Sibling rivalry or simply a case of looking after number one?

In early February 1866 a ‘decent looking young man’ was presented at Mansion House Police Court on a charge of robbery.

Joseph Searle was accused of ‘being concerned in an extensive robbery’ of Mr Scott’s mantle* factory in Bishopsgate Street, in the City of London. There was no doubt, according to the evidence, that the business had been robbed, and quite of lot of items stolen by several persons, not all of them in custody.

What puzzled or concerned the Lord Mayor (who presided over the Mansion House courtroom) was that the evidence against Searle in particular had been provided by his younger brother Frederick.

Indeed this lad was employed by Scott’s and was also (by his own admission) involve din the crime himself, for it was he who had handed over the stolen property to his elder sibling.

The Lord mayor asked the prosecuting solicitor for some clarification:

Was he, he asked, to understand that ‘it was to be attempted to convict the prisoner upon the evidence of the actual thief, who was in the position of getting out of the scrape himself by convicting his own brother of the crime?’

The lawyer said that was exactly the situation although he added that others were undoubted involved in the robbery and he believed that the younger brother was keen to ‘make a clean breast of it’.

The Lord Mayor said that while he was prepared to accept the evidence he was bound to add that it was ‘an unusual course to to call a person who had actually committed a robbery to convict his own brother’.

Unusual and ‘very painful’ he concluded.

Mr Scott then appeared to testify that he had released Frederick Searle from his service some weeks ago and had lost around £40-50 worth of stock in the robbery. He suspected Searle and so he found and questioned him until he admitted his involvement, and named others. He then ‘dobbed in’ his elder brother who was quickly apprehended.

Under the circumstances the Lord Mayor had little choice but to remand both brothers in custody, despite his reservations. The case doesn’t appear to have reached the Old Bailey so perhaps the prosecution found it hard to present a case which relied (as the magistrate feared) on a brother’s word against his sibling. It may have been downgraded from robbery to embezzlement and heard at the sessions. Whatever the case, both Fred and Joe Searle disappear from the records at this point.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, February 10, 1866]

*a mantle, for those unaware, was ‘a mesh cover fixed round a gas jet to give an incandescent light when heated’.

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