Bullion Robbery During the Victorian Era Unsolved

There were various robberies during the 1800s, but one bullion robbery in England was touted as one of the great unsolved robberies of the Victorian Era. It all began on Saturday evening, 3 December 1864 when about nine o’clock that evening, the bill-broker, money exchanger, and bullion merchant, Baum, Sons and Co. was locked up and closed until Monday morning. The business was located at 58 Lombard Street in London. Mr. Peter Frederick Baum had been in business some 40 years and his Baum, Sons and Co. was a partnership between him, his three sons — Joseph, Godfried, and Noa — and his oldest son Adolphus. In addition, the company employed a clerk, a porter, and a young boy.

Green Arrow Shows the Location of Lombard Street of the Victorian Robbery, Courtesy of Google Maps

Green arrow shows the location of 58 Lombard Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Baum, Sons and Co. was housed in a building that was several stories high. The upper stories of the building were let out to various firms, and Baum, Sons and Co. occupied the ground floor and the cellar, where a strong room from brick was built. The strong room had double doors, formidable locks, and a safe, which was three or four feet square. Moreover, at night, all the securities were locked inside the safe as an extra safeguard.

The building was also well protected. The street door, which was common to the whole building, opened into a passage and on the right-hand side was a door that lead to Baum’s premises. When that door was properly closed, it could not be opened from the outside. Baum, Sons and Co. also had a watch dog that had run of the building and could access all the passageways and staircases. In addition, at night the building was left in the care of a highly respected elderly housekeeper who lived on the uppermost floor. She was the widow of a police sergeant and her niece and her niece’s husband also lived there and were considered trustworthy. 

Adolphus Baum closed up the business on the Saturday night in question. At the time, Baum, Sons and Co. was holding a large amount of money. For instance, in the strong room were numerous certificates, 57 gold and 37 silver watches, foreign coins, and many bills of exchange as well as the following:

“62 1/2 Spanish and one Isabella doubloons, 378 1/2 eagles [American], 48 1/2 guineas, 7 louis d’or, 244 1/2 Napoleons, 7 oz. of sterling gold, 4 oz. of ancient gold, and 2 oz. of melting gold. Of notes they had 71l. Irish, 48l. Scotch, 2,678f. French, 120 Belgian, 2,647 thalers; 1, 802 Russian rubles, 1.745 florins, Dutch; 750 florins, German; 225 Austrian; two 5l. notes of the Leeds Banking Company; 365l. in Australian notes, 495 rupee notes, 99 Canadian dollar notes, 37 American, 1l. Nova Scotia, 100 Spanish dollar notes, 5l. in Guernsey notes, and six Baden bonds of 35 florins.”[1]

bullion robbery - example of old coins

Example of old coins. Author’s collection.

On Monday, the 5th of December, at about nine o’clock in the morning, the senior Baum opened the premises. Shortly, afterwards he went to the strong-room, accompanied by the porter carrying a lit candle. When he went to use his key, he discovered the lock had been tampered with, and a hole about 18 inches square had been cut through the solid brickwork. The Dublin Evening Mail reported:

“Baum going forward … discovered that a hole [was] … large enough to allow a full-grown person to crawl through. It immediately occurred to him that some burglar had broken in the place, and he at once told the lad to get into the room through the hole, and see what had occurred.”[2]

He then discovered someone had entered the strong room.

“In a corner of the strong room [were] a pile of bullion boxes, all bearing marks and addresses to merchants abroad. The boxes [were] all empty, and a significant fact in connection with them [was] that they have not been disturbed.”[3]

How the thieves made entrance into the strong room seemed nearly impossible because of the thick brick wall. That however did not stop the thieves from entering immediately above where the safe stood, which caused police to deduce that the thieves knew their way around the premises. Once in the strong room, the large safe had also been broken into and was empty. The Westmorland Gazette reported:

“The iron safe was open, three of the locks of the inner door of the room had been wrenched off, empty cash-boxes were strewn about, [papers hastily discarded,] and the place was in disorder in other respects.”[4]

Moreover, not only had the door been removed but also a “formidable lock inside of it had been broken in pieces, and the wards scattered about.”[5] How this had been accomplished seemed inexplicable.

“Four formidable crowbars were lying about [and] there was no mark visible about the door to show that any of them had been used in prising it open, nor were there any indications of recent use on the crowbars themselves.”[6]

bullion robbery - example of an old lock

Example of an old lock. Author’s collection.

To determine what happened locksmiths were called in by the police. The locksmiths claimed a key had been used but there was only one set of keys it. Furthermore, those keys Adolphus had given to one of his brothers the same evening he locked up. The brother in turn gave them to their father that same night. Investigation showed that a portion of the lock’s outer frame was removed as it was discovered discarded on the floor. So, if a key had been used, it did not explain why the lock’s outer portion would have been removed as there was no need to remove it if the thieves had a key.

That wasn’t the only mystery related to the bullion robbery because it was also a mystery as to how the thieves gained access to the premises to commit the bullion robbery. The street door could not be unlocked from the outside and at night it was “secured by bolts and crossbars on the inside, there being no lock either on the outside or inside.”[7] In addition, anyone leaving the premises after it had been locked for the “night might remove the crossbars and bolts inside the street door, but … [they] could not fasten the door … and a passing policeman would probably soon find that it was open as he went his round.”[8] Officers would later learn that the thieves were creative because according to the Westmorland Gazette:

“Before leaving [the thieves] … actually screwed a spring latch inside the door, and on closing the door behind them as they passed out it fastened itself on the inner side, and so presented afterwards an appearance from the outside of being secure.” [9]

When an investigation of the bullion robbery of Baum, Sons and Co. was conducted it was reported that the watch dog that had been roaming at large that evening had been found with a leash or strap loosely attached around its neck and that the strap had been made from fastening bundles used on the securities that could be found in the safe. Police suspected the leash had been used to restrain the dog during the robbery. In addition, something sticky was found on the dog’s muzzle “as if something had been placed over it to stifle the noise of its barking.”[10] This sticky substance was thought to perhaps have been narcotics and used to drug the dog.

When the housekeeper, her niece, and nephew-in-law were questioned about the bullion robbery it was learned that the niece and her husband had gone to the theatre Saturday evening while the widowed housekeeper remained at home. The three reported that they had used the passageways on Saturday and Sunday and that the saw and heard nothing unusual. Furthermore, the three also claimed they were not disturbed on Saturday or Sunday and that the dog did not bark — which was somewhat uncommon as it reportedly barked at the slightest noise — but they did not think it strange and even if the dog had barked that was also not unusual.

On the discovery of the theft, detectives stayed late looking for clues into the robbery that Baum, Sons and Co. later claimed caused them to suffer losses between £23,000 and £25,000, although other reports by outside sources claim the company’s losses were more like £10,000. Newspapers reported that the bullion robbery investigation was placed in the able hands of “Mr. Hamilton, the chief of the city detective force, who with his officers [was] using every vigilance to trace out the parties implicated.”[11] Moreover, the police remained hopeful that they would solve the crime.

As other recent robberies had also been committed and the perpetrators and stolen property of those robberies had not yet been located, police took extra precautions to ensure the thieves did not succeed in obtaining money from the Baum robbery. These actions by the police were reported by the Westmorland Gazette:

“Steps have been taken to prevent the negotiation of the securities, and telegrams describing the property have been despatched to the outports and to the principal cities on the continent. It is said that the police are in possession of facts that may eventually lead to the discovery of the part, if not the whole of the property stolen and the apprehension of the thieves.”[12]

However, despite the best efforts of Mr. Hamilton and his detectives no discovery of the thieves happened. Police did later claim that they believed the perpetrators received admission into Baum’s building before the doors were closed for the evening. Even if that was true it did not shed light on who committed the crime. Thus, fourteen years later, in 1878, the same year that Madame Tussaud‘s purchased one of England’s infamous instruments of torture (the gallows that had stood at Hertford Gaol) and added it her Chamber of Horrors, was the same year that the Baum bullion robbery was listed in several English newspapers as one of the “great bank robberies” of the 1800s.

The bullion theft would unfortunately never be solved, which of course makes for an unsatisfying end to this post. However, of the robbery, the Western Mail reported in April of 1878:

“[W]e shall find that is possible for a resolute and determined thief, who will plan a robbery and give his mind to it, to secure by a single operation a fortune … and the only wonder is that robberies so vast [are] not to be more frequent. … Of remarkable robberies we rarely hear anything, and yet these crimes, when committed on a grand scale, will be found to be quite as full of romantic incident as are bigamies, forgeries, murders, or even cases of high treason itself.”[13]

References:

  • [1] “Extraordinary Robbery of Bullion and Securities,” in Westmorland Gazette, 10 December 1864, p. 8.
  • [2] “The Robbery of Bullion,” in Dublin Evening Mail, 7 December 1864, p. 3. 
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] “Extraordinary Robbery of Bullion and Securities,” p. 8.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] “The Robbery of Bullion,” p. 3.
  • [11] “Extraordinary Robbery of Bullion and Securities,” p. 8.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] “Great Bank Robberies,” in Western Mail, 26 April 1878, p. 3.

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