The Great Gold Robbery, 1855
In 1855, four men committed one of the most audacious crimes of
the century, stealing £12,000 (close to a £1million today) from a
London Bridge train bound for Paris.
On the night of 15 May 1855, Chaplin & Co. Carriers were
transporting three boxes of gold from London, via Folkestone and
Boulogne, to Paris. Each solidly constructed box was weighed and
sealed at the carriers' office and taken to the London Bridge
At the station they were placed in travelling safes made of iron
and secured with two locks. The safe keys were entrusted to railway
staff in London and Folkestone and also to the captain of the
cross-channel steamer. It was the practice to load the safes with
the guard on the night train from London to Folkestone.
Discovery of the crime
When the boat reached Boulogne, the safes were unlocked with the
captain’s keys and the boxes were taken out and weighed. None of
the boxes showed any sign of interference, but one weighed forty
pounds less than it should have done.
They were transferred to the Chemin de Fer du Nord, a rail
transport company, for the remainder of the journey to Paris. On
arrival, the safes were opened and it was discovered that the boxes
were full of lead shot. Gold bars to the value of £12,000 and a
quantity of gold coins, including American 10-dollar pieces, were
Extensive enquiries were made along the whole route from London to
Paris and officers of the Metropolitan Police, South Eastern
Railway Police, the French police and other Forces, through whose
territory the consignment had passed, investigated for many
The investigation begins
A large reward was offered by the South Eastern Railway, rumours
abounded and false scents were endlessly pursued. For a long time
the official theory was that the robbery was committed in
Hundreds of suspects were questioned. The French police made
careful inquiries and concluded that the robbery must have been
committed during the train journey in England or during the channel
They were able to point to the discrepancy in the weight at
Boulogne immediately after the bullion boxes were removed from the
safes, which had been unlocked with the captain’s keys.
At one time suspicion rested on the railway staff at Folkestone,
where the bullion boxes had actually been left in an accessible
office during the night.
Suspicion was also directed to the guard, James Burgess, in
whose van the boxes had travelled. Burgess, had worked in the
railway service for thirteen years and had a good character. He was
questioned by police officers, but nothing he said threw any light
on the mystery.
It appeared this crime would remain unsolved until a significant
piece of good fortune meant the police could bring three of the
four perpetrators to justice.
The fourth man, Edward Agar, implicated the other three after
he'd been sentenced to life after being found guilty of forgery for
his part in a separate crime.
He asked his friend William Pierce, an accomplice of his in the
Great Gold Robbery, to pass on some money to Fanny Kay, the mother
of his child, after he was sent to fulfil his sentence in
Agar had given him at least £7,000, but Fanny didn’t receive a
penny of it and by the summer of 1856 was destitute. When Fanny
realised that Pierce had stolen her money, she went to the governor
of Newgate Prison and made a statement to Mr Rees, a solicitor
acting on behalf of South Eastern Company.
Fanny implicated Pierce and his two other accomplices, James
Burgess and William Tester to the crime, and Agar supported her
claims, making a statement describing the details of the bullion
The investigation that followed Kay and Agar’s revelations was
directed by Rees who was assisted in London by Inspectors
Williamson and Thornton, two respected Metropolitan police
In November 1856, a year and a half after they carried out the
robbery, William Pierce, James Burgess and William Tester was
In January 1857, the three appeared at the Old Bailey, with Fanny
Kay and Edward Agar testifying against them.
Agar gave his evidence clearly and convincingly. He admitted
that he had planned and carried out the most difficult part of the