Nowadays bankers are held in low esteem – hardly a day goes by without stories of their dubious morality. So, why don’t we just hang them? After all, we used to… the last crooked banker to meet his maker this way was Henry Fauntleroy, who went to the gallows for forgery (the last man to do so for that offence) on 30th November 1824 aged 40.
Henry Fauntleroy, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Fauntleroy was the son of a Dorset bank clerk who helped form a private bank in London (at Berners Street in Marylebone) by the name of Marsh, Sibbald, & Co in 1782. At other times the Bank was known as Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy and Graham. The twenty-year old Henry joined the bank as a clerk, and took over the position of senior partner when his father died. The other partners took very little part in the running of the Bank and appear to have abandoned the young Fauntleroy without proper supervision. The Bank had agreed loans to a number of builder clients. By the very nature of their business the builders needed finance all the way through the building programme – withdrawing backing at any stage would mean a calamity for the bank as well as for the builder. So, when expenses rose and debts became overwhelming, Fauntleroy took to using client funds to shore up the business. The bank’s indebtedness stood at £60,000. By 1815 he was forging powers of attorney enabling him to sell stocks and securities lodged by clients with the Bank. In his papers he was quite thorough in recording these deals, and when he was eventually brought to trial these records, in his own writing, made any denial impossible.
One report states: “So Henry Fauntleroy threw honesty to the winds and adopted the expedient of forgery, which at that time was punishable at the hands of the hangman. Among the clients of the Berners Street bank were innumerable holders of Consols, long and short annuities, Navy loans and other Government securities. Fauntleroy had a list of their stocks and was familiar with all their signatures. In every case the device was successful. The defrauded proprietor was never allowed to discover the theft. Forgery was used to cover forgery, until eventually nearly £400,000 worth of Government stock had been appropriated”.
Fauntleroy kept his activities covered by continuing to meet the dividends due to the owners of the stock, but eventually the enterprise collapsed like a pack of cards.
He was by all accounts a solemn person who exuded respectability and trust: he is described as being “a tall man and used to wear white trousers, white waistcoat and black coat.” Oddly, he believed that he bore a striking resemblance to Napoleon, and he aspired to be regarded by the world at large as a Napoleon of commerce. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 1821 Fauntleroy bought “a sumptuous Grecian villa at Brighton and erected a billiard room in the form of Napoleon’s travelling tent.”
Apparently in 1809 he was compelled to marry a woman with whom he had an affair and got pregnant: the girl’s brother demanded a duel, and Fauntleroy was obliged to marry the lady in order to save face. They did not live together, and by some accounts this enabled Fauntleroy to go off and have affairs with various ladies of ill-repute, most interestingly a woman known as Mrs Bang a.k.a. Mother Bang a.k.a. Mary Kent, Mary Berners and various other noms de plume. “Bang” was both a description of her activities and the fact that she was “bang on” fashion.
The papers later sensationalised the stories about Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang, painting him as totally debauched and immoral. One paper described the arrangement as follows:
A female, of as much personal attraction as possible, was selected by a set of men then about town, who being themselves mined by the same means, both in fortune and in fame, were ready to become the willing instruments of ruin to others. This gang all pulled one way, and having got hold of a handsome and interesting woman, they established her in an elegant and splendidly furnished mansion in some fashionable street at the west end of the town. This woman, nominally the owner of the mansion, was hawked about, dressed in the most fascinating and gay attire to the Italian Opera, the theatre, and all other places of public fashionable resort where she had her male accomplices scattered about, offering their friendly services to all their young and inexperienced acquaintances, often men of fortune and of family, to introduce them to the great object of general admiration–Mrs. Such-a one. The introduction took place-the lady put forth all her powers of attraction-a fascinating invitation was given to the new aspirant for her favours, to join a supper-party, at her house that night; after the entertainment cards were introduced-something trifling was commenced with, the wine went round ; the ladies soon dropped off one by one from the table -a proposal was made to play for a few dozen of Champagne, to make a present to the lovely and hospitable hostess, the pigeon was most generally suffered to win this first and some following trifling stakes, to give-him confidence. Dice (false ones) now took the place of cards ; play became deeper and deeper, until the wine vanished, and the poor dupe of all this villainy was fleeced of every shilling he had about him, and then entered into securities, his own bills…
The Hecate of these infernal courts, for several years, was Mrs. Bertram, better known by the domestic name of “Mother Bang,” because she was ” bang up” to all the arts and intrigues of her calling. Mr. Fauntleroy unfortunately fell in with some of the destructive women above described, and amongst the rest this said Mother Bang. In this way, we understand, he has dissipated enormous sums, besides loans of a large amount, to fellows about town, whom he met at those places, and whose words he took to pay him when they would, and that was never.
By some accounts Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang went their separate ways when Fauntleroy seduced a young schoolgirl and set her up in a home in London. She allegedly bore him two children.
Fauntleroy was to deny these charges totally in Court. Indeed he seemed far more concerned at refuting the allegation of immorality than to defend himself against the charge of forgery.
On 14th September 1824 the Bank had announced that it was closing for business and Fauntleroy had been charged with “uttering a forged document knowing it to be forged.” After a trial lasting less than five hours the jury returned a verdict of guilty and on 2 November 1824 the recorder pronounced the sentence of death.
Two appeals were made on points of law ; seventeen merchant bankers volunteered to give references as to his moral character and past dealings, but Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, saw no reason for leniency and on 30th November Fauntleroy was led from his cell in Newgate, paraded in front of a crowd estimated at 100,000 people, and was hanged. Mind you that was only after a curious claim by a mad Italian called Edmund Angelini who demanded to take his place on the scaffold….
The presses churned out broadsheets like the one shown, eager to display his picture and last words. There were even coins over-stamped, as this Cartwheel Penny, with the words “Fauntleroy the Robber of Widows and Orphans, Executed at Newgate, such be the Fate of the Insolvent Bilking Bankers and Agents”
The centuries roll by, and some might argue we still havent found a more effective way of making sure that bankers toe the line…