Thursday, February 7, 2008

William Wheeler Yelf - One Man's Downfall Part 2

For many years it seems William Wheeler Yelf and his business prospered. He was a respected member of Newport society and a leading light in the Methodist church as well as holding a number of other prestigious posts, including the secretaryship of the local Building Society. But it seems that the Building Society had an uneasy suspicion that something wasn't right. It might have been a strange entry in the ledger, or an unusually large number of transactions, whatever it was they knew that something wasn't right. In George Robb's book 'White Collar Crime in Modern England' he notes that
The trustees ... allowed Yelf, a Wesleyan preacher, to inspect the books, which he invariably found sound.
It's not clear what transpired, but the bank were obviously not convinced and took further action. The Isle of Wight Observer of 23rd April 1853 carried an item that would no doubt have caused gossip amongst the middle class of Newport

BOROUGH SESSIONS - William Wheeler Yelf, printer, bookbinder, secretary to the Isle of Wight Savings Bank and stamp distributor, was charged with fraud and embezzlement. J. Eldridge Esq., one of the directors of the Savings Bank, prosecuted and J.H. Hearn Esq. defended.
The prisoner filled a respectable position in society - the Directors had placed implicit confidence in him - he had made gross alterations to the balance sheet from 1838 to 1849.
A letter from W. W. Yelf to Mr George Kirkpatrick, trustee of the savings bank, dated 16th April 1853, was read out "...he had to reveal the secret that was destroying his health...In a moment of sudden and great pecuniary embarrassment led to the downward path of ruin...sincerely repented...have told my wife and son and mother in law, Mrs Outridge, have a bedroom, which I hope will be secured to them...the rest I freely yield up..."
£8, 276 16s 3d was the discrepancy in the balance sheet...he had placed a false cheque of £150 before the Trustees in 1839 [list of amounts taken]. Totalled £4,182 - it was supposed the rest was compound interest

The prisoner was remanded.
This was a not-so-small fortune in the 1840's and William was remanded in custody. His case was deliberated for over 5 hours before the decision was made and he was sent for full trial at the Winchester Assizes. The next report in the Observer was in the edition of 16th July 1853

HANTS SUMMER ASSIZES - William Wheeler Yelf, charged with committing fraud and embezzling the Isle of Wight Savings Bank of £4,182 over ten years, but the books show a discrepancy of £8,200
Yelf pleaded guilty.
Mr Sewell made an eloquent appeal for mitigating of punishment - the prisoner had given himself up etc.
Mr Baron Marten said he would be departing from his duty if he didn't inflict the most severe punishment - a few years ago he would have been executed.

Sentence - Transportation for Life
It looked as though a new life was beckoning William in Australia. Part three will look at what happened next...

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