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The Early History of Thames Magistrates' Court by Stanley French
Bow Street and Thames are the only Metropolitan Magistrates Courts which do not owe their birth to Acts of Parliament. The former, like Topsy, 'just growed', and did not receive Parliamentary recognition of its existence until it was a centenarian, whilst the latter began life as a private venture partly supported by public money, but after two years, by virtue of its own Act of Parliament, became the State¬’s adopted child.
It was Sir John Fielding, chief magistrate at Bow Street from 1754 to 1780, who first advocated the appointment of five or six magistrates of police, properly qualified and well educated, to attend regularly at offices in different parts of London to perform the duties of a Justice of the Peace for a fixed salary but not for fees. Nothing came of this, however, until he had been dead for nearly 12 years, by which time Bow Street itself had itself lost much of the high reputation it acquired whilst Sir John and his predecessor and half brother Henry Fielding, the novelist, directed its activities, and elsewhere in the metropolis the administration of summary justice was still for the most part in the hands of dishonest, ignorant, rapacious and profligate men who were in its only for what they could get out of it - men like Justice Blackborough of Clerkenwell, whose method according to Townsend the famous Bow Street runner, was 'to issue warrants and take up all the poor devils in the streets, and then there was the bailing of them, 2s.4d. ... which the magistrate had; and taking up a 100 girls, that would make at 2s.4d., £11.13s.4d. They sent none to gaol for the bailing of them was so much better.'
Such a state of affairs was too scandalous even for the tolerant eighteenth century and in 1792, Parliament decided that it was 'requisite for the maintenance of peace and good order' that there should be 'a due and regular Attendance of fit and able Magistrates at certain known Places and certain times' in Middlesex and Surrey 'in or near the Metropolis' and 'a vigilant and stead Administration of the Law by them,' and passed the Justice of the Peace, Metropolis Act (32 Geo.III, c.53), which established seven public offices in various parts of London, with three paid Justices attached to each. Amongst them were offices at High Street, Shadwell, and Lambeth Street, Whitechapel, with jurisdiction over districts which are now part of the Thames Magistrates Court area. They also had the jurisdiction over offences on the River Thames or in connection with goods taken from vessels in the river which all Justices had under the Bumboat Act, 1761, but from lack either of diligence or of capacity (some of the first Magistrates appointed under the Act seemed to have had questionable qualifications for the post: Henry Reynott at Whitechapel, for instance, was a Doctor of Divinity) or from pressure of work (with only six constables at each offices it must have been very difficult to exercise adequate control over the teeming river as well as over the populous land) they had little or no effect on the depredations for which the Port of London was notorious. Traffic on the Thames grew rapidly throughout the eighteenth century until it amounted to a yearly value of £60 million. Opportunities for pillage increased with the trade, of course, especially as the bulk of the goods had to be transferred from ship to shore or vice versa in lighters and barges. (The first docks, the West India Docks, were not opened till 1800-2.) Every type of person employed on or by the river - the labourers, or lumpers, as they were then called, lightermen, customs officers, tidewaiters, even the ratcatchers - took part in the depradations, which were estimated to amount to at least half a million pounds yearly. About half of this loss fell on the West India merchants, who were spending a great deal of money on rewards and prosecutions without diminishing their losses when it was suggested to them that the establishment of a river police might have a salutory effect. Two people claim credit for the suggestion - Patrick Colquhoun and John Harriott, each of whom is described on his memorial stone as 'Progenitor of the Thames Police'.
Colquhoun was a Scotsman, born in 1745, who had a successful career in commerce in Glasgow, where he was Provost from 1782 to 1785, before settling in London in 1789 in order to transact business with the Government on behalf of the cotton industry. He was appointed a Magistrate as soon as the Justice of the Peace, Metropolis, Act, became law. He never drew his salary but was nevertheless far more active than any of his 20 colleagues. A contemporary biographer says that he did not 'look forward merely to the vapid official routine of hearing and investigating charges and of committing offenders for trial. He kept steadily in view the improvement of a system of police which had long been a disgrace to the metropolis; for while he acted on the bench he eagerly seized every opportunity to investigate the nature and extent of the various moral evils which affected society, to enable him with greater certainty to suggest practicable and efficient remedies.' His investigations resulted in his writing a Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis which was published in 1796, went into several editions and attracted considerable attention here and abroad. In it Colquhoun argued strongly in favour of the establishment of a single system of police throughout the metropolis, police including both a paid body of constables for the prevention and detection of crime and a salaried and efficient magistracy.
John Harriott was a much more colourful character. Born in Essex in the same year as Colquhoun he spent his youth at sea, seeing action in the Mediterranean and enduring shipwreck in the Channel. At the age of 25 he joined the army of the East India Company and was posted to a sepoy battalion in the North Circars. There he acted as both deputy judge advocate and Army chaplain, although he had no legal training and was not in Holy Orders. A severe gunshot wound in an action against a recalcitrant rajah so crippled him that he had to resign from the company’s service. He returned to farm in his native country. He successfully enclosed nearly 200 acres of submerged land in the River Thames near his farm, for which he was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Society of Arts. This land did not yield very good crops at first but by 1790 it was promising well when two disasters hit Harriott. First, fire swept through his house and farm buildings one night and left only one outhouse standing. He made a home for his family in that and proceeded to rebuild. Then an exceptionally high tide burst through a weak part of the wall he had built to keep the river from his island in the Thames and all his precious crops disappeared under a waste of salt water. He had not the financial resources to withstand this double blow and was forced to call a meeting of his creditors. Fortunately, they behaved sufficiently handsomely to save him from bankruptcy, and in 1791 with this third wife and a large family he emigrated to the United States. Fortune eluded him there, however, and after travelling about America for four years he returned to England, patented a ship’s pump and set up a small factory for its manufacture in Spitalsfields.
One of the Magistrates appointed under the 1792 was Mr. Staples, who sat at Whitechapel and was a close relative of Harriott. The two men often discussed the great benefit there would be to commerce on the River Thames if a river police were formed, and Harriott was moved to draw up a scheme which Staples thought excellent.
Harriott tried to get the Lord Mayor interested in it, since he was a Conservator of the Thames and the City housed the offices of many of the firms who were suffering great loss from theft on the river. The Lord Mayor was not sufficiently interested to take the idea up so on October 30th, 1797, Harriott wrote to the Duke of Portland, then the Secretary of State for the Home Department, about it. His letter seemed to have collected dust in a pigeonhole for several months, much to his surprise and disgust, for he thought that the necessity and usefulness of a river police, organised as he suggested, was so evident that the scheme had only to be mentioned to be adopted.
Colquhoun, on his part, had put forward a scheme of his own which a committee of West India merchants on January 50th, 1798, recommended should be put into effect with Government approval. The whole body of West India merchants accepted this recommendation a month later. Shortly after, Harriott came into it through the good offices of Staples who took him to tell Colquhoun about the scheme for a river police he had sent to the Secretary of State nearly six months before. Colquhoun was so impressed by it that he wrote to a member of the Government, Lord Dundas (afterwards Lord Melville), about it. Events then moved quickly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to pay part of the expenses of a Marine Police Establishment, the West India merchants invited Colquhoun to superintend the creation of that establishment, the Secretary of State arranged for a substitute to take Colquhoun¬’s duties at Queen¬’s Square so that he could devote his time to the new institution, and on June 15th 1798, the merchants’ committee nominated John Harriott to the Secretary of State for appointment as resident magistrate.
Harriott had been a Justice of the Peace for Essex for many years and before he emigrated to America had been active in maintaining law and order in the 27 parishes under his jurisdiction. To make him competent to deal with offences on or near the Thames, whichever county they were committed in, his name was quickly added to the Commissioners of the Peace for name was quickly added to the Commissioners of the Peace for Middlesex, Surrey and Kent and on July 2nd he assumed his duties at a 'commodious office, conveniently situated close to that part of the River which forms the centre of the discharging births or places, where the ships deliver their cargoes' at No. 259 Wapping New Stairs.
The Marine Police Institution for which Patrick Colquhoun as superintending magistrate, and John Harriott as resident magistrate became responsible in July, 1798, had two parts. One of them was a police department, consisting of 50 constables under a chief constable who were to act in the prevention and detection of crime under the orders of the magistrates. The other was a department for the organisation of lumpers of whom a register was to be kept so that they could be employed in rotation. The links between the two departments were that the lumpers were to be searched by a constable of the river police when they left a ship, and watchmen on the ships were to be supervised by the chief constable and could be reprimanded or discharged by the superintending magistrate for dereliction of duty. The Treasury became responsible for the expenses of the police department, but the lumpers’ organisation was an entirely private attempt by a section of the merchants using London River to reduce their losses by dishonesty and had therefore to rely for its funds upon the dues paid by the shipowners who made use of its services; these were almost entirely those engaged in the West India trade, although there were some 30 other kinds of trade on the river.
Since neither magistrates nor constables were the creatures of a special statute their powers were no more and no less than those of a Justice of the Peace or of a constable everywhere save that they were sworn in for all four of the metropolitan counties. They were able, however, to make good use of the Bumboat Act 1761, already mentioned, which required all bumboats (small itinerant trading boats) to be registered by the Trinity Corporation and empowered that corporation to appoint people with authority to search and detain any boat having goods on board suspected to be stolen or unlawfully obtained from a ship, and to take any person belonging to such a boat before justices. If such persons were found guilty of unlawful possession of the goods they were liable to a fine of 40s. or one month for the first offence, or two months for a second offence, and for every subsequent offence they could be imprisoned until they were discharged by order of quarter sessions. The Act also gave constables, beadles and watchmen power to take before justices anyone possessing ropes, stores and other goods suspected to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained and placed the onus on anyone so arrested to prove that he had bought or otherwise properly obtained the articles. If he did not he was liable to similar penalties. Justices were empowered to issue search warrants, pawnbrokers were required to bring before the justices suspected persons offering goods for sale, and the penalty for buying or receiving goods stolen from vessels in the River Thames, for cutting cables etc. with intent to steal, and for obstructing the execution of the Act was made seven years’ transportation.
These provisions were intended to enable Justices to deal promptly and summarily with petty thieves, dishonest workmen and receivers in a small way instead of committing them for trial on charges of felony with the likelihood of an acquittal by a jury loath to condemn anyone to the gallows or transportation for minor crime. From its inception to 1800 there were over 2,500 convictions under this Act. There are no figures to show how many of them were at Thames in the last 18 months but Colquhoun and Harriott undoubtedly made very good use of the Act.
They did so, for instance, in dealing with many coalheavers who made it a practice to take two or three bushels of coal with them every time they left the collier they were unloading. There were 1,200 or 1,400 of these men living in or near Wapping, mostly Irish and described by Harriott as half-savage, and it had been so long the custom of them to plunder their employers in this way that they bitterly resented any attempt to deprive them of what they regarded as a fair perquisite; they were so unruly that neither ship’s captain nor cargo owner dared to interfere with them. Colquhoun and Harriott began by trying to get the coalheavers to understand that they had no right to the coal. Even when they were brought before them on a charge of being in the unlawful possession of so much coal that they boat was almost sinking they were merely reprimanded and the coal confiscated. The only effect of this was that the coalheavers felt most unjustly treated and some of them offended again. The magistrates therefore felt impelled to impose punishment.
In October, 1798, Colquhoun and Harriott were examining some coalheavers charged with the unlawful possession of coal when several hundred others gathered outside the court and threatened dire consequences to everyone connected with the Thames Police Institution if the offenders were not discharged. It was not a threat to which the magistrates could yield if they wished to exercise any influence in the district and they imposed a small fine on each defendant, with an alternative of imprisonment if the fines were not paid forthwith. This so enraged the coalheavers that later in the evening, whilst the magistrates were trying some prisoners charged with stealing ship¬’s stores, the office was attacked by a horde of men who tried to force the street door, which was shut and locked, but it was too strong for them. They then pulled up paving stones and hurled them at the shuttered windows, which were broken. The heavy stones fell into the room in which the magistrates were, but hurt no-one.
Several business men, presumably witnesses, who were attending the court beat a hasty retreat, one running to the top of the house and hiding himself, the others getting into a boat at the rear of the building and rowing away.
Harriott himself was delighted to be in action again. As he said 'Ordering the firearms, seeing to their loading, and giving necessary directions seemed to electrify me and make me young again.' There were only seven or eight defenders of the building to drive off a raging mob of several hundreds egged on by notorious receivers and other criminals afraid of the effect a successful Thames Police Office would have upon their livelihood. The first volley from the office killed one of the ringleaders. The crowd retreated, dragging his body with them. Colquhoun and Harriott then behaved with considerable courage. They opened the door and stepped into the street, where Colquhoun read the Riot Act. As he did so a shot from the crowd wounded a constable standing by him in the palm and another constable who had gone forward a little ran back shouting that he too had been shot. The magistrates and their men had to fire several more volleys from their pistols before the mob retreated out of sight. It was reported to be preparing an attack in even greater numbers but the volunteers of the locality were hastily called together and the rioters thought better of it. There was no further trouble.
One of the Thames men died from his wounds; how many of the mob were wounded was never known. One ringleader was eventually arrested, tried and condemned, but others kept out of the way for a time, and when they did reappear the magistrates, with singular forebearance, took no action against them. They felt that as there were no signs of any further disturbance, enough had been done for public justice. When men they knew to have been concerned in the affray appeared before them on other matters, they let them know they were aware of their part in it and that they holed the culprits would show their gratitude by keeping out of similar trouble in the future. As a result they had the satisfaction of seeing some of those who might have paid the penalty their ringleader had paid settled down to orderly and industrious lives.
The determination and promptitude with which Colquhoun and Harriott dealt with this local riot probably prevented much more widespread disorder. In the eighteenth century an unruly crowd could speedily develop into a raging mob because, to quote Sir George Trevelyan, 'the mild but irresistable weight of the law was not then represented by a body of disciplined policemen whom every respectable citizen had always been accustomed to regard as his servant and protector. The constables, untrained to work in concert, indignant at having to serve outside their own parish and much more afraid of a riot’s fist than a magistrate’s reprimand were no value in an emergency; and behind the constables was nothing but the bullets and the bayonet of the soldiery.' Colquhoun and Harriott showed that night in Wapping how riots could be nipped in the bud. As the latter himself said, a similar attitude by the Chief Magistrate in 1780 could have prevented the Gordon Riots.
The magistrates continued to punish coalheavers for their depradations and also to wage war against every class of working man on the river who had been in the habit, under the plea of 'Custom', of bringing on shore from vessels where they had been working from 40lb. to 2cw. of sugar, coffee, pepper, tea and other similar articles, with such success that two years sufficed to satisfy the Government that the Thames Police Institution should cease to depend for its existence upon an agreement between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and a body of merchants and should be given proper status by Act of Parliament. Accordingly, in 1800, an Act for the More Effectual Prevention of Depredations on the River Thames (39, 40 G3 c.87) applied to the Institution provisions similar to those of the Justice of the Peace, Metropolis, Act of 1792, with one major difference.
This was that whereas the functions of the offices established under the earlier Act were solely judicial, those of the Thames Police Office were both judicial and preventive. Each of the 'land offices' (excluding Bow Street) had only six constables attached to them for executing the process of the court whereas the Thames office was authorised to employ up to 80 police officers – constables and surveyors - to patrol the river day and night, well-armed and equipped for fire fighting. The Act did not indicate specifically who was to be in charge of this considerable police force. Like the other offices, Thames was to have three magistrates and it was assumed that Parliament intended them to share that duty. Colquhoun ceased to sit at Thames and returned to Queen’s Square, but was appointed the first Receiver of the Thames Institution. All fines and fees were to be paid monthly to him (the amounts being sworn to before a Justice of the Peace by one of the magistrates or a clerk) and he was to render quarterly accounts to the Secretary of State.
John Harriott continued as resident magistrate and was joined on the bench by William Kinnaird and William Bragge. They had no acquaintance with ships and sailormen and lived some distance from Wapping. Harriott therefore offered to undertake control of the police force in addition to performing normal judicial duties, and to this his colleagues agreed. This arrangement never seems to have received official approval and from time to time Harriott was reproved by the Secretary of State for not obtaining his colleague’s signature to his letters to the Home Office. He pointed out that urgent correspondence ought not to be held up to obtain the signatures of the other magistrates when it dealt with business arising from 'the superintendence and direction of the River Police' which, as he told the Home Secretary in 1810, 'being a distinct duty from the judicial, has hitherto been performed by myself (gratuitously) from the commencement'. He received no extra payment for these duties; like his colleagues he was paid £400 a year (later £600), although he must have put in many more hours than they did as he was often called upon to visit the scene of a crime or of a disturbance in order to direct the activities of his constables. Under the Act of 1800 one magistrate was required 'diligently to attend' the office every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 'such other times as are necessary' and two had to be there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (although one of two need not be a 'special justice' as the Act called the magistrates, but an ordinary justice of the peace), and there can be little doubt that John Harriott was usually the magistrate on duty for the longer period. When he gave evidence before the Committee on the state of Police in the Metropolis in 1816 he said 'I trust I may be allowed to say after 18 years’ experience that I am the main keystone of the plan. My superintendence is gratuitous; the other magistrates are comparatively speaking but a few hours in attendance.' When he was asked 'Is the attendance of the different magistrates regular in the office?' there is an implication that his colleagues were not as diligent as he was in his grudging reply: 'That is a difficult question to answer in detail; but in general I can say without difficulty that the duties of the office altogether are not exceeded by any other office. I think I may venture to say that.'
Harriott was never modest about his part in the organisation and development of the Thames Police Institution and sometimes he seems over anxious to make others appreciate his importance and ability in comparison with those of his colleagues, but that he was the moving spirit at Thames from 1798 to 1816 cannot be questioned. Even the routine correspondence of the office in his time bears the mark of his personality.
The Act of 1800 gave the special justices additional powers to deal summarily with offences on the river and its banks. The 'divers ill disposed and suspected persons and reputed thieves' for instance, who 'frequented the said River and the Quays and Highways thereto with intent to comment felony' could now be convicted as rogues and vagabonds, a warrant could be issued, on information on oath, to search for goods suspected stolen or unlawfully obtained, and any person breaking open packages and cases in course of loading either wilfully or carelessly, could be fined 40s. with the alternative of one month’s imprisonment. An unusual addition is the penalty for the last offence was that the magistrate was empowered to cause an account of the conviction to be published in the newspapers, with the name and description of the offender.
The Thames magistrates made good use of their summary powers. Indeed they were so anxious to deal promptly and surely with petty pilfering that they frequently convicted defendants of unlawful possession although the owner of the property and the circumstances of the obtaining of it were known or could be easily discovered. It seems to have been the magistrates’ practice when a man was brought before them on a charge of unlawful possession of property which could be identified as belonging to a body like the Board of Ordnance to inform that body by letter that they had remanded the defendant (remands were always timed for noon) and to request that the board should send a solicitor to prosecute and given consent to the matter being dealt with summarily. This avoided the uncertainty of a trial before a jury.
In the first year, for example, the Thames Police brought 494 persons before the magistrates on charges of the unlawful possession of government stores and 396 of them were convicted. In addition to this extensive use of their summary powers the Thames magistrates sat as examining justices and committed many for trial on charges of felony, including robbery, coinage offences, and forgery. Unfortunately, the clerk responsible for entering in the letter book a return of indictable cases heard at Thames in the years 1806, 1807 and 1808, which the Home Office asked for on November 17th, 1808, reproduced the official form but left it blank and thereby deprived posterity of some interesting statistics.
Some indication of the nature of the magistrates’ work and the effect the Institution was having on depradations on the river can be gathered, however, from a report which the magistrates sent to the Home Secretary in 1807 when the Act of 1800 was about to expire. They said that in comparison with the cases of robbery and plunder brought before them at the commencement of the river police 'there are but few now and those more of petty larceny and misdemeanour than of Grand Larceny'. They were convinced that 'the same vigilance which had suppressed thieving had also put a considerable stop to smuggling.' which 'was an organised system and carried to extraordinary heights by the aid and connivance of many of the revenue officers.' Even 'the almost incredible plunder of Naval stores from the King’s Yards at Deptford and Woolwich had been suppressed to some degree' by the attention on land and water of the Thames Police, whose boats sometimes went as far as Sheerness and Chatham.
In a later report (1811) the magistrate said that 'in our own district and experience, by land we find riots and dangerous affrays among the foreign seamen (many of whom continue on shore until they are destitute and then seek a support by plunder) the most prevalent offence and the most difficult to be prevented. But the most alarming part of their conduct is that of stabbing and cutting those with whom they are offended, though provoked by themselves.' Such disturbance of the peace are frequently referred to in the court letter book. In July, 1810, for instance, London Docks was threatened with a riot due to trouble between American and Portuguese and Greek sailors, and a labourers’ strike, and in January, 1811, the magistrates were so concerned about violence in their district that they suggested to the Home Secretary that if a foreigner and two women they had committed for trial on a charge of murder were convicted it would make much more impression on others if they were hanged at the scene of the crime instead of at comparatively remote Newgate. By water, the crimes most prevalent and difficult to prevent were the theft of timber and coal.
Writing some years later Harriott said 'Those best qualified to form a true judgement on the subject estimate that the suppression of smuggling and the protection of public stores had saved much more than £100,000 of the public money.'
Not even a Secretary of State seeking to economise could argue that the Thames Office was not earning its keep, the cost of which was limited by the Act of 1800 to £8,000 yearly, and Parliament extended its lease of life for a further seven years.
Shortly after came the first of a series of events which must have been a grave hindrance to the orderly development of the Institution. The Chief Clerk in 1808 was H.M. Tomlins, who had entered the service of the Institution as Second Clerk in 1805 (in succession to a man named Pett who resigned for unknown reasons and a few years later was asking the magistrates for financial aid and help to get a warehouseman’s job) and had been promoted only two years later. In October, he was unable to account for £247.10s.0d. fees and penalties received by him. When called upon for an explanation he stayed away from the office and after several days the magistrates suspended him and informed the Home Secretary. A few days later Tomlins settled his accounts with the Receiver, Colquhoun, and handed in his resignation.
The magistrates thereupon recommended the Home Secretary to promote Walter Gullifer to Chief Clerk as during the two and a half years he had acted as Second Clerk he had 'conducted himself altogether in such a manner both as to ability and integrity which has uniformly given us satisfaction and by which he is entitled to our approbation.'
They were 'much inclined to think he will do credit to the appointment' but were grievously mistaken, for a mere eight months after the Home Secretary had accepted their recommendations they were writing to him to say that 'we have been under the disagreeable necessity of making an order for the suspension of Mr W.G. Gullifer'. Not only had he been guilty of 'divers instances of contumacious behaviour both in manner and words as well as in positive disobedience to our orders,' but his public cash account was £94 deficient, some parts of which he admitted spending on himself, and he 'contumaciously' refused to answer any questions put to him by John Harriott.
The reason for this defiant attitude was that the resident magistrate’s conduct was itself under investigation. Tomlins had followed up his resignation with allegations that Harriott had himself been guilty of the misuse of public funds, which he threatened to expose if Harriott did not drop the charges against him, and Gullifer appears to have supported his predecessor in this even before his own defalcations had been discovered. Harriott at once reported the allegations to the Home Secretary and demanded an inquiry. The Home Secretary appointed three magistrates to conduct it. They spent several days in detailed examination of the affairs of the Thames Office, whilst the Thames magistrates themselves waited impatiently for the result because, as they told the Home Secretary, 'our exertions are at present paralysed and in a state of disorder ... until the termination of the inquiry we must fear it will be out of our power to enforce subordination and conduct the business of this office with vigour and effect'.
All that resulted from the inquiry was that Harriott was told it would be more satisfactory for him if his character was cleared by a trial in the Court of the King’s Bench and that therefore the Treasury Solicitor had been instructed to receive any charges the two clerks could substantiate in preferring a bill of indictment.
On June 15th, 1810, John Harriott stood his trial in the Court of King’s Bench on no less than 53 counts in one indictment, the pleonastic language of the time giving them a total of length of 50 ft. The details of the trial, so far as they can be discovered, belong to the biography of John Harriott rather than to the history of Thames. It is sufficient to say that he was acquitted of all the charges except a minor one of not putting his name on three billheads for work done for the Thames Office at his shops’ pump Victory. The jury found that he had withheld his name, but not for any corrupt motive. The Judge was not present when the jury delivered their verdict, which Harriott considered amounted to an acquittal; the clerk recorded the verdict as 'Guilty' and Harriott was fined. It had been a great ordeal for him, as well as most harmful to the prestige of the Institution. He seems to have been a man of absolute probity but it may have been his tendency to keep even minor matters in his own hands led to sufficient confusion and neglect of accounts to give some grounds for suspicion. The only hint of anything of the kind which has survived is a reference in a letter written by the magistrates in May, 1825, to an account which 'was kept entirely by Mr. Harriott and was not left in the office but continued in his possession until his death.' The nature of the account does not appear, and what significance there was in the last sentence of this letter will now never be known; it ran 'The official letters found in this office upon the subject contained no authority for the charge of five per cent. On the sums issued as for Mr. Harriott’s commission.'
Harriott continued to be the driving force of the Thames Office until the end of 1816, when he was stricken by cancer. He died on January 15th, 1817, from stab wounds self-inflicted. A considerate coroner’s jury found that he died from natural causes.
The Thames Police Institution was given another seven yeas of life by Act of Parliament in 1814, and in 1821 an Act for the More Effectual Administration of the Office of Justice of the Peace in the Metropolis and for the More Effectual Prevention of Depredations on the River Thames brought the River Court (but not Bow Street) under the same umbrella as the other seven public offices. Henceforth the magistrates at Thames were to be on the same footing as those at the other offices and the Receiver who had acted for the latter was to act for Thames as well (Colquhoun had died in 1820). The Shadwell Police Office was closed and a new one opened instead in Marylebone, leaving Thames responsible for a considerable additional area, including Poplar.
This arrangement continued until 1839, when the Metropolitan Police Courts Act brought all the metropolitan police offices, including Bow Street, into one organisation, changed their description from 'Office' to 'Court', authorised the establishment by Order in Council of other courts, and limited the number of magistrates to 27.
As the result of this and of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, the Thames Magistrates ceased to be responsible for the control of the Marine Police, which became the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police. The Thames District was enlarged to take in part of that formerly within the jurisdiction of Lambeth Street, Whitechapel, the number of magistrates was reduced to two (each with £1,000 a year) and Mr. Edward William Symons who had succeeded Gullifer as Chief Clerk as 1809 was given an increase in salary which made his pay £500 a year.
The history of Thames Police Office was completed, that of the Thames Police Court began. Some years later the Court moved to East Arbour Street, to a new building south of the site of the present police station (a photograph of this building is in the Court library). In 1982 the Police Court moved from the corner to its present site in Aylward Street.
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