Assistant Cashier of the Bank of England. Condemned to Death for embezzling Exchequer Bills to a Large Amount, entrusted to his Charge, and respited during his Majesty's Pleasure, 18th of November, 1804
ROBERT ASLETT had been in the employ of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England for about twenty-five years, and had conducted himself faithfully and meritoriously until he had been induced, unfortunately, to speculate in the funds; and, in dereliction to that duty and fidelity which he owed to his employers, had subtracted immense sums from the property entrusted to his care.
In the year 1799, having gone through the necessary and regular gradations, he was appointed one of the cashiers. It was a part of the business of the bank to purchase Exchequer bills, to supply the exigencies of Government; the purchases were entrusted to the care of a very meritorious and excellent officer (Mr A. Newland), but on account of that gentleman's growing infirmities --he having been fifty-eight years in the service of the bank -- the management was left wholly under the care and direction of Mr Aslett. These purchases were made of Mr Goldsmid, by means of Mr Templeman, the broker. It was usual to make out the bills in the name of the person from whom they were purchased, and then deliver them to Mr Aslett to examine, and he entered them in what is called the bought-book, and then gave orders to the cashiers to reimburse the broker. The bills were afterwards deposited in a strong chest kept in Mr Newland's room, and when they had increased in bulk by subsequent purchases they were selected by Mr Aslett, tied up in large bundles, and carried to the parlour -- that is to say, the room in which the directors held their meetings -- accompanied by one of the clerks with the original book of entry, when the directors in waiting received the envelopes and deposited them in the strong iron chest, which had three keys, and to which none but the directors had access; nor could they be brought forth until the course of payment, unless by consent of at least two of the directors. Therefore it was not possible for them to find their way into the hands of the public or the money market unless embezzled for that purpose.
On the 26th of February, 1804, Mr Aslett, according to this practice, made up three envelopes of Exchequer bills, the first containing bills to the amount of one hundred thousand pounds; the second, two hundred thousand pounds, and the third, four hundred thousand pounds; making in the whole seven hundred thousand pounds. These were, or in fact ought to have been, carried into the parlour and signed as being received by two of the directors, Messrs Paget and Smith; one of these bundles -- namely, that containing the two hundred thousand pounds' worth of bills -- was withdrawn. The confidence which the Governor and Company placed in Mr Aslett had enabled him to conceal the transaction from the 26th of February to the 9th of April, and it was next to an impossibility that it should be discovered, as no period of payment had arrived; but on that day, in consequence of an application made by Mr Bish, the whole was discovered.
On the 16th of March Mr Aslett went to that gentleman and requested he would purchase for him fifty thousand pounds' Consols., to which request no objection was made, provided he deposited the requisite securities. The fluctuation of the market at that time was six per cent., and Aslett, in order to cover any deficit, deposited with Mr Bish three Exchequer bills, Nos. 341, 1060, 2694, which he knew had been previously deposited in the bank. From some circumstances, and from his general knowledge of the whole of the business of the funds, Mr Bish suspected all was not right, and accordingly went to the bank, where an investigation took place, at which Mr B. Watson, one of the directors, was present. Mr Newland was sent for and asked whether any of the Exchequer bills could, by possibility, get into the market again from the bank. He answered in the negative, observing they were a dormant security. The same question was put to Mr Aslett, and the same answer given by him. It was found necessary to tell him that the bills in question, which could be proved to have been in the bank, had found their way into the money-market; and at the same time it was observed that he had made purchases, to a large amount, of stock with the bills. This was acknowledged by him; but he said he had done so for a friend named Hosier, residing at the west end of the town, and he declared they were not bank property, nor to be found in the bought-book.
The directors, however, were not satisfied on this point, and he was immediately secured. His trial was, however, postponed till July, as it had occurred to those employed in the prosecution that the bills in question had been issued with an informality in them, not having the signature of the Auditor of the Exchequer. They were aware of the objections that might be taken, and as Parliament was not then sitting it was thought advisable to postpone the trial, lest it might create an alarm in the money market. The fact was no sooner known than a Bill was brought into Parliament for remedying those defects, and to render the bills valid.
On Friday, the 8th of July, 1804, Mr Aslett's trial commenced. Mr Garrow, on the part of the prosecution, stated the facts above mentioned; but when about to call witnesses to give evidence, Mr Erskine insisted that the Exchequer bills, which the prisoner stood charged with having stolen, were not good bills till the Act of Parliament had made them so, and consequently that they were pieces of waste paper when stolen. Chief Baron Macdonald, Mr Justice Rooke and Mr Justice Lawrence concurred that the present indictment could not be maintained; and the jury were accordingly desired to acquit the prisoner. He was afterwards tried on nine other indictments, but the evidence being the same, Mr Garrow applied to the Court to detain him in custody, it being, he said, the intention of the bank directors to issue a civil process against him for one hundred thousand pounds and upwards, the moneys paid for the bills which he had converted to his own use.
On Saturday, 17th of September, at a quarter before ten o'clock, Mr Aslett was again brought to the bar of the Old Bailey, before Baron Chambre and Mr Justice Le Blanc. The prisoner was attended by four or five gentlemen, who continued in the dock during the whole time of the trial.
Three indictments were read, with two counts in each. The three indictments charged the prisoner with secreting and embezzling three notes, and, after considerable evidence had been given, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.
Before sentence of death was pronounced he was wretchedly dejected. When he was asked what he had to say why judgment of death should not be passed upon him he answered: "Nothing; I resign myself to my fate." He never looked up the whole time the recorder was addressing him, and left the court under great perturbation of mind. A report of his case was not made to the King by the recorder till the 18th of November, when he was respited during his Majesty's pleasure.