Skip to Content

Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

R. v. Wright [1839] NSWSupC 86

forging and uttering - Tommy the Banker - old man, criminal defendant

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling C.J., 7 November 1839

Source: Australian, 9 November 1839[1] 

Thomas Salsby Wright, alias, Tommy the Banker, late of Parramatta, was indicted under a recent statute of 1st Wm. IV., for feloniously having in his possession, without lawful excuse, certain forged notes, purporting to be of the Austilin Bank, knowing them to be counterfeit.  The prisoner pleaded not guilty, and had also put in a plea in abatement that his name was Thomas Salsby Wright, and not Thomas Wright, as he was indicted, and His Honor ordered the indictment to be altered accordingly.

The Attorney-General stated the case to the Jury, as follows:-- During the last criminal sessions, a co-partner of the prisoner's, named Salt, was convicted of uttering one of these Austilin Bank notes, and from what transpired on the trial, the learned Judge who tried the case (Mr Justice Willis) suggested the propriety of having a search warrant issued to search the prisoner's premises.  A search warrant was issued accordingly, and the constable who executed it, found two of these notes on the prisoner's person, and on proceeding to his house, found in separate bundles tied up (together with the plates), one hundred and ninety-one £10 notes, one hundred and seventy-seven £5 notes, and one hundred and eighty five £5 notes, sixty-five £5 notes, three hundred and seventy-six £2 notes, one hundred and twenty five one pound notes, eight-seven £1 notes, and one hundred and ninety-five £20 notes, amounting in all to £8,000.  Plates were also found for a Parramatta Banking Company, a Parramatta Trading Bank, and another company, termed a Defiance Company which he presumed had been jocularly so called, because it was intended to set the law at defiance by fraudulent dealing; however, no notes of these latter plates had been discovered.  The ju[r]y would see the immense importance of the result of this trial to the community of New South Wales, where there was so much paper currency, and the population was so widely dispersed.  These notes were so well executed, that any one would be likely to be deceived by their close resemblance to the notes of the Bank of Australia.  In similar cases the law did not require a strict resemblance between the counterfeit and the note it purported to represent, a substantial resemblance being held sufficient.  Some of the notes the prisoner had signed Thomas Wright, and other Thomas Salsby, and now he put in a plea in abatement to raise a point of law, stating his real name to be Thomas Salsby Wright.

Alexander Brown, the constable who executed the search warrant, proved the finding of the notes and plates.  They were engraved by a person named Wilson, residing in Sydney.  He found them in the prisoner's box -- had often heard him offer the notes for sale.

His Honor asked the witness if he knew who that Wilson the engraver was?

The Attorney General said there was an engraver of that name in York-street.

The witness said he believed that that was the person who it was supposed to be.

His Honor made some remarks which we did not distinctly hear.

Mr Edward Smith, publican, of Parramatta, and Mr Hugh Taylor, general agent, were examined in proof of the circulation of the notes, and the prisoner's identity with the Bank of Austilin; and Mr Edve Manning, one of the directors of the Bank of Australia, as to his knowledge of the existence of such a Bank, and the liability of persons to deception by mistaking the Austilin notes for the Australian Bank notes -- that gentleman's opinion was that they could deceive none but very ignorant persons.

The prisoner, who is an aged man, supposed to be one hundred and two years of age, said that he had been sixty-two years a banker; he had undertaken to establish a Bank for a company at Parramatta, but that he got connected with a parcel of swindlers, who robbed him.  He was able to take up all his own notes signed by himself, but he could not take up those he was robbed of -- and in fine, that he had as good a right to establish a Bank as any other gentleman, and would undertake to conduct the management of one for any company of gentlemen who might choose to employ him, upon the best and most improved principles of Banking ! ! !  (Laughter.)

His Honor directed the jury that the only question for their consideration was whether the prisoner had counterfeited these notes for the purpose of deceiving and de[f]rauding mankind, or whether he merely had them done for the purpose of issuing and taking them up himself.

The jury found the prisoner guilty, without leaving the box.

His Honor enquired the circumstances under which the prisoner had arriv[e]d in the colony.

The Attorney-General answered, ``for the same offence for which he has now been tried."

His Honor said it was lamentable to see an aged infirm old man, on the very verge of the grave, persisting in the same career of crime which, it was apparent, he had commenced in his youth, instead of amending his life, and preparing for the world to which he must soon be called.  It was a striking illustration of the old saying of ``the ruling passion strong in death."  All that remained for him, was to pass on him the sentence prescribed by law, which was fourteen years transportation to a penal settlement.



[1]  See also Sydney Herald, 8 November 1839; and see R. v. Wright, Ganigan and Hesking, Australian, 14 February 1839 (Ganigan guilty and the others not guilty of forgery).

Wright was a notorious usurer decades earlier.  See Thomas Clarkson v Richard Calcott, 7 July 1814, State Records of New South Wales, 5/1110-478, and Sydney Gazette, 16 July 1814.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University