Friday, April 6, 2012

Mary Jane Furneaux in Court for Impersonating the Deceased Lord Clinton – 14 February 1872

An extraordinary and romantic case of female swindling has just been brought to light in Birmingham. The accused is Mary Jane Furneaux, a woman of some 30 years of age, whose history and connections are at present entirely unknown to the police in Birmingham farther back than about six years. In the month of June last she was living at respectable lodgings in Ashted Row, with another woman, who is said to be her mother. On the 20th of that month she introduced herself to a Mrs Morecroft and her husband, living at the back of 62 Coleshill Street, leading them to understand she was a dressmaker. Having quite initiated herself into their favour, she ventured to tell them an extraordinary story, She was not, as they believed, the plain Man- Jane Furneaux, of plebeian birth," but a person of high and noble origin, and who was connected with some of the most respectable and influential families in the country. She was not, in fact, even a member of the fair sex," although she was compelled to don female attire, and to pass as a woman, through unfortunate circumstances.

She was no less a personage, however astonished they might be to hear it, than Lord Arthur Clinton, who was erroneously supposed to be dead. This astounding revelation was made in such a manner that for some time it would appear the persons she had chosen as confidants were really at a loss to know whether they were the entertainers of a noble guest or not. Having excited their curiosity, she then proceeded to describe the remarkable manner in which she (or he) escaped burial: told them in a graphic manner how chloroform was administered to her, how she could remember being placed in the coffin which she was very particular in describing even to the minutest detail but at an opportune moment burst the lid off, and made her escape in some untold mysterious manner, and was now obliged to keep her name secret until the expiration of o certain period of time, in order to get free of punishment. The whole of this story, as may be imagined, was rather too incredible for Mr and Mrs Morecroft to believe.

They were, however, now very doubtful as to the sex of their influential friend, for many of her actions were decidedly masculine, while her dress was a sort of mixture of a man's and a woman's sometimes she would wear a man's collar and a front, with other articles of clothing to match, which were not of the style usually worn by females. Since her arrest Detective Cooper has discovered that the prisoner has "swindled numbers of people not only in Birmingham but in the district. She has obtained money from one, if not more local clergymen from a Mrs Green, of Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton, £80; from Mr Ash worth, draper, Handsworth, in goods principally, about £55, and about £4 or from Mr Porter, of Suffolk street and it is also suspected that she has carried on her frauds at Dudley, Wolverhampton, and other places in the district. At most of the places she had made representations that she was expecting to have legacies left to her. The prisoner was brought up at the Police Court on Tuesday, and committed for trial.

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