HE conned the well to do to rip off the poor.

Philip Wilcox had been hired by the Rev Henry Almack, Rector of All Saints in Southampton, to attend the homes of the more opulent members of his congregation on behalf of the destitute and deserving poor.

He was supplied with a book to record their contributions and for the best part of two years it proved an honest record. But slowly the rector became concerned with the legibility of the contents, noticing that gradually more and more figures had been altered.

For example when one parishioner put his name down for a sovereign and signed the book accordingly, the amount had been changed by the addition of a cypher to read 10s.

"It also appeared that even when the fraudulent amount came to be settled with Dr Almack, the money Wilcox said he had in hand was deficient by £7 17s 6d, so that he first committed a fraud by rendering an account for 10s instead of a sovereign and then committed another robbery out of the 10s, which, according to his account, he should have produced," the court heard.

Wilcox appeared before the town magistrates in 1846 on a series of charges of aggravated embezzlement and several prominent gentlemen and women, together with their servants and maids testified as to the frauds.

Dr Almack, who brought the prosecution, then went over the accounts with Wilcox who did not object to any of the items and accepted the amount should have totalled £100 but he had only paid him less than £94.

"How do you explain that?" he asked Wilcox who replied: "I cannot give any satisfactory account of the deficit."

Magistrates remanded him in custody to appear at the Epiphany Quarter Sessions which took place just five days later and where he was jailed for 12 months.

The only other case of interest that came before the magistrates that week featured the old, old story of a fool with more money than brains and being relieved of it when drunk.

Not that the defendant Fred Curran came from a respectable background, with the Hampshire Advertiser denigrating him as " a true specimen of cader genus."

The young sailor Bill Dace had just been paid off from the sloop Draper, intending to go home to London but missed his train.

So, having picked up a lady of easy virtue for the day, he went to the Traveller's Joy in St Michael's Square where he drank himself almost into oblivion, yet retained just about enough reason to hire a guard to protect him against notorious land sharks who prowled the town's streets.

But his protector momentarily became distracted, long enough for Curran - who had been waiting upon him at the inn - and several women to pick him up and carry him upstairs.

"He still retained sufficient consciousness to fell someone's hand at his pocket where he kept his 14 sovereigns and sang out he was being robbed, and during that passage 13 sovereigns disappeared as did some silver but the latter seems to have been recovered afterwards."

A girl, who was present, testified that she heard another resident of the house tell Curran that the money was in his left hand kick (pocket).

The landlady found the two men in the kitchen and accused them of robbery which they both denied. However after some altercation Curran took from underneath a bottle on a shelf 15s and gave the cash to her, adamant it was all he had taken.

The girl then went to the bedroom and recovered a further 7s. The police were summoned and Curran was arrested, though the whereabouts of the outstanding gold remained unsolved.

Curran too was sent to the same Quarter Sessions where he earned a spell of six months behind bars.