Case of defaulting bank accountant

(Part 1) It wasn’t as if Cruickshank was the first citizen or colonial administrator to be charged with dipping into the till in those early years of Vancouver Island as a Crown colony.

"Arrest. Mr. George Cruickshank, formerly holding the position of accountant in the Bank of British Columbia in this city, was apprehended yesterday under circumstances of an extremely painful nature…"

Painful indeed! According to this gently worded paragraph in The British Colonist of May 12, 1865, he’d been charged with the willful appropriation of $5,000 in gold coin, the property of the said bank, as far back as June 1863.

That was a lot of money in those days and Cruickshank’s arrest shocked those who knew him as a married man with a family and a previously unblemished reputation. That pedigree, and the fact that he was recovering from a serious months-long illness, explains the editor’s initial reticence in "entering into particulars of the case" other than the dropping of a single hint: Cruickshank ha suffered "reverse in business." This suggested business outside his banking duties; whatever, his "estimable wife" was said to have widespread sympathy. The next issue of the paper carried a lengthy report of Cruickshank’s appearance in police court, headlined, The Bank Defalcation. George Cary, acting for the bank, accused the accountant of having embezzled $5,000 in American gold coin. He did so, he assured Magistrate A.F. Pemberton, with extreme reluctance. This would be one of the most painful cases he’d ever conducted (normally he acted as the colonial attorney-general) and the bank, despite its being the victim, "shrunk from this prosecution". But it had no choice, being bound by charter to pursue prosecution and restitution, and also wishing to clear the reputations of its other employees. Before proceeding, Cary declared that, should Cruickshank be found guilty, he hoped that the sentence reflected the extenuating circumstances "which greatly mitigated the offence".

All of this is so out of character for criminal cases of the day. It wasn’t as if Cruickshank was the first citizen or colonial administrator to be caught dipping into the till in those early years of Vancouver Island as a Crown colony. But he’s the only one to receive such velvet-glove treatment from the authorities.

James D. Walker, now an inspector for the BBC but manager of the Victoria branch at the time in question, deposed that there were two keys for the safe; he had one, Cruickshank the other. There were two different locks and two sections of the safe, the so-called Treasury for surplus funds not required for the day’s use (which wasn’t to be accessed by the accountant), the other part of the safe was for daily use. To open the vault required both keys; when Walker took up residence in Esquimalt, he gave his key to Cruickshank who in turn gave his key to another bank employee named Rushton.

Upon the cashier being transferred, Cruickshank seems to have managed the bank until Rushton’s appointment when he became both accountant and cashier.

To this point, Cruickshank had been on his feet in the dock, as was customary, but at the request of his counsel, D.B. Ring, he was allowed to take a seat in the courtroom.

The daily receipts, Walker continued, were deposited in the safe which was opened at 10 o’clock next morning when the manager or, in his absence, the accountant, doled out a "float" to the cashier. He stated that "the accountant was always accompanied by someone else". So, how could Cruickshank pilfer $5,000 if he had but one key and was never alone?

Moving on, Walker explained how, when doing his quarterly audit in October 1863, he found that $5,000 had gone missing on Sept. 30. He’d questioned all employees individually, taken down their replies in writing then had them sign copies of their statements. At that time, he said, Cruickshank had admitted his guilt.

Where were the statements? Where was Cruickshank’s confession? Inexplicably, Walker couldn’t "lay his hands on them". This drew an objection from Mr. Ring to their being alluded to in court without their being available as evidence. Cary thought that Walker’s recollection of the general content of the statements was admissible.

Pemberton disagreed: Cary was to "exhaust all direct evidence before producing secondary [evidence]."