Scandal and Fraud!

December 20, 20181:42 pmLeave a Comment

I’ve really enjoyed indexing the returns of prisoners in the quarter sessions and assizes (now available on our website) and although some of the stories are rather sad, some are quite funny and some quite intriguing.

Take the case of Francis Alexander McCaull Smyth. In November 1912 he appeared before the quarter sessions court for falsifying an entry in a marriage register and obtaining (by false pretences) a cheque from a Canon in the diocese. I was intrigued by the story and decided to investigate further.

I searched the newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive (also available here at the History Centre) and found a little more information.

According to the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of Monday 25 November 1912, a charge was made against Francis Alexander McCaull Smyth, 40, a clerk in holy orders, of Dale-grove, Finchley. He was accused of unlawfully inserting in a marriage register, at the Church of John the Baptist, Old Malden, a false entry relating to marriage, and, further, with obtaining the sum of £7 by false pretences from the vicar of the parish, the Rev. Canon Dover.

Smyth appeared in the dock in his clerical attire and it was stated that he was for a period of two months curate in the parish of Old Malden. On being arrested the accused (it was stated) said: “I did it to obtain money for my family. I paid the rent with the cheque. I did not want to take the marriages, but I could not very well get out of it. It does not affect them; that has been decided.” It appeared that he presented himself as “the Rev. W. White, Bucks Vicarage, Wiltshire.” When challenged with this, Smyth told the court ” I have a particular reason for giving Mr. White’s name. It would do as well any other. If I gave my own name, I should be unable get work. If I gave the curate’s name, I should simply be asked for the name of my vicar; I had to give the vicar’s name. All I did was to get work.” He remanded until Friday, and despite pleading guilty to obtaining the money by false pretences (which his defence lawyer said was to save his wife and children from starvation) he was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

This seemed a little harsh for a first offence – and by a man of the cloth to boot – that I decided to investigate even further.

Crockford’s Clerical Directory of 1908 certainly confirms that he was a curate at Holy Trinity East Finchley, and had been there since 1901.

According to information gleaned from the census, Francis Alexander McCaul Smyth was born in 1872 in Wimbledon. He was one of at least 8 children born to a Stewart Smyth from Ireland. The 1891 census shows him living with his parents and family in St Mark’s Vicarage in Wimbledon where he is listed as a Cambridge undergraduate and living with 6 of his brothers and sisters.

On 16 August 1900 he married Ada Marion Scratchley in Lincolnshire, and the couple went on to have four children:

• Stewart Peter McCaul Smyth, born 1901 in Grimsby RD Vol 7a Page 627
• Audrey Christine McCaul Smyth, born 1903 in Barnet RD Vol 3A Page 397
• Terence John McCaul Smyth, born 1906 in Barnet RD Vol 3A Page 414
• Philip Telford McCaul Smyth, born 1907 in Reigate RD Vol 2A Page 207

By 1911 (according to the census) the family are living in Witton in North Walsham, Norfolk where they were certainly affluent enough to keeping a general servant.

Still no solid clues as to What Went Wrong!

However a brief perusal of the Times Online (free to anyone with a Surrey Library Card) showed that this wasn’t the first time the Rev Smyth had brushed against the authorities. In March 1909 a report entitled Ecclesiastical Intelligence states:

We are asked to state that the Bishop of Southwark pronounced sentence on February 3 last in the case of the Rev F A McCall Smyth lately curate of St Mark, Reigate, who had been found guilty of a charge of immorality made against him in the Consistory Court of the diocese under the Clergy Discipline Act, to which he had pleaded guilty. The sentence declared him to be incapable of holding ”preferment” as defined by the Act.

A later entry in the Barnet Press of Saturday 3 April 1909 reads:

The Rev F A McCaul Smyth, formerly a curate at Holy Trinity Church, East Finchley, has been “unfrocked”. He was found guilty of a charge of immorality made against him in the Consistory Court.

The offence was committed while Mr Smyth occupied the curacy of St Mark’s Reigate, and after full inquiry, the Bishop of Southwark formally declared him incapable of holding preferment as defined in the Act.

Hmmm! I’m guessing that I would have to plough through the records of the Consistory Court to get any further details, always supposing that I would be allowed access to them. I’m sure that the Church of England are not keen on their ‘dirty dishes’ being washed in public! It does explain why he was treated somewhat harshly on his second offence, as I suppose technically he was guilty of two types of fraud.

However, according to his entry in the Cambridge University Alumni (available through seems to suggest that this slight hiccough in his career didn’t really hold him back.

According to this entry, Francis Alexander McCaul Smyth of Queen’s University, Cambridge matriculated in 1890 and served in the Essex Regiment for a time. He was Professor of Languages at the Foreign Office, Vienna, 1913-23 and at the Vienna police school, 1917-34. He was also Dozent at the veterinary College, Vienna. Chancellors Dollfuss and Seipel were amongst his pupils.

It also states that his wife, Ada Marion was the youngest daughter of Arthur Scratchley, Fellow of Queens’ and a barrister of the Inner Temple (to my mind, this rather belies the image of a starving family which he used as an excuse for his fraud trial!). He was still living in Vienna in 1952.

I couldn’t find any reference to his death but if he died in Austria, that might be a little difficult to track down. I found further references in newspapers to suggest that he was a keen cricketer and played the organ – but that was all. His son, Stewart, married and had children but died in September 1978. His daughter, Audrey, married and was living in California in 1996.

I found a reference to Francis’s son Terence enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy in the Second World War in Sydney (service number 17298) but interestingly gives his next of kin as his mother, Ada, not his father. He died in South Australia in 1968. It would appear that his brother Philip also emigrated to Australia where he married and became a leading light in the Dickens Society!

Time prevents me from taking this any further but I would be fascinated to know more about Francis and especially his life in Austria. Did he stay during the war(s)? Was he interned? Did he stay married to Ada or did that marriage fall apart?

Has anyone else found an intriguing story? I can thoroughly recommend searching criminal records to find one!

Happy Researching!

PS:  Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas and lots of exciting finds and breakthroughs in your 2019 research!

Written by Jane Lewis

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