A bit of trouble with the deputies: Gloucestershire Constabulary, 1853-55

In November 1839, the magistrates of Gloucestershire’s Quarter Sessions decided to form a County Constabulary, under the terms of the County Police Act, which had recently been passed in Parliament. In December, Anthony Thomas Lefroy, an Englishman who had served for several years in the Irish Police and was at that time Chief Constable of County Wicklow, was appointed as the new force’s first Chief Constable. Lefroy brought with him from Ireland a number of his officers, including one Charles Keily (also written as Keiley, Keilly, Keighley, Kelly, and sometimes Reilly). Lefroy chose Keily to be his first Deputy Chief Constable, an appointment which was confirmed at the County Quarter Sessions in July 1840.

Charles Keily appears to have carried out his position as DCC diligently for over a decade. In August 1851, the Gloucester Journal reported that he had been presented with “a handsome silver snuff box, teapot, goblet and cream-jug, as a mark of the esteem in which he is held by the sergeants and constables of the County Police Force.” Two years later, though, Keilly left his position in dramatic circumstances.

On 2 July 1853, the Gloucester Journal revealed that on 23 June, the County Police had sent the following telegram to police forces in Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool, Swindon and Birmingham:

“Absconded this day, charged with embezzling £400, Charles Keily, deputy chief constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, 38 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, dark hair, brown whiskers, pale complexion, thin in person, dressed in dark clothes.”

In the same edition of the paper, a report on the proceedings of the County Quarter Sessions included a letter from Chief Constable Lefroy to the Chairman, in which he described what had happened. On 22 June, Keily had cashed a cheque for £445.10s.2d, with which he was to pay the wages of the staff in the Cheltenham  district. On the following morning, he did not come to work. Enquiries were made of his wife (the mother of eight children), who said he had just gone into town and would be at the office soon, but he did not appear and it was realised that he had absconded.

Despite the offer of a one hundred pounds reward and an extensive country-wide search, Keily’s whereabouts were not discovered, and the missing money had to be replaced out of the county rates. It was agreed at the Quarter Sessions that the next Deputy Chief Constable would be required to give a security for a sum of money not exceeding £500, so that such a circumstance would not occur again.

Chief Constable Lefroy (with thanks to Gloucestershire Police Museum)

Chief Constable Lefroy (with thanks to Gloucestershire Constabulary Police History Research website)

The man chosen to be Lefroy’s new deputy was Edward Wilkinson, a former coach driver. Two years after his appointment, the Cheltenham Chronicle (10 July 1855)reported that at the recent meeting of the County Quarter Sessions, “Mr Lefroy gave a statement concerning DCC Wilkinson, but the magistrates and chairman requested that the details be suppressed, as the whole of the circumstances were about to undergo judicial investigation at Cheltenham.”

The Cheltenham Chronicle of 24 July 1855 reported that a county court case had been heard in Cheltenham, in which a policeman named Alexander Gordon sued DCC Wilkinson for £10 damages, for taking improper liberties with his wife on three different occasions, on 6, 14 and 24 June. Mr and Mrs Gordon lived in rooms in the Cheltenham police station. Gordon was a constable, while his wife was employed to search any female prisoners brought in. The Gordons and Mr Wilkinson were on terms of “friendly intimacy.”

Mrs Gordon gave evidence that on 6 June, while her husband was out, Wilkinson came into her room, drew her to a sofa, and kissed her. On the 14th, he saw her alone, and put his hands on her shoulders, saying, “You don’t know how miserable I am.” On the 24th, he came to her room again, and said, “You don’t know how I love you; I have the same regard for you as a husband for a wife, and I hope you’ll love me.”

Wilkinson totally denied kissing Mrs Gordon on the day referred to, or using the language she described. He explained that “the familiarities which had taken place originated from a desire on his part to do away with a bad impression on hers, caused by his having committed the indiscretion of having attempted to kiss her on a day previous to those named in the charge.”

The Cheltenham Chronicle declined to go any further into what it described as “trivial details”, but the Hereford Journal was quite happy to elaborate on the case. This newspaper gave a fuller account of Mr Wilkinson’s evidence:

Wilkinson said that on a day previous to 6 June, he was upstairs in his office, and after an hour he knocked on Mrs Gordon’s door to ask for some water. When she answered she “had her hand to her dress”, and he said, “I see you are dressing, I beg your pardon for intruding on you; will you give me a little water to wash my hands?”  He went back to his office, and she followed with some water, which she poured into a basin. As she did so, he put his hand to the back of her neck, as though he was going to kiss her. If he did kiss her, he said, “it was as slight as possible”. On 6 June, he went to her room, where she was already sitting down, and taking one of her hands, apologised for his behaviour. He did not kiss her, and he didn’t put his hand round her neck, but, he said, “I might have put my hand round her waist.”

On 14 June he asked Mrs Gordon to come into his office. He took her hand and said, “I feel unhappy after the expressions of confidence you and Gordon have always said you have in me that I should have been guilty of any indiscretion; I have the utmost respect for you, and so far from wishing to do you any wrong I would prevent anyone else from doing so.” He didn’t use any expressions of love. He believed she said, “You have a wife of your own, and I have a good and kind husband”, to which he replied, “God forbid it should be otherwise.” Wilkinson insisted that he had never made any improper overtures to Mrs Gordon. He had not kissed her on the 6th, 14th or 24th June, nor had he taken any improper liberties with her. However, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff, Gordon, and awarded him 40 shillings in damages.

Accounts vary as to whether Wilkinson resigned or was dismissed from his position. The man who would take his place was expected to be Peter Hay, the Superintendent of the County Police at Stroud, but he decided to take up a position in Ireland, which paid more. Instead, John Nicholls, of the Dursley district, became the third Deputy Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary. He remained in the position until 8 March 1867, when he died at the Cheltenham Police Station.


Gloucester Journal, 30 Aug 1851, 2 July and 16 July 1853

Cheltenham Chronicle, 28 July 1853, 10 July 1855, 24 July 1855, 31 July 1855, 21 Aug 1855, 12 March 1867

Hereford Journal, 1 Aug 1855

Harry Thomas, The History of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, 1839-1985 (Alan Sutton, 1987)

http://gloucestershirepolicemuseum.co.uk (Gloucestershire Constabulary Police History Research) has much useful information on the Gloucestershire Constabulary, plus a number of links to other sources.

© Jill Evans 2014

2 thoughts on “A bit of trouble with the deputies: Gloucestershire Constabulary, 1853-55

  1. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether Charles Keily did really act in what appears to be such an uncharacteristic manner and abscond with the money never to be seen again, or whether he was robbed and killed.
    As for the case of Edward Wilkinson, what a lot of pullaver over a bit of unrequited love/ lust! Their soap operas would be very dull!

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