Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fauntleroy, Henry

FAUNTLEROY, HENRY (1785–1824), banker and forger, was born in 1785. His father, who bore the same names, was one of the original founders of the banking house of Marsh, Sibbald, & Co. of Berners Street, London, in 1782. The younger Fauntleroy entered the house as a clerk in 1800, and on the death of his father in 1807 was taken into partnership. His knowledge of the business was extensive, and from the first almost the whole management of the bank and its affairs was left in his hands. On 14 Sept. 1824 an announcement appeared in the papers in the names of the firm to the effect that it was necessary to suspend payment at the bank in consequence of ‘the very unexpected situation in which we find ourselves placed by the extraordinary conduct of our partner, Mr. Fauntleroy.’ Fauntleroy had been arrested on 11 Sept., and, after a private examination before a magistrate, committed to Coldbath Fields. The warrant was obtained on the depositions of two trustees of 1,000l. in 3 per cent. annuities who had entrusted the stock to Fauntleroy; the dividends were regularly paid to them, but it was discovered that the stock had been sold in September 1820, under a power of attorney, purporting to be signed by the trustees themselves and by Fauntleroy, and the trustees' signatures were forged. At the police-court examination on 18 Sept. evidence was given that Fauntleroy had in a similar manner disposed of other stock, representing sums of 17,500l., 46,000l., and 5,300l. He was remanded till 1 Oct., when further charges were gone into, and he was committed for trial, being sent in the meantime to Newgate. Great public excitement was aroused by the case, and in the interval before the trial the newspapers vied with each other in publishing stories of what was alleged to be Fauntleroy's dissolute and extravagant mode of life. The statement was freely circulated that he had appropriated trust funds to the amount of a quarter of a million, the whole of which he had squandered on the establishments of his various mistresses in town and country, and in gambling. The trial took place on 30 Oct. at the Old Bailey, before Justice Park and Baron Garrow. Seven separate indictments were preferred against Fauntleroy, and the attorney-general, who prosecuted, relied on the case in which the prisoner had forged a deed in the name of his sister-in-law for the transfer of 5,480l. He was able to prove one and all of the cases sufficiently for all practical purposes by the production of a paper in Fauntleroy's handwriting, and signed by him, which contained a list of the various sums fraudulently dealt with, and the following statement: ‘In order to keep up the credit of our house I have forged powers of attorney, and have thereupon sold out these sums without the knowledge of any of my partners. I have given credit in the accounts for the interest when it became due.’ A postscript added: ‘The Bank began first to refuse our acceptances, and thereby to destroy the credit of our house; they shall therefore smart for it.’ The fraudulent transfers had first begun in 1815, and Fauntleroy, having the entire stock-market business in his own hands, was thus enabled to escape detection. The dividends were regularly paid to the rightful proprietors, and entries duly made in the books as if the transactions were perfectly in order. The case was formally proved, and Fauntleroy then addressed the court in his defence. Admitting his guilt, he declared that it had been forced upon him by the instability of the bank's position, and that every penny of the money he had raised by forgery had been placed to the credit of the house, and applied to the payment of the demands upon it. He explicitly denied the reports that had been circulated as to his loose manner of life, and a scandalous story of his treatment of his wife. He then called as witnesses seventeen merchants and bankers, who testified to his general integrity and unspotted reputation. The jury returned a verdict of ‘guilty of uttering the forged instrument knowing it to be forged,’ and at the termination of the sessions on 2 Nov. the recorder pronounced the sentence of death. Every species of influence was brought to bear to procure a commutation of the penalty. The case was twice argued before judges on points of law, and petitions and appeals from powerful quarters were presented to the home secretary, but without result. An Italian, Edmund Angelini by name, offered to take Fauntleroy's place on the scaffold, and twice appealed in all seeming seriousness to the lord mayor to be allowed this favour. Fauntleroy was executed 30 Nov. 1824 before a crowd which was estimated to number a hundred thousand persons. A quite groundless rumour was widely believed to the effect that he had escaped death by the insertion in his throat of a silver tube, which prevented strangulation, and that on being restored to consciousness he went abroad and lived for many years.

[Times and other newspapers, September–December 1824, passim; Pierce Egan's Account of the Trial of Mr. Fauntleroy; Arthur Griffiths's Chron. of Newgate, ii. 294–300.]

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