condescend to speak with him. But when he had received a letter from him who had all along buoyed him up with hopes of safety, in which he informed him that all those hopes were vain, he then began to apply himself with a real concern to the Lutheran minister whom he had before almost rejected, but did not appear terrified or much affrighted thereat. However, quickly after, he fell into a fit of sickness and became so very weak as not to be able to stand. He confessed, however, to the foreign divine who attended him that he was really guilty of that crime for which he was to die, though it did not appear that he conceived it to be capital at the time he did it, nor, indeed, was he easily convinced it was so, until within a few days of his execution.

There had prevailed a report about the town that he had done something of the like nature at Paris, for which he had been obliged to fly, but he absolutely denied that, and seemed to think the story derived its birth from the Baron, who, he said, was an apothecary's son, and from his acquaintance with his father's trade, knew the secret of expunging waters. He added, that his airs of innocence were very unjust, he having been guilty of abundance of such tricks, and the Countess of many more than he. Thus, as is very common in such cases, these unhappy people blackened one another. But the Baron and the Countess had the advantage, since by their testimony poor Schmidt was despatched out of the way, and 'tis probable their credit at the time of his execution, was not in any great danger of being hurt by his character of them.

When he came to Tyburn, being attended in the cart by the Lutheran minister whom I have so often mentioned, he was forced to be held up, being so weak as not to be able to stand alone. He joined with the prayers at first, but could not carry on his attention to the end, looking about him, and staring at the other prisoners, with a curiosity that perhaps was never observed in any other prisoner in his condition what-so ever; neither his looks not his behaviour seemed to express so much terror as was struck into others by the sight of his condition. So after recommending to the minister by letter, to inform his aged mother in Germany of his unhappy fate, he requested the executioner to put him to death as easily as he could. He then submitted to his fate on the 4th of April, 1724, being in the forty-fifth year of his age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals