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Coin theft at British Museum ; sent to Australia as punishment.


Deinomenid

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With all due apologies to our Antipodean  colleagues at Numisforums  this tale struck me as both odd and  interesting.

I got it  into  my head that looking through the earliest regular numismatic magazines might throw light on some  interesting coins that have been subsequently lost. Amongst the articles in the Numismatic Journal/Chronicles from the 1830's- 50's are  plenty of these, though I suspect  some are  just invented  types. Amongst the articles, endless warnings about forgeries (including English  forgers flooding the Turkish market!), and various diatribes  I came across a thief  with the almost  fantastical name  of Timoleon Vlasto. 

Timoleon of course was the saviour of Greek Sicily, and Vlasto was THE collector  par excellence of  the coins of Taras.

The article is here, and below. It is an  interesting defence that, as collecting was his passion, he  should be let off.  For a  name as wonderful as  Timoleon Vlasto, the sentence should  have been  halved, but he was, indeed, sent to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania)  as  one of 250 convicts. (Maryland and Virginia having  been  inconveniently closed to English convicts somewhat earlier...)

 


MISCELLANEA.
THE ROBBERY AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
Central Criminal Court, May 9 (1849). - New Court. - Timoleon Vlasto, aged twenty-four, described in the calendar as a labourer , was indicted for stealing 266 coins, valued at £500, the property of the trustees of the British Museum. The prisoner, a gentlemanly-looking man, is by birth a Greek, and of good family, and seemed but imperfectly acquainted with the English language. Upon the various indictments being read over, he pleaded "Guilty." There was also a further charge against him for stealing 71 coins, valued at £150, the property of Charles Richard Fox, in his dwelling-house. To this indictment the prisoner also pleaded " Guilty."


Mr. Clarkson, who appeared on behalf of the prisoner, applied to the Court to defer passing sentence until the next day, when he
(the learned counsel) would call witnesses to show his highly respectable position in society , and also that he had not possessed himself of
the coins for the purpose of either selling or raising money on them
; and, but that he (the learned counsel), thought the Court would
ridicule the idea, he should say that the act was that of a monomaniac , and had arisen out of the prisoner's passion for collecting
coins, there being in his possession a great number of other valuable coins besides those stolen, and which could be proved to be
the prisoner's own property.


Mr. Bodkin, who appeared for the prosecution, said he had no opposition to offer to the application, and wished the Court to
understand that the prosecution had been fairly got up. It was the Court who felt at a loss how to proceed . They had but one
duty to perform ; and although the prisoner was a young man of good family, he must be dealt with by the Court as all others
were. After some further conversation, the Common-Serjeant said that he should postpone passing sentence until a future day of
Session.


[We call the attention of our readers to the passages in italics reserving for the present our own comments. Sentence has since been pronounced on this man ; namely, transportation for seven years. Great interest, it is reported, will be made to procure a
mitigation of his punishment -Ed.]

 

 

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LOVE THIS!!! Next time I spend too much on a coin I'll plead to my wife "that the act was that of a monomaniac ,". Not my fault sweetie. Damn monomania is acting up again. 

To keep it legit, here is a coin of Timoleon... the savior of Sicily, not the kid thief:

2844965_1652362054.l-removebg-preview.png.53011fa1492a9146d3cd984532eac14f.png.0bf32d3b6b12ed689d28d0374d5849a2.png

Edited by Ryro
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20 hours ago, Deinomenid said:

With all due apologies to our Antipodean  colleagues at Numisforums  this tale struck me as both odd and  interesting.

I got it  into  my head that looking through the earliest regular numismatic magazines might throw light on some  interesting coins that have been subsequently lost. Amongst the articles in the Numismatic Journal/Chronicles from the 1830's- 50's are  plenty of these, though I suspect  some are  just invented  types. Amongst the articles, endless warnings about forgeries (including English  forgers flooding the Turkish market!), and various diatribes  I came across a thief  with the almost  fantastical name  of Timoleon Vlasto. 

Timoleon of course was the saviour of Greek Sicily, and Vlasto was THE collector  par excellence of  the coins of Taras.

The article is here, and below. It is an  interesting defence that, as collecting was his passion, he  should be let off.  For a  name as wonderful as  Timoleon Vlasto, the sentence should  have been  halved, but he was, indeed, sent to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania)  as  one of 250 convicts. (Maryland and Virginia having  been  inconveniently closed to English convicts somewhat earlier...)

 


MISCELLANEA.
THE ROBBERY AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
Central Criminal Court, May 9 (1849). - New Court. - Timoleon Vlasto, aged twenty-four, described in the calendar as a labourer , was indicted for stealing 266 coins, valued at £500, the property of the trustees of the British Museum. The prisoner, a gentlemanly-looking man, is by birth a Greek, and of good family, and seemed but imperfectly acquainted with the English language. Upon the various indictments being read over, he pleaded "Guilty." There was also a further charge against him for stealing 71 coins, valued at £150, the property of Charles Richard Fox, in his dwelling-house. To this indictment the prisoner also pleaded " Guilty."


Mr. Clarkson, who appeared on behalf of the prisoner, applied to the Court to defer passing sentence until the next day, when he
(the learned counsel) would call witnesses to show his highly respectable position in society , and also that he had not possessed himself of
the coins for the purpose of either selling or raising money on them
; and, but that he (the learned counsel), thought the Court would
ridicule the idea, he should say that the act was that of a monomaniac , and had arisen out of the prisoner's passion for collecting
coins, there being in his possession a great number of other valuable coins besides those stolen, and which could be proved to be
the prisoner's own property.


Mr. Bodkin, who appeared for the prosecution, said he had no opposition to offer to the application, and wished the Court to
understand that the prosecution had been fairly got up. It was the Court who felt at a loss how to proceed . They had but one
duty to perform ; and although the prisoner was a young man of good family, he must be dealt with by the Court as all others
were. After some further conversation, the Common-Serjeant said that he should postpone passing sentence until a future day of
Session.


[We call the attention of our readers to the passages in italics reserving for the present our own comments. Sentence has since been pronounced on this man ; namely, transportation for seven years. Great interest, it is reported, will be made to procure a
mitigation of his punishment -Ed.]

 

 

This story reminds me of the 19 Crimes Wine that is made in Australia. Each type of wine has a prisoner depicted on the label who was banished to Australia for crimes against England. Some of these wines are excellent quality for the money 🍷🍾😄.

19-crimeswineadj..jpg.5f9c1296f774c92662c2236956bedb05.jpg

 

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Apparently Australians nowadays are quite proud of their criminal past, which kind of makes sense. Apparently this "transportation" of British criminals to Australia (for set terms of 7 or 14 years, or life) resulted in the sending of 162,000 people to Australia between 1788 and 1869, and yet the population of Australia only reached 1M around 1850, and had been as low as 350,000 in 1800 ...

It's been said that one of the reasons Britain ended this practice was because it wasn't very effective in reducing crime. Apparently being sent from chiily Britain to sunny Australia wasn't quite the punishment they thought it would be, and most of those "trasnsported" chose to stay at the end of their term, which didn't make for the best propaganda back home.

So, it would seem that a decent percentage  of those in Australia who can trace their roots back to this time period must have criminal ancestors!

Being exiled fr 7 years for coin theft seems extraordinarily harsh!

One of my British nephews is currently globe trotting in place of having gone to college, and is currently working in Tasmania. Seems rather pleasant there! 🙂

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9 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

Apparently Australians nowadays are quite proud of their criminal past, which kind of makes sense. Apparently this "transportation" of British criminals to Australia (for set terms of 7 or 14 years, or life) resulted in the sending of 162,000 people to Australia between 1788 and 1869, and yet the population of Australia only reached 1M around 1850, and had been as low as 350,000 in 1800 ...

It's been said that one of the reasons Britain ended this practice was because it wasn't very effective in reducing crime. Apparently being sent from chiily Britain to sunny Australia wasn't quite the punishment they thought it would be, and most of those "trasnsported" chose to stay at the end of their term, which didn't make for the best propaganda back home.

So, it would seem that a decent percentage  of those in Australia who can trace their roots back to this time period must have criminal ancestors!

Being exiled fr 7 years for coin theft seems extraordinarily harsh!

One of my British nephews is currently globe trotting in place of having gone to college, and is currently working in Tasmania. Seems rather pleasant there! 🙂

It is very nice, although the reason the population didn't grow was because it wasn't a great place to be sent at the time. The earliest arrivals were very likely to die - of disease or starvation - before they got to the end of their sentence. (In fact, they had a good chance of dying on the hulk ship before they even set sail). They didn't go back to Britain because you had to pay for the ticket and they couldn't afford it, or by the time they could, they had a job and a family in Australia.

Transportation was stopped because it didn't stop crime (a bit like prison and the death penalty, which persist anyway) but mainly because it was seen as unfair on the convicts and on the Australians having convicts sent to live with them.

I'd be surprised if pretty much every Australian with ancestry going back a few generations hasn't got a convict ancestor. I even have a convict ancestor who was transported to Australia and I'm not Australian. (They left their children behind). They were also convicted of stealing coins, but not collectable ones. £37 in the 1830s, which would be worth about £3,000 today. So £500 was a huge amount. The automatic sentence for robbery or housebreaking was death, but this was almost always commuted to transportation, which was probably a relief but maybe not.

Still, British people have been steadily emigrating to Australia since the end of transportation. After WW2, Australia was booming and wanted to increase its population, so they paid British people £10 to help them emigrate there. They haven't stopped since.

Convict Farewell Token on a George III Penny, 1797
image.png.f1c3f27a7d744cfeebb07f2b74accd62.png
London. Copper, 36mm, 25g (KM 618). Smoothed and engraved. WHEN / THIS YOU SEE / REMEMBER ME / DEAR MOTHER / ·1827·. C.P To R.P within a pierced love heart, a rose extends out below a Tudor King’s Crown, thistle and shamrock either side.
It seems to have belonged to Catherine Parmenter (CP), an 18-year-old Catholic who was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for highway robbery. Her sentence was commuted to transportation for life. Catherine was 5’2”, fair, stoutish, freckled and pockpitted, with light brown hair and hazel and grey eyes. She was from Kent (which along with her Catholicism may point to gypsy roots) but had been a servant (a needlewoman) in London. ‘Highway robbery’ involved Catherine and her accomplices hitting a man in the street and robbing him of his watch. Another girl was also transported, while a boy (who helped them escape) was imprisoned for a year and publicly whipped. The girls got very seasick on the ship but reached Sydney Cove in the summer of 1827. Catherine married in 1829, but was refused permission to marry again in 1846, because she was already married. She was pardoned in 1851 and died in New South Wales in 1876 aged 67, having never returned to England.

Edited by John Conduitt
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In Germany, we had a spree of museum burglaries recently. In 2017, a 100kg golden Big Maple Leaf was stolen from the Bode-Museum in Berlin. In 2019, the same criminal group stole the historic Saxon royal jewellery from the Green Vault in Dresden. In 2022, a large hoard of Celtic gold coins was stolen from a museum in Manching. In all cases, the culprits got rather minimal sentences while the stolen objects either remain missing or resurfaced only partly, having been damaged or melted down.

I would love to see these criminals go on a long involuntary cruise to Australia, but I doubt the Australians want to have them...

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11 hours ago, John Conduitt said:

The earliest arrivals were very likely to die

Survival rates of early colonists there are used as a proxy for survival rates and likely population trends in the earliest days of the Greek colonies in 8th century Sicily.

I thought the comparison a little odd, but I've seen it several times.

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Death rates per 1000 in early Botany Bay were  pretty low. After the first 30 years or so they weren't hugely different from today. (10). And looked  good  in comparison with  much of Europe and the UK.  Why this was used as a comp for  Greeks  slugging  it out for territory against each other and   entrenched Sikels around  marshy Syracuse is  beyond me. The author  was  a leading  light of All Souls, Oxford  though  so I suppose I should quite possibly defer.

Btw our criminal (or monomaniac as you prefer) in the original report (the Greek labourer) apparently decided to stay, moved to Sydney and was married as a "gentleman of Trieste". Possibly  self-described.

 

IMG_1754.jpg.3001caf341138a4b830e2e04418774ab.jpg

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1 hour ago, Deinomenid said:

Death rates per 1000 in early Botany Bay were  pretty low. After the first 30 years or so they weren't hugely different from today. (10). And looked  good  in comparison with  much of Europe and the UK.  Why this was used as a comp for  Greeks  slugging  it out for territory against each other and   entrenched Sikels around  marshy Syracuse is  beyond me. The author  was  a leading  light of All Souls, Oxford  though  so I suppose I should quite possibly defer.

Btw our criminal (or monomaniac as you prefer) in the original report (the Greek labourer) apparently decided to stay, moved to Sydney and was married as a "gentleman of Trieste". Possibly  self-described.

 

IMG_1754.jpg.3001caf341138a4b830e2e04418774ab.jpg


I don't think it's right to call them low. 41 in 1000 in the first year (plus 1% died getting there) would give you a life expectancy of 24 years. That's on an average age of 25 from a range almost entirely between 20-40 - there were no old people at all. It might sound better than England (which had 20 deaths per 1000), but the English death rate included a lot of older people and children, who push up the rate massively. Once you got to adulthood, 49 was young to die.

The later figures are presumably skewed by very high 'immigration'. (Apparently, there were almost exactly 6000 people there for 5 years straight, with 500 deaths to offset the 15,000 transported there in that time. Perhaps they went elsewhere to die). Australia today has a death rate of 0.5%, so they must all be living to 200.

Edited by John Conduitt
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1 hour ago, John Conduitt said:

they must all be living to 200

Death rates are calculated in an arcane way, which  I know  too much about having once briefly shared a flat with a trainee actuary (not recommended at all) But roughly you take  if from a given cohort, not the population as shown. Australia's the lucky country, despite its alarming insect life,  but  not that lucky 🙂. For the average convict, (5 years for a tiny fraction of the total transported is way off that) it  wasn't bad at all compared with the theoretical alternatives.  There are even cases of crimes deliberately committed to get transported, though this was  unlikely to be the direct result of mortality stat analysis!  This is  (sadly) from  too much time on analysis of  likely grave site  numbers in certain east Sicilian necropolises/necropoleis.

 

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35 minutes ago, Deinomenid said:

Death rates are calculated in an arcane way, which  I know  too much about having once briefly shared a flat with a trainee actuary (not recommended at all) But roughly you take  if from a given cohort, not the population as shown. Australia's the lucky country, despite its alarming insect life,  but  not that lucky 🙂. For the average convict, (5 years for a tiny fraction of the total transported is way off that) it  wasn't bad at all compared with the theoretical alternatives.  There are even cases of crimes deliberately committed to get transported, though this was  unlikely to be the direct result of mortality stat analysis!  This is  (sadly) from  too much time on analysis of  likely grave site  numbers in certain east Sicilian necropolises/necropoleis.

 

Yes indeed. The convicts were all just in a couple of cohorts.

There were also stories of people trying to be hung rather than be transported. There was a case in 1789 (directly after the first convicts were sent to Australia) where several young men refused the King's pardon i.e. they were sentenced to death and the King commuted that to transportation, but they didn't accept it. The system was based on the presumption that they would accept it, which normally people did, and it caused a legal quandary whereby they couldn't be hung (because they'd been pardoned) but they couldn't be transported (because they'd refused to accept it). They ended up staying in Newgate until they changed their minds.

Edited by John Conduitt
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