A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 5

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Quote TWO DOLLARS REWARD, for the Apprehension of a MAN who goes by the Name of PARSON TAYLOR; he stands about 6 feet high; having swindled from the undersigned, a Pair of Trowsers and Stockings, THOMAS WATKINS, Kent-street. Unquote — The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Dec 1825.

There could only be one man in Sydney at the end of 1825 meeting the description given above by Thomas Watkins – Robert Atcherley Taylor []. He was up to his old tricks within two months of receiving his Certificate of Freedom. Although to be fair, he had said in 1824 that he wanted to go to Sydney “to procure myself a little wearing apparel (of which I am now completely destitute)”. Robert had also said that he wanted to return to England, but not to return to his “evil propensities”. He had made no promises regarding his conduct in the colony of New South Wales however.

What I find astonishing is not that Robert gave in to temptation so quickly, but that he was, despite his record and the above notice in the Sydney Gazette, employed as a Clerk to the Magistrates in the county of Argyle the following year!

The Returns of the Colony (or ‘Blue Books’) of New South Wales for 1826 show that Mr R A Taylor was appointed Clerk to the Bench, to the District Constables, and to the Petty or Ordinary Constables on 1 March that year. Robert was appointed to these positions by the Bench, with the approval of the Governor (Sir Ralph Darling). Each position paid an annual salary, of £60, £52 and £40 Sterling respectively.

Alexander MacleayNow that he was a free man in gainful employment, working for the local magistrates and police, surely Robert would stay out of trouble? It seems he did – but only for a year. After this period of apparent probity, Robert Atcherley Taylor then carried out some of the most audacious acts of his criminal career. Doctor David Reid, Esquire, Justice of the Peace, set out the details in a letter dated 18 May 1829, addressed to Colonial Secretary Macleay (pictured left):

Quote In answer to your Letter of the 26th March last, enclosing a Copy of a Letter from the Colonial Auditor, and requesting me to account for the Money advanced by the Colonial Treasurer without delay.

I beg leave to inform you that Robert Taylor, late Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates in Argyle, received the Sum of £150 from the Colonial Treasurer in advance for the Quarter ending 31st March, 1827, for the Salaries of the Police, and that he also received £40 from the Colonial Treasurer in advance of the next Quarter to enable me to give the Constables Money on account of their Salaries, and that it appears that he only paid out of the whole of that Money £33 9s. 4d., leaving a loss on the whole account of £156 10s. 8d., to the correctness of which account I am ready to make Affidavit.

I cannot help saying that it would be very hard on the Magistrates to be personally responsible for the Public Money, until it actually comes into their own hands. The Custom then was to send either the Clerk or the Constable for the whole of the Police Money, and that, in addition to all this loss, the said Taylor forged on me personally to a considerable amount, all which money I was obliged to guarantee to the person to whom he presented the forged order … Unquote

With his financial circumstances considerably improved, and doubtless with the Constables of Argyle county taking a close interest in his whereabouts, Robert put some distance between himself and the scene of his crime. He continued his criminal activities along the way, and not only by forging an order from Dr Reid. The following notice appeared in the Sydney Monitor on 21 Jun 1827:

Quote WHEREAS, on Tuesday the 5th instant, a Person calling himself ROBERT TAYLOR, and Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates at Bong-Bong, passed through Campbell Town, and hired an Entire Horse, with saddle and bridle, of the Undersigned for four days, which he has not since returned; and from other circumstances which have come to the knowledge of the Subscriber, he has reason to believe that the said ROBERT TAYLOR has sold the Horse, or made some improper use of it. This, therefore, is to Caution all Persons not to Purchase the said Horse or if already Purchased, not to detain the same after this Notice, on pain of Prosecution; and any Person returning the Horse, or giving such information as may lead to its discovery, will be handsomely rewarded. The said Horse is a bright Bay, with a star on its forehead, stands. about 15 hands high, about 8 years old, short tail, marked on the sides with the traces, and is low in condition.
Campell Town, June 13, 1827. Unquote
Australia, Sydney Supreme Court, 1848

Robert Atcherley Taylor was not at liberty for long. He was apprehended and, on Monday 27 August 1827, he appeared at the Supreme Criminal Court in Sydney (pictured above). He was not charged with the theft of the Argyle constables’ salaries, but with the fraud of which Dr Reid had been the victim. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported the case as follows:

Quote Robert Taylor was indicted for forging, and uttering a certain warrant or order, for the payment of money and the delivery of goods, in the words and figures following:—

‘Inverary, Argyle, April 28, 1827.
Please to pay Mr. Robert Taylor, the sum of £15 sterling, on my account, and send me, by the bearer, a small keg of good tobacco.
To Captain Bunn, Sydney.’

At Inverary, in the county of Argyle, with intent to defraud David Reid, Esq., and also to defraud George Bunn, Esq. of Sydney, on the 28th of April last.

The Attorney General stated the case, and called the following witnesses:—

David Reid, Esq., examined—Is one of the Magistrates for the county of Argyle; the prisoner was, some time ago, clerk to the Bench there; witness being in Sydney, a few days since, met Captain Bunn, with whom he had a running account, and who had money belonging to witness in his hands, and asked to know how the amount stood, and to shew him the balance in his favour; when the account was produced, witness knew nothing whatever about the latter part, upon which Captain Bunn referred to the voucher, which purported to be an order to deliver to the prisoner £15 in money, and a keg of tobacco, and is the issue now before the Court; the signature to the order is genuine, but was never intended to be applied to the purpose which has been superinduced on it; some time ago a change took place in the scale for regulating the salary of the constabulary, in consequence of which, a new form of requisition became necessary; witness accordingly, at the suggestion of the prisoner, affixed his signature to two blank forms, and despatched them, together with a letter, by the prisoner, to the office of the Auditor of Colonial Account, at Sydney, in order that they might be filled up there, according to the new regulation; they were signed ‘David Reid, J.P.’; never gave the prisoner any authority to apply the signature in the way he has done; they were given for the purpose already stated; never gave a blank signature for any mercantile transaction, nor ever added the letters “J. P.” to his signature, on any business of a commercial or private nature.

George Bunn, Esq. stated that, some months ago, it might be about the month of May, the prisoner presented him an order, purporting to be drawn by Dr. Reid, for the payment of some money, and for supplies for his farm; the order before the Court is the same as was so presented, and for which the prisoner obtained value; witness had a settlement of accounts, some time after, with Dr. Reid, when he denied any knowledge of this transaction, upon which witness produced the order, when he admitted the signature to be genuine, but denied that he had ever directed it to be applied to the purpose for which it had been used.

Mr. JUSTICE STEPHEN summed up the evidence, telling the Jury that if they believed, from the testimony before them, that the prisoner had applied the signature of Dr. Reid, though genuine, to a purpose for which it had never been intended, it was in the eye of the law an uttering of a counterfeit instrument.

The Jury found the prisoner Guilty. Remanded. Unquote

The sentence handed down in respect of his fraud was reported by the same newspaper on 5 September 1827. I wonder how Robert reacted when he was told:

Quote Robert Taylor, convicted of uttering a forged instrument, with intent to defraud David Reid, Esq., of Argyle, and G. Bunn, Esq., of Sydney .—Judgment of Death recorded. Unquote

> On to Part 6

Picture credits. Alexander Macleay: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Supreme Court, Sydney: Adapted from a public domain image at Project Gutenberg Australia (from Sydney in 1848, published 1848).


[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Dec 1825, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[2] Returns of the Colony (‘Blue Books’), 1822-1857 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Series 1286, Year 1826, Pages 44 and 99-102). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857. Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857.
[3] Ralph Darling. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 29 Sep 2015).
[4] Library Committee of the Commonwealth Government (1922), Historical Records of Australia, series I, volume XV, pages 25-26 and 292. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[5] The Monitor (Sydney), 21 Jun 1827, page 7. Copy viewed at Trove.
[6] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 29 Aug 1827, page 3. Copy viewed at Trove.
[7] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Sep 1827, page 2. Copy viewed at Trove.