I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
On November 30, 1824, Henry Fauntleroy, banker and fraudster, attracted the largest crowd ever to attend a public execution in England.
The gallows were set up outside Newgate Prison and, reports Stephen Adams of The Telegraph, “Such a scandal was the Fauntleroy affair that 100,000 turned up” to watch the hanging.
The contemporary account in The Newgate Calendar said, “Every window and roof which could command a view of the dreadful ceremony was occupied, and places from which it was impossible to catch a glimpse of the scaffold were blocked up by those who were prevented by the dense crowd before them from advancing farther.”
So, what made this man such a villain that huge numbers of people wanted to see him dance a jig at the end of a rope?
Henry Fauntleroy Becomes a Bank Manager
In 1807, Henry Fauntleroy was appointed as the head of the Marsh, Sibbald Bank that was located in a fashionable part of London; he followed his father, one of the bank’s founding partners, in the position.
He seems to have been pretty green to the banking trade, but he was described as a “grave and earnest young man who inspired confidence.” His manner was such that the other partners left him to his own devices.
But, in a story familiar to anyone who has followed the financial crisis of 2008 and beyond, the bank was not doing well. The Marsh, Sibbald Bank was over-exposed in loans to builders whose construction projects needed more money to be seen through to completion. Fauntleroy was so deep into loans to builders that he couldn’t call the debt in because it would cause the building projects to collapse and the bank would get nothing.
As Fauntleroy himself testified at his trial at the Old Bailey, it was necessary to make “further advances to those persons to secure the sums in which they stood indebted;” in other words, throwing good money after bad.
The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same
Refinancing Bad Loans
The Bank of England got wind of the cash flow problem at Marsh, Sibbald and was reluctant to extend any more credit to it. If word reached the street that the bank was shaky depositors would demand all their money back, something the bank did not have the resources to satisfy.
Fauntleroy’s accounts were in such poor shape that he had to finance the loans he was making from somewhere. As recorded by executedtoday.com, Fauntleroy began selling off stock owned by depositors without their permission and by forging their signatures. He used the proceeds to keep the bank solvent.
He even kept a careful record of his fraudulent activities and, in one ledger entry, wrote: “In order to keep up the credit of our house, I have forged powers of attorney for the above sums and parties, and sold out to the amount here stated, and without the knowledge of my partners. I kept up the payments of the dividends, but made no entries of such payments in our books.”
Rarely, do fraudsters keep such details of their nefarious dealings. In Fauntleroy’s case, his meticulous bookkeeping amounted to the signing of his own death warrant.
Marsh, Sibbald Bank Collapses
As with all similar schemes, Fauntleroy’s eventually ran out of financial resources, the house crashed, and, on September 10, 1824, the banker was arrested.
On October 30, 1824 Henry Fauntleroy faced the accusation that he had embezzled some £250,000, worth about £18 million in today’s money. He entered a plea of not guilty but the evidence against him was overwhelming.
The Newgate Calendar recorded: “Then the prisoner, after having completed the reading of a long document in his defence, sat down, and wept with much agitation.
“Seventeen gentlemen of the highest respectability were then called, and they all attested their opinion of his honour, integrity, and goodness of disposition …”
But, the positive judgement of such worthies had little effect on a jury that returned a verdict of guilty of uttering within 20 minutes. Sentence of death was then passed.
Appeal Quickly Dispensed With
Fauntleroy’s lawyers made a couple of appeals based on points of law, but they were quickly turned down and a month after his trial, on Wednesday October 24, the banker received visitors in his cell in Newgate Prison. They were a judicial clerk with the court’s final verdict and the jail’s Ordinary (Chaplain), Rev. Mr. Cotton.
The occasion was reported in a one-penny sheet published by Pitts Printers: “Mr. Fauntleroy was reading a prayer book the moment they entered. He had been waiting in a most anxious state … having up to the last moment as he then acknowledged entertained some faint hope of reprieve …
“The face of the culprit was pale as ashes. He looked up when the Ordinary approached him and said, ‘Ah! Mr. Cotton I see how it is.’ ” He received the news that his execution was to take place the following Tuesday.
On the appointed day, and with Fauntleroy pinioned, shackled, and led to the gallows Pitts Printers reported, “The dreadful preparations being completed, the usual signal was given, and the world closed on him for ever.”
Following the execution some coins went into circulation with an over-stamped message that read “Fauntleroy the Robber of Widows and Orphans, Executed at Newgate, such be the Fate of the Insolvent Bilking Bankers and Agents” One of these coins, with a face value of one penny, sold at auction in 2011 for £472.
- Henry Fauntleroy seems to have had an active libido. A dalliance in 1809 led to marriage and, after a period somewhat shorter than usual, the birth of a son. The mother and child lived apart from Henry who, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “plunged into a series of expensive amours …” One of his mistresses went by a variety of pseudonyms one of which was Mrs. Bang.
- Henry Fauntleroy had some aristocratic blood coursing through his veins that included a baron and a few medieval lords. One of his vanities was that he resembled Napoleon Bonaparte and he kept a bust of the French general on his bookshelf. Thanks to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography we know that “When, in 1821, he bought a sumptuous Grecian villa at Brighton he erected a billiard room in the form of Napoleon’s travelling tent. He fancied himself, too, as bold and decisive as his hero.”
- The man who dispatched Fauntleroy into the abyss was the hangman Jemmy Botting. He lived in Brighton in a humble dwelling quite close to Fauntleroy’s villa. Later in life, Botting became partially paralyzed and shuffled about in a chair with wheels. In October 1837, he fell out of his conveyance. He was so despised that nobody came to his aid and he died in the street right outside the property that had once belonged to Henry Fauntleroy.
Caution: Strong Language
- “Henry Fauntleroy.” The Newgate Calendar.
- “Celebrated Trials, and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence.” George Borrow (ed), Knight and Lacey, 1825.
- Cheating Bankers Nothing New, 19th Century ‘Madoff Medal’ Shows.” Stephen Adams, The Telegraph, November 18, 2009.
- “Wolverton Past.” Bryan Dunleavy, May 7, 2011.
- “Hang all the Bankers.” Mike Rendell, November 30, 2016.
- “Henry Fauntleroy: Hanged for Forgery.” Shan Lancaster, My Brighten and Hove, undated.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor
Shirley Anne Cook on August 21, 2018:
I am fascinated by this story. To be executed for forgery seems to me so harsh, even then. I understand it was more a trial by newspapers?
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 02, 2017:
What a tragedy! Fauntleroy probably started out with good intentions, but what has to happen for money criminals to stop and turn around? Eventually there is no way out and many kill themselves. He might have thought that he could still find a way to get through the mess. Thanks for telling the story.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 31, 2017:
Henry Fauntleroy was the last person in Britain executed for forgery, but I'm sure he would have preferred the penultimate hanged forger to own that distinction.
Suzie from Carson City on March 31, 2017:
Rupert! I'm shocked. The poor man was hanged for a white collar crime? Things sure have turned around since then! England has no capital punishment at all now, even for egregious crimes against humanity. Imagine if the crooked bankers of today had to face the the hangman!! My goodness, there'd be a line so long, they'd have to pass out numbers.
This was very interesting. Thanks for your great research! Have a wonderful week-end. Peace, Paula