Thursday, February 7, 2008

William Wheeler Yelf - One Man's Downfall Part 3

Convicted of fraud, sentenced to transportation and lucky to escape execution - William Wheeler Yelf must have felt himself at the lowest possible ebb as he was removed from his family and taken up to London to await transportation. What is interesting is that his printing business seems to have carried on unaffected. Certainly there is no mention of a crisis in 'Printers Pride' and as was seen, the business eventually passed smoothly on to Richard Yelf. Had the Bank recouped all it's losses? Did they take pity on the innocent members of the family? We don't know, but for William, with his health failing, being placed in prison must have been the last straw. Millbank prison, on the bank of the Thames, was the point of embarkation for those sentenced to transportation. Charles Dickens noted in his Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Millbank Prison stands on the river bank, near Vauxhall-bridge. It is built on Benthams “Panopticon” plan, six different buildings radiating from a common centre. The building is intended to hold 1,000 prisoners, and cost half-a-million, which, with ground rent, &c., represents an outlay per head for rent, &c, of about £50 per annum, or, as the prison is rarely more than half full, practically not far short of £100. Prisoners pass through here from Newgate and elsewhere as the first stage of “penal servitude,” and the discipline is somewhat severe. Orders to view from Home Secretary, or Directors of Convict Prisons, 44 Parliament-street, S.W. NEAREST Railway Station, Vauxhall; Omnibus Routes, Vauxhall-bridge-road and Palace-road ; Cab Rank, Vauxhall-bridge.

The site of the prison is now covered by the Tate Gallery, but the small steps, especially designed for prisoners in leg-irons, are still visible leading down to the river bank. Incarceration in such dismal surroundings must have taken its toll and sickness eventually overcame William. Before he could be transported he died in Prison on 9th March 1854, nine months after he was convicted. His death certificate states that he died of bronchitis and disease of the heart. I've no idea where he was buried, but it seems the family were able to 'gloss over' this unfortunate episode and the overstamping of William Richards initials on his father's might have been a strong symbolic act. News of his final demise was noted in a curt report in the 'Bankers Magazine and Journal of the Money Market' of 1854.

ISLE OF WIGHT SAVINGS BANK - Yelf, the fraudulent Isle of Wight actuary, died at the Millbank Penitentiary in the early part of March

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...