A Curious Career, 1901

From the Enniscorthy Guardian, 7 December 1901, this Edwardian version of ‘Catch Me if You Can’ with a young Derryman playing the role of Frank Abagnale:





A Derry man whose name was given as Robert Schumberg Long, though his title to Schumberg is doubtful, was charged at Shillelagh Petty Sessions on Tuesday with the larceny of a considerable number of articles from the warehouse of O’Neill and Nephew at Carnew, where he had obtained employment on the presumption of his being a draper’s assistant. Shop pilfering of a systematic kind formed the basis of the charge of larceny, but the inquiries made by the police reveal very remarkable circumstances in the career of Long, who posed in various distinguished grades from a Cambridge University man and Doctor of Laws, and the elect of Mr Chamberlain for an important post in Pretoria, down to a counterhand in the quiet village of Carnew. 

In appearance, address and manners he was well adapted to play his part, and there was a skillfulness about him which had impressed Mr Darlington, the proprietor of the establishment in Carnew, and caused that gentleman for a time to believe that his new employee was a fully apprenticed and professionally trained drapery hand.  He came to Carnew last September, having obtained employment at O’Neill and Nephew’s on the strength of testimonials from other establishments, but the documents of course were quite in uniformity with all the surroundings of a curious career, bogus and forged. His engagement was for the modest sum of £25 a year with accommodation and maintenance, but whatever shortcomings existed in salary were recouped, apparently from other sources, judging by the plea of guilty and the admissions during the hearing of the charges at petty sessions. 

He remained in O’Neill and Nephew’s down to the 23rd of November, when he was taken into custody by Sergeant Delaney, acting on discoveries made through a search warrant. The prisoner’s boxes and portmanteaus in Mr Darlington’s house disclosed the possession of a large variety of drapery and fancy goods and clothing, much of which Mr Darlington identified as belonging to the establishment, and the minimum value of which he estimated at about £7. Letters and photographs, the latter in much abundance, helped the police from one inquiry to another.

It was ascertained that the defendant belonged to Londonderry, where he spent some years as a junior teacher. He left Derry in ’96, and subsequently returned, when according to the police information, he impressed people with the belief that he had been a student in Cambridge University, and had his card embellished with the significant letters, L.L.D. Amongst the documents found in this connection was a receipt from a northern hotel in Derry, acknowledging a payment from Dr Long.

He returned to Derry some time last year, and again early this year, and appears to have improved things, for again, according to the police information, he was feted, preparatory to going out to Pretoria to fulfill an important appointment bestowed upon him by Mr Chamberlain, and the ruse worked so well that the guileless newspapers in the north took him up, and published eulogistic paragraphs about the young Derryman’s educational career, and the distinction he had attained.  Copies of the newspaper matter are in the hands of the authorities and read side by side with the incidents in Shillelagh court they indeed formed curious and suggestive reading.

An endearingly trusting article detailing the accused’s illustrious career, from the Derry Journal of 31 May 1901, via British Newspaper Archive.

The next point in Long’s career was to spend some months in Newbridge, from whence he parted owing to the development of habits of an unsatisfactory kind. From here, he appears to have gravitated to Carnew, a forged testimonial going to show that he served his apprenticeship in Clones. The constabulary inquiries prove this latter statement to be altogether untrue, and the fact is that Long, who appears to have possessed some skill in the business, was never apprenticed nor trained to drapery. In Carnew he deluded many people. His airs, to paraphrase his own description, were that of a man of estate doing work as a clerk.

He made use of a will to impress some susceptible minds with the idea that he was inheriting properly in America, and elsewhere, and in his short career in Carnew he appears to have brought some innocent persons into trouble.  He extended patronage to the local tailor, amongst other equipment a riding breeches forming part of his necessary apparel. But the search of the police has discovered the never-failing tall hat and dress suit with which he more elaborately concealed his identity on occasions.

 Other particulars disclose his having passed elsewhere under an assumed name, and an incident has arisen connecting him with Greenock, and his presumed travel in England. Various photographs of the accused have been found. In one of these he figured as a barrister in wig and gown. A letter found, and the inquiries which the police have carried out, show that while in Carnew he attempted to do business on a large scale with extensive house furnishing people, on the plea that he was a person of position and property in the locality.  Various other matters have afforded much ground for inquiry by the police, who have ample opportunity now in the fact that Long has been sequestered for six months on his own plea of guilty in the county prison. 

On Tuesday he was brought down from Wicklow on trial before the magistrates, Mr A Meldon, Mr Brooke and Dr Brady. Mr Barbour, solicitor, of the firm of TK Toomey and Co, Dublin, appeared for him He was attended in court by his father, who was unable to throw but scant light on the son’s career since he left Derry in ’96, but apparently he had puzzled the father much after his style of treating other people. The man had believed that the son all the while was away getting a college education, as he put it, and when the youth was at home recently, knowledge was conveyed to the father about the appointment by Mr Chamberlain in Pretoria.

In court, Long was slightly disturbed, but towards the end appeared to be considerably relieved by a six months’ sentence. Out of the sum of £40 which had been found in his possession when arrested at Mr Darlington’s, £7 were ordered by the court to be refunded as the value of the goods identified by Mr Darlington. Mr Barbour, for the accused, having offered restitution, and minus his solicitor’s fee, the rest of the money was passed to the defendant, who in a most businesslike way had his portmanteaus and the articles made up to be sent thither with him to prison.

The case was called in court at the suit of District-inspector Otter against Robert Schumberg Long, for that he did, between 9th September and 23rd November, unlawfully steal, take, and carry away a quantity of tweed and other articles, the property of James S Darlington, Carnew. A deposition, made by Sergeant Delaney, was read, in which he stated that he received a search warrant to search the houses of the accused, and on 23rd November he searched them, and found various articles identified by Mr Darlington as his property.

James Doyle deposed that he carried on business as a tailor at Carnew. He knew the defendant. Since September last, he had made certain garments for him – a coat, waistcoat, three pairs of trousers and a riding breeches.  He identified these articles produced by Sergeant Delaney. He saw the material for the coat and waistcoat on the counter of Mr Darlington’s shop about a month or five weeks ago with the defendant, who was behind the counter. He showed witness this piece of stuff. He did not know where the defendant took it from, but he said this being a bit of a remnant, he would get it cheap. Witness aid he would make the coat and waistcoat out of it if he could. He would not swear whether he took the parcel away or that it was sent. The trimmings came along with the stuff. He didn’t think he took the cloth, but it was sent to him, and the trimmings along with it.  He made the coat and waistcoat, and Long paid him 10s. 

There were two pairs of trousers made before this coat and waistcoat.  The material came in a parcel which was sent to witness’s house. He was paid for the making of these by the defendant. The pair of trousers and the breeches material now also produced came in separate parcels. The defendant was to go away on the Monday before he was arrested, and witness had them made for him the night before.  The defendant came to him the night before the day he was to go away. Witness parceled them up and defendant then said he was not going away. This was the night of Wednesday, 20th November. Witness then brought them up to the shop to defendant on the next morning, and delivered them to him.  On Friday following (22nd) he paid defendant 4s 6d for the trimmings of a waistcoat which witness had bought previously. This was a knitted fancy waistcoat for another person. He paid Long the 4s 6d across the counter. It might be one or two or three o’clock.

Mr Barbour – It might be six?

Witness – It was not so late (to the Chairman) – It was some time in the middle of the day.

Chairman – It has not been shown that the defendant was an assistant in shop.

Mr Otter said he would show all that.

The witness said the Defendant was assistant in the shop of O’Neill and Nephew, which is the name Mr Darlington trades under.

James Seymour Darlington stated, in reply to Mr Otter, that he carried on the business of a general warehouse at Carnew under the style of O’Neill and Nephew. There was a drapery department in the shop. The defendant was employed as assistant in it for witness. He entered the employment on 9th September at the remuneration of £25 per annum.

Mr Otter – As regards purchasing goods by assistants is there a rule?

Mr Barbour objected.

Mr Otter – This is purely that Mr Darlington explained to the defendant the rule with regard to assistant purchasing in a shop.

The Chairman said in a case in London last week in reference to the Army and Navy Stores, such evidence was allowed.

Mr Darlington – The rule was that assistants should not purchase goods from each other without his knowing of the purchase taking place, and that it should go through the books and pass through witness’s hands or Mrs Darlington’s when amount of same would be entered to the assistant’s account.  On 23rd November, a search was made of the room occupied by defendant.  Witness saw an amount of goods there which he identified as his property.  He saw the clothes mentioned in Doyle’s evidence. These were made from cloth in his establishment. One of the pair of pants had the buttons with the names of the establishment. The riding breeches was made out of material in the shop.

Mr Darlington then identified the following articles found in defendant’s portmanteaus – One five noggin bottle of whiskey, half pint bottle of whiskey, one pair of tan shoes, two hair brushes, four clothes brushes, six pairs of scissors, two dozen lead pencils, two razors, seven one ounce packets of tobacco, one pipe, two dozen boot laces, one box saddle paste, three bars carbolic soap, two penknives, two notebooks, two bottles crown cream polish, one shaving brush, one turnscrew, two dozen shirt studs, two bottles sateen polish, three woolen undervests, six linen collars, two pairs woolen drawers.  The value of all these articles would be over £7. The defendant did not bring it under his notice, according to instructions, as regards the purchase of any of these articles, and he had no knowledge that the defendant was taking them.

The defendant gave notice to leave his employment on 20th November. The notice was up on 6th.  On Wednesday night witness settled up his wages, and he was to go on the following Thursday.  Up to that date his wages came to £5.4s.2d. There was a deduction of 3s 6d for the amount of his account for a pair of towels, some note paper, and a cardboard box.  That left a balance of £5 0s 8d, which witness paid defendant. At the time the defendant made no mention about all the articles witness had identified. He paid the defendant with a five pound note.  The engagement should cease then, as he was to leave the establishment next morning. A fresh arrangement was made that night after the settlement, and the defendant agreed to stay under it. With regard to money paid to assistants over the counter, there was a check-till in the establishment.  There was an entry of the sale first on a sheet of the till. The till is then drawn and the money put in.  In the act of drawing the till the amount registered passes up under a glass shade.

Mr Barbour – did you read?

Mr Otter – No, we have the block.

Mr Darlington, continuing, said at night he checked the entries on the sheet with the money, to see if it corresponded, so that if an assistant did not enter an amount on the sheet the money would not be on the block, it would go into his own pocket.

Mr Barbour – Oh, I don’t know about that.

Witness produced the sheet for Friday, 22nd November. There was no entry of the payment made by Doyle on that date. Long gave witness the impression that he was a qualified draper’s assistant.

Mr Barbour questioned Mr Darlington, who stated that the articles produced and identified could be got in any other house, but if some of the cloth in Mr Barbour’s coat was found in his house he would not say that the material in the coat was his.  There was some row in the house amongst the assistants, and three of them went out one morning. Witness had occasion to make inquiry about the counter having been scratched, but hadn’t a row with the prisoner.  He did not blame any of the assistants, but they left all the same.

He had some rules as to what assistants should do. Some were written and some not. It was he put the police in motion for the search warrant. He had a suspicion from rumours he heard, particularly on this Friday. He did not search the room, but the rooms were open to every one.  He had these suspicions before he re-engaged the defendant on the night of the 20th. He called him into his room, and he had received a letter from Mr Bell, a commercial traveler, who said – ‘Long is sorry for giving you notice. He has no place to go to, and in consequence of the others having left you might keep him.’   Witness thought it might suit his purpose to do so, and they re-arranged. They shook hands, but the motion to to do came from the defendant. There was no regular stock-taking in the house. All the stuff was under witness’s own eye.

The Chairman, Mr Meldon, said the bench were considering whether or not they would ask the defendant would he plead guilty, and elect to be tried by them or be returned for trial.  They would like to know from Mr Otter whether he saw any objection to that course.

Mr Otter – The objection, of course, is that in addition to the larcenies there is embezzlement. We have one instance of embezzlement now on the deposition, the 4s 6d paid by Mr Doyle.

Chairman – But that is not entered on the charge.

Mr Otter – There are two other items of embezzlement which I proposed to prove, and I intended asking for an adjournment, but if this bench thinks the whole offences might be dealt with as one matter in its entirety, possibly that would meet the circumstances of the case.

Chairman – Unless you are able to show that there are other convictions.

Mr Otter – There is nothing previously so far as I know.

Chairman – If that is so I will ask the defendant. He is entitled to be tried before a jury, but if he pleads guilty he can be dealt with now.

Mr Barbour said he was going to adopt that course for the defendant. He would plead guilty, but only to some of the articles. He is prepared to make restitution, and the question then for the bench would be one of consequences, or whether or not they would deal with him under the First Offenders Act.

Chairman – That would be idle. We could not think of dealing with him in this way.

Mr Barbour – The way I put it is this – this young man, who is practically a boy, has got into the habit of taking things after the manner of a kleptomaniac, and under the section the bench had power in case of a larceny or false pretences, if it appeared, because of circumstances as regards the person’s youth, character or antecedents previously, they might consider it expedient to release him on approbation.  There was one element in the case, and it was that practically any punishment they could inflict would not be greater on the defendant than that which the consequences had entailed upon him.  His business prospects were done, his good fortune was done, and he should go away elsewhere to try and make a living. He came of respectable parents, and is willing to make restitution to the fullest extent.  In any case, whether the bench did not adopt the view he put (Mr Barbour) forward, it was not a matter for a heavy penalty, as the bench was limited to six months.

Chairman – Now, before we go further, is there anything known of his previous history?

Mr Otter – He is from Derry.

Mr Barbour – His father is here.

The Chairman then questioned the father, Andrew Long, who stated that he was a tailor at Pollock’s Londonderry. His son was not apprenticed to the drapery, but might have been after he left him in ’96.  He was at school all his life before that. While away he came home several times. He was 23 years of age last November.  He left witness the last Tuesday in September last.  He gave him, as he thought, a college education. When he left first he went to Dublin.  Witness supported him therefore six weeks.

Mr Barbour – Was he at the drapery trade in Dublin or any business to your knowledge?

Witness- He might have been.

Chairman – When he went to Dublin, what did he do?

Witness – I can’t say.  I got letters from him. You can read some of these.

Chairman – Did you never know what he was doing in Dublin?

Witness – Oh yes; I understood that he was going to some lawyer in Dublin.

Chairman – An attorney’s clerk?

Witness – Yes.

Mr Otter – When he left you last September did he say where he was going to?

Witness – I never spoke to him about it.

Mr Otter – Did he mention about an appointment in Pretoria?

Witness – No.

Mr Otter – Did he mention anything about South Africa?

Witness – I understood from my other boy that he had an appointment in Pretoria.

Mr Otter – Did he want money for an outfit?

Witness – He didn’t ask me, but I gave him some.  I knew he wanted it. I gave him £27.

The Chairman said all the replies were most unsatisfactory. It was extraordinary that this man did not know what his son was doing while away.

The bench having consulted, the chairman said the defendant elected to plead guilty, but when he asked him whether he would do that or go forward for trial, the question was weighing in his (chairman’s) mind, whether the power given them by law was sufficient to meet the case. This did not seem to be the larceny of a single article, or of one or two, or to have been done in a day or two. It was a continued theft after theft from his employers, and there was no stating whether or not they had come to the bottom of it, or whether more money was involved or more goods taken than was before them.  Taking the whole case into consideration, they would sentence him to six months’ imprisonment. They had grave doubts whether that imprisonment was commensurate with the offence committed, as they were sure if the defendant was tried before a jury, it was years and not months he would get.

Mr Otter – There was a sum of £40 got with him, but with the exception of a small amount I am not able to prove that that was dishonestly come by.  I presume the undertaking given to compensate Mr Darlington for those goods holds good now.

Mr Barbour – Oh, yes.

The bench then ordered that £7 of the money be given to Mr Darlington, and at Mr Barbour’s request three guineas was paid to him as his fee. The balance of the money is to be given to the defendant. Subsequently the defendant largely interested himself in arraying his portmanteaus, and the goods they contained, and these were removed with him to Wexford Prison, where they will be detained and handed over to him on release.

That the profession of barrister was among those Dr (or rather Mr) Long sought to assume is testament to the glamour accorded to the courtroom advocate by the popular media of the period, a glamour which, though long faded by the passage of time, occasionally resurfaces with the odd swish and flounce even today!

Top Image Credit

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

Leave a Reply