Linda Stratmann
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Fraudsters and Charlatans

A peek at some of history's greatest rogues.

This lively and engaging book tells the stories of some of the biggest fraudsters of the nineteenth century. From the largest fraud on the London Stock Exchange – in which naval hero Lord Cochrane was accused of initiating a rumour that Napoleon had been defeated so that the value of millions of pounds worth of shares which he held would be inflated – to the extraordinary story of Mary Baker, the daughter of a cobbler from Devonshire who fooled society as ‘Princess Caraboo of Javasu’, this is a fascinating book.

Told in an anecdotal style, and including incidents of drama, conflict, pathos and tragedy, Fraudsters and Charlatans reveals the incredible ways in which men and women attempted to con
the government or the general public out of millions of pounds and/or to gain fame from their activities – and how they met their comeuppance. Conducted with guile and cunning, these frauds and hoaxes affected huge numbers of people, and scandalized an entire, appalled nation. As pertinent in today’s greedy society as ever, these riveting tales of true crime expose the seamier side of life in which corruption, avarice and scandal hold sway.

The ten featured cases are:

The Price of Omnium: 1814
An elaborate masquerade fooled the public into thinking that Napoleon had been defeated sending the price of Government Stocks soaring. The resulting trial found one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes guilty of fraud. But was this a miscarriage of justice?

The Princess of Javasu: 1817
Mary Baker, the poorly-educated daughter of a shoemaker was able to fool many intellectuals of the day into believing she was an Oriental princess, unable to speak English. For a few weeks she was the darling of society.

The Viscount of Canada: 1824-39
Alexander Humphreys, assisted by a notorious French fortune teller, claimed the extinct title of Earl of Stirling, and with it vast territories in Canada, which he offered for sale to the public, producing elaborately forged documents in support of his claim.

The Sting: 1841
International crook, the Marquis de Bourbel, planned a huge coup, forging letters of credit worth £1,000,000 to be presented simultaneously all over Europe by a gang of associates, but the plan did not go as smoothly as expected.

The Bank with No Scruples: 1856
John Sadleir MP used his directorship of the Tipperary Bank to finance his stock exchange losses. Many small investors lost their life savings. There was widespread misery, and the Times denounced him as a national calamity. Unable to face the consequences of his actions, he took Prussic acid.

A Racing Certainty: 1877
Harry Benson and William Kurr, used their combined talents to operate a series of fraudulent betting companies, bribing the senior detectives of Scotland Yard to warn them of possible discovery. The eventual scandal led directly to a re-organisation of the police force and the formation of the CID.

The Greatest Liar on Earth: 1898
Louis de Rougemont wrote entertaining articles for the Wide World Magazine in which he claimed to have lived for many years as a cannibal chief in Australia. Many experts were convinced by his stories, but investigation by journalists exposed him as a fake.

The Grappler: 1898
Ernest Terah Hooley bought up promising companies and then resold them to the public at an inflated price. His success and extravagance made him the talk of Europe, but a prosecution exposed his underhand methods to the public. He was made bankrupt four times and served two terms in prison.

The Juggler with Millions: 1900-1904
Whitaker Wright floated companies to exploit the Australian gold mining boom, but when the profits became losses, he falsified the company accounts to fool the shareholders. When the inevitable collapse came he fled abroad and was brought home to face trial, but he was determined he would never go to prison, and took cyanide.

The Double Duke: 1896-1907
In 1896 a Mrs. Druce claimed that her father in law, Thomas Druce, who had apparently died in 1864 had actually been the 5th Duke of Portland, and his supposed burial in that year had been a fake, the coffin at Highgate Cemetery containing lead weights. She claimed that her son was the real duke, and owner of estates worth £16,000,000. Mrs Druce was eventually committed to an asylum, but George Hollamby Druce, son of Thomas Druce’s first marriage then made his own claim. The case was by now a national cause celebre. It was not until 1907 that the grave was opened and was shown to hold Thomas Druce’s body. The case collapsed, and two witnesses were convicted of perjury.

Published 19th October 2006 by Sutton Publishing Ltd.

Fraudsters and Charlatans

2010, The History Press

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