The Great Train Robbery of 1855
Also known as
The Great Gold Robbery of 1855
The First Great Train Robbery

Edward Agar, William Pierce, James Burgess, William George Tester and James Townsend Saward and the Great Train Robbery of 1855
Jennifer Carnell

London Bridge Station at the time of 1855 Train Robbery

On 15 May 1855 one of the most notorious robberies of the Victorian era took place. £12,000 worth of gold was stolen from a South Eastern Railway Company train while the gold was being taken from London to Boulogne in France. The gold belonged to three companies, Abell and Co., Messrs. Spielmann, and Messrs. Bult of Cheapside, and was being sent by them to Paris.

Because of earlier robberies on trains, when goods and valuables had been stolen, security was tight. The gold was contained in three boxes, secured with iron bars. The boxes were sealed and weighed while at the carriers Chaplin's and Co., and they were then put into iron safes belonging to the South Eastern Railway Company at London Bridge. The safes were secured with locks and keys manufactured by Chubb, one of the premiere manufacturers, and the two different keys needed to unlock them were kept separately for extra safely by carefully selected Railway employees.

On the night of the great ‘gold dust robbery' the boxes were delivered by Mr. Chaplin to London Bridge station at 7.40 in the evening and were weighed before being put in the safes. The iron safes were transported in accordance with normal procedure to Folkestone on the train, travelling with the guard in the guard's van. At Folkestone the safes were put on the Lord Warden steamship and taken to France.

When the safes arrived in Boulogne on the next day, the boxes were taken out of the iron safe, and the boxes were weighed again. It was noted that the box of Australian gold belonging to Abell now weighed forty pounds less than it weighed in London, the box of Californian gold belonging to the Bults weighed slightly more, and the box belonging to the Spielmanns weighed considerably more.

Despite these discrepancies, the boxes were then sent on to Paris, where the weights tallied with those noted in Boulogne. When clerk Pierre F. Heznard opened the box from Bult on 16 May he found sixteen bags of lead shot and thirteen remaining gold ingots. On 18 May Charlemagne Everard of the bank Pockar, Dufour, and Co., opened the box from Abell in front of the police commissary and found all of the gold had been replaced with lead shot. As the weight was correct in London and wrong in Boulogne, it was realised the robbery must have happened on the journey down from London to Folkestone, or before the gold reached Boulogne.

The discovery caused consternation in the railway world. How could the gold have been stolen in transit between London and Boulogne? How could security have been breached, and as it was found the safe had been opened with keys, and not broken into, how could the keys have been obtained?

The above text is an extract from Chapter V 'Saward and Edward Agar: The Great Train Robbery of 1855' in James Townsend Saward, Criminal Barrister: The True Story of Jim the Penman by Jennifer Carnell. James Townsend Saward disposed of the gold from the robbery for Agar, and for the first time the book reveals their earlier working relationship in the criminal underworld of Victorian London, the bank robbery Saward and Agar had carried out, what Saward did with the gold and what became of Saward and the rest of the train robbers after they were convicted. The author, Jennifer Carnell, is a great-great-great-great granddaughter of James Townsend Saward.


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