THOMAS BROCK, JOHN PELHAM, and MICHAEL POWER
Convicted of Coining, 25th of September, 1816
IN the year 1816, when Sir Matthew Wood was lord mayor of London, several conspiracies of a most diabolical nature were detected, and some of the conspirators punished. The conduct of the chief magistrate was such as to do honour not only to his understanding and ability, but to his disinterestedness and humanity.
The legislature, with the intention of stimulating the exertions of police officers, and inducing others to give information, had awarded certain rewards to the parties who should contribute to the conviction of offenders against the laws. The object was laudable, but it was capable of great perversion, and was liable to many objections; it gave the prosecutor an interest in the conviction of the accused, and on that account tended to impress the public with the belief that the condemnation, and not the acquittal of the prisoner, was the object of our criminal laws. It was too true that 'blood money', as this species of remuneration was emphatically denominated, did contribute in reality to the evil we allude to. But had not a development of unparalleled villainy put scepticism to flight, we could not have brought ourselves to believe that those who were paid to detect crime should be found the most active in seducing innocence and youth to its commission. Yet it is an indubitable fact that, for ten years preceding 1816, victims were brought up, session after session, to be convicted of crimes to which they were seduced by the very men who gave evidence against them, that they might revel on the 'blood money', or make use of it to provide other victims for the law.
The discovery of this diabolical system took place in the course of the trial of three men named Quin, Riorton, and Connolly; it appears that these unfortunate beings were detected in fabricating base shillings and bank tokens, and being brought to trial, they were convicted. During the examination of the witnesses for the prosecution, however, whose names appear at the head of this article, some circumstances came out, which induced a suspicion in the mind of the Lord Mayor that the prosecutors were in some way mixed up with the guilt of the prisoners. An investigation in consequence took place; but the convicts, on being confronted with their accusers, refused to say anything against them, saying that they were 'under an oath'. They were Irishmen and Catholics, and the rigid observance which they pay to an oath is well known; but a priest having at length persuaded them that they were not bound by such an oath administered unlawfully, they disclosed the whole particulars of the plot, and their accusers were in consequence secured.
The three new prisoners were then indicted for participation in the crime of their dupes, which amounted to high treason; and at the session held on the 25th of September 1816, were brought to trial at the Old Bailey.
A man named Barry then swore that Pelham had applied to him to get some men to make bad shillings, which Power, it was said, could colour. Barry said they must go to the market for them, which was in Cheapside, at the corner of King Street, where poor Irishmen were waiting for employment. Some days after, he went with Brock and Power to the market, when Quin and Riorton were engaged by them. Being told they could not be employed unless they would be sworn to secrecy, they took an oath on a piece of paper. A room was hired and tools procured by the prisoners, and the poor Irishmen were set to work to cut brass into the form of shillings, &c. under the superintendence of Power. Connolly was sent for to assist. He said to Barry, in Irish, 'We are doing a job that will hang us all', to which the latter replied that if he thought so he would not work another day at it. The Irishmen were then employed in colouring the metal, and everything being in readiness, notice was given, the officers entered, and the Irishmen were seized, tried, and found guilty.
Pelham's landlady proved that the scissors used by the Irish men in cutting through brass had been procured by her at Pelham's request. Another woman also swore that the hammer and files taken in the coining room had been sold by her to Brock and Pelham.
Brock, in his defence, declared his innocence. Power denied either going to the market or the room; and Pelham said the Barrys were noted perjurers, and the women were false witnesses.
The jury, without hesitation, however, brought in a verdict of Guilty, and the prisoners were transported.
The three Irishmen were then pardoned; and the Lord Mayor having interested himself in their behalf, a subscription was opened, and they were enabled to return to their own country and there to purchase small farms.