The Modern Alchemist

It is quite interesting to come across the names of the police officers who were associated with the Jack the Ripper case in connection with other cases that they worked on.

In 1891, Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson’s name appeared in newspapers across the country in connection with a case that the press dubbed “The Modern Alchemist Case” or “The Philosopher’s Stone Case.”

A photograph of Inspector Swanson
Inspector Swanson


The London Evening Standard,  broke the story on Wednesday, 20th May, 1891:-

At the Marlborough-street Police-court yesterday afternoon, Edward Pinter, 55, described as a merchant, staying at an hotel in Dover-street, Piccadilly, was charged, on remand, with having attempted to obtain £40,000 in gold from Mr. Edwin William Streeter, jeweller, of New Bond-street, by means of a false pretence or trick.

Mr. Horace Avory and Mr. Pollard were for the Treasury; Mr. Bernard Abrahams defended the Accused, and Mr. Turton watched the case on behalf of Count Kearney.


Mr. Avory said that an analysis had been made of the materials used by the Prisoner, and he was sorry to disappoint all those who thought that the real philosopher’s stone had been discovered.

The method adopted by the Prisoner had turned out to be nothing more nor less than a conjurer’s trick.

The Prisoner, when he made the experiment with the 20 sovereigns of his own, had with him a so-called black powder.

It was not all black, however, but in two forms, black and grey. One portion was simply calomel and carbon, and that he gave to Mr. Streeter to examine, the other contained pure gold, and that was the black powder which he was seen to throw into the crucible when the process of melting was going on.


The Accused, it would be remembered, used a handkerchief to take off the lid of the furnace, and it was supposed that whilst he was in the act of doing so he slipped some of the black powder containing the pure gold into the crucible.

In that manner he performed, as it were, a conjuring trick by putting in unobserved as much gold as would make the product come out thrice the weight of the real metal.


Mr. H. Bunn, assistant to Mr. Streeter, recalled, said that he saw the Prisoner, after he had put the sovereigns and the other substances into the crucible, throw a handkerchief into the furnace.

He had previously used it for mixing the ingredients in and lifting the lid of the furnace.


Detective Inspector Frank Froest said that on the 4th May he and Chief Inspector Swanson went to No. 30, Tysoe-street, Clerkenwell, and there kept observation.

Shortly after, Mr. Streeter, the Prisoner, and Count Kearney had passed through the house into the smelting shop at the rear a dense vapour came from the door and windows of the shop, and it smelt very strongly of ammonia.

Then, Mr. Streeter and the rest of the party came out into the yard.

The Prisoner followed in a few moments, remained outside for a short time, and then went back into the shop alone.

In about half an hour, Mears, one of Mr. Streeter’s workmen, brought out a crucible, red hot, and placed it in the fireplace of the counting-house.


Witness and Chief Inspector Swanson entered the counting-house just as the Prisoner was peering into the crucible, and Swanson arrested him.

On searching him, they found in his under coat pocket two large pill boxes – one empty and the other filled with a dark grey powder, in a black bag were a pair of Suede gloves, slightly burnt by some acid, and five glass jars, some of them containing something.

On searching his bedroom, witness discovered a large trunk, and therein he found a small pair of bellows (produced), a smelting stove, gas fittings with india-rubber tubing, three black-lead crucibles, some black- grey powder wrapped in paper, a quantity of yellow crystals (granulated gold) also in paper, a packet of borax, and a bottle of white powder, and all the articles and bottles were handed to Dr. Dupre.

When charged at the station, the Prisoner said, “It was my own money that I used, and not Mr. Streeter’s.”


Dr. August Dupre, Lecturer on Chemistry at Westminster Hospital School of Medicine, and chemical adviser to the Explosive Department of the Home Office, said that on May 9 he received from Inspector Froest the articles produced.

One of the pill boxes was full of a dark grey powder, which he had analysed, and found to consist of a mixture of calomel and carbon, but no gold.

One of the parcels found in the bag contained the same kind of powder.

In the other parcel, there were 904 grains of practically pure gold, in the form of precipitated gold, which Inspector Froest had described as “yellow crystals.”

A small jar contained a dark grey powder – a little lighter in colour perhaps than that in the pill-box – which on analysis was found to have in it 19.7 grains of gold.


Witness had also seen two bottles containing nitrate of silver, a bottle having in it calomel, and labelled “poison,” a bottle with a few crystals of sulphate of calcium, and two bottles, which apparently had contained protosulphate of iron, one crucible which had not been used, and the large crucible (produced), with a lump or substance containing 6684 grains of gold, together with some globules of gold and a few of silver, weighing together 299.64 grains.

The whole amount of pure gold found in the crucible was 5390.2 grains, which almost exactly equalised the weight of gold in 52 sovereigns.

The addition of what had been called the yellow crystals or the grey powder found in the glass jar, together with some silver, would have produced the results found in the crucibles.

The gloves were stained with nitrate of silver, and adhering to them were some small granules of gold.


Cross-examined. – A sovereign contained 123 grains, of which 113 were pure gold, in the jar containing the calomel and carbon were 19.7 grains of gold. It would have required a very large quantity.

Mr. Abrahams.. – About a shovelful, I suppose.

Dr. Dupre. – More than 3lb. in weight of the mixture – to have produced the 5890.2 grains of gold found in the crucible. Seeing that 20 sovereigns were put in, it would then have required at least 12lb. of powder.


Mr. Abrahams intimated that Prisoner would like to make some gold in Court (laughter).

Mr. Hannay said that he should be pleased to see him do it, but probably he would make a very objectionable stench, and cause them all to run (more laughter).

Had Dr. Dupre examined the granulated gold with a view of testing its quality?

Dr. Dupre said that it was produced by precipitating a solution of gold, not in its natural, but in its artificial state, indicating that sovereigns had been melted down, and that it was not gold that had been procured from a mine.


Mr. Abrahams said that the Accused would like to have the testimony of another chemical gentleman in addition to Dr. Dupre, talented as he was.

Mr. Avory offered no objection, and, at this stage, the hearing was again adjourned for a week.”


The Driffield Times, on Saturday, 30th May, 1891, reported on his next appearance in court:-

“Edward Pinter was charged on remand at Marlborough-street Police-court on Tuesday, with attempting to obtain £40,000 by means of a trick with intent to defraud Mr. Streeter, of 1 New Bond-Street.


Dr. Dupre, chemical adviser to the Home Office, was recalled, and stated that gold, when freshly precipitated, was a paste of dull colour showing no signs of the precious metal, and in that state, it was very easily mixed without burnishing it.


Mr. Avory, who conducted the prosecution, was about to call a witness in relation to another case which took place at Liverpool about thirteen years ago, when it was alleged the prisoner obtained five hundred sovereigns from a gentleman and operated upon them in a similar manner, but it was arranged that  Mr. Streeter’s case should be first concluded before the court entered upon another.

The further hearing was adjourned.”


The Swindon Advertiser, in its edition of Saturday, 6th June, 1891, published deatols of his next court appearance:-

“At the Marlborough-street police court on Tuesday Edward Pinter, 54, described a merchant, living in Dover-street, Piccadilly, was brought up before Mr Hannay in custody of Detective-inspectors Swanson and Froest, charged on remand with attempting to obtain the sum of £40,000 by means of a trick, with intent to defraud Mr Edward William Streeter, jeweller, carrying on business  atNew Bond-street.

The case, instituted by Mr Streeter, has been already several times reported, and it will not be necessary to again repeat the details of it.


Mr Thomas Hancock, London, manager to the Sheffield Smelting Company, Bury-street, Clerkenwell, said that, on April 28th last, the prisoner called at the office of the company, and asked if they kept fine brown gold.

The witness inquired if he meant Potter’s brown gold, and showed him a sample of ordinary dull gold.

The accused intimated that he wanted Potter’s brown gold, and the witness told him they had none in stock, but he could get what he required from Sheffield.

Pinter said that would do very well, and ordered 12 oz, and said he wanted the metal for a new experiment he was carrying out.


When asked who he was, the accused said it was immaterial, and that he would pay cash.

He gave the name of  Kamp and said if the powder turned out satisfactory he should probably require 100 ounces a week.

He paid £10 gold on account of the goods had ordered, came to the office the next day, and paid the balance, which came to £41 3s.

He at first objected to there being some bright specks in the powder, but finding that the small lumps could be reduced to powder he ceased to complain.

The gold supplied was practically pure, and was used for painting upon china.


Chief Inspector Donald Swanson said that, in consequence of an arrangement with Mr Streeter, he, in company with Inspector Froest, went to the workshop of Mr Streeter,  inTysoe-street, Clerkenwell, and secreted himself.

While the gold was being melted, he noticed a strong smell as of ammonia, and apparently, in consequence, a number of persons were compelled to leave the room where the smelting was taking place.

When the crucible was taken from the furnace it was placed in the office.

Accompanied by Inspector Froest, the witness went into the office, and, addressing Pinter, said, “We are police officers. I arrest you upon the charge of attempting to steal 40,000 sovereigns from Mr Streeter by means of a trick.”

The accused replied, “I did not receive any money from Mr Streeter. What I did with him was private business. I did not want to swindle him.”

After his arrest, the prisoner complained of being ill, and asked that certain medicine should be supplied to him and stated that he had no friends in London.

Mr. Hannay committed the accused for trial.”


Edward Pinter appeared at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) on Monday, 27th July 1891, and pleaded guilty to the charge of attempting to obtain £40,000 by false pretences from Mr. Edward Streeter.

The Suffolk Free Press, in its edition of Wednesday, 29th July, outlined the proceedings at his final court appearance:-

“Mr Horace Avory, who prosecuted stated that – It is almost incredible that the prisoner should have approached a gentleman like Mr. Streeter with such a story, but he was doubtless tempted by his success on former occasions, for they found that in Liverpool in 1882 he obtained £500 from some gentleman by false pretences.


The pretences were the same as in this case.

Prisoner represented that he was in possession of a secret by which gold could be increased by at least 90 per cent.

As a preliminary to the success of the operation, the prisoner represented that it was necessary that the sovereigns should be soaked in acid for at least 14 or 15 days.

He then, by melting the sovereigns a crucible, and adding black powder, the manufacture of which he alone was acquainted with, increased the value of the gold.

The stench arising from the latter operation was so powerful that no one could remain in the room in which it took place, but he (Mr. Avory) thought the Court would have little doubt that at this period the prisoner victimised those he was engaged in deceiving.

At Brighton, the prisoner obtained £2,000 by similar means.


After the first negotiations, Mr. Streeter, who had come to the conclusion that the prisoner was either a great rogue or mad, acted purely at the request of the police.

In the preliminary operation, one sovereign was tried, and upon being melted down the gold weighed the weight of three.


The prisoner was introduced to Mr. Streeter by Count Kearney, and when arrested he was found in the possession of a quantity of black powder, which was largely impregnated with gold.

There was no doubt that this was a mere trick for the purpose of obtaining money from Mr. Streeter.

Mr. Gill, for the prisoner, said that there was no doubt that the accused had made a mistake.

If he really was in possession of the secret of making the gold he ought to have brought out a public company. (Laughter.)


The Prisoner was in ill health, and he had been three months in gaol.

There never was any chance of his obtaining any part of the £40,000, and the only reason that so large a sum was mentioned was that the prisoner thought Messrs. Streeter would be offended if he asked for a small sum. (A laugh.)


The Recorder said that he agreed that there never was the slightest chance of the prisoner obtaining the money.

As the prisoner had been three months in gaol and was in ill health, be sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment only.