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Perrott Bankruptcy, Part 2: Mysterious Packages and a Lot of Missing Money

posted by Emily Kadens

(This is a continuation of my post from yesterday here )

In deposing Perrott's agent, Henry Thompson, the commissioners learned that the day after the commission was sued out, Perrott had his apprentice deliver a package to Thompson for safe keeping.  The package was sealed with three seals, and Perrott told Thompson it contained personal papers unrelated to the bankruptcy.  On February 27, Perrott asked Thompson to bring the package back to him, which he did.  An account of Perrott's case here adds the following alert, "it is necessary to advertise the reader, to keep in his memory the paper parcel sealed with three seals . . . as it was principally owing to the same paper parcel, that this complicated scene of iniquity was at last unraveled."  Perrott later told the commissioners that the package contained "'nothing but letters from the fair sex;' which he had since destroyed."

The commissioners also received a tip leading them to a certain Patrick Donnelley, a peruke, or wig, maker, who told them that on March 13, Perrott sent him two large boxes, claiming the boxes contained his clothing and asking Donnelley to hold onto them while he looked for lodging.  Several days later, Perrott instructed Donnelley to deliver the boxes to rooms in a house in one of the fanciest parts of town, on Queen Street in Holborn.  The house was occupied by a Mrs. Mary Anne Ferne.  Ferne was interviewed.  She claimed she had known Perrott for about a year but had received no money, banknotes, or other effects from him, and the matter was dropped.

When the commissioners finally got to examine Perrott again on April 19, they presented him with the following written interrogatory, "As you do admit that you have spent the last week . . . with Mr. Maynard, one of your assignees[,] to settle and adjust your accounts and to draw up a true state thereof, to enable you to close such your examination; and do likewise admit . . . there is a deficiency of the sum of 13,513 £ . . . .  Give a true and particular account; What is become of the same, and how, and in what manner you have applied and disposed thereof?"

Relativizing money, especially over long periods, is notoriously difficult, but the course of this case indicates that Perrott was indebted for a large sum.  According to a calculator created by two American economics professors (see http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk), 13,513 £ would have an estimated purchasing power of almost $4 million in today's dollars.  Perrott responded to the interrogatory by saying that he had lost about 2000 £ on goods sold in the last year and otherwise, "for nine or ten years, I have, and am sorry to say it, been extremely extravagant, and spent large sums of money."  The commissioners did not buy this.  Perrott had only been purchasing on credit for a year, and an amount like thirteen thousand pounds was, they felt, too large to spend in a year, especially since Perrott claimed that he had never gambled.  Exercising their statutory power, the commissioners had Perrott committed to Newgate Prison in London until he saw fit to provide a complete and reasonable account of the missing money. 

After six weeks in Newgate, Perrott sent notice to the commissioners that he would answer their question.  They had him brought to the Half Moon Tavern on June 5, 1760, where he presented them with an account.  Each entry was in round numbers, totaling 15,030 £.  The entries included such items as rent, food, clothing, travel expenses, wages, commissions paid to his agent, and sales losses.  The largest entries were: 2700 £ for "House-keeping . . . with rent, taxes, and servants wages;" 920 £ for "Tavern expenses, coffee-house expenses, and places of diversion;" 3000 £ for sales losses; and 5500 £ for "Expenses attending the connection I had with the fair sex."  Perrott submitted no evidence to support this accounting, and the commissioners, unsatisfied with his response, sent him back to Newgate.  Perrott petitioned the Lord Keeper to be released, but "his Lordship, on hearing the said deposition read, thought it so infamous in all its circumstances, that he did not think it necessary to order any attendance upon it."  To put some of these supposed expenditures into perspective, a successful lawyer at the time earned about 1000 £ per year, and witness testinomy suggested that Perrott was actually a man of rather frugal habits.

The commissioners had by this time concluded that Perrott was engaged in some sort of fraud, but they lacked hard evidence.  In search of information, they advertised a reward of 20% of the bankrupt's estate to anyone uncovering the missing assets.  Seeking the reward, Sarah Reed, Mrs. Ferne"s former maid, came forward.  On June 20, 1760, she deposed that Perrott lived with Ferne after his bankruptcy.  During this time, Reed would occasionally have to pawn Ferne's silver spoons in order to pay the rent.  She also revealed that Ferne had had Reed hide in Ferne's rooms a paper package sealed with three seals that Reed believed contained banknotes.  She further claimed that Perrott had instructed her that if anyone came to search the house, she should show them Perrott's rooms and not Ferne's.

Reed's testimony led the commissioners to examine another of Ferne's servants, Catherine Bowen, on June 27, who (albeit reluctantly because Ferne insisted on being present at the interview) corroborated the existence of the paper parcel.  The servants' testimony was felt insufficient to obtain warrants or bring suit, so no further discovery was made, and on July 26, 1760, the assignees paid the first dividend to the creditors of 5 shillings on the pound (a pound consisted of 20 shillings).

In the next post: a big break.


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