The Unfortunate Career of Henry Edgar, Cat Burglar (1811-?)

Set of Victorian Skeleton Keys

London born Henry Edgar, had the dubious honour of earning the nickname, in police circles, of ‘Edgar the Escaper’. Unfortunately, no photograph exists, but he was described by the police as five feet seven, of fair complexion with large features, brown hair and a gentlemanly appearance. Not being a particularly successful thief, he did become famous for being difficult to hold; he was often caught but somehow always managed to escape.

His most famous escapade was in September 1850. Henry, along with a gentleman by the name of Edward Blackwell planned to rob a furrier’s on Regent Street. On the nighregent-streett in question, the two cracksmen, along with a look-out went to a public house, situated behind the furriers. The two men pretended to use the lavatory, located in the back yard and did not return inside, but hid and waited for the all-clear from their look-out that the public house had closed. For some reason the look-out got cold-feet and scarpered. The two men, impatient to get on with the job, decided to go ahead anyway. They went up a fire-escape and from there were able to step onto the parapet of the furrier’s house at the corner of Regent Street.

They planned to gain access to the house by removing panes of glass in a window but unbeknownst to them, a servant saw them at work and raised the alarm. The master of the house, raced up the stairs, armed with a pistol and challenged the men. Blackwell took fright and plunged to his death, three floors down. Henry, desperate to escape, made his way along to the next house and gained entry. Unfortunately for Henry, the occupants awoke startled and screamed. He decided to take his chances and jumped from the second floor window. Some passerbys alerted the police, and incapacitated by the fall, he was arrested and taken to Vine Street Station in a police van, along with his accomplice’s dead body.

policeman-and-mortuary-cartThere are two versions for what happened next so I am going with the one which appeals to me most!

Somehow, Henry managed to change places with his dead friend and ended up being taken to the police mortuary in a body bag. From there he is reputed to have escaped back to Corbett’s Place, Spitalfields where he lay low in a safe house.

However, a week later he was back to his old tricks and once again he attempted a break-in in Regent Street. This time, he was armed. The alarm was raised and Henry was ambushed by the police. He attempted to shoot his way out but his pistol would not fire and poor Henry was arrested again.

This was the end of his criminal career as the police ensured that he was brought to trial. Henry’s sentence was transportation, I assume to Australia. Sadly, no further trace of him has come to light.

But I like to think he might have pulled off one final escape …

Update: Thanks to David Gilchrist – We found his ship – Henry Edgar, one of 280 convicts transported on the Ramillies, 25 April 1854.

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