Jacobs and The Law

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Starting with our oldest confirmed ancestor, David Jacobs, the Jacobs have had regular contact with the law, either civil or criminal.
Their main court involvement has been for bankruptcy although there have been several much more serious brushes with the law.

Those living in the UK will be familiar with more modern companies who went into bankruptcy on Friday trading as “World of Cotton” and re-opened on Monday trading as “Cotton World” (no slur on companies of a similar name is intended).

It would appear that the Jacobs, along with many others, operated on a similar principle.

This trend, well illustrated in the London Gazette, continued in Australia and New Zealand and is documented in their newspapers.

The big question is were they just poor businessmen, or were they playing the system? I’m afraid that my money is on the latter.

There are at least 21 entries in the London Gazette but many are duplicates put in on different days but hold no extra information and these extras have been omitted from this document.

Summary of names and addresses given in the notices.




1827 Mar 09

Henry Jacobs
Moses Jacobs

Phoenix Glass Works, Phoenix St., Crown St., Soho
Mansell St., Goodman’s Field

1829 Feb 29

Lewis Jacobs

Formerly of Nassau St.  Middlesex Hospital
And late of 113 Tottenham Court Road

1829 Apr 28

Isaac Jacobs
(Partner, not family)

Formerly of Charles St., Soho
Then 382 Oxford Street
Late of  408 Oxford Street

1829 May 19

Moses Jacobs
Isaac Jacobs

Phoenix St., Soho

1833 Mar 05

Lewis Jacobs

Late of 113 Tottenham Court Road

1833 Oct 08

Moses Jacobs

Formerly 1 Wheelers Cottage, Hampstead Road (Out of business)
12 Charles St., Soho Square
And at same time  Phoenix Glass Works, Phoenix St., Crown St., Soho

1834 Feb 18

Henry Jacobs
Lewis Jacobs

41 Mansell St.  Goodman’s Fields

1838 Jan 19

Moses Jacobs

Formerly of 101 Berwick St., St James, Westminster
Then a prisoner in Fleet Prison
And the Debtors Prison for London & Middlesex
Late of 101 Berwick St., St James, Westminster

1843 Feb 17

Lewis Henry Jacobs

At present, and for 9 years past,
2 High St., Newington, St Mary, Newington

1856 Feb 01

Isaac Jacobs
Samuel Towers

46 & 56 Mansell St., Goodman’s Field
Note, this is given only to show that following the break up of the partnership with Moses, Isaac continued trading from Mansell St., but with a new partner.

1856 Dec 16

Abraham Jacobs
John Jacobs
Henry Jacobs

14 Crown Street, Finsbury

1861 Apr 23

Ezra Jacobs

102 Middlesex St. [Name changed from Petticoat Lane]

1861 Apr 23

Henry Jacobs

27½  Duke Street

1869 Apr 30

Henry Jacobs

8 North Street, Quadrant, Brighton – Bankrupt

Similar entries are to be found in the New Zealand newspaper The West Coast Times

On the criminal side of things the Jacobs have appeared on both sides of the court as plaintiffs and defendants.

David Jacobs is the most prominent on the defendent side of the court.

We know from records of the Old Bailey, Newgate Prison and Woking Magistrates that he had a fascination for stealing, or attempting to steal, ribbon. In all the cases we have come across there has been serious doubt cast on his mental state. Truth or ploy? I doubt we shall ever know. David was also known to have used several aliases.

David first appears in 1777 having been accused of trying to steal ribbons from the haberdashery shop of  Mr Joseph Collins in Southwark. Unfortunately we don’t as yet know whether or not he was found guilty.

We next meet David in court in 1781 at the Old Bailey. He is again charged with stealing ribbon. On this occasion he is found not guilty but doubt is cast on his sanity: “(The prisoner called four Jews, who swore that he had been many years in a state of insanity.)”

His next appearance, as far as we know, is in 1798 when he is again charged with stealing ribbons but found not guilty. On this occasion he is charged under the name of SAMUEL Jacobs – this information came from his custody record at Newgate in 1801. Reference is again made to his mental health: “Dr. LEWIS LEO sworn. – Examined by Mr. Knowlys. The prisoner has been afflicted with lunacy several times, he has been in a state of confinement.”

In 1801 David is charged with the theft of ribbons again. On this occasion he is sentenced to 12 months at Newgate Prison. Two of his sons, Henry and Philip, give testimony as to his state of mind saying that he has been insane for the last 10-12 years.

The next to appear as defendent was Moses Jacobs in 1829.  “MOSES JACOBS was indicted for feloniously, unlawfully, and maliciously setting fire to a certain house in his possession, with intent to defraud Charles Pole , treasurer of the Sun Fire Office Company .” by setting fire to his factory and house which also involved the death of a woman.

He was found not guilty but the court record makes very interesting reading, and you have to wonder if he would have fared so well with a modern trial.

As plaintiffs we have several entries from the Old Bailey records where items have been stolen, or someone has tried to steal, from the Jacobs:-

  • Henry Jacobs had 4 glasses, worth 4s (£0.20) stolen from him in 1826 by William Lewis, aged 42. Lewis was found guilty and transported for 7 years.
  • A year later Henry is back at the Old Bailey charging two of his employees, James Carr and Alexander McCauley , with stealing 10 lamp glasses worth  4s (£0.20).  McCauley, aged 18, was found guilty and was confined for three months and whipped. Carr was found not guilty.
  •  In 1861 Moses Jacobs was the plaintiff when he accused 25 year old Abraham Hart of stealing four decanters, worth 36s (£1.80) . Hart was found guilty and transported for 7 years.

At this point I think it is worth mentioning  how the law in London worked at this time.


Throughout the period 1674 to 1834 many victims of crime were able to identify the culprits and secure their arrest by contacting a constable or justice of the peace. Those who witnessed a felony had a legal obligation to arrest those responsible for the crime, and to notify a constable or justice of the peace if they heard that such a crime had taken place. Moreover, if summoned by a constable to join the “hue and cry”, inhabitants were required to join in the pursuit of any escaping felon.

Constables were required to apprehend anyone accused of a felony, and bring them before a justice of the peace. They also had a general responsibility to keep the peace, but there was no expectation that they would investigate and prosecute crimes. Night watchmen patrolled the streets between 9 or 10 pm until sunrise, and were expected to examine all suspicious characters.

In order to encourage victims to report crimes, magistrates in both the City of London and Middlesex established “rotation offices” in the 1730s where Londoners could be certain of finding a magistrate present at fixed hours. One of these was set up in Bow Street, near Covent Garden, by Sir Thomas De Veil in 1739. This was taken over by Henry and John Fielding in 1748. The Fieldings introduced a new practice by employing thief-takers as “runners” who, when a crime was reported, could be sent out by the magistrates to detect and apprehend the culprit. Thief-takers, such as William Pentlow, made a living out of the fees they charged for their services and the rewards they obtained from victims for identifying suspects and from the state for successful convictions.

By the end of the eighteenth century, therefore, London already had not only a substantial body of watchmen who were employed to prevent crime, but also a system of detective policing designed to play a major role in apprehending suspected criminals. The first response of victims of crime was now as likely to be to report the crime to a rotation office as it was to try and locate the offender themselves.

The full article can be found at Old Bailey Online

This gives us a better understanding of how the law worked in those days i.e. it was largely the responsibility of the victim or witnesses to bring the villain, or suspected villain, to justice.

In New Zealand we have a report of another serious trial involving attempted murder. The intended victim was Sarah Hannah Jacobs, the daughter of Samuel Jacobs. The following article is from The West Coast Times.

(New Zealand. West Coast Times, 27 July 1878 Page 2)

There was considerable excitement, in town yesterday afternoon, when it was reported that & man named, James Cox had attempted to poison a girl named Sarah Jacobs, and, immediately afterwards (had thrown himself into the river. The whole of the circumstances in. connection with the case will be brought to light at the Resident Magistrate’s  Court to-day, as Cox was arrested shortly after the occurrence, and the police are engaged getting up the evidence. So far as we can ascertain of the mysterious affair, Cox, who is between forty and, fifty years of age, had been paying his addresses to a girl who has been employed as barmaid at the Royal George Hotel. His statement is that he was engaged to be married to her, and that he had received her own as well as her father’s consent, but that her brother, within the past day or two, had taken some steps to prevent the marriage. Whether this be true or not, it is beyond doubt that Cox went yesterday forenoon to the shop of Mr Williams, chemist, and by false representations managed to purchase twelve grains of strychnine. He stated to the chemist that he wished to purchase it for a farmer in the country. An hour or two after procuring the poison, he went to the Royal George Hotel where he met the girl, and asked her to have a drink. He went into the side room; and she brought a glass of port wine for herself and a little brandy in a tumbler for Cox according to his order. Mrs Hine saw him enter the room, and immediately went upstairs to dress. She had only been in her room a few minutes when she heard the girl Jacobs screaming. On being asked what was the matter, she stated that Cox had poisoned her. 

Before Cox left the room, the girl asked him what he had put in the glass, as the wine was very bitter. He shortly made off, and went towards the wharf entering the Belfast Hotel on his way, where he left his watch, pocket , book, and papers with Mrs Houston.

 He then proceeded hurriedly to the wharf, and jumped in the river close by the lower wingdam. He swam about in the river for some time until a boat came to his rescue. Constable M’Kenna  was then apprised of the fact that a man had jumped into the river, and was on the scene when he landed. The first statement made by Cox to the police was that it was no fault of his as Sarah Jacobs had drank out of the wrong glass. Detective Browne shortly joined Constable M’Kenna, and on hearing particulars, they arrested the prisoner and drove him to Dr Dermott. In the meantime, the friends of the girl had sent for Dr Rossetti. Both the medical gentlemen administered the necessary remedies to their respective patients, but nothing was shown to indicate that Cox had taken any of the poison. He is said to have vomited after being taken out of the water, but since then, he has shown no signs of illness. The girl vomited for some time before and after Dr Rossetti visited her, and there is no doubt that she swallowed some of the strychnine, though she has since recovered, and is pronounced out of all danger. In the tumbler out of which Cox drank, or is supposed to have drank, the brandy, several grains of strychnine were found adhering to the glass. The wine-glass out of which the girl drank the port wine, did not contain the same chrystalised specs, but she alleges that Cox wiped it with his handkerchief after  she had drank the wine. If this account be true, and Cox drank the brandy served him, he must have evidently intended to poison himself and her. In the meantime the affair is one of much mystery, as it is impossible to tell whether the poison was administered to the girl, and taken by Cox, or whether his statement is at all to be relied upon, as to her drinking out of his glass in place of her own. Cox has been well known in this district for years past. He was working for many months for the Jackson’s Bay Fishing Company, but has for months since, been out of employment. There is no doubt when he jumped into the river he contemplated suicide, but after being a few moments m the water he thought better of it, and commenced swimming for the shore, or towards the boat which was put off to his, rescue. The purchase of the strychnine in such a large quantity under the circumstances, clearly points that he intended to take his own or the girl’s life. That she swallowed a quantity of the poison is beyond doubt, though whether he also did so is very doubtful in the minds of the medical gentlemen. 

He has stated, since being lodged in custody, that he had written a letter which would furnish full particulars of the affair, but no such document has yet reached the hands of the police. Possibly a remand will be asked for to-day, should the said epistle and full testimony not he forthcoming.

The original article can be seen here.