The Great Fraud on the Bank of England

Written by David C. Hanrahan
Review by Martin Bourne

This is an account of a particularly effective scam perpetrated against the Bank of England in 1873 by a group of American hustlers. As is common practice, we start with the discovery of the scam, and then tell the story of its participants in flashback, interposing with the events of the hunt for the criminals, their arrest and trial, and concluding with what happened to them afterwards. The difficulty is that this bank robbery was perpetrated by a few people assuming a number of disguises, and the reader quickly gets very confused as to who is who, although the detailed life story in the second part solves a lot of this. Another problem is that although the fraud was big news at the time, its actual mechanics were astonishingly simple and only worked because of the social class conventions of the time. It is therefore difficult for a modern reader, familiar with far more devastating and intricate swindles performed with a few clicks of a mouse, to get very excited about one of a century or more ago.