David C. Hanrahan is a former headteacher who lectures at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has authored a number of books on British history, including The First Great Train Robbery. He has also written for BBC History Magazine and has worked as historical consultant on the BBC television programme Days That Shook the World.
Here he discusses what made him write The Great Fraud on the Bank of England…
I SUPPOSE one of the first things that attracted me to the story of The Great Fraud on the Bank of England was that, although an actual true event that occurred in March 1873, it seems more like a fictional crime thriller featuring a bank robbery, daring escapes, exotic international locations, opulent lifestyles, danger, violence, romance and treachery. The fraud on the bank was an audacious crime of unprecedented proportions for Victorian England, perpetrated by an experienced gang of professional American criminals.
When the news broke that the Bank of England had been robbed of over £100,000, it caused a sensation not only in London but all around the world. The fraud had been planned and executed by an American criminal gang made up of two brothers, George and Austin Bidwell, and their accomplices, George Macdonnell and Edwin Noyes Hills. My book tells the full story of their fascinating crime for the first time, detailing their somewhat surprising backgrounds, their meticulous preparations, and the life of luxury they enjoyed in London from the proceeds of the daring fraud.
As I reseached the crime, I found myself interested not only in the efforts made by the perpetrators to escape justice, but also in the determination shown by their pursuers to have them arrested. The investigation into the fraud involved police forces from both sides of the Atlantic and even the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The hunt became every bit as intriguing as the crime itself and led the investigators to Ireland, Scotland, France, the United States and even Cuba, where one of the gang members was living as a respected member of the community.
I think an eminent judge, speaking at the time, put it best when he said that ‘for the audacity of its conception, the magnitude of the fraud perpetrated, and the misdirected skill and ingenuity with which it was attempted to be carried into effect [the crime was] without a parallel.’
– David C. Hanrahan
The Great Fraud on the Bank of England by David C. Hanrahan will be published on 30th April 2014