The Great Gold Robbery, 1855
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 station.
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 missing.
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 months.
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 France.
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 crossing.
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 Australia.
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 robbery.
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 officers.
In November 1856, a year and a half after they carried out the robbery, William Pierce, James Burgess and William Tester was arrested.
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 operation.