Edward Bristow had a good job in the eyes of Victorian society. He was a respectable middle-class clerk and bookkeeper in the employ of a meat salesman at Leadenhall Market in the City of London. But he also had an addiction, an addiction all too well understood today to gambling.
Mr Lee, the meat salesman, was elderly and infirm and for the past four years had placed all his confidence in his 36 year-old assistant. Bristow received the payments for meat from butchers such as Charles Parrott (who had a stall at the market) and entered then into the ledger.
But he was also taking money out of the account and using it to place bets of his ‘favourite horse at Ascot, Epsom and other places of entertainment in that way’. Eventually he came unstuck because Henry Lee, the son of the salesman (and a butcher at Leadenhall in his own right) became suspicious. He looked into the books and found them ‘to be in a state of confusion’ and asked Bristow about it.
Henry Lee knew his fellow butcher Parrott who told him he had a receipt for two cheques recently, one for £374 and another for £100. Lee could find neither of these in the ledger. On enquiring at his father’s bank he discovered that the account had frequently been overdrawn and that had it not been for the fact that he was ‘a person of very large property’ the bank would have not have continued to give him credit. As it was they were already making arrangements to cease their connections with the salesman.
Henry Lee’s research revealed that Bristow had embezzled somewhere between £1000 and £2000 in money to feed his gambling habit. It had imperilled a well established business and at last brought the clerk to book at the Mansion House Police court in December 1852.
The justice (the sitting Lord Mayory) committed Edward Bristow for trial at the Old Bailey and the clerk asked him not to remand him custody while he waited for that examination. But the Lord Mayor refused; ‘I would not accept bail of any amount, of the most unexceptional kind in a case like this’ he told Bristow before the sergeant took him away.
At Old Bailey in January of the following year Bristow pleaded guilty to embezzlement. The prosecution barrister asked for judgment (sentence) to be respited. This may mean that Bristow was sentenced at a later date (although he doesn’t appear in any of the records), or it could be that the case was referred up (the to 12 judges) because it might have issues of doubt attached (which is unlikely here). It may be that the Lees took pity on their family employer and wished to save him in some way.
We can’t say for certain what happened to Edward Bristow but it is safe to conclude that his gambling habit ruined him, robbed him of his livelihood, stripped him of his reputation and most probably rendered him destitute. Sadly we can say that this is still a very likely outcome for the compulsive and addicted gambler.
[from The Morning Post, Saturday, December 11, 1852]