Sunday, 31 March 2013

Thoughts on Boat Race Day

On the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race day I am reminded of an illustrious family of CLOSEs who were very much involved in the Cambridge rowing scene in the 1870s, at least one of them taking part in every race between 1871 and 1877. 

The winning Cambridge crew in 1871 included John Brooks CLOSE (1850-1914) – later known as John B CLOSE-BROOKS. Cambridge triumphed again in 1872 when both John and his younger brother James Brooks CLOSE (1851-1910) were in the crew.  James retained the bow seat in the 1873 race, the year in which he was also President, and rowed at 3 in 1874.

In 1875 their younger brother William Brooks CLOSE (1853-1923) rowed for Cambridge – suffering their first defeat of the decade, but he enjoyed victory as a member of the 1876 crew, and also rowed in the famous dead-heat of 1877. For an account of what William did in later life, have a look at  and

The 1877 race didn’t mean the end of the CLOSE association with the light blues, since James coached many Cambridge crews and was an influential figure in Cambridge rowing for some years.  Quite a family!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Thomas Cameron Close of Middlesbrough

No hiding place in 1876 - even in Australia!

Thomas Cameron Close was the Borough Accountant for Middlesbrough Borough Council during the 1860s and early 1870s. He was married, and had 5 children born between 1862 and 1872. A number of discrepancies in the accounts were identified in December 1875, and Close was suspended from his duties.  A London firm of accountants was called in, and they found evidence of false accounting, fraud and forgery, concluding that a total of £2,403 18s 9d was missing.

Pursued by a dedicated police officer 

In early January 1876 it was reported that Close had 'disappeared', and enquiries established that he and his family had sailed from the Thames in the Highflyer, a sailing ship bound for Australia. The Middlesbrough police were alerted, and Sgt. William Ashe (who was married, with two young daughters) was despatched by the Suez mail steamer in mid-February with an arrest warrant.  Being on a much faster vessel, Sgt. Ashe had hoped to reach Melbourne before Close.  However, a smallpox outbreak on board caused a 10-day delay at Point de Galle (modern-day Sri Lanka).

The Melbourne police had been alerted by telegraph to look out for Close and his family, and they were easily identified, even though they were travelling under the name of Gascoigne.  Two detectives were assigned to 'shepherd' Close until Sgt. Ashe arrived with the arrest warrant, which they successfully did without arousing his suspicions.

Melbourne: arrest of Close, generosity to the family

Sgt. Ashe found Thomas Cameron Close standing on Sandridge Pier, and although he at first insisted his name was Gascoigne, he subsequently admitted he was the former Borough Accountant of Middlesbrough and was jailed pending the issue of the governor's extradition order.  Thomas Cameron Close's wife Jane, two sons and three daughters were left to fend for themselves in Melbourne, and the Argus printed an appeal for funds to pay their fares back to England on the Hampshire - the ship in which the arrested embezzler was due to travel back with the intrepid Sgt. Ashe.  Over £134 was raised, and the grateful Close family was able to return to England, landing in Gravesend on 11 August 1876.  In all, Sgt. Ashe was away from his wife and family for five months on this assignment - now that's real dedication to duty! 

Brought to justice

The progress of the Hampshire and the ultimate return of the prisoner to Middlesbrough was reported in great detail in the British press, as was Close's trial for embezzlement and forgery in December 1876, and its eventual outcome - a guilty verdict reached by the jury in just 5 minutes.  Thomas Cameron Close was sentenced to five years' penal servitude.

Following Thomas Cameron Close's release from prison, he appeared with his wife and family once again in the 1881 census, and in the first quarter of 1882 his 6th and last daughter was born.  In both 1881 and 1891 he was still living in Middlesbrough and still described his occupation as 'accountant' - yet one has to wonder who would be willing to entrust their financial affairs into his hands after the events of 1875/6, which were undoubtedly common knowledge throughout the town.