Mail Coach Robbery – 1824
In 1824, the theft of a bank box from the Mail Coach in Stockton High Street had a bizarre and unexpected outcome.
The box was the property of Messrs Hutchinson and Co., a family bank established in Stockton in 1785. It was stolen from the Mail Coach at around 3am in the morning while the horses were being changed outside of the Vane Arms Hotel, one of several coaching inns then in Stockton High Street.
The box, containing £8,000 (more than £600,000 in today’s money), was in the charge of a Mr John Dobson, a clerk employed by the Tees Bank who only discovered it was missing when the coach arrived in Sunderland. He had placed it under his seat in the mail coach when the passengers had disembarked in Stockton while the change of horses was taking place.
Closing the door of the empty coach it was said at the time that ‘he had not gone eight paces’ before the door on the opposite side of the coach was opened and the tin box stolen by a London thief (as it afterwards appeared) wearing a dreadnought coat. The miscreant is then thought to have taken a chaise and four from the next stage to London where he disappeared from the public gaze.
An immediate reward of £200 was offered for such information as might lead to the apprehension and conviction of the thief but without success. Advertisements were then placed in the leading London newspapers offering a handsome reward for ‘a tin box lost at Stockton containing a large sum of money’, again without success.
Nothing was heard until about a month after the advertisements had stopped appearing, at which time a letter posted in London arrived at the bank saying that the writer knew of such a tin box that had been found at Stockton on the night of the robbery. The letter went on to say that the box and its contents would be returned in exchange for a draft of £2000 and a further £700 to cover expenses, but in the meantime there must be a ‘Bond of Security’ forwarded for the fulfilment of the contract, and that no questions were to be asked.
The bank owners were wary that this was just compounding the felony and sought to come to some kind of compromise. This met with no response so they were obliged to accept the terms offered. Having despatched the Bond of Security, and before the coach that was carrying it had returned, a person with the appearance of a gentleman confidently strolled into the bank with the missing tin box and its contents intact. The £2,700 was duly handed over and, with a bow to the bank manager Mr Hutchinson, the stranger left without uttering a word, returning to London by the same coach and four in which he had arrived.
A few days after this strange transaction had taken place, Mr Hutchinson received a case of excellent wine to the value of about £30. The wine was accompanied by a note thanking him for his good faith, complimenting him on his business habits and explaining that the expenses were so high because four attempts had been made to recover the tin box from its ‘new owners’. The writer went on to offer his services in future should the bank ever find themselves in a similar position.
Some boy, eh!