Bateman Silver stolen — 1786

Here is a report from the files of the Old Bailey for 1786 [1] which provides an unusual insight into the world of silversmithing and, in particular, into conditions in the workshop of Hester Bateman.

On 24 th February, 1786 one Benjamin Bull was indicted for stealing 12 pennyweights of silver cuttings and turnings, value 3 shillings, and thirteen pennyweights of silver solder, value 2 shillings, the property of Hester Bateman.

Peter Bateman deposed that while at dinner he was informed that an employee was stealing from him. He called a constable and then the alleged miscreant, Benjamin Bull. When he put to Bull that he had some property of his mother’s in his possession, Bull at first denied it. Eventually he produced a small piece of silver but then, on being searched by the constable, the whole of the above amount was eventually extracted from his various pockets.

Called to give evidence, one Abel Beck, a co-worker of the accused, said that he had seen Bull enter, cut off a piece of silver, then go to his [Abel’s] lathe and take some turnings before going downstairs. “We had missed things very often before,” said Beck. He immediately went to inform Peter Bateman, his master, and the silver was found upon Bull.

Following the production of the stolen silver in court, the accused made no statement. Peter Bateman stated that Bull had lived in the establishment for the past 4 months. ‘In our business we might be robbed every day of our lives and not notice it, thus losing 3-4 pounds each day. We employ forty workmen.” Peter Bateman went on to say that he had previously had a very high opinion of the man but, after he was taken into custody, Bull was found to have had ‘very bad connections’.

The jury found Bull guilty, sentencing him to be transported for seven years. The value of the stolen silver was 5 shillings. In 1786, 5 shillings would have bought about 8 dozen eggs or 8 pounds of butter [2 ], so by today’s standards, the punishment was extreme. Yet, with 40 workmen, the example set by a failure to prosecute might have proved ruinous for the Batemans.

Luke Schrager


[2] [1209-1914]English prices and wages


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