Mounting Debts

Mr. Thomas Pratt, Bill Discounter (Money Lender) who gave evidence at Palmer's trial. From The Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer published Ward and Lock 1856
Mr. Thomas Pratt, Bill Discounter (Money Lender) who gave evidence at Palmer’s trial. From The Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer published Ward and Lock 1856

To pay off some of his debts Palmer went to money-lenders but some of them charged up to 60% interest. One of the money-lenders Thomas Pratt is shown here. The other main money-lender was Mr. Padwick who sued Palmer’s mother to recover some of the money owed to him. (See Crimes Not Murder page under Fraud and Forgery).

At one time he bought two top class horses at £2,000 guineas each even though he could not afford to buy them. His mother was rich and in desperation he forged her signature to guarantee the loans to buy the horses.

When Annie his wife died in September 1854 the insurance money, £13,000, was paid to him six weeks after her death, but this only went part way towards settling his large debts. By the autumn of 1855 he owed £15,000 and bills for a further £11,500 were due in the November. If these bills were not settled his forging of his mother’s signature was likely to be discovered. He probably also owed money to many of the local tradesmen.

Later he also forged John Parsons Cook’s signature to secure more loans.

One of Palmer’s horses was bought for 280 guineas by the Prince Consort when his possession were sold off after his arrest.

Money-lender Pratt goes “raving mad”

Fletchers book written in 1925 tells us more of Thomas Pratt the solicitor and money-lender. On January 23rd 1856 Pratt was called to give evidence at the inquest into Walter Palmer’s death. Pratt was to give evidence to the coroner’s jury about the insurance proposals that William Palmer had taken out on his brother Walter. However after just two questions he broke down and screamed excitedly,

“How can you ask such questions of a man with three young children and a wife who will probably be ruined by this affair?”

There was doubt as to whether he would be able to give evidence in Palmer’s trial at the Old Bailey but he recovered to give evidence on 20th May. Fletcher states

” .. the cold, merciless manner in which he gave his evidence made a great impression at the trial, and in a few weeks he became raving mad and – I believe – died shortly afterwards in an asylum.”