Victorian London - Crime - Con-men - Duffers

Sir, - Permit me to call your attention to a matter of great importance to the public, I mean the increase of a class of villains commonly known by the name of "Duffers." Some of these villains have been pursuing their avocations in this metropolis for the last 22 years, and formed at that time part of a gang out of which a wooden-legged man was transported for a similar attack to the one I am about to mention. The son of a friend of mine was walking in the Strand, near Coutts's banking-house, last week, when he was accosted by a tolerably well-dressed fellow, who wished to know whether he wanted any cigars, and the young man was foolishly prevailed upon to accompany the villain to an obscure public-house in Bedfordbury, where several others of the gang were to be found, and who after a short time swindled him out of 35s. Seeing that he had more money about him these fellows laid before him some silk handkerchiefs, shawls, &c., and importuned him to purchase some, saying they were all smuggled goods, and at half the price charged for them in the shops. The young man, thinking he had lost enough, refused to buy any other article, and was in the act of leaving the room, when he was tripped up and robbed of every shilling he had about him, and sadly bruised into the bargain. Had he not been peculiarly circumstanced his case would have been brought before the magistrates, but I am sorry to say the matter must rest as it is. Surely, Sir, the police should put down these nuisances by apprehending all such persons, and punishing them as rogues and vagabonds, which I apprehend they can do under the late act of Parliament. They say, however, they cannot interfere unless they detect these fellows in committing their swindling acts; the mere annoyance in the street is not sufficient to enable the police to remove them. It is high time this was proved, as these fellows have become exceedingly numerous, and may be found in most of the leading thoroughfares.
    Their practice is to change their quarters on particular occasions: the same gang who may work in the Strand to-day are shifted to another part of the town to-morrow, and fresh ones take their places for a time, and they also change their places of resort (which are well known to the police), and are mostly public-houses, which, somehow or other, quite intelligible to myself, have their licences renewed from year to year by the magistrates. Surely this, also, ought not to be.
    Your constant reader,
    Portman-square, Dec.12.          VERAX

letter to The Times, December 14, 1843

Sir, - Permit me to call your attention to a class of men technically styled "Duffers," who are infesting the suburban parts of the metropolis. They may be easily distinguished as they wear the garb of sailors, and pretend to be smugglers. They carry a large bundle of gown-pieces and silk-handkerchiefs, and their pockets are filled with the latter articles. They may be seen about the middle of the day going from house to house at a time when the male branches are in town, and the policemen off duty. Their plan is to call at any house where they have free access to the kitchen door, which they knock at, and as soon as it is opened the bundle is thrown down in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of closing the door, and the contents of the bundle are then displayed. The servant is then requested to make a purchase, and if she refuses, the fellow throws one of the articles into the passage, and, with dreadful imprecations, insists upon having the money for it, stating that she had bought it, and that he had brought it to order. The servant, being terrified, pays the fellow the money to get rid of him.
    A case of this kind occurred here on Saturday last. When I came home in the evening I found both my servants unwell from the conduct of one of these fellows, and upon my looking at the article the fellow had left with them I discovered it to be pure rubbish, and not worth one-third of the money paid for it.
    Will you warn the public against these men? The police should look after them. I have no doubt that if the Hawkers' Act were properly put in force, we should seldom have to complain of this class of men, who, I am informed, are extremely numerous, and carry on their practices with impunity.
    I remain, yours obediently,
Kensington, March 8.

letter to The Times, April 11, 1850