1954: Karli Bandelow and Ewald Misera, in the Gehlen-Prozess 1765: Patrick Ogilvie, but not Katharine Nairn

1800: Thomas Chalfont, postboy

November 12th, 2015 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1800,* a seventeen-year-old mail sorter named Thomas Chalfont was hanged at Newgate for theft.

Chalfont “feloniously did secrete a letter, or packet, directed to Messrs. Bedwells, St. John’s-street.” Said letter, or packet, had contained three £10 notes; it arrived to Messrs. Bedwells late and containing only two such notes. The accompanying letter had also been altered to correspond to the diminished enclosure.

The recipient complained to the post office, and Chalfont was found out.

He was the second post office employee to be executed for the same offense; almost a year earlier, John Williams had faced the hangman for taking money — it was even the same amount, £10 — out of a letter in his charge.

According to Susan Whyman, the royal mail was a frequent locus of property crime throughout the 18th century: “armed robbery, overcharging for postage, forging franks, wilful destruction of letters, and embezzlement of enclosed bills or money.” Chalfont’s variant here seems downright banal, but it was commonplace enough that one correspondent Whyman cites in 1787 defeated sticky-fingered mail sorters by tearing a £10 Bank of England note in half and mailing the two halves to his wife separately.

The Newgate Calendar sighed,

We greatly lament to find young men gratuitously placed in trust in the Post-office, frequently abusing the confidence reposed in them, disgracing their friends, who necessarily must have used much interest in obtaining such places for them, and then bringing themselves to an ignominious fate.

Four others died alongside Chalfont: Thomas Douglas, a horse-thief; John Price and John Robinson, burglars; and William Hatton, who took a shot at a watchman.

In the Derby Mercury edition (Nov. 13, 1800) reporting the quintuple execution, the very next news item underscored the post’s continuing security problems:

A singular attempt to intercept the passage of the letters into the Post Office, at Durham, was fortunately discovered on Sunday evening last, before any mischief had been effected by the stratagem. A piece of sheet iron, so modelled as to fit the entrance of the box, had been introduced, so as that it could be withdrawn with any letter that might be put into it.

* The Newgate Calendar supplies the date of November 11; this appears to be erroneous, as the period’s reporting confirms a Wednesday, Nov. 12 execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Theft

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2 thoughts on “1800: Thomas Chalfont, postboy”

  1. I can confirm that November 12th is the correct date. The Newgate Callendar, fascinating though it is, cannot always get the year right, never mind the day!

  2. Philippe says:


    It happened to me early this year to receive an envelope from San Luis Obispo, California, which was my order for 2 DVD. This envelope arrived already opened, with a blade apparently since it was cleanly done. The content was the prepaid invoice and the paper catalogue of the seller. But the 2 DVD were missing and so had certainly been stolen at one point in the postal circuit.
    No surprise, here the thief did not bother to alter the paperwork to correspond to the diminished enclosure, not as in your post of today, Meaghan !
    I contacted the seller of whom I buy fairly often and he sent me replacement DVDs graciously. This did not of course change the fact there was a postal theft and the seller had to support it.
    About the stratagem used to catch letters in the postal box. This reminds me of doctor Marcel Petiot – another client of Executed Today – . I have read that when still in his teens – besides torturing cats and doing other stuff often seen in the childhood of future criminals – he used to steal things in postal boxes. Including postal orders. Although I don’t see how in practice he managed to cash them as it was told he did.
    His trick to catch whatever stuff was in the postal box was this ( I don’t know if this would work and don’t want to give bad ideas to anyone ) : find a wooden stick from a tree. Get a chewing-gum and masticate it. Put the chewing-gum at one extremity of the stick then hold the stick by the other end and plunge it in the entrance of the box. The chewing-gum will stick to the paper envelopes in the box.
    Tearing a banknote in two halves ? It was for another purpose than in this post we all have seen movies ( like ” Le Clan des Siciliens ” ( 1969 ) by Henri Verneuil with Jean Gabin, Alain Delon – who turned 80 last 8 November – , Lino Ventura ) where in the plot two protagonists not knowing one another yet have to meet. At an airport for example. They have previously made the arrangement that they will recognize mutually when at the place one of them will hold the half of a banknote. The other will come to him holding the other half which has to fit.
    You mention this man who had the idea for safety to tear in two the banknote and send the two halves separately to his wife.
    This reminds me of a trick which today in our times is often recommended and followed. When you want to pay by credit card and the seller has his own credit card processing facilities. And apart from when there is a website with a secure server to make the payment through. So if you have to provide your CC details by e-mails to the seller. It is advised that you send not one but 2 or more e-mails each one containing only a part of the CC details. So in the unlikely event one e-mail is intercepted, the hacker would only have part of the details, not usable.
    I say that but one is always afraid that skilled hackers may manage to overcome this.

    Best Regards

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