Sinner or Scapegoat?

Sue Brown recounts the rise and fall of the Stroudwater Company's clerk Edward Hains.

The Committee minutes dated 10 June 1814 record the suspension of Edward Hains who was accused of ‘having received, and fraudulently embezzled money the property of the company’. Was he a sinner or a scapegoat? 

The proprietors were certainly well aware of the possibility of fraud. The subject occurs frequently in the minutes. The first clerk was responsible for maintaining the books of account and as such performed an important part in its prevention. Central to this was the establishment of an effective system of internal control. This was not easy when cash transactions were the norm. The accounting system that Hains worked with mainly consisted of the cashbooks and tonnage books. In the wake of his suspension, the company turned to the Thames & Severn Canal Company. Its clerk Mr Denyer was asked to meet with Hain’s successor, George Hawker, to describe the system of book-keeping used by his company. The most significant recommendations were the method of recording tonnage and the introduction of a balanced ledger. 

What do we know of Edward Hains himself? He was a local man having been baptised on 22 July 1759 at St. Lawrence’s, Stroud. He married a local girl, Elizabeth Clissold on 30 July 1780. On 5 August 1786 his name appears in the cashbook, when he is paid £3 for acting as superintendent of locks for five weeks. On the resignation of the clerk Joseph Grazebrook on 8 April 1788, two clerks were appointed in his place. Hains put his name forward for the position of second clerk. A member of his wife’s family, Samuel Clissold, stood as bondsman for him to the sum of £100. Samuel Bayis was appointed first clerk; their roles being reversed on 14 October. Hains appears to have been well thought of for his salary as first clerk rose from £45 to £120, the latter awarded to him on 12 April 1814. By 7 June that year, Thomas Critchley had accused ‘several servants’ of the company of fraudulently embezzling money belonging to it. The committee minutes of that date record that Thomas Beard, lockkeeper at Framilode had ‘confessed the receipt of a certain other Sum of Money which has never been placed to the Company's account’, that is passed to Hains. At the same time, the lockkeeper at Bristol Road Wharf, Ambrose Beard, was ordered to quit the company house. When the records were examined it was found that £27/14/11 was due to Hains relating to the coal account and net expenditure on the general account amounted to £3/-/4½ including his salary to the end of July. Against this he paid into the general account £28/2/3 that he held for tonnage and £2/4/5 for bricks. 

The following year, on 22 January the company received a letter from Mr Lumley relating to the supply to it of Shropshire coal supposedly carried to the company by Edward Boden on 29 April 1814. Upon investigation, it was found that bricks sent using Boden had been illegally sold at Gloucester and it was thought that to be the likely fate of the coal. It appears that the receipt from Hains for the cargo had been forged, possibly in collusion with Thomas Beard who had requested and been given company writing paper on 12 April 1813.

What were Thomas Critchley’s motives? For his information he was offered Ambrose Beard’s house at Bristol Road Lock and given a reward of £10. In September 1816 John Critchley, possibly a relative, proposed himself as a person to sell coal at Bristol Road Wharf and was accepted, until it was discovered that he had been imprisoned for handling stolen goods in 1814. 

There is no evidence that Samuel Clissold’s bond supporting Hains was called in or that action was taken against him through the courts. Hains would have been responsible for those working under him. However, in common with both his predecessor Joseph Grazebrook and his successor George Hawker he was  unable to totally prevent embezzlement by employees. On balance, it appears that he was more scapegoat than sinner.