THE EPSOM COACH FRAUD

The Epsom Coach approaching the Bones Gate.
The Epsom Coach approaching the Bones Gate.
Image source Bourne Hall Museum

Background

Before the coming of the railways the only way to travel any distance was by horse-drawn transport, but trains changed all that. However, in about 1870 there was a 'Coaching Revival', whereby people took to the road during 'the 'season' for pleasure: it was fashionable. One writer commented in 1881 that the longer trips were not usually paying their way for the operators, some of the fares being two or three times the price of a train ticket, but people did seem to like a run out from London to nearer places, such as Windsor and Box Hill. One of the people controlling a daily run in the season was Francis Kenelm Bouverie, although it appears that someone else was actually operating it for him. Nevertheless, Bouverie was ostensibly the proprietor of the daily run from London to Epsom.

Delapré Abbey in Northamptonshire had been the English seat of the Irish Bouverie family since 1756. Francis Kenelm Bouverie, born in about 1861, was the son of John Augustus Shiel Bouverie and his wife Jane (nee Gray - remember Jane's name for later).

The fraud

At the time in question (1882) the daily London - Epsom coach, its team of horses and a hansom cab (plus horse) were the property of either the Victoria Cab and Carriage Company or Messrs Holland & Co of Oxford Street - depending on which newspaper report you read. However, the victim of the alleged fraud thought that they belonged to Francis Bouverie, having been told so by a man called Mr R C Link, who later proved to be a bankrupt. On 21 January 1882 Link asked a money lender called Joseph Brown if he wished to purchase Bouverie's coach, twelve horses and the associated harness (all of which Bouverie used on his London - Epsom run); Brown asked Bouverie if he was the owner and the latter confirmed he was, except that there were four horses he had purchased from someone called Selby but had not yet paid for. Brown paid £400 (or £600, depending on the newspaper) and was given a receipt.

Brown did not receive his purchases and therefore on 7 February 1882 he travelled to Oxford, where the horses were supposed to be. They weren't. Bouverie then asked for a few days' grace. When Brown returned to Oxford he found that the horses had been seized by the Sheriff of Oxford over a debt issue. Further enquiries revealed that the coach etc belonged to the above-mentioned company (whichever one it was), which had leased them to Selby, who had then leased them to Bouverie. I hope you are still with me - and I barely am - but, if not, the important point is that Bouverie sold things that did not belong to him and pocketed the proceeds, which is fraud in anyone's book. Or is it?

It took the authorities six years to arrest Bouverie, although he had been in plain sight all that time (or had he? - opinions differed), and, of course, he could explain everything. However, the prosecution said that he was already on remand in relation to another fraud charge involving £500, which was in connection with a marital matter. The used cab salesman was bailed on substantial recognisances.

A murky tale now begins to emerge. It seems that Francis Bouverie had been disinherited by his father, but still claimed he was the legal heir and asked to borrow £3000 from Brown. Brown had been advised not to make the loan, and didn't, but had instead purchased the Epsom coach etc. In 1883 Bouverie was made bankrupt with debts exceeding assets on a large scale and was still undischarged by the time the law caught up with him.

Clock Tower, Epsom
Clock Tower, Epsom

When the case came on at the Old Bailey on 23 April 1888 the prosecution offered no evidence and Bouverie was found not guilty. What, you will legitimately ask, had happened between the police court and the Bailey? The answer is that his mother had paid the amounts in dispute to get him off the hook. You may now be about to say, well that was very decent of the old girl, considering that he'd fallen out with his father, but please don't - just read on.

Mrs Jane Bouverie appeared at Westminster Police Court in May 1888, charged with conspiracy to defraud a man called John Thompson of £70. Her co-conspirator was alleged to be Francis, but he had by then decamped to America. Thompson had been employed by Francis and, he said at a subsequent hearing in Queens Bench Division, not only had he been defrauded by the pair of them but he knew that Jane had been heavily involved in other frauds, including, it would seem, something to do with a 'carriage': this had not been pursued, since the plaintiff found that she had no money he could recover from her (it seemed). Mrs B's representative said that there were difficult questions of law involved, so that the hearing should take place in the High Court rather than at the Old Bailey: this seemed like a very cynical move to panic Mr Thompson, who said he was poor, with the possibility of incurring costs which he would be unable to pay.

You will probably be forming a picture here of a pair of con artists who, being members of the aristocracy, had the pedigree and ability to worm their way out of trouble and, indeed, this is exactly what the prosecutor, Mr Churchley, was now about to say. He had conducted the police court prosecution under considerable difficulties, he said, and it was obvious to him that the proceedings had been biased in favour of Mrs Bouverie. She had been allowed to enter and leave by the magistrates' private door rather than the public door, she was 'entertained' in the private room and allowed to sit in the area reserved for counsel. Furthermore, only her side of the story was reported in the newspapers. Despite all this, the case was removed from the criminal courts to the High Court. And, needless to say, when it came up for hearing in February 1889, the other side did not enter an appearance and she was acquitted.

Marriages and divorces

Bouverie's track record with women was pretty bad too. In 1882 he married Caroline 'Carrie' Hoffnung, daughter of a colonial merchant; a child, Kathleen Maude, was born in August 1883. In 1884 Carrie filed for divorce, listing a catalogue of allegations against her husband. He had apparently infected her with a venereal disease almost immediately after the wedding, punched and kicked her, thrown her bodily out of a room and repeatedly committed adultery with a Mrs Morley; he did not even bother to defend the suit and the divorce became final in February 1885. In the meantime he had bigamously married an Annie Walker/Wilton, but that didn't work out either, so on 27 April 1887 he tied the knot with a young woman called Blanche Minnie Myers (aka Blanche Belle, a music hall performer); Blanche started divorce proceedings in August of the same year, but the case was dismissed through lack of proof. This time Bouverie had allegedly committed adultery with a Millie Gerrard; knowing that Blanche had an aversion to bulldogs and monkeys, he bought a bulldog and threatened it would attack her - and he also threatened to buy a monkey; he asked her to sell herself to other men for money, insulted her, kept her short of money etc etc. According to her, he said that he grew tired of a woman after a week. This time he did enter a defence, simply denying everything. However, despite not getting her divorce, Blanche had not finished and applied to the magistrates for maintenance; they believed her and made an award.

Aftermath

There was an extraordinary 'performance' at The Corn Exchange, Northampton (as reported in The Northampton Mercury of 2 June 1888), where Blanche was making an appearance. Her solicitor (the same Mr Churchley as mentioned above, who was not a fan of FK Bouverie) got up on stage and regaled the audience with the tale of FK Bouverie's marital history and then asked them to assist Blanche financially, quoting an excerpt from a ditty written for her by a sympathiser. It went like this.

They say I was awfully lucky,
To marry so wealthy a nob;
They say I was awfully plucky
To tackle so healthy a job.
The town with my name is a-ringing;
In fact everywhere I'm the talk;
Still my husband is now gladly singing
'Here's another one safe in New York'.

Bouverie never did return to England to face the bigamy charge and died in Quebec on 27 April 1891, aged just 30; he was interred in the family vault at Hardingstone Church, near Delapré Abbey. Blanche popped up in the 1911 census as a widow with the surname of Bouverie and two teenaged daughters, Constance and Lilian Fay (father unknown); she died in Hove in 1941.

Carrie Bouverie married army officer Claude Laurie Marks, who died in 1910; incidentally he was the first Jewish recipient of the DSO. Carrie's daughter, Kathleen, died unmarried in 1915. Carrie and Claude had two sons - Cecil Hoffnung and Eric Astor. Cecil, a Captain in the Royal Flying Corps, was shot down and killed over France in 1915. In 1925 Carrie married Henry Paulet, the 16th Marquess of Winchester; she died in 1949 in Miami.

Note: A court case had taken place in 1913, when a man called John Grunnell was charged with criminal libel against Blanche Bouverie; he had already been bound over to keep the peace for creating a disturbance at her house. Her story was that, following a fairly lengthy live-in relationship, during which she had supported him, he sent her offensive letters and postcards. He claimed that she had pursued him and he had given her thousands of pounds over the years and said, 'I have wasted my life and substance on Mrs Bouverie'. He was sent for trial, by which time he had decided to grovel, plead guilty and apologise unreservedly; he was bound over in the sum of £100.

Linda Jackson © 2015.