The tables are turned on a gentleman whose pockets are empty

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A refusal to pay a cab fare was a common enough reason to find a person in court in the nineteenth century. Cab drivers were quite vulnerable to being short-changed or simply to customers that claimed not to have any money. Given that many of their clients were wealthy this was sometimes just a temporary inconvenience as the driver could take an address and visit the following day to be paid. Not everyone that looked wealthy was of course and appearances could be deceptive.

Captain E. W. Pearce was a gentleman and would have been admitted into society as such. Yet he was also a gentleman who was in considerable debt, a situation that seemed not to bother him over much as he continued to live on credit, presumably hoping that his creditors would never catch up with him.

In February 1838 the captain was in court at Bow Street to prosecute a cab driver who he said had ‘created a disturbance in the street’. In reality however, it was Pearce’s refusal (or inability) to pay the driver that had resulted in the altercation and the arrival of a crowd of people.

As the report noted:

The Captain ‘had hired the cab for the purpose of making a few visits, and when done with it he found on searching the pockets of his inexpressibles to the furthest corner that he had nothing to pay the fare’.

The driver wasn’t at all happy with this and an argument ensured. This drew a crowd and, feeling threatened, Captain Pearce flagged a nearby policeman and had the cabbie arrested. At Bow Street Sir Frederick Roe sided with the cab driver, telling the captain that he should have paid the man. He released the cab driver after dismissing the charge but this wasn’t enough for the driver who was still out of pocket for an afternoon’s work.

Well, Sir Frederick said, you should summon him for the non-payment of the fare.

‘I can’t summon him, your worship. No one knows where he lives. He owes everyone’.

Captain Pearce then refused to give his address but said if the driver gave him his he would make sure he received his money within a week. The cabbie grumbled that he’d rather have the captain’s address, so he could summon him. At this, and ‘finding the tables turned’ the military man beat a hasty retreat and the reporter noted that ‘when he again tries to hire a cab to pay his visits he will carry his purse about with him probably’.

Probably indeed.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 19, 1838]

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