Overcharging On The River

In combing the newspaper records from the 19th century, you come across reports of crimes that are familiar as still being committed today, but which were carried out in circumstances that are not exactly recognisable to us today.

Take scams, for example.

Sadly, scamming – or fraud – is still a major crime.

It was also a major crime in the 19th century, as the sad fact is that there are – and always have been – people lurking in the shadows who are more than happy to take advantage of others.

The following example, which was reported in The Morning Post on Friday the 21st of March 1837, features a case that was heard at the Mansion House Court in the City of London:-


An old man, named Johnson, who contracts for the ferry at the Custom House stairs, was charged by Mr. Minton, of No. 128, Cheapside, with having overcharged two ladies who were going a few mornings ago to the Continent.

Upon going to the ferry the complainant found the ladies in a state of trepidation, and Johnson insisting upon being paid a shilling each for rowing them to the steamer, which was just about to start off, and which lay at a short distance across the stream.

Witness expostulated with the defendant, but in vain; Johnson declared that he would not let them go to the steamer without that money, and the witness ultimately paid the amount, as well as a shilling for himself for accompanying them and returning.


Alderman Copeland:- “I thought I had put an end to this species of extortion when I was in the chair; but I find I am mistaken.

It was then the custom of watermen to charge persons who were going to the Continent in steamers four or five shillings each for rowing them a few yards, upon the calculation that the fear of losing the passage would set aside the possibility of refusal.

I find that they are returning to their old tricks, and I am glad to be presiding on such an occasion.”

Johnson made the old excuse of additional luggage to justify the demand, but Mr. Minton deposed that the ladies had with them no more luggage than was allowed to be taken by two passengers free from charge.

Alderman Copeland:- “I fine the defendant forty shillings and costs.”


Johnson persevered in saying that he was right in his charge, and declared that he had never been summoned for 40 years.

Alderman Copeland:-  “I dare say the penalty will do much good, and I am thankful to the gentleman who took the trouble to attend.”

Johnson:-  “Won’t your Lordship be good enough to remit a part of the penalty?”

Alderman Copeland:-  “Not a farthing.”


The defendant then most reluctantly paid the penalty and costs, but immediately afterwards asked whether he could not appeal from the decision?

Alderman Copeland:- “No, you are too late, we are in possession of the money.” (Laughter.)

Mr. Minton requested that the money to which he was entitled should be given to the poor objects who were brought in such multitudes to the Justice Room.