Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Four

Reading time: 20-25 minutes

‘G for Gentleman’, engraving by William Nicholson (1872-1949), 1898


Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, June 30, 1866, p6

Paul Rabey the Younger was now bankrupt. Again. Under the bankruptcy regulations, Rabey couldn’t manage a company, start a company without court consent (which was unlikely), or indeed manage a company under a different, or assumed, name.

But none of this stopped Rabey. The way he probably saw it, he needed the following to be able to operate:

  • Expendable, or start-up, income;
  • Something to sell for a profit;
  • Someone to sell it for him, a front man;
  • Someone with the same name, and, preferably, equally dubious morals;
  • People gullible enough to buy what he had to sell;
  • A new area in which to operate, hopefully beyond the reach of William Harvey1.

Ready cash, and another Paul Rabey?

Redruth Town Council Offices, Penryn Sreet. Formerly Barclays Bank and, in Rabey’s day, Messrs. Williams & Co. Bank2

Rabey the Younger found the answers to the above rather close to home. As we observed in our previous post, Rabey’s father, Paul Rabey the Elder, was retired after a notable, and highly profitable, career in mining. He held an account at Messrs. Williams & Co. Bank in Redruth, and in early 1865 gave his son, Paul Rabey the Younger, permission to draw on this account3. In return, the ever-wily son gave his father what was later described as a “counter-undertaking”4, meaning in this instance that

…the business in the mines was the father’s only and not the son’s.

Bristol Mercury, March 31 1866, p3

Rabey the Younger now had working money. He could also conduct business once more and justifiably claim it was all the work of Paul Rabey – the Elder.

A location, and a front man?

Queen’s Hotel, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol5

By the spring of 1865 Rabey had chosen a new location for his activities. Why he selected Bristol is unknown, but presumably he needed a large, wealthy city in which to conduct business. Bristol in the 1860s was certainly large and wealthy, thanks to its relatively new rail links to London and a port capable of building the biggest steamships in the world. With its massively expanding population and increased opportunities, money must have been flowing in and out of the city6.

It was also a city Rabey had no previous connections with. As we saw in my first post, he operated in many areas over the years7. And I also mean ‘previous’ in a criminal sense: for example, back in 1861 Rabey was sentenced to twelve months in prison, at York. His crime? Fraud8.

Whatever the reasons, Bristol it was to be. Rabey arrived in the city in May 1865, his father’s gelt enabling him to employ a liveried servant, travel about the town in a coach and pair, and, after a brief stay at the Queen’s Hotel, reside in the fashionable areas of Clifton, such as Brighton Park and Rodney Cottages. Paul Rabey the Younger looked the part. Now he needed someone to do his business for him9.

Georgian townhouses, Melrose Place, Bristol

And that someone was John Kempson Thomas (1819-1877), a stockbroker of Melrose Place, Clifton9. A businessman with over ten years’ experience, he was also perhaps not unfamiliar with irregular trading practices10. It’s unclear whether he knew Rabey was a bankrupt who couldn’t legally conduct business, or whether he was indeed ‘in’ on the whole scheme. Thomas was later to state in court that he only became “aware of the fact that Paul Rabey’s father was living” after he began acting on behalf of Rabey the Younger12. If that’s true, he can’t have therefore known the son’s money was in fact his father’s. Thomas also stated to the authorities that he only conducted business at the “order” of Rabey the Younger13. It was all him, Your Honour…Maybe Thomas was a true front man, who asked no uncomfortable questions of his clients, or he was in denial of all knowledge of any sharp practice between himself and Rabey.

Perhaps tellingly, Thomas was later accused himself of selling worthless mining shares to a Bristol businessman. These shares had come into his possession by way of…Paul Rabey, the Younger. Thomas talked his way out of trouble, and was acquitted14.

Something to sell?

Liskey Hill. Now, South Wheal Leisure is around here somewhere..?

If you can find any surviving relics of South Wheal Leisure Mine, on Penwartha Coombe, Perranzabuloe, you’re doing very well. The site of the original Wheal Leisure Mine is now a carpark near Perranporth RFC, but South Wheal Leisure has vanished without trace.

Wheal Leisure Carpark, Perranporth15
Wheal Leisure, c1910. Courtesy of Clive Benney, Memories of Perranporth, Facebook

By 1865, South Wheal Leisure was heavily in debt; indeed, it was

…doing nothing, and not a single ounce of ore had been raised for a considerable period…

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

This worthless mine, however, is what Paul Rabey the Younger was to attempt to sell shares in, on the Bristol stockmarket. His cousin, John Rabey, lived in the count-house and cottages above the mine, and moreover owned the land: he could warn any unwelcome visitors off his property. And, if shareholders were to visit, the Rabeys hit on the following ruse:

…certain men were set to work with barrows, and a few hundreds of coal were burnt to set the engine at work; but when the shareholders’ backs were turned, the engine was stopped and the men discharged.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

As one ex-employee put it, the mine “would go quiet till some person came again”16. If, on the odd occasion, a gentleman with an interest in South Wheal Leisure happened to visit and found the mine idle, they were told that, on the day in question, there was a general holiday in the mining districts17. Of course, this was a brazen lie.

If South Wheal Leisure’s status as a profitable, functioning mine is obviously questionable, the other concern which Rabey peddled in Bristol, Bolingey Hill Consols, simply did not exist.

Liskey Hill/Bolingey Road junction

There are no ruins, relics, photographs, nor a location on It was described as little more than a

…piece of land with a hole in it, and a windlass and bucket…worse than valueless.

Hereford Journal, March 31 1866, p7

Valueless or not, these mirages are what Rabey was selling. Soon, advertisements like the one below appeared in Bristol broadsheets:

Bristol Times and Mirror, February 22, 1866, p1

What Rabey the Younger was selling, of course, was the timeless lure of a get-rich-quick scheme. Invest, and ultimately reap the profits. The only person to genuinely get rich quickly, though, was Rabey himself. And to do this, small, anonymous advertisements weren’t nearly enough. Rabey also needed personal charm and considerable powers of persuasion – and he must have had these qualities in spades.

This charisma was put to work on potential investors in his mines. And these men required but two criteria for Rabey: that they be wealthy, and that they know little or nothing about mining.

The Victims

St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, 1890s18

William H. Brunt, a music-seller on St Augustine’s, regularly received visits from Rabey. Brunt was no stranger to investing in Cornish mines, previously buying shares in Wheals Laxton and Martha. Unfortunately, he wasn’t especially successful in these earlier speculations, yet he allowed himself to be taken in by Rabey, who ordered an harmonium from him, claiming it was for a chapel in Cornwall. (Rabey was never afraid to splash his cash if it would provide dividends.)

When Rabey called on Brunt he was of course conveyed by carriage, and these visits often involved Rabey boasting of his wealth, displaying his healthy billfold, prosing on about his latest expensive trinket, and assuring Brunt all the while that he “was no man of straw”. Rabey told Brunt that he

…should be worth £20,000 or £30,000 at the end of the year.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

£20,000 in 1865 is over £2 million today. Rabey also showed Brunt samples of ore allegedly taken from South Wheal Leisure and waxed lyrical on the value and promise of his mine (Rabey was obviously banking on a Bristol music-dealer having scant knowledge of ‘profitable’ ore). Brunt was hooked, and bought 125 shares in South Wheal Leisure for £532 – that’s £71K today. He then scooped up 500 shares in Bolingey Hill Consols for £200. (These were all shares owned by Rabey’s father.) Rabey the Younger was doing a roaring trade19.

Rabey must have made a similar impression on the following Bristolians: James Bigwood, a merchant20, Mr William Atchley, a solicitor, a Mr Pring, William Chilcott, a bullion merchant, and Mr Hyde21.

All were taken in by Rabey’s patter, and to further assure these businessmen he was no ‘man of straw’, some or all of them even visited South Wheal Leisure, and came away smugly satisfied with their investment22.

Rabey later admitted to making over £14K (that’s £500,000 today) from the Wheal Leisure and Bolingey shares. He skillfully rigged the market by buying shares back from his investors and then selling them on again, ever-increasing their price – and his profits. In the meantime, his mines stood idle, not earning a penny23.

Rabey was obviously now swimming in money, boasting his phony shares would soon be worth £10 each24. However, as a bankrupt, he couldn’t be seen to be conducting business, managing a firm, or making money.

So how did he do it?

The Play

Bristol Harbour Hotel and Spa, Corn Street. In Rabey’s day, this was the Bristol Joint Stock Bank25

Rabey wasn’t just conning the Bristolians, he was attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, and his creditors too. Through the good offices of John Kempson Thomas, stockbroker, he had opened four separate bank accounts for his dealings, all under the the simple name ‘Paul Rabey’26. Thomas then authorised the sales of the shares (which were held in Paul Rabey the Elder‘s Redruth account, but which Rabey the Younger was authorised to draw on), and the profits from these shares were entered into the accounts under such fantastical names as “Mexican Shares”, or “Turkish Consolides”27. For example, £1,786 (£238K today) was paid into the Bristol Joint Stock Bank by

…Paul Rabey, without saying “senior” or “junior”…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

Similarly, with the cost-book for the fictional Bolingey Hill Consols, Rabey the Younger also merely signed it ‘Paul Rabey’. It must have caused him no little consternation, therefore, when the Bristolians convinced him to append “Junior” to his moniker. There were two Paul Rabeys, after all – Brunt for one had met the elder Paul Rabey in Cornwall. Later, in court, it was discovered that “For Paul Rabey, Senior” had been surreptitiously added to the cost-book also28.

Whose were the shares to sell? Rabey the Younger’s, or Rabey the Elder’s? In whose real name were the accounts? Who was conducting the business? Whose shares in South Wheal Leisure were being sold in Bristol? Who really was the purser of Bolingey Hill Consols? Come to mention it, where the hell was Bolingey Hill Consols?

Who really benefitted from this smokescreen? Paul Rabey the Younger, of course. A wealthy, yet infirm, gentleman. Would I deceive anyone, he said, being

…a cripple, with one foot in the grave, and not knowing how soon I might meet my God..?

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

His play was beautiful. But it was short-lived.

William Harvey again

William Harvey was one man certainly not taken in by Rabey – truly, once bitten, twice shy. After the way Rabey had treated him in the past, he must have wanted revenge. And he got it29.

By the summer of 1865, over £1,800 resided in the Redruth bank account of Rabey the Elder: profits from the sale of valueless shares. As noted above, £1,700 (£250,000 today) of this filthy lucre was transferred to the account at the Bristol Joint Stock Bank, named for Paul Rabey, without specifying Elder or Younger30.

Harvey was the court-appointed assignee in Rabey’s bankruptcy and, under the terms of that bankruptcy, Rabey was unprotected for six months. This meant that, if Harvey could prove, between January 1865 to the end of July of that year that Rabey had money, it should be distributed amongst Rabey’s creditors, of whom Harvey was one also.

Harvey, convinced the £1,700 in the Bristol account was Rabey the Younger’s, pounced, and ordered the account to be frozen, pending an arrangement to have the money shared out accordingly. This must have been a happy moment for Harvey, but he should have remembered that Rabey was not parted from cash easily31.

Harvey knew Rabey to be an absolute fox in business, and a vindictive one at that. But even he must have been utterly gobsmacked by the Rabey family’s next ruse.

Paul Rabey the Elder accused Harvey of wrongly freezing the Bristol account, claiming the £1,700 was his. Not his son’s, but his. An interpleader case was undertaken, and suddenly, Harvey was standing in the dock at Taunton Assizes, to explain his actions to the learned gentlemen.

The Interpleader

Shire Hall, Taunton, home of the Somerset Assizes in the 1860s32

Simply, an interpleader action is a civil procedure whereby a holder of property (in this instance, Rabey the Elder), initiates a suit between two or more claimants to the same property. Here, the two claimants were his own son, and William Harvey.

If all this sounds bizarre today, then rest assured, it was out of the normal run of affairs at the time also. “Suspicious”, observed the Royal Cornwall Gazette33, whilst the London Morning Herald thought the whole matter “Extraordinary”34.

It was made even more bizarre in court by the antics of Rabey the Elder. He was rumoured to have a “very defective memory”35, and certainly played as much to the gallery. The old man denied he had ever heard of the accounts in question, or, indeed, had ever heard of Bolingey Hill Consols (which is undoubtedly surprising, seeing as his name was on that mine’s cost-book). Could such a senile old man really have made such an action against Harvey?

Rabey the Younger also gave evidence – he had to be carried into the courtroom – but was almost as vague as his Father. He needed to be. Rabey was in trouble. His time in York gaol for fraud was dredged up, as were his two recent bankruptcies, the false imprisonment of the accused in the case, William Harvey, not to mention his time in Bristol as a “gentleman without a shilling”36, selling dodgy mining shares and possibly forging a signature in the Bolingey cost-book.

It was the opinion of Harvey’s counsel that held sway with the jury:

…the whole matter was a “juggle” between the father and son, and that the money in dispute belonged to the creditors, and ought to be divided amongst them.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 29, 1866, p8

The Judge added that Rabey the Younger’s shares

…were such that no man in his senses would touch them with a pair of tongs. Whose was the action?…should [Rabey the Elder] die tomorrow into whose pocket would the £1,700 sought to be recovered go? Why, into the pocket of the son.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 29, 1866, p8

Harvey, finally, had won, and he took steps to distribute the £1,700 to Rabey’s creditors37. Presumably, he also claimed the £125 Rabey owed him. Though victorious, Harvey must have lived the rest of his life regretting ever meeting Paul Rabey the Younger.

Similar emotions had been stirring in Bristol.

I have done with Bristol…

Several of the Bristolians duped by Rabey had also been called as witnesses in the interpleader hearing, but they must have heard rumours beforehand that South Wheal Leisure and Bolingey Hill were perhaps not the soundest of investments. It’s not inconceivable that William Harvey tipped them; in any case it’s never revealed how the Bristol men discovered that they had blown their money.

Whatever the reasons, by July 1865 these whispers reached the ears of the music-merchant, William Brunt. Previous to this, relations between him and Rabey had been pleasant: Rabey was making money off Brunt, and Brunt believed he was making money thanks to Rabey. Now, though, he was having reservations, and one day addressed Rabey thus:

Mr Rabey, there’s some talk about these shares; they are not so valuable as they are represented. You seem to have a great opinion of these shares, will you take them off my hands?

qtd in the Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

Rabey, who had up until then had been “all civility and politeness”, turned nasty:

…the shares are not worth sixpence a piece. If you open your mouth to say a word against the mine I will ruin you: I will have the skin off your back. I have done with Bristol, and am going back to Cornwall.

qtd in the Western Daily Press April 6, 1866, p3

Understandably perplexed, Brunt travelled to Cornwall and visited Rabey the Elder, hoping the elderly, respectable parent would intercede with his venal son. But, of course, no such thing happened, and Brunt returned to Bristol even more out of pocket, and to worse news.

Under the cost-book system in Cornish mining, shareholders in the mines were liable to answer a ‘call’ to make up any monetary deficits in the output of the said mine38. These calls were proportionate to the number of shares they owned. Although Rabey was ostensibly a purser, he held no shares in the mines he fronted (they were all in Rabey the Elder’s account in Redruth and, lest we forget, he also bankrupt). To exact vengeance on Brunt, Rabey did the following:

He got a number of tradesmen who had supplied the goods for the working of the mine, to bring actions for the recovery of the value of these goods against the unfortunate shareholders…Mr Brunt might be sued for thousands.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3
Gentleman arrested for debt, 184339

Rabey was out to ruin Brunt, by getting others to do the dirty work for him. Brunt, however, refused to cave in, publicly repudiated the shares, and took Rabey to court in April 1866. He accused Rabey of

…intending to deceive the plaintiff [Brunt, and] fraudulently representing that…the mine was free from debt, and that there was a balance in hand for carrying on the working of the mine.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

This was a major undertaking for Brunt; in blowing the gaffe on Rabey, he must have known his own status as a gentleman and sound man of business would take a knock also.

And so it was to prove. Under examination, Brunt was ridiculed. His previous failings in mining transactions were laid bare for the amusement of the public gallery, as was his further gullibility regarding the Rabeys. He must have blushed to his roots and cringed to his entrails at the hilarity generated by his stating he was “quite taken up” with old Mr and Mrs Rabey when he visited Cornwall40.

Taken in, more like.

But Brunt toughed it out, and Rabey the Younger’s Bristol con was brought to light, as it had also been several days previously in the same court regarding the Rabey the Elder’s interpleader hearing. Again, Rabey the Younger’s previous charges and his handling of Harvey were discussed, along with his nefarious dealings in Bristol. This must have been as uncomfortable for Rabey as it was at times excruciating for Brunt. If he was convicted of fraud again, he could expect a weightier sentence. What to do?

What Rabey the Younger always did. He struck a deal.

The Backhander

While court was in session, an “arrangement was effected”. Rabey made a gallant show of faith in the validity of both his mines and his shares, and purchased the shares back off Brunt, for £225. Brunt instantly dropped all charges. Rabey the Younger was free41. And very wealthy.

Altogether, Rabey lost £1,925 in Bristol. But he still had shares to peddle, and, if we are to take him at his word (admittedly a chancy undertaking), he made £4K from the Bristolians42, giving him a gross profit of £2,075. That’s over £277,000 today.

His reputation in Bristol was, by now, utterly poisonous. The name “Rabey” had become within that city’s polite society a byword for all that was criminal and corrupt in the world of business43.

But none of this bothered him. He’d come away from Bristol considerably wealthier than when he’d arrived, and there was always another city, and another wealthy fool, to take advantage of.

Would his luck hold in London?

Click the link below for the final instalment of They Died With Their Shoes On:

Paul Rabey and The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society

Many thanks for reading!


3 thoughts on “Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Four

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