[-385-] CHAPTER XII.
THE METROPOLITAN AND CITY POLICE.
Introduction of the new system—The old police—Number, salaries, &c., of the new police—Their organization—Pensions for the aged and infirm of their number recommended—Character of the new police—Difference between them and the old police, in regard to their trustworthiness and efficiency—The city police—Its composition, and the expense of its maintenance—Number of the City police—Contemplated amalgamation of the Metropolitan and City police—Diminution of crime since the introduction of the new police—Their ingenuity in tracing out guilty parties—Reference to the French system of police.
THE sixth chapter of this work was devoted to the Police-offices. The
present will be exclusively occupied with the Constabulary Force, including
both the Metropolitan and City Police.
The constabulary system which now exists is only, as most of my readers are aware, of recent origin. It was introduced by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. Previous to that time, the police of the metropolis was in a most defective and inefficient state. It was the subject of loud and general complaint. For upwards of a quarter of a century the principles on which the old police force were established, had been unqualifiedly condemned by every one who had ever turned his attention to the subject. And no wonder: for the number of felonies, and other offences of every kind against property, which were weekly committed without the parties being detected, or, at all events, without being brought to justice, was almost incredible. Nor could it have been otherwise; for, in the first place, no attention was paid to the character of the persons chosen to the office of constables. They were almost, without exception, Irishmen of the very worst class in point of moral character; and, in addition to this, the smallness of their wages—from 13s. 6d. to 17s. per week—necessarily rendered them more liable to be bribed, than if they had been better paid. They were not only notoriously in the pay of the keepers of flash-houses, and other places for the concoction of schemes for the commission of crime, but they might, in the majority of cases, be bribed at the instance of any private gentleman who, to use their own phraseology, “did the handsome,” by “tipping” them half a sovereign, however serious might be the charge on [-386-] which he had been taken into custody. They were not, in fact, inspired with the spirit of their office. They had no pleasure in taking offenders into custody. They did not, as the new police do, engage in the duties of thief-catching with gusto. They preferred being suffered to crawl about as if there had been no such animal as a thief in the metropolis, or to doze away their time in a comfortable sleep, with their heads resting on their arms, in their little portable boxes. Their cowardice, too, as a body, was proverbial. Who does not remember the everlasting “rows” which the young men of the metropolis used to have with them on their return home from their convivial meetings.” The “Charlies, as the old watch were usually called, were always considered legitimate subjects for a “sound drubbing.” The fact was, that between the timidity of some, and the helplessness of others—for many of them were very feeble and advanced in life—they often were assaulted by half-drunken youths with impunity. With the present policemen, “young blades,” as the phrase is, take special care not to interfere. One very rarely hears of any one attacking them. The reason is obvious. They are a body of men of great physical vigour and activity; and in the great majority of cases, are men of spirit and courage. A more feeble and inefficient set of men than the old police could scarcely have been got together. But, in addition to the mental and physical incompetency of the old constabulary force for the performance of the duties which were entrusted to them, the want of intercourse with each other greatly impaired their efficiency. They were chosen by the various parishes, and all the police in a particular parish were entirely under the control of the authorities of that parish. The consequence was, that there was nothing like concert among them. Responsibility did not rest anywhere. The authorities in one parish had their constant quarrels and bickerings with the authorities of other parishes, which was the direct way to prevent any general understanding among them in regard to the best means of repressing crime.
The amount of crime committed in the metropolis under this defective system of police was, as might have been expected, very great. No man’s property was safe; and the difficulty which was then experienced in bringing the offender to justice, had the effect of preventing many of the parties robbed from engaging in the pursuit. Thus the inefficiency of the police establishment encouraged men, on the one hand, to commit crime, while, on the other, it deterred the parties against whom crimes were committed, from incurring the trouble and expense of bringing the offenders to justice. Crimes were committed under this system in open day, and under circumstances which would otherwise have [-387-] been deemed of a most daring nature. Every one not only complained of the defective state of the police while in this condition; but various were the suggestions thrown out from time to time in the public journals, with the view of remedying the evils. But no sufficiently comprehensive scheme was thought of until, in 1829, Sir Robert Peel brought forward his plan for a more efficient system. The difference in the amount of crime now, and what it was previous to the introduction of the new police force, is a point to which I shall return in an after part of the chapter.
When the new police were formed in 1829, the total number was 3314. These consisted of 17 superintendents, 68 inspectors, 323 sergeants, and 2906 constables. Since then, the number has been gradually increasing. What it is at present, I have not been able to learn; but six months since it was, in round numbers, 3500. These 3500 are entrusted with the protection of the persons and property of about a million and a half of her Majesty’s subjects; that being supposed to be the amount of the metropolitan population, exclusive of the City. If this estimate of the population of London outside the walls of the City be correct, it would give us one police constable to every 425 persons.
The new police are under the control of two commissioners, each having a salary of 800l. per year. The present commissioners are Colonel Rowan and Mr. Richard Mayne. The 17 superintendents have each an annual salary of’ 200l. The 68 inspectors severally receive a yearly salary of 100l.; the 323 sergeants individually receive 58l. per annum for their services; while the pay of the common constables is 19s. per week. Where the party is single, a deduction of one shilling is made in the event of lodgings being found for him. If married, and lodgings are found for the party, a special agreement must be made in each case. In addition to his weekly pay of 19s., the private constable is entitled to as much clothing as is equal to two suits in the course of a year. The entire yearly expense of the metropolitan police is 240,000l. Of this sum, 60,000l. is paid out of the consolidated fund, and the rest is made up by a rate on the parishioners.
The district embraced by the metropolitan police is formed into seventeen divisions. The number of men and officers, and the constitution of the force, is the same in each division; but “in laying out the division, attention has been paid to local and other circumstances determining the number of men required, the superficial extent varying in the several divisions, and consequently that portion of each which is committed to the care of each man.” Each division is subdivided into eight sections, and each section into eight beats. “The limits of each of these,” says the form of instruction issued, “are clearly defined: each is [-388-] numbered, and the number entered in a book kept for the purpose. Each division has an appropriate local name, and is also designated by a letter of the alphabet. There is in every division a station, or watch-house, placed as conveniently for the whole as may be, according to circumstances. From this point all the duty of the division is carried on.” It is also stipulated in the “Instructions” given, that the men belonging to each section shall, as far as may be found practicable, lodge together near to the place of their duty, in order to render them speedily available in case the services of such as are off duty should be required for any special emergency. There is a distinct company for each division; and each company is divided into sixteen parties, each party consisting of one sergeant and nine men. tour sergeant’s parties, being a fourth part of the company, form one inspector’s party. The whole company is under the command of a superintendent. Every police constable is conspicuously marked with the letter of a division, and also with a number corresponding with his name in the books belonging to the body. The object of this is, to enable the public at once to identify the party in the event of there being any ground of complaint against the constables, whether by overdoing their duty, or not doing it all. The letter of the alphabet marked on the collar of each policeman’s coat, denotes the particular district in which he serves. A represents Whitehall; B, Westminster; C, St. James’s; D, Marylebone; E, Holborn; F, Covent Garden; G, Finsbury; H, Whitechapel; K, Stepney; L, Lambeth; M, Southwark; N, Islington; P, Camberwell; R, Greenwich; S, Hampstead; T, Kensington; and V, Wandsworth.
The course to be adopted when a person wishes to become a member of the metropolitan police force, is sufficiently easy and simple. He has only to present a petition to the commissioners, accompanied with a certificate as to good character from two respectable householders in the parish in which he resides. Inquiry is then made relative to the parties signing the certificate; and it being found that they are respectable men, whose testimony as to the applicant’s character may be relied on, his name is put on the list of eligible candidates for the situation whenever a vacancy shall occur. I need scarcely say that, before appointment, the party is examined by a surgeon, to see that he suffers under no physical defect which would prevent the efficient discharge of his duties. It is also requisite that he should be under thirty-five years of age, and that he be five feet eight inches in height. The average time which an applicant has to wait, after his name has been inserted in the list of persons eligible to the office, is about eight weeks. Should, however, a party deem it an object to get appointed with the utmost practicable expedi-[-389-]tion, he may succeed in the short space of ten or twelve days, by getting some personal friend of either of the commissioners to use his influence on the applicant’s behalf. The usual form of a petition and certificates from rate-payers, and so forth, are dispensed with in such cases. All that is necessary on the part of the applicant is, that he be able-bodied, the proper height, and not beyond his thirty-fifth year.
Nothing could be more complete than the organization of the metropolitan police. Each party or company is divided into fours; the first four being on duty for a given time, and the other four coming to their relief, just as in the case of soldiers, whenever their allotted period has expired. It is the duty of the sergeant to see that this arrangement is strictly attended to, and also that the parties take the night and day watches alternately. Two of the inspectors are always on duty at once. One of them examines into the state of matters throughout the division; for which purpose he is constantly going about among the men: the other inspector is stationed at the watch-house to receive charges, complaints, and all applications for assistance. The various sergeants throughout the division regularly report to the inspectors the existing state of affairs within their respective districts. When the men are relieved, they must all assemble at a particular spot, just as when about to go on duty, in order that the sergeant may see that they are all sober, and as correctly dressed as when he marched them to the scene of their duties. It is thus impossible that any dereliction of duty or improper conduct can take place in the case of any of the men, without its being immediately brought under the notice of the superintendent; and, through him, where the case may be such as to require it, under the notice of the commissioners. The latter gentlemen may dismiss any of their men at a moment’s notice, and without assigning any reason for such dismissal. It is from time to time impressed on the mind of each police constable, that he must make himself perfectly acquainted with all the parts of the streets, courts, thoroughfares, outhouses, &c., of the section of the metropolis constituting his beat. He is also expected—a thing which may at first sight appear impossible—” to possess such a knowledge of the inhabitants of each house as will enable him to recognize their persons.” He is further expected to see every part of his beat once in ten, or at least fifteen minutes, unless in such cases as it may be deemed necessary to remain in a particular place for a longer period, to watch the conduct of some suspected person. A printed copy of instructions as to how he shall act in almost every conceivable case, is given to the police constable on his appointment to the office; so that if he either neglect or exceed his duty, the fault—with a very few [-390-] exceptions, in which there may exist doubts as to the course he should adopt—is sure to rest with himself.
The new police are a remarkably fine body of men. As only nine years have elapsed since their formation, and as no one was admitted who was not under thirty-five years of age, they are all in the prime of life. Then their constant exercise has a natural tendency to render them healthy: nor must it be forgotten, that the circumstance of being five feet eight inches in height insures their being at least the ordinary size. And their natural advantages in these respects are improved by their manner of dressing. They are not only always clean, but time form of their clothes is Well adapted to exhibit their persons to the best advantage.
It is to be regretted, for their own sakes, and indirectly for the sake of the public, that no provision in the shape of pension is made for those of the new police who may be disabled from the performance of their duties while engaged in the public service, or when old age overtakes them. Many instances have occurred in which the most meritorious of their number have been so severely assaulted—sometimes by drunken “ gentlemen,” at others by sturdy beggars—when in the performance of their duty, as to be unable afterwards either to perform the duties or policemen, or to provide for themselves or family by engaging in any other occupation. Now it is surely manifest injustice to allow men to be incapacitated for all future work through personal injuries received in consequence of a zealous and faithful discharge of their duties, and yet deny them any provision for their support. But apart from their liability to receive personal injuries of the serious nature alluded to, there is the certainty, if their life is to be spared, of old age, with all its concomitant infirmities. What a miserable prospect for these men do advanced years present! By the time they attain a certain age, they will, in the nature of things, he unfit for the continued discharge of the duties of their office; and just at that moment they will be turned adrift without a farthing in the world, and without the physical ability to earn as much as would procure them the most scanty means of subsistence. How galling must be the reflection to them, that they have spent their best days in the public service, and are now, like the aged greyhound in the fable, unable any longer to catch the hare,—to have all their former meritorious conduct forgotten, and themselves dismissed! Were their pay such as that with prudence and economy they might contrive to make some provision for old age, the matter would be different; but it is barely sufficient, in such a place as London, to afford them the means of a homely subsistence. No man, not prepared to deny himself the most common necessaries [-391-] of life, could save a sixpence out of nineteen shillings per week. The consequence of this insufficient pay, and no pension in the case of accident or being overcome by old age, must necessarily be to diminish their zeal and enterprise in the public service, and to cause them to avail themselves of any opportunity which presents itself of getting a livelihood in some other way. It is well known that many of the most meritorious of their number have quitted the service and engaged in other avocations. This would not be the case, were some provision for the future made for them by means of a pension. It would not be necessary that that pension should be large. Just as much—say six or seven shillings a-week—as would be sufficient to protect them against actual starvation, or the other horrible alternative, the workhouse, would, I am sure, be satisfactory to them. Some time ago, there was a report in the newspapers that something was in contemplation by the Home Secretary, with the view of making some permanent certain pension for the police, in case of accidents, or the approach of old age; but I am not aware that the report was founded in truth. If, however, some such provision be not made for them, not only will they be most ungenerously and ungratefully treated by the country, but the circumstance will speedily impair the efficiency and lessen the respectability of the body; and the public will consequently be the sufferers, in the diminished security of person and property.
The new police were for some time very unpopular. There was a natural tendency in the minds of the people to look with suspicion on a body with very enlarged powers, and which had been constituted in a manner different from any previous constabulary force which had been known in this country. These suspicions were converted into positive apprehensions by the clamorous opposition got up to the new police by one or two journals circulating largely among the lower orders of the community. Every movement they made was narrowly watched; and every action they performed was made the subject of severe criticism,—often of downright misrepresentation. The result was, that the public prejudice, especially as regarded the working classes in the metropolis, became so strong against the new constabulary force, that the impression began to gain ground that the experiment—for it was admitted by Sir Robert Peel and others to be in some respects nothing more than an experiment—would not succeed, but that the body must be broken up, and a recurrence to something like the old system take place. The vast diminution, however, in the amount of crime committed in town, and the great addition to the number of cases in which the offenders were detected, taken into custody, and prosecuted to conviction, soon became sufficiently apparent to remove [-392-] gradually the prejudices so strongly and generally entertained against the new force, and to make it popular with the public. The experience of nine years has confirmed the predictions of good from it, made by the authors of the measure. Person and property are now incomparably safer than they were under the old system. The new police are now the objects of universal approbation, and most deservedly so. But this is a point to which I shall afterwards have occasion to make incidental allusions before I come to the end of the chapter.
I have not access to an official account of the number of persons taken into custody by the metropolitan police for any of the last four or five years. In 1831, the number of persons they took into custody was 72,824; of whom 45,907 were males, and 26,917 were females. This, on an average, would give the number of persons taken into custody every year by each policeman, as eighteen or twenty; 3300 being about the number of constables in the metropolitan police establishment at the period in question. And how, it will be asked, were all the charges brought against those 72,824 persons disposed of? In this way: —2955 of them were committed for trial; 21,843 were summarily convicted: 24,585 were discharged; and 23,787, being cases of drunkenness unaccompanied with any other crime, the parties were dismissed by the superintendents when they became sober.
The integrity and trustworthiness of the new police, considered as a body, are above all praise. It is surprising in how few instances charges of corruption have been preferred, far less proved, against any of their number. One scarcely ever hears of such a charge. There seems to be a spirit of rivalry as to who shall be the most honest—if the expression he - a proper one—as well as to who shall be the most active and enterprising among the body. This is a feeling which ought to be cultivated by the commissioners and the government. Somebody, on one occasion, made the remark to me, in conversing on this point, that so great is their delight and such their honesty in the discharge of their duties, that if they found their own fathers or brothers committing a cognizable offence, they would not hesitate an instant in conveying them to the station-house. This is, no doubt, over-colouring the thing; still I am convinced that their faithfulness to the trust reposed in them is so great, that the motive must he exceedingly powerful indeed which could prevail on them to betray that trust. One such instance, and only one, consists with my own knowledge. A policeman, having undoubted evidence of a lady uttering forged five-pound notes, knowing them to be forged, determined on taking her into custody as soon as he should have such evidence as would prove conclusive in the eye of the law,
[-393-] That evidence he eventually obtained; and accordingly proceeded, dressed in plain clothes* (* I should also state that he was an inspector, and had a very gentlemanly appearance), to her house for the purpose of taking her into custody in the quietest and most delicate manner possible. On calling at her residence, which was in the West-end, and had a handsome exterior, he was shown up to the drawing-room, where he stood for a few seconds confounded with the dazzling brilliancy of everything around him. The lady promptly made her appearance, and he was about to intimate to her, in the politest way possible, the purport of his visit. He was, however, so overpowered by her surpassing beauty and dignified appearance, that he was unable to utter a word; and actually, solely from the impression the lady’s beauty and manner made upon him, quitted the place without performing his duty, or even hinting to the lady what the object of his visit had been; hut contented himself with getting up the most ingenious pretext he could, for having called on her. She did not even know, for some years afterwards, that he belonged to the constabulary force. Fortunately for him, he had acted in this instance without consulting any of his colleagues or superiors; and consequently he could decline performing his duty without exposing himself to any serious personal consequences. This, in my opinion—and the fact may be relied on,—is one of the most striking conquests which ever female beauty achieved. What a proof of its power! Disarming a policeman and deterring him from the discharge of his duty in the way I have described, reminds me of the resistless fascinations of poor Sheridan’s manner. I forget whether it be Byron or Moore, but one of them has related an anecdote of his having, by his exceedingly winning manner and address, staved off the legal proceedings which an attorney had instituted against him to recover an amount of money which he owed to a third party. This single fact spoke more for the singularly fascinating manner of Sheridan, than a huge quarto volume could have done.
Before the establishment of the new force, charges of corruption were not only frequently preferred, but proved against the police. The Parliamentary Committee of 1828, after referring to the great number of compromises which parties robbed ** had
** These parties chiefly refer to bankers. To give some idea of the extent to which bank robberies were then carried, it may be interesting to quote some extracts from the evidence of the Parliamentary Committee just mentioned. - They say— “Two banks that had been severally robbed of notes to the amount of 4000l., recovered them on payment of 1000l. each. In another case, 2200l. was restored out of 3200l. stolen, for 230l. or 240l. This bank having called in their old circulation, and issued fresh notes immediately after the robbery, the difficulty thus occasioned was the cause of not much above 10. per cent, being demanded. In another case, Spanish bonds, nominally worth 20001., were given back on payment of 100l. A sum, not quite amounting to 20,000l., was, in one case, restored for 1000l. In another, where bil1s had been stolen of 16,000l. or 17,000l. value, hut which were not easily negotiable by the thieves, restitution of 6000l. was offered for 300l. The bank, in this case, applied to the Home Office for a free pardon for an informer, but declined advertising a reward of 1000l., and giving a bond not to compound as the conditions of such grant. In another case, 3000l. seems to have been restored for 19l. per cent. In another case, where the robbery was to the amount of 7000l., and the supposed robbers had been apprehended, and remanded by the magistrates for examination, the prosecution was suddenly desisted from, and the property subsequently restored for a sum not ascertained by the Committee. In the case of another bank, the sum stolen not being less than 20,000l., is stated to have been bought of the thieves by a receiver for 200l; and 2800l. taken of the legal owners as the price of restitution. The Committee does not think it necessary to detail all the cases which have been disclosed to them; but though it is evident they have not been informed of anything like all the transactions that must have occurred under so general a system, they have proof of more than sixteen banks having sought by these means to indemnify themselves for their losses: and that property of various sorts, to the value of above 200,000l., has, within the last few years, been the subject of negotiation or compromise. They have found it difficult, for many reasons, to ascertain, in several of the cases they have examined, the actual payments made to the thieves or receivers; but they have proof of nearly 12,000l. having been paid to them by bankers only, accompanied with a clearance from every risk and perfect impunity to their crimes.” What a state of things is here disclosed! It is no wonder though the integrity of the police of that period was suspected.
had [-394-] made with the thieves, goes on to express its conviction at some
length—a conviction founded on the evidence, on oath, of various
witnesses—that some of the leading individuals connected with the police
establishments of that period had been guilty of very serious corruption. In one
case, eight hundred pounds more was received by the police officer who
negotiated for the recovery of stolen property than the thieves asked or
received. It is, no doubt, true, that in many instances the police, on becoming
the instruments through whom compromises between the thieves and the parties
whose property was stolen should be effected, were actuated by no dishonest
motive; or rather did not see anything morally wrong in getting forty or fifty
pounds to themselves for the part they took in the negotiation, in cases where,
otherwise, no part of the property would have been recovered. Still the thing
was decidedly improper, and was attended with the worst results. The committee
in question, in reference to this, very justly remark, “That the frequency of
these seemingly blameless transactions has led to the organization of a system
which undermines the security of all valuable property; which gives police
officers a direct interest that robberies to a large amount should not be
prevented; and which has established a set of putters-up and fences, with means
of evading, if not defying, the arm of the law, who are wealthy enough, if large
rewards are offered for the detection, to double them for their impunity; and
who would, an one case, have given a thousand pounds to get rid of a single
witness. Some of these persons ostensibly carry on a trade: one [-395-] who had been
tried formerly for robbing a coach, afterwards carried on business as a
Smithfield drover, and died worth, it is believed, 15,000l. Your
Committee could not ascertain how nanny of these persons there are at present;
but four of the principal have been pointed out. One was lately the farmer of
one of the greatest turnpike trusts in the metropolis. He was formerly tried
for receiving the contents of a stolen letter; and as a receiver of tolls,
employed by him, was also tried for stealing that very letter, being then a
postman, it is not too much to infer that the possession of these turnpikes is
not unserviceable for the purposes of depredation; Another has, it is said, been
a surgeon in the army. Two others of the four have no trade, but live like men
of property; and one of these, who appears to be the chief of the whole set, is
well known on the turf; and is stated, on good grounds, to be worth 30,000l.”
Such a state of things no longer exists. There are still receivers of stolen
but none in this wholesale and open way. The vigilance of the police has put an
end to this system. Not only have the present police largely contributed to the
suppression of crime in the metropolis by their own watchfulness, activity, and
enterprise, but they have indirectly contributed to the improved state of
things by the spirit of emulation which they have excited in the leading men
belonging to the City Police, and the officers attached to the various police
office establishments in London.
The city of London has a police establishment of its own, over which the Court of Aldermen and other functionaries have an entire and exclusive control. The constabulary force of the City is divided into two classes—a day and a night police. The day police consists of one superintendent, at a salary of 143l. per annum, exclusive of 9l. 18s. for clothes; two inspectors, with a yearly salary each of 87l. 2s., and 7l. 8s. 9d. for clothing; one inspector, an annual salary of 83l. 4s., and 7l. 8s 9 ¾ d for clothing; one sergeant (Smithfield), whose yearly salary is 66l. 6s., with 4l. 16s. 3 ¾ d. for apparel; nine sergeants, at an annual salary each of 58l. l0s., and 4l. 16s. 3 ¾ d. for clothing; seventeen constables (Smithfield), severally at yearly salaries of 57l,. 4s., and 4l. 16s. 3 ¾ d. for clothing; three constables at 12l. 6s. each, with 4l. 16s. 3 ¾ d. for wearing apparel; and sixty constables, each at 49l. 8s. yearly salary, with 4l. 16s. 3 ¾ d. for clothing. In addition to these, there are sixteen or eighteen con-stables, of different grades; hut all in some way or other are connected with the ordinary police establishment at the Mansion.. house and Guildhall. The entire yearly expense of maintaining the day constabulary force of the City, including the salaries of a clerk and a surgeon, and the pensions allowed to eleven old and infirm police servants of a former day, was, in 1835, 7,262l. 12s. 9 ¼ !. It is much about the same now.
[-396-] The nightly police of the City, exclusive of 65 superintending watchmen, 91 patrolling watchmen, and 47 beadles, numbers 453. Each of these is paid by the hour. Threepence per hour is the sum allowed; which, for twelve hours per day, would give one guinea per week each. The yearly salaries of the superintendants vary in different wards from 85l. down to 52l. The wages of the patrolling watchmen fluctuate between nine* (* Of course, it will he understood, that where the salary is as low as this, there is hardly any duty to be performed.)shillings and twenty-five shillings per week each; while the annual pay of the beadles varies from 50l. to 100l. The entire expense of the nightly watch of the City is 34,924l. 18s. 6d. per annum.
The whole yearly expense of the police of the City is divided into three branches, thus:-
Marshal and Marshalmen 1675 6s 0d
Day Police £7,262 12s 9¼ d
Nightly Watch £34,924 18s 6d
Making a total of £43,862 17s 3¼d
It will thus be seen that, considering the proportion in regard to numbers which the City bears to the metropolitan police, the latter are considerably less expensive than the former; while any one who knows anything of the comparative efficiency of the two forces, must give the palm of superiority at once to the metropolitan body. This superiority is easily accounted for. In the choice of men for the metropolitan police, private influence, except in very rare cases, is not exercised; and were it so, would not be attended to: in the choice of men for the City police, a good deal of this influence is exercised with effect. Again, all the metropolitan policemen are young and active: in the case of the City constabulary body, many of them are considerably advanced in life, and consequently are not so full of enterprise and spirit. But that, perhaps, which chiefly gives the superiority to the metropolitan police is, the admirable manner in which they are organized. It were difficult to conceive of anything more perfect than is the organization of that body.
It is understood that the Home Secretary is anxious for a junction or amalgamation of the metropolitan and City police forces, but that the civic authorities are opposed to it. Their opposition to any such proposal was to be expected. They have always shown themselves to be exceedingly jealous of their own peculiar privileges, and determined to preserve them even in cases where the public interest would have been manifestly and more materially promoted by their relinquishment. But if they will [-397-] not listen to any proposal for placing their constabulary body under the control of the Home Secretary, as the metropolitan police are, why do they not assimilate their own force as much as possible, in regard to their organization, to the metropolitan body?
It must be admitted, that an improvement has taken place of late in the City constabulary force. They are far more effective than they were before the metropolitan body was established; but it is not to be denied, that a great deal more might yet be done, even without the City authorities relinquishing their exclusive control over their constables.
I have said that there has been a great diminution in the amount of crime committed in London, since the institution of the new police. Almost all the extensive confederations which then existed for the purpose of carrying on a regularly organized system of robbery, and other crimes against property and person, have been broken up, and scattered in all directions. We no longer hear of acts of wholesale plunder, or of thieves being leagued together, and carrying on an organized system of war against property, in bands of twenties or thirties. What is now done, in the way of housebreaking or felony, is usually done by some adventurer on his own account, or by small partnerships of two or three. Nor do we now hear of the ingenuity of former thieves, in defeating the ends of justice; an ingenuity which often gave an air of rich romance to the adventures of the parties. The thieves of the present day, owing to the vigilance of the new police, have but few and slender opportunities of displaying any ingenuity they possess; in other words, their “affairs” are not now attempted on that large and daring scale on which they were formerly done. Ingenuity itself finds it impossible to get even skilful plans of robbery laid, far less executed. The achievements of our present thieves are poor and spiritless, compared with the triumphs of their predecessors ten or twelve years since. What the state of crime in the metropolis then * was,
(* A history of the state of crime in the metropolis, from the beginning of the last century up to the present period, would form a very curious chapter. About a hundred years ago, the number of robbers in London was so great, and such was their daring and desperate character, that persons were afraid, even in the middle of the day, to cross Moorfields, then an open sort of common, or of going alone to any of the unfrequented parts of the suburbs. The number of robberies then committed in daylight, in the suburbs of London, was very great. At night they were, as might be expected, still greater. Some curious accounts, relative to the state of crime in the metropolis, in the early part of the last century, will he found in several of the works respecting London, which appeared during the first half of that century. In the early part of the second half of last century, there seems to have been no improvement, as regards the number of robberies committed; though they appear to have been, in most cases, attended with less personal violence, and to have been committed tinder circum. stances of greater secrecy. Henry Fielding, the celebrated novelist, and who was one of the magistrates of Middlesex at the time, wrote a small work, about the year 1755 in the subject of the prevalence of the crime of robbery in London at that time. It was dedicated to Lord Hardwicke, then Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, and was intitled “An Inquiry into the Causes of the Increase of Robberies, &c~~ Mr. Fielding commences his work in these words :—“ The great increase of robberies within these few years, is an evil which, to me, appears to deserve some attention; and the rather, as it seems, though already become so flagrant, not yet to have arrived to that height of which it is capable, and which it is likely to attain; for diseases in the political as in the natural body seldom fail going on to their crisis, especially when nourished and encouraged by faults in the constitution. In fact, I make no doubt, but that the streets of this town, and the roads leading to it, will shortly he impassable, without the utmost hazard; nor are we threatened with seeing less dangerous gangs of rogues among us than those which the Italians call the banditti.” Again :—“ For my own part, I cannot help regarding these depredations in a most serious light; nor can I help wondering that a nation so jealous of her liberties, that from the slightest cause, and often from no cause at all, we are always murmuring at our superiors, should tamely and quietly support the invasion of her property by a few of the lowest and vilest among us. Doth not this situation in reality level us with the moat enslaved countries I If I am to be assaulted, and pillaged, and plundered; if I can neither sleep in my own house, nor walk the streets, nor travel in safety, is not my condition almost equally had, whether a licensed or unlicensed rogue, a dragoon or a robber, be the person who assaults and plunders me? The only difference which I can perceive is, that the latter evil appears to be more easy to remove. If this be, as I clearly think it is, the case, surely there are few matters of more general concern than to put an immediate end to these outrages, which are already become so notorious, and which, as I have observed, seem to threaten us with such a dangerous increase. What, indeed, may not the public apprehend, when they are informed, as an unquestionable fact, that there is at this time a great gang of rogues whose number fails little short of a hundred, who are incorporated in one body, have officers and a treasury, and have reduced theft and robbery into a regular system. There are of this society, men, who appear in all disguises, and mix in moat companies. Nor are they better versed in every art of cheating, thieving, and robbing, than they are armed with every method of evading the law, if they should ever be discovered, and an attempt made to bring them to justice. Then, if they fail in rescuing the prisoner, or (which seldom happens) in bribing or deterring the prosecutor, they have, for their last resource, some rotten members of the law to forge a defence for them, and a great number of false witnesses ready to support it.”
“And when Colquhoun wrote his “Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis,” which was in the year 1800, the state of crime in London appears to have been of the most frightful kind. He states that persons could not “travel on the highways, or approach the capital in any direction after dark, without risk of being assaulted and robbed, and, perhaps, wounded or murdered.” The same author further observes, that “we cannot lie down to rest in our habitations without the dread of a burglary being committed, our property invaded, and our lives exposed to imminent danger, before the approach of morning.”
[-398-] may be inferred from the statements made by authorities of
veracity, and who had ample opportunities of forming an accurate opinion on the
subject. The Parliamentary Committee which sat in 1828, to inquire into the
state of the police in the metropolis, brought a great many facts to light,
illustrative of the extent to which crime then prevailed in London. An author,
who had the very best opportunities of acquiring correct information on the
subject, says that the number of persons who then lived by thieving in the
metropolis, could not be under 30,000; and that the amount of property annually
stolen must have been close on 2,000,000?. Now, I will venture to say—and
speak from several years’ personal observation of what has been going on at
the Old Bailey—that the amount of property yearly stolen in London does not
amount to 100,000l.; and that the number of regular thieves, or those who
live by theft, is under 5000. With respect to crimes against the person, they
are now comparatively rare. Every one, in fact, who lives in London, feels a
consciousness of security, both in regard to his person and property, which was
not felt before the establishment of the new police. I am aware that the great
diminution in the amount of crimes in the metropolis, which has taken place
within the last eight or ten years, is not to be entirely ascribed to the
establishment of the new police. The progress of education, and other
accidental causes, have doubtless contributed in some degree to the happy
result; but the principal instrument in the accomplishment of this salutary
change, must be admitted by all who have paid any attention to the subject, to
be the metropolitan constabulary force.
Many of the police are singularly ingenious in tracing out guilt, and in discovering the guilty, when they have reason to suspect the one, or have the smallest clue given them to the other. Some years since, a curious instance of the dexterity with which a suspicion, resting on very slender grounds, was converted into positive proof, was given by a policeman who is either now dead, or has quitted the service. The policeman in question, having occasion one day to be in New Bond-street, was much struck with the splendid appearance of a carriage he saw standing at a jeweller’s door. Several other persons having been equally struck with it, had assembled at the door of the tradesman to see the person to whom it belonged. The policemen saw that that person was a dashingly-dressed, most lady-like woman, seemingly about forty years of age. He inquired of the by-standers who the lady was but no one present could furnish him with the desired information. While he was making his inquiries, he chanced to overhear the proprietor of the shop say to her, that the twenty-pound-note he held in his hand, and had received from her, was forged; adding, while returning it to her, that she could pay the ten shillings’-worth of articles she had purchased at any other time. This circumstance, in conjunction with something peculiar he observed in the manner of the lady, awakened his suspicions, and he determined to follow her to the next place to which she should direct the coachman to proceed. In prosecuting his resolve, he engaged a hackney coach, and followed her to a house in Park-lane. Having remained there for some time, he ascertained that she was not likely to go out again a-shopping that day. Next day, about the time at which ladies usually set out on their shopping excursions, he took care to be in the neigh-[-400-]bourhood of the lady’s house. The carriage presently came to the door; and the lady having made her appearance, and desired the coachman to drive to a particular shop in Ludgate-hill, sprang into the vehicle and drove off. As on the previous day, the policeman hired a coach, and having leaped into it, desired Jehu to drive with the greatest possible expedition to the same place. He reached it before the lady, but did not enter the shop until he saw her in the act of descending from her carriage. He asked a sight of the lowest priced articles in the shop, satisfied that when a lady so splendidly dressed entered in the capacity of a customer, the attentions of the shopmen would be withdrawn from him to be lavished on the lady. The event turned out exactly as he expected. He was forgotten, while there seemed to be the greatest rivalry among the shopmen as to who should show the lady the most marked attention. She made purchases to the amount of one pound ten shillings, and again tendered a twenty-pound note in payment of them. The proprietor of the premises, after narrowly scrutinizing the note, observed that there were a great many forged notes in circulation at that time, and that the note in question had a very equivocal appearance. She affirmed it was good with much energy, and with an air that seemed to indicate, that she was indignant at the bare thought of having a forged note iii her possession. Afraid of offending one who he thought might become a good customer, the shopkeeper, though not without some misgivings, took the note, and returned the eighteen pounds ten shillings. The lady then bade him good morning, and re-entering her carriage, desired her coachman to drive to a particular shop in Cheapside. There she was followed by the policeman; and there he saw her purchase fifteen shillings’-worth of trinkets, again tendering a twenty-pound note for payment, and receiving the nineteen pounds five shillings of change. The policeman was now satisfied beyond all doubt, that as she tendered a twenty-pound note by way of payment of the articles she had purchased, while he knew her to have eighteen pounds odd of loose money in her possession, she must not only be guilty of uttering forged notes, but that she was aware that they were forged. He followed her in the same way to a third shop, where lie saw the same thing repeated, which, of course, made him yet more confident in the soundness of his opinions. Still he wanted conclusive evidence to prove the charge. He watched her movements for some time, and got access to the most conclusive evidence. He then took her into custody. It was discovered that she lived with a gang of male rogues who forged the notes, and caused her to utter them, thinking there was, in that way, less risk of being detected. Seeing the case so clear against her, she committed suicide by taking laudanum.
[-401-] Another successful instance of the ingenuity displayed by the police in detecting crime, and securing the conviction of the offenders, occurred in the spring of last year. Information had been communicated to the police magistrates in London, that the town and neighbourhood of Salisbury had been inundated with counterfeit silver of every denomination, from crown pieces down to sixpences; but that all the efforts of the magisterial authorities in that place had failed to obtain a clue to the offenders. One of the cleverest of the inspectors of the London police was consulted on the subject, and he at once undertook to discover and bring the parties to justice. Having, from the success of former exploits in the same way, every confidence in the ingenuity and ability of the inspector, the magistrates signified their willingness to Leave the matter wholly in the officer’s hands. The plan which the latter adopted in the execution of his enterprise was one which would not have suggested itself to ordinary minds. He desired a person, in whom he could confide, to go down immediately to Salisbury, and in the disguise and character of a pedlar, to visit all the lower class of public-houses in the town and neighbourhood. He further instructed him, in the event of seeing in those houses suspicious characters, to treat them with gin, or ale, or whatever else in the way of drink they preferred, and to make himself as familiar as possible with them. He was to cultivate their acquaintance with the greatest assiduity; to give them hints that he himself was prepared for any desperate enterprise, in the way of robbery or otherwise, provided he got any other parties to assist him; and, in short, have recourse to every possible expedient to get them to make such disclosures to him as would not only satisfy himself, or might satisfy any other reasonable mind that they were the guilty parties, but as would constitute, or lead to, such evidence as the law would admit. The pioneer of the police officer had been only two days in Salisbury, when he came in contact with two or three persons whom he at once suspected to belong to the gang of coiners of false money. At first they fought shy of him; they appeared decidedly averse to his acquaintanceship; but in the course of two or three days more, their prepossessions against him wore off, and they entered into familiar conversation with him. The result was the confirmation of his suspicions as to what they were. The next point to which he directed his attention was the ascertaining what their number was; for he knew that in such cases they took care not to assemble all together in any particular place in public, as that might lead to suspicion, This secret be also soon wormed out of his newly-formed acquaintances. Having succeeded so far, he wrote, agreeably to instructions, to the officer in London by whom he was employed. [-402-] His employer immediately proceeded to Salisbury; but “lay by,” as the phrase is, for ten or twelve days, until his beard should grow to such a length as, with other ingenious expedients, should enable him to disguise himself sufficiently for the execution of his plans. He at once conjectured —and in his conjecture he was right— that the gang of coiners were from London, and that, if not disguised, he would be recognized before he should be able to carry his schemes into effect. His beard having grown to a great length, and having for some days omitted to wash his face or hands, and having also put on a ragged suit of clothes, he ventured into the public-houses which they frequented, got acquainted with them through the “workman” he had sent to prepare the way before him, and in a few days was, with one and all of them, a regular “Hail fellow! well met.” He soon ascertained that they were all to meet at a particular house, in a low secluded part of the town, on a particular night; and to make assurance doubly sure that this meeting was to take place for the purpose of a new coinage, he proposed treating them on the night and hour they had fixed for their meeting, in a public-house which he mentioned. They one and all said the business on which they were to meet that night was so urgent, that it must be attended to; but they should be most happy to have their glass with him any other evening lie might appoint. Thai assured beyond all doubt that “an affair” was to come off on the evening in question, he got assistance from the magistrates of the place, and proceeded to the house in which they were met. His anticipations were all realized: there was the whole gang of them—nine or ten in number—busily employed in the very act of coining various descriptions of money. Every one of them was taken into custody, and all of them were convicted at the next assizes, and visited with due punishment.
With the view of illustrating how quick the police are in discovering an offender when a crime has been committed, I may mention an anecdote which baa been verbally communicated to me. The anecdote will at the same time show the regular business-way in which they perform the duties of their office. Some years ago, a robbery of property to a considerable amount had taken place in the City. Circumstances caused suspicions to fall on a particular person well known for having been engaged in similar enterprises before. He was taken into custody, and brought before the magistrates on the following day. A young woman, servant in the house in which the robbery had been committed, and who had seen the thief go out of the door after committing the robbery, was called before the magistrate to speak to the question of identity. The prisoner being put to the bar, she, without a moment’s hesitation, and in the most positive [-403-] manner, swore to his being the person. The prisoner vehemently declared his innocence, and begged the magistrate to remand him for a single day, saying he would be able in that case to prove an alibi. His request was complied with, and he was remanded till the following day. In the interim, Forrester, the enterprising officer of the Mansion-House, was served with a notice to appear on behalf of the prisoner. On being placed next morning in the dock, he asked Forrester whether he did not see him at least four miles distant from the place where the crime was committed, at the very time it was perpetrated. “I cannot tell,” remarked Forrester, in that cool and easy manner so characteristic of the higher class of police officers; “I cannot tell you in a moment; but I will let you know in a few seconds,” putting his hand into his coat-pocket, and pulling therefrom a small memorandum book*. (* In their memorandum-books the police note every meeting they have with, or sight they get of, the most noted thieves, provided the plate be some distance from where they reside. This is found of great service in directing them to the proper quarters whenever any robbery is committed, and the guilty parties are not taken into custody ) He turned over a few leaves, and began reading, in an under tone, as follows :—“ Met Tom Swagg, and spoke to him this evening, at half past seven precisely, at the west end of Oxford-street. Monday, February 20, 1828.” Then closing his memorandum book, and raising his head, he turned to the prisoner, and remarked that he had seen him at the particular hour on the particular evening in question, at least four miles distant from the place in which the robbery was committed. “Then, my girl,” said the magistrate, turning to the young woman who had deposed to the identity of the prisoner; “then, my girl, you must have been mistaken in your man.”
“No, your worship; I’m sure that’s the one I seed,” said the girl, manifestly with the greatest confidence.
“Just look him closely in the face again,” requested the magistrate.
The girl renewed her inspection of the prisoner, but at a distance of several yards, while the light in the office was not particularly good.
“Just step a little nearer; go up close to him,” said the other magistrate, who was on the bench.
The witness advanced to the p lace where he stood, and looked up eagerly, and with an air of sharpness, in his face. “Oh, my G—!” she suddenly exclaimed, raising both her hands, and evincing very great excitement of manner, “that’s not him: I’ve perjured myself! He was not pock-pitted; this man is; but I never saw two men so like each other in my life.”
“I’ll bring the right person here in an hour,” observed Forrester, addressing himself to the bench; and he quitted the room [-404-] with the rapidity of lightning. In less than an hour, he returned with another person, who was afterwards proved, on the clearest and most conclusive evidence, to be the real delinquent, and who eventually, indeed, confessed his guilt. It was the latter observation of the girl, namely, that she never saw two men so like each other in her life as the prisoner and the thief, that furnished in this case the clue to the real culprit. The idea flashed across Forrester’s mind that a particular person must be the criminal, as he bore a remarkable resemblance to the prisoner.
But ingenious as are many of our policemen in the expedients to which they resort in discovering and capturing criminals, none of them have, in this respect, approached to Vidocq, the celebrated French policeman. Perhaps, the most ingenious and best managed of his innumerable expedients, when bent on thief-catching, was that which he adopted when he visited Madame Noel. This lady, though moving in a respectable sphere in Paris, not only had a son a notorious thief, but acted as a sort of protectress to all the thieves who came in her way. Her house was at all times open to them; and to it they flew in crowds, in the hour of peril, as to a place of refuge. Vidocq having ascertained this, and feigned the name of Germain, a noted thief, of whom he was sure she must have often heard, though he chanced to know she had never seen him, disguised himself in tattered clothes, and having purposely blistered his feet by a chemical preparation that he might the more engage her attention, proceeded to her house one evening. The remainder of the adventure must be given in Vidocq’s own words
“‘Ah! my poor boy,’ cried Mother Noel, ‘one has no occasion to ask where you come from; I am sure you are famished?’ ‘Oh! yes; very hungry,’ said I; ‘I have not taken any thing for four-and-twenty hours.’ Immediately, and without waiting for any explanation, she left the room, and returned with a plate of meat and a bottle of wine, which she set down before me. I did not eat—I devoured—I choked myself to get on faster; all disappeared, and between one mouthful and another I had not uttered a word. Madame Noel was enchanted with my appetite; when the table was cleared, she brought me a goutte. ‘Ah, mother!’ said I; throwing myself on her neck, ‘you restore me to life. Noel did well to say you are good!’ and I went on to tell her that I left her son twenty-eight days ago, and to give her intelligence respecting all the convicts in whom she was interested. The details into which I entered were so true and well known, that it was impossible for her to have the least idea that I was an impostor.
“ ‘You have heard of me before now,’ I continued. ‘I have had many hard rubs. My name is Germain, or Captain—you must have heard my name.’
‘O yes, yes, my friend,’ she said; ‘I used to hear of nothing but you. O my God! my son and his friends have talked enough of your [-405-] misfortunes: welcome, welcome, my dear Captain. But, good heavens! what a condition you are in; you must not remain in this state. It Seems too that you are troubled with a villanous cattle that torments you. I must get you a change of linen, and manage to clothe you more decently.’
‘I expressed my gratitude to Mother Noel; and when I thought I might, without impropriety, I inquired what had become of Victor Desbois and his comrade Mongenet. ‘Desbois and the drummer!’ answerered she. ‘Ah, my dear! don’t speak of them; that rascal Vidocq has caused them so much trouble, since an officer called Joseph (Joseph Longueville, formerly inspector of police,) met them twice in this street, and gave information of their frequenting this quarter, that they have been obliged to leave, not to fall into his clutches.’
“‘What!’ said I, in a tone of disappointment, ‘are they not in Paris?’
‘Oh, they are not far off,’ replied Mrs. Noel; ‘they have not lost sight of the Mainmast. I see them now and then, and I hope it will not be long before they pay me a visit. I think they will be delighted to find you here.’
“‘I am sure they will not be more happy than I shall be; and if you would only write a line to them, I am certain they would send for me directly.’
“‘If I knew where they were, I would go myself to find them for you; but I am not acquainted with their retreat, and the best thing we can do is to wait patiently till they come.”.
In my character of new-comer,1 excited all the solicitude of Mother Noel. ‘Does Vidocq know you: and his two hull-dogs, Levesque and Compère?’
‘Alas! yes; they have already arrested me twice.’
‘Then you must be on your guard. Vidocq assumes all kinds of disguises to entrap unfortunates like you.
“It required all my knowledge to maintain my position; for Madame Noel had every custom and peculiarity of the bagnes at her fingers’-ends. She not only retained the names of all the robbers she had seen, but was also acquainted with the most trifling circumstances of the lives of most of the others; and she recounted with enthusiasm the history of the most famous, especially of her son, for whom her veneration was as great as her affection.
‘This dear son,’ said I; ‘you would be very glad to see him?’
‘Oh, glad! yes, indeed!’ she ejaculated.
‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘you will enjoy that pleasure very soon.
Noel has arranged everything for an escape: he only waits a favourable moment.’
“Madame Noel was delighted at the idea of embracing her son: she actually shed tears of joy. I confess that I was much moved; and at one time I deliberated within myself, whether for the time I should not pass over my duties of secret agent: but on reflecting on the crimes of these people—bearing in mind, above all, the interests of society—I remained firm and immovable in my resolution to pursue my enterprise to the end.
[-406-] “In the course of conversation, Mother Noel asked me if I had any affair in view (any project of robbery); and after having offered to procure me one, if I had not, she put some questions, in order to learn whether I was skilful in forging keys. I answered that I was as dextrous as Fossard. ‘If this be so,’ said she, ‘I am easy; you will soon be set up again; and as you are so adroit, I will go to a hardware-shop and buy a key, which you can fit to my safety-lock and keep, so that you may go out and come m whenever you please.’
“I expressed my gratitude for her goodness; and as it was gutting late, I went to bed, ruminating on the means of extricating myself from this hornet’s-nest, without running the risk of assassination, if by chance the rogues whom I was looking after should arrive before I had taken my measures.
“I did not sleep at all, and got up the moment I heard Madame Noel lighting the fire. She saw that I was an early riser, and told me she would go and get me what I wanted. Soon after, she brought me a key without web, some files, and a little vice, which I fixed at the foot of the bed, and instantly set to work in presence of my hostess, who seeing that I understood the business, complimented me on my dexterity. That which she most admired was the expedition I used. In fact, in less than four hours, I had finished a very workmanlike key. On trying it, it opened the door almost perfectly; a touch or two of the file made it a capital piece of work; and, like the others, I could introduce myself into the house at pleasure.
“I boarded with Madame Noel. After dinner I told her that I was anxious to take a turn in the dusk, in order to see if an affair I had had in view was still feasible. She approved my idea, but recommended me to take particular care. ‘This scoundrel Vidocq,’ observed she, ‘is much to be feared; and if I were in your place, before trying anything, I would prefer waiting till my feet were cured.’ The assurance that I would soon return quieted her fears. ‘Well then, go,’ said she; and I went out limping.”
The expedient, after all, notwithstanding the ingenuity of its conception, and the remarkable skill displayed in its execution, it is right to say, was unsuccessful. Vidocq did not, on that occasion, capture the “customers” of whom he was in pursuit.
Before concluding, it is but right to~ mention, that notwithstanding the efficiency of the metropolitan police, it is far inferior in this respect to the police of France. For many years the subject of police has been reduced in Paris into what may be called a system, based on philosophic principles. Colquhoun, in his “Treatise on the Police of London,” mentions an anecdote which was verbally communicated to him by one of the then English ambassadors at the court of France, relative to the singular state of efficiency to which the police force of Paris had then been brought. As the anecdote is short, and affords an interesting specimen of the romance of real life, I shall here transcribe it. It is thus related by Colquhoun :—“ [-407-] A merchant, of high respectability, in Bordeaux, had occasion to visit Paris upon commercial business, carrying with him bills and money to a very, large amount.
“On his arrival at the gates of Paris, a genteel-looking man opened the door of his carriage, and addressed him to this effect:
‘Sir, I have been waiting for you some time; according to my notes, you were to arrive at this hour; and your person, your carriage, and portmanteau, exactly answering the description I hold in my hand, you will permit me to have the honour of conducting you to Monsieur de Sartine.’
“The gentleman, astonished and alarmed at this interruption, and still more so at hearing the name of the lieutenant of the police mentioned, demanded to know what Monsieur de Sartine wanted with him; adding, at the same time, that he never had committed any offence against the laws, and that he could have no right to interrupt or detain him.
“The messenger declared himself perfectly ignorant of the cause of the detention; stating, at the same time, that when he had conducted him to Monsieur de Sartine, he should have executed his orders, which were merely ministerial.
“After some further explanations, the gentleman permitted the officer to conduct him accordingly. Monsieur de Sartine received him with great politeness; and after requesting him to be seated, to his great astonishment, he described his portmanteau, and told him the exact sum in bills and specie which he had brought with him to Paris, and where he was to lodge, his usual time of going to bed, and a number of other circumstances which the gentleman had conceived could be known only to himself. Monsieur de Sartine having thus excited attention, put this extraordinary question to him :—‘ Sir, are you a man of courage?’ The gentleman, still more astonished at the singularity of such an interrogatory, demanded the reason why he put such a strange question; adding, at the same time, that no one had ever doubted his courage. Monsieur de Sartine replied, ‘Sir, you are to be robbed and murdered this night! If you are a man of courage, you must go to your hotel, and retire to rest at the usual hour; but be careful that you do not fall asleep: neither will it be proper for you to look under the bed or into any of the closets which are in your bed-chamber (which he accurately described): you must place your portmanteau in its usual situation, near your bed, and discover no suspicion. Leave what remains to me. If, however, you do not feel your courage sufficient to bear you out, I will procure a person who shall personate you, and go to bed in your stead.’
“The gentleman being convinced, in the course of the conversation, that Monsieur de Sartine’s intelligence was accurate in [-408-] every particular, refused to be personated. and formed an immediate resolution literally to follow the directions he had received. He accordingly went to bed at his usual. hour, which was eleven o’clock. At half-past twelve (the time mentioned by Monsieur de Sartine), the door of the bed-chamber burst open, and three men entered, with a dark-lantern, daggers, and pistols. The gentleman, who, of course, was awake, perceived one of them to be his own servant. They rifled his portmanteau undisturbed, and settled the plan of putting him to death. The gentleman hearing all this, and not knowing by what means he was to be rescued, it may naturally be supposed he was under great perturbation of mind during such an awful interval of suspense; when, at the moment the villains were prepared to commit the horrid deed, four police officers, acting under Monsieur de Sartine’s orders, who were concealed under the bed and in the closet, rushed out, and seized the offenders with the property in their possession, and in the act of preparing to commit murder.
“The consequence was, that the perpetration of the atrocious deed was prevented, and sufficient evidence obtained to convict the offenders. Monsieur de Sartine’s intelligence enabled him to prevent this horrid offence of robbery and murder; which, but for the accuracy of the system, would probably have been carried into execution.” This is a curious anecdote. The fact was, as stated by Colquhoun, that the French system of police was then in its best days. It had arrived at the greatest degree of perfection ever reached by any constabulary system in the world.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]