Sunday, 27 January 2013

William Orton of Hutton Rudby & the forged Boroughbridge Bank note: 1821

A man named William Orton lived on the east end of North Side, Hutton Rudby at the beginning of the 19th century.

He had obviously been a substantial property owner, because title deeds of 1815 relating to land belonging to the late Thomas Tweddle of Middleton show that Orton had sold Tweddle several houses, garths and gardens in the area of the Bay Horse [1].

It seems likely that he was the father of the William Orton, described as being the son of William Orton, who was baptised at Hutton Rudby on 8 December 1778.

The account that follows is almost certainly about the William who was born in 1778.  He would have been aged about 43 at the time of this story.

In March 1821, William Orton of Hutton Rudby was tried at the York Assizes.  He was charged with altering a banknote and knowingly passing an altered banknote – both offences that carried the death penalty.

He had used forged notes to buy two heifers from a farmer at Thirsk Fair, claiming that his name was Wilson and that he lived in Goodramgate in York.  As a result of this, George Brigham [see Chapter 5 of Remarkable, but still True] had to appear in court to confirm Orton's true identity.

The following report of the trial appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer on Monday 26 March 1821 [2]:
WM. ORTON was charged with feloniously paying to John Harwood a promissory note, purporting to be of the value of five pounds, of the bank of Humphrey Fletcher, Thomas Stubbs, Thomas Dew and Hugh Stott, of Boroughbridge, knowing the said note was forged and counterfeit, and with intent to defaud the said bankers. 
MR STARKIE said, the indictment charged the prisoner with two offences, both capital; the one for feloniously altering a note, the other for uttering it, knowing it to be so altered.  Though usual to charge both offences, it was probable the present inquiry would be confined to the uttering of a note with a guilty knowledge.  It was difficult to prove the act of forgery; it was easy to prove that of uttering.  If a person altered a note in a material point, it was as much a forgery, as if the whole had been forged. 
John Harwood [also called Hurwood in this article] is a farmer.  Went with his cousin George Atkinson to Thirsk fair, where he saw the prisoner.  George left his cattle in charge of witness, and prisoner bought two of them for 18 guineas.  They went to the public house to settle for them.  On their way, the prisoner said he came from York, his name was Wilson, and he lived in Goodramgate, near the White Swan.  Prisoner paid witness three £5 notes, three £1 notes, and 18s in silver.  Told him the beasts belonged to his uncle.  Observed there was a Malton £5 note, and said he thought it was not a good one, the bank was stopped.  Prisoner said it was a good one.  Went to deliver the cattle, and met his cousin George, to whom, in the presence of the prisoner he gave the notes.  Assisted in turning the cattle towards Kilvington, where the prisoner said he had more cattle, and would take all together to York.  In about two or three hours discovered the notes were bad.  Saw the prisoner next day, as he was going to the justice, but had no conversation. 
By Mr WILLIAMS. – The cattle were worth £18 10s.  They were sold in the open market.  Heard nothing said about a relation of his.  He might have other notes, but the witness did not see any. 
George Atkinson went to Thirsk fair to sell some cattle belonging to his father, which he left in the care of Hurwood.  Saw the prisoner, who said he had bought some cattle from Hurwood, and in his presence Hurwood paid witness the money which he had received of him.  There were three five pound notes, which were pinned together at the word “five” on the edge.  Witness afterwards pursued the prisoner, and overtook him going in a contrary direction to York. – He then proposed to pay all the expenses, to return the heifers, to make any settlement the witness pleased. 
John Matthews is clerk at the Boroughbridge bank.  The note now produced is not a genuine five pound note.  It has been a genuine one pound note; but the word one, in the body of the note, has been altered to the word five, (here the witness described very minutely the manner in which this had been effected) and in the corner, the word one, in German text, had been torn off, and another piece with the word five substituted in its stead. 
George Barnby, clerk to the bank of Messrs Peace and Co. proved that a similar alteration had been made in the Malton note. 
George Brigham proved that the prisoner’s name was Orton, and that he had always resided at Hutton Rudby. 
In his defence, the prisoner said he was no scholar, and took the notes ignorantly. 
Two respectable witnesses gave the prisoner a good character. 
The Jury found him GUILTY: and as soon as the verdict was pronounced, George Atkinson, on behalf of the prosecutor, recommended him to mercy.  The Judge inquired on what grounds? – He replied, on account of his family, and his having previously borne a good character.  His lordship intimated the recommendation would be attended to.

Had Orton forged the notes?  Did he know that they were forged?  For a middle-aged man of good character to take such a risk, he must have been in desperate circumstances.  This was a time of economic depression and great hardship, so perhaps he felt his back was to the wall.

The judge acted on the prosecution's recommendation that Orton should not be hanged.

Instead, he was sentenced to a life term and was transported to Australia.  He was one of 172 convicts who sailed to New South Wales on the Minerva on the 26 July 1821.


[1]  from Deeds in private ownership

[2]  British Newspaper Archive

1 comment:

  1. Well - - - we did wonder about what happened to William between 1815 and his family's appearance at the home of James Flounders in 1841. Now, I hope to develop William's story beyond his arrival in NSW. Thank you Alice for publishing the story, sad though it is, especially to me as one of William's descendants.
    Geoff Royle post(at)