Had you found yourself sitting in the public gallery of the Bow Street magistrates court one afternoon late in the winter of 1801, you could have been forgiven for asking what the proprietor of a public house in the small West Yorkshire town of Ferrybridge had in common with the captain of a merchant vessel recently returned from Jamaica; a Lieutenant Colonel in the British army; the landlord of another pub in York; and the faithful retainer of a noted Whig MP? The answer would have been that they were all aliases of the prisoner standing in the dock in front of you – Thomas Ogle, a conman who had been praying on Londoners for the best part of a decade.
Ogle was originally from the small village of Hemsworth in West Yorkshire and had probably arrived in London sometime during the 1780s. He was initially employed as a servant, but domestic servitude appears to have been particularly ill-suited to someone of Ogle’s temperament and he eventually found himself unemployed and cast adrift on the streets of the metropolis. With only his wits and considerable guile to sustain him, Ogle soon realised that there was good money to made by parting his gullible southern neighbours from their cash and over the course of several years he rapidly descended into a life of wanton criminality.
Ogle’s modus operandi differed from case to case. In some instances he would concoct elaborate backstories in which he presented himself as a respectable businessman or a military officer who had fallen on hard times. In others, he would simply walk into a shop and claim that he was the servant of some well-known society figure and had been asked to purchase goods on their behalf. The end result was always the same: once the victim had handed over their money or valuables, Ogle would vanish in London’s crowded streets, never to be seen again. He was eventually arrested in October 1801 and convicted on the basis of evidence provided by Richard Wrangham, a Bond Street stationer who had supplied Ogle with a quantity of expensive pocket books, believing that they were destined for the hands of Charles Wentworth MP.
This is one of a number of courtroom portraits produced by Gillray and other caricaturists like him in this period. Caricaturists were considered to be particularly suited to this type of commission as they were adept at rapidly capturing an accurate likeness of their subject and were cheaper to employ than a traditional portrait artist. The print is headed with the following quote from John Townsend, the Bow Street Runner who had been responsible for Ogle’s arrest: “Don’t tell me of Major Semple! Why Major Semple’s no more to be compar’d to this here Rascal than I am, to my Lord Kenyon or Buonapartè!” Semple was a notorious conman and thief but had been highly regarded by the public due to his distinguished military career and dashing adventures across Europe. Clearly Townsend thought that any attempt to draw a comparison between the gentlemanly Semple and a grubby swindler like Thomas Ogle was beneath contempt.
Gillray’s stipple and aquatint portrait matches the brief physical description of Ogle provided in the court records, which state that he was 5’5 tall, with dark hair, grey eyes and a Yorkshire accent. It is accompanied by a list of Ogle’s known aliases and the crimes he is thought to have committed whilst using them. The date of publication is somewhat confusing, as the print claims to have been based upon evidence given at Ogle’s “examination before the magistrates of Bow Street in Nov 1801”. However the newspaper accounts of Ogle’s arrest indicate that his hearing at the Bow Street magistrates court took place on 15 October 1801, just over a month before this print was published. That would mean that either a second hearing took place in November which was not reported by the press, or that Gillray applied a bit of creative license in order to make the print appear as though it had been published immediately after the event.
Thomas Ogle was found guilty of fraud on 5th December 1801 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He would spend the next twelve months languishing in a cell in Newgate prison before eventually being dispatched to Australia. I have been unable to locate any further records which indicate what may have happened to him after that, although the registration of the death of a 60 year old man named Thomas Ogle in the parish records for Lancaster in 1822, hints at the possibility of him serving his time on the far side of the world and eventually making his way back to the north of England.
Times 17 October 1801, 8 December 1801
Morning Chronicle, 7 December 1801
HO 26; Piece: 8; Page: 98
HO 26; Piece: 9; Page: 88