In the final days of the 19th century, a daring burglary was carried out in the High Street which involved a desperate struggle, the use of the very latest technology and shots being fired on the streets of Bournemouth to catch the thieves.
It was 2.30 in the morning of Saturday 30thDecember 1899. Police Sergeant Chaffey and Constable Hansford were patrolling the High Street opposite the Amity Hall when they heard the sound of broken glass. Crossing the street they found that the window of No. 143, John Hansford’s jewellery shop was broken and the pavement strewn with stolen items. The thieves had tied the handle of the front door to the frame of the shop blind with a ‘strong tar rope’ and also tied up the gate leading to the side entrance to stop anyone coming out from the premises. The shutters had been jemmied off and the window daubed with treacle or some other glutinous substance before it was broken with a brick, wrapped in a soft hat. The thieves then grabbed whatever they could, gold and silver trinkets, gold rings and watches including one gold watch valued at £90, and fled, leaving the brick and hat behind. The evidence suggested a professional job but it also looked as if the thieves had been interrupted by the arrival of the police.
The household was aroused and told of the burglary. Mr Hansford was ill and confined to bed but Mrs Hansford said that no-one had heard any sound and the dog had not raised the alarm. Deputy Chief Constable Hains immediately spread the word about the burglary to the local area by telephone ‘the police station being fortunately connected to the National telephone system’. Constables set out to surrounding railway stations and Bournemouth, Dorchester, Southampton and Portsmouth police were warned to look out for strangers.
The message came through to Sergeant Foster at Bournemouth at 5.45 am. Having passed on the message he went with Sergeant Thomas to Bournemouth Central Station where they noticed two men meeting a third outside the station. As the police followed, the three men started to run, and the sergeants gave chase. One man, caught by Sergeant Thomas, was seen to throw something away which was later discovered to be a bunch of skeleton keys. He was found to be carrying jewellery and a small jemmy. Meanwhile Sergeant Foster was struggling violently with the other two men and being hit with a jemmy. He warned them that he was armed and would fire. According to the Poole and Dorset Herald, realising that the men were likely to escape, ‘he fired a shot first into the air above their heads . . He then fired at one of the men but when that did not stop him he fired the second time and that had the desired effect. The other man, however, got clear away’.
The men were taken back to Poole where they gave their names as James Thomas and Henry Dawson, an American. The following week, crowds of people came to the Guildhall to catch a glimpse of the prisoners but Dawson, who was injured in the leg, was not fit enough to attend court and the proceedings were held in the police station. The two men were remanded until the following week and then committed for trial at the next Dorset assizes.
Meanwhile, police were scouring the neighbourhood for the third man, described as being ‘about 27 years of age, about 5ft 3in. in height, medium build, rather thin face, long prominent nose, long light moustache. When last seen he was dressed in blue Melton coat with velvet collar, and a bowler hat of the latest fashion, whilst his trousers were frayed at the bottom’. The stolen property consisted of 248 rings, 7 watches, 6 bracelets, 2 brooches, a fruit knife, a chain and 2 pins, mostly of gold. The total value was estimated at £400. Quite a lot of items were found on the two men who were caught and more were discovered in the garden of Beech Hurst through which the thieves had made their escape.
Was the third man ever caught and what happened to the other two when they came to trial? I have yet to do the research to find out. What is interesting is the casual carrying of firearms by the police (the Herald just says that the policeman ‘happened’ to have a revolver upon him), the use of the brand new telephone system and the lack of security in the shop where such valuable items were protected only by shutters and a pane of glass.
Sources: Poole and Dorset Herald 4th Jan 1900 / 11th Jan 1900