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1767: William Guest, coin shaver

October 14th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1767, a larcenous bank clerk was hanged at Tyburn for robbing the till.

Sleigh ride: Detail of a studious William Guest being drawn to Tyburn (click for full print).

In this case, it wasn’t anything so gross as grabbing the money and running. No, our malefactor William Guest — the “son of a clergyman of unblemished character” whose “constant handling of gold [for the Bank of England] shook his integrity” — started milling the edges of the guineas he handled and innocuously returning them to the bank’s stock whilst piling up his own supply of gold filings.

It’s sort of the pre-digital version of the Office Space scheme: “I’m just talking about fractions of a penny here, but we do it from a much bigger tray. A couple of million times. So what’s wrong with that?” Literal profit on the margin: perfect for the FIRE sector.

Though 18th century London’s perpetual necktie party was obviously focused on the lowest classes, its busy gallows had room enough for the occasional white-collar crime.

And by England’s lights, debasing the currency was as serious a crime as there was: Guest’s conviction wasn’t for larceny or fraud, but for treason.

Because of that, he didn’t get the plain-old cart ride to the gallows, but was drawn on a sledge — the “drawn” bit of “hanged, drawn, and quartered,” although for this penny-shaver the execution itself didn’t entail the horrible quartering.

After enduring this archaic ignominy, the minister’s son “was indulged to pray on his knees” before being noosed and “his whole deportment was so pious, grave, manly and solemn, as to draw tears from the greatest part of the numerous spectators.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Pelf,Public Executions

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