Wednesday, 15 July 2015

From Forger to Journalist


This intriguing story looks at a young man who travelled round the world, but there is a Kilburn connection.

Queens Arms Hotel
This pub at the end of Maida Vale and the beginning of Kilburn High Road was opened about 1843. It was a major coach stop with stabling at the back for the horses.

The Queens Arms Hotel, about 1900

The original building survived until 1940 when it was hit by a bomb on 26 September and at least 14 people were killed. Left as a bomb site, local children played in the large crater until it was rebuilt in 1958. Today it is managed by singer Rita Ora's Albanian father.

Queens Arms today

Archibald Cole
In May 1861 a young man rented a room for a few days at the Queens Arms Hotel. John Kempshaw, the landlord, said that the man gave him a leather bag to look after which contained 400 to 500 gold sovereigns. He saw the same man at the races with a young woman who was very nicely dressed, and Kempshaw served them with a hamper. The next day Kempshaw went with the man to Oxford Street to buy a portmanteau bag as he said he was going abroad. Kempshaw advised the man to put his money somewhere safe.

The young man was Archibald Hamblin Lillingstone Cole, who was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire in 1841, the eldest son of Reverend William Graham Cole. Archibald worked for four years as a clerk for the long established navy agents Messrs Stilwell and Co, at 22 Arundel Street, the Strand. In 1860 he was given a month’s leave to study for the Civil Service Exam. But Cole suddenly left the company in November 1860 and they did not hear from him until they received a letter in May 1861, saying he was going abroad and asking for a loan of £5 as he was penniless. The company did not pay him the £5. A few days later he went to the bank of Willis and Percival in Lombard Street, where Stilwell’s had their account, and asked for a cheque book. The clerk knew Cole worked for Stillwell’s and gave him the cheque book. On 27 May a cheque for £603 was presented by Cole at the bank, apparently signed by Stilwell’s, and they gave him the money, which he immediately exchanged at the Bank of England for gold sovereigns.

Cole left his home in Upper Portman Street and hired a courier, John Mattos, a black Jamaican, who was known in the West End as ‘Kangaroo’. Cole paid him to accompany him and a young woman to Paris and act as his interpreter. He asked Kangaroo to get cards printed in the name of Livingstone. This was similar to his middle name of Lillingstone and the name of the great explorer.

When they met at the station Cole handed Kangaroo a leather bag which contained gold sovereigns and a cheque book. The party travelled to Paris where they stayed for four days. As they left Cole asked Kangaroo to count the money to see how much remained, which was 330 sovereigns. They had lived luxuriously and he had spent about £200 on food and jewellery for the unnamed young lady. Mattos said he was given £7, with expenses all paid, for his work.

Once they discovered the fraud, Messrs Stilwell’s took out a warrant for Cole’s arrest, but he’d fled to the continent where he was convicted for an offence and jailed for two years. The English warrant was still active and Detective Joseph Huggett spotted Cole as he boarded a steamboat in Rotterdam in October 1863. When they got out to sea Huggett arrested him and he was prosecuted for forgery at the Old Bailey on 26 October. The bank clerks and Stilwell staff told the court that the handwriting on the cheques was that of Cole. Publican John Kempshaw and ‘Kangaroo’ also gave evidence about what they knew about Cole.

He was found guilty by the jury. The judge said that the forgery was for a large amount of money and up until a few years ago Cole would have been hanged. (£603 in 1861 is equivalent today to about £50,000). He was sentenced to ten years and transportation. The 22-year-old was transferred to Portland Prison and onto the convict transport ship ‘Racehorse’ for the long trip to Western Australia. After leaving England on the 19 May the ship berthed at Fremantle on 10 August 1865.

Australia
Convict records indicate that Cole was stoutly built, about five feet seven inches tall. His hair was brown and eyes grey. On his left arm there was a tattoo showing the letter “C”. A Charlotte Graham of Camden Town was nominated as his next of kin. Perhaps she was his lady travelling companion on the trip to Paris?

Apart from a couple of minor misdemeanours after his arrival in Western Australia - disobeying orders and drinking with a free man - his conduct was sufficiently good for him to receive a ticket-of-leave in February 1869. For just under a year he was employed as a clerk by Henry Gillman, a storeman in the coastal town of Bunbury. Gillman, also an ex-convict, had flourished in Australia since the expiration of his sentence for housebreaking in 1851.

From January 1870 Cole worked for himself, first as a clerk, then from mid-1870, as a schoolmaster in Bunbury, earning £100 per annum. In June 1871 he was granted a conditional release, effectively making him a free man. By 1872 he was an accountant but in the following year he was employed as a reporter on the Fremantle Herald. Looking for adventure, he sailed to Singapore in December 1873, where he soon found work as a journalist.

Singapore and Japan
Before leaving Western Australia he had met Catherine Briggs. She was born in Calcutta, where her father was a veterinary surgeon attached to the British army. She had come to Australia as a child. Her parents disapproved of her association with the ex-convict Cole, who was eleven years her senior. But love won out and she joined him in Singapore where they married in May 1874. The wanderlust continued to affect Cole. By 1878 the family, now including two daughters, had gone to Japan.

Archibald and Catherine Cole

It was only 25 years since Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy arrived in Japan to begin the process of opening the country up to the West. Yokohama had become a boom town. But foreigners were still a novelty, mainly working as engineers, legal advisers, coastal pilots and teachers. They were required to remain within a 43 kilometre radius of the treaty ports unless they held a special passport.

Merchants of Yohohama (Woodblock by Kuniteru II, 1870)

From August 1878 the Cole family lived in Yokohama, where Archibald worked as a journalist and editor of the Japan Gazette and Japan Mail. Although he went to China as a correspondent for the New York Herald, Cole was based in Yokohama for the next six years, during which time three sons were born.

Their home was on The Bluff; a residential area overlooking the harbour, favoured by foreign merchants. At the time Yokohama was described as a low swamp, criss-crossed by drainage canals, spanned by rather rickety wooden bridges. The town comprised warehouses, some elegant western shops, one or two good hotels, as well as bonded and free stores, custom-houses, banks, shipping offices, grog shops and money changing premises. There were two churches, pleasant bungalows with attractive gardens, an assortment of lodging-houses, a large railway station and a good shipping anchorage. All this was overlooked by the magnificent Mt Fuji, topped in a snowy cloak for much of the year.

Yokohama from The Bluff. (Very early photograph by Felice Beato,1869)

After living and working successfully in Yokohama, Archibald Cole died there on 18 January 1884. A local newspaper reported:
‘Mr. Cole was pursuing his usual duties yesterday, but in the evening he was seized with a fit of apoplexy, this was succeeded by another this morning, from which he never rallied.’

His descendants believe the fit of apoplexy (which at the time meant a sudden unconsciousness and death), was caused by an overdose of opium, a fittingly dramatic end for such a flamboyant character. He was buried in the foreigners’ cemetery in Yokohama and soon afterwards his widow and children returned to live in Australia. Catherine died there in 1916.

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