Theft by a Postman

Accused:                      Michael Russan. 
Prosecutor:                 Mr Lascelles, and Mr De Rutzen. 
Defence:                      Mr T. Allen. 
Location of offence:   Rosemarket. 
Date of trial:                March 2nd 1860. 
Going back to 1860, transportation was commonly by foot. Milford Haven was the closest Post Office until 1861 when one was opened in Rosemarket.  It must have been a major inconvenience for most people to walk to Milford Haven to post a letter, so who better to rely upon to take a letter for you to the Post Office than the postman, a most trusted public servant who would be returning there anyway? 

Writing was the main form of communication in the past, so getting in touch with family and friends was a long process.  This was long before the luxuries we have today of mobile phones and text messaging, however, it seems that in those days, trusting a postman may have been a mistake! 

When suspicions of theft were raised, an investigator was sent from London to test how trustworthy the local postman was.  The following trial is as reported by the newspapers of the time and gives the details of one such investigation. 

The Trial 

Michael Russan, 31, a postman, was accused of stealing a post office letter on the 2nd of February, I860 while being employed under Her Majesty's Post Office.  

Mr Mullock (The Post Office Investigator) 

Mr Mulock: I am a clerk in the missing letter department of the General Post Office. 
In consequence of an application that was made, I was sent down to Milford. I went on the 1st of February, I made up a letter, addressed to “Mr H iron Dixon, engineer, Independence Ferry Boat, Brooklyn, United States”, (The letter was handed in and read). 

The letter produced is the one i made up. I put in the letter a sixpence of the reign of Charles II; and securely fastened it. I met the prisoner at half-past ten the next morning, on the Waterson Road, between Milford and Rosemarket, as he was going in the course of his duty. I said i wish you to post this letter at Milford for me, and gave him a shilling. I told him to buy two sixpenny stamps to put to the letter He said “You had better have a shilling stamp.”  I asked “Are there any shilling stamps?“ and he replied “Yes”.  I told him to “get a shilling one,” or something to that effect.  

The prisoner then proceeded on his way. Soon after I went to the Post Office, at Milford. I ascertained that the postman had left.  I made a search, but the letter was not in the office. I obtained the assistance of a police constable, and took him with me to Rosemarket, and met the prisoner between that place and Honeyborough. I said to him “Where is the letter that I gave you this morning?”.  This was at half-past 12. He said I left it at the Post Office I said That's nonsense; the letter is not there, where is it. He said “Do you forgive me this time, sir”, I replied “it is too late now, where is the letter?“. 

The prisoner then produced it from his left-hand coat pocket. The seal of the letter was broken, and the coin which I had enclosed was not in it. The prisoner made some incoherent reply, but I did not understand what he said. The police constable took some coins from the prisoner's pocket, and amongst the coins I at once identified the sixpence i had enclosed in the letter.  

The coin produced is the one. I know it by a small private mark.  The mark is in the lower part of the crown; it cannot be seen without the assistance of a glass. Cross-examined: I did this by way of testing his honesty. I didn't tell him there was sixpence in the letter that I gave him. When I offered the shilling, he took it. He was on his way to Milford when I saw him.  
When I saw him the second time, he was on his way to Rosemarket. He only goes once a day. I never saw the prisoner before. He asked to be forgiven. I don't know that he said he was sorry for what he had done. 

Mr Lascelles: Did you know it was part of his duty to collect letters on the road? 
Mr Allen: He can't know that.  
Witness: I believe that it was part of his duty: I ascertained before leaving London that that was part of his duty. 

Mary Ann Pritchard 

Witness: Mary Ann Pritchard; I am the daughter of the post-mistress. The prisoner was in the employ of the Post Office, and his duty was conveying letters from Milford to Rosemarket, and from Rosemarket to Milford. It was also part of his duty to collect letters on the road, and to bring them to the Post Office. I recollect the morning of the 2nd February. The prisoner arrived at the Post Office at the usual time, and delivered the letters. Mr Mullock was at the Post Office a little after ten o'clock, and enquired after the letters, and searched those the prisoner brought in.  

The prisoner had left the office and was on his way to Rosemarket. The prisoner had been employed four years. Cross-examined The prisoner was carrying letters for the Post Office, and had been appointed by the Post Master, and not by me. I was there all day, and don't remember the prisoner putting his hand in his pocket as if there were something he wanted to find He had a pouch to carry letters, and did not carry them in his pocket. I don't remember him looking in his pocket or pouch for something which he wished to produce. By Mr Lascelles: The prisoner carried the letters in the leather bag used by postmen.  

John Thomas – Police Constable 

John Thomas: I am one of the County Constabulary. I remember accompanying Mr Mulock on the morning of the 2nd of February from Milford to Rosemarket and Honeyborough, and meeting the prisoner on that occasion, between twelve and one o’clock.  
Mr Mulock asked the prisoner “where is the letter, I gave you this morning?” and the prisoner said “I posted it at the Office”; Mr Mulock said “I have been at the Office; it is not there, it is all nonsense.” The prisoner then produced the letter opened and asked to be forgiven. We found the sixpence produced in the prisoner's pocket, together with some postage-stamps, and money.  

The sixpence produced just now I have had ever since. By Mr De Rutzen: That is the one that I took from the prisoner. Mr Mulock identified it as the one he had lost. I took the prisoner into custody. 

Objection by the defence 

Mr T. Allen raised a number of objections to the counts in the indictments; Mr. Allen objected to the indictment charging the prisoner with stealing a post letter, contending that it was not such according to the Statute until delivered to the prisoner stamped; Mr. Mulock having requested him to buy stamps for it, gave him the character of an agent, as that was no part of his duty as employee of the post-office authorities.  

This concluded the case for the prosecution. 

Re-examined by the Judge 

Miss Pritchard and Mr. Mulock were then re-examined by the Judge, and their evidence was to the effect that the prisoner was entrusted with postage-stamps for sale and that it was not part of his duty to affix the stamps to letters. But as he did not carry foreign stamps with him, he was in the habit of taking letters to Milford and purchasing foreign stamps for them, and then posting them. The Judge over-ruled the objection. 

Conclusion of the trial 

The learned counsel then addressed the jury in defence of the prisoner, and called a number of witnesses, who gave the prisoner the best of characters. His Lordship having summed up. the Jury retired, and shortly afterwards returned into Court with a verdict of Guilty.  

His Lordship, in passing sentence, said: “Michael Russan, you have been convicted by the verdict of the Jury of very serious offence; you were a public servant, selected for your reputation and honesty, in whom a most important trust was reposed You have abused that trust, and your offence is one of no common magnitude. The sentence therefore of the Court upon you for this offence is that you be kept to penal servitude [imprisonment with hard labour] for the term of four years”.  

Further Information about Michael Russan

On conviction, Michael was sent to Portsea in Hampshire to serve his sentence, leaving his wife Mary and two young children at 3 Back Road, Rosemarket.   

After completion of his sentence he returned to Rosemarket where he worked as a tailor until his death and burial in St. Ismael’s Church in 1906 (aged 76).  He left behind 10 children. These were:  Sarah Jane (b. 1857), Elizabeth (b.1859), George (b. 1866), Rachel (b. 1868), Emma (b. 1870), Lettice (b. 1872), Edith (b. 1874), John Gwynne (b. 1878), John James (b. 1879), Fredrick Bertie (b. 1880). 

The record of the bural of Michael Russan at St Ismaels Church.