The London Camphor Theft

Ernst Hudtwalcker (1786 – 1823) was a merchant in London, England, and a son of Johann Michael Hudtwalcker and Elisabeth Hudtwalcker.

The following extract is from the proceedings of the Old Bailey Ref: t18200517-85:

Trial Summary:

  • Crime(s): theft, simple grand larceny
  • Punishment Type: transportation
  • Crime Location: East India Company’s warehouse, Blackwall

Original Text:

669. MATHEW COTTON, ARTHUR LANGLEY, and JOHN AUSTIN, were indicted for stealing, on the 28th of April, 17 lbs. of camphor, value 1 pound and 8 shilling, the goods of Ernest Hudtwalcker.
THE SECOND COUNT stated it to be the goods of John Topping.
MR. ANDREWS conducted the prosecution.

JOHN ALLSOP: I am commodore in the East India Company’s warehouse, Blackwall. I delivered a chest and thirteen tubs of camphor, on the 28th of April, on the wharf. George Smith received them of me. All the packages were sound, and in a proper state. Next day I weighed them again, and there was a deficiency of 3 lbs. in one tub and 14 lbs. in the other; one was broken open, and the other wrenched; they were carefully put down again. I examined them on the 29th, at the Thames police-office, and saw some camphor there; it corresponded in quality with that in the tub.

GEORGE SMITH: I attended the delivery of the goods at the Company’s warehouse, and received the camphor. The packages were all sound and safe. I delivered them in the lugboat to the prisoner, Cotton, at Blackwall, about one o’clock, on the 28th; he was alone; he was to navigate the boat; it went away about half past two o’clock. The Edward lighter, which the other prisoners navigated, was at Blackwall at the time; it was an open lighter, and had no cabin, but a place where they stow the tarpauling. The Edward came there empty, and took in tin. Both craft went away together.

MARK WILKS: I am a Thames Police officer. On the 28th of April, a little after seven o’clock in the evening, I was on duty, and went on board the Edward, which laid at the Orchard house plying place, near Blackwall, Austin and Langley were then on board – she was made fast by a rope, waiting for the tide. I asked Langley what his cargo was – he said tin. I said I suspected there was camphor on board, as there was a strong smell? He said there was none in his boat, but it was in the lugboat, which was astern. Cotton’s lugboat was astern then. I went on board the lugboat, but found nobody in it. Two of the tubs of camphor appeared to have been very recently broken open, and a small portion of camphor littered about at the end of the lugboat. I went into the Edward – they were still both on board; and in the locker, or bed-cabin, I found a canvas bag, containing 17 lbs. of camphor, covered with a great coat, which Langley said belonged to him. They said they did not know how the camphor came there. Langley then said he saw me coming, and had he known it was there, he would have thrown it overboard. I said I should take them into custody, and asked who belonged to the lug-boat; they pointed to Cotton, who was in another boat, as the man – he had just come out of the cabin of a sailing lighter, which was near shore. I asked if he knew his lugboat had been robbed; he said No, and immediately came on board. He said he had been ashore to get refreshment. I secured them all. I believe Austin said he knew nothing of it.

MATTHEW NOTTINGHAM: I am clerk to Mr. John Topping, who is a lighterman – the lighter is his. Cotton was apprentice to our foreman; he was to take the camphor on board a vessel laying off Rotherhithe.

JOHN LITTLE: Langley and Austin were my servants, and were conveying a cargo of tin up the River for me. I authorized them to bring no camphor. Lengley was the watchman – it was their duty to stay in the barge.

COTTON’S Defence: I went ashore for refreshment.

LANGLEY’S Defence: I went ashore about three o’clock and returned about six.

AUSTIN’S Defence: I was asleep for three hours.

LANGLEY – GUILTY. Aged 35. Transported for Seven Years.

First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Common Sergeant. 2014