Tales from Latimer (2) – The Odious Fraudster and the Extraordinarily Clever Inspector of Detective Police

16Apr11

Another story from John Latimer’s Annals of Bristol in the Nineteenth Century, is it?

In 1863, a company, The Bristol & North Somerset Railway, was formed to run a railway line from Radstock to Bristol, and to build tramways in the city. The firm was a failure early on, several directors were ruined financially and an investigation uncovered a catalogue of mismanagement and possible corruption. Particularly at fault was the company secretary, John Bingham.

Latimer says:

Bingham, who sought to gain popularity by making ‘Church and Queen’ orations at political dinners, and by delivering unctuous addresses at religious gatherings, pleaded guilty in June, 1870, to a charge of having forged an endorsement on a draft for £536, with intent to defraud Mr. Wm. M. Baillie, a Bristol banker, and was sentenced, to twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

And that’s it, as far as Latimer’s Annals are concerned, but Bingham sounds so odious, you want to savour his downfall a little longer, right? I know I do!

So we turn to The Bristol Mercury (which Latimer was editing at the time) … And find a real-life character so fascinating that someone ought to do a biography of him, or at least give him a starring role in a novel …

After defrauding Baillie, there was a warrant out for Bingham’s arrest for some time. Bingham had, in fact, fled to the Continent where he styled himself ‘Colonel Bingham’.

“It is said,” the Mercury (May 7 1870) tells us, “that he had cultivated the acquaintance of a Quaker lady of considerable means, who contemplated a matrimonial alliance with him. A contemporary states that there must be some mistake as to Mr Bingham having won the affections of a Quaker lady, as he is a married man with ten children.” Yeah, that sounds like Bingham, don’t it?

The Metropolitan Police were on Bingham’s tail. This was a time when the newfangled detective police were held in awe, heroes of fiction and newspapers alike, and on this occasion, they didn’t disappoint.

The Bingham case was assigned to Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich, “an extraordinarily clever fellow, and a wonderful linguist.”

Druscovich ran Bingham to ground in the fashionable German spa resort of Baden-Baden, but now had to get his man back onto English soil if he was to effect an arrest.

So Druscovich pretended to be a Russian nobleman, “and made himself very agreeable to Mr Bingham; they dined together, played billiards together and became very intimate.”

Bingham needed to return to England on some business, but wasn’t sure it would be wise. His Russian friend advised him to do so, and, as he had nothing else urgent on, offered to accompany him on the trip.

They travelled back together, landing at Margate. “Judge of Mr Bingham’s unpleasant surprise when … his noble and Russian friend suddenly became an English detective, and tapping him on the shoulder, apprehended him by virtue of the warrant which he had had all this time in his pocket for his ‘good English friend’.”

Seven years later, Inspector Druscovich and three other detectives were sentenced to two years for accepting bribes from a pair of confidence tricksters. The scandal was immense, and resulted in the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch into the CID. And I’m going to find out lots more about this intriguing character one day …

Want more Latimer? I’m talking about him at Arnos Vale next month. So why not book a ticket, and one for a friend? Money goes to the Cemetery, not me, so even if you come out disappointed, it’s in a good cause.

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